Tag Archives: Linux

What is New in Ubuntu 17.10, the Artful Aardvark

The next release of Ubuntu, the most commonly used and thought of by normal people and a few others version of Linux, is set to be released on Thursday, October 19th. The exact set of changes and improvements is not known, but a few key ones are, and some can be guessed at from the multiple pre-release releases.

This is a momentous occasion because this will be the first version of Ubuntu’s main flavor that does NOT include Unity as its default desktop.

If you don’t know, Unity was a menu and control system for the desktop, your main interface when working with the computer other than, obviously, while using a particular application. It was the look and feel, the essence, of the operating system. Unity was supposed to unify things, like diverse features of a typical desktop, like Ubuntu running on a cell phone, a desktop, a laptop, a whatever.

Unity used a modus operendus that many other interfaces were shifting towards. I hear there are versions of Windows that looked a bit like this, and Gnome from version 3.0 onwards had this basic approach. Continue reading What is New in Ubuntu 17.10, the Artful Aardvark

Things to do after installing Ubuntu 17.04

We begin with the usual list of things you pretty much always do after installing every Linux OS. Why these things are not automatically done for you on installation is a bit mysterious, but down deep there are generally reasons (legal reasons) for some of these things. In fact, pretty much everything here, with some minor tweaking you can ignore, is the same as for Ubuntu 16. And 15, probably. If you’ve been upgrading to the latest Ubuntu on a regular basis, this might all be pretty automatic for you by now!

Anyway, after installing Ubuntu 17.04, consider these next moves:

Update and Patch Up

Update your operating system by opening a terminal and typing in these things (sudo will cause the terminal to ask for your password).

sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade

Turn on the “Canonical Parter” repositories. Canonical is the company that makes and maintains Ubuntu. Go to Software & Updates and under the Other Software tab, check off Canonical Partners.

Go to “software and updates” and pick the tab for “Additional Drivers” and pick the graphics drivers that show up there as options, if necessary.

Most people will want to install media codecs so you can listen to, or better listen to, or watch, things.

It is easiest to do this from the command line (the terminal) by typing:

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras

Install Gdebi package installer, which I think is not already installed on this distro. This is a program that installed the contents of “.deb” packages, which you will occasionally (like, in a bout one minute from not likely) download in order to install some programs. Gdebi allows you to right click, or in some other easy way, deploy the package (which will be a folder with stuff in it) to have it all install automatically.

Find and learn to use the software installation system that comes with Ubuntu.

You will want to install the Unity Tweak tool because it allows you to … tweak Unity in ways the system configuration interface does not. Why are all the tweeky configury things not automatially in one place? I don’t know, and this to me is a major failing of the effort to get people to use the Linux Desktop.

Anyway, type this:

sudo apt-get install unity-tweak-tool

Since Unity is will never be deployed with a distribution again after 17.04, that will be the last time you do that!

Install your favorite additional software

The distribution comes with piles of software already, but there are a few things you may want to install because you use them. Use the software installer to do so, or go to the appropriate web site to download the deb file (which you’ll use gdebi to install).

I install Chrome Browser (others install Chromium, but I don’t think that is the best option). Go to the Google Chrome web site to find it.
I use Dropbox, and if you do, go to the Dropbox site and install the latest version.
Skype is installed from the Skype site as well.
I like GIMP image processing. That should be in your software installer center.
I like VLC as a media player. This should be in your software installer center.

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Book suggestions:

Ubuntu Unleashed 2017 Edition (Includes Content Update Program): Covering 16.10, 17.04, 17.10 (12th Edition)

The Linux Command Line: A Complete Introduction

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Refinements

The Unity Tweak tool lets you change how application windows are managed, including minimizing them. Play around with the tweak too.

Go to the configuration panel and select the theme you like, or leave the theme along. I’m kind of beyond changing my theme all the time but it is fun if you are into it, go for it!

Don’t bother

Many will suggest system cleaning and monitoring tools. I don’t think most of these tools do much or provide much information beyond what you can get by using the command line tools that have always been there. Linux is not Windows. It takes care of itself and is not a crybaby. It is much more like a Mac in this way, and for good reasons: Both are Xnix operating systems, in the same family.

Ubuntu 17.04 and the future

A Zapus is a kind of jumping mouse. A Zesty Zapus is the new Ubuntu Linux operating system, 17.04.

It has just been released and has some important features. But Zesty Zapus is not as interesting at the Artful Aardvark, which I’ll discuss briefly below.

Support of 32 bit hardware is waning across the Linux world, and in this release the 32 pit PowerPC is not supported. The 64 bit PowerPC still is, but I would not be surprised if that support dropped in the not too distant future.

There are various other changes deep under the hood that the average desktop user may not care about, including the use of systemd-resolved for the DNS resolver for networking.

Of special interest is that Ubuntu is now not by default using a swap partition. Swap is a place in your hardware, normally on a drive, that the operating system uses as extra memory, so that when you don’t have enough physical memory, the swap can be used. There are two ways to make swap, one is by dedicating a hard drive or hard drive partition to it, the other is having the operating system use unused disk space on your computer for it. In the past it has been considered faster and more efficient to use a partition, but the non-partition option has always been in the background to use as needed and you didn’t have to have a swap partition. Now, Linux seems to be moving away from the partition and using the swap file instead, and Ubuntu will do this by default.

Zesty Zapus uses Linux 4.10. It has “driverless printing” which is a new thing and works for some printers. There are updates to various software included with the distribution, including LibraOffice (now version 5.3, a fairly significant upgrade).

Several if not all of the major “Ubuntu Flavors” are also updated, including the one I prefer, which is Mate (I’ll write about that elwsewhere).

Otherwise, this new release of Ubuntu will act a lot like the previous release.

But that will not be the case with the next release, 17.10, Artful Aardvark. As the alphabetical cycle of release names comes around full circle, so does the desktop paradigm. Ubuntu, controversially to some, not controversially to most, started out years ago using the Gnome desktop. Over time, Ubuntu created the “Unity Desktop” which was meant to unify the user experience across all devices including the as yet to exist and now never going to exist (I think) Ubuntu phone. In my view, Unity was a bad thing, I did not like the way it worked. On the other hand, the main Gnome people for reasons that are still mysterious to me, decided to copy Ubuntu and make Gnome look and act a lot like Unity.

Now, Ubuntu will kill Unity. The next release of Ubuntu will not included Unity, and will instead use Gnome.

So, to install Ubuntu 17.04, which you may not want to do (I’d wait until 17.10 if you want the Gnome interface) go HERE and follow the instructions. It is possible that you can upgrade your current installation to the new release, but if you have a non-Ubuntu OS or an older version, you may need to download an image and reinstall. Then, when you are done, you may want to do these things.

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Book suggestions:

Ubuntu Unleashed 2017 Edition (Includes Content Update Program): Covering 16.10, 17.04, 17.10 (12th Edition)

The Linux Command Line: A Complete Introduction

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Ubuntu and Linux Books

Ubuntu is a form of Linux. Most references on Linux will be applicable to Ubuntu, but each distribution of Linus has its own features, so if you are going to use a specific operating system (Ubuntu vs. Fedora, for example) you will be happier with a book about that distribution.

This is a selection of what I regard as the best books for the purpose, but if you are reading this post in late 2017 or later, and you click through to a particular book, do look around for more recent editions. Also, check out the book reviews on my other blog, which will include all sorts of science books, some politics, and a good number of computer related books.

For books on programming (in various languages, for kids and adults) check out this post.

Linux: General books

Two years old but still good:

How Linux Works: What Every Superuser Should Know

Unlike some operating systems, Linux doesn’t try to hide the important bits from you—it gives you full control of your computer. But to truly master Linux, you need to understand its internals, like how the system boots, how networking works, and what the kernel actually does.

In this completely revised second edition of the perennial best seller How Linux Works, author Brian Ward makes the concepts behind Linux internals accessible to anyone curious about the inner workings of the operating system. Inside, you’ll find the kind of knowledge that normally comes from years of experience doing things the hard way. You’ll learn:

  • How Linux boots, from boot loaders to init implementations (systemd, Upstart, and System V)
  • How the kernel manages devices, device drivers, and processes
  • How networking, interfaces, firewalls, and servers work
  • How development tools work and relate to shared libraries
  • How to write effective shell scripts
  • You’ll also explore the kernel and examine key system tasks inside user space, including system calls, input and output, and filesystems. With its combination of background, theory, real-world examples, and patient explanations, How Linux Works will teach you what you need to know to solve pesky problems and take control of your operating system.

    Yes, this is good: Linux For Dummies, 9th Edition

    Eight previous top-selling editions of Linux For Dummies can’t be wrong. If you’ve been wanting to migrate to Linux, this book is the best way to get there. Written in easy-to-follow, everyday terms, Linux For Dummies 9th Edition gets you started by concentrating on two distributions of Linux that beginners love: the Ubuntu LiveCD distribution and the gOS Linux distribution, which comes pre-installed on Everex computers. The book also covers the full Fedora distribution.

    Ubuntu Linux

    Ubuntu Unleashed 2017 Edition (Includes Content Update Program): Covering 16.10, 17.04, 17.10 (12th Edition)

    … unique and advanced information for everyone who wants to make the most of the Ubuntu Linux operating system. This new edition has been thoroughly updated by a long-time Ubuntu community leader to reflect the exciting new Ubuntu 16.04 LTS release with forthcoming online updates for 16.10, 17.04, and 17.10 when they are released.

    Former Ubuntu Forum administrator Matthew Helmke covers all you need to know about Ubuntu 16.04 installation, configuration, productivity, multimedia, development, system administration, server operations, networking, virtualization, security, DevOps, and more—including intermediate-to-advanced techniques you won’t find in any other book.

    Helmke presents up-to-the-minute introductions to Ubuntu’s key productivity and Web development tools, programming languages, hardware support, and more. You’ll find new or improved coverage of navigation via Unity Dash, wireless networking, VPNs, software repositories, new NoSQL database options, virtualization and cloud services, new programming languages and development tools, monitoring, troubleshooting, and more.

    Other Linux Distributions

    Not at all current, but of historical interest and probably available used: The Debian System: Concepts and Techniques and A Practical Guide to Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (7th Edition).


    Using the Linux Command Line and bash shell

    The Linux Command Line: A Complete Introduction

    You’ve experienced the shiny, point-and-click surface of your Linux computer—now dive below and explore its depths with the power of the command line. The Linux Command Line takes you from your very first terminal keystrokes to writing full programs in Bash, the most popular Linux shell. Along the way you’ll learn the timeless skills handed down by generations of gray-bearded, mouse-shunning gurus: file navigation, environment configuration, command chaining, pattern matching with regular expressions, and more. In addition to that practical knowledge, author William Shotts reveals the philosophy behind these tools and the rich heritage that your desktop Linux machine has inherited from Unix supercomputers of yore. As you make your way through the book’s short, easily-digestible chapters, you’ll learn how to: Create and delete files, directories, and symlinks Administer your system, including networking, package installation, and process management Use standard input and output, redirection, and pipelines Edit files with Vi, the world’s most popular text editor Write shell scripts to automate common or boring tasks Slice and dice text files with cut, paste, grep, patch, and sed Once you overcome your initial “shell shock,” you’ll find that the command line is a natural and expressive way to communicate with your computer. Just don’t be surprised if your mouse starts to gather dust.

    Linux Pocket Guide: Essential Commands

    If you use Linux in your day-to-day work, this popular pocket guide is the perfect on-the-job reference. The third edition features new commands for processing image files and audio files, running and killing programs, reading and modifying the system clipboard, and manipulating PDF files, as well as other commands requested by readers. You’ll also find powerful command-line idioms you might not be familiar with, such as process substitution and piping into bash.

    Linux Pocket Guide provides an organized learning path to help you gain mastery of the most useful and important commands. Whether you’re a novice who needs to get up to speed on Linux or an experienced user who wants a concise and functional reference, this guide provides quick answers.

    Wicked Cool Shell Scripts: 101 Scripts for Linux, OS X, and UNIX Systems

    Shell scripts are an efficient way to interact with your machine and manage your files and system operations. With just a few lines of code, your computer will do exactly what you want it to do. But you can also use shell scripts for many other essential (and not-so-essential) tasks.

    This second edition of Wicked Cool Shell Scripts offers a collection of useful, customizable, and fun shell scripts for solving common problems and personalizing your computing environment. Each chapter contains ready-to-use scripts and explanations of how they work, why you’d want to use them, and suggestions for changing and expanding them. You’ll find a mix of classic favorites, like a disk backup utility that keeps your files safe when your system crashes, a password manager, a weather tracker, and several games, as well as 23 brand-new scripts…

    Books On Computer Programming and Computers

    Python

    Learning Python
    Python Crash Course: A Hands-On, Project-Based Introduction to Programming is a fast-paced, thorough introduction to programming with Python that will have you writing programs, solving problems, and making things that work in no time.

    In the first half of the book, you’ll learn about basic programming concepts, such as lists, dictionaries, classes, and loops, and practice writing clean and readable code with exercises for each topic. You’ll also learn how to make your programs interactive and how to test your code safely before adding it to a project. In the second half of the book, you’ll put your new knowledge into practice with three substantial projects: a Space Invaders-inspired arcade game, data visualizations with Python’s super-handy libraries, and a simple web app you can deploy online.

    My review: How to learn Python programming

    MORE COMING SOON

    Learn Scratch Programming (For Kids And Adults)

    Scratch, the colorful drag-and-drop programming language, is used by millions of first-time learners, and in Scratch Programming Playground, you’ll learn to program by making cool games. Get ready to destroy asteroids, shoot hoops, and slice and dice fruit!

    Each game includes easy-to-follow instructions, review questions, and creative coding challenges to make the game your own. Want to add more levels or a cheat code? No problem, just write some code.

    Coding projects in Scratch and other items.

    Learn Python Using Minecraft

    Write Computer Games In Python

    Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python will teach you how to make computer games using the popular Python programming language–even if you’ve never programmed before!

    Begin by building classic games like Hangman, Guess the Number, and Tic-Tac-Toe, and then work your way up to more advanced games, like a text-based treasure hunting game and an animated collision-dodging game with sound effects. Along the way, you’ll learn key programming and math concepts that will help you take your game programming to the next level.

    Scratch Programming For Kids, By The Cards

    Want to introduce kids to coding in a fun and creative way?

    With the Scratch Coding Cards, kids learn to code as they create interactive games, stories, music, and animations. The short-and-simple activities provide an inviting entry point into Scratch, the graphical programming language used by millions of kids around the world.

    Kids can use this colorful 75-card deck to create a variety of interactive programming projects. They’ll create their own version of Pong, Write an Interactive Story, Create a Virtual Pet, Play Hide and Seek, and more!

    Each card features step-by-step instructions for beginners to start coding with Scratch. The front of the card shows an activity kids can do with Scratch–like animating a character or keeping score in a game. The back shows how to put together code blocks to make the projects come to life! Along the way, kids learn key coding concepts, such as sequencing, conditionals, and variables.

    This collection of coding activity cards is perfect for sharing among small groups in homes and schools.

    The Collapse Of Arctic Sea Ice

    Andy Lee Robinson started the recent trend of making compelling graphics about climate change that move. He did a version of the Arctic Ice Death Spiral (a term coined by Joe Romm), which was highly acclaimed but that did not go as viral as it should have at the time. Then, a version with additive ribbon graphs about three years ago. He called that the “waterfall diagram” and it was picked up and used by the BBC at the time. Not long after, he came up with the disappearing block of ice motif. And now, Andy has an updated version, here:

    This is ice VOLUME, not the oft cited surface area. Surface ice will always reform and melt in the Arctic, but long term there used to be a lot of thick ice that never melted during the summer. This long term thick ice would survive the summer melt, and allow new winter time surface ice to form more easily each year. As that ice disappears from various coastal areas in the high Arctic, new winter surface ice takes longer to get going.

    The first version of this graphic, using ice blocks, was requested by Joe Romm, for Think Progress, in 2013, and appears here. Joe just wanted two ice cubes, side by side, and that is what Andy provided.

    But Andy got thinking about the presentation of this very important climate change related metric. “After a while I thought it would be a nice challenge to try to animate it,” he told me. “To accomplish this, I started from the same camera angle, zooming in, following the line to the minimum and then returning to the original location. This required a way to create hundreds of script files to describe each frame.”

    Andy told me that he is fluent in Perl, so he used that to calculate parameters for the objects he wanted to manipulate and substitute them in a povray script template. “At a resolution of 1920×1080, it takes between 15 minutes and 2 hours to make one, depending on what computer is working on it. I wrote spline and easing routines to calculate the smooth motions of the camera and cube sizing, and to interpolate the progression of the graph series.” The MySQL is a shared database that each server has access to, in order to check out a frame, render and return the results over NFS to a shared directory.

    “The same perl program is run on each server and therefore knows which frame to render next, and after a few days the finished frames can be assembled together using ffmpeg with music, in a wav file.”

    Andy, who is a gifted musician, composed the music himself.

    “This uses 8 machines in total, including a linux laptop at 2 hours per frame! It was very painstaking work, writing all the code and parameters, but once done the images can be replicated automatically as new data appears. If only it would pay the rent!”

    OpenOffice May Close The Door

    The history of what we call “OpenOffice” is complex and confusing. It started as a project of Sun corporation, to develop an office suit that was not Microsoft Office, to use internally. Later, a version became more generally available known as Star Office, but also, a version called “OpenOffice” soon became available as well. The current histories say that Star Office was commercial, but my memory is that it never cost money to regular users. I think the idea was that large corporations would pay, individuals not. This was all back around 2000, plus or minus a year or two.

    In any event, the Open Office project built two things of great importance. First, it made a set of software applications roughly comparable to the key elements in Microsoft’s Office Suite, including a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation app, and, depending, something that draws and something that relates to databases.

    The second thing it did was to create and develop an important open source document format.

    But, believe it or not, in the world of software development and programming, even in the happy fuzzy world of OpenSource, there can be fights. And, not just the fun and tongue in cheek fights over which religion you are (vi vs. Linux). These fights often involve differences in points of view between megacorporations that get involved in OpenSource projects, and the unwashed masses of programmers contributing to such things. The majority of code is written and maintained by corporations, much of that in the hands of a very small number, but the contributions from individuals not linked to corporations is extremely important.

    In the case of OpenOffice, the tensions were between the broader Office-interested development community and big corporations shifted in 2010 when Sun corporation which had always been involved in OO development, was purchased by Oracle Corporation. Oracle has not been friendly to OpenSource in the past, so the wider community freaked. There is a side plot here involving Java, which we will ignore. Oracle didn’t end up doing anything clearly bad against the OpenOffice project. But, they also ended up not doing anything good, either, which is essentially a death sentence for a project like this. Later in the same year, an organization called The Document Foundation was created and took on the job of forking OpenOffice.

    Forking is where a given lineage of software is split to create an alternative. Sometimes this is to bring some software in a different direction, perhaps for a more specialized use. Sometimes it is a way of resolving conflict, much as hunter gatherers undergo fission and fusion in their settlement patterns, by separating antagonists or putting a distinct wall between antagonistic goals. In this case, while the latter is probably part of it, the main reason for the fork and its main effect was to get the project under the control of an active development community so work could be continued before the project stagnated.

    That fork became known as LibreOffice. For some time now, it has been recommended that if you are going to install an OpenSource office suite on your Windows, Linux, or Apple Computer, it should be LibreOffice.

    One could argue that the OpenOffice suit or its analog (earlier, Star office, later the LibreOffice fork) is the most important single project in OpenSource, because an office suite is a key part of almost all desktop computer configurations. Of course, most servers don’t need or require an office suite, and there, web servers and database servers, and a few other things, are more important. But to the average end user (in business or private life) being able to open up a “Word Document” (a term misapplied to the category of “wordprocessor document”), or to run a spreadsheet, or to make a presentation, etc. is essential, and that is what an office suit provides. OpenOffice was comparable to Microsoft Office, and now, LibreOffice is comparable to Microsoft Office. By some accounts, better, though many Microsoft Office users have, well, a different religion.

    Now, it is being reported that the mostly ignored, maligned by some, historically important yet now out of date OpenOffice project is about to byte the dust. As it were.

    Dennis Hamilton, VP of the group that runs OpenOffice, “… proposed a shutdown of OpenOffice as one option if the project could not meet the goals it had set. ‘My concern is that the project could end with a bang or a whimper. My interest is in seeing any retirement happen gracefully. That means we need to consider it as a contingency. For contingency plans, no time is a good time, but earlier is always better than later.'” [Source]

    Approximately 160 million copies of LibreOffice have been downloaded to date. The closing of the OpenOffice project, should that happen, will probably have little effect on LibreOffice, since most people had already walked away from the venerable old but flawed grandaddy of OO Suites.

    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

    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.

    What is the best mouse for a Mac, Linux, or Windows?

    One mouse to rule them all

    I had previously reviewed the Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse, suggesting it as a replacement for the Apple Magic Mouse. Now, I’ve tried it on my Linux machine (don’t know why that took so long). It turns out to work very well, better than most, possibly all, mice I’ve used.

    One’s mouse is a very personal thing, and everyone is going to have a potentially different opinion about what the best mouse is. The Ultrathin is designed to work with laptops/notebooks because it is small, and it is assumed that everything you use with such a portable device must be small. The truth is, you can carry around a whopping big mouse in your notebook bag and not even notice, so this is a bit of a fallacy. Anyway, it obviously works with any computer with a bluetooth connection, desktop or laptop.

    Also, some people want their mouse to be big, some want it to be small. And most people can probably grow to like whichever mouse they are using, and thus develop their preference longer term. I personally like a very large mouse or a very small mouse. I can not explain that.

    A touchy mouse

    There are, these days, two fundamentally different kinds of mouse. One is the kind with buttons and scroll bars and such, the other is the kind with a swipe-able surface. The Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse is one of the latter. It vaguely resembles the standard Apple mouse that comes with modern Apple computers, but is trapezoidal in shape rather than ovaloid. It is also smaller.

    As I noted in my earlier review, my Apple mouse was starting to act strange, so I decided to replace it, and instead of getting an Apple mouse, I got the cheaper Logitech touchy mouse to try it out, and I’ve not looked back.

    Designed for Windows/Mac but Works on Linux

    There are two versions of this mouse, the T631 for Mac for the Mac, and the T630 for Windows. As far as I can tell, they are the same, but look different, with the Mac version being white and the Windows version being black. Makes sense at several levels.

    I have read on the Internet, which is never wrong, that the Windows version works fine on Linux, and I can attest to the Mac version working fine on Linux as well. I doubt that at present Linux is using all the various swipy capabilities of the mouse, but it moves the cursor, has left and right click, swipe-scrolling, and it may also emulate a middle mouse button. Two fingered swiping back and forth trigger Linux buttons 8 and 9. And so on.

    Obviously, I’ve not tried this mouse on Windows. Why would I ever do that?

    Two hook ups and Great Battery Life

    This is a bluetooth mouse (and that is how you get it to work with your Linux machine). The mouse has a selector switch, A and B, so you can pair it with two different computers (such as your desktop or your laptop).

    Unlike the Apple Mouse or many other existing mice, this device does not use batteries that you replace. (Indeed, the Apple Mouse is even pretty picky about the kind of battery you use.) You plug it in to a micro USB cord hooked to something with power, every now and then. It charges really fast, and the charge lasts a long time.

    I recommend the T630 or T31.

    Command Line Science

    A worthy Kickstarter science related project is afoot.

    Face it. Most science is done on the command line. When it is not, we call it “science by spreadsheet” or name it by some other epithet.

    Much of that is done on Linux or Linux like computers, but that actually includes Macs, and if you must, it can be done on Windows.

    Bioinformatics, climate simulations, basic statistics using the r language, fancy math things using the appropriate python library, making graphs with gnuplot, and even producing nice looking results for dissimnation to our geeky peers using LaTex. Science-related engineering uses the command line too, if it involves any programming of controllers or sensor equipment.

    This is not to say that all science is done this way. Quite a bit isn’t. But there are many tools used in science that are best handled with the command line or something like the command line.

    Brian Hall, a computer science guy, is developing an on line training class to teach the methods of command line science. He is developing the class using Kickstarter, which is fairly unique as far as I know. He isn’t even asking for that much money, and is over half way to his goal. Visit the Kickstarter site to see what you get if you donate. He has a nice video explaining the project.

    This video course is designed for scientists with little or no programming experience. It’s okay if you’ve never even touched the command line (or if you did once but it felt icky).

    You’ll have fun learning a new, powerful way of communicating with your computer. Along the way, you’ll acquire access to a whole world of amazing open source data and software. Who knows what you’ll do next?

    The project home will be at Udemy, here. You can go there and see a draft of the course, which will give you a very good idea of what it entails.

    The class will probably cost $199, but Brian is considering discount rates for teachers.

    Here’s the press release for Brian’s project:

    Crowd­funded Video Course to Boost Scientists’ Computational Skills

    “Learn the Command Line … for Science!”

    Nearly every field of science has a significant computational component ­­ but few working scientists have been trained as programmers. Universities are adapting, but not nearly as fast as the sciences are exploding with new applications. Simulation, data mining, bioinformatics ­­ these are the fields that are driving innovation in physics, astronomy, biology, and medicine. New tools and techniques are being developed every day, but we need more scientists with the interdisciplinary skills necessary to harness them.

    A new video course called “Learn the Command Line … for Science!” is calling for backers on the crowd funding site Kickstarter.com. This class will walk trained scientists through the basics of using the command line interface, an absolute requirement to run scientific applications and take advantage of high performance computing resources. It’s also great preparation for learning to code, and eventually contribute new and novel tools to computational science.

    The class is being developed by Brian David Hall, a Computer Science instructor with experience doing bioinformatics for the USDA. The course is upbeat, fast­paced and targeted at the needs of working scientists. It goes into detail where necessary ­­ for example, covering how to install software and download datasets from the command line ­­ but it skips topics which are less relevant to scientists, such as the system administration tasks emphasized by other command line courses.

    Kickstarter campaigns operate under an “all­or­nothing” funding model, so if “Learn the Command Line … for Science!” doesn’t reach its funding goal of $1,500 after 30 days then Brian gets no funding, and nobody gets to take the course! Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@_bruab_) to stay up to date on the project’s progress, and help spread the word to your social media networks. Just $5 is enough to become a backer of this project. For Science!