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Response to: You and Yours’ Learning Special

You and Yours (BBC Radio 4) is currently doing a Boxing Day Special on learning – I agree with a lot of what is being said, but I feel there’s one thing they skipped over: rather than being task focused in learning, it is important to first know why we’re learning… This is what I wrote to them via their website (though they’re not taking listener input this time around – probably a reduced team):

I am self taught in a number of disciplines. Some of these I started with a basic course before taking the rest on myself (programming, guitar), some I bootstrapped my learning using magazines and online articles (photography, cooking, singing, computer administration). I was, academically, not very proficient… at all.

I find that learning only happens properly when you want to answer a question – even if you start out wanting to learn about an entire field of knowledge (mathematics, nutrition, English, an instrument, the intricacies of opera and ballet…), it comes down really to want to answer a specific practical question you are curious about. Using an Internet search engine helps to find more words to ask about, find other connected ideas, and forums allow discussion – even better if you find people to talk to in real life.

And, as with all learning, questions beget questions and soon you’re learning more than you set out to….

Of nesting Latin grammar in English

Are you That Person – the one who insists “you mean, there are viri going round, not viruses?” Or that “a single piece of data is a datum.” Whooptidoo – you took Latin in First Grade and now you’re an expert.

I find it rather preposterous to make deliberate use of foreign grammatical rules in the middle of an English sentence, not to mention pompous trying to “correct” other peoples’ use by introducing such jarring disjunction.

Latin words in English are loanwords, as from any other language. The English language, as you might already know, has appropriated numerous words from all over the world, but has long treated them as English grammatically.

You never say that you’re going to order two pizze with your friends; nor do you complain about a single pieróg falling off your plate; news reports might talk about “tycoons” even though the original Japanese distinguishes plurality by context (like the word “sheep” in English); and popular parlance has people talking about French chateaus, instead of the châteaux (note that the “x” is silent, such that there is no phonetic difference between the singular and plural forms). Read more

The Best Newbie Distro is You

Whether they love it or loathe it, they'll need to brace for impact.

Whether they love it or loathe it, they’ll need to brace for impact.

Oft asked is the question, “What is the best Linux for beginners?” It is The First Question, the one that hopefully brings one more user away from the wholly proprietary desktop. And oft is the query answered with the name of a distro, straight, with no introduction, discussion or consideration.

A post I came across on LinuxInsider collated a few suggestions, but most pertinently concluded that the actual distribution does not matter quite so much as how much you are willing to help the new user. Dedoimedo guest posted at netrunner-mag.com how he imagined on-boarding an enthusiast would go.

I would like to point out how it is for the fearful – those who are needing to move because XP is running out, or who’ve bought a new PC with (woe!) Windows 8 preinstalled, or that friend for whom you’ve acquired an old laptop in serious need of a rejuvenation… Read more

Paying for Free Software

Who to pay money to when you’ve finally gotten round to the free software world?

Back when I was a student, and then when I was not working a terribly well-paid job, I couldn’t afford to fork over any significant amount of cash – so to those of you who are still in that situation, fret not the question!

But I now have a salary with which I can afford to financially support some (but not all) of the projects I have been using for free (gratis) for so long. I’d like them to stay free, both gratis and libere, and for that, some funding will likely not go unwelcome.

So how much to set aside? How often to pay in? And to whom?

I was going to post this to Ask Slashdot, but the question has already been answered there – though not particularly to my satisfaction.

The following are how I am sorting the projects in my mind, and will probably pick one from each every 3 months or so to give some of my budget to. Read more

Installing GNU/Linux over multiple paritions or disks

Installing software is generally a breeze – run the installer, select the defaults, and hey presto, software installed! Even when installing a new operating system, be it Windows, Mac, or user-oriented GNU/Linux distributions, there are generally sensible and useful defaults provided. But sometimes, the defaults are not enough. Sometimes you need a manual install.

GNU/Linux systems allow you to install your system such that the system files, programs and suchlike all reside on one partition, and the user files, preferences, settings, browsing histories etc reside on another. This is useful at least in two typical scenarios:

  1. Isolating the user files (which live under the /home section of the GNU/Linux filesystem) from the rest of the OS allows you to reinstall the operating system any time, without affecting the user data
  2. If you have a SSD (solid state drive)/HDD (hard disk drive) pair in your computer, you can put your system and swap space on the faster but smaller Solid State Drive, and keep your user files on the slower but significantly larger Hard Disk Drive

This post is aimed at answering the following questions:

  • What are the differences and advantages of SSDs and HDDs each?
  • How do I install Linux using manual partitioning?
  • How do I use mount points in a manual install?
  • How do I reinstall Linux without changing my /home directory?
  • How do I install one Linux system on two different disks?
  • How do I isolate my /home directory on a different partition?
  • What is a SWAP partition/virtual memory?

Read more

Enabling sound in GNU/Linux with ALSAmixer

This post answers the questions:

  • Why does sound not work in Bodhi LInux?
  • How do I activate sound on Linux?
  • How do I unmute ALSA mixer?
  • How do I control sound from the command line in Linux?

Sound is turned off in certain distros by default (goodness knows why) so before you hunt for drivers and take to the forums, check this first… Read more

Some GNU/Linux distros to try

This post (still in the process of being written) is part of a series on getting to grips with GNU/Linux for the first time.

In this post, I will be giving a brief overview on a few other GNU/Linux distros that you might be interested in trying out. Note that whilst none of the distros listed here are aimed at command-line-loving power users, all require a degree of curiosity (they are GNU/Linux systems after all) and some may require cracking knuckles on a terminal shell, at least on first setup.

They are organised into four categories:

  • Lightweight – no extra trimmings, no bloat, just the bare minimum, to run fast and travel light.
  • General purpose – provide most of the apps an average user may need, aiming at general users.
  • Kitchen-sink – includes everything a specific type of user might need. I also include some hardware suggestions.
  • Live CD – fairly light and fully featured, most commonly used as troubleshooting discs, for using unknown computers, or whilst on the move around the world.


Read more

Installing Lubuntu

This post is part of a series about getting started with GNU/Linux in virtual machines using VirtualBox. If you don’t already know how to use VirtualBox or virtual machines, please read Introduction to Virtual Machines Using VirtualBox.

You can also follow along if you’re actually installing on a real machine – but you’ll have to troubleshoot machine-specific issues on your own. I can point you to a primer on “Linux distros” if you haven’t gotten totally to grips with it yet.

Section 2 can serve as the template for installing Ubuntu derivatives, including Bodhi Linux and elementary OS, which share the same installer. Read more

Introduction to Virtual Machines Using VirtualBox

This post is part of a series on setting up GNU/Linux distros on your own computer, without reinstalling your computer’s operating system. It is intended for persons completely new to computing who want to discover VMs and GNU/Linux. I list some technical how-tos for Windows and Mac users; I’ll assume native GNU/Linux users won’t have need for such details… If you’re not familiar with GNU/Linux, I’ve written an introduction to help clear up some confusions about it.

This specific tutorial will simply cover recommended system requirements, a brief overview of VMs, and how to setup VirtualBox for the first time. Installing specific distros will be covered in subsequent tutorials. Read more

The Linux Newbie’s Guide – 10 key concepts

Getting into the world of Linux might seem a little daunting to anyone who doesn’t come from a formal computing background. For starters, there seem to be so many different “Linuxes” to choose from, even though Ubuntu, distributed and maintained by Canonical, seems to be the most popular for home users, whilst a new contender, “Linux Mint” on the rise. Are they the best? Are they easy to use?

More importantly:

  • is [such-and-such-Linux] for you?
  • will you be able to use it on your own?
  • how do you get help with no support hotline?
  • does help for one Linux work on another Linux?
  • does a program on one Linux run on another?
  • can you run Windows programs on Linux?
  • Help me I’m scared of the command line!
  • What is Linux anyway??

The chapters in this post are:

  1. All Linuxes are Linux but aren’t Linux
  2. What is GNU? What are distros?
  3. Linux Distros and Families
  4. Desktop environments
  5. Graphical package managers
  6. Command line
  7. Package managers
  8. Root, users, and the sudo command
  9. Wine
  10. How to get help

Read more