What The Hell Is Water?

First, a story.

Perhaps you have heard it?

It is attributed to the American author David Foster Wallace. I will paraphrase it for you. The story goes (more or less) like this:

One day two young fish are out swimming in the ocean. They often school together discussing pertinent fish matters great and small. By chance they encounter an ancient sea turtle just back from laying her eggs on land.

“Good morning boys”, she says to the fish.

“How’s the water?” she inquires politely.

The fish swim on in silence for some time after their encounter. Finally one fish turns to the other and asks, “What the hell is water?”

This story is meant to illustrate the invisibility of the ubiquitous. In other words, some things are so constantly present; we take them for granted to the point that we are almost completely unaware they even exist.

What is your “water”?

For example, when was the last time you really thought about the air that surrounds you and allows you to exist? When was the last time you took a careful inventory of your beliefs.  I’m willing to bet you have some beliefs you are not even aware that you hold.

But it doesn’t have to be quite that metaphysical.

As I was working through my Bootcamp prerequisites yesterday, I came face to face with my “water”. It is something that is so omnipresent to me as computer user, I don’t even think about it. I just reach for it when I need it.

I’m talking about the computer mouse!

Imagine for a moment sitting down to use your computer, but suddenly you have no mouse or track pad whatsoever! How do you open a file? How do you get to the folder where you store your pictures? How do you launch a browser so you can check your blog online? Are you feeling like a fish out of water yet?

This is exactly what happened to me. I am currently learning how to use the command line interface (CLI) on my computer. To make a long story short (too late?) I’m learning how to navigate through my computer without using a mouse.

ALL ABOARD!! This train is leaving the “point and click” station.

It turns out when you use your mouse to point and click on a file, or button, or link, or icon, or whatever, you are using what is called graphical user interface. (GUI-pronounced gooey. Isn’t that fun:) But these GUIs didn’t always exist. In the old days, when only genius wizards could use computers, the command line interface was the only game in town.

So if you wanted to open a file, you had to know the command to type into the computer. If you wanted to change to a different folder, you guessed it; you needed to know the command. Hence the name command line interface.

To get to your command line, you have to open a terminal.

Here is what it looks like:

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 8.12.48 PMIntimidating right? It just stares at you like a cold dead eye unless you know the magic commands to make it come to life.

So this is the next skill that I need to be comfortable with before camp starts in March. I need to know the magic commands. To help me remember I am making flash cards.


pwd = Print Working Directory. This tells you what folder you are in.


Four more examples of commands that can be used on the CLI

And you know what else I discovered? This is actually pretty fun! You feel so much more powerful on the command line than you do with the mouse. (I mean does the word mouse really compare to the word COMMAND!) Further I am developing a deeper understanding of the way my computer structures its files.

Still I find pointing and clicking to be much easier and user friendly. But of course that is why it was invented in the first place. It is so much easier to simply right click and select “new folder” than to type mkdir foldername and pray you don’t delete your computer’s hard drive or something.

Of course, the first animals that emerged from the oceans to brave dry land probably found that to be pretty difficult and not very user friendly. However, it turned out to be very much worth the effort in the end. With that in mind, I will continue to drill my flash cards and use resources to learn more commands. Maybe one day I won’t need the mouse at all?

Doubtful. A fish always needs its water. But at least I am now aware of my use of the mouse and how it makes my life easier.


4 thoughts on “What The Hell Is Water?

  1. Great Post! I enjoyed the story very much. You are great at using analogies/anecdotes to relate to what your post is, in fact, about.


  2. Reblogged this on Algorithmical and commented:
    Great post from Sounja regarding the use of the CLI (Command Line Interface.


  3. I am probably showing my age, but there was a time in the last century when the CLI was the only way to get the thing to work. One program dBase had a really user friendly opening prompt of “.”


    • Goodness! It is so hard for me to imagine a time when only the CLI existed. I have been pointing and clicking ever since I started using a computer. Perhaps I am revealing my age with that statement as well:)


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