Homebrew Telephone Exchange Keeps The Family In Touch, In The House And Beyond

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while we stumble upon someone who has taken obsolete but really cool phone-switching equipment and built a private switched telephone in their garage or basement using it. This private analog phone exchange is not one of those, but it’s still a super cool build that’s probably about as ambitious as getting an old step-by-step or crossbar switch running.

Right up front, we’ll stipulate that there’s absolutely no practical reason to do something like this. And hacker [Jon Petter Skagmo] admits that this is very much a “because I can” project. The idea is to support a bunch of old landline phones distributed around the house, and beyond, in a sort of glorified intercom system. The private exchange is entirely scratch-built, with a PIC32 acting as the heart of the system, performing such tasks as DTMF decoding, generating ring voltage, and even providing a CAN bus interface to his home automation system.

The main board supports five line interface daughterboards, which connect each phone to the switch via an RJ11 jack. The interface does the work of detecting when a phone goes off-hook, and does the actual connection between any two phones. A separate, special interface card provides an auto-patch capability using an RDA1846S RF transceiver module; with it, [Jon Petter] can connect to any phone in the system from a UHF handy-talkie. Check out the video below for more on that — it’s pretty neat!

We just love everything about this overengineered project — it’s clearly a labor of love, and the fit and finish really reflect that. And even though it’s not strictly old school, POTS projects like this always put us in the mood to watch the “Speedy Cutover” video one more time.

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Vintage Computer Festival East Raises The Bar Again

When I arrived at the InfoAge Science and History Museum for this year’s Vintage Computer Festival East, I fully expected it to be a reduced event compared to last year. After all, how could it not? Due to the schedule getting shifted around by COVID, show runner Jeffrey Brace and his team had just six months to put together an event that usually gets planned over the course of an entire year. With such a truncated preparation time, they more than deserved a little slack.

But as anyone who attended VCF East 2022 can attest, they didn’t need it. Not only did the event meet the high expectations set by last year’s Festival, it managed to exceed them. There were more workshops, more talks, more vendors, more consignment rooms, more live streams, more…well, everything. This year’s program even got a splash of glossy color compared to the grayscale handout attendees received in October. It was, by any metric you care to use, better than ever.

It does however leave me in somewhat on an unenviable position. As we’ve learned during the pandemic, a virtual representation of an event as extensive as VCF can give you a taste of what’s offered, but all the nuance is lost. Looking at pictures of somebody’s passion project can’t compare to actually meeting the person and seeing that glint of pride in their eye as they walk you through all the details.

So bear that in mind through this rundown of some of the projects that caught my eye. This isn’t  a “best of” list, and the Festival is certainly not a competition. But each attendee will invariably come away with their own handful of favorite memories, so I’ll document mine here. If you’d like to make your own memories, I’d strongly suggest making the trek out to the Jersey Shore come April 2023 for the next Vintage Computer Festival East.

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Hotline Helps Toddler Keep In Touch With Mom And Dad

Even though the age for first carrying a smartphone seems to be decreasing, there’s a practical lower minimum age at which a kid can reliably use one to make a call. So how do you make sure your tot can reach out and touch mommy or daddy? This toddler-friendly Raspberry Pi hotline is a good start.

With a long trip to Hawaii pending and a toddler staying behind, [kuhnto] wanted a way to make communication as simple as possible. In the days of pervasive landlines, that would have been as simple as a feature phone with a couple of numbers on speed dial buttons. With nothing but cell phones to rely on, [kuhnto] turned to a Raspberry Pi running PBX software and a command line SIP client for making calls over a Google Voice line. The user interface is as simple as can be – a handset and two lighted buttons on a wall-mounted box. All Junior needs to do is pick up the handset and push green to talk to Daddy, blue for Mommy. Something similar might even be useful for elder care.

Kudos to [kuhnto] for thinking through the interface issues to come up with a successful build. We’ve seen other UIs simplified for kids before, such as this button-free jukebox or this special-needs media player.

[via r/DIY]

Accessing A PBX Through Voice Channels

[Alessandro] is an unlucky VoIP PBX administrator that frequently has to deal with very, very dumb network policies. Often times, he’ll have to change something on his setup which requires him to go out to his client’s location, or ask a client to use Teamviewer so the appropriate change can be made from behind a firewall.

This isn’t the solution to the problem. It will, however, fix the problem. To get around these firewalls, [Alessandro] is using the voice channels he already has access to for changing configurations on his VoIP boxes.

The implementation of this uses the AX.25 amateur radio modules that can be found in just about every Linux distro. This, and an Alsa loopback device, allows [Alessandro] to access a terminal over a voice-only network. Is it a hackey kludge? Yep. Is it just a little bit dumb? So are the network policies that don’t allow [Alessandro] to do his job.

This build isn’t too dissimilar than a bunch of modems from the old BBS days, albeit with vastly more powerful software. [Alessandro] says you’re only going to get about 38400bps out of this setup, but it beats begging for help for remote access.

switchboard

Bypassing Broken SIP ALG Implementations

The SIP protocol is commonly used for IP telephone communications. Unfortunately it’s notorious for having issues with NAT traversal. Even some major vendors can’t seem to get it right. [Stephen] had this problem with his Cisco WRVS4400N router. After a bit of troubleshooting, he was able to come up with a workaround that others may find useful.

The router had built in SIP ALG functionality, but it just didn’t work. [Stephen] was trying to route SIP traffic from a phone to an Asterisk PBX system behind the router. The router just couldn’t properly handle these packets regardless of whether SIP ALG was enabled or disabled.

[Stephen] first tried to change the SIP port on the external VOIP phone from the default of 5060 to something else. Then he setup port forwarding on the router to the Asterisk box to forward the traffic to the Asterisk system on the original port. This sort of worked. The calls would go through but they would eventually drop after about 20 seconds.

The only thing that [Stephen] could get to work completely was to change the SIP port in Asterisk’s sip.conf file using the “bindport” directive. He changed it to some random unused high port number. Then he setup port forwarding on the router to forward incoming UDP packets on that port to the Asterisk system. This worked fine, but now all of the original phones behind the router stopped working because they were configured to use the default port of 5060.

Rather than re-configure all of the phones in the organization, [Stephen] made one change on the Asterisk system. He setup an iptables rule to forward all incoming traffic on UDP port 5060 to the new SIP port. Now all of the phones are working with minimal changes across the organization. It’s a lot of hassle to go through just because the router couldn’t handle SIP correctly, but it gets the job done.

phone controller

Breathe New Life Into Payphones With Asterisk

Payphones used to be found on just about every street corner. They were a convenience, now replaced by the ubiquitous mobile phone. These machines were the stomping grounds for many early computer hackers, and as a result hold a place in hacker history. If you’ve ever wanted to re-live the good ol’ days, [hharte’s] project might be for you.

[hharte] has been working to make these old payphones useful again with some custom hardware and software. The project intends to be an interface between a payphone and an Asterisk PBX system. On the hardware side, the controller board is capable of switching various high voltage signals required for coin-line signaling. The controller uses a Teensy microcontroller to detect the hook status as well as to control the relays. The current firmware features are very basic, but functional.

[hharte] also wrote a custom AGI script for Asterisk. This script allows Asterisk to detect the 1700hz and 2200hz tones transmitted when coins are placed into the machine. The script is also in an early stage, but it will prompt for money and then place the call once 25 cents has been deposited. All of the schematics and code can be found on the project’s github page.

[Thanks mies]

Hacking A Pogoplug Into A $20 PBX

The Pogoplug Series 4 is a little network attached device that makes your external drives accessible remotely. Under the hood of this device is an ARM processor running at 800 MHz, which is supported by the Linux kernel. If you’re looking to build your own PBX on the cheap, [Ward] runs us through the process. Since the Pogoplug 4 is currently available for about $20, it’s a cheap way to play with telephony.

Step one is to convert the Pogoplug to Debian, which mostly requires following instructions carefully. After the Pogoplug is booting Debian, the Incredible PBX bundle can be installed. We’ve seen this bundle running on a Raspberry Pi in the past. Incredible PBX’s preconfigured setup based on Asterisk and FreePBX gives a ton of functionality out of the box.

With your $20 PBX running, there’s a lot that can be done. Google’s Voice service allows unlimited free calling to the USA and Canada. With Internet connectivity, you get email notifications for voicemails, and can query WolframAlpha by voice.