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May 242013

Some technologies are so direct and intuitive that they feel classic even when they’re new. Some technologies are so ahead of their time that they only find their true purpose years after they’ve been put out to pasture.
Minitel 1B US
In the early 80’s, France Telecom rolled out the Minitel, a videotex system offering various online services to users across France. Subscribers were given small, semi-portable CRT-based terminals. The service was a success, and at its peak boasted 25 million users. But eventually, well, you know. The internet. In June 2012, France Telecom finally pulled the plug on the Minitel. Screens across the country went dark. Millions of little, boxy terminals, suddenly cast adrift. Widespread technology, lost and alone, in search of purpose. Purpose now, suddenly, found.
The Minitel/Tumblr Time Tunnel is a Minitel 1B US (yes, there was a QWERTY version) backed by a Raspberry Pi. Enter a few tags at the prompt, and the mighty firehose of Tumblr will be unleashed upon your tiny, 3-bit*, 80×72 pixel black and white CRT display. By cranking the serial port up to 4800 blazin’ bits per second and reducing the number of color swaps, you can view the genius of the internet at such blinding speeds that you’ll think that you’ve suddenly been transported to a Jetsonian future of videophones and cars that collapse into briefcases. It’s just that advanced. See for yourself:

(The asterisk after “3-bit” is due to the fact that each 2×3 block of “pixels” is actually a single character with foreground and background color attributes, so each 2×3 block only has one bit of color data, selected from a palette of 8 colors.)

As is de rigueur, all the code is available on github.

The Minitel/Tumblr Time Tunnels will be on display at this year’s NYCR Interactive Party. Be sure to come by and see the internet the way it positively demands to be seen!

 Posted by at 9:08 pm

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