Ausgewählter Nerdkram von Informatikstudenten der Uni Ulm

Interview: Markus ‘meillo’ Schnalke

I got to know meillo after I followed his online writings for quite a while. During that time he stayed around in South America travelling and working on free software. After he returned to the University of Ulm I walked up to him and introduced myself. I got to to know him better over time and with time we became good friends. He is currently working on his master thesis, though he already holds a diploma on computer science by the University of Applied Sciences in Ulm. If you are further interested in Unix I would recommend to check out his website or one of his seminar recordings (this one for example) at the local ChaosSeminar (language: german).

Who are you and what do you do?
I am Markus Schnalke, also known as meillo. I love Unix, especially its philosophy. Style matters a lot to me and I try hard to write well readable code. I feel a great desire for discovering the early Unix and caring for old software.

Which software or programs do you use most frequently?
The short answer is: The Unix shell. My shell history shows that I run ls, cd and vi most frequently. However, more interesting is, that I spend most of my computer time editing (ex-vi), browsing the web (firefox+pentadactyl or w3m) and emailing (mmh). The window manager aewl (my personal version of dwm) and either tmux or screen are running as well.

Why did you decide to use your particular operating system(s) of choice?
I used to choose Debian GNU/Linux for philosophical, social and technical reasons. Whereas I’m still convinced of the former two, my technical view differs now. In consequence, I switched to Crux, one year ago. Crux is simple. There’s nothing in my way. I have the controls right in my hands. Yes, I do need to adjust manually here and there, but that’s okay. I just don’t want to be put in a sandbox anymore. I don’t want to be kept from “messing up” the (package) system. I am bored building castles in the sand. I want to change the world now. I want to have all the power and I want to be *encouraged* to put my hands on. That’s what Crux offers to me currently.

In what manner do you communicate online?
About 90% of my online communication goes via email. As developer of two email software projects (mmh, masqmail), that’s no surprise. The remaining 10% are spend in I don’t chat nor do I use those modern communication technologies, but I’m on the way to enter Usenet.

Which folders can be found in your home directory?
There’s bin, of course. Then, I’ve started to have src and tmp. Often you can find docs, talks, and dl. For multimedia content German names have survived: fotos, filme, musik.

Which paper or literature has had the most impact on you?
I do love reading old computer books, especially everything written by those guys who shaped Unix. The two books by Kernighan and Pike — “The UNIX Programming Environment” and “The Practice of Programming” — defined my view on Unix and on style. “The Mythical Man-Month” by Fred Brooks and some book by Kent Beck on Extreme Programming opened my eyes for a convincing view on software engineering.

What has had the greatest positive influence on your efficiency?
Definitely, discovering Unix, with all its meanings and concequences. It had improved the efficiency of my computer work fundamentally. Although the Internet technologies can help you a lot, I am most productive when working offline.

How do you approach the development of a new project?
Well, I don’t have much to say here, thus I rather tell one of my favorite jokes: “There are 10 kinds of people in the world; those who understand binary and those who don’t.” :-)

Which programming language do you like working with most?
I became a C programmer, eventually. Of course, I do not only program in C; sh and awk are always in the game as well. You see, I’ve settled with the programming languages that were part of the research Unix from Bell Labs. This should not surprise. I think C is very well designed. It is small and very consistent. I like that a lot. Of course, it has its disadvantages but for a Unix programmer with love for simplicity and the old Unix, the programming language of choice must be C. There’s no way around it. The shell language glues the programs together and increases the power of the system by one magnitude. Awk is somewhere between sh and C, and covers the field of text processing, which neither sh nor C does well. For me, the combination of these languages is a fully satisfying choice.

In your opinion, which piece of software should be rewritten from scratch?
That’s a tough question because we could discuss on the sense of rewriting from scratch for hours. I’ll answer though. Find(1) for instance should be redesigned … but if someone would know how to do it well, it likely would have been done already. X has good concepts but it became old, fat, and the world took different roads to different concepts. X never adapted well enough. Hence, X is my choice for a rewrite from scratch. In the small, however, I clearly vote for a rewrite of the infamous m_getfld.c in mmh/nmh. Who has the guts to take the curse on him?

What would your ideal setup look like?
Maybe it would be Plan 9 without the GUI. Plan 9 offers the concepts of Unix, applied even more thoroughly. It misses some bad design decisions and it is free of the Unix wars’s legacy. All this is very appealing. If I could have that, without the fundamental integration of the GUI …

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