On a Quest for Codestones

“everybody’s going underground (to get away from everyone else)” by c.layne

The song I chose for my first-ever phlog post was c.layne’s “everybody’s going underground”, the closer to The Sun Will Come Out to Blind You. It’s a weird song. A lot of overlapping vocals, not a lot of instruments, and a message that resonates like an empty pipe: leave us alone. At the time, I was pretty good on ever being heard from again, and largely, that’s still the case. Unsurprisingly, that’s also the feeling from the rest of the group these days. Therefore, we’re off Discord and Twitter for the moment and going full retro furry. And thanks to an impromptu meetup the other day, I have the gear to match.

eMachines logo and some specs

So, to make a long story short: borb occasionally made mention of an old PC containing tons of her old art and games. She said it booted the last time she tried, but when she tried it out again recently, the USB ports weren’t quite working. I told her to bring it over, she did, and as it turned out, the USB drivers were just disabled…for some reason. Either way, art rescued, computer in terrific shape, and I got to keep not just the PC, but also the CRT that went with it. Fucking jackpot.

An old eMachines PC tower mid-clean
It’s a humble machine, but I’m fond of it.

The machine was absolutely filthy when I got it (I don’t suppose you need pictures of brown wipes, do you?), very unloved but nonetheless in working order. I swabbed out what I could and marveled at what exactly was inside. It’s a mid-2000s eMachines, rather low-end for the time, but also with a built-in SD card reader and CompactFlash reader. I’ve never seen any machine with a CF reader, certainly nothing standard like this. It’ll need a proper deep clean and maybe even a blowout with a vacuum I don’t have, but I swabbed out what I could and got it at least 80% better. Certainly on the outside, it’s a lot nicer.

My curiosity extended to the software. The machine runs XP SP2 (was debating rolling it back or going with fresh RTM XP, but I’ve decided against either for the moment), and aside from the quadruple whammy of McAfee, Norton, AVG, and Defender all pummeling this poor fucking computer, it was just littered with 10-year-old borb art and various casual and SpongeBob games. It was a small slice of untouched 2009 nirvana, Nick Arcade games, toolbars, and various other things you’d probably find on a Joel stream. Naturally, it all got uninstalled, and the computer runs practically like new now.

I think the thing I was surprised to see most on there, and something I had to keep, was Neopets: Codestone Quest, a game I’d never heard of until then. It’s a downloadable (and possibly retail?) Neopets game that basically plays like Zuma (typical TNT, I tell ya), but on the branding alone, it stays on here. I have no clue why borb had it, given that she barely knew anything about Neopets prior to the group getting into it, but hey, absolutely not complaining. Plus, it’s adorable!

And man, I forgot how excellent CRTs really are as displays. Games that run fullscreen far below Windows’ native res would be blurred to shit on an LCD, but on a CRT, they remain crisp. It feels so right sitting on IRC using this thing and I can’t explain why. You kids can keep your damn IPS panels. CRTs were doing wide viewing angles and high refresh rates before you were even out of your diapers.

My Geocities.ws site on a CRT
Feels right, feels like it was built for it.

As a final bonus, remember WebOne? I finally got to try it for its intended purpose, bringing real machines on your local network back to the usable internet, and it’s great for that. I found it a little funny if I set the SSL proxy setting for RetroZilla, whereas the VM didn’t much care, but after I cleared it and only set the proxy for HTTP, stuff was working exactly as intended. I also got my Windows 10 machine and this one swapping files over the network, which is supremely useful and saves me yet more bending down to play with the tower. (You’ll need to enable SMBv1 if you try it yourself.)

So now, I guess we get into the bad bits about this machine, or rather, what I’d like to change about it going into the future. See, I don’t look at this thing like it’s a low-end OEM piece of shit, I look at it like a machine still brimming with potential for upgrades and experiments. I’ve long wanted to build an XP gaming rig, and while this Celeron still isn’t ideal for that, I can at least get into playable territory with a few upgrades…eventually. Nothing immediate, but a badger boy can dream:

  • Memory. There’s only 512MB of the stuff in here, well, well below 32-bit XP’s addressable maximum, and even below what I’d want in a machine of this era. It’s usable for lighter stuff (music, the websites that will still load on it/Gopher), but for some of the games of the era I’d like to have running on this machine (Oblivion, F.E.A.R, UT2004, to name a few) want a lot more. 2GB at least, probably 4GB.
  • Dedicated graphics. The ATI Radeon Xpress 200 in here is…lowly. Originally my idea was something like a GeForce 8800GT, but given the prices that card still fetches online, I’m thinking a 6 Series is a more likely option. According to the specs I’ve been looking at, it should still be plenty for what I wanna play.
  • A FireWire card. I’m pretty sure this machine doesn’t come with FireWire, and I think I’d like to have that for any eventual MiniDV camcorder happenings (yes, I am the type to want to shoot and edit in SD). I’ve been fond of FireWire ever since I got to transfer footage for a school project over it, and coming from USB 2.0 at the time, the whole thing seemed magical to me. Still kinda does.
  • A good library of software. Honestly, not even just games (though I’m definitely into those too)–there’s a ton of era-appropriate software I’d like to have in the collection. Dreamweaver 2004, WordPerfect, Paint Shop Pro, a good, prosumer video editor of the time period, a proper boxed copy of XP, and so on. Stuff to experiment with, stuff that’s neat to have on a shelf, and stuff to potentially even use, who knows.

I’ve been enjoying this machine all day, fiddling with it, getting stuff installed, and just generally being lost in that part of my head that never quite moved on from soft blue title bars. After spending the better part of the month stuck in terminals, trying my hardest to debug Python scripts and Dockerfiles, I’m very, very glad to be back.

Really, next month’s gonna be much of the same. I’m dedicating myself to writing for the foreseeable future, as I’ve been neglecting that for a while now, and I have nothing I’m not mostly embarrassed by to show off when the topic comes up. No new big projects, no frustrating myself with technical stuff, just hiding away on IRC (I didn’t set up ZNC for nothing!), doodling, and doing the spergy little things that make me and my Caby happy.

Oh, and probably playing more Neopets. I finally hit the big three million NP today, so Desert Lutari Cammy (and my own account!) sometime soon, trades permitting…

AdiIRC on a CRT
Midday, the sunlight streaming through the window shaded by trees finally bloomed, thick with leaves, and I’m playing Rocket Mania again. I’m having a better time than you, probably.

Leave a Comment