Navigate OS X trough the Command Line (Part 1)

Command Line?

Those of you out there who have explored your Macintosh machine enough to look in the ‘Other’ folder in your applications may have seen it: that intimidating application called TERMINAL with the minimal black rectangle graphic as its icon. If you’re concerned about the security of your files, you may use Time Machine. If you live to burn CDs or have lots of different hard drives, then you may have used Disk Utility. Maybe you even like Windows enough to install it on your Mac and have used Bootcamp Assistant to do so. But when have you ever had to use Terminal?

For most of you keen and intelligent readers, the answer to the above question is easy: NEVER. Terminal is what’s called a ‘command line’ and most people never ever have to use a command line. However, what you have used is Terminal’s more attractive cousin: Finder.

The Finder, in my humble opinion, is such a perfect file viewing and organizing program that most people don’t even realize that’s all it’s doing. You have files and folders on your Desktop and you have your Documents and your Pictures and you can copy and paste and everything just works and is always where you want it to be. In the Finder, you never have to worry about directories and recursion!  For that reason, I suggest Finder is perfect at what it does: making the somewhat complex system of files and directories in the Mac operating system simple and easy to navigate.

So what does all this have to do with the TERMINAL? Well, the Terminal does everything that Finder does… and more!  As we’ll see through a few very simple examples, Finder and Terminal both do the same work just in slightly different ways.

So why use Terminal at all?

Great question, thank you for asking! There are many reasons for using the Terminal over the Finder, most of which go well beyond the scope of this article. A few key reasons to use the Terminal are speed and efficiency.

Every computer has a processor and a set number of transistors which can perform calculations. Great, what does that have to do with anything? The mathematical calculations performed by your computer’s (limited) processor create everything your computer does; that includes all the pretty stuff it shows on the screen.  With the Finder, you can have a lot on the screen: windows, icons, folders, your Desktop, etc. The Terminal, as I mentioned earlier, does the same work as the Finder but, as you’ll see soon, does it with a lot less stuff on the screen.

For this reason, the Terminal will use less of your computers limited processing power and will make your machine run faster and will make it capable of running more programs at once. On my old and ailing MacBook, I used the Terminal as a permanent substitute for the Finder in order to just allow the whole thing to run.

The Terminal also allows you to do some special things which the Finder doesn’t. For one, you can ask it to show you all the processors your computer is doing, or you can edit basic text documents, or enter the super secret parts of your computer that Apple hides in the Finder. You can also delete your entire hard drive by typing only a handful of characters. As Uncle Ben once said, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Why Mac has a Command Line and a Brief History of Unix

Unix? This may sound a little strange at first but I promise it will all connect eventually.

Unix was a computer operating system which was developed by AT&T in the late 1960s and early 1970s (yes, that AT&T). Compared to the other operating systems at the time, Unix was a total revolution in computer capability and security. Unix allowed for different users with different accounts and passwords. Starting to sound familiar?

Throughout the next three decades, Unix spawned many operating systems, all sharing the same emphasis on security and task-oriented proficiency. They also all share very very similar command lines and terminal commands. In 1991, Linus Torvalds released the Linux Kernel to the world and birthed the amazing and wide-reaching Unix-like operating system which became Linux. In 1989 another Unix-like operating system called NeXTSTEP was brought into existence by businessman Steve Jobs’s company, NeXT.  By 2001, NeXTSTEP would be refined into Mac OS X by Apple following Jobs’s re-admission to the company.

Because Linux and Mac OS X are both based off of AT&T’s Unix operating system, they share most terminal commands. For this reason, knowing how to navigate OS X through the Terminal will give you a serious edge when using Linux.

Those of you wondering where Microsoft Windows fits into this: it doesn’t. While Mac OS X and Linux were based off the enterprise-oriented Unix, Windows was based off a modified version of an operating system called 86-DOS which was written by a small company called Seattle Computer Products. 86-DOS was turned (almost overnight) into MS-DOS which later went graphical and became Windows. DOS was never meant to access the internet and was primarily intended for use in home computers by enthusiasts; Unix, on the other hand, has had no trouble bearing the blunt of enterprise in today’s internet-based world. Explains a few things, doesn’t it?

Getting Started with the Terminal

The first thing to do is to, is you haven’t already done so, fire up Launchpad, open up the folder labeled ‘other’ and click on the Terminal icon. It should fire up and look something like this:

Terminal Window

So what to do now? I would recommend also opening up a Finder window right next to your Terminal window to help decode what’s being displayed in the Terminal.  With both Finder and Terminal open, you will want to do two things (in any order). First go to Finder and select from the ‘Go’ menu at the top the screen ‘Home.’ Now, on your Terminal, type in ls and hit return. You should see something not too dissimilar to this:

First Screen

Now take a look at what’s being displayed in each window.  Does it perhaps look like what’s shown on the Finder is also being listed in the Terminal? Sure, there are no icons and things look very different but everything has the same name! The reason for this phenomena: everything is the same! The Finder and Terminal are showing you exactly the same thing. What is this thing? That is going to require a slight conceptual leap.

How Files and Folders are Organized on OS X

People will often describe the vast groups of files and directories (a directory is just a slightly more techy name for folder) as a tree. However, that is nowhere near cool enough for me. I suggest, before we get into the nitty-gritty of talking about file systems, you watch this video. When the guy washes the dirt off of the ant-hill cast, you will see how the whole thing extends from a central stem and then grows lots of smaller, more localized tendrils.

This is very similar to how the directories are laid out in your computer. You have one big directory which contains every other directory. This big directory is called the ‘root directory.’ The root directory is often indicated by just ‘/’. As we delve deeper into the navigating the command line, you will find the slash shows up a lot in directory names.

If you were to look in the root directory, what would you see?  You can take a look in two ways: first by typing into your command line “ls /”. Your computer reads this as, “list the contents of the directory named /” or “root.” An absence of anything after the “ls” will just list the contents of whichever directory you are currently in.

What’s the second way to see the root directory?  It is here I will introduce our second command: cd.  You can see the root directory by typing in “cd /” and hitting return, then typing “ls” like we did before.  Your terminal window should look something like the picture below. For the purpose of comparison, I have also included a Finder window showing the contents of the root directory.Demo 2

So what did we just do when we typed in the cd command? Cd is named very appropriately and is the command for change directory. Remember from the beginning of the article that a directory is just another name for a folder. For cd you simply have to type in the command followed by the name of the directory you want to change into. With the cd command, you can surf from folder to folder without ever leaving the Terminal window or touching the mouse.

What we Have Learned and How to Use it

So now we know how to open up the Terminal, change directories, and view their contents. That’s great, but I am going to go out on a limb here and say that 100% of the time you use the Finder to open something up.  Can you open from the Terminal?  Yes, you can!

So how can we open files from the Terminal window?  Type the word open followed by the name of the file you would like to open. Super easy!

Let’s say, for the sake of demonstration, that you wish to open iTunes to listen to some Kraftwerk. We can navigate to our Application folder by using the cd command.  If you’re one step ahead of me by now, go ahead and type into your Terminal window: cd /Applications/

Once we’re in Applications, we have the option to list the contents of the directory by typing in ls (just to make sure has not gone missing). If you take a look at all the contents of the Applications directory, you may notice that things here look a little different; every application has a file extension of .app. Don’t be alarmed, Apple knows very well that very few people need to see applications with the .app extension and hides it by default in the Finder to make things look a bit more simple.  The in the Terminal window is, in fact, the same iTunes that you may come across in the Finder or in your Dock.

Now that we have iTunes in our sight, we can type in: open and it will open right before your very eyes; the same way it will if you open it from the Finder or Dock.

So Now What?

Now you can do some basic navigation through your computer on your Terminal. With cd, ls, and open you can do most of the things you would want to do on Finder. If you practice your typing, you may find that some tasks are just inherently quicker in the command line. I, personally, do not care for using a computer mouse and the Terminal allows me to do everything I need without ever taking my hands from the keyboard.

Additionally, the Terminal as an applications requires far less processing power than the Finder. If you end up like me and turn the Finder off (I will show you how to do that eventually), you may notice a decent increase in your computer’s performance.

As we’ll see in part 2 of this article (soon to come), there are also some excellent tasks you can use the command line for that you cannot use the Finder for.  Those are soon to come…

Operating System

I’m in the Market for a Music Streaming Service

Some background: I am a music person. I have 55gb of music in my iTunes library and more reserved not on my iTunes. I’m also a purist. I pretty much only listen to albums all the way through. None of that playlist stuff. My ideal date is listening to the entire Beatles discography in chronological order by album (that’s a lie, but good line).

Inevitably, I’m growing tired of my music. I’ve listened to all of these albums all the way through and I know every word to every song. I can ~badly~ do the low, middle, and high harmonies and I can tell you if the acoustic version is better. Another issue I am having is figuring out new bands. I know their sound, and I love their sound, but I’m getting tired of it. I don’t want to be growing tired of music. I’ve started turning to podcasts (recommendation: Planet Money) but I miss the thrill of that new great album.

So, I’m looking for a streaming service. I don’t do lists of “bests” but I want to at least discuss a few.

Apple Music- $5 with student discount (1 month free)

I am NOT an Apple hater. In fact, I am typing this on my MacBook Air. However, I feel the feels for iTunes right now. The bad feels. When iTunes Radio came out I was pretty excited. I listened to it. I much preferred their radio algorithms to Pandora’s (I really hated Pandora’s algorithms, but that’s a different section) because they played music that I liked, not music that they thought I could like. For some radio stations (Herbie Hancock radio) there weren’t even ads! Then, with the genesis of Apple Music that all went away. I was angry when I had to pay for my Herbie Hancock Radio or my Kaiser Chiefs radio. I feel so hurt by them that I am done with Apple Music. Even if it’s cheaper, my heart can’t be bought by cheaper.

Pandora- Free with ads, $4.99 without

It’s just radio, I want to play what I want when I want it. Next.

Ok, not next. If I put in an artist that isn’t in the billboard top 100 I still only get billboard top 100 artists. If I put in an indie band, I want to listen to indie, not whatever Pandora gives me.

Spotify- Free with ads, $5 with student discount (3 months for $1)

Spotify is the obvious answer. It’s pretty cheap (well, comparable in price to the others so far) and it seems to have all the music I want

Taylor Swift- Not on it. Taylor Swift famously left Spotify because of money reasons. (She was still making a ton of money off of Spotify)

Lemonade, Beyonce- Nope. They don’t have that either. They have the rest of Beyonce though. But they don’t seem to have some of the newest latest and greatest albums.

Another thing to keep in mind is all of the ads. Their ads are finicky. You can’t turn down the volume on them, you can’t skip them, and they are everywhere. Because Spotify is an app, and not a website, you can’t use ad blocker to remove anything. So many ads. The graphic designers made this cool interface with a cook charcoal color scheme, but the ugly green ad banner really detracts from it.

I also don’t like that Spotify markets to my age demographic. Music isn’t for college students, so neither should Spotify. It just rubs me the wrong way.

Google Music- $10 (first month free)

I’m currently test running my free month on Google music and I have to say I like it. I really like it. I like that it’s super easy to put all of my music up onto Google Music; I like that its google; I like that they can also handle my podcasts (another recommendation: What’s the point by fivethirtyeight); I like that they have T-Swift (whom I don’t actually listen to); and I like that Ad Blocker works on it. It’s great.

I hate their recommendations. It just recommends music I already know or music that isn’t my taste at all. I don’t listen to rap, why are you showing me Drake? I also don’t like that if I want to share my account (shhh) I have to give someone my Google credentials. That includes my Google Drive, my gmail, my photos, and my calendar. I want to be able to send the latest album to my mom without her knowing everything that I’m doing in my life.

Google music is also less mainstream. I’m into that. I also like that I can put their uploader onto friends computers and I can poach their entire iTunes. That’s nice. (That idea was curtesy of my last boss who used to do that).

You may have noticed that it is $5 more expensive than Spotify premium for students. I don’t know if I can look past that much money as a student. But we will see.

In my very short analysis, I have decided against Apple Music and Pandora. I’m on the fence for Google Music and Spotify. If at the end of 30 days Google Music hasn’t stolen my heart, I think I’ll be giving my rose to Spotify Premium.


An Intro to Mechanical Keyboards

What is a “mechanical” keyboard and what is different about it that sets it apart from the $10 keyboard that you’ve been using? How are different mechanical keyboards different? Should you buy one? Great questions, with somewhat tricky answers.

What makes a keyboard “mechanical”?

Most keyboards you encounter nowadays are rubber-dome or membrane keyboards. The membrane is underneath each key, so when you press the key down, the membrane depresses and makes contact with another membrane on the base of the keyboard. When these membranes contact, the keyboard gets a signal that a key has been pressed and sends that information to the computer.

Now, the difference between that and a mechanical keyboard, is that instead of a membrane being depressed, a key on a mechanical keyboard depresses a physical switch, and when that switch is pressed, a signal gets sent to the computer.

The main difference between these types of keyboards, as you can tell, is the physical switch being depressed vs. the membranes contacting each other that tells the computer when a key has been pressed.

For the most part, nearly all rubber-dome keyboards feel the same, and give little tactile feedback, that is, you don’t know how exactly how hard you have to press a key for it to register on your computer. For mechanical keyboards, there are different mechanical key switches that all feel different, and give different levels of tactile feedback. When you feel the tactile feedback on a mechanical keyboard, you know you’ve registered a keypress on the computer.

Cherry MX mechanical switches:

Nearly all mechanical keyboards use switches made by Cherry, and they are typically denoted by the color of the switch. The most common switches are Blue, Green, Brown, Clear, Black, and Red. Switches have different levels of force, measured in grams (g), needed to depress the key, as well as different levels of tactile feedback that they give. Some switches give strong tactile and audible feedback for keypresses, while others give almost none unless the key is pressed all the way in.

Cherry MX Blue (Tactile Click)Cherry MX Blue Switches

If you’re an oldschool computer user, MX Blue switches may remind you of the clicky keyboards from the 1980’s. The blue switch has both strong tactile feedback and a loud “click” when you activate the key, making it a quite popular choice for typists, however, the loud clickiness makes it somewhat of a nuisance in workplaces with shared spaces. It has an actuation force of 50g, making it somewhat of a stiff switch.

Cherry MX Green (Tactile Click)Cherry MX Green Switches

Green switches are very similar to Blue switches, but have a much higher actuation force, sitting at 70g. This makes them much stiffer than blue switches. Greens still have the loud click and tactile feedback similar to blues.


Cherry MX Brown (Tactile Bump)Cherry MX Brown Switches

The MX Brown switches have a softer tactile feedback than MX Blue switches, and no loud click. With the tactile feedback and no loud click, they are often considered a middleground between the Blue switches and the Black switches, and provide a option for both typing and gaming. Brown switches have an actuation force of 45g, making them one of the lighter switches.

Cherry MX Clear (Tactile Bump)Cherry MX Clear Switches

MX Clear switches are similar to Brown switches, with a stronger actuation force (65g) and a slightly stronger tactile click. Again, these are a good middle ground switches for both gaming and typing, and are a good choice if you like a stiffer key.



Cherry MX Black (Linear)Cherry MX Black Switches

A big difference between tactile switches mentioned above and linear switches such as the Black and Red switches is that with linear switches, there is no tactile feedback until the key is pressed all the way down (called “bottoming out”). For all other switches so far, you have tactile feedback telling you when your keypress is registered on the computer. With Black and Red switches however, the keypress can register without any tactile feedback.
Black switches have a high actuation force of 60g, making stray keypresses less likely. Black switches are commonly used by gamers who need accurate keypresses.

Cherry MX Red (Linear)Cherry MX Red Switches

MX Red switches are very similar to Black switches, but with a lower actuation force, sitting at 45g. These switches are smooth all the way with no tactile bump or click, other than when it bottoms out. These switches are commonly used by gamers who need fast, rapid keypresses.


Should you switch to a mechanical keyboard?

Mechanical keyboards are quality products that last longer than normal membrane or rubber-dome keyboards, and the build quality is reflected in the price. Many keyboards will run you upwards of $100, but for most people, that price is well justified. So, should you get one? The answer to that question really depends on your personal preference and personal experience. Reading about all these different switches really means nothing until you try typing on a mechanical keyboard. There is a huge difference between looking at moving pictures about what the switches do and actually feeling what it’s like to type or game on one. The bottom line is, go somewhere you can try out different keyboards with different switches, and see which one you like. Everybody’s preferences are different when it comes to typing, and certain keyboards may fit yours better than others.

Mac OSX Microsoft Operating System Software Windows

Step-by-step walkthrough of downloading Office 365 Education

Microsoft Office is a useful suite of productivity applications that includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Access, and OneNote. Microsoft provides a no-cost subscription to college students, faculty, and staff to install these programs on up to 5 devices. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get your free access to Microsoft Office 365:

  1. Navigate to the UMass IT website.
  2. Click on Software.
    UMass IT Website
  3. Scroll down, and in the Microsoft table, click on Microsoft Office 365 Education
    UMass IT Website - Microsoft Table
  4. A. If you are a student, click on the Microsoft Office 365 web site under the student section.
    UMass IT Website - Student 365 Link
    1.  If you are a faculty or staff member, click on the Microsoft Office 365 web site under the faculty and staff section.
      UMass IT Website - Faculty 365 Link
  5. Once on the landing page for Office 365, fill in your UMass email address and click Get started.
    Office 365 Education Landing Page
  6. A. If you are a student, click on I’m a Student
    B. Click on I’m a Teacher if you are either a faculty or staff member. The I’m a Teacher option will work if you are either a faculty or staff member.
    Microsoft Office 365 Education - Student or Teacher
  7. Check your UMass email for the confirmation email and click the Yes, that’s me link.
    Microsoft Office 365 Email Confirmation
  8. Create your account using your personal information.Microsoft Office 365 Education - Create Account
  9. Click Skip on the invitation page.
    Microsoft Office 365 Education - Invite Page
  10. Download your software by clicking the Install now button! If you don’t want anything in your web browser changed, make sure to uncheck the two boxes above the Install now button.
    Microsoft Office 365 Education - Download Software
    A. If you’re on Windows, this will download the installer for Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Access, Publisher, Skype for Business, and OneDrive for Business.
    B. If you’re on OS X, it will download the installer for Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, and OneNote.
    With the Office 365 subscription, you will also have access to the Office Online suite of productivity software, all of which is listed below the install button.
  11. Once the installer is downloaded, run the installer.
  12. When the software is installed, you will be able to open any Office Suite program and use it as normal.
    Note: it may prompt you to sign in. If it does, be sure to use the same email address and password that you used when you signed up for Office 365 at the beginning of this walkthrough.
  13. You’re done! Enjoy Office 365 for the duration of your time at UMass Amherst!