And so here we are again, at the beginning of another semester, and, at least for me, at the beginning of yet another class in the 3.5-year journey toward a degree in computer science. Last semester, while I was abroad, I did a very bold thing (considering if anything went wrong I’d be terribly, terribly screwed) and finally bit the bullet and switched operating systems from Windows to Linux on my laptop. (For the interested, the laptop is a 3-year-old Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro, previously running Windows 10 (yuck), and now is running elementary OS.) Luckily, the switch went over flawlessly, and I’ve been loving my new Linux life ever since. This blog post isn’t to rave about how great Linux is, though, as much as I’d love to write that post. Instead, I will be focusing on a more niche part of the Linux experience, and drawing connections between it and university life. What experience am I referring to? The terminal, of course. The terminal is a great and powerful place, and it’s a heck of a lot of fun once you learn to use it. In fact, if you’re on a Mac (or Linux!) right now, you already have a built-in terminal on your computer that you can pop open and follow along with! For my Windows friends, might I suggest this site.
For the remainder of this post, I’m going to present to you some terminal tools, known technically as Bash commands, with the hopes that maybe they can help you understand what college, and specifically Tufts, is like. Let’s begin:
telnet: Not to be confused with Skynet from The Terminator,
telnetis a fun little tool for making HTTP requests in the terminal. Why is that collegiate? Well, in college, you need the internet. You’re going to be accessing it a lot, doing things like downloading PDFs from your class’s Trunk site, looking up books in Tisch, or (my personal favorite) taking advantage of Tufts’s free access to the entire OED’s online dictionary.
telnet www.cs.tufts.edu 80` and then `
GET` once you see “
Escape character is '^]'.” Ooh! HTML! Just like Google Chrome!
ls: This world-famous little tool is one of the first things students are taught in Intro to Computer Science. All it does is list out all the files that you have in any given folder. It’s super useful for getting a good idea of what you’re working with, much like Tufts SIS. SIS is a lovely website that shows you your classes, your grades, your professors, everything! Also, like SIS, I’m not 100% sure what
lsstands for. Maybe “list stuff” or just “LiSt”?
touch test.txt`, hit enter, and then type `
ls` followed by enter. Wow, there it is!
vim: Our tour will now transition into the more abstract notions of the College Experience. One of the weirdest things about starting college is not really understanding how things work until you get the hang of them. Funnily enough, the same thing happens all the time in computer science! Go ahead and type `
vim` into your terminal. It’s a text editor, like Microsoft Word, so type something! Or, wait, how do you type something? (Press “i” for “insert,” obviously.) Great, you’ve typed something up! We’re done here. Exit out of vim to get back to the terminal. Or, wait, how do you do that? (Press escape followed by “:q!” for “quit!,” obviously.) See what I’m saying?
top: This guy is one of my favorite Bash commands, because it shows every action that is being carried out on your server or device. I love taking a look during busy days in the computer labs, because, when your device is connected to the Tufts CS server, running top will show you literally the commands that other people plugged in right before you. This is mildly analogous to a feeling at Tufts where it seems like everybody is working on something awesome all at once. Running
topis like going to a dining hall and learning that one of your friends is working on a research paper about ancient Roman architecture, another one is proving a math theorem that is way over your head, and another one is taking an in-depth look at how to stop war crimes in South Sudan (these are all things that I have really heard from friends). Hit "q" to get out of
top, by the way.
whoami: This almost goes without saying, but in college you (pardon the cliche) Learn A Lot About Yourself. You grow, you change, you learn what you care about, you really ask “who am I?”
whoamireturns your username, which is pretty much the same thing.
Happy coding! Some more fun things to do in the terminal are on this site!