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Hackaday Links: June 23, 2024

When a ransomware attack targets something like a hospital, it quickly becomes a high-profile event that understandably results in public outrage. Hospitals are supposed to be backstops for society, a place to go when it all goes wrong, and paralyzing their operations for monetary gain by taking over their information systems is just beyond the pale. Tactically, though, it makes sense; their unique position in society seems to make it more likely that they’ll pay up.

Which is why the ongoing cyberattack against car dealerships is a little perplexing — can you think of a less sympathetic victim apart from perhaps the Internal Revenue Service? Then again, we’re not in the ransomware business, so maybe this attack makes good financial sense. And really, judging by the business model of the primary target of these attacks, a company called CDK Global, it was probably a smart move. We had no idea that there was such a thing as a “Dealer Management System” that takes care of everything from financing to service, and that shutting down one company’s system could cripple an entire industry, but there it is.

Continue reading “Hackaday Links: June 23, 2024”

Minitel, The 1980s Console Game Platform You Never Had

We’ve made no secret over the years here at Hackaday of our admiration for the Minitel. The ubiquitous CRT terminals which made 1980s France the most connected country in the world never made it to where we grew up, but OH! how we wanted them to! We’ve seen quite a few Minitels repurposed as serial terminals here, but for the time being we think [Louis H] has won the Minitel Internet with his plugin game console cartridges. These have a DIN plug to fit the Minitel serial port, and present themselves as a serial game.

The cartridge itself is an extremely simple affair, a tube which fits over the DIN plug body, containing a slim PCB with an ATmega328 and its supporting components. The games must be programmed such that their gameplay can work over a serial interface, so as an example the first game is a version of 2048.

We applaud both the simplicity and creativity of this project, and we love it that a new 1980s console we never knew we had has been unearthed, without the need for hardware modification. Meanwhile if you’d like to peer inside an Alcatel Telic 1, we can take you there.

Bringing Back The Minitel

If you didn’t live in France in the 80s or 90s, it’s likely you missed out on one of the most successful computer networks in existence prior to the modern Internet. Known as Minitel, it was an online service available over existing phone lines that offered a connected computer terminal for users to do most things we associate with the modern world, such as booking travel, viewing news, looking up phone numbers, and plenty of other useful activities. While a lot of the original system was never archived, there are still some efforts to restore some of its original functionality like this MiniMit.

The build requires either an original or a recreation of a Minitel terminal in all its 80s glory, but pairs an ESP32 to support modern network connectivity. The ESP32 interfaces with the Minitel’s DIN socket and provides it with a translation layer between WiFi and the networking type that it would have originally expected to see from the telephone lines. Two of the original developers of Minitel are working on restoring some of the services that would have been available originally as well, which means that the entire system is being redeveloped and not just the original hardware.

We’ve mentioned that this system was first implemented in the 80s, but the surprising thing is that even well after broadband Internet would have been available to most people in France, the Minitel system still had widespread use, not being fully deactivated until 2012. They remain popular as inspiration for other projects as well, like this one which was brought a little more up-to-date with the help of a modern display and Raspberry Pi.

YouTube Like It’s 1970s France With This Minitel-VCR Mashup

When it’s not just sticking fake gears on things and calling it a day, the Steampunk look is pretty cool. Imagining technology in a world stuck with Victorian aesthetics is a neat idea, and one that translates to the look of other time periods — Fallout, anyone?

But what if you try to create a technological aesthetic based on a more recent and less celebrated time? That’s what [ghettobastler] has attempted with this somewhat bizarre Minitel-YouTube-VCR mash-up. Taking inspiration from a webcomic’s take on “Formicapunk,” modern tech based on the aesthetic of the wildly successful French videotex service of the 70s and 80s, the system uses a very cool Minitel 1B terminal and a Raspberry Pi 3.

A custom level-shifter for the Pi

With the help of a level-shifting circuit, the Mintel and the Pi talk over serial, allowing the terminal to be used as, well, a terminal for the Pi. Videos are downloaded from YouTube by the Pi, which sends the video to the VCR from its composite output, and controls the VCR with an IR LED that emulates the original remote. Come to think of it, just watch the video below — it’s probably easier than trying to describe it.

It’s weird, true, but we love the look of that Minitel terminal. Something about it just screams cyberdeck; if anyone has a spare one of these, get busy and put something together for our Cyberdeck Design Contest.

Continue reading “YouTube Like It’s 1970s France With This Minitel-VCR Mashup”

Teardown: Alcatel Telic 1 Minitel Terminal

For British teenagers in the 1980s, the delights of 8-bit computers such as the Sinclair Spectrum, Commodore 64, or BBC Micro were firmly restricted to the offline arena. We would read about the BBS scene on the other side of the Atlantic, but without cheap local calls and with a modem costing a small fortune, the chances of us ever experiencing one was zero. When we took the British school rite of passage of a trip to France though, we were astounded to see that every French person was not merely online, but that they were doing so with a neat little all-in-one terminal. We’d just been introduced to the French Minitel system, and in that minute shared a glimpse of the future.

Un Réseau Trés Français

The Minitel terminal is a small CRT monitor with a fold-down alphanumeric keyboard.
My Alcatel Minitel terminal

In the 1970s and 1980s, so-called videotext systems, terminal-based phoneline access to information services on central computers, were seen as an obvious next step for telephone network operators with an interest in profitable new products. In most countries this resulted in services such as the UK’s Prestel, a subscription service relying on costly hardware, but France Télécom instead pursued the bold path of making the terminals free to subscribers with free access to phone listings and yellow pages, but a business model based on pay-to-use premium services.

Thus, through the 1980s all French households had a Minitel terminal beside the phone, and the service became a runaway success. Ever since seeing Minitel terminals as a tourist I’d been fascinated by the service, so here in the 2020s when a friend was visiting their family in France I asked whether he could pick up an old Minitel terminal for me. Thus I found myself parting with around $25 and being rewarded with a slightly battered Minitel cardboard box containing one of the familiar brown Alcatel terminals. I certainly wasn’t expecting one in its original packaging. Continue reading “Teardown: Alcatel Telic 1 Minitel Terminal”

Bring A Minitel Terminal Back To Life WIth An ESP32

Most of us who are old enough are likely to have had our first experience of an online service some time in the 1990s, either through the likes of Compuserve or via an ISP. For our French readers the online experience will have come much earlier, as a forward-thinking telecommunications environment led to every household in the country receiving a viewdata terminal. The Minitel system as it was called was a runaway success, and was only finally turned off as late as 2012. Many of the terminals survive to make a great basis for projects, and it’s one of these that [Louis H] has taken and enhanced with an ESP32.

One of the special things about this project is that unlike so many other Minitel conversions it doesn’t involve tearing into the terminal itself. Instead the PCB plugs into the socket on the back of the unit and emulates the line for the terminal to talk to. It can then be used as an SSH terminal over WiFi, or as a serial terminal for the ESP32 itself for example running a MicroPython firmware. If you can handle the French AZERTY keyboard there is no easier way to drag a viewdata terminal into the 2020s, as you can see in the video below the break.

Chez Hackaday, we love these nostalgic gems from the 1980s. Indeed we like this classic French public network so much that we’ve featured it quite a few times. Here for example is a similar project using an Arduino. Continue reading “Bring A Minitel Terminal Back To Life WIth An ESP32”

A French Minitel terminal becomes a Raspberry Pi-powered mini laptop.

Minitel Terminal Becomes Mini Laptop

In 1980, France took a step into the future when the telecom companies introduced the Minitel system — a precursor to the Web where users could shop, buy train tickets, check stocks, and send and receive electronic mail through a small terminal. Minitel still had 10 million monthly connections in 2009, but the service was discontinued in 2012.

The keyboard of a French Minitel terminal is wired up to an Arduino Pro Micro.So, you can imagine how many Minitel terminals must be floating around at this point. [Gautchh] picked one up at a garage sale a while back and converted it into a battery-powered laptop for taking notes in class. Luckily for us, [Gautchh] recently open-sourced this project and has given us a wiring diagram, STLs, BOM, and a good look into the build process.

[Gautchh] started by gutting the Minitel, but saved the power button and the très chic power indicator that looks like a AA cell. The new 10.4″ LCD screen is held in place with four 3D-printed corner blocks and a bit of hot glue, and the original keyboard (which we’d love to clack on) is now wired up to an Arduino Pro Micro. The main brain — a Raspberry Pi 3B — is easily accessible through a handy little hatch in the back. Well, it looks like we’ve got a new ebay alert to set up.

In the mood for more AZERTY goodness? Check out this gallery of French computers, or a more traditional take on a Minitel with a Raspberry Pi.