Linux Newbie

What does ‘secret’ mean?

Obama authorized secret support for Syrian rebels

“WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, sources familiar with the matter said.”

Sometimes you see something that makes your head want to explode. Someone help me out. What, exactly, does ‘secret’ mean? I thought I knew, but apparently, I don’t.

Linux Newbie

One of the biggest problems for new Linux users is figuring out how to…figure out how…to fix or change things. This problem is often lost on experienced Linux-ers. We forget how scary it was the first time something went wrong or didn’t work as expected. I want to hope that newcomers simply need a little coaching in how to get started solving their problems (and the occasional flash of brilliance from old-timers) and they’ll blaze their own trails.

If you’re new to Linux and you want to learn what makes the system tick, you need to learn to use the command line interface (CLI). CLI gives you the potential to fix problems and customize almost everything. Once you learn CLI, you start to get the power-itch. It’s the doorway to making your machine work the way you want it to, rather than the way someone else thought you wanted it to work. It only takes a few things to get started: Learn how to open a terminal window, how to enter commands, and how to navigate the Linux file system (Especially, learn the ls, cd, and more commands). You don’t have to learn everything all at once; just a few of the basics to get started. There’s plenty of easy to understand information on the Internet that describes how to do these things.

Your Search Engine Is Your Friend

Google is our preferred search engine at The Robotic Frog (TRF). When we say Google, we mean use your favorite search provider. We’ve tried a lot of different search engines, but always end up back at Google. There’s a reason people say, “Google it.”

Linux is a child of the Internet and there is an enormous amount of Linux-specific information out there. It’s rare that we fail to find something about a problem we have or a change that we want to make. An Internet search should be the first thing you do when you need help.

Man Pages

If you’re a brand-newbie (maybe even if you’re not so brand new), you may have no idea what ‘man pages’ are. I know I didn’t the first time I saw that phrase. Here, let me help. Bring up a terminal window (You did do a search and figure out how to do that, right?) and type this at the shell prompt ($ , on our system. You don’t type the $. The shell provides it.):

$ man man

The system helpfully brings up a screen of information and under the heading DESCRIPTION, you’ll see this (on a CrunchBang/Debian system):

“man is the system’s manual pager. Each page argument given to man is normally the name of a program, utility or function. The manual page associated with each of these arguments is then found and displayed.”

For the sake of argument, let’s define three Linux users: 1) Newbie, 2) Have-A-Clue (HAC), and 3) Guru. At TRF, we’re HACs (Have-A-Clue Linux-ers). We aspire to Guru status, but we’re still a long way from it. We’ve had a lot of help along the way and we’ll probably need a lot more. The man description for itself (man man) is intuitively obvious to a Guru; a HAC will understand it, but may need to mull it over a bit. To a newbie, it’s unintelligible. Telling a newbie to read the man pages (RTFM) is probably the worst advice we can give. man pages are not written for newbies.

With that said, newbies who want to learn about their system should become aware of the man pages and must start learning how to read them. It gets easier with practice. man pages are the pages of the manual for your Linux system. They live on your hard drive and contain some of the best information about your system and its utilities (programs). Your manual (man pages) are always available. If you have your machine…you have your manual.

Next time, we’ll show you how to use these tools to solve real problems.