An assortment of MemoryStick cards and devices, some of them, arguably cursed, like a MemoryStick-slot-connected camera.

Hacker Challenges MemoryStick To A Fight And Wins

It’s amazing when a skilled hacker reverse-engineers a proprietary format and shares the nitty-gritty with everyone. Today is a day when we get one such write-up – about MemoryStick. It is one of those proprietary formats, a staple of Sony equipment, these SD-card-like storage devices were evidently designed to help pad Sony’s pockets, as we can see from the tight lock-in and inflated prices. As such, this format has always remained unapproachable to hackers. No more – [Dmitry Grinberg] is here with an extensive breakdown of MemoryStick protocol and internals.

If you ever want to read about a protocol that is not exactly sanely designed, from physical layer quirks to things like inexplicable large differences between MemoryStick and MemoryStick Pro, this will be an entertaining read for hackers of all calibers. Dmitry doesn’t just describe the bad parts of the design, however, as much as that rant is entertaining to read – most of the page is taken by register summaries, struct descriptions and insights, the substance about MemoryStick that we never got.

One sentence is taken to link to a related side project of [Dmitry] that’s a rabbithole on its own – he has binary patched MemoryStick drivers for PalmOS to add MemoryStick Pro support to some of the Sony Clie handhelds. Given the aforementioned differences between non-Pro and Pro standards, it’s a monumental undertaking for a device older than some of this site’s readers, and we can’t help but be impressed.

To finish the write-up off, [Dmitry] shares with us some MemoryStick bit-banging examples for the STM32. Anyone who ever wanted to approach MemoryStick, be it for making converter adapters to revive old tech, data recovery or preservation purposes, or simply hacker curiosity, now can feel a bit less alone in their efforts.

We are glad to see such great hacking on the MemoryStick front – it’s much needed, to the point where our only article mentioning MemoryStick is about avoiding use of the MemoryStick slot altogether. [Dmitry] is just the right person for reverse-engineering jobs like this, with extensive reverse-engineering history we’ve been keeping track of – his recent reverse-engineering journey of an unknown microcontroller in cheap E-Ink devices is to behold.

Pumpkin OS running on x86

Palm OS: Reincarnate

[pmig96] loves PalmOS and has set about on the arduous task of reimplementing PalmOS from scratch, dubbing it Pumpkin OS. Pumpkin OS can run on x86 and ARM at native speed as it is not an emulator. System calls are trapped and intercepted by Pumpkin OS. Because it doesn’t emulate, Palm apps currently need to be recompiled for x86, though it’s hoped to support apps that use ARMlets soon. Since there are over 800 different system traps in PalmOS, he hasn’t implemented them all yet.

Generally speaking, his saving grace is that 80% of the apps only use 20% of the API. His starting point was a script that took the headers from the PalmOS SDK and converted them into functions with just a debug message letting him know that it isn’t implemented yet and a default return value. Additionally, [pmig96] is taking away some of the restrictions on the old PalmOS, such as being limited to only one running app at a time.

As if an x86 desktop version wasn’t enough, [pmig96] recompiled Pumpkin OS to a Raspberry Pi 4 with a ubiquitous 3.5″ 320×480 TFT SPI touch screen. Linux maps the TFT screen to a frame buffer (dev/fb0 or dev/fb1). He added a quick optimization to only draw areas that have changed so that the SPI writes could be kept small to keep the frame rate performance.

[pmig96] isn’t the only one trying to breathe some new life into PalmOS, and we hope to see more progress on PumpkinOS in the future.

Bringing PalmOS Back To Life

Ten years is almost ancient history in the computing world. Going back twelve years is almost unheard of, but that’s about the time that Palm released the last version of their famed PalmOS, an operating system for small, handheld devices that predated Apple’s first smartphone by yet another ten years. As with all pieces of good software there remain devotees, but with something that hasn’t been updated in a decade there’s a lot of work to be done. [Dmitry.GR] set about doing that work, and making a workable Palm device for the modern times.

He goes into incredible detail on this build, but there are some broad takeaways from the project. First, Palm never really released all of the tools that developers would need to build software easily, including documentation of the API system. Since a new device is being constructed, a lot of this needs to be sorted out. Even a kernel was built from scratch for this project, since using a prebuilt one such as Linux was not possible. There were many other pieces of software needed in order to get a working operating system together running on an ARM processor, which he calls rePalm.

There are many other facets of this project that we aren’t able to get into in this limited space, but if you’re at all interested in operating systems or if you fondly remember the pre-smartphone era devices such the various Palm PDAs that were available in the late ’90s and early ’00s, it’s worth taking a look at this one. And if you’d like to see [Dmitry.GR]’s expertise with ARM, he is well-versed.

Thanks to [furre] for the tip!

Upgrading The Battery In A Wrist PDA

No, your eyes do not deceive you. That’s a wrist-mounted PDA. Specifically, a Fossil Wrist PDA, also known as an Abacus, that was sold from 2003 to about 2005. Yep, it’s running PalmOS. [mclien] has had this watch/PDA for a while now, and found the original 180mAh battery wasn’t cutting it anymore. He made a little modification to the watch to get a 650mAh battery in this PDA by molding a new back for it.

The original PDA used a round Lithium cell, but being ten years old, the battery technology in this smart watch is showing its years. [mclien] found two batteries (380mAh and 270mAh) that fit almost perfectly inside the battery.

The new batteries were about 3mm too thick for the existing case back, so [mclien] began by taking the old case, adding a few bits of aluminum and resin, and making a positive for a mold. Two or three layers of glass twill cloth were used to form the mold, resined up, and vacuum bagged.

After many, many attempts, [mclien] just about has the case back for this old smartwatch complete. The project build logs are actually a great read, showing exactly what doesn’t work, and are a great example of using as a build log, instead of just project presentation.