UNIX Power Tools

COMPUTER BOOK REVIEW  

427 words

Title: UNIX Power Tools; Jerry Peek, Tim O'Reilly, Mike Loukides;
O'Reilly; ISBN: 1-56592-260-3; Paperback 1073 pages; US $59.95, CAN $85.95

Reviewer: Tim Perkins,"This book welcomes users at all levels of
competence. It will become a constant and invaluable reference"

UNIX Power Tools - Cracking the UNIX Genome

UNIX can seem a twisted helix when one delves into the producing and 
chaining of commands to produce formulae such as: pg. 661;
"dd if=/dev/tap0 of=IBM_WasTape ibs=800 cbs=80 conv=ascii"  But, in
truth, it is this ability to adapt and chain UNIX tools together that
makes them so powerful.

The problem most users encounter is that the structure gets lost in
the pieces. Just as biologists search for a strain of molecules to
find the source of migraines. A user can spend hours looking for a
means of converting an EBCDIC file to ascii before someone asks,
"Why don't you use 'dd', specify the input file as the tape device,
call the output file 'IBM_WasTape', make the input block size 800,
conversion buffer size 80, and use the ascii conversion table.
Geez!"

The system needs your knowledge to work. Knowledge which may have
only been gained by watching others and by trial and error and error
and error.
	
"UNIX Power Tools" is a book that asks one to look over the shoulders
of its authors and see why UNIX is pretty neat. The readers will
appreciate the toolshed metaphor as they take blocks of data and
hack them with a 'tr' command and then feed them into a filter to
produce finely tailored output. for example: pg. 520; "ww()
{cat $* | tr -cs "a-z" "\012" | uniq-d; }." This prints to screen
all double occurrences of a word in a file.
	
The book also warns of potential pitfalls which trip new users that
range from the trivial: pg. 667; "uniq file1 file2," in which the
contents of "file2" are replaced with the output of "uniq file1,"
up to the horrific: pg. 400; "rm * .o". This deletes everything and
the file ".o." Many not-so-funny anecdotes begin with "rm."

The most unique feature of UNIX Power Tools is the literary hypertext
writing style . It is organized in short topical style where chapters
have 20 to 30 articles on related topics. Within the articles are
cross-references to other chapters. e.g.: pg. 306; "Pipe the output
to xargs(9.21)"( which informs the reader that the information on
xargs is in chapter 9 article 21.) 

This useful feature allows the reader to flip through the various
links in order to see what the pieces of a command are doing and,
are capable of doing. 
	
UNIX Power Tools  has a very good introduction to UNIX fundamentals
in the first chapter, and for those who wish to be involved with shell
programming or text handling it will be a constant and invaluable
reference. 

 


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