MCS-177 Project: Getting Started

Recommended preparation and schedule


The purpose of this project is to familiarize you with our computer facilities and with simple programming in Scheme. You will also learn how to use the web browser Mozilla Firefox (if you don't already know) to access course materials. You do not need to hand anything in and you will not be graded on your work.

In this course we will be using computers running the Linux operating system with a graphical user interface based on X Windows. The project itself consists of a number of tasks which will help familiarize you with the computers.

We assume in the following that you have never logged into this type of computer. Fortunately, our graphical user interface is intuitive. Therefore, rather than explaining how to do each task in gory detail, we will simply give you the tasks together with some optional explanations you can refer to if you find the tasks obscure or otherwise difficult. However, we encourage you to try to figure out how to do the tasks on your own. When that doesn't work, don't be shy: ask!


The classroom/lab we will be using for the lab sessions (Olin 326) consists of Linux workstations which are part of the campus-wide computer network.

There is a printer in the small room adjoining the classroom/lab. Its name is mcslab, so if you need to select a printer to print to, that is the one you should use when in the third-floor Olin computer labs.

Your computer account (username and password) for these computers is the same as for normal campus computers, email, etc. It does not matter which workstation you log into; you will have access to all your files on all computers, since they are stored on a central file server.

In lab

  1. Login to a Linux workstation. Make sure to choose your session as a KDE one.

  2. Launch Mozilla Firefox.

    You'll use Mozilla Firefox to access information such as the web page for this course.

    You will see a bar across the bottom of the screen, which is your toolbar. On the left side there is a button with a red hat on it. (screen image). That is your "Red Hat menu", similar to the "start menu" on Microsoft Windows operating systems. Click on the red hat to bring up a list of sub-menus. At the top of the list you will find an item titled "Firefox Web Browser (Web Browser)". (If this item is not present, click on the "Internet" sub-menu to access Firefox.)  Click on the Firefox icon to start Firefox. You may need to wait for several seconds before the program starts.

  3. Use Mozilla Firefox to access the Gustavus and course homepages.

    Locate the Gustavus Adolphus College homepage by entering in the Location box and pressing Enter. Since you may want Mozilla Firefox to remember this address for next time, select "Bookmark This Page" under the Bookmarks menu. Next time you want to find the Gustavus homepage, select "Gustavus Adolphus College" under the Bookmark menu.

    The course homepage (which you should also bookmark) is located at:

  4. Become familiar with the directory structure.

    The campus computers (including these Linux workstations) share a tree-structured file system. This means that the files on the computers are located in directories (also known as folders), which may themselves include files and subdirectories, which may contain files and other subdirectories, ....

    Following are some tasks which will help you learn how to view and manipulate the directory structure using the windowing system on the Linux computers.

  5. Start up DrScheme and play around.

    Click on Using DrScheme to program in Scheme for some tasks that will help you learn how to run Scheme in the DrScheme programming environment. (DrScheme can be accessed through the APPS submenu that pops up when you click on the "Red Hat" button.) While you are at it, learn the editing keys that will facilitate entering of scheme codes. Here is a list of some useful keys to know and their functions:

  6. When you are finished, quit DrScheme and then logout.

    A panel will pop up asking whether you really want to quit. (If you modified the definition window more recently than you saved it, you'll be asked about it as well.) You can then logout.

    To logout click on the logout icon on the panel at the bottom of the screen. (It can also be accessed through the RedHat menu.) The logout icon looks like this: Logout Image.


The Linux workstations are general purpose computers that have a wide range of applications, including word processors, electronic mail, mathematical applications (Maple), and programming tools, to name just a few. As long as you remain a responsible user, you are welcome to use these applications as you please for other academic purposes. However, if you are working on something other than a math or computer science project, and all the machines fill up, please give your machine up for a student working on math or computer science. That way, with a little common courtesy, we can get the maximum benefit out of these facilities and still respect the fact that they have been funded for use in mathematics and computer science.

One problem you will encounter is how to make yourself aware of all of the applications available to you. This is a rather daunting task, and one which we will not directly address in this course. Instead, we suggest that you make use of the main source of useful computer arcana and trivia we have found, namely your fellow computer users. We are always learning new things from our students. So don't be shy!

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