Cable Modem Turned Spectrum Analyzer

Hopefully by now most of us know better than to rent a modem from an internet service provider. Buying your own and using it is almost always an easy way to save some money, but even then these pieces of equipment won’t last forever. If you’re sitting on an older cable modem and thinking about tossing it in the garbage, there might be a way to repurpose it before it goes to the great workbench in the sky. [kc9umr] has a way of turning these devices into capable spectrum analyzers.

The spectrum analyzer feature is a crucial component of cable modems to help take advantage of the wide piece of spectrum that is available to them on the cable lines. With some of them it’s possible to access this feature directly by pointing a browser at it, but apparently some of them have a patch from the cable companies to limit access. By finding one that hasn’t had this patch applied it’s possible to access the spectrum analyzer, and once [kc9umr] attached some adapters and an antenna to his cable modem he was able to demonstrate it to great effect.

While it’s somewhat down to luck as to whether or not any given modem will grant access to this feature, for the ones that do it seems like a powerful and cheap tool. It’s agnostic to platform, so any computer on the network can access it easily, and compared to an RTL-SDR it has a wider range. There are some limitations, but for the price it can’t be beat which will cost under $50 in parts unless you happen to need two inputs like this analyzer .

Thanks to [Ezra] for the tip!

APRS Implemented At Low Cost And Small Size

Before smartphones and Internet of Things devices were widely distributed, the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) was the way to send digital information out wirelessly from remote locations. In use since the 80s, it now has an almost hipster “wireless data before it was cool” vibe, complete with plenty of people who use it because it’s interesting, and plenty of others who still need the unique functionality it offers even when compared to more modern wireless data transmission methods. One of those is [Tyler] who shows us how to build an APRS system for a minimum of cost and size.

[Tyler]’s build is called Arrow and operates on the popular 2 metre ham radio band. It’s a Terminal Node Controller (TNC), a sort of ham radio modem, built around an ESP32. The ESP32 handles both the signal processing for the data and also uses its Bluetooth capability to pair to an Android app called APRSDroid. The entire module is only slightly larger than the 18650 battery that powers it, and it can be paired with a computer to send and receive any digital data that you wish using this module as a plug-and-play transceiver.

While the build is still has a few limitations that [Tyler] notes, he hopes that the project will be a way to modernize the APRS protocol using methods for radio transmission that have been improved upon since APRS was first implemented. It should be able to interface easily into any existing ham radio setup, although even small balloon-lofted radio stations can make excellent use of APRS without any extra equipment. Don’t forget that you need a license to operate these in most places, though!

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Hackaday Links: June 13, 2021

When someone offers to write you a check for $5 billion for your company, it seems like a good idea to take it. But in the world of corporate acquisitions and mergers, that’s not always the case, as Altium proved this week when they rebuffed a A$38.50 per share offer from Autodesk. Altium Ltd., the Australian company whose flagship Altium Designer suite is used by PCB and electronic designers around the world, said that the Autodesk offer “significantly undervalues” Altium, despite the fact that it represents a 42% premium of the company’s share price at the end of last week. Altium’s rejection doesn’t close the door on ha deal with Autodesk, or any other comers who present a better offer, which means that whatever happens, changes are likely in the EDA world soon.

There were reports this week of a massive explosion and fire at a Chinese polysilicon plant — sort of. A number of cell phone videos have popped up on YouTube and elsewhere that purport to show the dramatic events unfolding at a plant in Xinjiang province, with one trade publication for the photovoltaic industry reporting that it happened at the Hoshine Silicon “997 siloxane” packing facility. They further reported that the fire was brought under control after about ten hours of effort by firefighters, and that the cause is under investigation. The odd thing is that we can’t find a single mention of the incident in any of the mainstream media outlets, even five full days after it purportedly happened. We’d have figured the media would have been all over this, and linking it to the ongoing semiconductor shortage, perhaps erroneously since the damage appears to be limited to organic silicone production as opposed to metallic silicon. But the company does supply something like 17% of the world’s supply of silicon metal, so anything that could potentially disrupt that should be pretty big news.

It’s always fun to see “one of our own” take a project from idea to product, and we like to celebrate such successes when they come along. And so it was great to see the battery-free bicycle tire pressure sensor that user CaptMcAllister has been working on make it to the crowdfunding stage. The sensor is dubbed the PSIcle, and it attaches directly to the valve stem on a bike tire. The 5-gram sensor has an NFC chip, a MEMS pressure sensor, and a loop antenna. The neat thing about this is the injection molding process, which basically pots the electronics in EDPM while leaving a cavity for the air to reach the sensor. The whole thing is powered by the NFC radio in a smartphone, so you just hold your phone up to the sensor to get a reading. Check out the Kickstarter for more details, and congratulations to CaptMcAllister!

We’re saddened to learn of the passing of Dale Heatherington last week. While the name might not ring a bell, the name of his business partner Dennis Hayes probably does, as together they founded Hayes Microcomputer Products, makers of the world’s first modems specifically for the personal computer market. Dale was the technical guru of the partnership, and it’s said that he’s the one who came up with the famous “AT-command set”. Heatherington only stayed with Hayes for seven years or so before taking his a $20 million share of the company and retiring, which of course meant more time and resources to devote to tinkering with everything from ham radio to battle bots. ATH0, Dale.

Basics Of Remote Cellular Access: Connecting Via VPN

You’ve got a machine hooked up to the Internet via a shiny new cellular modem, which you plan to administer remotely. You do a quick check on the external IP, and try and log in from another PC. Try as you might, SSH simply won’t connect. What gives?

The reality of the modern internet is that most clients no longer get their own unique IPv4 address. There simply aren’t enough to go around anymore. Instead, most telecommunications operators use Carrier Grade Network Address Translation which allows a single external address to be shared by many customers. This can get in the way of direct connection attempts from the outside world. Even if that’s not the case, most cellular operators tend to block inbound connections by default. However, there is a way around this quandary – using a VPN. Continue reading “Basics Of Remote Cellular Access: Connecting Via VPN”

Modern Network Adapter For Retro Computers

Universal Serial Bus, or USB, is so ingrained in modern computing that it’s hard to imagine a time without it. That time did exist, though, and it was a wild west of connector types, standards, and interfacing methods. One of the more interesting interfaces of the time was the SIO system found in 8-bit Atari computers which ended up sharing a lot of the features of modern USB, and its adaptability is displayed in this modern project which brings WiFi, Bluetooth, USB, and SD card slots to any old Atari with an SIO port.

The project is called FujiNet and it uses the lightweight protocol of SIO to add a number of modern features to the 8-bit machine. It’s based on an ESP32, and the chip performs the functions of a network adapter by bridging WiFi and Bluetooth to the Atari. It does this by simulating drives that would have potentially been used on the Atari in its time, such as a floppy disk drive, an RS232 interface, or a modem, and translating them to the modern wireless communication protocols. It even has the ability to emulate a printer by taking the output of the print job from the Atari and converting it to PDF within the device itself.

Not only does this bring a lot of functionality to the Atari, which you may be able to use to view sites like, but the FujiNet is housed in a period-appropriate 3D-printed case that matches the look and feel of the original Atari. If you need a more generic solution for your retrocomputing networking adventures that isn’t limited to SIO, we recommend grabbing a Raspberry Pi to handle that.

Thanks to [Gavin] for the tip!

Hackaday Podcast 077: Secret Life Of SD Cards, Mining Minecraft’s Secret Seed, BadPower Is Bad, And Sailing A Sea Of Neon

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams are deep in the hacks this week. What if making your own display matrix meant a microcontroller board for every pixel? That’s the gist of this incredible neon display. There’s a lot of dark art poured into the slivers of microSD cards and this week saw multiple hacks digging into the hidden test pads of these devices. You’ve heard of Folding@Home, but what about Minecraft@Home, the effort to find world seeds from screenshots. And when USB chargers have exposed and rewritable firmware, what could possibly go wrong?

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (60 MB or so.)

Continue reading “Hackaday Podcast 077: Secret Life Of SD Cards, Mining Minecraft’s Secret Seed, BadPower Is Bad, And Sailing A Sea Of Neon”

A Tin Can Modem, Just For Fun

Anyone old enough to fondly recall the “bleep-burp-rattle” sequence of sounds of a modem negotiating a connection over a phone line probably also remembers the simple “tin-can telephone” experiment, where a taut string transmits sound vibrations from the bottom of one tin can to another.¬† This tin can modem experiment puts both of those experiences together in a single project.

As [Mike Kohn] notes, this project was harder than it would seem that it should be. He actually had a much harder time getting the tin can phone part of the project optimized than getting the electronics sorted out, resulting in multiple tries with everything from the canonical tin cans to paper coffee cups before eventually settling on a pair of cardboard nut cans, the kinds with the metal bottoms. Linked together with a length of kite string — dental floss didn’t work — [Mike] added a transmitter on one end and a receiver on the other.

The transmitter used an ATtiny 2313 and everyone’s favorite audio amplifier, the LM386, while the receiver sported an electret mike preamp board, an LM566 tone decoder, and an MSP430 microcontroller. The modulation scheme was as simple as possible — a 400 Hz tone whose length varies whether it’s a one or a zero, or a stop or start bit. Connected to a pair of terminal programs, [Mike] was able to send his name over the wire string at what he calculates to be six or seven baud.

This project has all the hallmarks of lockdown boredom, but we don’t care because it’s good fun and a great learning opportunity, particularly for the young ones. There’s plenty of room for optimization, too — maybe it could even get fast enough for the Hackaday Retro 300-baud challenge.

Continue reading “A Tin Can Modem, Just For Fun”