This TV gadget censors bad words with 1980’s tech

This TV gadget censors bad words with 1980’s tech

Think of the children!

Links ‘n’ stuff:
That Teletext video I mentioned:

The Teletext Archive
(lots of cool information there as well)

Technology Connections on Twitter (for now):

The TC Subreddit

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57 Responses

  1. Technology Connections says:

    I realized in the edit that the Guardian is actually muting audio the instant a bad word is detected – the audio gets muted slightly _before_ the caption block appears on-screen, so it’s not waiting until the databurst is complete. I’m sure that’s to help mitigate bad timing errors, but it also means it can cut off sentences before it shou

    • Emppu T. says:

      I last used the teletext which we call Text-TV. After i missed out on the lottery broadcast and the internet takes time to update so there they where right on the text tv page. Also fun to flip through sometimes for random info like reviews for upcoming movies, news

    • Newtybot says:

      @Chaoss Creations 🫢 someone didn’t watch the video

    • Frank Power says:

      Hi, I wanted to expand on a comment that I made yesterday the italian teletext “televideo” is still alive as I remembered and can actually be used online on a page on site of the RAI (our national public broadcasting company) just by googling “televideo” the other famous teletext “mediavideo” died this year in january with the end of the analog transmission from mediaset, this actually surprised me and there are a lot of pages

    • Nickolai M says:

      @VashVicious2 but what if every 4th word is the bad word?

    • bralph82 says:

      Wow. Unwatchable.

  2. LGR says:

    Ohh jeez, THIS thing. Totally had one in our household and friend’s households in the late 90s/early aughts 😄 It had the unintended side effect of putting increased emphasis on language, so my buddies and I constantly found ourselves more focused on deciphering what was actually being said anytime it muted. We learned all KINDS of colorful new language as a result that otherwise may have passed by without much thought. Thanks TV Guardian, _you piece of ‘ crud. Wow._

    • ropersonline says:

      @craig thomas Lock, Stock, and no audio; only subtitles.

    • Robert Schnobert says:

      @Vardek Petrovic the vegans and their tofu haha! How do you know someone is a vegan? Don’t worry they’ll tell you haha. I’m eating beef right now and I will keep eating meat every day for the rest of my life just to own the tree huggers. I love eating meat. 🌈

    • craig thomas says:

      this device would have never caught on in the UK. for profanities on TV, we have american shows beat by miles, a device like this would have blown up trying to keep up with it

    • ropersonline says:

      @Impunity Did she also sing over it like in the “Help the Police” sketch?

    • Lamberto Vitali says:

      Didn’t you and your friends just move the buttons on the back? Or swap the leads about?

  3. GrandeTaco says:

    There was an article I read in the 90s about a kids word learning program that had a typing section to allow kids to type their own sentences and have the computer read the sentence back to the child via the sound card. The code for this would censor bad words from being typed in or read aloud by the computer. Apparently the company that produced software didn’t QA very well because if kids typed too many normal words into the note pad program it would over load the programs buffered memory and instead of stopping phrases from being spoken it read the list of bad words in its memory out loud for all to hear. One woman described it as the George Carlin’s list of bad words you are not allowed to say on TV. Apparently this thing would angrily read all the naughty words on the list very quickly.

    • Adamohm says:

      A children’s museum in my city during the 90s had a talking “robot” which spoke whatever sentences and words you typed into it. If you typed a curse word he would say random things like “I am not programmed to say that” or “That is a nasty word.”

      9 year old me figured out a way to get him to curse by typing different variations of the words. My first foray into hacking.

    • rick astley says:

      @Lamberto Vitali LMAO

    • SheepFuckerJohn says:

      when your buffer gets full
      and you start spouting bull,
      that’s memoré

      when they fill up your ram
      and you verbally spam,
      that’s memoré

    • True River says:

      @tanman99 video screen capture in the 90’s??? I doubt it. Capturing video from the PC screens of that time was about as likely as medieval monks using a photocopier to make copies of the Bible. Videoing the screen onto 1″ video tape would have been technically feasible, but you’d need a camera the size of a Dalek and an entire outside broadcast unit to do it. And the tapes were usually wiped and reused.

      Besides which the story is older than the 90’s and turns up every so often as happening in a different piece of software.

      I first heard it mid eighties (well before the launch of the first IBM PC) and involving the real world experience of kids using a BBC micro (Google it) in the Children’s Gallery of The Science Museum, London (Google that too).

      No idea of any of the stories are true, or whether this counts as a very early computer-era urban legend. The hands on BBC micro for kids to play with was certainly at the museum and it has a swear word filter, but whether the wordlist really ever got displayed to the kids is something I can’t personally verify, but the story was reported in the New Scientist at the time.

      As far as I’m concerned it’s a fun urban legend.

  4. Emily Smirle says:

    My father was involved in the early development of teletext. Thanks for giving people the overview, even if you can’t do a full length video on it 🙂

  5. John Jones says:

    Usefulness aside, someone did some very impressive programming to fit this functionality into the onboard PIC microcontroller, which has only 2K of program memory. Around the time this came out I was writing sentence parsing firmware (totally unrelated to CC) using similar PICs, and whoever was able to do all this with 2K – I take my hat off to you. BTW, if you’re really interested, the curse words of interest are stored in clear text on the 16K serial EEPROM on the board.

    • Josh Kramer says:

      @Lamberto Vitali That 30KB package was for one very device-specific, single-platform, driver-only file which had zero functionality outside of device addressing. Modern driver download can include drivers for hundreds of devices, custom settings applications, as well as other extensible software. Fitting all of that into into a package of 130 MB is impressive when considering everything is written for multiple 64bit platforms. But we can pretend like we’re going backwards if you’d like!

    • Just Steve says:

      @Lamberto Vitali tell me about it!
      I grew up with 8bit home micros, so programming microcontroller chips feels like home to me… All those long forgotten tricks to squeeze data into a few K of ram just come flooding back!

    • Carl Friedrich says:

      @Lemon Inspector nah just libraries and frameworks

    • Lemon Inspector says:

      Yeah, it’s way worse now!
      If you’re wondering what they added that takes up over 100MB, here’s the industry secret: it’s new bugs!

    • Gabriel Guedes Balogo says:

      ​@Lamberto Vitali first, not even close to the same functionality. Second, you’re free to write your own drivers.

  6. Derek Knop says:

    My mom kept one of these on every TV in the house until I was 15 or 16. She was so strict about language that she didn’t think the TV guardian was strict enough. We had to watch Disney movies with this thing turned on because she hated terms like “balls” or “stupid” and “shut up” was forbidden in the house. I remember being told not to watch tv or movies at friends houses because they didn’t have this. The side effect was me asking her all the time why a word was bad and her having to explain it.

    • Confuzed Graphite says:

      @William Nyberg it’s rather funny that you’re trying to subtly assert your intelligence by typing a completely nonsensical comment. If you’re going to claim that not swearing makes you smarter, I’d suggest reading over your comment 2 or 12 more times.

    • William Nyberg says:

      @Scott T maybe that’s true for you, but I don’t think it applies to people who speak so every fourth word _isn’t_ a profanity

    • Scott T says:

      @William Nyberg
      This is actually pretty widely documented as a myth with little to no basis in fact. I have a pretty good vocabulary, but sometimes “what in the chicken fried fuck did I just witness” is EXACTLY the phrase to describe the situation and how I feel about it.

    • coolbluelights says:

      I learned every bad word I know FROM my mom 🤣

    • Keith James says:

      When I get around my grandkids and I talk about something (not someone) being “crazy” or “dumb” I get lectured that those are bad words. I can’t wait for them to grow and hit the real world and realize what my own daughter is doing to them. Oh well.

  7. acidhelm says:

    Given the cheapness of the device, I’d bet that the bad words are stored in plain text. Send it to Adrian’s Digital Basement and ask him to dump the ROMs. 😀

    • dunxy says:

      MAKE IT HAPPEN,for science!

    • whirled peas says:

      Why would the encrypt the word list

    • G-Rex says:

      @Christopher G Just use a public key cipher and compare the encrypted text. No need to decrypt, so no private key to decrypt the text. Probably not what happened here, though, because those algorithms were probably on the slow side for live processing data at the time.

    • phirenz says:

      I doubt the words are encrypted, but they are probably compressed in some format that has a side effect of making it hard to read.

      If someone could could dump the code from that microcontroller, it would be easy enough to reverse engineer the whole code and pull the word list out.

      But microcontrollers often have protection that makes dumping the code hard.

    • TissuePaper says:

      @Christopher G You could hash the naughty words and use each word’s hash as the encryption key for its substitution. Then you hash every word that comes in and try to decrypt each substitution with that hash. Collisions would cause false substitutions, but there were already many false substitutions due to the device’s failure to understand context. The data just needs to be obfuscated, not cryptographically secured.

  8. Eric Karczewski says:

    I find that an incredible application for closed captioning data. I don’t care how silly it seems, the fact that they could screen both text and audio even mostly successfully with an add-in box is a beautiful concept.

  9. Alberto Peixoto says:

    Teletext brings back memories of me and my grandpa typing down the numbers for the pages we wanted to see. Sports results, weather and tv programming were used the most. Some tv channels even included horoscopes and news.

    It was fun to browse, in some ways it was like a proto internet browsing experience. They even made pixel art to go along with each category.

    • Jehty says:

      @Boris Johnson advertising for sex-hotlines is the only thing I can remember seeing on teletext.
      Maybe there was other stuff but that probably wasn’t interesting enough for me as a kid 😅

    • Ka Lender says:

      @Boris Johnson In the NL too, some very naughty pixel art!

    • Boris Johnson says:

      @ForboJack TV2 in Norway had a bunch of sex-phone numbers on it, with art on the pages.
      TV2 has shut down their teletext, but NRK still has it’s available. There’s even a webpage to look at it online.

    • ForboJack says:

      There were even basic chat rooms in teletext (I think you entered your text via phone) and some channels even had pixel art porn if you knew where to find it.
      Also the information on the current program was pretty good. You’d get the plot of a movie, the actors names and more.

    • Lamberto Vitali says:

      A poor signal would mean random missing or corrupted text. I’d so love to go back in time and introduce a mobile phone or something. Then realise there was no 4G or any internet or…. damn.

  10. grammargeek01 says:

    We got one of these when I was a kid; first time we tried it out, we ended up watching Dexter’s Lab and it started censoring words! We knew there was no way Dexter and DeeDee were cussing like sailors, so we stopped using it after that. I think it censored the word “dork,” but I don’t remember what else. Even our parents agreed it was ridiculous.

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