anders tonfeldt

Sportster modem of broken dreams

2019-09-18 07:45

We all have that one project where just about everything goes wrong. When I dug up the first modem I used to directly connect to an ISP and thus gained internet access in 91ish (without routing through a BBS or terminal) I realized that I had to do something to preserve it.

Sporting a sleek (?), plastic (yuck) case the US Robotics Sportster 33.6k (speed! 14X the speed of my first!) modem offers voice, fax and data functionality. With a front LED display this sportish I immediately realized how I’d snazz it up, but what would be its functionality? Thinking long and hard I decided to make it a raspberry pi microcontroller programmer. That’s when things started to go wrong.

There just wasn’t enough space inside for both the RPI and usb connectors. I attempted to cut the usb heads and solder the wires directly onto the RPI usb pads but it still took up too much room with one cord per programmer. Pieces started breaking off, screw holes became unusable, clasps wrecked. Eventually I settled for one of those cord-like multi-fingered usb-hubs, one cord goes in, five females left outside. It worked, it looked terrible but it worked.

Putting up a strip of WS2812s beneath the plastic LED interface worked a charm and my RPI was soon outputting pretty rainbow colors whenever I flashed a firmware to a MCU. Neat. But then the fact that it’s a raspberry pi manifested. Terrible wifi, constant issues powering it despite soldering directly to the pads. Bypassing the overvoltage protection made it passably reliable but dmesg still screamed undervoltage warnings at me when under heavy load. I love the concept of the RPI but I despise working with the actual boards.

The tattered, broken, plastic husk of my childhood dreams eventually spilled its innards and I replaced the entire darn thing with an attiny85. It can no longer program MCUs but it sure does look snazzy. Nightmare project over, sleep well sweet prince.