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Lab 1: Computer Setup for CS 320

In CS 320, you'll be writing your code and testing it on Linux -- Linux is a popular free operating system. A big advantage of this is that we auto-grade you on a Linux machine. By using Linux yourself, you'll usually know sooner if test.py is going to fail when we run it. Also, we can give you the exact steps we followed to install various software on our Linux system, so you can do the same.

Of course, you probably already have Mac or Windows on your laptop machine, and we won't ask you to give that in up. Instead, you'll be running Linux on a "virtual machine". You can think of a virtual machine as a "fake" computer that you can install another operating system on, like Windows or Linux. The advantage is that you can have multiple virtual machines on you real computer physical machine. So you could in theory be running Mac, Window, and Linux programs on your computer at the same time if you have the right virtual machines setup!

Knowing how to create virtual machines is an important data-science skill because it makes your analysis more reproducible -- if your code works in your virtual machine, and other people know how to reconstruct a similar virtual machine on their computer (with the same operating system and programs installed), they're more likely to be produce the same results by running your code.

Although you could install virtual machine software on your computer, in this class we'll be renting virtual machines in Google's Cloud Platform (called GCP). One virtual machine costs about $15/month ,depending on the size you select, so this cost is less than textbooks for many courses (all CS 320 reading material is free). We expect most of you are new to GCP, and if so, there's usually $300 of promotional credit upon signup, so hopefully you will end up paying nothing! You'll still need to provide your credit card as part of the verification process, though.

Getting a virtual machine setup in the cloud for the first time can be a hassle, so it's the only purpose of this first lab. But in the long run, this will make it much easier for you to install important software we'll use this semester. As a bonus, many people list experience with major cloud platforms as skills on their resumes.

Step 1: Signing up for GCP

Follow the instructions to create a Google Cloud account. Be sure to activate Google's free credit (if available).

Step 2: Configuring the Firewall

What is a firewall? First, a little background.

Remember from CS 220/301 that a computer (typically) has an IP address (something like 123.234.210.001), and other computers knowing that IP address can communicate with programs running on that computer.

If there are multiple running programs, they are differentiated by port numbers. For example, sending a message to 123.234.210.001:220 sends a message to the program on port 220 running on a computer with address 123.234.210.001 (note the : between the IP address and port number). Sending a message to 123.234.210.001:320 might send a message to a different program on that same machine. Analogy: an IP address is like the address of an apartment building (the computer), and a port number is like the apartment number of a specific unit; programs are the residents living in the units.

A Firewall (among other things) can block access to certain ports for outsiders, to provide security. We will unblock all ports for our virtual machine. This is not the most secure option, but it is convenient, and fine for the purposes of this course.

Follow these instructions to configure the firewall to unblock all ports.

Step 3 [Recommended]: Creating an SSH Key

You already have an idea of what a shell is: you've been either using PowerShell (Windows) or bash (default on Mac) in CS 220/301. ssh stands for "secure shell", and it's a special shell that lets you remotely connect to other computers over the network and run commands there. An ssh key is like a randomly generated password that ssh automatically uses to access other machines (you won't generally type it).

Macs and recent Windows computers (Windows 10 with recent updates) should have a program OpenSSH installed, which will be the most convenient way to access your virtual machine.

Try these directions to create an SSH key and connect it with your cloud account. If it doesn't work (e.g., because you don't have OpenSSH), don't worry too much -- there are workarounds later.

Step 4: Launching your Virtual Machine

Now it's time to actually create your virtual machine! Follow these steps.

Step 5a: Connecting with SSH from your terminal

If you were able to configure the SSH key properly in Step 3, follow these directions.

Step 5b [Alternative]: Connecting without SSH

If you couldn't configure the SSH key, follow these directions instead.

Step 6: Setting up Jupyter

Now lets get Jupyter and some other software installed. Follow these directions.

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