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Odds and Ends
Pages: 1, 2

Finding Commands

So where do you go about finding all the commands on your FreeBSD system so you have something to try out? At least once a year I like to play with the apropos command to see which commands are on the FreeBSD system. For example, to see all of the built-in general commands, try:

$ apropos '(1)'

If you happen to be half as curious as I am, give yourself a chunk of time before you try that command. If one of the descriptions piques your interest, read the associated man page. No matter how little or how much experience you have in Unix, you will always find commands you either haven't heard of or would like to learn more about. For example, this year I came across systat, one of those commands I can't believe I've lived without.

If you just type systat at a prompt, you probably won't be impressed. The full power of this command comes from having the man page open in one terminal and systat running from another. Any man page that includes a pigs switch has to be worth checking out. Since pigs is the default, type :icmp once you've started systat, then try a ping from another terminal. Once you've ended your ping, try :ip or :tcp or :swap or :mbufs. I'll leave it to you to try your own experiments so you can discover which switches are the most useful for your own needs.

Playing Around

I also remember to take the time to see which games come with the system:

$ apropos '(6)'

I discovered grdc just in time for my New Year's resolution of remembering to step away from the computer at least once a day in order to do some aerobic activity. The display is large enough for me to see what time it is from across the room, despite my myopia.

I also rediscovered quiz, a game I had forgotten about in the last few years. To see what quizzes are available, simply type quiz for a list. Each quiz type is on a line of its own and consists of at least two words. For example, if I type:

$ quiz male female

I'll be given a male term and should type in the female equivalent. If I'm correct, I get a "Right!" and the next term. If I'm incorrect, I get a "What?" and another chance. If I give up and want to know the answer, I simply press enter. Pressing Ctrl-c ends the game. The game can also be played the other way around by typing this instead:

$ quiz female male

This utility includes quizzes for Latin, Greek, arithmetic, capitals, poetry, number sequences, and even Middle-Earth and Star Trek trivia.

Also in FreeBSD Basics:

Fun with Xorg

Sharing Internet Connections

Building a Desktop Firewall

Using DesktopBSD

Using PC-BSD

Browsing Documentation

Some of the games on your system supplement the man page with additional documentation. This is a good time to mention that the documentation that comes in the /usr/share/doc directory is truly awesome when you are ready to delve deeper into the inner mysteries of Unix. You can also read and see the general layout of this documentation.

The documentation contains a who's who of Unix and many of the classic, "everybody should have a chance to read at least once" documents. It really is something to be able to read documentation from the very people who created Unix, the C programming language, the Fast File System, Sendmail, the Bourne shell, the C shell, vi, and so on. It's a good way to find out how things came to be and why they are the way they are. One of the many things I'm looking forward to in FreeBSD Release 5.0 is that some of the formerly encumbered documents will become available in the documentation. A list of those upcoming documents can be found in the CURRENT release notes.

Let's take a look at the contents of the documents directory:

$ ls -F /usr/share/doc
IPv6/   bind/   ncurses/   ntp/   papers/   psd/   smm/   usd/

You'll note that it is composed of several subdirectories. The psd is the Programmer's Supplementary Documents, the smm is the System Manager's Manual, and the usd is the User's Supplementary Documents. Those three subdirectories and the papers subdirectory each contain a file called contents.ascii.gz which gives a description of the documentation found in the associated subdirectory.

You may remember that a gz extension indicates a zipped file. You don't have to unzip a file in order to read it. For example, to see the contents of the psd, simply use the zmore utility instead of more:

$ zmore /usr/share/doc/psd/contents.ascii.gz

And if one of the documents looks interesting:

$ zmore /usr/share/doc/psd/12.make/paper.ascii.gz

Over the holidays, I always find time to reread portions of the documentation. I also go through my extensive bookmark collection and revisit the homepages of some of the authors of that documentation. If you're unfamiliar with some of the who's who, you may enjoy these links:

Between those URLs and the documentation, you should have plenty of quality reading to keep you busy and learning about your FreeBSD system for quite a while.

If you happen to be in the Ottawa area on January 25 and 26, check out the Open Source Weekend. Dan Langille and I will be manning the FreeBSD booth on Saturday, so drop by to say "hi" and show your support for FreeBSD. See you there.

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