Saturday, 14 December 2013

The UNIX command line explained simply for UNIX experts

Seasoned UNIX users and developers of software often forget how mindbogglingly complex their creations are, because they use and work them every day, and --- it's just ever so obvious, right?

Why do newbies and even experienced users have such difficulty in grasping the timeless elegance and simplicity of a well-formed UNIX command line?

Well.  Allow me to put you, the expert, into the newbie's position for a moment :)

In the UK and Australia, there exists a particular fiendish form of crossword puzzle:  the cryptic crossword.

Here is a classic example of the type of mystifying clue such a puzzle offers:
15D Very sad unfinished story about rising smoke (8)
is a clue for TRAGICAL. This breaks down as follows:
  • 15D indicates the location and direction (down) of the solution in the grid
  • "Very sad" is the definition
  • "unfinished story" gives "tal" ("tale" with one letter missing; i.e., unfinished)
  • "rising smoke" gives "ragic" (a "cigar" is a smoke and this is a down clue so "rising" indicates that "cigar" should be written up the page; i.e., backwards)
  • "about" means that the letters of "tal" should be put either side of "ragic", giving "tragical"
  • "(8)" says that the answer is a single word of eight letters.
If the above maketh your mind go carroussel and gives your brain slight vertigo, you now know how most newbies and other mere mortals feel about the UNIX command line and the many cool options your software can be used with :-)

Example taken from The Guardian crossword of Aug 6 2002, set by "Shed", found in the Wikipedia explanation of Cryptic Crosswords.

Ps.: Brit and Aussie geeksters  who are crossword fiends will of course not be fazed at this attempt to demonstrate the users' head space, and I'll wager that at least one of them will now probably feel inspired to set a cryptic crossword with UNIX clues :-)