Last Post – Goodbye World!

Okay, not really goodbye, but this is where my blog for this class comes to an end. Yeah, they were kinda cramped and totally all at the end (sorry), but it was seriously good to sit down and reflect on what, throughout the semester, was REALLY worth writing about. Thinking back may be good, but writing about it really helps you think about what you got out of the semester. If it wasn’t particularly significant, you realize it because there’s nothing to write about it.

Improvements? Well for one, I know that physical attendance in class was lackluster at best. Maybe offer an incentive to actually show up? There were quizzes, yes, but they were all online and doable from home, as us college slackers are so quick to figure out. Class was interesting enough, but unfortunately that doesn’t guarantee attendance. I’m not blaming the class itself for this, but a change may be needed. Just a suggestion.

Office hours should be more convenient. There were many times that I feel like I should have gone, but it was only possible to meet on friday–and on friday, I didn’t want to or forgot. Maybe that’s just my issue, but it would have been more convenient to have it on a day that I was going to be on campus, and not ready to crash and go home. Sometimes physical presence is more helpful than gchat? I don’t know, something to think about.

Anyway, I had fun in the class. Writing is a bit cumbersome to me usually (which results in procrastination), but the things learned in class is definitely going to be useful later.

Thanks, and have fun with next year!

-Brian Chen

VTLUUG

Surprisingly, this was not the first semester that I have been to VTLUUG meetings. I had heard about and attended VTLUUG meetings last year, when I knew one of the officers and another friend that attended as well. The officer graduated, so alas me and my friend stopped going. When I found out that going to meetings got us class credit, I was more than willing to go back. While many of the people I knew were no longer there, it was nice to know that the club wouldn’t be completely new, and that I wasn’t just going for class. Granted, the knowledge of most of the people far surpassed my own, so I felt a sort of disconnect between what I could contribute and what they were discussing, but it was better than nothing. They were talking about things that I had no understanding of, so unfortunately meetings could get dull. When they brought up things I had just explored from class, however, it was cool to see how much they knew and how deep that particular thing could get. They also touched on other things, being so technologically inclined, so I learned about a bunch of other things that weren’t necessarily Unix or Linux related, such as tor. Did you know that VT hosts a tor node? I didn’t.

 

Learning the Unix Commands

This is post I should’ve written at the beginning of the year, about the way we learned a good amount of the shell commands we were going to have to take advantage of over the course of the year. That would be, of course, Unix Command School. The fact that Unix took individual commands preprogrammed to do certain things reminds me of last year, when I used to have to program in assembly. Assembly works in much the same way, with individual commands that would  move around registers or bit values. Now, as I began to learn more and more about commands, the more parallels I drew. Registers were kind of like the unix file system, where you could move bits around to different registers and check what was in them, like you can move files around in folders in Unix and list their contents.

Learning everything at the beginning was definitely a good idea, like reading a manual or instruction sheet before a project. While I’m sure I could have just jumped right into the first homework assignment without doing this, it would have taken much longer to search, individually, for every command i think I would need. Actually, the best thing was that Unix Command School told me what I COULD do, and thus I knew what I needed to do when it came time to do it.

VMware/VirtualBox

So we have to run Ubuntu. I tried to dual boot, but for some reason the bootloader is freezing somewhere along the line, both with a live cd and with a live usb. My computer’s boot time is too slow to bother, anyway. I’m going to run a virtual environment.

I’ve used VMware before to emulate ubuntu before, so I before looking at alternatives I just went ahead and booted up my old environment. I thought it was tedious to load up VMware and then boot into it by loading the .iso, so I looked for a more elegant solution. The current most popular solution, which I did not know existed when I looked last, was a piece of software known as VirtualBox, a virtual environment preloaded with all current, most popular freeware operating systems. Choosing Ubuntu from a drop-down list took all of 10 seconds, and within 2 minutes I was up and running. I dedicated about 8 gigabytes to this environment, and it saved everything I as it was when I booted up and shut down, just like  a real system. Not only that, but I could seamlessly switch between Ubuntu for class and windows for everything else whenever I wanted to. I couldn’t do that if I was dualbooting. I was actually pretty surprised with how refined virtualbox was, as if there was a whole community of people that only kinda wanted to use Ubuntu but still didnt want to dualboot. In any case, it really was a great tool to use.

Midterm Test

Well, that was interesting. It was certainly given in the most unique form I’ve seen so far at tech. It took a little bit just to get into it and understanding what I needed to set up simply to begin the assignment, but once I understood, the midterm really wasn’t bad. I guess my initial confusion came from the two hour time constraint, being that I heard it takes every minute that we’re given, so I didn’t really read the preface closely.

Anyway, that test was actually pretty fun, save for the last part. Part 2 through 4 though, where it asked what certain commands accomplish, felt like an easter egg hunt, except I had to think of a command and test it until I found what it does. More or less what I normally have to do for an assignment, except I had a ticking clock bearing down on me. Still, I didn’t really mind those parts. There were two questions that I simply could not figure out, but I’ll chalk that up to the fact that there are so many commands.

The last part was pretty tough. Debugging the program was simple enough, I think I just changed a parentheses or an indentation and it seemed to work. I spend the remainder of the time trying to figure out the second choice of three, but unfortunately time ran out. Still, I didn’t feel too bad as I hit the submit button. I think that test wasn’t too easy, but was too bad either.

Final Project

So a big part of this semester is the Final Project. My group is doing a room reservation manager, where a properly implemented system will allow students and staff of Virginia Tech to choose any room on campus, a date, and a time frame. Assuming there are no errors, pressing “book” will book that room. Simple, easy, and hopefully useful. A room cannot be reserved twice at the same time, and cannot bridge dates. Admittedly there aren’t very many bells and whistles, but at it’s very core, we believe that it does what it should. By the principles of Unix and it’s rules of clarity and transparency, our project is very straightforward and easy to understand. It’s also find that it’s very adaptable, in that it would also be easy to add any bells and whistles we (or any potential clients) may want added. We realized that some rooms on campus have two room numbers or can be split in half, so adding that functionality would be one of the things we could appreciate in the future.

I appreciate the group I’m in. All five of us have contributed to the project, and it doesn’t feel like we’ve left anyone out. I know that not all groups are this fortunate, so I can appreciate everyone’s help–particularly based on groups I’ve had for other classes in the past. All five of us are friends, which made completing the project nothing short of enjoyable either, giving us a chance to hang out after work was done. I also hope that we all feel the work was evenly distributed, and we all contributed on the paper as we had on the code. All I can say was that it was one of the better projects I’ve been a part of.

Github Talk

Well, how convenient. After having to deal with Github a few times, Virginia Tech’s very own ACM announces that a speaker from Github will be giving a presentation in mcbryde. ACM stands for Association of Computing Mechanics, and is primarily a computer science majored club, but either way they always bring in speakers form companies to give talks that I enjoy going to.

In any case, github is way deeper than I had imagined. It’s not just simply a code bank, but it is useful for many other purposes as well. They have offshoot services called Gist and Gauges that the speaker talked about, as well as showing us how to manage files through the shell alone. They way they ran the talk was also pretty unique, where he didn’t just stand on the podium and speak to us with a few visual aids. Instead, the speaker had his computer connected to the projector and showed us what he was doing on-screen while explaining it at the same time. He answered questions while typing out examples, and even had another window up that gave a visual indication of what was going on. I brought my laptop, as they encouraged, to follow along, but unfortunately I got lost about halfway through. Still, I thought the explanations were good enough to understand what was going on. It really was interesting, which is more than I can say for many of these talks.

Github

What to say about Github. It certainly seems like a good idea. I mean, a central repository of open code that anyone can see and review is a great way to collectively improve a product that works in everyone’s benefit. There are a great many online businesses that serve a demographic that have their code open for review on Github, such as reddit. This move, I know for a fact, has resulting in an influx of improvements to the website since it’s adoption. Not only could the more code-savvy of their users go in to look for problems, they could actually write the code for an idea they had before proposing it to reddit’s creators, significantly boosting the chance of that idea being realized. While this might not always be that effective, a website such as reddit has a devoted enough userbase that keeping the base code open source has brought nothing but good for the community in general.

For my purposes, though, Github is a little confusing. While I do admit that I can see why it would be useful, it seems like a strange middleman. I realize that having everything in a central location makes it easy to look for and grade homeworks, which is totally fine–however, pushing code to github behaves in strange ways. Whenever something works one time and not another, and I didn’t know what I did differently, Einstein’s famous quote tells me I’m insane. In any case, git push sometimes brings me to a comment screen, while other times it will just say that it was successful. I’m baffled, but I’ve at least been able to figure out that if I try enough times, it will work. I know that I don’t understand it well enough, so I’m not blaming the system, but it seems complicated. It is, however, really fun to see and explore the sheer volume of code on their servers, though.

 

Unix Early Impressions

Well, an update has been up an coming for a long time. Despite the current time in terms of the semester, I want to begin my impressions and thoughts about Unix, Python, and everything we’ve learned from the beginning. Nothing really changes from what I would have written earlier in the semester, only there is an added benefit of looking at it from a more complete picture.

I began with a marginal knowledge in linux, strictly from a user standpoint. I had ubuntu dual-booted on an old laptop, but I served as nothing more than an experimental platform for when I wanted the system to boot up and shut down as quickly as possible. The lack of bloat was the best selling point at the time, but otherwise I wasn’t really making use of its benefits over windows at all. It was simply an OS.

As far as python, UNIX, and programming went, it was all really new to me. I had never really poked around the shell or any of the commands, as I had no reason to. If anything, it was pretty cool to see all the different things you could do exclusively through the shell, as well as the reasoning behind the invention of the mouse. As a sort of side tangent, mice are a relatively recent invention/adoption, so I had always wondered how files and systems were navigated before then. While it takes a little while to get used to, but for certain applications it is by far a more efficient method of file management, especially if already know where something is within your file tree. In any case, this class was a look at a side of computer usage that I see much more rarely.