House Training a Military TA-1024A Field Telephone

After spotting some interesting military phones at a museum, [CuriousMarc] wondered what it would take to retrofit these heavy duty pieces of telecom equipment for civilian use. He knew most of the internals would be a lost cause, but reasoned that if he could reverse engineer key elements such as the handset and keypad, he might be able to connect them to the electronics of a standard telephone. Luckily for us, he was kind enough to document the process.

There were a number of interesting problems that needed to be solved, but the first and perhaps largest of them was the unusual wiring of the keypad. It wasn’t connected in the way modern hackers like us might expect, and [CuriousMarc] had to end up doing some pretty significant rewiring. By cutting the existing traces on the PCB with a Dremel and drilling new holes to run his wires around the back, he was able to convert it over to a wiring scheme that contemporary touch tone phones could use.

An adapter needed to be fabricated to mount a basic electret microphone in place of the original dynamic one, but the original speaker was usable. He wanted to adapt the magnetic sensor that detected when the handset was off the hook, but in the end it was much easier to just drill a small hole and use a standard push button.

The main board of the phone is a perfect example of the gorgeous spare-no-expense construction you’d expect from a military communications device, but unfortunately it had to go in the bin. In its place is the guts of a lowly RCA phone that was purchased for the princely sum of $9.99. [CuriousMarc] won’t be able to contact NORAD anymore, but at least he’ll be able to order a pizza. The red buttons on the keypad, originally used to set the priority level of the call on the military’s AUTOVON telephone network, have now been wired to more mundane features of the phone such as redial.

While this is fine for a one-off project, we’d love to see a drop-in POTS or VoIP conversion for these phones that didn’t involve so much modification and rewiring. Now that we have some documentation for things like the keypad and hook sensor, it shouldn’t be hard to take their idiosyncrasies into account with a custom PCB. Dragging vintage gear into the modern era is always a favorite pastime for hackers, so maybe somebody out there will be inspired to take on the challenge.

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Teardown Of A 50 Year Old Modem

A few years ago, I was out at the W6TRW swap meet at the parking lot of Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California. Tucked away between TVs shaped like polar bears and an infinite variety of cell phone chargers and wall warts was a small wooden box. There was a latch, a wooden handle, and on the side a DB-25 port. There was a switch for half duplex and full duplex. I knew what this was. This was a modem. A wooden modem. Specifically, a Livermore Data Systems acoustically coupled modem from 1965 or thereabouts.

The Livermore Data Systems Modem, where I found it. It cost me $20

The probability of knowing what an acoustically coupled modem looks like is inversely proportional to knowing what Fortnite is, so for anyone reading this who has no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll spell it out. Before there was WiFi and Ethernet and cable modems and fiber everywhere, you connected to the Internet and BBSes via phone lines. A modem turns digital data, in this case a serial connection, into analog data or sound. Oh yeah, we had phone lines, too. The phone lines and the phones in your house were owned by AT&T. Yes, you rented a phone from the phone company.

90s kids might remember plugging in a US Robotics modem into your computer, then plugging an RJ-11 jack into the modem. When this wooden modem was built, that would have been illegal. Starting with the communications act of 1934, it was illegal to attach anything to the phone in your house. This changed in 1956 with Hush-A-Phone Corp v. United States, which ruled you could mechanically attach something to a phone’s headset. (In Hush-A-Phone’s case, it was a small box that fit over a candlestick phone to give you more privacy.)

The right to attach something to AT&T’s equipment changed again in 1968 with Carterphone decision that allowed anyone to connect something electronically to AT&T’s network. This opened the door for plugging an RJ-11 phone jack directly into your computer, but it wasn’t until 1978 that the tariffs, specifications, and certifications were worked out. The acoustically coupled modem was the solution to sending data through the phone lines from 1956 until 1978. It was a hack of the legal system.

This leaves an ancient modem like the one sitting on my desk in an odd position in history. It was designed, marketed and sold before the Carterphone decision, and thus could not connect directly to AT&T’s network. It was engineered before many of the integrated chips we take for granted were rendered in silicon. The first version of this modem was introduced only a year or so after the Bell 103 modem, the first commercially available modem, and is an excellent example of what can be done with thirteen or so transistors. It’s time for the teardown, so let’s dig in.

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Reverse Engineering a Telephonic Relay Device

The Plain Old Telephone Service, or POTS, doesn’t get a lot of love from the average person anymore. Perhaps once in a while a payphone will be of use when a phone battery has died, but by and large many people simply don’t have hardwired phones anymore. However, that doesn’t mean that the old landline can’t be put to good use. As [Felix Vollmer] shows us, it’s still possible to get useful hardware running over the phone line.

The YC-KZ02DN is a simple device which hooks up to a standard phone line. It’s capable of answering calls and responding to commands by switching its various relays on or off. [Felix] wasn’t quite happy with the stock functionality, however. Investigation showed the onboard STC15W202S microcontroller can be repogrammed over serial via an unpopulated header. Thus opened the door to hacking the device.

[Felix]’s alternative firmware has a couple of key features that make it valuable. Longer PINs are supported, decreasing the likelihood that malicious actors can gain access to the system. Additionally, the device is set to restore the last relay state after a power loss event. This makes the device far more useful for situations where it’s important to ensure consistent operation. It’s no use if an intermittent power loss stops your livestock’s water trough from filling, for example.

In this day and age of the Internet of Things, an old school telephony hack warms the cockles of our hearts. We’re suckers for anything that recalls the days of rotary dialing and speaking with the operator, after all.

Horns Across America: The AT&T Long Lines Network

A bewildering amount of engineering was thrown at the various challenges presented to the United States by the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. From the Interstate Highway System to the population shift from cities to suburbs, infrastructure of all types was being constructed at a rapid pace, fueled by reasonable assessments of extant and future threats seasoned with a dash of paranoia, and funded by bulging federal coffers due to post-war prosperity and booming populations. No project seemed too big, and each pushed the bleeding edge of technology at the time.

Some of these critical infrastructure projects have gone the way of the dodo, supplanted by newer technologies that rendered them obsolete. Relics of these projects still dot the American landscape today, and are easy to find if you know where to look. One that always fascinated me was the network of microwave radio relay stations that once stitched the country together. From mountaintop to mountaintop, they stood silent and largely unattended, but they once buzzed with the business of a nation. Here’s how they came to be, and how they eventually made themselves relics.

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Hush Those Old-Fashioned Phones

Most people hate unsolicited calls, and it’s worse in the dead of night when we’re all trying to sleep. Smartphones are easy to configure to block nuisance calls, but what if you need a solution for your Plain Old Telephone System (POTS)? [Molecular Descriptor] has built a system to invisibly stop landline phones ringing after hours.

The basic principle relies on an analog circuit that detects the AC ringing signal from the phone network, and then switches in an impedance to make the phone company think the phone has been picked up. The circuit is able to operate solely on the voltage from the phone line itself, thanks to the use of the LM2936 – a regulator with an ultra-low quiescent current. It’s important if you’re going to place a load on the phone line that it be as miniscule as possible, otherwise you’ll have phone company technicians snooping around your house in short order wondering what’s going on.

The aforementioned circuitry is just to block the phone line. To enable the system to only work at night, more sophistication was needed. An Arduino Mega was used to program an advanced RTC with two alarm outputs, and then disconnected. The RTC is then connected to a flip-flop which connects the blocking circuit only during the requisite “quiet” hours programmed by the Arduino. The RTC / flip-flop combination is an elegant way of allowing the circuit to remain solely powered by the phone line in use, as they use far less power when properly configured than a full-blown microcontroller.

It’s a cool project, with perhaps the only pitfall being that telecommunications companies aren’t always cool with hackers attaching their latest homebrewed creations to the network. Your mileage may vary. For more old-school telephony goodness, check out this home PBX rig.

Simple DTMF decoder pulls numbers from YouTube videos


While many of us have banished land line telephones from our houses, there are still quite a few people who utilize POTS lines today. These analog phone systems use Dual Tone Multi Frequency (DTMF) signals in order to audibly represent all of the keys on a telephone keypad and place calls. [Brad] over at LucidScience decided that it would be useful to have a DTMF decoder on hand, and got busy building one.

His DTMF decoder box uses a CM8870 DTMF decoder chip, which you might assume is all you need to get the job done. This chip performs its duties very well, outputting a 4-bit binary code for each button press it registers, but that doesn’t do a whole lot of good without being able to represent those codes in a meaningful fashion. He first built a breadboard decoder circuit that would light 1 of 16 LEDs depending on the detected button press. This was well and good, but he decided that an Arduino-driven LCD display would work far better.

When he was finished, he had a compact decoder box with an LCD display, which accepts input from either an RJ-11 cable or an audio jack. He says that the audio jack is particularly useful for decoding tones from computer audio, such as YouTube clips. [Brad] praises the CM8870 chip, stating that it can pull phone numbers from pretty much any audio or phone signal you throw at it, regardless of quality. We think it would make a great basis for a telephone-based security system, if that was something that appealed to you.

Be sure to stick around to see his DTMF decoder circuit in action.

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Auduino software synth

audiuno has published plans for building a software synthesizer using an Arduino. The Auduino uses granular synthesis to create a truly unique sound. The grain is constructed from two triangle waves. Each one has adjustable frequency, decay rate, and the repetition rate can be changed too. The Arduino just needs five potentiometers attached to the analog inputs and an audio jack on the digital out. You don’t have to use pots; you can use anything that varies the analog input between 0 and 5 volts. A video of the device is embedded after the jump. Continue reading “Auduino software synth”