Prosthetic synaesthesia and cortical implants.

  achromatopsia engineering implants neurology prosthetics synaesthesia

The human brain is a remarkably complex and flexible organ, with as many possible failure modes and glitches as there are emergent and surprising properties. Take something away, and sometimes you can coax another part of the brain to take up the slack in some other way. Case in point, artist Neil Harbisson. Harbisson was born with a condition called achromatopsia, which is the name for a group of disorders which collectively result in the same phenomenon - he cannot see colors, only shades of greyscale. Sometimes it's a neurological dysfunction, sometimes it's a defect in the retina, and sometimes it's …

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Turtles All the Way Down: Firmware and bootloaders.

  bios boot_loaders computers engineering firmware opensource software systems

After rethinking this post a little, I feel a need to caveat things: In a previous post in this series I mentioned the possibility of using an open source System On A Chip because it would simplify the construction process somewhat. I've been doing some more research and I'm not certain that all SoC's (if that is the direction a project like this would go in) require system firmware of the sort we're about to discuss. The Broadcom BCM2835 mentioned earlier, for example, has firmware on board that is sufficient to initialize the hardware and then try to load the …

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Turtles all the way down: Fabbing circuit boards

  circuit_boards computers discussion engineering fabrication opensource

This brings us right along to designing and fabricating the circuit boards that our bright, shiny new open source chips will plug into. This level of complexity is probably one of the best understood parts of the development process. Arguably electrical engineering has been around since the discovery of electricity, because a circuit of some kind is required to guide an electrical current to do useful work. You could make the case that the wet string that Benjamin Franklin's kite was tied to was one of the first electrical conductors (because the Baghdad battery hypothesis has too many holes in …

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Turtles all the way down: SoCs and Storage

  computers engineering firmware fpga hardware microprocessors opensource peripherals storage system_on_a_chip trade_offs trust

This brings us along to designs that are rather common even though we don't normally think of them as either common or systems. By this, I refer to SoC's - Systems On A Chip. As the name implies, they are full (or nearly so) computers implemented as single mother-huge silicon chips (relatively speaking). On the die you'll find a CPU or microcontroller, supporting electronics for same, an MMU, and enough interfaces to do whatever you want, be it plug in a USB keyboard and mouse, an Ethernet adapter, or a simple USB-to-serial converter circuit. An excellent example of a SoC is …

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Turtles all the way down: Integrated circuits

  computers engineering fpga hdl integrated_circuits manufacture risk threat_models

The next phase of the trusted open computer project is actually manufacturing usable integrated circuits that you can plug into a circuit board, apply power to, and use to do whatever it is that you do. In other words, processing information.

I hate to be a killjoy, but this is really hard. A vital question that we have to ask at this point is whether or not this is the point at which the project is pwnable by a determined third party. Fabbing integrated circuitry on silicon wafers is, to be gentle, a nontrivial process. Here are a couple of …

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Turtles all the way down: Hardware

  computers engineering hardware microprocessors opensource trust vhdl

So, let's get down to the nitty-gritty.

Let's lay one thing out first: At some point you're going to have to start trusting your toolchain because it simply won't be possible to accomplish some of the necessary tasks yourself. The lowest possible level sseems as good a place as any to start. I mean silicon wafers, the basic component of integrated circuitry. Let's face it, nobody's in a position to turn ordinary sand and handfuls of trace elements into silicon wafers themselves. This is a very complex operation that you can't do in your basement these days. There are lots …

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That's what they all said.

  api applications engineering software

In an application development team consisting of n engineers, expect n distinct APIs or translation layers to be developed for use inside the application they are building, all of which are designed "To simplify the API of the other layers my code interfaces with."

Project Byzantium called to assist relief efforts in New York.

  disaster engineering hacking hurricane mesh_networking new_york_city project_byzantium relief sandy telecommunications

As a result of the damage done to New York City by Hurricane Sandy the week before last, Project Byzantium was contacted by representatives of several NGOs and non-profit organizations we've been in contact with as a result of our work on community wireless mesh networks. We were asked if Byzantium Linux might be useful in assisting relief efforts in New York City by restoring communications on the local level. As this is one of our primary use cases, we responded in the affirmative, and were told that we might be asked to go to New York City to help …

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HacDC at the USA Science and Engineering Festival.

  booth byzantium dc engineering exhibits festival hacdc hackers kids projects science

A week or two ago it was announced on one of the HacDC mailing lists that we'd been given a pair of tables at the second USA Science and Engineering Festival which was held this past weekend. It was a call to members who wanted to exhibit their work during the festival, and not a few of us threw our headgear into the ring. Rather than hold a Byzantium development sprint this weekend Sitwon, Haxwithaxe, and I met at HacDC to mass-produce demo CDs of Byzantium Linux to give out at our table along with the HacDC stickers, postcards, and …

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