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The Web-@nywhere Lives Again, Thanks to Cameron Kaiser, Putting 93kb of the Web on Your Wrist

A product of the dot-com boom launched during the bust, this offline gadget lets you cram web content onto a 59×16 display.

Gareth Halfacree
1 month agoRetro Tech / Wearables

Vintage computing enthusiast Cameron Kaiser has brought back a device from the days before pocket-friendly always-connected portable supercomputers, designed to let you take snippets of the World Web Web with you anywhere you go: the Web-@anywhere wearable.

"In 2001 you could get the Web-@nywhere (the 'Worldwide Web Watch')," Kaiser explains. "Load up the software on your PC and slap it in its little docking station, and you could slurp down about 93k of precious Web data to scroll on the 59×16 screen — 10 characters by 2 characters — to read any time you wanted!

"That is, of course, if the remote host the watch's Windows 9x-based client accessed were still up, on which it depended for virtually anything to download and install."

Launched in 2001, the Kinger Web-@nywhere tried to capitalize on the growing love of the World Wide Web at a difficult time: the dot-com bubble had already burst, though its full effect wouldn't be felt until 2002. Despite this, web-hungry consumers were eager to get their fix of the 'net on-the-go — without having to hook expensive laptops up to payphones via acoustic couplers.

The Web-@nywhere promised a solution, downloading data while you're at your PC for later consumption — though being limited to text proved an issue, and the gadget was laid to rest just two years later as the BlackBerry family of keyboard-equipped 'net connected phones rose into ascendancy.

"Besides time and date, it also included an address book (phone and e-mail), scheduler, data browser (this is where downloaded content would go), a world clock, a daily alarm, a countdown timer, a 'game' mode, a stop watch/basic chronograph with lap function, data link and 'graphic animations,'" Kaiser writes. "The data browser 'can access important web links and information.' The manual divides the clock into home time and world time modes and mentions reminder features for the scheduler ('planner remind') and up to three 'special days' you can count down to."

Actually getting data on there, though, would have to happen without the original server software. Kaiser started by replacing the long-defunct battery in the watch to prove it still worked, then investigated the RS232 serial dock bundled with the watch. The bundled software CD loaded fine in a Windows 98 virtual machine, Kaiser found, but while it would allow data to be entered manually and synchronized to the watch it relied on a long-since-shuttered remote server to pull down live web data.

Sniffing the traffic both between the client software and the internet and between the client software and the watch, Kaiser set about creating "fake web sites" the watch could process — figuring out the "incredibly contrived" format required step-by-step.

"We now have enough information to construct a basic translation utility to turn ASCII into watch encoding, and then to push the results to the watch over the serial port," Kaiser says. "To make this practical, we'll use live, freely available textual weather data from the U.S. National Weather Service as a data source, format it for the screen, translate that into encoded packets and send those packets."

Chaining together a Perl script and a simple C program which can push data to the watch, Kaiser was able to successfully pull down live web data and push it to the Web-@nywhere. "[The] Perl script […] takes ASCII text on standard input and encodes and packetizes it on standard output, and [the] basic C program […] takes a pre-packetized file and pushes it to the watch. For the demonstration I added two little formatter Perl scripts and a Makefile."

Kaiser's full, detailed write-up on the project is available on the Old Vintage Computing Research blog; the WebAny tool is published to GitHub under the permissive BSD license.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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