Monthly Archives: June 2016

An Interview with Don Prothero

Ikonokast interviews Don Prothero.

Don Prothero is the author of just over 30 books and a gazillion scientific papers covering a wide range of topics in paleontology and skepticism. Mike Haubrich and I spoke with Don about most of these topics, including the recent history of the skeptics movement, the conflict and potentials between DNA and fossil research, extinctions and impacts, evolution in general, and the interesting projects Don is working on now.

The interview is here. Please click through and give this fascinating conversation a listen!

A New North American Clean Energy Plan

Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau and Enrique Peña Nieto, have made a joint announcement. As reported by NPR:

President Obama and his counterparts from Canada and Mexico are preparing to unveil an ambitious new goal for generating carbon-free power when they meet this week in Ottawa.

The three leaders are expected to set a target for North America to get 50 percent of its electricity from nonpolluting sources by 2025. That’s up from about 37 percent last year.

Aides acknowledge that’s a “stretch goal,” requiring commitments over and above what the three countries agreed to as part of the Paris climate agreement.

The news reports and press information about this event note that the US currently produces about a third of its energy from non fossil fuel sources. Mexico produces less than 20% of its power this way, and Canada is at about 81%. A big part of this shift will involve shutting down coal plants and expanding wind and solar. However, this mix, as well as the proposed 50% of “clean energy,” may include biofuels, which are very limited in their effectiveness in combating climate change, Nuclear, which is diminishing in its importance, and possibly “carbon capture” which is not an energy source and not likely to have much impact because it essentially doesn’t work at any meaningful scale because of physics.

So, we will need to see some clarification in this area.

Brexit, Climate Change, No Drama Obama

Two related, but contrasting, items on Brexit.

The climate change connection to Brexit is unclear and mostly negative. It is simply true that we benefit from international unity when addressing a global problem, and the EU is a powerful forward looking entity that could address climate change more effectively than the collection of individual nations in the EU otherwise might. With the UK out of the EU, AGW may be somewhat harder to address.

Or, maybe not so much. The EU is still only one entity among several dozen, so having this small shift may not be that big of a deal.

But the Brexit-Climate Change link with respect to intergenerational politics is important and interesting. Dana Nuccitelli nails this down writing in The Guardian. See the graph above.

Dana talks about the similarity of difference across generations in attitudes about Brexit as well as climate change, and shows how these patterns, similar in both cases, are tied to the phenomenon of “intergenerational theft.” The ascending generation prefers expansion, ballooning of economic systems, putting off dealing with long and even medium term consequences. The younger generation takes it in the neck.

The problem is of course that younger generations will have to live with the consequences of the decisions we make today for much longer than older generations. Older generations in developed countries prospered as a result of the burning of fossil fuels for seemingly cheap energy.

That’s all true and important.

But I was also interested to hear President “No Drama” Obama’s remarks on Brexit. He sees this a more of the pressing of a pause button on a process that is not going to be stopped, and less of a cataclysm.

Is he right? Or is he just trying to put off panic?

Here are his remarks:

What do you think?

Game Of Thrown Under The Bus By Brexit?

Television and movie producers currently have a good deal in Great Britain, not in small part due to stability in various markets and some funding. For example, Game of Thrones, an HBO production, is filmed in Norther Ireland with funding from the European Regional Development fund.

Both the stability and some of the funding for various productions is now at risk because of the Xenophobic whiny baby Leavers.

This may be on the smaller end of negative effects of the UK leaving the EU, but it is a microcosm of the bigger problem, and likely to get a disproportionate share of attention if The Doctor has to run, or Residue gets tossed in the trash, or other programs lose funding or find themselves operating in an environment of uncertainty.

Energy Irony: Trans Canada Wants 15 Billion From Obama

Governments, and the people, should be filing law suits against the energy industry for causing the imminent collapse of civilization as we know it. But instead, the opposite is happening.

From Reuters:

TransCanada formally seeks NAFTA damages in Keystone XL rejection

TransCanada Corp is formally requesting arbitration over U.S. President Barack Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, seeking $15 billion in damages, the company said in legal papers dated Friday.

The Keystone XL was designed to link existing pipeline networks in Canada and the United States to bring crude from Alberta and North Dakota to refineries in Illinois and, eventually, the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Obama rejected the cross-border crude oil pipeline last November, seven years after it was first proposed, saying it would not make a meaningful long-term contribution to the U.S. economy.

TransCanada is suing the United States in federal court in a separate legal action, seeking to reverse the pipeline’s rejection.

About 750,000 homes could be fitted with some really sweet solar arrays for that money. Let’s do that instead!

Introducing Your New Robot Dog

No, not that one. This one:

SpotMini is a new smaller version of the Spot robot, weighing 55 lbs dripping wet (65 lbs if you include its arm.) SpotMini is all-electric (no hydraulics) and runs for about 90 minutes on a charge, depending on what it is doing. SpotMini is one of the quietest robots we have ever built. It has a variety of sensors, including depth cameras, a solid state gyro (IMU) and proprioception sensors in the limbs. These sensors help with navigation and mobile manipulation. SpotMini performs some tasks autonomously, but often uses a human for high-level guidance. For more information about SpotMini visit our website at www.BostonDynamics.com

Does An Octopus Really Have Three Hearts?

Yes, Finding Dory is right about this.

Having multiple hearts isn’t as odd as it might seem. Although one might be advised to keep one’s brain and one’s heart, as well as one or two other organs, separate when making important decisions, a heart and a brain are metaphorical of each other in this regard. Nervous systems can exist and function without brains, but in many animals clumps of neurons known as ganglia concentrate neural function. The same sort of electric and chemical interactions occurring across a network of neurons can have more complex functions when the neurons are grouped together. A brain is an extreme example of this. Similarly, blood vessels can have muscular tissue that contracts in a way that causes blood flow, as is the case with the arteries in human bodies. A heart is, in a way, a more extreme and complex version of that. So, worms, hagfish, and octopuses have more than one heart doing similar yet different things.

In the octopus, two hearts, called branchial hearts, pump blood through each of the two gills, and the third heard pumps blood through the rest of the body.

Time Lords, such as The Doctor, have two hearts, but the evolutionary background for this is unknown. However, it is likely that Time Lords and Old Ones have something of a history together.

Things To Do After Installing Ubuntu 16.04 LTS

This is one of four related posts:

Should You Install Ubuntu Linux?
Installing Ubuntu 16.04 LTS
How to use Ubuntu Unity
Things To Do After Installing Ubuntu 16.04 LTS

Some Linux/Ubuntu related books:
Ubuntu Unleashed 2016 Edition: Covering 15.10 and 16.04 (11th Edition)
Ubuntu 16.04 LTS Desktop: Applications and Administration
The Linux Command Line: A Complete Introduction

If you have already considered your options for installing Linux, done the installation, and learned your way around the Unity Desktop, then you are ready to tweak your system. This will be easiest if you use the terminal for several of the steps. Just copy and paste the lines I give you here. Note that in Linux, unless you change it, to paste into a terminal you hit shift-control-v, not just control-v.

Most of these commands start with the word “sudo.” This is because these tweaks change the software or the operating system, and Linux needs to know that the person in charge of the computer is doing that. Start a command with “sudo” and after you enter the command, you will be asked for your password. Enter the password, hit Enter, and you are good to go. If the next time you use “sudo” is soon enough, you won’t be asked for your password.

There is one other thing you might want to know so the rest of this makes sense.

Software, applications, apps (three words for the same thing) typically come in “packages.” A package is a bunch of stuff that includes information on what needs to be installed to make a piece of software work, what needs to be done to let the system know it is there, etc.

Packages live in repositories, and they live on the internet. (They can also live on a DVD but that is rarely done for the average user … there were in fact packages on your installation DVD but that’s the last time you’ll probably use DVD or USB stick based packages.)

Your computer, after installation, is set up to know about certain repositories. This is the great advantage of using Ubuntu or many of the other major distributions. You get that distribution’s repository, and the packages stored there are carefully maintained and secured. Installing off a major repository like this means no viruses, malware, “freeware” or other junk will get onto your computer. It also means that when you issue a general update command, your computer visits the repository and updates all of your installed software based on whatever is new or changed in the repository.

During the following process, you will likely add some new repositories to your computer’s database of repositories. Just follow the instructions. But note, in order for an added repository to be known about, you add it, then you update the package system. Again, just follow the instructions.

It is also possible to install software using a downloaded package. In the case of Ubuntu (or any debian based Linux distribution), these are files with the “deb” extention. If you have the right software installed, you should be able to just double click on a deb file and pick an option to install it. I include an example or two of that process in with the tweaks below.

Finally, as you will see, there are several different software interfaces to this installation system. For the most part, you can install anything from the available repositories using the Ubuntu software center. But the Ubuntu software center is one crappy piece of software, in my opinion. It looks slick, but is slow and clunky and frustrating.

There is a system that works better (it is more responsive) but harder to use (because it does not hold your hand much) called synaptic.


Check out:

<li><a href="http://gregladen.com/blog/2017/03/ubuntu-linux-books/">UBUNTU AND LINUX BOOKS</a></li>

<li><a href="http://gregladen.com/blog/2017/03/books-computer-programming-computers/">BOOKS ON COMPUTER PROGRAMMING AND COMPUTERS</a></li>

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But generally, the smoothest, quickest, easiest way to install most software from the repositories that your computer is aware of is with the command line, using the command “sudo apt-get install bla-bla-bla.” As shown below many times.

So, now, on to the tweaking.

1. Make the terminal program handy

First, open a terminal. You may have already placed an icon for the terminal on the Task Panel; if so, click that. If not, hit the “super” key (the Key Formerly Known as the Windows Key) to bring up the Unity dash. Then, type in “terminal” and choose the icon for the terminal program.

Now that the terminal program is running, you’ll see it in the Task Panel. If you’ve not already locked the terminal icon to the Task Panel, right click on that icon, and opt to have the terminal icon always be in “the launcher” even if it is not running.

2. Update the software and operating system you just installed

Even if the system was updating while installing (that was an option you had during the install), there are probably still some things that need updating. If you have not done so yet, type or copy/paste this into the terminal (shift-ctrl-v to paste in a terminal) and hit enter:

sudo apt-get update

You will be asked for your password. Type it in and hit “enter.”

If you are asked a question with a “Y/n” answer, type in “y” and otherwise follow any obvious instructions.

The updated command is a quick and dirty way of making sure that the software you have installed is updated. Chances are that when you do this after install, almost nothing will happen because little or no software will be ready for an upgrade.

When all the gobbledygook is done in the terminal, type in:

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

The dist-upgrade command will, in short, do a more thorough job of updating the things that are installed on your sy stem (it does not upgrade you to a new distribution, it just updates the software with more awareness of what the distribution specifies in terms of packages and interrelations between packages). The details are not too important. What you need to know is that “apt-get update” is quick and useful, and “apt-get dist-upgrade” will take much longer to run, but do a much better job of updating things and cleaning up after itself, and should be done now and then.

If you are asked a question with a “Y/n” answer, type in “y” and otherwise follow any obvious instructions.

These steps can be fast or slow, depending.

3. Make installing software easier

First, enable the Canonical Partners’ Repository. This will allow you easier access to some software. A repository is where software lives, and your installation programs know about only certain repositories, and ignore others.

Open System Settings (on the Task Panel, the gear and wrench icon)
Click on “Software and Updates”
Go to Other Software tab.
Click the check box for “Canonical Partners”
You may be asked for your password.
You will be asked to “reload” the repository info. Do that.

There are a couple of applications for installing and updating software, and you can have fun with them, but two tools that are really helpful that Ubuntu mysteriously does not install by default should be installed now. One is called “synaptic” and it is a menu drive graphical interface to your repositories, the other is gdebi, which allows you to install software that comes to you via download in a “deb” package.

sudo apt install synaptic
sudo apt install gdebi

If asked to choose Y/n at any point, choose Y

4. Install Linux graphics drivers

This may not be important, or it may be, depending on your hardware. So just do it and see what happens!

Unity Dash >>> Software & Updates >>> Additional Drivers

Do whatever it says there to install any graphics drivers that may be available.

5. Allow Workspaces To Work

I have no idea why a Linux distribution would not have work spaces right there in your face by default, but Unity seems not to. Workspaces is one of those desktop things that makes non-Linux users go “wow, that’s cool, now I want Linux!”

A workspace is a desktop, and multiple workspaces are multiple desktops, on which one or more applications are running. Macs have something like this now (stolen from Linux, but implemented poorly). The Linux implementation is better. You smoothly sail between desktops with Ctrl Alt Arrow Keys, and Linux does not randomly make new desktops for you like a Mac does.

System Settings >>> Appearance >>> Behavior

Check the box to enable workspaces, and the box to Add show desktop icon to the launcher.

6. Install Java

Java is required for running many application’s on Linux platform, So should install java using these three commands in sequence (one at a time).

sudo apt-get install default-jre

7. Fix app menu problem

One of the bad things about Unity was to cause application menus to become invisible and to not be on the application. If you want to see the menus where they belong, you can fix that.

System Settings >>> Appearance >>> Behavior tab >> ‘Show the Menus for a Window’

Check ‘In the window’s title bar’
Check ‘Always displayed’

8. Classic Menu

One of the things I miss most from an old fashioned Gnome 2.0 style desktop is a simple menu, with submenus, that includes all the software installed on my system. To me, this is really important.

And, solvable. We can add a Gnome 2.0 style menu thingie to the app panel in Unity.

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install classicmenu-indicator

You will have to log out and back in again for the menu to show up. Use the gear icon in the far upper right of the screen to log out/shut down, etc.

9. Show Your User Name On The Top Menu Bar

It may be useful to show your user name on the Top Menu Bar (the strip along the top of your screen). Here is one way to do that, using the terminal.

gsettings set com.canonical.indicator.session show-real-name-on-panel true

If you want to turn this back off, do this:

gsettings set com.canonical.indicator.session show-real-name-on-panel false

10. What about Adobe Flash? And Therefore, Chrome?

This is complicated. Flash turns out to be something of a nightmare. Perhaps it was a good idea at the time, but increasingly developers and such are avoiding using it. But you probably need Flash now and then, but almost always in a browser window. So, the way to handle this is to use Google Chrome as your browser. Not Chromium.

The Firefox browser is installed by default in most Linux distributions. This is cultural, maybe even political. Firefox as a piece of software, and an organization, has been central to the development of OpenSource software, so it is sort of worshiped. I recommend ignoring it. So, when you get to the part below about installing Chrome, do that.

If you google “how to install Google Chrome on Linux” you get this:

  • Click Download Chrome. Go here to do that.
  • Choose either 32 bit .deb (for 32bit Ubuntu) or 64 bit .deb (for 64bit Ubuntu)
  • Click Accept and Install.
  • Download .deb file to a folder (Downloads is the default folder)
  • Open up your Downloads folder.
  • Double-click the .deb file you just downloaded.
  • This should launch Ubuntu Software Centre.

NOTE: Google often updates its method of installing. I just installed Chrome and it took fewer steps than indicate above. If you’ve already installed gdebi (as suggested above) this will be very quick and automatic.

You will be asked if you want to make Chrome your default browser. I recommend doing this. Then, run Chrome and lock the icon to the Task Panel, because you will probably be using it a lot.

11. Install Dropbox…

… if you use Dropbox.

sudo apt install nautilus-dropbox

Then simply launch Dropbox from Unity Dash and follow the instructions.

An alternative method for installing Dropbox:

wget https://linux.dropbox.com/packages/ubuntu/dropbox_2015.10.28_amd64.deb

This uses the wget command to go on the internet and download a part of a web site, in this case, a file on the web site. This may not work if they changed the name of the file, but this is currently the correct name.

After downloading the package, install it using the previously installed deb package application:

sudo dpkg -i dropbox_2015.10.28_amd64.deb

12. Install VLC

Linux, and in this case, Ubuntu, comes with various multimedia playing software, but generally not with VLC, which is a very good piece of software. If you want, you can install it this way:

sudo apt-get install vlc browser-plugin-vlc

13. Install Gimp Image Editor

GIMP stands for “GNU Image Manipulation Program.” It is an OpenSource pixel-based image manipulation program for photographs, drawings, etc. In the old days, it was included in most Linux distributions but no longer is. If you want to install it:

sudo apt-get install gimp gimp-data gimp-plugin-registry gimp-data-extras

14. Install A Junk Cleaner (Bleachbit):

I’ve not used Bleachbit. But everyone seems to like it, and you might want to try it out. It cleans up internet histories, destroys temporary files, and other junk that tends to accumulate on your system.

Linux is not like Windows (or at least, like Windows was in the days I used it). It does not accumulate a lot of junk to the point where it slows down and stops. But it can accumulate some junk, and apparently, Bleachbit helps take care of this.

I’ve decided to remove the recommendation to install bleachbit. As I already suggested, Linux is designed in such a way that the things a clean-up program like bleachbit does are unnecessary. I suspect bleachbit is a bit like Linux based ant-virus software, something that former Windows users want to see, because such kludges are necessary in Windows.

So skip this step (I deleted the code for installing it anyway).

15. Install Skype…

… if you use it.

sudo apt-get install skype

16. Install the Unity Tweak Tool

You can configure, tweak, and generally mess around with your Unity Desktop using the installed System Settings and various esoteric bits of software, but if you install the Unity Tweak Tool you will probably find most of what you want to do, and more, there.

sudo apt install unity-tweak-tool

In the unlikely event that you end up messing up Unity with all your crazy tweaking….

…you can reset unity like this:

sudo apt-get install dconf-tools
dconf reset -f /org/compiz/
setsid unity
unity --reset-icons

Have Fun

Now, you know how to install software in Ubuntu, and generally, in debian based distributions, and you have some experience with the command line.

What you can do now is explore all the software that was automatically installed on your system, such as Libra Office (which stands in for Word, Excel, Power Point, etc) and all sorts of other cool stuff. If you installed the traditional style menu applet as described above, that is a good way to explore around among the available software offerings.

From now on, every now and then, run

sudo apt-get update

and

sudo apt-get upgrade

Also, on the standard Ubuntu distribution, there is a semi-automatic software updater that will remind you to update software now and then, or that can be set to do it automatically. I don’t like setting it for automatic on a laptop, but maybe on a desktop.