Tales From The Dork Web #1

On the trail of the lonesome pinebook...

This is the first Tales From The Dork Web newsletter. If you’ve signed up, I can only apologise. If you stay, it’s all your own fault. If you haven’t signed up and are somehow reading this, why not click on this fancy button here:

Each fortnight I’ll drag you (kicking and screaming if need be) down rabbit holes I’ve loved. I hope you’ll like them. If you don’t, there’ll be another one in a fortnight. If you’ve used Tor, you’ll know what a pain discovery is. You might find you recognise some of the places I take you. I hope you’ll find something new in each post.

ARM64 Comes Of Age?

Lately astr0baby’s work on virtualizing mainframes and Mac OSX on the Pinebook Pro has mesmerized me. In case you weren’t aware of it, the Pinebook Pro is a solid ARM64-based Laptop for under US$200. What’s not to love? It’s got a solid chassis, decent keyboard and trackpad and uses the RK3399 SoC. It's pretty open - more so than any Intel laptop or portable device you’re reading this with.

HackerFantastic is in love. It even runs OpenBSD. A full SoC datasheet is available online. Can't say that about a Core i7. I’d love one but I have too many laptops already. Besides, I’m holding out for the MNT Reform.

Meanwhile, At The Other End Of The SBC Market

The RC2014 has dominated the world of Z80 microcomputers for years. To be fair, the RC2014 is an absolute work of art, if not the sistine chapel of Z80-based CP/M machines. Steve Cousins has been working on his new computer, the SC130. At $49 it's going to spice the Z80 world up, as much as the Z80 world can be spiced up. What does $49 get you in raw CP/M computing power in 2020? A mighty 18MHz Z180 CPU with on-board MMU, 512K RAM, 512K ROM and SD card storage. Amazingly, the SC130 consists of only 6 chips.

If building your own Z80 computer to run CP/M is too much, then CPMEmu is a great way to play with CP/M on a Raspberry Pi. Those with an ESP8266 and a couple of hours of free time can tinker with CPM8266 instead. Of course, if you lack the patience to configure CP/M on an ESP8266 or Raspberry Pi, you can always use a browser. Stefan Tramm wrote a lovely guide to this web-based CP/M emulator at the Pagetable blog. If you want to dive into CP/M (and it’s worth a rainy Sunday afternoon at least) then it’s too dangerous to go alone, take this. Also this.

The late, great, Gary Kildall, author of CP/M talks about CP/M, Operating Systems and Concurrent CP/M in this Computer Chronicles video. If you haven’t watched the Computer Chronicles, it’s a great series full of tech from times gone by.

Things You Might’ve Missed

My favourite video in the last couple of weeks was by Ghidra Ninja on backdooring an IoT webcam. You don’t need the hardware to try it out, and it’s easy to play along.

This filesystem repo holds an interesting FAT and EXT2 filesystem polyglot.

Jan Schaumann writes about ops lessons we all learn the hard way. I feel seen.

Remember China’s Social Credit Score? A similar concept is already here and being used against people, just differently implemented.

Ken Shirriff pulls apart a Soyuz spacecraft’s digital clock. I love Soviet-era space technology teardowns.

The most cyberpunk thing I’ve seen this week is abusing this parking enforcement tool for unlimeted free phone data.

Almost equally cyberpunk, Jay Doscher created a cool floating cyberdeck to hang off his desk.

Almost almost equally, but not quite as cyberpunk, Panasonic have created what looks like Chaos Engine-inspired VR steampunk glasses. They’re more concept than polished product, but at least you’ll look less of a Star Trek: TNG extra than if you wore Sony’s 2000s era Personal Viewer.

Speaking of the Chaos Engine, there’s a Doom Total Conversion in the works. I warned you there’d be rabbit holes!

A final thought from the fediverse:

“Tech security reminder: your typewriter ribbon is a keystroke logger”

Hopefully you've enjoyed this read. I’d be grateful for any feedback or suggestions you may have for the newsletter. Please do forward it on to anyone you think who might like it, and encourage others to subscribe if they like it. I’ll be back in your inbox in two Thursday’s time with a loveletter to the Atari Lynx.

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Till next time,

Steve