Old Laptops, Modems, And The Hackaday Retro Edition

We haven’t been getting very many submissions of extremely old computers loading up the Hackaday Retro Edition in a while. For shame. Thankfully, [alnwlsn] is here to pick up the slack from the rest of you with his latest accomplishment, getting two old laptops on the Internet with some old telecom equipment.

The first is a Toshiba from about 1995, Pentium processor, 12 MB of RAM, and a 10 GB (!) hard drive. [aln] had a PCMICA modem sitting around, and with Windows 95 and IE 5.5, he was able to slowly connect.

Pentium class machines are okay, but the next one – a Zenith Data Systems laptop from about 1987 – is awesome. 80C88 CPU, two 720k floppy drives, and the exact amount of RAM in that quote falsely attributed to [Bill Gates]. [alnwlsn] is connecting with a 28.8k modem, but the serial port only supports up to 9600. It’s a computer so old, even the retro edition’s main page times out. The about page, though, loaded fine.

[alnwlsn] used a modem with both of these laptops, but he doesn’t have dial-up or even a landline. This forced him to make his own line simulator that requires plugging in the phone line at the right time, manually ringing a modem connected to another computer, and letting PPP take it from there. It’s a crude circuit, but it works. slow, but it works. Video below.

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MicroModem, For Data Transmission Explorations

modemThem kids with those Arduinos don’t know what they’re missing. A serial connection is just too easy, and there’s so much fun to be had with low bandwidth modems. [Mark] made the MicroModem with this in mind. It’s a 1200 baud AFSK modem, capable of APRS, TCP/IP over SLIP, mesh network experimentations, and even long-range radio communication.

As the MicroModem is designed to be an introduction to digital wireless communication, it’s an extremely simple build using only 17 components on a board compatible with the Microduino. The software is built around something called MinimalProtocol1, a protocol that will be received by all other listening stations, features error correction, and automatic data compression. There’s also the ability to send TCP/IP over the link, which allowed [Mark] to load up our retro site at a blistering 1200 bps.

The code is extremely well documented, as seen on the Github for this project, with board files and even breadboard layouts included. [Mark] has three PCBs of his prototype left over, and he’s willing to give those out to other Hackaday readers who would like to give his modem a shot.

Hackaday Retro Edition: Hackadaying At 300 Baud

SONY DSC

For a bottom of the barrel website like our retro edition, there’s little reason to have a fast Internet connection. Even the fastest hands in the land can barely type faster than 300 baud. The problem with low-speed connections is the overhead involved, as [Pierre] discovered when he dug out an acoustic modem from the ’80s and loaded up our retro site.

While this isn’t the first modem ever made – that’s 1960s tech – but it does operate at the same speed – 300 bits per second, or slower than you reading this sentence. [Pierre] stuck a desk phone into the modem’s cups, plugged it in to a phone line simulator, and connected to a Raspberry Pi equipped with another modem. From there, it was pretty easy to set up a terminal at 300 baud.

A serial connection isn’t a connection to the Internet, however, and at 300 baud, PPP is nearly impossible. The overhead of encapsulating packets is just that high. SLIP is a much better choice to send IP packets over a slow serial connection, but [Pierre]‘s mac doesn’t include the proper tools.

[Pierre] ended up using the serial connection between his Mac and Raspi with Zterm. From there, Lynx and Bob’s your uncle.

There’s an unsurprisingly long video of [Pierre] loading up the retro site below, as well an unsurprisingly long video of speedtest.net running at 56k.

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Rooting your AT&T U-verse modem

motorola-uverse-modem-pcb

Unhappy with the performance of his U-verse modem [Jordan] decided to dig in and see if a bit of hacking could improve the situation. Motorola makes this exclusively for AT&T and there are no other modems on the market which can used instead. Luckily he was able to fix almost everything that was causing him grief. This can be done in one of two ways. The first is a hardware hack that gains access to a shell though the UART. The second is a method of rooting the device from its stock web interface.

We think the biggest improvement gained by hacking this router is true bridge mode. The hardware is more than capable of behaving this way but AT&T has disabled the feature with no option for an unmodified device to use it. By enabling it the modem does what a modem is supposed to do: translate between WAN and LAN. This allows routing to be handled by a router (novel idea huh?).

GSM modem means wireless serial connections

By now, most of us have seen have seen one of those GSM to wi-fi hotspot bridges. They’re interesting devices, and being able to carry a small wireless router with you at all times is very handy. Surprisingly, we haven’t seen many builds featuring these portable wireless hotspots, something probably due to the effort in breaking out a serial connection on these devices. The people at Open Electronics decided to build their own small serial-enabled cell phone modem, a boon to someone wanting a serial connection to any place with a cell tower.

The Open Electronics GSM/GPRS/GPS modem includes a header for an FTDI USB serial chip and a GSM module. Plug one into your computer and after a few short commands into a terminal, you’ve got a serial connection to nearly anywhere in the world.

The cost of the setup is a little high – around 80€ or $100 USD – and you probably should buy more than one so you can also receive data. While it is more expensive than the XBee wireless boards we see often, this GSM modem isn’t limited to the 300 foot range of the XBee. We’ll probably see this in a high altitude balloon before too long.

3G connected hotspot hangs out at your house

[Drug123] made the most out of this inconspicuous gray box on the gable end of his father’s home. It serves up a 3G Internet connection that was otherwise unavailable..

The project idea was sparked by the absence of wired or fiber optic broadband in the community where his dad lives. He knew some neighbors were using 3G connections, but he couldn’t get it to work inside the house. So he set about developing an external installation that would both communicate with the cellular network, and provide a WiFi connect to it. Hardware for that is relatively expensive; a USB 3G modem and a WiFi router with a USB port.

The box itself is made of plastic, but even without the Faraday cage effect that would have been formed by using a metal housing, the 3G modem’s internal antenna just doesn’t do the job. You can see that [Drug123's] solution was an external antenna which is mounted at the peak of the roofline. Inside the box there’s an exhaust fan to cool things off when they get too hot, as well as some power resistors which provide a heat source on the coldest nights. The low-cost build certainly fits the bill, and it’s not too hard on the eyes either.

GSM-to-Skype bridge lets you lose those roaming fees

Here’s the scenario: you’re going to be traveling somewhere and you’ll be charged roaming fees if you use your cellphone. But there is free WiFi available in this place. You can save yourself money by leaving your SIM card at home and using a GSM-to-Skype bridge to take calls on your phone via WiFi.

[Trax] is using a USB GSM modem to take cellphone calls on a PC. He leaves his sim card in this modem so that it can make and receive calls and text messages through your normal telephone number. For some reason, the USB connection only provides control of this modem and doesn’t pass bi-directional audio. To make this happen, he built an audio interface cable using two transformers and a few passive components to connect the modem to the computer’s audio card.

On the software side of things, an application written in Delphi 7 manages the modem, the audio stream, and the Skype application. When a call is incoming it sets up a Skype connection with your handset via the Internet, passing along the caller ID data in the process. If you choose to answer the Skype session the application will pick up the GSM call and you’ll be connected. It works the same way when placing an outgoing call.

This seems easier to manage than a rig that physically pushes a cellphone’s buttons via the Internet.

[Thanks Mure]