Myth Tested: DOS Can’t Multitask

It’s a piece of common knowledge, that MS-DOS wasn’t capable of multitasking. For that, the Microsoft-based PC user would have to wait for the 80386, and usable versions of Windows. But like so many such pieces of received Opinion, this one is full of holes. As [Lunduke] investigates, there were several ways to multitask DOS, and they didn’t all depend on third-party software.

A quick look at DESQview and Concurrent DOS was expected from this article, but of more surprise is that IBM had a multitasking DOS called TopView, or even that Microsoft themselves released the fully multitasking MS-DOS 4.0. We remember DOS 4 as being less than sparkling, but reading the article it’s obvious that we’re thinking of the single-tasking version 4.01.

From 2023 it seems obvious that multitasking is a fundamental requirement of PC use, but surprisingly back in the 1980s a PC was much more a single-application device. On one hand it’s surprising given the number of multitasking DOS products on the market that none of them became mainstream, but perhaps the best evidence of the PC market simply not being ready for it comes in the fact that they didn’t.

If you fancy experimenting with DOS multitasking, at least machines on which to do it can still be found.

Why VR As Monitor Replacement Is Likely To Be Terrible For A While Yet

Putting on a headset and using virtual monitors in VR instead of physical ones is a use case that pops up, but is it really something feasible? [Karl Guttag], who has long experience and a deep understanding of the technical challenges that face such devices, doesn’t seem to think so.

In his writeup [Karl] often focuses on the recently-unveiled high resolution Apple Vision Pro, but the issues he discusses transcend any particular product. His article is worth the read for anyone with an interest in these issues, but we’ll summarize some main points here. Continue reading “Why VR As Monitor Replacement Is Likely To Be Terrible For A While Yet”

Pedal Car Vs Ministry Of Transport

[Tim] from the “Way Out West” Youtube channels has started a fun project — building a wooden pedal-car heavily inspired by “Bugsy Malone”. The kids-sized gangsters in that movie got around in kid-sized pedal cars. Apparently kid-sized [Tim] just loved the idea, but just didn’t have the skills or tools to try to build one. But the time has come, and he has spent years putting together a workshop, tools, and skills.

The goal is a 4-wheeled vehicle that can actually be enclosed, to keep the driver out of the rain. It would be petal powered, with an optional electric assist. It should be made of simple materials, like plywood and epoxy. The design would be freely shared, and the overall cost hopefully kept low. Come back after the link to find the rest of the story, including the monkey wrench thrown into the works.
Continue reading “Pedal Car Vs Ministry Of Transport”

3D Print Your Own Seiko-Style “Magic Lever” Energy Harvester

Back in 1956, Seiko created their “magic lever” as an integral part of self-winding mechanical watches, which were essentially mechanical energy harvesters. The magic lever is a type of ratcheting arrangement that ensures a main gear only ever advances in a single direction. [Robert Murray-Smith] goes into detail in this video (here’s a link cued up to 1:50 where he begins discussing the magic lever)

There is a lot of naturally-occuring reciprocal motion in our natural world. That is to say, there is plenty of back-and-forth and side-to-side, but not a lot of round-and-round. So, an effective mechanism for a self-winding watch needed a way to convert unpredictable reciprocal motion into a unidirectional rotary one. The magic lever was one way to do so, and it only has three main parts. [Robert] drew these up into 3D models, which he demonstrates in his video, embedded below.

The 3D models for Seiko’s magic lever are available here, and while it’s fun to play with, [Robert] wonders if it could be integrated into something else. We’ve certainly seen plenty of energy harvesting projects, and while they are mostly electrical, we’ve also seen ideas about how to harvest the energy from falling raindrops.

Continue reading “3D Print Your Own Seiko-Style “Magic Lever” Energy Harvester”

2023 Hackaday Prize: A Reinvented Solar Tracker

It probably goes without saying that solar panels need to be pointed at the sun for optimal performance. The tricky bit is that the sun has a funny habit of moving on you. For those with a solar panel on their balcony or garden, mysoltrk tracks the sun to get the most out of a small solar panel.

[Fulvio] built the tracker to be solid, low cost, and sturdy enough to survive outdoors, which is quite a tall order. Low cost meant WiFi and GPS were out. The first challenge was low-cost linear actuators that were 3D printed with a mechanism to lock the shaft. An N20 6 volt 30 RPM geared motor formed the heart of the actuator. Four photo-resistors inside a printed viewfinder detect where the sun is, allowing the system to steer the array to get equal values on all the sensors. An Arduino Nano was chosen as it was low power, low cost, and easy to modify. A L298N h-bridge drives the motors, and a shunt is used instead of limit switches to reduce costs further.

There are a few other clever tricks. A voltage divider reads the power coming off the panel so the circuit doesn’t brown out trying to move the actuators. The load can also be switched off via an IRL540n. As of the time of writing, only the earlier versions of the code are up on GitHub, as [Fulvio] is still working on refining the tracking algorithm. But the actuators work wonderfully. We love the ingenuity and focus on low cost, which probably explains why mysoltrk was selected as a finalist in the 2023 Hackaday Prize Green Hacks challenge.

Continue reading “2023 Hackaday Prize: A Reinvented Solar Tracker”

Share Your Projects: Leave Breadcrumbs

I’ve talked about a low-effort way to document your projects by taking plenty of pictures, and about ways that your PCBs could be documenting themselves. Today, let’s talk about a quick and easy way that you could help other hackers as you go through your own hacking adventures — leaving breadcrumbs.

In short, breadcrumbs are little pieces of crucial information that you had to spend time to figure out. They are solutions to problems that another hacker just like you could stumble upon in the future, something that you perhaps wish you didn’t have to figure out on your own, and certainly something that others won’t need to spend time figuring out.

Breadcrumbs are about saving time, for you and others. It helps if you think of your solved problems in terms of time spent. If you figure out a small problem and then publish your solution, you might be saving half an hour, a full hour, or a good few hours of time another hacker that’s could even be less experienced in debugging than you. In fact, your breadcrumb might even make a difference between someone completing a project and abandoning it!

However, there’s also the trade-off of taking time to document something. If you can’t publish your solution in a few minutes’ time, it might become much harder to persuade your brain to publish the next time you have something notable. Here’s a guideline: if you’ve just figured out a cool terminal command that helps you solve a certain kind of problem, you should have a quick way to publish that command within a minute. The good news is, the internet has a hundred different places you could easily share your findings, depending on the kind of problem you’ve solved! Continue reading “Share Your Projects: Leave Breadcrumbs”

MS-DOS Meets The Fediverse

By now, most Windows users are set up with decently functional machines running Windows 10 or 11. Of course there are a few legacy machines still lagging behind on Windows 7 or 8 and plenty of computers in industrial settings running ancient proprietary software on Windows XP. But only the most hardcore of IBM PC users are still running DOS, and if you have eschewed things like Unix for this command-line operating system this long you might want to try using it to get online in the Fediverse with Mastodon.

The first step is getting DOS 6.22, the most recent version released in 1994, set up with all the drivers and software needed to access the Internet. At the time of its release there were many networking options so the operating system didn’t include these tools by default. [Stephen] first sets up an emulated NE2000-compatible networking card and then installs the entire TCP/IP stack and then gets his virtual machine set up with an IP address.

With a working Internet connection set up, the next step on the path of exploring federated social media is to install DOStodon (although we might have favored the name “MastoDOS”) which is a Mastodon client specifically built for MS-DOS by [SuperIlu]. There are pre-compiled packages available on its GitHub page for easy installation in DOS but the source code is available there as well. And, if this is your first time hearing about the Fediverse, it is mostly an alternative to centralized social media like Facebook and Reddit but the decentralization isn’t without its downsides.