Commodore 256 under construction

Commodore made the world's most successful 8-bit personal computer, the C64, and its most iconic 16-bit one, the Commodore Amiga. But the latter was a weird, complicated, two-faced beast, dooming a badly-managed company to a dead end of its own making. What if it had instead made a simple but powerful monster machine more like its earler models? Meet the C256.

Stefany Allaire is building the Commodore 256, what she believes should have been the successor to the Commodore 64 and 128, the best-selling computer line in history. Stefany – who has designed hardware for $60 billion companies, startups, and everything in between – also shared insights into her design process, including the PCB design tools she uses, and how she integrates electronics and mechanical design.

It has a 65C816 Western Digital CPU, 256 colors and up to a megabyte of RAM. And SID chips, supply permitting. The project's homepage is c256foenix.com.

I believe that restriction is the mother of creativity, so I’m trying to restrict myself to keep it limited to what would have been available back then.

Commodore did attempt something vaguely similar to this, the Commodore 65, but they waited until the 1990s, pitching it as budget upgrade for C64 users, and it was so obviously late to the party it never got past prototyping. A more relevant comparison might be the Sinclair QL, a poor mangled beast (albeit a 16-bit one) rushed out in 1984 to beat Apple, Atari and Commodore to the shelf. Read the rest

Machine learning may be most useful in tiny, embedded, offline processors

The tiny embedded processors in smart gadgets -- including much of the Internet of Shit -- are able to do a lot of sensing without exhausting their batteries, because sensing is cheap in terms of power consumption. Read the rest

Ugears: beautiful, steampunkular geared wooden puzzle-toys

Ugears makes gorgeous wooden puzzle toys made from laser-cut plywood that snap-fits to create beautiful, retro machines and sculptures with meshing, working geared mechanisms. Read the rest

Sentimental coal-miners carried canary resuscitators to revive their feathered lifesavers

This Canary Resuscitator was manufactured in the 1920s by Siebe Gorman and Co.; it was carried by miners to revive the canaries that were used from the late 19th century until 1987(!) as early-warning signals for potentially lethal gas leaks. Read the rest

UK consumer review magazine Which?: your smart home is spying on you, from your TV to your toothbrush

The UK consumer review magazine Which? (equivalent to America's Consumer Reports) has published a special investigation into the ways that Internet of Things smart devices are spying on Britons at farcical levels, with the recommendation that people avoid smart devices where possible, to feed false data to smart devices you do own, and to turn off data-collection settings in devices' confusing, deeply hidden control panels. Read the rest

Vanuatu will use drones to deliver vaccines across its remote chain of tiny islands

Vanuatu and UNICEF have issued a request for tender inviting drone companies to bid on a contract to deliver vaccines along the nation's chain of tiny, remote islands -- 83 volcanic islands strung along a 1600km atoll. Read the rest

Surprisingly attractive laptop for playing computer games

Most "gaming" laptops look like props from cheap 1990s sci-fi: greebled plastic carbuncles, all edgy red LEDs and bloated bezels, whirring like drones in a tiled bathroom as soon as gameplay begins. The new Razer Blade 15, though, is not only as sleek as an ultrabook, but looks beautiful: like a 2001: Space Odyssey monolith with a luminous Pride flag in it.

It comes with a matte 1080-line display (optionally with a 144Hz refresh rate) or a glossy 4k one, both 15.6" across, a GTX 1060 or 1070 Max-Q video card, up to 32GB of RAM and an 8th-generation i7-8750H CPU. It's 14" wide, 9.3" deep and just under .7" thick, and weighs about 4.6 pounds, going an ounce either way depending on options.

Prices start at $1900 for the entry-level model (HD, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, GTX 1060 GPU), up to $2900 [Amazon] with all the upgrades.

It comes with softare to make the rainbow backlighting any color you please, and it is my tragedy and shame to be that "minimalist" guy who just makes it plain white.

Full specs and prices after the jump.

Specifications: 8th Gen Intel® Core™ i7-8750H Processor (6 Cores/12 Threads, 2.2 GHz/4.1 GHz) 15.6-inch IPS Full HD (1920 x 1080) matte up to 144Hz, individually color calibrated 15.6-inch IPS 4K (3840 x 2160) capacitive multi-touch, individually color calibrated NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1060 Max-Q Design NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1070 Max-Q Design 16GB Dual-Channel system memory (DDR4, 2667MHz), 32GB maximum support Up to 512GB PCIe SSD, 2TB maximum support Windows® 10 (64-bit) Intel® Wireless-AC 9260 (802.11a/b/g/n/ac) and Bluetooth 5 Thunderbolt™ 3 (USB-C) x 1 USB 3.1 port x 3 (SuperSpeed) Mini Display Port 1.4 x 1 Anti-ghosting keyboard powered by Razer Chroma™ Razer Synapse 3 compatible HDMI 2.0b audio and video output Built-in front firing stereo speakers 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo port Built-in webcam (1MP/720P) with array microphone Trusted Platform Module (TPM 2.0) security chip embedded Compact 200W/230W power adapter Built-in 80 Wh rechargeable lithium-ion polymer battery, NVIDIA® Optimus™ support [GeForce GTX 1060] 0.66 in.

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Power tool company Makita sells a coffee machine

Once again, the future has been unevenly distributed: Makita's coffee machine was available in Japan years ago. I can't wait to have one of these in my kitchen. Asahi Shimbun writes:

Makita's first coffee maker went on sale in 2015. It gained in popularity because the same types of batteries as its power tools also work in the coffee machine.

The new model can make a maximum of 5.3 cups of coffee on one charge, from a dedicated coffee pack as well as instant coffee. It weighs 1.5 kilograms.

The new coffee maker is sold at home center and other locations, costing 11,900 yen ($111.40) excluding tax. The battery charger and battery are sold separately.

MAKITA Rechargeable Coffee Maker CM501DZ [Amazon] Read the rest

Motiv fitness-tracking ring comes in all sizes

Beth Skwarecki reviewed the Motiv fitness-tracking ring and liked it a lot. I can't get over how tiny and inconspicuous it is: it syncs wirelessly with a phone app and needs about an hour's charge every two or three days. The limitations are that it only tracks heartrate and movement, deducing sleep, steps and active cardio sessions.

The Motiv ring doesn’t nag you. It doesn’t over-analyze. It just tells you when you slept, how your resting heart rate is doing, and with a little help it can keep track of how much you exercise.

That’s really all the data you can rely on from a fitness tracker, anyway. Tracking heart rate accurately would be nice, but it wouldn’t change my motivation to exercise or my understanding of my own fitness.

It also needs a snug fit and costs $200. [Amazon Link] Read the rest

Pomera heads to English-speaking world with new e-ink folding pocket typewriter

The first Pomera designed for English use looks like the e-ink typewriter I've always wanted, and even has a cleverly-folding full-size keyboard so the whole thing fits in a pocket. Two AA batteries will power it for 20 hours of continuous use, the simple operating system also has a calender and spreadsheet, and there'll be an SD card slot (and QR-code reading app) for transferring files.

A Kickstarter project is underway, seeking $90k to get production rolling.

pomera : Pocket Typewriter with E Ink [Kickstarter]

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Working replica of Snake Plissken's Lifeclock countdown timer watch from Escape From New York

The Lifeclock One: Snake Edition is a $300 licensed replica of the countdown timer watch worn by Snake Plissken in Escape From New York: it's very cool looking and faithful to the original prop, but regrettably, the designers have added in a bunch of "smart-watch" features (Bluetooth, an app, text-message and app notifications from your phone) that raise the price, create needless attack surface, and add complexity. Read the rest

House your Raspberry Pi in a miniature TRS-80 style case

Retro Pi Cases makes and sells adorable housings for tiny computers, and their next model is going to be Tandy's classic TRS-80. It's not available yet, but checking out their site revealed to me their Commodore Amiga model, a no-brainer purchase. Read the rest

Bandai is manufacturing armored cats

Bandai created armored cats ("Nekobusou") as a jokey tweet whose unexpected popularity inspired the toymaker to go into production with a like of armored cat figurines ranging from $5-14 each. Read the rest

New XBox and Windows game controller for people with disabilities

Microsoft's new accessible game controller has a retro vibe, enormous buttons, and a range of attachments tailored to specific disabilities.

The new Xbox Adaptive Controller, which will be available later this year, can be connected to external buttons, switches, joysticks and mounts, giving gamers with a wide range of physical disabilities the ability to customize their setups. The most flexible adaptive controller made by a major gaming company, the device can be used to play Xbox One and Windows 10 PC games and supports Xbox Wireless Controller features such as button remapping.

Reminds me of the original arcade Street Fighter "punchable" buttons (see the photo from Ars Technica, below). There's a certain irony here, because (in their primitive 80s form) they were unreliable and made the game too difficult, leading arcade operators to replace them with normal buttons. Because the punch-plates were pressure sensitive, though, the game required six normal buttons to play properly, kicking off the myriads-of-buttons era in which games became markedly less accessible.

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Completely silent computer built

There's an art and craft to building fanless computers that can do fancy things (like play games), but the one Tim made is housed in the attractive Streacom DB4 and makes no noise at all. Zero decibels. Tim had to research motherboard clearances to the fraction of a millimeter to make sure he picked the right one to work with its heatpipe kit.

This computer makes no noise when it starts up. It makes no noise when it shuts down. It makes no noise when it idles. It makes no noise when it’s under heavy load. It makes no noise when it’s reading or writing data. It can’t be heard in a regular room during the day. It can’t be heard in a completely quiet house in the middle of the night. It can’t be heard from 1m away. It can’t be heard from 1cm away. It can’t be heard — period. It’s taken nearly 30 years to reach this point, but I’ve finally arrived. The journey is over and it feels great.

The full-size Streacom DB4 is $300 at this site; a miniature version is available on Amazon for some obscene sum but you won't be building anything with much grunt in it. Read the rest

What's inside one of those magic chess boards?

Square Off is a crowdfunded chess board that uses a computer and magnets to move pieces physically while playing a human opponent. YouTuber What's Inside? does a teardown to see how it works. Read the rest

Solid brass octopus escape key

For $13, you too can have a writhing brass cephalopod instead of an escape key, one of various bizarre artisan keycaps on offer at BGkeycaps' Etsy store.

These are solid metal keycaps, Not resin made to look like metal. Each keycap is made by hand and cast exactly as a piece of jewelry would be made. They weigh 10-20 grams each. Finishes may vary because I use recycled brass and the different alloys patina differently.

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