My path to unix, a life journey

My first use of a computer was in 1975 at BYU’s computing lab. I’m not clear what that was other than an IBM with hard drives the size of a clothes dryer. My older next door neighbor friend Wendell Stewart was a CS student and set me up playing a text based “Lunar Lander” program one afternoon. When I was a little kid I had been inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey. And built a “computer” out a a refridgerator box and sat inside with my trusty Smith Corona typewriter and a flash light and would type out answers to questions people asked me verbally (like HAL 9000 or Star Trek). LOL, what fun. I would scroll each page thru a slot in the box as a printer. 10 year olds are easily amused.

So I came through (1979)TRS-80 thru CP/M(sic) to Apple clones (Lazer 128s) and Mac Classics then to a Compaq 386 running dos 3.2. While I was using the 386/dos box I started college and wound up on an HP Apollo running HPUX. It was a terrible experience (LOL, I was hazed by gurus) they left me in the lab and told me to start “vi” in my terminal which they had on a PTY. After confusion and panic I see this text box pop up (talk) and it said “how are you doing?” I replied “ARRRRGGGHHH!”.

Next, I bought a copy of BSD386 out of Dr. Dobbs Journal on CD and tried it out. It sucked and I went to windows NT 3.51 on my personal computer and continued to learn unix on the Apollos.

Then a friend showed up with 3 Zip disks and said “you have got to check this out!” It was FreeBSD 1.5 something. At that point I had 3 486DX2/66s (with 4megs each lol) and I put FreeBSD on that one. Withing 3 weeks I was using it for essentially everything but Borland Builder and Paint Shop Pro. within a year I discovered the GIMP and dropped PSP (with tears and sadness)

I used FreeBSD thru 4.11 as a full time professional scientist. When the Dragonfly / FreeBSD 5.0 SMP kernel fight went down I bought a Darwin based mac. After about 4 years of frustration with Apple abusing Darwin I started using Linux Mint with Gnome II and then Mate desktops

Recently I have switched back to FreeBSD thru the GhostBSD desktop which still uses Mate. Although I am writing this on a Linux Mint(19?)/Mate machine.

The CLI is what sold me. I needed to speak directly and efficiently to the system to get things done. I have always used and enjoyed alternative input tool like mice and drawing pads but mixing them back and forth is very inefficient. When you are using the computer for work it needs to be performant and unix CLI and the tool philosophy has always stood the test of time for processing scientific data.


Now there is a very easy way to try out this toolset without even having to install anything or deal with OSs at all. Use CoCalc! The brainchild of Dr. William Stein of UW, CoCalc includes Latex, Bash terminal, complete Anaconda/Python/Jupyter setup, R, Julia, and last and most important the Sage Math kernel. Best of all you can use it for free. I pay $14 a month for extra hardware resources and It is well worth it. Using CoCalc I have the unix toolset ANYWHERE I have a network and a browser on any OS.

Check it out!

Leave a Reply