Ask HN: Old Folks with Unix Skills

A minor annoyance for some of us older folk is seeing so many "digital help" courses for seniors. All too often the spiel implies something like this: "You grew old before digital devices became ubiquitous. Learn how to operate a smartphone or tablet, go online, send emails, share photos, shop online, join social media..."

Actually, some of us grew old while digital devices became ubiquitous. We've been using digital devices for decades. The teenager who was programming in BASIC on a microcomputer is now in her 60s. That grey-haired 70-something might have been using UNIX at work every day in the 1980s.

What grates about the "digital-help-for-seniors" programs is that they offer only a tiny subset of the learning we did and are still doing. For some of us, the nicest feature of general-purpose computing in the 2020s is the survival and ready availability of the command line, so we can do end-runs around complicated GUIs to get work done digitally.

If you're one of the seniors to whom that last comment makes sense, do you think an online organisation of like-minded people sounds interesting? It doesn't exist yet, but I suggest calling it OFUS - Old (Folks/Farts) with Unix Skills. For starters, email me at

FYI, I'm 77 and still work every day in a BASH shell (as a data auditor).



[deleted by user]

Sounds like the courses you are berating don't even rise to the level of "button pushers" that we mocked when they ran their Microsoft GUI's to do admin chores (and while we were converting thousands of files in one command, and do daily .. except that we are now converting (growl) webp files that can't be edited (not by GIMP anyway) )

Even so-called "computer savvy" young people just know which buttons to push, and nothing about doing something powerful that's not canned in some app.

I still would like to see people given the ability to CREATE (like they did with hypercard) and not just adapt to "change for the sake of change" features du jour.

Keeping it short for now.


Airing of Grievances (must be Festivus already)

As an example, I am a seasoned Unix dinosaur, started on a Sun-2 workstation. I got so used to the crippled ios that when Apple FINALLY introduced (drum roll) FILES, I didn't know what to do with them. I got so used to workarounds.

And MacOS. Sheesh. Gotta do this: chsh -s /bin/bash

Here is a list of commands, some of which are unique to Apple


>And MacOS. Sheesh. Gotta do this: chsh -s /bin/bash

What's wrong with zsh?


Not OP. But zsh isn't bash, and I am not about relearn my shell-fu.


1. It works just like bash if you want.

2. Scripts with #!/bin/bash or #!/bin/sh run as expected — even with bashisms.


zsh is derived from bash and much of the syntax and behavior is identical.

Also there are plugins like


I'm 40 and I feel here and there. Oldest memories are accessing BBSes over the phone line and still everyone seems to have forgotten that those were a thing. There was a list of local BBSes on the newspaper and it was like 20 or 30 around my area.


I remember BBSes as having much more polite conversations than you find these days on social media, too!


OFUG (Old Folks Unix Group) perhaps?


Dinosaurs of UNIX?


Greybeards and Greybuns?


AGUE (Aged Group of UNIX Experts)

OLD (Old Linux Devs)

SENIORS (Some Elderly 'Nix InventORS)

... Chat GPT could probably do better.


Great idea! Also to be more inclusive and equitable there should be a parallel group: OBFUS, Old Black Folks with Unix Skills.


Is this satire? Does literally everything have to be segregated by race now? What is not "inclusive" or "equitable" about Old Farts With Unix Skills?




It is satire. OBFUS -> obfuscation


I hope so. It's hard to tell these days.


How are you using bash in your work as a data auditor?


I got into the game "kinda late" (first PC ran DOS 5.0 and Windows 3.1), and I still cherish and adore the CLI, and can't imagine it ever going away (if it does, a little piece of me will die with it). The look on the faces of a fresh crop of 20-something developers when you pull out a one-liner and/or some regex never gets old, and I still consider myself very unskilled compared to the folks who have lived and breathed bash/csh/zsh/tcsh etc for the past 30-40 years.

That being said, how old is "Old"?


I'm guessing retirement age.


"The look on the faces of a fresh crop of 20-something developers"... My equivalent is doing a data reformat or analysis on a big dataset that someone has been struggling with in (please excuse my language) Excel. The data owner's eyes widen and they say something like "Wow! That's so fast and simple! How come I never heard of this stuff?"

Good question about "Old". In Australia there's at least one well-defined cut-off: 75 years. If you're 75 or older: - when you die your death isn't classed as "premature", and demographers don't assign you any "potential years of life lost" - you're no longer invited to have screening for bowel, breast or cervical cancer screening (invites go to 50-74 year-olds)


I'd love some material targeted towards people like my aunt (spent the 60s and 70s programming then designing and integrating systems for hospitals, then the 80s managing cattle breeding operations with dBASE) and my father-in-law (PhD mechanical engineer who worked for the German equivalent of ANSI until his retirement in the early 2000s, very comfortable with Windows CMD) to deal with the slick, ever-changing "discoverable" interfaces the kids I babysat for are imposing on us with every app or phone update.


Does your aunt or f-i-l really need to know? I know older nerds who only use a smartphone for texts and voice calls, and who can't be bothered wasting time on social media. So far (anyway) "essential" apps like banking ones and government ones and "remotely check your home security cameras/solar panel output/etc" ones seem to be paralleled on the Web and accessible through a browser.

[deleted by user]

Can we younger people join the fun and learn about retro techniques properly?

(well I'm over 40 but I joined tech for only 5 years so kinda young)


How about people who remember RSTS/E or VM/CMS? (Guess we all switched to POSIX or Windows since those are the only games in town)


VM/CMS still exists in some form in the IBM world, I think, but it would be hard to find a device that still runs RSTS/E.

I haven't used Windows since 2007 and don't miss it.


Yeah, IBM mainframes still use VM and run CMS and other OS inside the VM. IBM was slow to the timesharing party, their plan to make "one OS" for the 360 failed utterly, and some academics got the idea for VM that became the real OS strategy for the 370 and future machines, I saw a Youtube video where people demo VM in 1975

personally I remember using it on an IBM 3090 at the New Hampshire Insurance company in the late 1980s when I was in the computer explorers.

Sometime I think about setting up a PDP-11 emulator and running RSTS/E in it for old times sake.

I also really enjoyed running OS/9 on a TRS-80 color computer, which was a really cheap machine with serious limitations (32 character display) but I had mine (I think a Coco 3 at that point) hooked up to a TRS-80 Model 100 and a DEC printing terminal so I had a Unix-like experience on three consoles, my impression was that OS/9 was a better OS than anything mainstream on IBM PC hardware at the time.