Sat Jul 1 08:44:04 AM CEST 2023

Some time ago I saw the blog post at Solene’s about a computer challenge. The name was the ‘slow computer challenge’, and the idea was to be running an old machine or simulating it by lowering to such specs: minimum CPU frequency, 1 thread only and 512 RAM max. We’ll see how that turned out.

First, let’s tell something about me and what kind of computer user I am. My name is Gabriel, born in 1995 (Windows 95, you’re long gone but I’m still alive [1]). I am a [graduated] student in spanish literature and work part time at a school library. My adventure with computers started at 7 y/o I think, with a machine running on Windows XP. That I used mainly to play games found in cereal boxes, watch DVD and look at yugioh cards online. You are allowed to laugh, it is good for health as I have been told. Then we moved out when I was 10 and the machine was in a cardboard box for the rest of my teenager years. At 16 or 15 -my memories for dates are a bit blurred- I changed school and since there was no room in biology which was my most beloved disciplines, and probably still is, I had no choice but to start a new one, informatics. That was my first encounter with Linux. Remember, I had no longer access to a PC at home and I was discovering for the first time a Linux + GNU system. The experience was not pleasant. In the first place the school’s computer would not boot. As I was sure the mistake was mine, I spent the first couple of weeks staring at a black screen and speculating about what was wrong with me. Asking for help was not in my mind.

I was already joining school mid year and spent two weeks doing nothing productive. Imagine the consternation of my teacher. I failed the first two trimesters, luckily, my father gave out to me the old laptop he used at the time, an i386 machine running Vista, and I could do some work at home to make up for all the due work. The machine only lasted a few months because it gave up on running Windows 7, but that was enough to pass the year [2]. What did I get from this course? An intense frustration with computers. I also did a wordpress which was a kind of project encyclopedia of rock bands and we watched the movie War games, which I still have in my mind from time to time. We also watched a documentary about the hackers/free software ecosystem. I recall there was an archive of Ken Thompson showing the UNIX way of using a dictionary, Stallman ranting about mobile phones, and a hacker whistling into telephones. Maybe I’m mixing memories, but what I saw intrigued me to say the least. I also met my best friend there who was ‘the linux guy’. I also was an unhappy user of Windows, not convinced by linux in any way because that equaled to school and boring GIMP. We could sum up my relationship with computers not quite as love/hate, ‘defiant’ would be the word.

I had an epiphany when we were introduced to actual programming in University. The realization of “oh, you can actually talk to your computer and ask it to do a specific task for you”. So I thought Computer Science was for me. I reoriented in CS and failed miserably, but the enthusiasm was still there. Sadly, it was obscured by the lost of faith in myself.

When I graduated from high school, I was gifted (thanks dad, again) a Macbook air. That was my first time using an UNIX-like system as a daily driver. I liked it but I was a regular user. Discovering the terminal and package managers was something that happened way after. I also built a PC with the money of the fund I had for University, and installed a cracked Windows 10 on it. And the user space was not pleasant compared to the MacOS. Again, this is subjective.

A lot of years after, during COVID times, I discovered the command line on my mac. This was a breath of fresh air in my computer usage. I wrote my graduation paper in LaTeX with the vim editor. And that gave me a well needed little boost of motivation to make it happen. One thing leading to another, I dived into free software, tools, bash and all the likes. As my mac was ageing, I thought I’d better have a backup solution while writing my graduation paper. So I bought a refurbished Thinkpad X270 and installed linux on it (’twas Arch, btw ; God, I’m a meme). And that is the machine I’m currently writing this on. The experience was challenging; yet, looking back, pleasant.

The simple fact of using a shell script to solve a simple real life problem always put a smile on my face. I have to be honest, I’ve spent way more time scouring stack overflow, howtos, wikis, YouTube tutorials, man and info pages than I would have needed to if I stuck to the everyday man’s computer usage. But the pleasure of learning something new almost everyday was well worth it.

Now, there is a problem. My current system, which consists of Arch with the Mate DE and bash as a default shell will not do it. This is the output of ‘free -h’:

total used free : 7.4Gi 613Mi 6.2Gi

I just have a vi session and a PDF open. I need something more minimal before the challenge starts.

[1] A song by Molly Nilsson : Windows 95 [2] I reinstalled XP on it 10 years after and it was running fine. I tried making it a linux box to make it serviceable, but the HDD was corrupted, so I could not go on with the install. I still have the project to make something useful out of it.

Sun Jul 2 10:41:47 PM CEST 2023

In my quest for minimalism. And out of pure laziness, I simply installed i3, which decreases my ram usage by about 200M. Nice. Now I can be assured my ram is sufficient. Of course, I can not run Firefox. Nor Thunderbird. The later is problematic since I don’t have another mail solution available on this system. Web browsing is not a problem since I am used to lynx. What about video media ? ytfzf seems to do the trick. Thanks to ytfzf I can scrape a 720 video, and still be under 470M of RAM usage. The CPU usage is another story. The usage peaks at 50%. Not a problem for music, though. I will have to install a lighter mail client. Which one ? Alpine ? Mutt ? Snail ?

Mon Jul 3 10:54:58 AM CEST 2023

I thought it would be a good idea to list all the things I would ‘really’ need to do with a computer.

This list is dedicated to stuff I could reasonably do for a week. Sadly, it can’t be this way all the time. There are times when I need to make payments online, and that means opening a modern and up to date browser.

I did a crash test. I edited the GRUB boot menu to include these two options : maxcores=1 mem=512M. The mem parameter worked fine. But the maxcores did not. The system was usable, I could have a couple of terminal emulator windows open. Then the demon of curiosity took hold of me, he told me: ‘hey, you know it won’t work but you want to see what happens if you launch Firefox doncha?’ I did it. System borked. No surprise. Well. For that week I think I’ll set an alias to Firefox to “echo nope”.

Next problem is this. IRC. My system can do some basic editing, but hexchat (my current client) is too big for that. So I tried catgirl. It is much smaller, indeed. But still needs memory, which will be a scarce resource. I don’t know if I will be using IRC at all during that week. A solution would be running an instance of catgirl on my server in a tmux session. But I dislike this solution somehow. One cool thing about IRC is the non feature of no support for asynchronous messaging. And I feel like sshing on another computer because our machine can’t do some stuff is like cheating. But on the other hand, it forces us to compartmentalize computing tasks. Like a cloud somehow. But independent and decentralized. You still need a server though. I’m on the fence.

Thu Jul 6 10:59:39 AM CEST 2023

The day is slowly getting nearer and nearer. Tempus fugit. I noticed two good things about i3wm. First one is that having the memory displayed on the status bar is handy. It helps being mindful of the memory usage of your applications. Second one, to my surprise, I noticed I could get the loudspeakers to a much higher volume than in a mate session. Before, I often resorted to headphones or a bluetooth loudspeaker, because the volume, even maxed out, was too quiet. Now I can almost deafen myself if I’m not careful!

I notice this challenge is already changing my mindset about things in general. Yesterday, I learnt how to write the xml of an rss feed. Today, I installed and have the Alpine mail client working. Those are things I wanted to do for some time, but never got into actually doing them. I remember trying to setup console mail clients, like mutt, snail or alpine before, but not being able to authenticate on a gmail account. Today, it only took me like 20 minutes to have everything up and running. Another thing I notice, is that I more often resort to man pages than to google-fu. When I do resort to web-searching, I use a text browser by default. The side effect of this is that I feel much more focused on the content than the form; I barely skim throug articles online. This means two things: I find valuable content more easily. My attention span has increased. Also, I’m writing a lot more than before for the purpose of writingthis report.

The challenge hasn’t begun, I’m already seeing positive effects.

Fri Jul 7 12:21:26 PM CEST 2023

I just noticed something. The wizards to setup easily our desktop preferences in Mate are mostly gone in a tiling window manager like i3. I wanted to type something in greek, but couldn’t switch keyboard layout on the fly. Imma dumb bitch, I know. I’m at a library and have no time to checkout that. I could still switch to a mate session but as french people say “La flemme” i.e. “I can’t be bothered”. Luckily I have a pen and paper near me. Ancient technology FTW.

Sat Jul 8 08:09:27 PM CEST 2023

Today I set up an irc client on my server, and sent my first message to the folks hanging out at #oldcomputerchallenge on They discuss a lot of software I wasn’t aware of and they seem like fine people.

My first choice as an irc client was irssi, but I couldn’t connect to any server, nor libera, nor freenode. I thought it was about my firewall preferences, so I added a rule to allow irc trafic, ports 6660 to 7000. But it didn’t change anything. Then I uninstalled irssi and installed weechat, and it worked out of the box. Maybe it is because I should have set up the firewall rule before installing irssi ? I don’t know. I’ll remember to look into that later. For now, the client is up and running in a multiplexer session.

Sun Jul 9 10:45:59 PM CEST 2023

Well, it sunday night. Let's start the challenge. Firefox, I'll see you in a week.

Mon Jul 10 05:33:38 PM CEST 2023

I decided to spice up the challenge a little. I am only allowed one hour of internet a day, I'm going by the rules of this challenge with last year's version. I thought it would be interesting to compare my most used commands,now and in a week. history | awk '{print $2}' | sort | uniq -c | sort -rn | sed 11q 998 ls 711 cd 407 exit 385 ? 314 vim 299 clear 293 man 244 vi 240 sudo 188 yt 170 mpv Quick comment:

  1. ls: no comment.
  2. cd: no comment.
  3. exit: I used to type exit to close terminals and ssh or tmux sessions
  4. ?: just a function that encodes its parameter as a query in duckduckgo via lynx:
#Stolen from rwxrob with gratitude


  1. vim: my editor of choice
  2. clear: could use Ctrl+L but I like clear
  3. man: It wasn't so high before
  4. vi: my new editor of choice, I have been reading 'Learnging the vi editor' by Lamb and Robbins. So I've been trying it out and I enjoy it.
  5. sudo: no comment
  6. yt: alias of pipe-viewer a youtube CLI client written in perl. I'm using ytfzf a lot more lastly.
  7. mpv: my media player

We'll see the output in a week.

Tue Jul 11 07:23:25 PM CEST 2023

Today wasn't a computing day. Went to my grandma's and helped with painting the windows. But there is something worth of noting. I wanted to know the train schedule and I managed to get it in lynx. It was kind of an ordeal to find it. But the snappiness of a text browser made up for it. Imagine if train companies had accessible websites made with clear indications and would not rely solely on javascript. What a wonderful world that would be. And much more grandma friendly. The new sncf (french national railroad company) interface is universally recognised as a pain in the butt for the honest traveler. The hack was searching for the timetable of the selected train station. It worked fine. Other thing worth noticing, text based browsers and mail clients are great in case of poor wifi. I thought I could not have connection from my room, and, indeed, i3status says that I have a 30% connection to the wifi. But I almost don't notice it. Whereas before I could spend minutes trying to open a web page. I'm definitely keeping alpine over thunderbird when the challenge ends; I love this mail client.

Wed Jul 12 10:32:19 PM CEST 2023

This dive into a low specs computer, was something definitely insightful. It made me discover a world of a "dumb" internet. And simple and easy plain text everywhere. Once you are into it, it is quite "comfy". And I was reading the beginning of a book by Petros Markaris, where the main character is given a laptop and tries desperately to play mouse and cat with a cursor and an icon. Maybe the GUI is not so "grandpa friendly" as a DOS or UNIX console. I think there is a difference in characters and personalities: some like icons and buttons, and others are more "verbal". It is true that the learning curve of mastering a keyboard is steeper than mastering a mouse. Nonetheless, issuing a command like 'shutdown' or 'bye' is more intuitive when you are used to it than to play hide and seek with buttons. I think we should take with a pinch of salt that common idea that the console is for L33T powerusers, and mouse, icons and Graphical User Interface for noobs. Both have their own merits and flaws.

Just finished reading H. Reeves' Book 'J'ai vu une fleur sauvage; l'herbier de Malicorne' (I Saw A Wildflower; Malicorne's Herbarium) He gives a link to his website with a lot of pictures. I won't be visiting it this week, but I put a bookmark here so as to remember to visit it:

Fri Jul 14 01:58:05 PM CEST 2023

This week is indeed not a very computer intensive one. I may be favouring 'offline' and 'computer-less' options when they are available. It serves me well for my studies, because I always felt that pen and paper was always a more 'comfy' option, and that I tended to remember more the teachings if I read them on a paper book instead of a pdf. There are more reasons to that, It is summer, it's hot, I am on holidays, and I want to spend time with my family and at the lake. Hell, I may only have charged my laptop once or twice in the whole week. This challenge is not only low-specs but also low-energy. It should be much more popular, since it is good for the planet.

Sat Jul 15 09:02:20 PM CEST 2023

Now is a good time to summarize the experience.

Mon Jul 17 12:15:34 AM CEST 2023

Well, the challenge is over since 15 minutes. Out of curiosity, I launched a mp4 movie I had on the drive. It worked fine. It is no 4k, mind you, but no buffering at all.

That was a cool week: I learnt a new window manager, got to learn a bit more about vi, met some cool people, visited nice websites, read good (and not so good) books.

As mentioned before, here is the new top 11 commands:

I noticed that it doesn't take into account programs I often use as filters, like grep, wc, or sort. history|grep grep|wc -l gives a total of 276, above vi. I'm also getting rid of the habit of issuing countless cd commands.



cd Downloads



cd Documents


less this_interesting_file.txt


fzf | xargs less


ls Downloads

ls Documents

less ~/Documents/this_interesting_file.txt


This was a good idea. I did not do it with ancient hardware. So it was a pretty comfy experience. Just using command line and text user interface has a soothing feeling. I'm not sure why. Maybe it is because there is no break, everything has the same font, same interface; the system looks much more coherent that way. It also showed me that I could use a pretty 'low spec' computer as a daily driver, if it were not for the increasing need of a modern web browser for life in general.

A challenge like this is a healthy experience, more so to understand that another way of computing is possible. One where resources are not treated as free real estate. Oddly, this way of computing feels more stimulating and refreshing. Sometimes it was frustrating at first but overall it has been a pleasant experience. This was a good time and I learnt a lot. Thank you for reading this.

I bid you farewell with an excerpt of 'The Essential Mòzǐ' edited by Chris Fraser:

Thus the sage-kings initiated the building of palaces and houses for convenience in living, not to enjoy looking at. They initiated the making of clothes, robes, belts, and shoes for the convenience of the body, not for fashion. So they themselves practised moderation, and they taught this to people. Hence the people of the world could be well ordered and resources could be made sufficient. -- Mòzǐ, 6.1

A huge thank you for the OCC folks for giving birth to this challenge and keeping it alive!

See more at

This document was redacted using vi(1), hunspell(1), style(1), fmt(1) and diction(1). I would like to thank vi's 'xp' sequence because I type like a dyslexic.