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

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:



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:


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


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.

How to use Ubuntu Unity

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 installed Ubuntu with the Unity desktop, you’ll learn how to use it mainly by playing around with it. Discoverability of its various functions is more or less built into the design. But there are a few things you will want to know right away in order to get up to speed efficiently.

The first thing you need to know about the Unity desktop is that the words people use for the various parts are all over the map. I’ll try to be consistent in my own use of terms, but if you read about Unity in other places, you may need to know, for example, that the “Task Panel” and the “Launcher” and the “Dock” are the same thing.

Task Panel (Launcher, Dock)

So, let’s start with the Task Panel (aka Launcher, or Doc). This works much like the doc on a Mac, but placed by default on the left side of your screen, which makes sense for wide screens. The Task Panel has a bunch of icons on it by default. You can remove or add icons as you wish. Most or all of these icons represent software you can run but that is not running now. This is your handy dandy way of running your most commonly used software (apps, applications). Just click on it and it will go.

Once an application is running, it will have a little thingie on the icon indicating that this is an active application. More than one instance (window, etc.) of an application running will cause the icon to have a slightly different look, and when you click on it you will see small versions of all the windows that are open, so you can pick the one you want to use.

You can quickly switch between applications by clicking on the icons of running applications.

If you start an application from somewhere other than the Task Panel, an icon for that application will normally be added to the Task Panel. This is your chance, using right clicking, to tell Unity to keep that icon on the Task Panel, for easy access, even after you shut that application down. Obviously, there is only so much room on the task panel for icons, but you can scroll up and down. You can also make the icons smaller, which will allow more to fit. But really, you should only keep the half dozen or so applications you use most of the time on the task bar.

Right clicking on an icon, as noted, gives you the option to lock it to, or unlock it from the Task Panel (but that menu item will call it a “launcher.”) But depending on the application, you may have a number of other choices. For example, clicking on the file manager will give you a list of commonly used (according to Unity’s designers) folders you may want to open.

The Dash

The top icon on the Task Panel opens the Dash. You can also open the Dash by pressing the Super Key (the key formally known as the Windows Key).

The Dash is a big giant square thing that comes flying out of the Dash Icon. there is a space on the top that is clearly for searching for things. A common use of the Dash is to open it, and then you start to type in the name of an application. The Dash will show you an ever-narrowing set of choices which you can pick, or, when you end up with only one choice, you just hit enter and that application runs.

If you have just installed Ubuntu and haven’t done any of the recommended tweaks, try this: Open the dash, and start typing in “terminal”. Once you see the terminal application as your choice, hit enter (or click on it). Now, the Terminal icon is on your Task Panel. Right click on the Terminal icon and lock it to your Task Panel. Once you are set up and using Ubuntu a lot, you may find that you rarely use the terminal, but when you are first installing and tweaking the system, you’ll find it handy to have this icon readily available.

The Dash has many other powers. It can show you recent files, recent downloads, recently used apps, etc. Searching for apps is pretty smart. Terms that are not in the name of the application but that suggest the application might (depending) show you an icon for the application. For example, the search term “Network” will get you several choices including the “System Monitor,” because the System Monitor monitors, among other things, the network.

The Dash has what are called “Lenses.” See the bottom of the Dash to find the “home” lens, the “applications” lens, etc. If you select the “music” lens, you see, and search will search among, the music files in your music directory.


Workspaces are one of those features of early Linux desktops (before Unity) that makes you look at Linux and go “I want that!!!” This idea has been implemented over the ages in Windows and other systems, with varying degrees of success or longevity, but it was originally implemented in Linux in a way that really works. It is now part of the Mac operating system, though that implementation is rather poor, in my opinion. But it was always there in Linux.

See this post on tweaks if your workspaces are not turned on. But if they are, there should be an icon in the Task Panel, near the bottom, which is a workspace switcher.

Here is what a workspace is. Imagine that you open three or four applications and have the windows all visible. That is a workspace. Now, you switch to a different workspace, and those windows are now not visible, because they were on the other workspace. You now have a clean workspace. You can now open other applications (or more instance of the same ones) on this clean workspace. Switching between workspaces allows you to have a handful of applications running and organized on the screen like you want them, but then, you can go to a different workspace and do entirely different work.

For example, I might have a file manager opened to a particular subdirectory, and a text editor or two, for a writing project, on one workspace. On a different workspace, I have an email client, and a web browser with a tab showing Facebook and another tab showing Twitter. I can ignore the email and social networking while I write, but now and then take a break and go over to the other workspace and screw around on social media and check my email.

Workspaces are a great way to pretend you are being very efficient!

When you hit the Workspace Switcher button you get a view of all your workspaces, and can chose among them. You can even drag open applications between workspaces. (And, by the way, you can configure a particular application to always be visible on all workspaces, and otherwise tweak the whole workspace thing quite a bit.)

But, there is a better way to switch between workspaces …

Hotkeys and shortcuts

This is a good point to talk for a moment about hot keys and shortcuts. There is a lot here but I’ll only mention a few features, starting with workspaces.

In Linux, generally (most desktops) including Unity, you usually move between workspaces by holding down the Alt and Control keys and then manipulating the arrow keys. Also, Alt-Tab moves between windows open on a given workspace. Try alt-tab then hold those keys down for a bit longer, and even more magic happens. So, between these two sets of shortcuts, you can move between all your different work thingies really efficiently.

There are a lot of shortcut keys available in Unity. To find a cheat sheet of these keys, press the Super Key and hold it down for a moment. The cheat sheet will appear in the middle of the screen.

All hotkeys and shortcuts can be changed and reconfigured, and you can add shortcuts that don’t exist until you think them up and figure out how to implement them. This is beyond the scope of this post, but you can play around with it later.

Top Menu bar and Application and System Indicators

Unless you’ve been living in a command line cave, you already know about Application and System indicators. In Unity, they are located on the Top Menu Bar. Just play around with them. If you click the time/date, you get a little calendar popout. You can see if you are connected to the internet, and what your volume is turned to. Depending on what software is installed, you may see the temperature at your local weather station, or an indicator telling you that you have new mail.

By default, in Unity, application menus, the menus that go with a specific program, are invisible unless you approach them with the mouse, and then they appear. But they are not located on the application itself, but rather, on the Top Menu Bar. See this post for instructions as to how to move them to the applications and make them not invisible.

Also, at that link, you’ll find instructions for installing a very cool applet to the Top Menu Bar which will give you an old fashioned menu showing, organized hierarchically, all the software that you have installed on your computer. This is how I usually run software that is not on the Task Panel.

Now, play

That’s all the important stuff you need to know right away. There’s more, but you’ll discover it over time. You can go to system settings, and to the various system setting tools suggested here to do things like moving the Task Panel to the bottom of the screen, changing your wallpaper (the image on the desktop) and choosing whether to show icons for hard drives or plugged in devices, the trash can, etc.

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

Linux isn’t for everyone, so I’m not going to try to talk you into using this superior operating system if you have some reason to not do so. But if you have a computer that runs Windows, it isn’t that hard to install Ubuntu. The main advantages of doing so are 1) You get to have a Linux computer and b) you get to not have a Windows computer.

Here, I have some advice on installing Ubuntu (this is general advice and applies across many versions).

How to install Ubuntu

If you are going to try Linux, I recommend installing Ubuntu’s latest version, which is Ubuntu 16.04 LTS Xenial Xerus.

A Linux distro (the specific version of Linux you install) includes a specific “desktop,” which is your user interface and a bunch of tools and stuff. The default Ubuntu desktop is called Unity. If you’ve never used Linux before, you’ll find the Unity desktop to be very good, especially if you tweak it a bit. If you have used Linux before, you may prefer a different style desktop. For me, I preferred the older style “Gnome 2.0” style desktop. The differences are cosmetic, but I happen to like the cosmeticology of the Gnome style better.

Check out:

<li><a href="">UBUNTU AND LINUX BOOKS</a></li>



What I liked most about the older style desktop is the presence of a menu that had submenus that organized all the applications (software, apps) installed on the system. I also prefer the synaptic system for installing new software over the Ubuntu “Software Center.” But, there is a menu that can be installed in Unity that serves this purpose, and it is easy to install synaptic installation software as well. So, even as an old time Gnome 2.0 guy, I have decided to go with Unity.

There are many forms of Linux out there, and one of the best maintained and well done versions is called debian. Ubuntu bases its distribution on debian, but modifies it in ways that are good. The most current version of Ubuntu is therefore the version of Linux that is most up to date but at the same time stable, and the best supported. This situation has developed to the extent that people are now often using, incorrectly but harmlessly, the term “Ubuntu” to mean “Linux” with the assumption that the Unity desktop is the primary desktop for Linux.

So, how do you install Linux, in the form of Ubuntu, on your computer?

Should you install Linux along side Windows (dual boot)?

If you just want to install Linux on a computer, where Linux will be the only operating system, skip this section.

The first thing you need to decide if if you want a dual boot system or not. Say you have Windows installed on your computer. If you make this a dual boot computer, you install Linux along side Windows. Then, when you fire up your computer you chose which operating system you want to use.

This may sound like a good idea, but I strongly recommend against it. It adds a significant layer of complexity to the process of installing the system. Also, things can go wrong. A normal single-boot installation of Linux will usually give you no problems, and it will be more stable as an operating system than any other operating system out there. But things can go wrong with dual booting which could drive you crazy and, depending on your hardware and a few other things, may cause you to unexpectedly lose the ability to use your computer.

Dual booting and partitioning are related operations, because in order to dual boot you will have to mess around with partitioning. How you do this will depend on whether or not Windows is already installed on your computer.

There are people who will tell you differently, that dual booting is harmless and fun and good. Those individuals are unique, special individuals with the ability to solve complex problems on their computers. They may have good reasons to have dual boot systems. In fact, many of them may have several different operating systems installed on one computer. This is because, as a hobby or for professional reasons, they need to have a lot of different operating systems. Good for them.

I recommend that if you are not sure if you want to use Linux, don’t install it along side Windows, but rather, find an extra computer (or buy a cheap used one somewhere), install Linux on it, and if you find yourself liking Linux more than you like Windows, go ahead and install Linux on your main, higher-end computer and be done with it.

Using two partitions is a good idea for some

As with dual booting, I recommend that the first time Linux user skip this idea entirely, but here are some thoughts on it in case you are interested.

One of the great things about Linux is that it uses the concept of a home directory. The home directory is a directory associated with a particular user, one for each user of the system. In most cases, a desktop or laptop computer has just one user, you. But you still get the home directory. (Apple’s OSX uses this system as well.)

This means that your data, configuration files for software, and all that stuff, ends up in one single directory. So, in theory, if you decide to install a whole new version of Linux, all you have to do is copy all of the contents of your home directory somewhere, install an entirely new system, then copy all that stuff into the new home directory and it is like you never left.

This also means that you only have to back up your home directory. Installing software on Linux is so easy that you really don’t have to back any of that up. By backing up your home directory, you are also backing up your settings and preferences for most of that software, so if you reinstall it, the software will figure out how to behave properly.

One method people use is to make a partition for their home directory and a separate partition for the system. You can think of a partition as roughly equivalent to a hard drive. On a simple system, the hard drive has one petition (that you need to know about … there are other specialized partitions that you don’t interact with). But you can divide (partition) the hard drive into multiple parts, put your operating system on one, and your data (home) on the other. The operating system, if you are running Linux, can be fairly small, while your data directory, in order to hold all those videos you take with your smart phone and your collection of cat picture, needs to be larger.

There is also a third partition you can make, called the swap partition. This is a separate dedicated part of your hard drive that the operating system uses to put stuff that won’t fit in RAM (memory). If you don’t have a dedicated swap partition, Linux will use another parittion for this purpose. It is probably slightly more efficient to have a dedicated swap partition, but with a reasonably fast computer with a good amount of ram, you probably won’t know the difference.

You can totally skip the separate partition thing and have Ubuntu put everything on one partition. The advantage of separate partitions are not worth the effort if you are not comfortable playing around with partitions. But, if you do, 10 gigabytes will comfortably hold the operating system, and the swap partition should be something like 5 or 6 gigabytes. The rest should be your home directory.

Simply installing Ubuntu on a computer.

There are two major divisions of operating systems for regular computers: 32 bit and 64 bit. If your computer can run a 64 bit operating system, and most made any time recently can, then you should install the 64 bit version of Ubuntu. You need to know that 32 bit operating systems are becoming a thing of the past, so, in fact, some software is no longer developed to run on such systems.

Due to an historical quirk, the 32 bit version of Linux is often has the word “Intel” in it, while the 64 bit version of Linux generally has the word “AMD” (a competitor of Intel) in it. This does not mean that you have to have an AMD processor in your computer to run the 64 bit system.

There are other forms of Linux that run on other processors. I’m assuming you have a typical run of the mill desktop that normally would run Windows, so it is probably an Intel or AMD 64 bit machine.

You should have three things handy in order to install Unbutu on a computer where it will be the only operating system.

1) The computer

2) Installation media that will fit in your computer, such as a CD, DVD, or a thumb drive

3) An internet connection that works

You can get the installation media by going to the Ubuntu site and downloading a file from Ubuntu and putting it on a medium of some sort.

When you are looking for the file, look for “Ubuntu Desktop.” There are other versions of Ubuntu, don’t use those. The current version is Ubuntu 16.04 LTS.

This page has the download materials and provides good guidance.

To do a clean install with a DVD, download the operating system from that link. The file will be called something like “ubuntu-16.04-desktop-amd64.iso”. The “iso” part means that it is a disk image that you will want to burn onto a DVD using a working computer.

This download took be about five minutes on a medium-fast Internet connection.

You then burn the iso image onto a DVD or USB stick.

Using a DVD

In Windows, you right click on the iso file and pick “burn disk image” and follow the instructions.

On a Mac, use “Disk Utility.” Insert the blank DVD and drag/drop the .iso file onto the left pane of the Disk Utility. Select it, and click the “Burn” button. Follow the instructions.

In Linux, insert the DVD or CD into your computer and if you are lucky a window will pop up asking if you want to burn the disk. Otherwise, run Brasero and follow the instructions to put the iso image on the disk.

Now, here comes the slightly tricky part. You want your computer to boot off of the DVD/CD drive. (Which, by the way, can be an external USB device if that is what you have.)

So, first, put the CD or DVD into the computer, turn the computer off properly, then turn it on. It might just boot off that disk and you are good to go.

But, just in case, watch your computer screen as the computer is booting up. Note any message that gives the name of a function key and tells you what it does. It may say something like “F2 = boot order” or “F9 = configure bla bla bla” or words to that effect.

If the computer did not actually boot off of the disk you inserted, turn it off again, and start it again, but as it is booting up press the function key that should get you to either boot sequence or configuration.

Using the arrow keys (the screen will give you info on what keys to use) find the part that shows the boot order. If your computer ignored the boot disk you inserted, you probably have “Internal Hard Drive” as the first place to boot from. But you should see other options down below. Using the arrow keys and other keys as suggested by the instruction on the screen to move the DVD drive, or whatever device you want to boot from, to the top of the list. Then save the configuration (i.e., with F10, or some other method … it will tell you on the screen) and exit out of the configuration thingie.

You may then have to restart one more time, but your computer will boot from the DVD and will actually start to run a mini version of Linux set up to help you install the operating system on this computer.

Using a USB

You can also boot from a USB thumb drive. You may have to make your computer boot first from the USB drive instead of an internal hard drive (see above) and, of course, you will have to make a bootable USB stick.

You need a USB stick with at least 2 gigs of space and that doesn’t hold anything important.

Then, if you are using Windows, install the Rufus USB installer. Run that program and follow the instructions to make a bootable USB drive. You’ll be using the same iso image you previously downloaded.

If you are using a Mac, install the UNetbootin utility and use that to make the bootable USB stick.

Insert the USB drive before you run UNetbootin, or UNertbootin may not recognize the USB you insert later.

Since this will be “unconfirmed software” open it by finding it in the finder (the actual finder, not a finder replacement or any other method), control-click on the icon for the software, and select “open.” You will then be asked to confirm that you want to open it. Say yes. You will likely be asked for your password. Enter it.

Also, no matter what system you are using, make sure to “eject” the USB stick properly.

The installation process.

Note: It is possible that your computer will give you some sort of text-based menu when you boot off the USB or DVD drive. Just go with the default, and let the process continue until you get what looks like a normal graphical user interface that is, actually, a temporary Linux operating system running on your computer.

Also note, that during the install process, if you need to enter any numbers, there is a good chance the “numlock” button is turned off. You can, of course, turn it on.

If, as recommended, you are going to make your computer a Linux computer and not bother with a separate petition for home, swap, etc., then the rest is simple. I assume you have no data on this computer that needs to be backed up or saved. Indeed, you may have installed a new clean hard drive which is empty anyway.

You have inserted the boot medium, you taught your computer to boot off of it, you’ve restarted your computer, and now you are looking at a welcome screen that gives you two options: Try Ubuntu and Install Ubuntu.

If you pick “Try” then you now have a Linux operating system temporarily running on your computer and you can play with it. I’m not sure why you would bother with this.

If you pick “Install Ubuntu” then you have a series of easy tasks to perform, mostly picking the defaults.

Make sure to pick “Download updates while installing” and “Install third-party software for graphics and Wi-Fi hardware, etc. etc.”

If your computer is not currently logged into a network, you will have the option of doing so. Do so. You want to be hooked up to the network in order to download updates and stuff during installation.

Logging into the network may not be obvious. It isn’t an option on the install screen, but rather on the desktop that is currently running on your computer. Click on the blank triangular thingie on the top menu bar — this is the network applet. Pick your network, enter your password, etc.

Then you get to allocate drive space. For the simple, recommended, install, pick “Erase disk and install Ubuntu.” Pick “encrypt the new Ubuntu install” if you like. If you don’t know what LVM is, don’t bother with it.

Or, pick “something else” if you want to define different partitions for home directory, dual boot, swap files, etc. Then, good luck with that. For your first Linux install on a fresh machine, you don’t need to go down that rabbit hole. While such endeavors are not that difficult to do, you should probably make that the project for your next Linux install.

How to set up separate Root, Home and Swap paritions

Skip this part if you are doing the recommended default install. This will destroy everything on your hard drive. If it does not go well, you can always do a new fresh install and pick the default.

At this point you have booted off the DVD or USB and you have clicked the icon to “install Ubuntu.” You are now looking at several options, including “something else.”

Select “something else”

Accept (hit Continue) with the scary message “You have selected an entire device to partition. If you proceed with creating a new partition table on the device, then all current partitions will be removed…”

(But do note that you are about to blotto your computer, so there better not be anything you want to keep on it!)

Make the first partition for the Ubuntu install as a primary partition.

Put it at the beginning of this space

Use EXT4journalingfilesystem (unless you have some reason to use some other file system) … this will be the default already chosen.

Set the “mount point” as /

This is the partition in which your operating system will be placed, and is known as the root partition.

How big should it be? Ubuntu needs a minimum of 20 gb. I would make it larger. I used 50 gigs when I did this.

Hit OK

Make a swap partition

This is the partition your computer will use as “extra memory.”

Now select “free space” and set up a “logical” petition (at the beginning of this space) that is twice the size of your installed RAM.

If you don’t know how much RAM your computer has, open a terminal right there on the computer you are working with (The upper left button with the Ubuntu symbol on it, type in “terminal” and hit enter). In the terminal, type in

free -h

That will give you a total number (and other numbers) Round up to the nearest gigabyte and multiply by two.

Enter that number into “size” (if you want 16 gigs, it will be 16000 mb).

Select from the dropdown list “swap” to make this a swap file. Hit OK

Install the home directory (where all your stuff goes)

Select the free space again.

Just take for size whatever is left on your computer (hopefully a lot). Pick logical, beginning of this space, and EXT4journalingfilesystem again.

For mount point, enter


This will be your home directory. Hit OK

Now, you’ll see a nice table with a graphic bar on the top showing you what you’ve set up. If it all looks OK to you, a small but not too small root directory, a smaller swap file (probably), and the rest a huge home file, hit “Install Now”

You’ll get another warning, but we don’t care about not stinking warnings.

Later, if you need to change any of these size requirements, run a live USB/DVD (like you did to make this install) and run “gparted” to change the partition sizes. (You can’t change the partition sizes from within an operating system. That would be like changing the fundemental fabric of the universe while you are actually in the universe. Not even The Doctor can do that)

And now, go back to the normal install.

Continuing with the default normal install…

If you have Windows installed, you may then get the option to Install Linux along side Windows. Pick that if you want, and chose how much hard drive space to allocate to each system.

After that are a few screens that are simple and self explanatory. Give the installation system a location, choose the kind of keyboard you want to use.

Then you get to chose your login and password details. Here you have to decide how simple vs. secure you want your system to be. You should make sure you never forget your user name and password or you will be locked out of your system.

So, enter your name, then pick a name for this computer for identification on networks, etc, then enter your user name which will contain no spaces or strange symbols, and be all lower case.

Then enter your password twice. The system will complain if your password is lower security, feel free to ignore this if you don’t care, pay attention to it if you want a more secure system. You are going to be using this password a lot. Just sayin’.

Check “require my password to log in” for most installations. You can also chose at this point to encrypt your home folder to limit access to your data if someone gets physical access to your computer.

Then, the system will install while you get to see some info about Ubuntu.

Then you are “done” in that you have a Linux computer. You may or may not have been prompted to remove the DVD or USB. If you restart the computer and fail to do so, you’ll be back in the installation system. Just remove the DVD/USB and restart the computer.

Once the computer is restarted, you’ll have to re-establish your network connection one more time. (This is your new system, it doesn’t know about your networks or network password yet.)

At this point, go right to this post and start tweaking your computer. If you don’t do that now, at least do the things noted below.

But there is something else you should do right away. Open a terminal (hit the super key, aka windows key, and start typing “terminal” and the terminal option will come up. Click it).

Then, type in:

sudo apt-get updates

You will be asked for your password, which hopefully you will remember. The computer will then go on the internet and find updates for stuff that was installed during the installation. Even though you told it to do something like this during installation, it probably didn’t do it for all the software that is now on your computer.

Following all this, you do now have a Linux computer. There are several things you can do after installing Ubuntu 16.04. First, go to this post to find out how to navigate around on your new Unity desktop, and then, see this post for how to tweak and refine your Linux installation in useful and important ways.

Have a good time using your Linux computer!

Should you install Ubuntu Linux?

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

Why you should install Linux

Linux is an operating system, as are Windows and Apple’s OSX. It is the operating system that is used on the majority of computing devices. Linux is the basis for the Android operating system, so if you have a smart phone that is not an iPhone, then you are probably already using Linux. The majority of servers, such as computers that run cloud services and internet nodes, etc. run on Linux. Your wireless router probably runs on Linux. Many devices in the “internet of things” use Linux. Supercomputers often run on Linux.

There are a few reasons you might want your desktop (or laptop) to run on Linux. Perhaps you are annoyed with your current operating system. If, for example, you find yourself frequently having to reinstall Windows, you might want to switch to Linux, because reinstalling is almost never a solution to something being broken on a Linux machine. Perhaps you have an older computer and the newer version of Windows runs really slowly for you. Linux runs better on older hardware.

For the most part, for most things most people do, it really doesn’t matter much which operating system you chose among the main players (Windows, Linux, and Apple’s OSX). What matters most is what software you use (applications, apps). If a particular application that you need to use runs only on one operating system, pick that operating system. But first, check to see if you are right about what software runs on what systems.

Indeed, most of the commonly used applications have a version or equivilant that runs on each of the three main operating systems, or at least two of them. Microsoft Office runs on Windows and, somewhat less smoothly, on a Mac. You can also run MS Office software on Linux, but I don’t recommend it for the non-expert user. But all of the applications that make up Office have equivalent software that is designed just for the Mac (and won’t run on anything else) as well as equivalent (and some would say superior) software that is not only designed to run on Linux, but that will run on any computer.

Indeed, from a user’s point of view, getting used to some software on a particular operating system and then being forced by circumstances to switch to another operating system is hardest for Mac users (if you are using, say, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote … you are stuck with the Mac), less hard for Windows users (as noted, Office runs on a Mac but not really on Linux) and trivially easy for a Linux user, since the Libra Office suit, with a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, drawing software, etc. runs the same on Linux, Windows, or a Mac.

In the old days it was said that you needed to use Microsoft Office on Windows or you would not be compatible with other people. That was never actually true. The compatibility issue was much more complex. There were instances where two people using Windows, and running Office, could not reliably exchange documents because they were using different versions of Office that did not play well with each other, but one of those individuals could easily exchange documents with someone using Open Office Writer (a word processor) on Linux.

But now, that falsehood is even less true than it ever was, and document formats are much more sensible and interchangeable today than they ever were in the past. So the compatibility issue is largely gone, even if it ever was semi-true but mostly misunderstood.

There are pieces of software that people love that require a particular operating system. The big fancy expensive Adobe products don’t run on Linux. Scrivener, a great writing application, is mainly Mac but will run on Windows and not really (but sort of) on Linux.

But it is also true that most software that most people use has an equivalent version on each of the other operating system. So, it really depends on what you want and need to do with your computer, and how much money you want to spend on hardware and software.

If you have an “extra” computer in your possession, and would like to have it usable for basic functions, such as using Google Chrome or Chromium to access the internet, basic text editing, advanced word processing, advanced spreadsheet and presentation work, etc. then installing Linux on that computer is a really good idea. It is probably an older computer, and as such will run much better with Linux than any other operating system, because Linux is so much more efficient. It will be free to do so. It will be relatively easy. Then, you’ll have a Linux computer that you will use now and then, and over time, you may decide that you like the operating system itself so much that you’ll totally switch to it. Or not. There is no problem with having more than one OS in your life.

Linux History and Background

This section is not really necessary if you are trying to decide whether to try out Linux, and you can skip it, though the background and history of Linux are interesting and may help you understand Linux a bit better. Also, this is a very brief version and there is much left out. Readers are welcome to identify important parts I’ve ignored and put them in the comments! In any event, be warned: I oversimplify here.

Many years ago, an operating system known as “Unix” was developed to address certain growing needs, especially the requirement that many users could hook into one machine and treat that machine as their own, keeping their stuff separate from that of all the other users.

Unix was also designed to run on several different machines. Previously, most operating systems were designed for a specific piece of hardware.

In 1983, Richard Stallman of MIT began a project called “GNU.” GNU stands for “GNU is Not Unix.” GNU was in fact not Unix, but it was meant to work just like UNIX.

At the same time, Stallman and his associates created a licensing system for software called the GNU General Public License, or GPL. This license was designed to guarantee that work carried out on the GNU project would be available for anyone else to use, as long as they followed the rules of the license, which essentially required that any new work based on GPL licensed work also had the GPL license attached to it.

This was the origin of the Open Source movement. The idea of this movement is simple. Instead of creating and selling proprietary operating systems and software, sold for a profit and protected by a user agreement, people would create software that users could obtain and use for free (free as in FREE beer) and this software would be free to modify and apply by anyone anywhere (free as in FREEdom).

The GPL project involved developing a large number of tools that could be used while operating a computer. For example, when using a computer with a command prompt (there were very few computers that used graphical user interfaces at the time) one might enter a command to list the files in the current directory, create a file, create a directory, move a file, search through a file for certain contents, etc. The GNU collection of tools eventually grew to include a large percentage of similar tools ever developed for proprietary computers, and much more, but under the GPL license. There were tools created back in the 80s and developed through the 90s that are still at the heart of many computer operations today.

In 1991, the Finnish computer science graduate student Linus Torvalds started to develop a “kernel” that would interface between certain hardware and the larger operating system. The details are a bit complex, but eventually, Torvald’s kernel and Stallman’s GNU tools were combined into a single operating system that would be called “GNU Linux.” Today we often say just “Linux” but the longer name better reflects what the operating system contains and how it came to be.

All of that history is interesting, but probably more relevant to you, is how Linux is maintained and deployed today.

Linux is maintained and developed by a community of thousands of programmers and other experts, globally. Each part of the project is maintained by a “maintainer” and different programmers send their work to that maintainer for approval. Most of these developers work for a company that is involved in computing somehow, committing part of their time to Linux development. All the work is done in the open and subject to comment and critique by everyone else.

This project makes sense, and is valuable to companies involved in computing, because the operating system itself is free for them (and everyone) to use, and direct involvement (by the larger community) means that the functions the operating system serves, and how this is done, is determined by a large scale very open conversation, rather than the more limited ideas of a smaller group of designers within a corporate and proprietary system.

Even more important is the simple fact that for most of the uses required by these companies, Linux is a superior operating system.

Also, and I’ll expand on this a bit below, the process does not involve marketing. Nobody is directing the work on the basis of perceived value on the market, or in relation to any profit motive. It is all about getting computers to do things effectively and efficiently, with security and usability firmly in mind.

When the first version of this operating system was released in 1991, it included 10,000 lines of computer code. Linux currently has just under 20,000,000 lines of code.

But, here is the important part. The developers of Linux are focused on certain principles. I can characterize those principles from my own observation, but much has been written and spoken about this, and you should seek more expert sources if you want the richest and most detailed story. The operating system needs to be small and efficient, and every aspect of it has to work as flawlessly as possible. The kernel, the deep inside part of the operating system, needs to be very stable and to only contain what is necessary for the kernel to run. There is a great deal of discussion as to what functions should be moved into the kernel vs. left out and treated more as a tool that may or may not be included in a particular installation. This is why the Linux Kernel can sit comfortably inside your cell phone and be amazing, and at the same time, manage a complex super computer with hundreds of processors.

One of the outcomes of this sort of careful curation of Linux is that sometimes changes made in the guts of the operating system require that related changes be propagated outward into other software. Since changes at this level can affect a lot of other things, they are carefully considered and avoided until necessary. But, once they occur, maintainers of the various parts of the operating system, as well as some of the software that runs on it, have to make the appropriate changes. The result is a bit more work than other methods might produce, but continuation of efficiency and stability of the operating system and its parts.

There was a lot of competition and bad feelings between the dominant desktop operating system’s developer, Microsoft, and Linux, several years ago. In my view, Linux has long been a superior operating system, measured in terms of how well it works, how adaptable it is, how quickly development responds to security threats, new application requirements, and so on. Also, by and large, Linux has run on a larger range of hardware. Most importantly, perhaps, as Microsoft’s Windows developed over time, it required more and more advanced hardware to operate. So, keeping your computer updated required not only adopting the newer versions of the operating system (and often paying for that) but also replacing old hardware with newer hardware now and then. Linux, by contrast, runs on most (nearly all) of the older computers.

Eventually the competition and fighting between the Windows and Linux camps died down, and now Microsoft not only uses Linux in many settings, but has become one of the top contributors of code to the Linux project, and supports OpenSource in many ways. For its part, Apple adopted an operating system very similar to Linux as the basis of OSX.

I suspect that eventually Microsoft will also adopt a Linux like underpinning for its own operating system.

The most important differences between Windows and Linux

There are a lot of differences between these operating systems that are internal and often esoteric. As implied above, Windows tends to be bloated (lots of code) and relatively inefficient, requiring fancier and more powerful hardware to run, while Linux is leaner and will run on nearly anything. This also means that installing Linux is usually easier and faster. Linux takes up less space on your hard drive, as do most of the different software applications that run on Linux.

The Windows operating system appears to the average user as a single entity, a whole thing, that runs your computer and peripherals and at the same time interfaces with the user using a fancy and occasionally redesigned graphical user interface. Everybody gets the same user interface.

Linux is distinctly different from Windows in that it can be thought of as having two parts (from the average desktop user’s perspective). The basic system, that runs everything, is the Linux kernel and the GNU tools and a few other things, down under the hood. If just this stuff is installed on your computer, you interface with it using a command line. Computers that are used as web servers or to do certain other work operate this way, since the computer’s work is being done without much direct human involvement except by experts who are comfortable using the command line. This saves resources and makes the computer run very efficiently. Indeed, many of these computers are “headless,” meaning they don’t even have a monitor. Since only the command line is being used, an expert can sign into the computer over a network and mess around with it easily in a terminal program that gives them access to the command line. Such computers, most of the time, run themselves and nobody has to look at what they are doing.

The second part of a desktop Linux system, one that you as a regular person would use, is called the “Desktop.” The word “desktop” is confusing and messy in the computer world. Here, we mean the set of tools and stuff that give you a graphical user interface for the entire system, and that runs your software in windows, like Microsoft Windows and Apple’s operating systems do.

Unlike Microsoft Windows or Apple’s OSX, there are many different desktops that function on Linux. Any individual or group of experts can design a new desktop and make it available for Linux users to use. When you sign on to a Linux computer, there is a moment when you have a choice to pick among the various desktops that are installed on that computer (if there is more than one). Most people have a preferred desktop and use that as the default. Some people like to collect and play around with different desktops.

Then, there is the concept of the “Distribution.” When you “get” Linux, you are actually getting a particular distribution (aka “distro”). The structure, history, and dynamics of distributions is actually very complex, but you don’t need to know any of it . All you really need to know is a simple definition of what a distribution is most of the time, and which distribution you should chose to install.

A distribution is the package of stuff that is needed for Linux to run on your computer. You can think of it simply as a system, like Microsoft gives you Windows, Apple gives you OSX, Linux gives you a particular distribution and that is the thing you install.

A typical Linux distribution of the kind you might install is in some ways similar and in some, very important ways, different from a products from Microsoft or Apple.

Like the other systems, a Linux Distro (short for distribution) includes the installer. So you get a CD, DVD, or thumb drive, boot from it, and the installer takes over, asks you some questions, and installs the Linux operating system on your computer.

A Linux distro has a single desktop that is automatically installed. To the user, this is the most important difference between distros. You pick a distro in part on the basis of what desktop you like. You can install other desktops later, of course. But most likely, you will simply pick a distro with a certain desktop and that will be your desktop.

A Linux distro includes a whole pile of other software and installs that at the same time that it installs your operating system. Typically, you get a web browser; an email program; an office suit with a word processor, spread sheet, presentation software, etc.; a text editor; calculator; music player; some graphics software; etc. This sounds like it might be annoying because it would take forever to install all that software, but software that runs on Linux is very efficient and takes up less space than for, say, Windows, so it does not really take all that long.

A Linux distro has a particular way to install, update, and maintain software. If you use a Mac, you are familiar with the paradigm, because Apple copied the Linux method. There will be one or more user interfaces that you can use to search for, pick out, and install software. Every now and then you can issue an update command and all of the installed software will be inspected and updated. Typically, your distro will install and set up at installation time, a program that initiates this automatically and gives you a message saying that you should update your software. You can opt to have this done in the background automatically, or you can do it yourself. Any of this can be done from the command line if you like.

A modern Mac does this as well. That is because down deep a Mac is running a Linux like operating system. Traditionally, Windows did not do this, though maybe Microsoft has learned to follow the Linux pattern of updating software. I’ve not had to update a Windows computer in a while.

Here’s a key point that distinguishes Linux from both Apple OSX and Windows. The Linux operating system itself is updated a little bit pretty much every week. And, it is updated more or less flawlessly. Your distro will probably be conservative. The basic Linux OS is updated, and that update is tested out and incorporated into a distro. That distro may have two versions, a bleeding edge version and a more stable version. So the change goes into the bleeding edge version then later into the stable version. Chances are your distro will actually be based on one of those distros, and there is yet another level of checking out the changes. Then it comes to your desktop.

When Microsoft updates its system, it test the update internally (maybe using beta testers). When Linux updates the system, it is tested by all those thousands of Linux experts who are involved in the project. This means that Microsoft has to do its updates differently, because an update is a major and costly project, just to test. So a typical Microsoft update (and Apple is similar) has more changes, more fixes, more tweaking, and this is why the first version of those updates is almost always at least a little broken or problematic for a good number of users.

Since Linux updates in smaller increments, and the increments are very widely tested, there is virtually never a problem with such an update. They just happen, everything works, and nothing goes wrong. And, it is lighting fast. The update is just several seconds to a few minutes long.

So, you want to install Linux?

The best way for a noob (a first timer) to try out Linux is to get a hold of that extra computer, make sure there is nothing on the hard drive that you need to save, and do a fresh install of the Ubuntu operating system on that hard drive. Ubuntu is one of many different distros, but it is the most user friendly and the best supported. There are actually several versions of Ubuntu, but you will want to install the standard mainstream version, which uses the “Unity Desktop.”

Click through to THIS POST to see an overview of how you might do this,

Can an extract from hops flowers reduce breast cancer risk?

Some sort of Hops Flowers Substance is a common dietary supplement used by post-menopausal women. A recent study looks at one molecule extracted from hops to see if it could help reduce the chance of getting breast cancer.

The paper is in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology, and is called Hop (Humulus lupulus L.) Extract and 6-Prenylnaringenin Induce P450 1A1 Catalyzed Estrogen 2-Hydroxylation, by Shuai Wang, Tareisha L. Dunlap, Caitlin E. Howell, Obinna C. Mbachu, Emily A. Rue, Rasika Phansalkar, Shao-Nong Chen, Guido F. Pauli, Birgit M. Dietz, and Judy L. Bolton.

One factor that increases the risk of breast cancer is exposure to estrogen, which may be the result of hormone treatment in post-menopausal women (hormone replacement therapy, or HRT). The “natural supplement” made from hops is supposed to supply plant-originated hormones that, perhaps, are believed by some to be less likely to have bad side effects. I’m pretty sure there is no reason to think that. It might be, however, that a molecule found in hops extract, taken to supply phyotestrogen (as a “natural” alternative to industrially produced estrogen) could independently reduce breast cancer risk. This research is still in early stages.

From the press release that goes along with the paper:

Preliminary lab studies have suggested that certain active compounds from hops could have protective properties. Building on this lead, Judy L. Bolton and colleagues used an enriched hop extract to test its effects on estrogen metabolism, one of the processes in the development of breast cancer.

The researchers applied the extract to two different breast cell lines to see how they would affect estrogen metabolism. One particular hops compound called 6-prenylnaringenin, or 6-PN, boosted the cells’ detoxification pathway that studies have associated with a lower risk for breast cancer. Thus the results suggest that 6-PN could have anti-cancer effects, although more studies would be needed to further investigate this possibility, the researchers say.

I asked Dr. Bolton the obvious question, which I know people will want to know the answer to. “If a woman drinks a LOT of beer, is that going to help avoid breast cancer? And, if so, how much beer?”

Dr. Bolton only had bad news in this regard. She and her team used a byproduct of beer making that concentrated the hops extract, and further concentrated this. (I simplify a bit.) She guesses that the amount of 6-PN in actual beer would be very very low. So, no.

But putting that aside, this research does look promising. An anti-breast cancer dietary supplement that is easy to produce and inexpensive, and that has few or no side effects (other research has failed to show any serious side effects of this stuff) would be a very good thing.

16 common grammatical mistakes or problems

Certain things that come across one’s desktop, on the internet, are hard to turn away from. Train wrecks, for example. For me, this list includes commentary about grammatical errors and proper language use.

I find this sort of discussion interesting because I’m an anthropologist, and probably also because I’ve spend a lot of time 100% immersed in a language or two other than my native English. This training and this experience each make me think about how we make meaning linguistically. Also, as a parent, I have observed how a child goes through the process of first, and quickly, learning how to use language properly, then spends the next several years learning how to use it wrong by following our arcane rules. And, as a writer – well, you can imagine.

Today I was inspired to write my own version of one of those posts on grammatical errors and quirks. I came across Bill Murphey Jr’s post “17 Grammar Mistakes You Really Need to Stop Correcting, Like Now” via Stumble Upon. Bill’s main point is to cool off the conversation a bit and tell people to lighten up on the grammar correcting.

I’m not too concerned about that. Excessive grammar correcting certainly is annoying, but my main interest in this topic is not the nature of language policing so much as it is the nature of language, as well as simply knowing what is considered righter vs. wronger. As it were.

So, I took Bill’s list of grammar issues, deleted a few, and created my own commentary on them. And resorted them. And here goes:

Further versus farther

Futher is a word’s word. It works with concepts, or as a marker for where the thing you are saying is going. Farther is about physical distance. This is easy to remember. “Farther” has “far” in it. “Those who go farther have indeed gone far.” Not, “Those who have gone further have indeed gone fur.” Meanwhile, we use the word “furthermore,” derived from “further” but there is no such thing as “farthermore.” Not yet, anyway.

(Actually, “farthermore” was a word at one time, but our language has moved further along and it no longer is.)

dot dot dot vs em-dash

Don’t use “…” to break up sentences. Use a long dash (an em-dash). An ellipsis is a part of quoted text that is left out. The same word, ellipsis, is also used to refer to the three dots that we put in the ellipsis. So, if you type dot-dot-dot make sure that something is truly missing there.

Double negatives

It is not uncommon for people to use double negatives when they are trying to look like they are not uneducated. Outside of certain contexts, this is always bad. If a logic algorithm has to be applied to your sentence to understand what it means, you messed up. Don’t do that.

That is the “proper” double negative I’m recommending against. The hauty tauty classist double negative. The other kind is the kind that just makes things wrong, but in a way, it is more linguistically acceptable even if grammatically the equivalent of crushing baby kittens.

I ain’t never going to do that. Or, even, a term like “irregardless,” where afixes or words conflict with each other in a way that seems to cancel out. In language, we often add bits to a word or phrase to add emphasis or, perhaps absurdly, underscore something by negating it. Irregard, if it was a word, would be without regard. Regardless is without regard. So, if we really want to make the point that there is very little regard, we say it both ways at the same time: irregardless of grammatical proscription! This would be a sort of double negative you should avoid in proper and clear writing, and keep in your toolkit for dialog or ironic phrasing.

i.e. versus e.g.

i.e. stands for the latin id est.

e.g. stands for the latin exempl? gr?ti?

Id est means “that is.” Use i.e. to prefix an example of something that elaborates a term or phrase. The Doctor’s time travel machine, i.e., the Tardis.

Exempl? gr?ti? means “for example.” Just like it sounds.

Time machines, e.g., The Doctor’s Tardis, or Dr. Emmett Brown’s DeLorean.

See the difference? Not much of a difference. But there is a difference.

E.g. is usually followed by a comma, just as you might say, “I would like dessert, for example, ice cream” = “I would like dessert, e.g., ice cream.”

I like to think of e.g. as plural, in a sense. Examples.

I.e. can be thought of as “in other words.” So, I might say, “I don’t like desserts like flan, i.e. slimy icky stuff.”

In writing, if you find yourself saying “in other words” a lot, you should revise and perhaps use the “other words” that were your afterthought as your actual words. So, perhaps, if you find yourself using “i.e.” you should revise as well. Either way, if someone complains to you about your use of i.e. vs e.g. you could probably make a case that your word choice was correct no matter what you did.

Incomplete comparisons

Incomplete comparisons are less annoying.

Than what??? Less annoying than what????

A sentence that is an incomplete comparison may not be incomplete at all if the larger context keys the reader in to what is being compared. The Prius and the Smart Car get great gas mileage. The Chevy Volt gets better gas mileage. This is less of a grammatical problem than a marketing problem. Out of context incomplete comparisons reflect incomplete thinking.

(By the way, we’re not talking about semicolons here, but that would have been a great place to use one: “The Prius and the Smart Car get great gas mileage; the Chevy Volt gets better gas mileage.”)

Into versus “in to”

This one can be tricky. “Into” is a preposition. Note that the word “position” is in “preposition.” “Into” pretty much only means that something is moving from and to particular positions. The words “to” and “in” do a lot more work than the prepositional. Generally, if “in to” and “into” both seem right, you want “into.”

There are some odd exceptions. “He walked into the room” is correct. But if he is a burglar and he gets there by force, he broke in. So, you would not say “He broke into the room,” but rather, “he broke in to the room.” He did, however, burgle his way into the room.

Also, the “to” can be possessed by a verb following the term, demanding “in to” instead of “into.” He went into the room where he left his wallet. He opened the door of the room and went in to get his wallet.

Prepositions are not always about space, in the usual sense, so of course, “into” is also used for other kinds of transitions. If life gives you lemons, make them into lemonade.


Regardless of what people tell you, irregardless is a word. But, it is a word that even the dictionary says should be avoided. Instead of sneaking quietly into speech and becoming a normal word that means the same thing as “regardless” it annoyed grammar experts early on (as far back as the 1920s) and was stigmatized. So, now, “irregardless” is a signal that you don’t care about the quality of your spoken or written word. In good writing, “irregardless” should be confined to dialog spoken by characters that you want to look a little careless or poorly educated.

Leaving off the “ly” ending for adverbs

If you want to use an adverb, a word that modifies a verb, you generally need the “ly”. But if you are using a lot of adverbs in your writing, you probably want to delete some of them. A well chosen verb hardly needs such help in eloquently written verbiage. After you’ve written something, go on a ly-hunt. Search for the string “ly_” (note the space) and revise as appropriately. I mean, appropriate.

In the old days you could leave off the -ly to make more impactful text. Bill gives the example of an Apple marketing campaign that used “Think different” instead of “Think differently.”

This method of catching our attention was overused and that ship has sailed.

Me versus I

This is one of those important distinctions that is very easy in certain circumstances and very hard in other circumstances. So, the way to get it right is to restate a sentence in such a way as to make the distinction unambiguous, then revise as if necessary.

For example, you can see that “I wrote a blog post” is correct and “Me wrote a blog post” is Tarzan-talk.

The confusion comes when the simple “I/me” part of the sentence is joined with others.

Jose and I/me went to the movies.

Jose took Jasper and I/me to the movies.

Simply picking the “I” over the “me” in these sentences might sound to some to be “better” because culturally we have come to expect to be corrected more often when misusing “me.” In other words, always opting for “I” is a way to sound like you are not uneducated.

In most cases, the way to figure this out is to remove the second person, the one that is a name and not a pronoun, and see how it sounds.

“Jose and me went to the movies” does not sound a lot different than “Jose and I went to the movies” but the difference becomes clear when we ask Jose to leave the sentence. Compare “Me went to the movies” with “I went to the movies.” I am the subject of the sentence, so I get to be I, not me.

“Jose took Jasper and I to the movies” and “Jose took Jasper and me to the movies” also don’t sound all that different, but compare “Jose took I to the movies” with “Jose took me to the movies.” I am the object of the sentence, and so “me” is correct, and when we parse it out this way, “me” sounds correct.

Me can forgive Tarzan for getting this wrong.

One or two spaces after a period

In the old days, you put two pieces of lead after the period in order to make sentences look normal. This practice continued with non-proportional typefaces on typewriters and other machines.

People will tell you that modern fonts don’t require this, so you should not do it. However, there is a missing part of the story often conveniently ignored.

In the less old days, people who used computing technology to manipulate text could use a .__ (a period and two spaces) as distinct from ._ (period and one space) to tell the difference between the end of a sentence (with a full stop period) and an abbreviation.

Had we continued, as a society, to use period-space-space, this convenience could have been preserved. But we din’t. So that was ruined.

Now, of course, when you are fingering your smart device and hit the space twice, the app automatically puts in a period.


You can tell me again and again to use only one space after a period. But my thumb will ignore you.

Split infinitives

An infinitive is a form of a verb that has the “to” attached. In some languages the “to” is so attached to the word that you can’t fit any other words in there. E.g., in upcountry Swahili, “ku” is “to” and “do” is “fanya” so “to do” is kufanya. One word. I imagine that the fact that many languages have infinitives that are pre-stuck together had led to the convention that one does not split them by adding extra words between the “to” and the “verb.”

(There is actually quite a bit of ink spilt over the history of this rule.)

In my view, the ability to split infinitives is really cool feature of English and there should be no rule against it. However, since we often split our infinitives with adverbs, and adverbs are overly used, hunt for split infinitives not so much to unsplit them but to identify adverb overuse.

That versus which

After you’ve written your text, go on a which hunt and change the whiches to thats. But, you can leave the whiches that start independant clauses. In other words, if the part of the sentence that stats with which could more or less be a separate sentence, and/or if you can remove it from the sentence and still have a sentence, it is probably OK.

I think that for a time the word “that” sounded more pedestrian than the word “which,” which is a guess on my part, I’m not sure, so people who wanted to write good seeded their sentences with random whiches. Never trust a random which.

The Oxford comma

Also known as the Harvard comma or, perhaps most correctly, the serial comma. In fact, I’m rather shocked that which of these terms to use is not itself a major battle among language mavens.

The Oxford comma is the last comma in a list, before the last item and before the “and” that separates out the last item. Always use this comma. Often, it is not necessary, but when it is necessary, it is sometimes really necessary. So just use it all the time and avoid certain embarrassing, though often hilarious, mistakes.

From here:

I love my parents, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty.


I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.

They or Their as a gender neutral term, instead of the singular Him, her, his, hers.

English lacks a gender-neutral singular possessive term. Also, English lacks (in common use) a term that is not so strictly gender binary.

Using the plural as a gender neutral is natural, since there is a kind of plurality (his’s, hers’s, or neithers’s).

New terms and new uses tend to grate, but a new term is less likely to be accepted and more likely to bother people than a re-use of an existing term. What needs to happen here, probably, is that the purveyors of proper language (elementary school teachers and the like) need to not correct students who use the plural form as a gender non-specific one.

Who versus that

This is simple. “Who” is about people, “That” is about things. More obviously incorrect and underscoring the point that who is people is the substitution of “The people who do that” with “The people what do that.”

So when it comes to referring to people as that or what, who would do that?

Less versus fewer

Less and more refer to changing amounts of something you don’t count in whole numbers. More or less rain, love, or apple cider. Fewer and more refer to things counted in whole numbers.

The fact that “more” is in both of these sets may be the cause of confusion between “Fewer” and “Less.”

Fewer trains pass by my house these days, so we have less noise around here. Not, less trains pass by my house these days, so we have fewer noise around here. But, we do have less train traffic these days, so we have fewer instances of annoying noise events.