I’m Old, Part LXIV: Pre Web Hacking

Around about 1993, Mattel released Teen Talk Barbie, a doll with a voice box that came programmed with 4 phrases (out of a suite of 270). Most wee innocuous, but some were vapid and the notorious “Math class is tough” raised a stink. So much that a group named the BLO (Barbie Liberation Organization) made a video about how they swapped the voice boxes in these Barbies and G.I.Joe equivalents and returned them to the shelves.

Alan Wootton heard about this and decided it was a great idea and set out to recreate it. He bought a talking G. I. Joe and spent some time trying to disassemble the doll. The first problem he encountered was that these kids of dolls are not made to be taken apart. These companies would suffer badly if a kid took one apart and choked on pieces. Alan mounted an X-Acto blade onto a soldering iron and used that to cut open the doll and get out the circuitry. it wasn’t going to be as simple as swapping chips – one doll was made by Mattel, the other by Hasbro. The likelihood of a compatible chipset was about none. The other choice was to swap the whole circuit boards, but again, the form factor for G. I. Joe’s chest and Babries weren’t even close.

Still, the G. I. Joe circuit was pretty nifty. Rather than have a few stock sentences, it had a dozen or so phrases forms and many pieces that could be substituted in. It was a much more interesting toy than teen Barbie.

Alan gave up on the process, being pretty sure that the BLO work was either just a joke or a pretty bad hack job. Alan reassembled the G. I. Joe and used the same rig he used to cut it open, to weld it back together. He ended up giving it to one of his nephews who, if I recall correctly, enjoyed the battle scars.

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