Down the rabbit hole


At the same time as I was struggling with my Enigma machine, various other assessed course works started to kick in. The most worrying of these is an assignment where we have to add functionality to the operating system MINIX. Now let me explain – this is some seriously scary shit! You’re basically given this super bare bones operating system as a pile of C (!) code which you have to make sense of. By bare bones I mean that there is literally just a text prompt ‘#’ waiting for user input. No windows, no graphics, no colours, not even an indication of where you are, just this bleak, mocking # sign waiting for you to make a fool of yourself.

So as a bit of back story, MINIX is actually a precursor of the more widely known LINUX. It’s used by various companies as their operating system of choice since it’s basically free. However for home use, only people with a serious tech leaning and/or lots of time on their hands would ever use this thing, as traditionally even installing a new program would require an advanced degree in Computing! So I had a vague feeling of dread when starting up this MINIX creature for the first time… and the # welcomed me and swallowed me whole. Dark times followed and I have no memories of how the hours passed. Eventually I made it my mission to teach that bloody # sign how to be just a bit more useful, to shine a little bit of candle light into the dark abyss of the MINIX code. And finally, TODAY, I managed it. It’s hard to classify my achievement as it surely ranks somewhere between man walking on the moon and solving global warming…. my # sign is now TRANSFORMED into showing the CURRENT FILE PATH!!!!!!!!0101!!!!

And somehow that opened the flood gates… I started ripping through the assignment, looking up library and header files, editing makefiles to add compiler commands and so on. After a while, another guy from my course joined and helped me look even further into the source code of Minix. For a brief moment, the curtain had lifted! Now, a few hours later, that feeling has passed again, but I’m cautiously optimistic that I kind of understand what’s going on under the hood. We’ll see how the next few weeks go!