QuickBASIC Lives On with QB64

When I got my first computer, a second hand 386 running MS-DOS 6.22, I didn’t have an Internet connection. But I did have QuickBASIC installed and a stack of programming magazines the local library was throwing out, so I had plenty to keep myself busy. At the time, I thought QuickBASIC was more or less indistinguishable from magic. I could write simple code and compile it into an .exe, put it on a floppy, and give it to somebody else to run on their own machine. It seemed too good to be true, how could this technology possibly be improved upon?

Of course, that was many years ago, and things are very different now. The programming languages du jour are worlds more capable than the plodding BASIC variants of the 80’s and 90’s. But still, when I found a floppy full of programs I wrote decades ago, I couldn’t help but wonder about getting them running again. With something like DOSBox I reasoned I should be able to install the QuickBASIC IDE and run them like I was back on my trusty 386.

Unfortunately, that was not to be. Maybe I’m just not well versed enough in DOSBox, but I couldn’t get the IDE to actually run any of the source code I pulled off the floppy. This was disappointing, but then it occured to me that modern BASIC interpreters are probably being developed in some corner of the Internet, and perhaps I could find a way to run my nearly 30 year old code without having to rely on 30 year old software to do it. Continue reading “QuickBASIC Lives On with QB64”

Mechanisms: Mechanical Seals

On the face of it, keeping fluids contained seems like a simple job. Your fridge alone probably has a dozen or more trivial examples of liquids being successfully kept where they belong, whether it’s the plastic lid on last night’s leftovers or the top on the jug of milk. But deeper down in the bowels of the fridge, like inside the compressor or where the water line for the icemaker is attached, are more complex and interesting mechanisms for keeping fluids contained. That’s the job of seals, the next topic in our series on mechanisms.

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Vera Rubin: Shedding Light on Dark Matter

Vera sat hunched in the alcove at Kitt Peak observatory, poring over punch cards. The data was the same as it had been at Lowell, at Palomar, and every other telescope she’d peered through in her feverish race to collect the orbital velocities of stars in Andromeda. Although the data was perfectly clear, the problem it posed was puzzling. If the stars at the edges of spiral galaxy were moving as fast as the ones in the center, but the pull of gravity was weaker, how did they keep from flying off? The only possible answer was that Andromeda contained some kind of unseen matter and this invisible stuff was keeping the galaxy together.

Though the idea seemed radical, it wasn’t an entirely new one. In 1933, Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky made an amazing discovery that was bound to bring him fame and fortune. While trying to calculate the total mass of the galaxies that make up the Coma Cluster, he found that the mass calculation based on galaxy speed was about ten times higher than the one based on total light output. With this data as proof, he proposed that much of the universe is made of something undetectable, but undeniably real. He dubbed it Dunkle Materie: Dark Matter.

But Zwicky was known to regularly bad mouth his colleagues and other astronomers in general. As a result, his wild theory was poorly received and subsequently shelved until the 1970s, when astronomer Vera Rubin made the same discovery using a high-powered spectrograph. Her findings seemed to provide solid evidence of the controversial theory Zwicky had offered forty years earlier.

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Hackaday Dublin Unconference: Grab Your Tickets!

Hackaday comes together in Ireland on April 7th and we want you to be there. Get your free ticket right now for the Hackaday Dublin Unconference!

An Unconference is the best way to put your finger on the pulse of what is happening in the hardware world right now. Everyone who attends should be ready to stand and deliver a seven-minute talk on something that excites them right now — this means you. The easiest thing to do is grab your latest hack off the shelf and talk about that.

Talks may be about a prototype, project, or product currently in progress at your home, work, or university. It could also be an idea, concept, or skill that you’re now exploring. The point is to channel your excitement and pass it on to others in a friendly presentation environment where everyone will cheer as your story unfolds.

Hackaday hosted an excellent Unconference in London back in September to a packed house for dozens of amazing presentations on a huge range of topics. We heard about bicycle turn signals, laser enhancing NES zappers, telepresence robots with IKEA origin stories, tiny-pitch LED matrix design, driving flip-dot displays, not trusting hardware 2-factor, and much more.

All the tickets for that event were scooped up in a few hours, and a huge waitlist followed. Don’t wait to grab your ticket!

We’re so happy to partner with DesignSpark, the exclusive sponsor of the Hackaday Dublin Unconference. DesignSpark is the innovation arm of RS Components and will have some staff on hand at the Unconference. They share our excitement in bringing together the Hackaday community throughout Europe. It is with their support that we are able to book an incredible venue and offer admission at no cost to all attendees. Hackaday events fill to capacity quickly, so get your ticket now before they are gone.

This Unconference is being held at Project Arts Centre, right at the heart of the Temple Bar area in central Dublin. The performing arts space has comfortable seating and is perfect for our presentation format. We’ll get started at 13:00. Tea, coffee, and snacks will be served throughout the afternoon and we’ll provide dinner as well. Anyone who is still standing when we close the doors at 21:00 is invited to join us at the pub afterward (we’ll get the first round).

As always, Hackaday’s success is based on the community of hackers, designers, and engineers that make it up. Please share the link to tickets on your social media and pester your friends to attend. Most importantly, don’t shy away from this speaking opportunity. We want to hear your story and this is the place to tell it. See you in Dublin in just a few short weeks!

Whatever Happened To The Desktop Computer?

If you buy a computer today, you’re probably going to end up with a laptop. Corporate drones have towers stuffed under their desks. The cool creative types have iMacs littering their open-plan offices. Look around on the online catalogs of any computer manufacturer, and you’ll see there are exactly three styles of computer: laptops, towers, and all-in-ones. A quick perusal of Newegg reveals an immense variety of towers; you can buy an ATX full tower, an ATX mid-tower, micro-ATX towers, and even Mini-ITX towers.

It wasn’t always this way. Nerds of a sufficient vintage will remember the desktop computer. This was, effectively, a tower tilted on its side. You could put your monitor on top, negating the need for a stack of textbooks bringing your desktop up to eye level. The ports, your CD drive, and even your fancy Zip drive were right there in front of you. Now, those days of desktop computers are long gone, and the desktop computer is relegated to history. What happened to the desktop computer, and why is a case specifically designed for a horizontal orientation so hard to find?

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The uA723 As A Switch Mode Regulator

If you are an electronic engineer or received an education in electronics that went beyond the very basics, there is a good chance that you will be familiar with the Fairchild μA723. This chip designed by the legendary Bob Widlar and released in 1967 is a kit-of-parts for building all sorts of voltage regulators. Aside from being a very useful device, it may owe some of its long life to appearing as a teaching example in Paul Horowitz and Winfield Hill’s seminal text, The Art Of Electronics. It’s a favourite chip of mine, and I have written about it extensively both on these pages and elsewhere.

The Fairchild switching regulator circuit. From the μA723 data sheet in their 1973 linear IC databook, page 194 onwards.
The Fairchild switching regulator circuit. From the μA723 data sheet in their 1973 linear IC databook, page 194 onwards.

For all my experimenting with a μA723 over the decades there is one intriguing circuit on its data sheet that I have never had the opportunity to build. Figure 9 on the original Fairchild data sheet is a switching regulator, a buck converter using a pair of PNP transistors along with the diode and inductor you would expect. Its performance will almost certainly be eclipsed by a multitude of more recent dedicated converter chips, but it remains the one μA723 circuit I have never built. Clearly something must be done to rectify this situation.

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Hovercraft of the Future

We think of hovercraft as a modern conveyance. After all, any vision of the future usually includes hovercraft or flying cars along with all the other things we imagine in the future. So when do you think the hovercraft first appeared? The 1960s? The 1950s? Maybe it was a World War II development from the 1940s? Turns out, a human-powered hovercraft was dreamed up (but not built) in 1716 by [Emanuel Swedenborg]. You can see a sketch from his notebook below. OK, that’s not fair, though. Imagining it and building one are two different things.

[Swedenborg] realized a human couldn’t keep up the work to put his craft on an air cushion for any length of time. Throughout the 1800s, though, engineers kept thinking about the problem. Around 1870, [Sir John Thornycroft] built several test models of ship’s hulls that could trap air to reduce drag — an idea called air lubrication, that had been kicked around since 1865. However, with no practical internal combustion engine to power it, [Thornycroft’s] patents didn’t come to much. In America, around 1876 [John Ward] proposed a lightweight platform using rotary fans for lift but used wheels to get forward motion. Others built on the idea, but they still lacked the engines to make it completely practical.

But even 1940 is way too late for a working hovercraft. [Dagobert Müller] managed that in 1915. With five engines, the craft was like a wing that generated lift in motion. It was a warship with weapons and a top speed of around 32 knots, although it never saw actual combat. Because of its physical limitations it could only operate over water, unlike more modern craft.

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