Thursday, April 23, 2009

Exploring Ubuntu

I've had a mild curiosity about the Linux operating system as an alternative to Windows for a long time.  Actually installing it always seemed like more trouble than I cared to bother with, but recently I have seen a few things that convinced me to look into it.

This post from Lifehacker about Portable Ubuntu convinced me that I could take a look at the Ubuntu version of Linux without doing anything more complicated than installing another program under Windows.  Portable Ubuntu installs everything it needs into a single folder on Windows, so it doesn't affect the regular Windows operating system at all.  You run Portable Ubuntu just like any other Windows program.  It appears as a toolbar with menus for Programs, Places (the file system) and System settings.  Although in most cases it doesn't run the same programs you would use in Windows, it does have programs that do all the same things I would normally do in Windows.  The only immediate problem I have is drawing 2D chemical structures, which I'll save for another post.

Portable Ubuntu convinced me that there's nothing scary, or even all that unfamiliar, in using Ubuntu instead of Windows.  But I have found that my Windows machine is increasingly a memory hog and running Portable Ubuntu at the same time only makes this worse.  I decided to take the next step and install Ubuntu outright.

The Ubuntu version of Linux is designed to be REALLY easy to use, especially for newbies.  You have lots of options for installing Ubuntu:
  • turn on your computer with a Live CD in the diskdrive and you can run Ubuntu from the CD without installing anything on your hard drive.  Of course you can't save anything this way, and it is slow because the operating system has to read everything from the CD first.
  • use the Live CD to install over Windows - if you don't want Windows anymore you can go to a Linux-only machine. 
  • If you still want to have the option of running Windows you can partition the hard drive, leaving Windows intact one one partition and installing Linux into the other partition.
  • If you don't want to partition you can use Wubi, which is what I decided to do.  Wubi installs Ubuntu into a folder - no partitioning required - and Windows is not affected.  When you turn on your computer, you will get a screen asking which operating system you want to run: Windows or Ubuntu.  One nice thing about Wubi, if you have internet access you don't even need the CD.  Wubi will download everything for you - of course downloading 700+ MB will take some time.
If you are a fan of Manga, check out this Manga Comic to see exactly how easy it is to install Ubuntu.  Why do the people in Manga look like they have fangs?  Link via BoingBoing.

Personally, I like to have the instructions to read.  Or at least a nice tutorial.  If you do too, take a look at the free Linux Starter Kit, from Linux Format magazine. Link via Greg Ladens blog.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

More Easter Egg Fun on Your Computer

Check out some of the "goodies" hidden in the software you use.

I even got to look at the Linux Easter Eggs myself, since I had just installed Portable Ubuntu so that I could try-out a Linux operating system as easily as running a program on my Windows machine.  The "doctor" hidden in emacs really takes me back.  The first time I saw this program I was in college - in the pre-PC days when we all had accounts on the school's Vax mainframe computer. Then it was called Eliza, but the program itself is even older than that.

There's some overlap between the two sites.  The Computerworld page has video clips of all the Easter Eggs so you can see what they look like even if you don't have the program or operating system involved. 

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Fun with Mercury

The start of this clip may be a little confusing.  He's talking about mercury barometers being portable because they are short.  If you used water in your barometer it would have to be something like 32 feet tall.  Mercury barometers can be under a meter tall.

I don't recommend keeping vats of mercury like the one shown here.  Mercury is 13 times heavier than water and quite volatile, the mercury vapors are not good for your brain. Mercury poisoning is responsible for the expression "Mad as a hatter," since mercury was used in the making of felt.

Science Fun and Easter Eggs

No classes today and Friday, so I thought I would post a couple of Easter Egg links.  

Lifehacker has a post on an online egg timer for the uber-geek:  just select the temperature of your egg (Celsius), it's circumference (in cm), your elevation above sea level (meters) and how well done you would like your egg and it will calculate the time needed to cook.  Oh, and be forwarned, the site is in Norwegian.  If you are that eager to input the necessary variables to accurately calculate your cooking time, I'm sure that a little thing like not knowing the language won't be a problem.  

And as an added bonus, how often do you see the Angstrom symbol used in acutal words?

Kunsten å koke et egg (translation: Art of cooking an egg) [University of Oslo]

Once you have cooked your Easter eggs, surely you will want to add a little color to them.  Of course, if you dye the shell you have to remove the decorative part before you can eat the egg.  Neatorama has a neat link to a way to decorate the egg that's inside the shell.