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'Stop piping cats' and 9 less amusing UNIX tips

By Paul McNamara on Fri, 12/15/06 - 3:59pm.

Don't ask me why I read "Learn 10 good UNIX usage habits" by author/consultant Michael Stutz, but I did. And even not knowing the first thing about UNIX command lines, I can tell you that the article nonetheless appears to offer a plethora of useful advice to those who might benefit.

Me, I was simply wading in unfamiliar waters until being struck silly by the title of tip No. 10: "Stop piping cats."

(Update: Author confesses to “piping cats” … and more.)

Writes Stutz: "A basic-but-common grep usage error involves piping the output of cat to grep to search the contents of a single file. This is absolutely unnecessary and a waste of time, because tools such as grep take file names as arguments. You simply do not need to use cat in this situation at all."

Fine, fine, fine, you UNIX guys can discuss among yourselves if necessary, but to me it sounds like something my children would do to ruin the pleasure of a Sunday afternoon football game: "I'm going to send you all outside if you don't stop piping cats."

And questions swirl for even the non-IT pro.

Does one need to stop piping cats cold turkey, or would tapering off make more sense? Can you get something like a nicotine patch to help with the withdrawal pangs?

Seems as though we'll need public service announcements, no? Can't you see the posters, a la Smokey the Bear: "Only YOU can stop piping cats."

Does PETA know? If hunters club baby seals who's to say they aren't piping cats? If so, I'm all for encouraging them to stop.

Or consider the possibility that "piping" isn't a verb here at all:

Piping cats, as in Siamese, only with shorter hair and less personality. Stop piping cats could be the rallying cry of a condo association's species-specific anti-feline alliance.

What else shouldn't be piped? A Google search on "stop piping" brings up:

"Seahawks Asked To Stop Piping Screams Of Terrified Women Into Qwest Field," which I'm happy to report is a story from The Onion.

And this: "Appalachian Kentucky struggles to stop piping of human waste into streams," which I'm duty-bound to report is an honest-to-goodness news story.

If piping cats is verboten, what might we pipe instead? A search on "start piping" pops up this question from a discussion group:

"Did Helio start piping their stuff through Google's WAP formatter?"

Can't say that I know one way or the other, but it sounds nowhere near as interesting as this "Chocolate Amaretto Snowball Cake Tutorial," where we are told to:

"Start piping the bottom row, go completely around and then start on the second row, working your way up to the top.  If you have a decorating turn table or a lazy susan, they can really help you with this step."

It's all so confusing.

And that's without even considering the implications of Stutz's Tip No. 8: "Know when grep should do the counting -- and when it should step aside."