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For a lot of people, Terminal stimulates actual anxiety, because, well, there's a lot of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt concerning Terminal.

My goal today is to make you feel safe and secure in your relationship with Terminal.

First off, we call it many things: The Terminal. The Console. The Shell. The Command Line. The Prompt. The box with the crazy scrolling colored text.

They all refer to the same thing, and it's a very safe and simple place.

Now here's what I want you to do:

  1. Open Dash (click on the top-left-most button on Launcer)
  2. Type Terminal
  3. Hit the <enter> key (or click on the Terminal icon)

Once you have terminal opened, go ahead and give it a few solid clicks. It won't byte.

There, wasn't that nice?

Now do me a favor and pretend like you're a cat walking on the keyborad - just press the keys in any random order.

Is your anxiety level rising?

Now press the <enter> key (even if you have already).

Do you see a message? Probably something about an error? If not hit the single quote ' key and then <enter>. If still not, hit the double quote " key and then <enter>.

Did anything explode? Did anything break? Is your life worse in any way?

No.

Now it's time to let go of your fears and anxiety an feel peace.

Feel it.

Feel it some more.

You can try that step again as much as you want. Although you might see some messages that the computer doesn't understand what you're doing - or you might not know what has happened - you can still rest assured that you can't break the computer on accident.

This is the great good news: In order to cause your computer to work worse than it worked before, you have to know how to "break" it. Again, you can't break the computer on accident. And even if you do "break" something, it's not unrecoverable.

If you don't feel better about computers at this point you're probably suffering from either Logizomechanophobia or Cyberphobia and you should seek proper counseling (disclaimer: I'm not completely convinced that that link will lead you to proper counseling, but it's probably on okay start).

Now, technically, you don't ever need to open the box with the crazy scrolling text.

But here's the thing: Although it's easier to remember how you got somewhere and how to get there again when you're exploring on your own and figuring things out that you'll do over and over again, it's much easier to give copy-and-paste instructions in Terminal when it's something that doesn't need explanation and you only need to do once.

For example: If I'm going to tell you have you configure some settings on your computer and I'm talking to you over the phone, I'll probably tell you click on this and then that and then this box comes up and then click on that button.

But if I have instruction online it's much easier to give you a link, tell you to open Terminal by clicking on the button in the upper left-hand corner, type "Terminal", hit enter, and paste this block of commands into the box

# this is made up garbage, it doesn't do anything
some-computer-command --that does --all the-stuff
another-command
yet-another
./run-script-thing

than to try to explain all of the buttons and what color they'll be and put up all the pictures of what the screen looks like at different times.

A picture is worth 1000 words, but with Terminal you don't need so many words to get just as much done.

The reason tech guys (and gals) love Terminal is because it's faster and has less chance of error.

Make sense?

But don't feel like you have to understand every little thing.

And don't think that whenever there's Error or Warning that the world is going to explode or that something is broken terribly. They don't mean that. Rather those terms mean that something didn't finish as the computer expected, but it may (or may not) have done everything the we expected.

Think of it like this: If you put a CD in your CD player and it skips, it means something is wrong with the CD. It doesn't mean that the player is damaged or broken. And it certainly doesn't mean that the CD broke the player!

Likewise, some commands will occasionally not work, but they're not breaking your computer - they just didn't finish properly and that thing (whatever it is) won't work right now. No problem.

Exmtremely Important

From this point forward when I ask you to run a block of commands my expectation is for you to

  1. open Terminal (from Dash as described above)
  2. copy and paste the commands
  3. hit the <enter> key to run them
  4. put in your password if necessary (but don't expect to see any *s)

A test of skill

As a test, go ahead and run this block of commands

# Any line with that number sign in front is a "comment".
# Comments are ignored, so it doesn't matter if you paste them or not.

# try and run znetfast in ethernet mode
znetfast -m eth

# sudo will ask you for a password, but it won't show anything as you
# type it
sudo apt-get install curl vim git build-essential

# If you copied this who command block in at once, it probably won't
# work because it will stop at the point where it asked for a password
# or at the point where it asked for a [Y/n] confirmation
sudo apt-get install -y git \
  wget \
  curl \
  zsh


# only root (sudo) is allowed to apt-get
apt-get install chromium

# run wgctl with no arguments (hint: wgctl isn't a real command either)
./wgctl

It doesn't matter what those commands do. It doesn't matter whether or not is was successful. The point is just for you to paste something in, confront your anxienty, and let it go knowing that the computer still works even though there were errors.

Okay, not just for fun go back and look at the output and see if you can guess at what worked and what didn't. If you can fix it by guesswork, great. If not, no problem, move on. It's nothing that did any harm to your computer.

Note: In general you don't really need to know what everything in a command block means, as long as you trust the person who is asking you to run it. So don't freak out. And if you're ever trying to do something and you know it's not working, there are often clues in the output as to what you need to do (sometimes it even tells you exactly). Besides, you can always ask someone for help later.


By AJ ONeal

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Published

2013-1-31

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