Replacement PCB Replicates Early 80s Modem

It’s certainly been a few decades, but plenty of us remember a time before widespread access to broadband internet, when connections were generally made over phone lines using acoustic modems. In the 90s these could connect you to AOL and Napster well enough, but in the early 80s the speeds were barely enough to read text as it loaded. A company called Hayes set out to change this with some of the first useful, widely-available modems for the PCs at the time. While they couldn’t keep up with the changing times there’s still a retro community that has these antiques, and to modernize it a bit this drop-in replacement for the PCBs replicates these old modems almost exactly.

The new PCB is equipped with everything needed to get a retro computer online again, including all the ports to connect a computer without any further modifications. It houses a few modern upgrades beyond its on-board processors, though. Rather than needing an actual acoustic coupled phone, this one has an ESP32 which gives it wireless capability. But the replacement PCB maintains the look and feel of the original hardware by replicating the red status LEDs at the front, fitting into the original Hayes cases with no modifications needed at all, and even includes a small speaker through which it can replicate the various tones, handshakes, and other audio cues that those of us nostalgic for this new online era remember quite well.

For those looking for a retro feel without the hassle of getting antique networking equipment functional again, this type of upgrade that preserves the essence of the original hardware is an excellent way of keeping retro computers functional on modern networking equipment. But if you absolutely must get the networking equipment exactly right down to the last patch cable, you might end up having to build your own ISP from scratch.

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Dial Up Over Discord

Some hacks are useful and some are just… well… for the fun of it, and we can appreciate that. Take, for example, [Cool Blog’s] recent experiments with dialup networking. If you think about it, the BBS systems of yesterday have been replaced with more modern tools like Discord. So why not run modems using audio chat over Discord and get the best of both worlds?

This was both easier and harder than we would have expected. The first hurdle was the lack of any actual modems. Luckily, there are software modem emulators like minimodem that makes a PC soundcard work like a modem. It supports some basic protocols, and that’s probably a good thing since the digital audio channel is probably unable to support anything too sophisticated.

Using some crude audio routing 300 baud data did flow. Increasing the baud rate all the way to 2,100 worked reliably. Combining some more sophisticated audio flows and managing sockets with systemd made the process easier. The goal was to, eventually, telnet over the link but that never worked. We would guess that it could work if you spent enough time.

But the proof is in the pudding, and the basic idea works. Why do it? We can’t think of a good reason. But if you want to give it a shot, you can find what you need on GitHub.

Hams still use modems. While we tend to have a soft spot for retrocomputing gear, we don’t miss acoustic couplers at all.

Commodore 64 Reports The News

In the late 80s and into the 90s, [Cameron Kaiser] aka [ClassicHasClass] was an aspiring journalist, first becoming interested in the career in elementary school and then working on various publications into university. At some point, he started using a piece of software for laying out newspapers called The Newsroom which, he admits, was lacking a lot of tools that would have been modern even for the time, but had an otherwise agreeable price tag thanks to its focus more on home desktop publishing and newsletter production than on full-scale newspaper operations. It did have one interesting feature that he never could figure out, though, at least until he went back and pieced this mystery together.

The software itself ran on the Apple II and was eventually ported to other systems of the era, including the Commodore 64. The mystery feature was known as “Wire Service” and appeared to be a way that users of the software who had a modem could connect with one another and share news releases, layouts, graphics, and other content created in Newsroom, but in the days where it would have been modern never was able to connect to anything. In fact, it was eventually abandoned by the developers themselves in later releases of the software. But [ClassicHasClass] was determined to get it working. Continue reading “Commodore 64 Reports The News”

A laptop with a desk phone and a 3D-printed acoustic coupler next to it

Acoustic Coupler Gets You Online Through Any Desk Phone

Up until the mid-1980s, connecting a computer to a phone line was tricky: many phone companies didn’t allow the connection of unlicensed equipment to their network, and even if they did, you might still find yourself blocked by a lack of standardized connectors. A simple workaround for all this was an acoustic coupler, a device that played your modem’s sounds directly into a phone’s receiver without any electrical connection. Modem speeds were slow anyway, so the limited bandwidth inherent in such a system was not much of a problem.

Nowadays it’s easier to find an internet connection than a phone line in many places, but if you’re stuck in an ancient hotel in the middle of nowhere you might just find [GusGorman]’s modern take on the acoustic coupler useful. The basic design is quite simple: it’s a 3D-printed box with two cups that fit a typical phone handset and a space to put a USB speaker and microphone. Thanks to minimodem it’s easy to set up a connection with any other computer equipped with a phone connection.

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ADSL Router As Effects Pedal

Moore’s law might not be as immutable as we once though thought it was, as chip makers struggle to fit more and more transistors on a given area of silicon. But over the past few decades it’s been surprisingly consistent, with a lot of knock-on effects. As computers get faster, everything else related to them gets faster as well, and the junk drawer tends to fill quickly with various computer peripherals and parts that might be working fine, but just can’t keep up the pace. [Bonsembiante] had an old ADSL router that was well obsolete as a result of these changing times, but instead of tossing it, he turned it into a guitar effects pedal.

The principle behind this build is that the router is essentially a Linux machine, complete with ALSA support. Of course this means flashing a custom firmware which is not the most straightforward task, but once the sound support was added to the device, it was able to interface with a USB sound card. An additional C++ program was created which handles the actual audio received from the guitar and sound card. For this demo, [Bonsembiante] programmed a ring buffer and feeds it back into the output to achieve an echo effect, but presumably any effect or a number of effects could be programmed.

For anyone looking for the source code for the signal processing that the router is now performing, it is listed on a separate GitHub page. If you don’t have this specific model of router laying around in your parts bin, though, there are much more readily-available Linux machines that can get this job done instead.

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Simple Universal Modem Helps Save And Load Data From Tape

Back in the early days of the home computer revolution, data was commonly saved on tape. Even better, those tapes would make an almighty racket if you played them on a stereo, because the data was stored in an audio format.  The Simple Universal Modem from [Anders Nielsen] is built to work in a similar way, turning data into audio and vice versa.

The project consists of a circuit for modulating data into audio, and demodulating audio back into data. It’s “universal” because [Anders] has designed it to be as format-agnostic as possible. It doesn’t matter whether you want to store data on a digital voice recorder, a cassette deck, or an old reel-to-reel. This build should work fairly well on all of them!

On the modulation side of things, it’s designed to be as analog-friendly as possible. Rather than just spitting out rough square waves, it modulates them into nice smooth sine waves with fewer harmonics. On the demodulation side, it’s got an LM393 comparator which can read data on tape and spit out a clean square wave for easy decoding by digital circuitry.

If you find yourself trying to recover old data off tapes, or writing to them for a retrocomputing project, this build might be just what you need. [Anders] even goes as far as demonstrating its use with an old reel-to-reel deck in a helpful YouTube video.

There really were some weird ways of storing data way back when. Just ask IBM. Video after the break.

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GGWave Sings The Songs Of Your Data

We’re suckers for alternative data transmission methods, and [Georgi Gerganov]’s ggwave made us smile. At its core, it’s doing what the phone modems of old used to do – sending data encoded as different audio tones. But GGwave does this with sophistication!

It splits the data into four-bit chunks, and uses 16 different frequency offsets to represent each possible value. But for each chunk, these offsets are added to one of six different base frequencies, which allows the receiving computer to tell which chunk it’s in. It’s like a simple framing concept, and it makes the resulting data sound charmingly like R2-D2. (It also uses begin and end markers to be double-sure of the framing.) The data is also sent with error correction, so small hiccups can get repaired automatically.

What really makes ggwave shine is that it’s ported to every platform you care about: ESP32, Arduino, Linux, Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and anything that’ll run Python or JavaScript. So it’ll run in a browser. There’s even a GUI for playing around with alternative modulation schemes. Pshwew! This makes it easy for a minimalist microcontroller-based beeper button to control your desktop, or vice-versa. An ESP32 makes for an IoT-style WiFi-to-audio bridge. Write code on your cell phone, and you can broadcast it to any listening microcontroller. Whatever your use case, it’s probably covered.

Now the downside. The data rate is slow, around 64-160 bits per second, and the transmission is necessarily beepy-booopy, unless you pitch it up in to the ultrasound or use the radio-frequency HackRF demo. But maybe you want to hear when your devices are talking to each other? Or maybe you just think it’s cute? We do, but we wouldn’t want to have to transmit megabytes this way. But for a simple notification, a few bytes of data, a URL, or some configuration parameters, we can see this being a great software addition to any device that has a speaker and/or microphone.

Oh my god, check out this link from pre-history: a bootloader for the Arduino that runs on the line-in.

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