Old Computer Challenge 2023 - Epilogue

Aug 6, 2023


Reading time: 7 minutes

So the OCC 2023 ended almost three weeks ago and everyone went back to the year 2023 and to using their modern computers. At least I did. But let’s explore what remaind for me.

I want to take a moment to look back and examine what was good, which tools and workflows stuck with me and what is better left back on the old computer (which was really just a VM in my case).

The Good

On both my Desktop and Laptop Computers I’m using Endeavouros, which is pretty much a preconfigured and nice looking Arch Linux with a few extras here and there. And because I am already familiar with it, I decided to just use this as the basis for my OCC computer as well, though with a much slimmer graphical interface (no KDE, just a minimal tiling window manager).

The main things I do on my private computer on a daily basis are communicating with friends, browse the web, watch videos on Youtube, listen to music, do some occasional coding and try my best not to spend too much time on social media (these days mostly Mastodon).

I lived (out of necessity of course) much more in the terminal than I usually do. I still, unfortunately communicate with friends and family via WhatsApp a lot, which I normally have open in a browser window because I hate typing on a touchscreen (if any manufacturer wants to bring back haptic keys with T9 support, I’m ready!). Like pretty much everything related to the modern web, this was more an exercise in frustration than anything else.

Since just opening a browser window filled up about half my RAM before I even opened a single website, having a bunch of tabs open at all times and flipping between them quickly turned out to be impossible. So I needed to find ways to use WhatsApp, IRC, Mastodon, Youtube, VS Code, Obsidian and a few other programs and services on a computer with limited resources.

And there’s a surprising number of very lightweight terminal apps around for pretty much every usecase, I was surprised!

The ones that stuck with me were

  • nchat for Whatsapp, which has a very nice ncurses interface and works beautifully (remember to install the font noto-fonts-emoji if you want to see emojis instead of unicode placeholders)
  • tut for Mastodon, same thing, beautiful ncurses interface, works like a charm
  • lynx or links2 for web browsing in the terminal (no problem on lightweight static websites, but horrible for modern webapps bloated with js etc.)
  • irssi for IRC
  • bombadillo for accessing gemini and gopher sites
  • And for coding, writing blog entries etc. I just used the best terminal editor ever (once you learn how to use it, that is!)

Initially I considered watching Youtube just impossible, but a few days into the OCC someone pointed me to https://yewtu.be, where I could search for a video, get the URL, copy it to yt-dlp and just download the video in a resolution low enough to be watchable on my system. Neat!

For listening to music I used my old iPod or just turned the radio on (yes, FM radio still exists! I was surprised, too).

A lot of these apps I actually still keep using, like nchat, tut, bombadillo and irssi, because they’re just so lightweight and easily started with a few keystrokes.

I have to say though, the most difficult thing about learning all these terminal apps was to memorize all the different key combinations! What’s just a click on the right button in a GUI turns into hunting around for which key combination does what you want to do, and it doesn’t help that every single piece of software seems to invent its own shortcuts! Want to look at an attached media file? in tut it’s ’m’, but in nchat it’s ‘ctrl+v’. And it’s like that for everything… it’s maddening! Once you’ve gotten used to it though, everything flies and is much simpler to use than clicking around in bloated graphical UIs.

So everything is great, right?

The Bad

In short: The web. Just everything about it. I already mentioned that just firing up Firefox or Vivaldi (my browser of choice for most things) uses a good chunk of RAM, and opening pretty much any website quickly fills up the rest. My system was constantly swapping, which of course slows everything down even further, and I was really glad I had an SSD, otherwise I would have had to live with the sound of a constantly whirring mechanical harddrive in my ears while slowly going insane.

Using text based browsers is possible, but by far not all websites load or are usable, so you often have to switch to a gui based browser and suffer. And that’s with all adblockers turned to maximum and JS disabled where possible.

I could write a whole article about this, and maybe one day I will, but the modern web is just becoming more and more awful to use with every passing year. We’re burning gigawatthours worth of energy and are producing tons and tons of CO2 in the process just to transmit ads and self playing videos and all kinds of other crap that nobody even wants through the net! And for what? So big corporations can get richer and richer, while the rest of us are being stripped of our privacy and the global climate is going to hell along the way.

It’s never been more apparent to me than in the last few weeks: The modern web (and by extension a lot of the rest of the modern world) is a mistake. We should just hit reset, go back to 1995 or so and start over, and do it better. What we’re doing right now is clearly not sustainable, nor is it healthy (not for the environment and not for our minds).

But I don’t want to end on this sour note, because there was also

The Great

The community! Without a doubt, that was the best part of it! People were blogging about it, talking on Mastodon and IRC exchanging ideas and frustrations, giving each other support and tips… it was great. That’s how being social online is supposed to work!

So thank you Solene for coming up with the OCC, thank you to all the participants who shared their experiences and thank you to everyone who read my posts and helped me out where necessary!

I’m looking forward to doing this again next year :)