Google, Wikipedia directly on ASCII terminal?

Peter Corlett abuse at
Tue Jan 16 04:38:16 CST 2018

On Tue, Jan 16, 2018 at 08:19:34AM +0000, Martin Meiner via cctech wrote:
> Does anybody know if there exists such anaccess-number where this conversion
> is already made, or is there a small deviceon the market that allows on one
> side connect to a dial-up modem and on theother side to the terminal and
> doing the ASCII conversion stand-alone?

I do this routinely, albeit with a terminal emulator and ssh session rather
than a physical terminal and modem.

My "small device" is a Debian Linux box in Germany on which I read mail and
Usenet, do IRC, etc. I wrote a trivial Perl script called "google" that
inspects its arguments, and constructs a search URL which it passes to elinks,
a text-mode web browser. A similarly-trivial "wikipedia" script could be
written. Some web sites such as Twitter recognise the elinks User-Agent and
switch to a non-Javascript "mobile" site. FaceBook doesn't work, but there's
nothing of value there anyway.

A physical serial connection is simpler than a pair of modems, so start with
that. Run a null modem cable between your terminal and COM1 on the Linux box,
edit the inittab to add a getty for /dev/ttyS0 with the appropriate terminal
type (there's usually a commented-out example) and reload init. A similar
principle applies to USB-serial dongles, but they're a bit unreliable so try to
use a proper onboard serial port if possible.

Linux's "vt100" terminal type differs somewhat from DEC's in that it includes
command sequences that an original VT100 does not and some full-screen
applications will render incorrectly, but a VT220 worked OK when I last tried,
back in 2003-ish. If the render is occasionally off-by-one -- you'll know it
when you see it -- it means that the terminal is configured for 24 lines and
the Unix box for 25 lines or vice-versa. Use the terminal's settings menu
and/or tweak $LINES/$COLUMNS on the Linux box.

Dialup is a refinement of this. You will need to use "mgetty" instead which
understands Hayes commands and other modem control signals, but it might not be
installed by default.

Note that 15 years ago we were running sysvinit, and now we have the Brave New
World of systemd, which is overcomplicated GUI junk and probably doesn't
support serial terminals. If you decide to build this, find a Linux
distribution without systemd, or use something like FreeBSD.

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