So, this morning I was having a retro moment and wondered about the original Xbox, the classic one from 2001 which was so popular. It was build on a pseudo Windows system with an Intel processor. Then I remembered the PS2 slim which was reintroduced long after the PS3 had taken over as Sony's flagship and how Sega have also licensed their technology to create retro clones.
If we look at the Xbox1's original specification:
CPU: 700MHz Pentium III Coppermine
RAM: 64MB DDR1 @ 200MHz
GPU: Custom NVidia ASIC @ 233MHz
Audio: NVidia custom Surround Processor
Storage: 8GB IDE HDD
Security: Secure BIOS
Extras: 100Mbit Ethernet, Analogue Component HD, USB1.1, and other AV connectors
So, when you compare this to the CE 3100 from Intel, which is being used by set-top box vendors to build the next generation of multimedia products, you find some interesting parallels:
CPU: +800MHz Pentium-M
RAM: Up to 3GB DDR2
GPU: Intel GMA500 (PowerVR SGX 535)
Audio: Dual core 337MHz DSP processors
Storage: Flash or SATA
Optical: DVD via SATA
Extras: GBit Ethernet, HDMI, USB2, and other AV connectors
So, Dear Microsoft, why not 'Reload' the old XBox classic as a new product and get some revenue from that old architecture? The CE range supports DirectX 9, so there should be legacy support for the graphics calls. I don't know how the GMA 500 compares to the Xbox1's custom ASIC but they are 8-9 years apart in development so they can't be too different. If there are differences they might be resolved with a bucket of faster DDR2 RAM and the better CPU clock.
I would imagine an XBox Reloaded spec would look something like this:
SoC: Intel CE3100
RAM: 256MB of DDR2 @ 800MHz (a bucket extra useful for other things)
Storage: 8GB of Flash (shouldn't need more, but can utilise USB 2 flash or HDD)
Optical: Slimline DVD-ROM
AV: HDMI, TOSLink, Composite
Networking: 100Mbit ethernet (GBit might increase power/cost)
The whole thing should be able to emulate the Xbox's original design without much special assistance, just the addition of SATA support to the microkernel, modification of the security mechanism and replacement of the graphics drivers (the highest risk element). If there was any problem with this it might even be possible to use a microkernel bootloader or BIOS to emulate the IDE on SATA in legacy mode and possibly even map the GPU calls. I would put a bootloader on the box which booted a version of MeeGo Linux stored in Flash as an alternative media player tool and possible DVD player alternative function.
Thus you would have a decent media player, a TV browser and a most importantly of all: a very cool retro-games console capable of playing games like Halo, Project Gotham Racing, MotoGP and Splinter Cell. All for under £100 retail! I know you can get a new Xbox 360 for £160 but there is always a market for the retro and a lower end product. The return on investment could be good and it could reach new markets as a "computer for all" in developing markets!
So, I was reading an article which described how a penetration testing company managed to get past a firewall by posting an employee a specially rigged mouse! The idea was that my embedding a micro-controller in the mouse which could be programmed to disable the virus protection on a computer and then load some Trojan vector. The real difference in this design was that it didn't depend on a USB memory stick and autoload, it used HID keyboard commands instead.
One of the comments in The Register article made me think, the suggestion was basically this could be more than just a mouse. That had me thinking:
Why not put a 2G modem embedded in the keyboard!? Not just a dumb one, but one programmed to accept an incoming connection or create a reverse connection to the hacker. An mbed processor could act as the infection vector controller, or perhaps even one of the modems with embedded python-on-a-chip just to make it neat?
Then wow, that is a really big security risk and not that difficult to achieve. OK hackers, you have your next project, get going!
More than a month ago now I announced my departure from Humax as their Chief Technologist. I have since been working for nice company doing some productisation work and while that has been interesting I have missed my colleagues at Humax. Recently I was called by my former Director, we had some discussions and after some careful negotiations I am returning to Humax. I am now to be a member of the development team and as part of this I will now be working more in Korea than before. It is a nice step-up for me and I hope I can input some valuable effort to the Humax development process. My departure from Humax was part of my personal development and I think it also gave a number of parties opportunities to consider approaches. This year is, so far, not only a good one for me but also I think this will be an important year for the companies I work with. The development of the YouView set-top boxes in partnership with the TV industry will be a minor revolution for the market place and Humax is well placed to take advantage of that through foresight and determination to lead the UK TV market. Furthermore I am also looking forward to working with freesat to bring their ambitions to fruition and I think that working together with them Humax can help their platform really evolve.
Here's to the next step!
Having previously worked in education and still maintaining an interest in life-long learning I find it interesting to read what people have to say about the state of modern education. Regularly I see tweets and blog posts from the likes of @Euan and @MMetcalfe about teaching and learning. Not specifically from the aforementioned people, but one thing I often hear maligned is lecturing, the process by which teaching is done from the front and experience is shared, essentially lecturing to the audience. This is in compliment to the Socratic Method, in which lecturing is used with questioning to establish a pattern of feedback to measure student understanding and pace.
Recently The London Evening Standard has been doing a series of articles about literacy in London and how it affects us. Apparently four in ten job applications are now rejected on the basis of poor grammar and spelling and I saw this in action when I was lecturing because I would mark reports that I could barely understand. I was occasionally told that I shouldn't mark a student down because of their ability with English but I never respected that view, if you can't communicate then you deserve a lower mark people need to be driven to success. I've often discussed this with friends and family, and it seems to me, and a few others, that one of the biggest problems that we are having today is discipline and respect. I don't mean in a Victorian punishment kind of way, but in terms of the way those in authority are respected, or not as it seems now. No longer are teachers and the police given the veneration that they need to do their jobs. Parents and guardians no longer tell their children that they must respect and obey teachers and policemen.
Now, I know there have always been disruptive students, there have been since the beginning of time, but once upon a time students knew who the boss was and these days it is politically incorrect to have a boss. I am not the most disciplined person in the world, but I know who is in charge and I like to think I also know how to take some authority when needed. Learning the basics of language really takes routine and practice, boring repartition and positive re-enforcement. Sometimes children need to sit down and try, and fail, and then try again because if at first we don't succeed... Looking from a far there is a great deal of effort going into finding 'alternative' ways to teach children, when actually if that effort was spent doing boring stuff then the children might learn the virtue of doing mundane tasks. Because there are virtues in learning to do mundane tasks that a person in authority requires you to do and you shouldn't always question authority.
Of course children need to be educated in critical thought, analysis and debate, I feel this more now than I have ever done, but they must also learn about self-discipline and motivation. In school my Design and Technology (metal and woodwork) teacher, who was very much old school, insisted that we couldn't leave the class at the end until we had correctly answered a multiplication-table question. This forced us to look it up and learn them, otherwise we wouldn't be able to leave and we would be a little embarrassed. Some might see this as bullying, I don't, I think it was a cleaver way of motivating us and remember this man wasn't a maths teacher he was just a man passionate about ensuring we had the right level of numeracy, which is more than I can say about some mathematics teachers I have known.
Perhaps I am getting more conservative in my old age (;-) but I look at society and the way that the suitability of employment candidates has fallen in recent years and I think it is a shame. I want the world to thrive and I don't want the Western states to become the new third-world. Remember that in many third world countries children can't all go to school but a child will do as much as they can just for the chance to be educated, yet in Europe they children will happily commit crime just to avoid going to school! So, I believe parents need to take an active role in ensuring that children respect teachers and uniformed authorities, this is quite controversial in itself and then I think teachers need to start concentrating on getting the basics sorted through routine not through time-wasting creativity. I feel teachers should be inspiring through their leadership and enthusiasm, not so much through dressing up and entertaining students, after all teaching should be engaging but it doesn't have to be entertaining. It would take years to get back into some sense of order in schools, but perhaps then students would start turning up at higher education who can actually write something which makes sense and companies wouldn't have to do remedial education for their students.
Also, testing and exams might not be pleasant and they don't represent everyone's abilities, but when combined with practical work and essays I think they are effective measures of students. The idea of not being competitive at schools is ridiculous, I want people to be acknowledged as being a bit thick so they can be motivated to succeed. I wasn't much use at sports, but discipline forced me to participate more than I would have done of my own free will and I even found some things I was good at in sports. Everyone has something they are good at, I believe this, but some people are better than others. This doesn't have to be a Plutocracy in which success is dictated by wealth, but it doesn't have to exclude people from doing well and it seems to me that it is unacceptable to push one group ahead because it might offend those who are less able.
That is my rant, you are welcome to it.