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Back At It Again - OCC Review

Lessons learned this time round · July 29th, 2023

It's been a hot minute since the OCC ended this year. Like the last few years I've enjoyed it immensely, the community is fantastic and the challenge itself gets me away from the hustle and bustle of modern systems, which I welcome immensely. I'll try and break my thoughts into a couple of buckets to make it easier to consider. I'd like to think I'm a bit of an optimist, so lets start with the good.

The Good

I think a lot of the "good" things about the OCC are somewhat intangible. There's no magical pot of gold that I win by using ancient junk for a week (or longer since I'm happily writing this from my ZG5). Probably easiest to throw these points into a list of some sort.

  • Specially Tooled Systems
  • Disconnection from Modern Technology
  • Increased Awareness of Time Spent

I spent a handful of evenings crafting my system for the challenge. I was dead set this year to do something familiar, and in so doing put a lot of energy into crafting the perfect system. Just different enough in configuration to feel new, and not like the hum drum of my very well polished i3 configuration, but also so familiar that any issues that arose I'd immediately know how to tackle. I noticed that this was actually a bit of a pattern this year, as others had done the same and gotten systems ready well in advance. That's a big departure from how I've done the last two years worth of challenges where I'd wait until the very last minute to get things up and running and attempt to learn something entirely new (like plan9) or use some really broken system like my Viliv S5 UMPC. I've got to say, I prefer my method this year. It was a lot less stressful knowing that the day of the challenge I had a working system tailored to my needs. And I really hyped myself up getting ready so early in advance. It didn't prevent me from participating in any sense, and I feel like it encouraged me to branch out and away from the normal "I got this new window manager working" on day 3 of the challenge.

That preparation allowed me to explore more and do more during the challenge than in previous years. I got to tinker with a camera from 2001 and figure out how well a semi-modern editing workflow works using gimp, feh, imagemagick, and some bash scripting magic. I spent lots of time tinkering with my LXD cluster setting up Loki, Promtail, Grafana, and OSSEC. And writing lots of little bits of Nim code for various pet projects I've had on the back burner. Oh and obviously updating this blog became a much more regular affair! Heck I even moved my podcast workflow over as is and recorded another episode of LTRG, it felt like a really productive week. And all of these things happened, I think, because the environment is tailored to be simple and primarily CLI driven. There's absolutely nothing going on without my say so, and the most distracting thing this computer can do is connect to IRC. Without an endless wall of Reddit threads to skim through, or Outer Worlds/Battlefield to eat my time, I was able to really do something with my time. That's no surprise, and it feels good to be forced into in a sense

Without access to those time stealing devices I found myself digging out my old Zune, and a Gameboy Color. It was a nice nostalgia binge, but neither of these devices are going to make a comeback into my daily life. The software that manages the Zune's music collection is just too old and locked into the Windows ecosystem for me to comfortable manage. And I had absolutely zero luck getting anything on it via MTP. Fortunately it was still loaded up with plenty of music and replaced my droid for the duration of the challenge. But most of my old GB/GBC games have dead batteries or need their chips re-flowed to work properly. Not big issues, but also not something I'm going to do during the challenge. Much to my son's chagrin as he really wants to play Legend of Zelda Oracle of Seasons.

So yeah, lots of good things here. The biggest being that I've spent so many years working at the command line in Linux that I feel very comfortable using primarily lightweight non-graphical systems. And I don't think that'll ever change. And that environment, when decoupled from modern hardware that enables access to distracting attention stealing social media and video games, can be a really solid focused system.

The Bad

Now to be pessimistic! How realistic is it to maintain such a system? The hardware is old 32bit x86, and we're seeing CPU support for older systems get dropped from the Linux kernel. Mind you, it is truly old and niche CPUs, and I suspect x86 will be supported for a long time to come. But some day it won't work anymore. And it's entirely possible the hardware will still be just fine. More importantly though access to more modern systems, or anything that doesn't fit nicely into "someone has painstakingly written a tool/TUI for X" are nearly impossible to use.

Attempting to load Firefox, yes just load it, was impossible. A lesson in utter frustration. Cloning the aports git repo so I could package things took 45 minutes alone! Needless to say, I submitted my changes after the challenge was over. And I unfortunately had to break the challenge one night and switch over to my T470s just so I could review some Zabbix alerts and fix something that had broken. Not ideal at all.

I tried my best to stay off my android and simply use the Acer for everything it possibly could, however I had no access to banking websites of any kind. I think we all ran into this. I obviously made sure things were taken care of, but if I did not have a more powerful system to switch over to in this circumstance I would be up the river without a paddle.

Frankly the only reason this hardware even works is because I am stubborn enough to bend my personal workflow to fit inside of low resource systems. I am perfectly happy to try and write my own scripts and TUIs to pull information from Zabbix's API. But I don't always have the time to do that, or sometimes even the skill! But I will happily make the time, and the tools, and teach myself everything I need to learn to continue to deal with the "bad". It's just worth it to me.

The Ugly

I complained to Mio about this at the start of the challenge, I have no clue what I did, but I got to enjoy these wonderful screen tears the entire challenge. And I have no clue how to fix it.

If anything fits "The Ugly" this is it.

Wonderful screen tearing.

Onward and Upwards

So that's it, the OCC is over, and chances are this netbook is going to go back on the shelf until next year. Chances are good I may dig it out when I need to focus on writing something, a blog post maybe. Or I may use it as a mobile podcast recording studio (because frankly the external mic is way better than my droids). But for the most part, it won't ever replace a modern system, and I'm completely okay with that.

Because this is my escape from all of that, and I look forward to it every year.


(defparameter *Will_Sinatra* '((Age . 31) (Occupation . DevOps Engineer) (FOSS-Dev . true) (Locale . Maine) (Languages . ("Lisp" "Fennel" "Lua" "Go" "Nim")) (Certs . ("LFCS"))))

"Very little indeed is needed to live a happy life." - Aurelius