CueCat hacking

cuecat

The CueCat will always hold a place in hardware hacking history. Actually, anything that makes C&D letters start the to fly will guarantee memory. The CueCat is a simple barcode scanner that was a magazine throw-in. Most people got their’s from Wired, but you could get them from Radio Shack for free. The idea was to scan barcodes embedded in magazine ads and the included software would take you directly to the related website. The problem was that each of these devices transmitted its unique serial number to the software so the parent company could track what you were interested in. Well techies weren’t having any of that and soon began stripping off the serial number. The device also didn’t work as a regular barcode scanner because of some built-in obfuscation. People were able to change the device to read regular UPC codes and then cataloging software was developed so you could keep track of your movies, books, and CDs. Needless to say the company was not happy with this development. Here is one site’s story.

[carpespasm] had sent this in last week and I had brushed it off thinking “yeah I’ve seen it before, and it is interesting, but the old specialized hardware gives it limited appeal”. In a bit of zen BoingBoing recently posted about a liquidator selling two million of these things. You don’t have to buy that many though. I bumped over to eBay and found that for a couple of bucks you can get one of these. So, if you’re curious the hardware is out there.

Comments

  1. Miguel says:

    I have the 68-1966 USB version of the CueCat, but there doesn’t seem to be any instructions on the Web for how to hack this sucker. I’ve been trying to use this ‘Cat as the input device for Delicious Library (http://www.delicious-monster.com/), but so far I haven’t had any luck getting my Mac OS X-based PowerBook G4 to recognize and utilize the device. Anyone ever hacked this version of the CueCat successfully?

  2. oli jenks says:

    From what I understand most of the hacks were done by decoding what was a simple encyption method.

    However I’ve just learnt about this method;

    http://www.zapwizard.com/MediaPC/CueCat/Index.html

    or even

    http://www.mavin.com/cuecat/index.html

    I can’t account for their results, but they seems feasable.

  3. paul says:

    I picked up one of these at a radio shack when I was in the states. I never really had a use for it, but I knew that it could be hacked. The qcat I had plugged into the keyboard port, and the serial code was simply sent as though it was typed on the keyboard (as far as I can remember) with an escape sequence at the beginning to call the software to take focus.

  4. CaptSnuffy says:
  5. chris says:

    Anyone think they can ship me one? Or know where i can pick one up in the uk?

  6. William says:

    man i wish i’d picked one up at radioshack when they came out…. dang..

  7. zachman123 says:

    My poor declawed cuecat got thrown out (by a family member) a long time ago. I need to get a new USB one to use with my toshiba e335 pocket pc

  8. zach says:

    Some more info:

    http://cexx.org/cuecat.htm

  9. RHNEt says:

    I had one from a long time ago. Didn’t think about it till I read another post this morning. IT is quite neat. I have been using upcdatabase.com for my scanning.

  10. agentpaul says:

    this “tutorial” has been online for years now. I remember doing this to mine back when they were cool.

  11. Matt Gilbert says:

    ok, i wonder if you just called this blog “newb-a-day” would that stop all the elitist “this is old” “this is lame” “this is easy” bullshit? i think it would be worth the silly title to clean out the assholes.

  12. Carpespasm says:

    wow, i submitted that article and thought it was cool, but i didn’t have any cuecats to declaw. then i went to the local flea market today and a guy i got a phone from last week (which i’m adding speakerphone functionallity to) had about half a dozen cuecats. i picked 2 up and took them home. this was before the slashdot article earliier and this one on here. this has been a cuecatting day indeed.

    also, i’d lilke to say that it’s pretty need going through amazon scanning barcodes and seeing what they have the UPC codes and ISBN’s for. most books have an extra bit of barcode that takes some practice to avoid though. also, trying to decypher what the barcoded # on an AMC movie ticket is funny.

  13. Carpespasm says:

    wow, i submitted that article and thought it was cool, but i didn’t have any cuecats to declaw. then i went to the local flea market today and a guy i got a phone from last week (which i’m adding speakerphone functionallity to) had about half a dozen cuecats. i picked 2 up and took them home. this was before the slashdot article earliier and this one on here. this has been a cuecatting day indeed.

    also, i’d lilke to say that it’s pretty need going through amazon scanning barcodes and seeing what they have the UPC codes and ISBN’s for. most books have an extra bit of barcode that takes some practice to avoid though. also, trying to decypher what the barcoded # on an AMC movie ticket is funny.

  14. anonymous says:

    I read through their “Developer’s Guide” and found this gem:

    The source of the @code@ will come from one of the following:

    – Keyboard: 01
    – Audio Cue: 02
    – Web Cue: 03
    – CueCat: 04
    – Key Fob: 05
    – Cross Pen: 06
    – CRQ window icon: 07
    – Cue Channel icon: 08
    – Mail: 14

    hahahaha. They thought they were going to run their own tv channel.

  15. carpespasm says:

    well, here’s a pic of my cuecats, you can daisy chain them since they don’t have much draw.

    also, since i figured out that they only work when an actual keyboard is plugged into them, i needed something on the end.

    i took an old keyboard, removed the PCB inside, used a bandsaw and bench grinder to make it even smaller, shortened the connector cable, and i have a “virtual keyboard” to use on the laptop. i also blobbed the circuit board w/ hot glue to keep it safe… and waterproof.

  16. wizgage says:

    Here’s a link for the 1st guy (Miguel) on how to hack the USB version of this kitten!

    http://cexx.org/cuecat.htm#usb

  17. Josh says:

    Well, if you just want to get something to scan in barcodes and do inventory of your stuff, and you’re a Mac OS X user, you could just get Delicious Library and use an iSight camera. But that wouldn’t require as much hacking. :-)

  18. ZapWizard says:

    Posted earlier:

    http://www.zapwizard.com/MediaPC/CueCat/Index.html

    You can make your cue-cat look better too.
    I did the above hacking and it still works.
    I have it connected to my HTPC to scan in new DVD’s and stuff I buy into a home inventory program.

  19. Miguel says:

    Hi wizgage… I had actually completed the hack mentioned on the cexx site, but still no go.

    Josh, you’ve nailed it… I’m using Delicious Library, but I’m trying not to spend the $150 on an iSight but rather use the existing CueCat I’ve got lying around.

    Thanks.

  20. wizgage says:

    To miguel,

    Does this work?

    http://www.geocities.com/macbarcat/

  21. Miguel says:

    Hi, wizgage… unfortunately, no. That’s for an older model of the CueCat (their’s is a PS/2 model). Mine is what I believe to be the last generation of the CueCats (the 68-1966 USB model). Thanks, though… I appreciate your help.

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