English Words In French Gaming? Non Merci!

Are you a gamer? If you’re French, it seems that you shouldn’t be using so much English in pursuit of your goals.

It’s a feature of an active language, that it will readily assimilate words from others. Pizza, karaoke, vuvuzela, parka, gateau, schadenfreude, they have all played their part in bringing a little je ne sais quoi into our everyday speech. This happens as a natural process as whatever the word is describing becomes popular, and sometimes these new words cause a backlash from those who see themselves as the language’s defenders.

Often this is a fringe activity such as the British politician who made a fool of himself in a radio interview by insisting on the now-archaic Wade-Giles “Peking” rather than the vastly more common Pinyin “Beijing”, but for some tongues it’s no laughing matter. Nowhere is this more the case than in the Francophone world, in which the Academie Francaise and the French and Quebecquois governments see themselves as very much the official guardians of French. And now it seems that the French ministry of culture have turned their eyes upon gamers.

It’s nothing new for words associated with technology to fall under this scrutiny, a quarter century ago in the CD-ROM business it was de rigeur for localized discs to talk about le logicel, l’ordinateur, and telecharger instead of program, computer, and download. The talk of the industry was that Sony refused to do this for PlayStation consoles sold in Quebec during the 1990s, and thus all their sales in the province had to be under-the-counter. But there’s a sense from reading the reports that this intervention is a little clumsy; while it’s easy to say logicel we’re not so sure that jeu video de competition  or video game competition for e-sports and joueur-animateur en direct or live player-animator for streamer aren’t just too much of a mouthful for easy adoption. For the first one, we can’t help remembering that sport is also an everyday French word, so couldn’t they have come up with something less clumsy such as reseau-sports or network-sports?

Here at Hackaday more than one of us are unrepentant Francophiles, so the evolution of French words in our field is of interest to us. Habitez-vous en France ou Quebec? Donnez-nous votres idees dans les commentaires! (mais en Anglais s’il vous plait pour les Americains, excusez-nous)

Header image: Christopher Macsurak, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Mon Dieu! French Parent Kills Cell Service For An Entire Town To Stop Kids Surfing

It used to be that having technical skills meant that fixing the computer problems of elderly relatives was a regular occurrence. Over the last few years this has been joined by another request on our time; friends with teenage children requesting help configuring their routers such that Internet access is curtailed when the kids should sleeping. In France a desperate parent took more extreme measures, buying a wideband frequency jammer to ensure les petits anges can’t waste the night away on social media sites through their cellular connections. It had the intended effect, but sadly it also interrupted cellular coverage over a wide area The French spectrum regulator ANFR sent in their investigators (French, Google Translate link), and now the unfortunate parent faces the prospect of up to 6 months imprisonment and €30,000 fine for owning and using a device that’s illegal in France.

A cursory search of everybody’s favourite online electronics bazaars will find plenty of these devices, so perhaps what’s surprising is that we don’t see more of these devices even if it’s not the first tale of interference tracking that we’ve seen. Judging by the strategies our friends with kids take, we’d suggest meanwhile to the unfortunate French person, that they simply equip their kids with restricted data plans.

Tiny Operating System For Tiny Computer

Before the World Wide Web became ubiquitous as the de facto way to access electronic information, there were many other ways of retrieving information online. One of the most successful of these was Minitel, a French videotex service that lasted from 1980 all the way until 2012. But just because the service has been deactivated doesn’t mean its hardware can’t be used for modern builds like this Arduino-based operating system. (Google Translate from French)

Called ZARDOS, the operating system is built to run on an Arduino MEGA although a smaller version is available for the Uno. The Arduino is connected by a serial cable to the Minitel terminal. It can take input from a keyboard and PS/2 mouse and displays video on the terminal screen with the same cable. There is functionality built-in for accessing data on a cartridge system based on SD cards which greatly expands the limited capabilities of the Atmel chip as well, and there is also support for a speaker and a Videotex printer.

Even though the build uses a modern microcontroller, it gives us flashbacks to pre-WWW days with its retro terminal. All of the code is available on the project site for anyone looking to build an Arduino-based operating system, although it will take a little bit of hardware hacking to build a Minitel terminal like this. Either way, it’s a great way to revive some antique French hardware similar to a build we’ve seen which converts one into a Linux terminal.

Thanks to [troisieme_type] for the tip!

The Politics Of Supersonic Flight: The Concord(e)

Every nation has icons of national pride: a sports star, a space mission, or a piece of architecture. Usually they encapsulate a country’s spirit, so citizens can look up from their dreary lives and say “Now there‘s something I can take pride in!”  Concorde, the supersonic airliner beloved by the late 20th century elite for their Atlantic crossings, was a genuine bona-fide British engineering icon.

But this icon is unique as symbols of national pride go, because we share it with the French. For every British Airways Concorde that plied the Atlantic from London, there was another doing the same from Paris, and for every British designed or built Concorde component there was another with a French pedigree. This unexpected international collaboration gave us the world’s most successful supersonic airliner, and given the political manoeuverings that surrounded its gestation, the fact that it made it to the skies at all is something of a minor miracle. Continue reading “The Politics Of Supersonic Flight: The Concord(e)”

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.

Rapidly Prototyping Prosthetics, Braille, And Wheelchairs

We live in an amazing time where the availability of rapid prototyping tools and expertise to use them has expanded faster than at any other time in human history. We now have an amazing ability to quickly bring together creative solutions — perfect examples of this are the designs for specialized arm prosthetics, Braille printing, and custom wheelchair builds that came together last week.

Earlier this month we published details about the S.T.E.A.M. Fabrikarium program taking place at Maker’s Asylum in Mumbai. The five-day event was designed to match up groups of makers with mentors to build assistive devices which help improve the condition of differently-abled people.

The participants were split into eight teams and they came up with some amazing results at the end of the five-day program.

Hands-On: Prosthetic Designs That Go Beyond

Three teams worked on projects based on Bionico – a myoelectric prosthesis

DIY Prosthetic Socket – a Human Machine Interface : [Mahendra Pitav aka Mahen] lost his left arm during the series of train bomb blasts in Mumbai in 2006, which killed 200 and injured over 700 commuters. He uses a prosthetic arm which is essentially a three-pronged claw that is cable activated using his other good arm. While it is useful, the limited functionality restricted him from doing many simple things. The DIY Prosthetic socket team worked with [Mahen] and [Nico Huchet] from MyHumanKit (who lost his right arm in an accident 16 years back), and fabricated a prosthetic forearm for [Mahen] with a modular, 3D printed accessory socket. Embedded within the arm is a rechargeable power source that provides 5V USB output at the socket end to power the devices that are plugged in. It also provides a second port to help recharge mobile phones. Also embedded in the arm was an IR reflective sensor that can be used to sense muscle movements and help trigger specific functions of add-on circuits, for example servos.

Continue reading “Rapidly Prototyping Prosthetics, Braille, And Wheelchairs”

France Proposes Software Security Liability For Manufacturers, Open Source As Support Ends

It sometimes seems as though barely a week can go by without yet another major software-related hardware vulnerability story. As manufacturers grapple with the demands of no longer building simple appliances but instead supplying them containing software that may expose itself to the world over the Internet, we see devices shipped with insecure firmware and little care for its support or updating after the sale.

The French government have a proposal to address this problem that may be of interest to our community, to make manufacturers liable for the security of a product while it is on the market, and with the possibility of requiring its software to be made open-source at end-of-life. In the first instance it can only be a good thing for device security to be put at the top of a manufacturer’s agenda, and in the second the ready availability of source code would present reverse engineers with a bonanza.

It’s worth making the point that this is a strategy document, what it contains are only proposals and not laws. As a 166 page French-language PDF it’s a long read for any Francophones among you and contains many other aspects of the French take on cybersecurity. But it’s important, because it shows the likely direction that France intends to take on this issue within the EU. At an EU level this could then represent a globally significant move that would affect products sold far and wide.

What do we expect to happen in reality though? It would be nice to think that security holes in consumer devices would be neutralised overnight and then we’d have source code for a load of devices, but we’d reluctantly have to say we’ll believe it when we see it. It is more likely that manufacturers will fight it tooth and nail, and given some recent stories about devices being bricked by software updates at the end of support we could even see many of them willingly consigning their products to the e-waste bins rather than complying. We’d love to be proven wrong, but perhaps we’re too used to such stories. Either way this will be an interesting story to watch, and we’ll keep you posted.

Merci beaucoup [Sebastien] for the invaluable French-language help.

French flag: Wox-globe-trotter [Public domain].