Arduino Revives A Classic 1980s Minitel Terminal

Before there was the Internet, there were a lot of would-be Internets. Compuserve comes to mind, as do Prodigy, GEnie, Delphi, and the innumerable BBS systems that were once gateways to worlds beyond our CRT monitors and 300 baud Hayes Supermodems.

Service providers varied by region, of course. The French postal and telephone service rolled out their service, Médium interactif par numérisation d’information téléphonique, in 1978. Mercifully and memorably shortened to Minitel, the service was originally intended primarily as an online telephone directory, and later expanded to include other services. [Kevin Driscoll] and [Julien Mailland] recently resurrected a Minitel terminal, a Videotex terminal that was the gateway to the service. The terminal they used, a model 1B, is a stylish machine with a monochrome CRT display and compact “AZERTY” keyboard. [Kevin] and [Julien] built a Videotex server for it using an Uno and a logic-level converter to keep the two talking. Using the hardware, they’ve developed a Twitter client, a webcam display, and dumb Linux terminal.

[Julien] and  [Kevin] previously authored a great history of Minitel that’s worth a read. And we’ve seen a few Minitel hacks before, including converting one to USB for use as a Raspberry Pi terminal.

VCF East XIII: Another Day in Retro Paradise

While the weather alternated between mist and monsoon for most of it, the thirteenth annual Vintage Computer Festival East was still a huge success. People came from all over the country, and indeed the world, to show off computers and equipment that was easily older than many of those in attendance. From 1980’s robots to recreations of the very first machines to ever carry the name “computer” as we understand it today, there were a dizzying array of fascinating exhibits to see for those who made the pilgrimage to the InfoAge Science Center in Wall, New Jersey. The people who own and maintain these technological touchstones were in many cases were just as interesting as the hardware they brought to show off; walking encyclopedias of knowledge about the particular piece of vintage gear that they’ve so lovingly shepherded into the modern day.

Through it all, save for a brief intermission to get chili dogs from the nearest WindMill, Hackaday was there. We got up close and personal with [Brian Stuart]’s impressive ENIAC emulator, listened to some ethereal chiptunes courtesy of [Bill Degnan]’s MITS Altair 8800, saw relics from the days when the “app store” needed stamps from [Allan Bushman]’s impressive colleciton, and got inspired by the [Alexander Pierson]’s somewhat more modern take on the classic kit computers of the 1970’s.

But those were’t the only things on display at the Vintage Computer Festival, not by a long shot. There were over 100 individual exhibits this year at VCF, and that doesn’t even include the workshops, classes, tours, or the daily keynote presentations. To say you get your money’s worth on the ticket is something of an understatement.

It’s fair to say that there’s no real substitute for seeing a show like this in person. But in addition to the aforementioned articles, a rundown (in no particular order) of some of the interesting exhibits and attractions from this year’s VCF is a decent consolation prize. If this piques your interest, we’d invite you to keep an eye out for the next Vintage Computer Festival. We’ll be there.

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Browsing Modern Day BBS on the Epson PX-8 Laptop

As you read this, there are still people chatting away on Bulletin Board Systems all over the world. Running on newly written software and without the need to actually use a dial-up modem, these (slightly) more modern takes on the BBSs of yore can be compelling diversion for those who might want to decompress a bit from contemporary social networks.

[Blake Patterson] is one of these people, and he writes in to tell us about his recent experiments with using a particularly gorgeous example the Epson PX-8 “Geneva” laptop on modernized BBSs. The form factor of the device makes it a fairly convenient client for chatting, despite the somewhat unusual screen. Luckily, modern BBS software is able to cope with the PX-8’s 80 character by 8 line LCD display, it’s just a matter of getting the thing online.

The trick is tethering the PX-8 to a Linux machine as a serial terminal. [Blake] had to build a serial cable for the laptop, and then used a basic USB-to-serial converter to get it connected to a Raspberry Pi. Once you’ve logged in over serial, you can simply fire off a telnet command to connect to the BBS of your choice. In the video after the break, he demonstrates what it’s like browsing and chatting on a BBS using the PX-8. The screen certainly takes a bit of getting used to, but actually works fairly well given the nature of the BBS interface.

[Blake] recently gave us a look at a Wi-Fi “modem” for retro computers based on the ESP8266, if you’d rather cruise your favorite BBS without a dangling Pi.

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34C3: The First Day is a Doozy

It’s 5 pm, the sun is slowly setting on the Leipzig conference center, and although we’re only halfway through the first day, there’s a ton that you should see. We’ll report some more on the culture of the con later — for now here’s just the hacks. Continue reading “34C3: The First Day is a Doozy”

BBSing with the ESP8266

Modems have been around for longer than the web, and before we had Facebook we had the BBS scene. Somewhat surprisingly, people are still hosting BBSes, but have fun finding a landline these days. [Blake Patterson] is one of the leading aficionados of retocomputers, and recently he took it upon himself to review an interesting new device. It’s the WiFi232 Internet Modem, a device that turns a WiFi connection into something a computer with a 25-pin RS-232 connector can understand.

The WiFi232 is made by [Paul Rickards], and given the last few years of WiFi-enabled retrocomputing projects, it’s exactly what you would expect. Onboard the WiFi232 is an ESP8266 module emulating the Hayes AT command set. Baud rates from 300 to 115200 are supported, with power provided through a USB mini jack or solder terminals.

[Blake]’s computer den is the stuff of legend, and as such he has more than enough toys to test out this universal WiFi to Serial converter. Devices used in the test include the Apple //c, IIe, Amiga 1000, and TI-99/4A. In short, everything works just like it should. [Blake] was able to pull up the extant bulletin boards on his collection of ancient computers. You can check out [Blake]’s review of the WiFi232 below

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Getting The Amiga 500 Online

If you were lucky enough to have a Commodore Amiga or one of its competitor 16-bit home computers around the end of the 1980s, it’s probable that you were doing all the computing tasks that most other people discovered a few years later when they bought their first 486 or Pentium. So in the mid 1990s when all your friends were exclaiming at Paint Shop Pro or their Soundblaster cards you’d have had an air of smugness. Multitasking? Old hat! Digital audio? Been there! Graphics manipulation? Done that!

There was one task from that era you almost certainly wouldn’t have done on your Amiga though, and that was connect it to the Internet. The Internet was certainly a thing back in the late 1980s, but for mere mortals it was one of those unattainable marvels, like a supercomputer with a padded seat round it, or a Jaguar XJ220 supercar.

Later Amigas received Internet abilities, and Amiga enthusiasts will no doubt be on hand to extol their virtues. But the machine most people will think of as the archetype, the Amiga 500, lacks the power to run most of the software required to do it. If your 500 with its tasteful blue and orange desktop colour scheme is languishing though, never fear. [Shot97] has produced a guide to getting it online.

It’s important to understand that an Amiga 500 is never going to run a copy of Chrome or play a YouTube video. And he makes the point that any web browsers that might have surfaced for hardware of this class delivered a painful browsing experience. So instead he concentrates on getting the 500 online for something closer to the online scene of the day, connecting to BBSs. To that end he takes us through setting up a PC with  Hayes modem emulator, and connecting it to the Amiga via a null modem cable. On the Amiga is a copy of the A-Talk terminal emulator, and as far as the Amiga is concerned it is on a dial-up Internet connection.

The PC in this case looks pretty ancient, and we can’t help wondering whether a Raspberry Pi or even an ESP8266 module could be put in its place given the appropriate software. But he has undeniably got his A500 online, and shown a way that you can too if you still have one lurking in the cupboard. He has also produced a video which we’ve put below the break, but be warned, as it’s nearly an hour long.

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The Long and Bumpy Road to Internet in Serbia

Internet is taken for granted. These days you assume there is Internet and only wonder if there is free WiFi to get onto it. But in the early days, connecting to a network could be tough and this was particularly true in Serbia. The country’s Internet revolution was complicated by both technology and politics, but the vibrance of the tech community always found a way.

The story is a fascinating one shared by Dejan Ristanovic at the Hackaday | Belgrade conference. He is now the Editor-in-Chief of PC Press computer magazine and played an integral part in providing global email access to Serbia. Enjoy the video of his talk below and join me after the break for a few highlights.

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