The Rabbithole Series, Part 1

May 20, 2019 | 4 min read | #linux| permalink

I am a simple 18 year old guy deeply interested in programming, unix, open-source and STEM in general. During my learning process, I have been in so many rabbitholes that I thought of doing a 3-part series of blog posts on this very topic. In this first part of the series, I am going to explain a rabbithole that I fell into a while back in very subtle way and it changed my workflow and knowledge about operating systems so much that I don't think I'll ever be will be able to go back to where I was before.

After I switched entirely to Linux last year, I decided to learn C++ by following a Stroustrup's book on C++. As a Sublime Text / Atom guy, I decided to do the exercises in Vim to brush up on my Vim skills.

I found myself constantly switching between Vim, terminal, e-book viewer and my browser windows in order to solve the problems. As an Ubuntu Gnome normie, I was using the alt + tab key combination to do so. Eventually, I realized I could do the same thing using super + tab keys! It was surprising to me because I had always used the former solution since Windows. To see which was more common among other linux users, I did a quick search on the web.

I found a reddit thread where someone had asked the same question that I had- which of the solutions was more common. The first comment on the thread said, "alt + tab because I didn't know super could do that as well." Okay. But what was the beginning of the biggest distraction of my life ever, was the second comment with literally 7 upvotes. It said, "Neither, because I use i3wm. :)"

Now, as a voraciuosly curious person, I had to do a quick search- I had never heard of i3wm before. As some of you might already know, it's a powerful and popular tiling window manager. One look into its documentation, I knew I always needed something like this in order to do things effectively.

I found out that I looks pretty damn ugly out of the box. Not just it's look, but I had to do a number of additions and modifications to its 'config' file (aka its dotfile) to make things work properly.

For example, it isn't very straightforward to set a wallpaper. You have to install and configure a separate little program called 'feh' in order to do so (mind you, there are alternatives). It took me 3 weeks to make it usable for my needs (i3-gaps, i3blocks, touchpad configuration, audio controls, fonts, colors, keybindings, etc) and during that period, I came across the Arch Linux Wiki (archwiki), and that was it, I was well onto the path to becoming a giant terminal junkie and a ricer.


It was only a matter of days that I came across r/unixporn, Luke Smith, DistroTube, etc. The end result? Now my computer looks like this and I have an entire repository on Github to backup and store my dotfiles in case I want to change my distro. I became another 'btw, I use Arch' guy, I'm constantly configuring my system to fit my needs, and my bookmarks have begun to rise in number exponentially. I discover and use new tools and open source software programs all the time AND I haven't yet gone back to the PPP Using C++ book. I think It'll be another month or so before I resume it but there is no denying that that stupid question has taught me so much.

Learn more:

If you're interested in these things as well, I suggest you to look into window managers first. Because of the excellent documentation that it has, my personal suggestion is to go for i3 first. If you don't mind having to patch your window manager everytime you want it to do something, go for dwm. If you are a Haskell fan, try Xmonad. There are several options to choose from. You will learn many other things while you configure your system for your needs. If you need a quick guide to comparison between features of different window managers, check out this ArchWiki page or this video from DistroTube. Once you get the hang of how dotfiles work, look at mine on my GitHub or check out the unofficial guide to doing dotfiles. Also, just bookmark ArchWiki and GentooWiki, no matter which distro you are using.

Next in this series: The Rabbithole Series, Part 2. Please stay in touch for the next part of this series. Subscribe to my newsletter(in-progress) or via RSS.

Last Updated: May 25, 2019
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