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Cybiko (wikipedia.org)
122 points by bpierre on Aug 18, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 39 comments

I texted my wife (then fiance) so much with this thing back in university. I bought two Cybiko Xtremes (still have them, dead batteries) and gave one to her for her birthday, which remembering her face at that moment really makes me laugh now.

Pretty soon though, we were chatting in (e.g. Philosophy of Architecture) class when we weren't playing faux-tetris or some of the other games on there. We had a number of funny conversations that I wish I had saved somehow. A lot of them revolved around our nutty professors, one of whom had started a habit of eating out of a bag of chips while he started his lectures. "crunch crunch crunch so...what is a dwelling?"

At the time I also had an HP Jornada PDA which had some incredible features and a bright color screen, internet connection, etc. but was practically useless for chatting in this way, because there's no way I could have afforded a PDA for my wife. In fact, just comparing Cybiko with the Jornada, pretty much everything except for reading e-books and jotting quick memos was a waste of time on the Jornada. So it's amazing considering the price and hardware differences and how much I was using the Cybiko.

I eventually loaded mine up with just about every app or game I could fit, and combined with my Sony Minidisc player my bathroom sessions at the university library went from like 6/10 (nice bathrooms) to 11/10 (nice bathrooms, ripped Internet radio music, ripoff arcade games).

One of my professors once asked if anyone in class had a timer he could borrow, and when I handed him the Cybiko with the antenna still up, he kind of grabbed the antenna and folded it toward the screen like it was a stylus or something, then started to laugh with the class as it became clear this was the extreme definition of a gadget. One look at the screen, antenna, and all the buttons and most people would say, "what is that thing?"

Finally on my graduation day I was chatting with my wife so much that after receiving my diploma I got mixed up and walked right back into the procession line instead of exiting stage rear. I almost went through twice, and ended up hiding behind a curtain slightly off-stage until the ceremony was over. Texting the whole time, and as my wife explained to my mom what was going on we were all cracking up. lol.

I ported the late, lamented Prex operating system to the Cybiko. It was a bit cramped but worked well enough to... well, okay, it actually worked really badly, but it booted a shell and you could run programs. It'd probably run Fuzix quite well. (Prex is Minix-like and moderately memory-hungry.)

It used an H8 microprocessor which was really rather nice. Tight code and interesting to write assembly for, and the gcc port was decent.

The hardware was interesting if useless; there was a not-quite-proprietary wireless protocol (it was an off-the-shelf low-speed wireless module), a small and primitive LCD, the world's most terrible keyboard (it was genuinely painful to type on), but a decent battery life.

The Prex port is probably useless, but it does come with a Linux tool to upload programs via the Cybiko boot loader, if anyone's interested: http://cowlark.com/cybiko/

Yup, that's the one. It's an interesting lightweight microkernally operating system, which will operate either with an MMU and memory protection or without an MMU with all processes sharing an address space. It supports Posix and, if you've got an MMU, fork(), so you should be able to run fairly standard Unix software on it. (Without an MMU --- although this is all from memory so I could well be wrong --- you only get vfork().)

It was last updated in about 2009 when the author vanished off the internets. A few people were using it and tried to keep it going but the community never gelled around it.

I totally had one of these. Actually two of them. Like simcop2387 I bought one originally for WAY too much money, and then 2 years later found another on clearance for $20. I used it for wireless internet in the house—long before we ever got wifi.

This thing was the first MP3 player I ever used, the first handheld organizer I ever used (though dad had a Newton), and the first time I ever really felt like I was using a futuristic tool. The thing could have been awesome.

The one thing I will always remember was that when I was buying it (dad bought it for me for my birthday)—he stopped me and said 'Are you sure you want this? I can get you this or a Palm Pilot'. Without hesitation, I went with the Cybiko. A year later I regretted it so much, but looking back at it now—the Cybiko was awesome and I made the right decision.

I worked at a company that wanted to use these as cheap and disposable PDAs. At the time the Cybiko company was collapsing but they kept promising that new hardware was on the way, presumably to keep us buying their existing stock.

IIRC the SDK consisted of a (limited) C compiler that produced bytecode that the Cybiko ran in a virtual machine. The VM was intended to future-proof the device in case they decided to switch CPU architectures somewhere down the line. A little over-engineered, given its eventual fate.

We got hold of the source code for the Cybiko's web browser because we wanted to do something similar. A PC ran a server component and did all of the hard work interacting with the internet and parsing HTML, while the Cybiko ran a client that connected to the PC over its RF hardware. In the end we didn't get very far - it was my first C project, the SDK wasn't great, and the browser source was written in Russian.

I still have two unopened Xtremes somewhere.

Yep, thats what I remember about the compiler too. In my case I just made it a dumb pipe over the wireless, I probably had all kinds of security issues but it worked well enough for me to trudge around with a cybiko, a palm pilot and about 6 feet of cable between them because we didn't have any shorter cords.

I had one of these when I was younger. So did my brother, very neat devices but we were the only ones in the area that had them. Eventually that got to be fairly pointless so he stopped using his. That was around the time I discovered the SDK that had been published for it. I never did make anything very complicated but I did manage to make a wireless serial repeater with the two of them. It was really great once I got PPP setup to work with an old palm pilot we had and I could get internet on it from anywhere in the house (which largely meant email).

We had a great time talking to David Yang and visiting Cybiko in Moscow when I worked at Palm. Cybiko was an amazing combination of Russian hacking genius, genuine software innovation, and extremely misguided business thinking. Like many failures, it was a Frankenstein combination of like 60% of a great product--for 2010, not 2000, though. Yang was really fun, he showed us 100 kids writing Cybiko games and 250 linguists making NLP software for his other company, which I think still exists. I remember high speed driving around Luzhkov's Moscow, lots of pretty girls, and lots of vodka.

Oh man. This was the first device I ever wrote real programs for. This was the first device that I learned C on!

Nobody would remember it but I authored a few different things I was quite proud of:

- Cybihacker, a Cybiko game that was a very poor RPG game where you're hacking into corporate servers to pay off a debt to the mafia.

- CyX (a custom desktop application)

- SUI (a command line interface)

That was back in the days when my username everywhere was "Compman" – how original. How did I have time to do all of that in school? Wow.

Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

EDIT: Whoa. It looks like you can still download Cybihacker and the unfinished demo of the sequel:



I spent two days getting the thing to run AIM using TWO Cybikos, one plugged into your computer and another attached to the first. Chatting wirelessly on AIM really was a glimpse of the future.

I found an archived yahoo groups posting about it, I think most other information was on geocities. https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/CybikoDev/conversations/...

I had a Cybiko Xtreme. We had to order it from the USA (I live in Ireland) and it took like 2 months to arrive. It was the coolest thing in the world until I realised that a lot of the functionality was dependant on other people having one too.

I remember back in the day I posted on the forms asking for them to support internet networking so people like you and I who were isolated could at least trade our cylandia points.

Talk about a forgotten throwback!

I had one of these in high school; won it off of some contest or promo. We'd use it during our large school assemblies to chat with each other across the gym instead of paying attention lol

Ashens reviews the Cybiko and Cybiko Extreme on his channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojatBoMZubk

Where can you get one of these? As a HAM and someone who does a lot of group hiking I am very interested in hacking one of these. Add some solar panels for innawoods charging. Write a program to tune, scan, and communicate over RTTY and Packet. Maybe make a CW transcriber, and add some other software functionality to it and I'd be a really.... happy camper.

I wonder if there are any other systems with a wireless communication system like this.

The One Laptop per Child XO would form wireless mesh networks and had a chat program that would link up with other nearby XOs.

Does anybody know if this has been emulated? I think it'd be an interesting little system to mess around on.

* Rapid Google search *

... wut

* Curious cross-referencing and examination of results *

Wow. The situation looks pretty interesting. there are a few options.

First of all there's C4PC, a Windows-.exe-only emulator from 2001:

- http://www.zophar.net/cybiko/c4pc.html

- http://users.skynet.be/firefly/cybiko/index.htm

A little more recently (2013!), some people have been trying to get support into MAME for the platform, but there's a lot of static in the signal-to-noise ratio on quality info and leads right now, and very little focused/directed interest on making it work right.

Here's a basic overview that might prove handy: https://web.archive.org/web/20091216030346/http://www.dbzoo....

This page explains how to take MAME apart and put it back together again (:P) to make everything work... sorta: http://mametesters.org/view.php?id=5151

Here's an old reference about the structure of the SDK along with some downloads: http://www.piclist.com/techref/cybiko/sdkpro.htm

Since the most recent work was done only a couple of years ago, you should be able to tinker without the sanest starting step being booting up Debian 4 in a VM :P so getting started with this looks quite involved but not insanely impossible.

I did a lot of the debugging of the Prex port with C4PC --- I eventually managed to track down the author and they did some bugfixes for me, so there should be a newer version floating around somewhere.

I totally won one of these off of CartoonNetwork as a kid. I had setup a couple modems to dial in to the contest number over and over and would listen on the modem speaker until someone picked up then immediately pick up the handset. It never did much but I did learn a ton trying to screw with the OS.

Yea, having a wireless telnet client in the early 2000's was a really cool trick.

The built-in rechargable NiMH batteries in the Cybiko Extreme's are natoriously bad. Mine were very old new-in-box stock when I got them and already had a short life-span. They can sometimes be kicked back to life with a voltage spike. Disconnect the battiery and hit it with a 12V supply (or higher) at a couple amps of current and it will break-up the crystals that form in the battery. Do that for a few minutes. If it works the batteries will immediately start taking a charge again. However after a few months the crystals will reform and you are back to square one. I finally just put a four cell AA battery pack on the back of mine and wired it into the unit.

I had a Cybiko Extreme. It was some really cool tech for the time. That ninja game was the best.

Oh man, I had one of these. Depressing device.

why depressing?

Mainly due to the functionality being dependent on other users, like some others have mentioned. None of my friends had one, so I took this thing on a bunch of family trips and never encountered signs of life from a single other user. Something about this thing reinforced the alienation I was feeling at the time (middle school) in a bad way.

I had one as well. I had enjoyed hacking on my TI-83 calculator and thought this would be a step up from that, but most of the potential seemed to be either locked away or outside of my skill range. As for using it as intended, it had the ability to communicate with other nearby Cybikos, but there was only one other person in my school that had one.

Hey, I just remembered, I've got two of the original Cybikos, bought new (while being sold off at a ridiculously low price -- about £10 each), sitting in my junk room! Never opened, still in the original packaging.

Hmm, decisions. Do I open them up and see if they work, or so I stick them on eBay?

Had one of these, never really used it for anything, though I remember getting it fondly.

I wish it was still possible to buy one relatively cheap in the UK. This was a big part of my childhood. Me and my siblings would communicate with each other around the house and even with neighbours down the block. So many memories.

I had one of these, and learned some programming on it. It was super fun!

They should make a modern reboot that connects to the (planned) SpaceX satellites, sell it for $30 or less and in huge volume.

Hm, I wonder what (other) ways there might be to make something like this now and differentiate it from every other cheap tablet on the market? Modern mesh networking, maybe? I dunno.

Anyone know which frequency these use to communicate? 26.9650 MHz?

It's an off-the-shelf RF2915 wireless module running at ~913MHz.

http://www.dbzoo.com/cybiko/functionalblockdiagram http://pdf.datasheetcatalog.com/datasheet/RFMD/RF2915.pdf

It was controlled by its own little AVR microcontroller that handles the low level protocol. It wasn't fast --- 19.2 kbps.

I had one of these. Unfortunately, I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, and so no one else had one. Meaning most of the wireless functionality was useless to me.

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