Bleep Remover Censors Those **** Bleeps

One of the more interesting cultural phenomena is the ‘bleep’ that replaces certain words in broadcasts, something primarily observed in the US. Although ostensibly applied to prevent susceptible minds from being exposed to the unspeakable horrors of naughty words, the applied 1 kHz censoring tone is decidedly loud and obnoxious enough that its entertainment level falls somewhere between ‘truck backing up’ and ‘loud claxon in busy traffic’. There is thus a definite argument to be made to censor the censoring beep to preserve one’s sanity, which is the goal of [Oona Räisänen]’s Bleep-be-gone project on GitHub.

Using a Perl-based wrapper, the versatile ffmpeg framework is used to filter a provided video that was afflicted with bleepitus, before outputting a pristine version where the infernal noise is replaced with blissful silence. This use of silence for censoring naughty words is incidentally becoming more commonplace over an ear-piercing beep, but a tool like Bleep-be-gone can be used to hasten the demise of its terror. Considering that the point of the 1 kHz back-up alarm beep is to draw a person’s attention to a piece of heavy equipment moving about, there is clearly no good reason why the replacement of a naughty word should warrant a similar drawing of attention.

The Story Behind The TVGuardian Curse Catcher

The recent flurry of videos and posts about the TVGuardian foul language filter brought back some fond memories. I was the chief engineer on this project for most of its lifespan. You’ve watched the teardowns, you’ve seen the reverse engineering, now here’s the inside scoop.

Gumby is Born

TVG Model 101 Gumby (Technology Connections)

Back in 1999, my company took on a redesign project for the TVG product, a box that replaced curse words in closed-captioning with sanitized equivalents. Our first task was to take an existing design that had been produced in limited volumes and improve it to be more easily manufactured.

The original PCB used all thru-hole components and didn’t scale well to large quantity production. Replacing the parts with their surface mount equivalents resulted in Model 101, internally named Gumby for reasons long lost. If you have a sharp eye, you will have noticed something odd about two parts on the board as shown in [Ben Eater]’s video. The Microchip PIC and the Zilog OSD chip had two overlapping footprints, one for thru-hole and one for SMD. Even though we preferred SMD parts, sometimes there were supply issues. This was a technique we used on several designs in our company to hedge our bets. It also allowed us to use a socketed ICs for testing and development. Continue reading “The Story Behind The TVGuardian Curse Catcher”

Reverse Engineering “The Seven Words (and More) You Can’t Say On TV”

For as visionary as he was, [George Carlin] vastly underestimated the situation with his classic “Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV” bit. At least judging by [Ben Eater]’s reverse engineering of the “TVGuardian Foul Language Filter” device, it seems like the actual number is at least 20 times that.

To begin at the beginning, a couple of weeks ago [Alec] over at everyone’s favorite nerd hangout Technology Connections did a video on the TVGuardian, a device that attempted to clean up the language of live TV and recorded programming. Go watch that video for the details, but for a brief summary, TVGuardian worked by scanning the closed caption text for naughty words and phrases, muted the audio when something suggestive was found in a lookup table, and inserted a closed caption substitute for the offensive content. In his video, [Alec] pined for a way to look at the list of verboten words, and [Ben] accepted the challenge.

The naughty word list ended up living on a 93LC86 serial EEPROM, which [Ben] removed from his TVGuardian for further exploration. Rather than just plug it into a programmer and dumping the contents, he decided to roll his own decoder with an Arduino, because that’s more fun. And can we just point out our ongoing amazement that [Ben] is able to make watching someone else code interesting?

The resulting NSFW word list is titillating, of course, and the video would be plenty satisfying if that’s where it ended. But [Ben] went further and figured out how the list is organized, how the dirty-to-clean substitutions are made, and even how certain words are whitelisted. That last bit resulted in the revelation that Hollywood legend [Dick Van Dyke] gets a special whitelisting, lest his name becomes sanitized to a hilarious [Jerk Van Gay].

Hats off to [Alec] for inspiring [Ben]’s fascinating reverse engineering effort here.

Continue reading “Reverse Engineering “The Seven Words (and More) You Can’t Say On TV””