This year I’m following Solenes shenanigans and friends at https://occ.deadnet.se with the idea of using low specs computer or setup for a whole week of July 10th to 16th.
Here I will try to log that week to the best of my abilities.
Debian 12 ‘Bookworm’ was released not long ago and I decided to try it out with that challenge - constrained environment should expose some cons of the OS if there are any. Also I’m curious overall because all of my other machines run OpenBSD, Fedora or Manjaro (steamdeck <3).
As for the hardware to use during that time - it is a worn out, but combat-tested Thinkpad T60; I think it is one of the last thinkpads with an IBM branding, so that’s fairly cool too I think. It was supercharged to the best of my abilities with 4 gigs of RAM (only 3 can be used at most, chipset limitation) and 240Gb SATA SSD.
I really wanted to upgrade the CPU to Core2Duo and have a x86_64 machine with that, but alas my revision motherboard doesn’t support that processor. So T2500 it is.
Truth be told most of my personal everyday tasks do not look overly demanding regardless of challenges: for email I use mutt, for chatting in IRC - irssi, and my main editor for everything is literally nano (my descend into that madness is a whole another story). So it is safe to say I don’t have to sacrifice much for the majority of everyday tasks, notable exceptions being watching anime/movies (mpv but I need x265 or x264 10bit and up to 4K)
For the window manager and desktop environment I’ve been exploring something new (semi-default debian lxde) and came back to my 10+ years old roots with WindowMaker. But for the limited resources and general productivity on my side I just can’t escape using dwm - was very happy with it on OpenBSD and it helps me to focus on what’s important without overly fiddling with settings because there are none :D
I still have to figure out which audio player to use (deadbeef is not in i386 bookworm repos for some reason), but just to be safe movies-wise I downloaded all the “Computer Chronicles” from archive.org and it fits nicely into T60 4x3 display.
Even though my first choice was “The Legend of Galactic Heroes” T2500 can only handle 10bit video at its full power (without disabling multi-core and setting it to lowest frequency).
My homemade projects are usually made with relatively modest software and libraries: gcc and gdb for c99, golang, sdl2 and stuff like that. The main thing I will honestly miss during that week is the gorgeous Godot - I’m trying to dive deeper into hobby gamemaking after years of doing that professionally.
Since my pastime is mostly that and videogames (on consoles; I should probably make a proper post about that since some of them are mighty cool) I think I shouldn’t feel any major urge to fall back to my main rig.
I’ll try to do a small writeups about quirks and hiccups and happy moments I encounter right here every day for the next week. Should be fun and maybe even insightful!
My good friends at http://occ.deadnet.se have a list of blogs of people doing this challenge so if anyone read this far - be sure to check them out! Lots of awesome skilled people there.
Feels like this year quite a lot of people started this challenge and popped in the IRC channel - #oldcomputerchallenge at Libera (irc.libera.chat), really exciting and nice to see what people use and experience with their setups and workflows.
First thing I had to approach is the missing music player - I’ve used mpd+ncmpc a while back but decided to try something new this time and folks at the irc channel suggested mocp. So far it fits the bill of a lightweight terminal player quite well.
I still have to use a work laptop for my $dayjob since it mostly involves bloatware like zoom, slack, web browser with jira/miro and google suite. Programming tasks often include Unity and JetBrains Rider (can’t escape that) but at least whatever backend stuff I make is made with off-the-shelf terminal emulator, nano and golang.
I had a plan to continue developing a tool that wraps an animated webp into spritesheets (the core is there but I still haven’t decided what GUI toolkit to use) but procrastination is not an easy foe to fight off even with neat challenges like OCC :) Hopefully this week will be somewhat productive in that regard.
Unfortunately this week brought me not just this joy of a retrocomputing immersion but a paintrain of a work restructurization at $dayjob, and that sucked all my ‘action points’ so I only was able to use the T60 for an hour or so before falling dead asleep.
But to my surprise the journey already was quite fruitful - mindless scrolling of tech news/articles got replaced with a brief browsing of my fediverse feed and insightful interactions on IRC. And most importantly I essentially was able to route my scarce ‘brain alive’ time to fixing some code that I’ve spent weeks just staring onto previously :D
So I finally managed to complete to a point my tiny util that I’ve mentioned on day 1 - it might not be overly complicated but I had a great deal of fun making the CLI version of it. The full proper version of it that I’ve initially planned and slowly working towards should have a proper cross-platform GUI.
Nothing interesting happens today sadly, I could only muster up strength to make a small writeup about previous days. The laptop works properly without interruptions - I’ve replaced its battery to a supposedly new but it turns off abruptly at about 50% charge so I guess it is not as good as advertised. It still works as an impromptu UPS so I’m not complaining.
Good people at the #oldcomputerchallenge IRC channel were talking about using WiFi with problematic hardware and/or outdated operating systems and I realized that I don’t actually rely on wireless tech on any of the computers I do stuff on - even this ‘06 laptop has a 1Gbit ethernet connection after all (which I use instead of innate wifi). I even got couple of decent USB Ethernet adapters that help me every so often.
Another curious thing that I’ve pointed out for myself is that
dwm feels more comfortable than ever. My main rig has KDE5 as DE/WM but for now I can’t think of a reason why I needed such a big window manager in a first place.
Day 7 and conclusions
It was a hectic week in more than one way. The challenge was the most consistent and satisfying thing to do during that time. There is a lot of uncertainties in my life but as many other techies software and hardware are the smallest ones despite being major parts overall.
During that week I did most of the things I do at my free time with a computer - irc, reading, writing bits of code and whatnot, web-browsing. Apart from web-browsing being a pain in the arse and not having access to the magic of the Godot I had quite a normal time.
Pure positive things that I’ll bring along:
- Met awesome folks and made friends at the #oldcomputerchallenge IRC channel <3
- Added some new cli/tui programs to my toolchain:
moc(audio player) and
- Finally feeling 100% comfortable with
- Week-long abstinence off twitch and some other web-resources cooled down my light addiction and freed quite some time that I can enjoy spending doing interesting stuff.
- Got some new insights and practical knowledge of handling builtin C99 types on this 32bit platform.
- The new Debian Bookworm is really good and worth moving onto from the Fedora I’ve spent past years on.
Tiny bit of sad thoughts:
- Shame that lots of workflows now require modern web-browsers with the giant pile of redundant self-repeating bloat. The majority of websites are absolutely unusable without JS.
- Gopher is nice yet I still don’t have the server running :c
- Started to think that maybe the fancy pants modern machine I’ve got few months back is quite an overkill for all of the things I do at home. I’ll try to do more because otherwise it is just a future-proof hardware for the Firefox.
General thoughts that I find curious:
- Despite being happy with the challenge constraints I catch myself thinking ‘I wish I can enable both cores and unlock RAM to do some stuff faster’; interestingly I wasn’t thinking of how cool will it be to go back at my main rig (Ryzen 7600X, 64gb DDR5, terabytes of SSDs) but how much I will gain unchaining this 17 years old laptop.
- cli/tui still feels superior because it has the most consistent interface across all platforms.
- Golang in general is quite snappy even on outdated hardware but with limited ram the runtime cost is quite noticeable.
- 4:3 screen doesn’t feel cramped at all. My model of T60 has 1440x1050 resolution and it looks good except subpar brightness level.
Overall it was a ton of fun, helped to clear up my head and to figure out some priorities even. I don’t know what will next year bring it but sure as heck it will be cool as cucumbers(c). Maybe I’ll do 9front run as some smart lads did this time, or even pick something more obscure just for the sake of it.
Old doesn’t mean unusable. I wish we shook off any negative connotation of that word regarding hardware and software.
If a thing was made a while ago and still works as intended imho it is one heck of an incredible thing.
2023-07-16 23:00 fin.