The 2022 Old Computer Challenge (Version 2)
Solene has organized a follow up on last year's Old Computer
Challenge. This follow up is called
"The Old Computer Challenge V2: back to RTC"
The difference with last year's challenge is that now your
"internet-time" is limited, to 60 minutes per day. This resembles a
bit how it was in the old days.
When I started using the internet, back in the mid-nineties, I used
a 14k4 modem to call in. The internet provider charged not only a
monthly fee, but also a fee per minute. Also the telephone provider
charged a fee per minute, albeit less lower than the internet per
So, in those days it was normal that you were only connected to the
internet for just a short period per day.
In the text below I will first tell something about my set up, using
my Acer as X-terminal for my old Raspberry as remote workstation.
After that, I will keep a daily diary of my experiences.
Raspberry Pi B as XDMCP X-terminal Server
Although a old computer is not mandatory in this year's challenge, I
still like to keep that element.
This year I like to participate with a Raspberry Pi B, with 256 Mb
RAM, as a XDMCP X-terminal server.
See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_display_manager#XDMCP
My laptop functions as an X-terminal.
See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_terminal
This setup resembles the way I have once worked at home: in the late
nineties I used a SLXT Sparc-Linux X-Terminal, with a Linux server
as X-terminal server.
I will use my Acer Aspire One ZG5, just like last year. The
Aspire One runs FreeBSD 13.
I am typing this text in Emacs running on the Raspberry Pi B, logged
on from my Acer Aspire.
Raspberry Pi B with NetBSD 9.2
The machine that is my X-terminal server is a Raspberry Pi B, based
on a 700 MHz ARM11 CPU, and with 256 Mb RAM. This model is from
about 2012, and was replaced in 2014 with the Raspberry Pi B+.
For the challenge, I installed NetBSD 9.2 with the Modular X11
server from modular X.org on the Raspberry Pi.
It is not that difficult to set up a X-terminal server. Two files
needs to be edited:
Comment the following line (by putting an exclamation mark at the
first position of the line):
Remove the comment in front of the line with
"#any host can get a login window"
(so it starts with an asterix)
Restart xdm and everything should be working.
Make sure that port 6000 is open and not blocked by any
Next, from your workstation, either open X or Xnest with query or
* X -query [ip-address]
* Xnest :1 -query [ip-address]
For this, it is necessary that X (or Xnest) listens to tcp, for
security reasons for X this is disabled by default. To get things up
and running quickly, I use Xnest.
The -query command, if successful, will lead to a login screen.
The -indirect [ip-address] command will lead to a chooser.
Because of the small screen of the Acer Aspire One ZG5 (1024x600
pixels) I run there X -query [ip-address] right from the command
line, so the whole screen real estate will be used (Xnest doesn't do
Day 1: How To Keep Up With The News
We have abandoned the television from our lives a couple of years
ago. I rely on the internet to keep up with the news. I do this
mostly by reading my RSS feeds on a daily basis.
People like Henry David Thoreau teach us, that keeping up with the
news is not that important, and that the news is best consumed after
it has aged a few months.
But still I have the feeling that I have to keep up with the news,
and I am curious how this challenge will affect me in this regard.
Emacs, Elfeed and Eww
I read my RSS feeds in Emacs, with Elfeed. From Elfeed I open
webpages with eww. eww is a simple web browser that is part of
Emacs. On the Raspberry I use Emacs in text modus, so images will
not be displayed and all text is rendered by the terminal.
Because the Raspberry Pi B is s-l-o-w, and because of the time
limit, I have filtered out of my RSS feeds all the feeds with high
traffic. These are all commercial feeds. such as a small number of
news sources like the BBC, the Guardian, and Science Alert, and a
number of feeds of more general interest like those from the
Marginalian and the Literary Hub, among others. The second group is
of course less a matter of Keeping Up With The News and mostly a
matter of Other Interesting Stuff.
The biggest part of my RSS feeds however, are feeds with low
traffic, mostly with one posting per day or less, like personal
blogs and other personal websites. Often these postings contain Very
After this reduction of the feed-list, I started Elfeed and let it
update its feeds.
**This took 29 minutes.**
This is a great part of my precious internet time, so it is obvious
that I haven't filtered out enough feeds. I overlooked a few high
traffic feeds, and I have removed those now. I still have kept a
couple of high traffic feeds, like lobste.rs and Hacker News.
Tomorrow I will see if this is enough to make the time needed for
the update more acceptable.
Day 2: Ratpoison window manager and keeping up with the Fediverse
I set up the Ratpoison window manager and my .Xresources file.
Using the Ratpoison window manager is a lot more efficient that
using TWM. I use a small awk-script together with ratmen to switch
Emacs and Xterm
Because I have also scp-ed my .Xresources file to the Raspberry, I
can now use Emacs in Xterm (with ```XTerm*metaSendsEscape: true```).
I also tried to use Emacs as X application (starting just
```emacs``` in stead of ```emacs -nw```), but this is not a real
option. When the Emacs windows looses focus and regain focus, the
screen is white and has to be redrawn, which takes too much time to
be actual workable.
Editing text with text mode Emacs (starting Emacs with ```emacs
-nw```) works surprisingly good. Things like "flyspell-buffer" are
of course not as fast, but still workable.
![Screenshot of ratpoison with
of ratpoison with tree windows (click for larger version)
With the smaller list of RSS feeds, the load time has been reduced
to about 16 minutes. Also, it became apparent that there are a lot
of lobste.rs entries that are not in my fields of interest.
I have now replaced the general "newest.rss" of lobste.rs with a few
tag-related feeds, like "emacs.rss". Tomorrow I will see if this is
an improvement, or not.
Keeping up with the Fediverse
During the preparation of the Raspberry Pi I had already installed
"toot", a text mode Mastodon client, and had launched it once to see
if everything OK. Yesterday there wasn't any internet time left, so
I didn't use toot.
At the start of toot, it fetches your timeline and shows a list of
toots. My guess is that toot caches the toots and so they can be
read without internet connection. To test this, I started toot on my
laptop, and after it had fetched and shows the list of toots, I
brought the wlan interface down. I could indeed read the contents of
the toots. Of course, embedded images or links can not be viewed,
nor can there be any reaction (like boost of favorite).
So, this is not the optimal approach, but as long as updating and
reading my RSS feeds takes up most of the internet-time, this is the
I have been using a private shell server for decades where I use
several text mode applications. Like many people are used to, my
* ssh into the server
* tmux a to attach to the running tmux session
* do whatever I came to do
* detach from tmux
* close the ssh connection
On my laptop I also use tmux, starting a session after booting up
Because of the XDMCP session, working on the Raspberry Pi from my
Acer Aspire feels as working on my laptop, and out of habit start a
new tmux session. With the result that I had three running tmux
So, this is something I had overlooked. Just as on my shell server,
I can simply detach from tmux and log out. The next time I create a
new XDMCP session, I can conveniently re-attach to the running tmux
session. Because I run Emacs in tmux, this means I don't have to
start Emacs, which takes ages on the Raspberry, so this a Great
Challenge leads to adventurous day
This day there is no blue sky, but a completely closed sky with
grey-ish clouds. My first impulse was to get my tablet to check the
weather, but because of the limited internet time I have disabled
wifi on it.
So this challenge already leads to the first adventurous action: I
jumped on my bicycle without checking the weather to go shopping.
Because I hadn't bought anything that needed to go into the
refrigerator, I took a little detour on the way back, so the
shopping trip became a small tour of about 25~30 km :)
I am happy to report there was no rain.
Day 3: Sitting quietly in a room ...
Today I hit a wall while writing some code in elisp.
I am a great fan of the info system, and so I tried to come up with
a solution with the help of the info pages and consulting the
available code from the installed packages, but unfortunately this
failed. In the end I did use the internet to search for some clues
and spend a big chunk of my precious "internet-time".
During the last year's edition of the Old Computer Challenge I came
to the conclusion that the challenge not only lets you play with
interesting hardware, but also lets you learn more about yourself.
That last element is even more true for this year's challenge. Oh
> All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit
> quietly alone in a room --- Blaise Pascal
During this challenge I am confronted with my habit to pick up my 8
inch tablet and do something that has to do with using the internet.
Like first thing in the morning, checking the app with the local
"teletekst", I don't know the English name for this (and currently
can not look it up :) but maybe it is indeed 'teletext' (will check
this after the challenge :). This is/was a protocol where a number
of small text-only pages are superimposed on the wireless television
signal, to be decoded by the television. In the Netherlands, the
news is still broadcasted this way in a very condensed format, and
these pages are also made available with an app. So, this is my
go-to method to be up to date with what that news agency considers
to be the most important news.
And during the day I use this tablet to keep up with the Fediverse,
to check the chance of rain, to look up stuff on the internet, and
Because of the challenge, I can't do that now. Which is not easy.
This all makes me well aware of this habit, and how very often I am
triggered to it.
To wrap it all up:
* Consulting the internet today to solve some coding-problems left no
time for me to update my RSS feeds
* I am learning the hard way about my habit to pick up my tablet
throughout the day
Now I am going to sit quietly in my chair, with a nice book.
Day 4: Same old same old
I woke up to discover that the world was still turning although I
hadn't read the news the previous day.
I have been working at my Elisp code pet project a bit, but didn't
make much progress.
Due to the very nice weather, and a nice 28 km bicycle trip --at a
really leisure speed-- through the nature in our area, I spend less
time at the keyboard.
So the challenge was less of a challenge today.
Capslock key as Control key
Like described above, during this challenge I use an old Acer Aspire
One ZG5 as X-terminal and a old Raspberry Pi (1) B as X-server.
One of the things I keep running into in this setup is that Capslock
functions as ... Capslock. On my daily driver, a X270 laptop, I have
configured Capslock to function as Control-modifier, as a little
step in preventing the so called Emacs-pinky.
So todays quest was to change the behavior of the Capslock key,
without consulting the internet. This seemed a little complicated,
because X runs on the Acer Aspire and the session runs on the
After poking around with setxkbmap (on both machines) without
getting to a solution, followed by playing with kbdcontrol and
keymaps (on the Acer Aspire), with only a working solution on the
command line on the Acer Aspire, I finally nailed it with a simple
.Xmodmap with just three lines:
remove Lock = Caps_Lock
keysym Caps_Lock = Control_L
add Control = Control_L
The changes I made in the RSS turn out to be fine, although now the
Hacker News RSS feed dominates my feeds. Unlike lobste.rs, where
there are topic-specific feeds besides the generic feed, I have only
found a Hacker News generic feed.
I gave it a good look, only a small part of the Hacker News links is
of interest to me. I have created a bookmark to
https://news.ycombinator.com in eww (the web browser build in Emacs)
and removed the feed from my list of feeds. So, when I have gone
through my RSS feeds and there is still "internet-time" left, I can
quickly scan the first 30 items to see if there is any link of
interest to me.
I fetched my timeline in toot, so I could go though the messages.
Because I had exhausted my "internet-time-budget" for the day, I
couldn't react nor pull up images.
I guess I will keep it a text-only version of the Fediverse for the
rest of the challenge.
I must admit that I haven't even looked at updates in Gemini-space
nor Gopher-space during the last days ...
Day 5: Adapting well
Time flies, it is already day 5 ...
The weather was fine today. I did some work in the garden, and
sanded and painted the posts of two windows of our house.
So I do not have much to report today.
More time left
The list of entries in Elfeed is much shorter now. Also it loaded
quicker. I didn't time it, but when I changed windows in ratpoison,
the update in Elfeed was already finished.
I had time to read some posts of fellow old-computer-challengers in
their blogs, gemlogs and phlogs. It is nice to see such a diversity,
and Gopher and Gemini fit perfectly well in the old-computer fan
In toot I loaded the latest 40 entries in my time line and went
through them, text-only.
I also did a quick scan of the news (through the Teletekst-app), but
didn't get the feeling that I have missed much.
Don't miss streaming services
In some posts from other participants I read about watching video's
from Youtube and other usage of streaming services. I don't use
these services, so this is not a real problem for me.
Day 6: Quiet IRC channel
One of the great things of the old computer challenge is the people
you meet on the IRC channel. This channel was set up in preparation
of last year's old computer challenge. A nice group of people, both
participants as well as like-minded people, joined the channel.
During the last year, this channel stayed active and some new people
Due to the current challenge, with limited "internet-time", the IRC
channel has of course become very quiet. That is IMHO one of the
lesser aspects of this years challenge.
Today I also did some writing, around 900 words. I have two elements
that I want to consult the internet on, but those can wait until
after the challenge.
Also, I finished the book that I was reading.
Keeping up with the news
I used the Teletekst app again, went through the reduced RSS feeds.
Without the main news sources in my RSS feeds I have a feeling am
less aware of that is happening in the world.
I also went in toot quickly through 40 messages of my Fediverse
timeline, but the text only format is for a large part of the toots
not the right format.
During these 6 days I totally have fallen in love again with the
small form factor and low weight of the Acer Aspire One ZG5.
I remember that I kept it around after last year's challenge, as a
second laptop, but somehow I stopped using it.
Of course, the performance is not exactly great, and using Firefox
or a comparable graphical browser is not an option. But for TUI
applications (text mode user interface) like lynx, irssi, and so, it
And during the challenge I did use Emacs in text mode (emacs -nw) on
the even less powerful Raspberry Pi (1) B.
In preparation for this year's challenge and during this challenge I
have discovered that using this small laptop ("netbook") as an
X-terminal using XDMCP is really fun. I am now considering to set up
a X-server after the challenge, on much more capable hardware, to
see if this is an option.
Due to outdoor activities, I have no report on day 7.
Day 8: Final day
Today is the final day of the challenge, which of course requires an
evaluation of the last week.
It turned out that I didn't used any graphical application. only TUI
applications (text mode user interface). I tried Emacs as graphical
application, but this is not really usable in this setup. In
text-mode (with ```emacs -nw```) it worked fine.
So, in hindsight I was great to set up the X-terminal/X-server
combo, consisting of old hardware, but I could just as well use ssh
to log on to the Raspberry Pi and run everything in tmux.
I had to adopt to not being able to use the internet whenever I saw
* I had to reduce the number of RSS feeds in my feed reader and omit
all high traffic feeds
* I had to reduce the number of times I checked the news (with the
* I had to stop checking my timeline on the Fediverse several times
a day on my tablet
* I could check my timeline on the Fediverse only once a day in toot,
a text-only Mastodon client written in Python, see
The result of participating in the challenge is that I am much more
aware about the amount of time I use to spend on these activities. I
came to the conclusion that I want to change this and spend less
time checking the news, checking my Fediverse timeline and my
reading my RSS feeds.
I will scrutinize my list of RSS feeds, and take a hard look at the
commercial feeds. Of course, the [Pareto
here too. A small number of feeds will generate a large portion of
the entries in the feed reader.
I really appreciate the small and very friendly community that has
grown around Solene's initiative and enjoy being a member. I hope
that the IRC channel will continue to be active, just as it was the
last 12 months.
And again, just like the previous time, a big Thank You to Solene
for starting last year's and this year's challenge!
Last edited: $Date: 2022/07/17 12:34:02 $
* EOF *