April 13, 2017

More Unknown Linux Commands


unknown Linux commands
Explore the outer limits of Linux with Carla Schroder in this roundup of little-known utilities.

A roundup of the fun and little-known utilities termsaver, pv, and calendar. termsaver is an ASCII screensaver for the console, and pv measures data throughput and simulates typing. Debian's calendar comes with a batch of different calendars, and instructions for making your own.


Linux commands
Figure 1: Star Wars screensaver.

Terminal Screensaver

Why should graphical desktops have all the fun with fancy screensavers? Install termsaver to enjoy fancy ASCII screensavers like matrix, clock, starwars, and a couple of not-safe-for-work screens. More on the NSFW screens in a moment.

termsaver is included in Debian/Ubuntu, and if you're using a boring distro that doesn't package fun things (like CentOS), you can download it from termsaver.brunobraga.net and follow the simple installation instructions.

Run termsaver -h to see a list of screens:

 randtxt        displays word in random places on screen
 starwars       runs the asciimation Star Wars movie
 urlfetcher     displays url contents with typing animation
 quotes4all     displays recent quotes from quotes4all.net
 rssfeed        displays rss feed information
 matrix         displays a matrix movie alike screensaver
 clock          displays a digital clock on screen
 rfc            randomly displays RFC contents
 jokes4all      displays recent jokes from jokes4all.net (NSFW)
 asciiartfarts  displays ascii images from asciiartfarts.com (NSFW)
 programmer     displays source code in typing animation
 sysmon         displays a graphical system monitor

Then run your chosen screen with termsaver [screen name], e.g. termsaver matrix, and stop it with Ctrl+c. Get information on individual screens by running termsaver [screen name] -h. Figure 1 is from the starwars screen, which runs our old favorite Asciimation Wars.

The not-safe-for-work screens pull in online feeds. They're not my cup of tea, but the good news is termsaver is a gaggle of Python scripts, so they're easy to hack to connect to any RSS feed you desire.


The pv command is one of those funny little utilities that lends itself to creative uses. Its intended use is monitoring data copying progress, like when you run rsync or create a tar archive. When you run pv without options the defaults are:

  • -p progress.
  • -t timer, total elapsed time.
  • -e, ETA, time to completion. This is often inaccurate as pv cannot always know the size of the data you are moving.
  • -r, rate counter, or throughput.
  • -b, byte counter.

This is what an rsync transfer looks like:

$ rsync -av /home/carla/ /media/carla/backup/ | pv 
sending incremental file list
103GiB 0:02:48 [ 615MiB/s] [  <=>

Create a tar archive like this example:

$ tar -czf - /file/path| (pv  > backup.tgz)
 885MiB 0:00:30 [28.6MiB/s] [  <=>

pv monitors processes. To see maximum activity monitor a Web browser process. It is amazing how much activity that generates:

$ pv -d  3095                                                                                                             
  58:/home/carla/.pki/nssdb/key4.db:    0 B 0:00:33 
  [   0 B/s] [<=>                                                                           ] 
  78:/home/carla/.config/chromium/Default/Visited Links:  
  256KiB 0:00:33 [   0 B/s] [<=>                                                      ] 
  298 B 0:00:33 [   0 B/s] [<=>                                       ] 

Somewhere on the Internet I stumbled across a most entertaining way to use pv to echo back what I type:

$ echo "typing random stuff to pipe through pv" | pv -qL 8
typing random stuff to pipe through pv

The normal echo command prints the whole line at once. Piping it through pv makes it appear as though it is being re-typed. I have no idea if this has any practical value, but I like it. The -L controls the speed of the playback, in bytes per second.

pv is one of those funny little old commands that has acquired a giant batch of options over the years, including fancy formatting options, multiple output options, and transfer speed modifiers. man pv reveals all.


It's amazing what you can learn by browsing /usr/bin and other commands directories, and reading man pages. /usr/bin/calendar on Debian/Ubuntu is a modification of the BSD calendar, but it omits the moon and sun phases. It retains multiple calendars including calendar.computer, calendar.discordian, calendar.music, and calendar.lotr. On my system the man page lists different calendars than exist in /usr/bin/calendar. This example displays the Lord of the Rings calendar for the next 60 days:

$ calendar -f /usr/share/calendar/calendar.lotr  -A 60
Apr 17  An unexpected party
Apr 23  Crowning of King Ellesar
May 19  Arwen leaves Lorian to wed King Ellesar
Jun 11  Sauron attacks Osgilliath

The calendars are plain text files so you can easily create your own. The easy way is to copy the format of the existing calendar files. man calendar contains detailed instructions for creating your own calendar file.

Once again we come to the end too quickly. Take some time to cruise your own filesystem to dig up interesting commands to play with.

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