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Linux Weekend Mechanic

Welcome to The Linux Weekend Mechanic!

Published in the December, 1997 Edition of the Linux Gazette

Copyright © 1997 John M. Fisk <fiskjm@ctrvax.vanderbilt.edu>
The Linux Gazette (tm) is Copyright © 1997 Specialized Systems Consultants Inc.

Welcome to the WM

Hello y'all! Thanks for dropping in. I'm afraid that this month's weekend mechanic is going to be a bit sparser that usual. This semester has been a good deal more challenging than previous. I've been taking Compiler Design, Database Design, Computer Graphics (X Window based course), and Differential Equations and I'm really starting to "suck wind" about now (and I see lots of knowing smiles and folks waving white hankies out in the audience :-). To all of you in school, my sincerest best wishes!

And once again, my 'ol Linux box has pulled though in the clutch. I've been leaning on it pretty heavily this semester and it's shown what a fantastic work horse it really is.

In the compiler class we're building a "baby Pascal-like" compiler using C++ and while others sit for endless hours in the computer lab hacking away on the HP system at school, I've been sitting for endless hours hacking comfortably at home on my Linux box! It doesn't make the hours fewer, but it sure makes them more enjoyable! I've also been playing around with PostgreSQL 6.2 and MySQL RDBMS's and they have been a HUGE amount of fun and a great means of learning SQL and database design. When things here settle down a bit I'll be writing a bit about these.

For my DiffEq class I finally broke down and purchased the venerable Mathematica 3.0 for Linux from the good folks at Wolfram Research. This has been a godsend and a wonderful toy to tinker with! I'll refrain from getting on the soap box about this one, but will say that it is a fantastic program and would HIGHLY encourage anyone in a mathematics-oriented discipline to invest in it. For the curious, here's a "hot off the press" screen-shot of what I've been up to this weekend: plowing through a DE take-home exam (and don't worry, our instructor, who's a delightful and brilliant guy, gave us the OK to use "whatever technology you have at your disposal..." :-)

Here's the obligatory thumbnail: click on it to get the full (~88K) 1024x768 effect - kinda like being there...!

For the curious, this was the question about a damped oscillator whose angle of deflection was given by the equation:

	Ø'' + 0.25 Ø' + sinØ = 0
In which Ø is meant to be theta, the angle of deflection. The graph is the time series plot of the corresponding system of non-linear differential equations with starting values at (0,2), (0,3), and (0,4). Mathematica has been fantastic and, more to the point, they provide a Linux Student Version. If you're serious about wanting to see high quality software for Linux, then "speak with your feet" (or rather, your wallet :-). If I were doing the Tucows thing, these guys would get the whole herd!

And finally, I've been doing a slew of X window based programming using Xlib and now Motif for my Computer Graphics course. Once again, Linux has meant being home at night rather than 40 miles away sitting in the student lab hacking on the X system at school. I've mentioned it before but it's worth repeating good praise: I bought RedHat Motif 2.0 a couple years ago at the Linux Expo and haven't had a single problem with it despite a good deal of use. If you're shopping for Motif then I'd definitely have a look at this product. On the other hand, I've heard reports that the "Hungry Programmers" have been making serious strides in bringing the LessTif product to maturity. Here's a quote from a recent 0.81 distribution:

LessTif 0.81 has just been released.  LessTif is a freely available Motif
clone.  It is going to be source level compatible with Motif 1.2. It is
distributed under the terms of the GNU Library General Public License (LGPL).
LessTif is available from the following URL's




I haven't had a chance yet to compile and install it but a number of programs, such as the latest DDD debugger, claim to be compilable using Lesstif.

And Now For Our Feature Presentation...

As I mentioned above, time has been a bit short here recently although over a short Fall Break a couple weeks ago I did manage to write up a short article for the Linux Journal on the Midnight Commander file manager. They have very graciously allowed me to include the full text of this here. This is the unedited, first-draft copy that was sent to them, so all the typos and other egregiosities are solely mine. I have long wanted to write about this fantastic file manager which, in my book, is a definite "must have" app on every Linux system. This is geared towards an introduction/overview, and while admittedly not encyclopedic, it does cover most of the highlights (I think... :-) Here it is:

An Introduction to the Midnight Commander

Closing Up Shop

Again, I apologize for such a short column after so long a hiatus. As all of the graduating seniors will attest, the final semester usually packs quite a wallop and mine has been no different. Good news is, by the time you read this I'll be nearly done: GRE Comp Sci Subjects are on December 13th at 2:00 PM.

And then... sleep :-)

I'll be working with the good folks in Biomedical Informatics at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center here in Nashville for the following six months or so and then, hopefully, I'll be starting a Medical Informatics fellowship or MS program in Comp Sci somewhere. In the interim, I have a large and growing list of backlogged projects and things I'd like to read up on, tinker with, and learn about. By January, I'm hoping to have the Weekend Mechanic column back up to speed.

My deepest and sincerest thanks to Marjorie Richardson and the rest of the crew at Specialized Systems Consulting who have worked extraordinarily hard at providing the Linux Gazette. Special thanks are also deserving to Mr. Richardson, who has shouldered the burden of "Linux Gazette Editor" this month!

Finally, from our home to yours, we want to wish y'all a very wonderful and joyous Christmas Season.

John & Faith Fisk
Nashville, TN

Mail Me a Note

Got any comments, suggestions, criticisms or ideas?
Feel free to drop me a note at:

John M. Fisk <fiskjm@ctrvax.vanderbilt.edu>

Document Information:
$Id: wkndmech.html,v 1.2 2002/10/09 22:24:22 lg Exp $

Previous "Weekend Mechanic" Columns

Weekend Mechanic #1, November 1996
Weekend Mechanic #2, December 1996
Weekend Mechanic #3, February 1997
Weekend Mechanic #4, April 1997
Weekend Mechanic #5, June 1997
Weekend Mechanic #6, August 1997

Copyright © 1997, John M. Fisk
Published in Issue 23 of the Linux Gazette, December 1997