2014 Winter Warmup

January 23, 2014 January 31, 2014

You may find this difficult to believe but nearly 3/4 100% of the way through this Retro Challenge I am still in the game.

I appologize for the lack of updates, I know that is boring for you readers, but sometimes it can't be helped.

I am actually beginning this post on the 22nd, knowing I will not have time to finish it until the 23rd 31st. On with the details.

I would first like to mention that I have had maybe 2 BSOD so far this month, which isn't that bad. One seems like I deserved it for some hardware/driver messing (see below), and the other was very innocently trying to use 2 pieces of software at the same time. I have also not had to reinstall again (yet!).

As I mentioned on my intro page, I am creating this hypertext markup with good 'ol FrontPage 1.1. It came on 6 floppies which miraculously still work.

I should back them up. Soon. Installation was a breeze, and clearly it was not difficult to learn. In fact, it is a bit of a step up for me. Historically I have just hand written everything in notepad, tags and all. This is easier! Way to go Windows 95!

I never found anything better than Mozilla for email. It occured to me that I could probably live with a POP3 client but at this point I can survive the lag and make it through the month. That is a bit of a theme here, but also more on that later.

K-Meleon is still the winner on the web browser front. It won't do SSL for me, which is ok, I am not needing that this month. Other than that, its ability to disable javascript in websites really make the internet (limitedly) accessible to this machine. Some pages would fail to load (just blank areas), but if I really really needed something on that page (and had some extra time), I could turn on javascript and reload. We're talking 5 mins plus to render a page with the javascript enabled, and (if renderable) about 30 seconds max. I can live with that for the month.

For image editing I am using an old version of the GIMP that I had stashed away on my file server (along with the requisite GTK+).

Ironically, hitting Alt + Print Screen for the above screen shot (the first time) resulted in a BSOD. Ah, Win95. This version of GIMP works great, and feels nice as I used it a lot back in the day. It is a little laggy but what do you expect on 120MHz. It is still completely useable for a person with even a moderate level of patience.

I have installed Microsoft Office Professional (Compatible with Windows) version, made for Win3.1.

I have really only used Excel, which I use quite a bit at work, and I find it completely familiar. It hasn't heard of conditional formatting, but most of the standard features are there including VLookup. This is one is a no-brainer as well and is perfectly acceptable for my meager needs.

For era appropriate internet social interaction, I found a version of mIRC that would work with Win95.

It works great and feels like it was made for this OS. It has a handy 30 day trial period which will just get me through the month.

Thats pretty much all of the software I use on a day to day basis. I haven't had the need to d/l anything else from, nor dig anything else off the file server. I have tried to get some old games up and running to re-live the glory days, installed from CD. Some I have owned since new, others I have slowly acquired from the local charity/thrift shops.

First up was "Flight Simulator for Windows 95". I think I got this for xmas the first year I had this computer.

I spent a few hours trying to get my joystick to work to no avail. The 'stick was untested; I got it from my brother-in-law and I don't know when he last used it. Probably around that era. I messed around until finally plugging it into the other gameport on the board, and then it worked fine. Go figure.

I managed to find time enough for one lap around Chicago, then had to return to family life. I have not had a chance to play it again since. I would like to say that, again, software desinged for this system works great. Framerate is good, graphics are certainly not photo realistic by any means but you can tell what's what. If I really just wanted to practice simulated flying, this would be completely acceptable.

I took a detour at this point and decided to try to get another charity/thrift shop purchase a try. It is an iomega ditto Max tape drive, 3.5/7GB capacity per tape. It came with two tapes, both marked with handwritten 1999 dates, as well as a driver CD in such poor condition I have never seen before. Needless to say it didn't do anything when inserted into my CD-ROM. It isn't really scratched, more like. Check that. I was just examining the CD to better describe the condition and I noticed it isn't damaged at all, but rather coated with a very thin layer of something with a slight amount of stickiness to it. It may have had pop spilled on it 20 years ago and never cleaned up.

At any rate, this thing has a parallel port interface, and I spent the better part of a Saturday trying to get it to work. The main issue was a distinct lack of software as noted above. In the end I did manage to find software that recognized the drive, but then managed to eat a tape and throw errors. Either the software isn't quite correct or I have a bad cable/port. I will have to try it on one of my other systems some other time, to see if it is the port.

Another game I have installed and played very briefly is the Win95 ported version of SonicCD. Interestingly enough there doesn't seem to be a soundtrack, just the sound effects. It definitely feels like something is missing while running through the game. Unfortunately I don't have a serial gamepad, so I was stuck with the keyboard controls. I have seen them at the charity/thrift shops, but at the time didn't foresee a need for a serial gamepad. After today that will probably continue to be true.

One last thing I tried was encoding an MP3 with the old girl. The LAME binary I was using was optimized for MMX (which my CPU does not have), so I don't know how that affected the output, but I did manage to successfully encode a 4 minute song. It took 21 mins and 29 seconds which is pretty unacceptable. If my math is right, a 60 min CD would take about 5.4 hours to encode, plus ripping time. Let 'er go when you go to bed and you have a set of MP3s in the morning. That would work I guess.

Oh yeah, regarding MP3 playback: It isn't as bad as I recall, although what I recall was Win98 on this same hardware which would have added to the strain. I will notice if I have MP3s playing that all internet activity takes a noticable time longer to complete. Stop the MP3 and it is better. On its own a variable MP3 playing consumes about 75-80% of CPU cycles so it is no surprise that things take longer. Again it would have been interesting to plug my MMX cpu in here and see what, if any, difference it would make.

That is about the sum of my experimentation with games/junk I have acquired. There is more junk and more games but I guess I will have to wait for another RC to play with those.

So, how did the month go? Surprisingly well, really. The only real shortcoming of this thing 24 years later is the internet. Anything to do with the internet is either really slow or just plain sucks. Beyond that, with software designed for it (I know I keep beating this dead horse), it is totally acceptable. I really wish I'd had more time to play some more old games, I think it would have shown how much fun this month could have been. In fact I'll give you a list of what I didn't play:

  • The Ultimate DOOM for Windows 95

  • Atomic Bomberman

  • The 7th Guest

  • Star Wars: Dark Forces

  • Command & Conquer

  • Tomb Raider

  • Quake

Sad, no? Perhaps I will save those for Summer, maybe continue with Win95 but on a slightly faster CPU.

Beyond the obvious inconvenience of using an old PC for a month, how was the rest of the experience? I found I was much more engaged with what I was watching on TV when I didn't have my laptop in my lap. My wife also probably found me more engaging. I found that I have no reason to look at my smartphone unless it is ringing. I found that I would look things up in books if I needed to rather than suffer through a painfully slow excursion to Wikipedia. I found that not being personally integrated to the internet was kind of refreshing.

All in all, it really was fun. It was like reconnecting with an old friend, and I am a little bit sad that she will be disconnected and put back on the shelf for more years. The next time I hook her up she might not work at all. But at least we had this RetroChallenge together. We will always have RetroChallenge.