The Wonderful World of Linux

Over the past couple of weeks I have been messing with Linux and finally it was time to try and install a Linux operating system onto my laptop. Why? Well, if I’m ever going to get a good grasp on running my Beaglebone Black (BBB) I’m going to need a good command of Linux, hence I figured I’d give the Linux operating system a try. While it’s not all command line, it helps me work on my command line skills to try and accomplish tasks by working with the terminal (such as installing new applications or packages using the command line). Plus I feel like a cool coding geek you might see in the movies who’s hacking into a corporation to steal intel, or something intense like that. Of course, it’s more like me typing three lines of code, cursing the fact I mistyped it twice, and cheering when something on my screen actually happens. Yes, my life is that exciting, I bet you wish you were me.

I picked the Debian Linux distribution and used the GNOME desktop environment. I think in the proper terms, Debian (or technically, Debian Jessie) is the name of the base system, and GNOME is the graphical user interface. The actual term is GNU Network Object Model Environment. I’m gonna pretend I know what that means.

So what is Linux? Well, it’s a operating system the same way Windows and Macintosh are operating systems. So what differentiates Linux? Well, it’s an operating system that’s been developed by a collaboration of multiple programmers, developers, and companies, and it’s completely free for the public to use. The short form is that it was developed at it’s very basic level (the “Kernel”) in 1991 by a Finn named Linus Torvalds. Since then, it has grown into a massive platform spanning multiple distributions and forms that the public can use. There is no one sole owner of the Linux operating system, it is developed, maintained, and improved by a community dedicated to the development of free software for the public. (This is Linux at a very basic form, A very good explanation of what Linux is can be found here).

This sounds great! A free operating system? What are the drawbacks?

Well, for starters, you many not invest money in the operating system, but you’re guaranteed to invest time in setting it up. While Linux has gotten to the point where there are very easy distributions to set up, some that arguably are as easy to use as Mac, Linux is almost always not a straightforward process. With so many options and forms of the Linux operating system, there’s always some kind of time investment in configuring your system. For example, when I set up Debian GNOME on my laptop, it didn’t configure my wireless network right after installation. It took some hunting to find the packages and software needed to get wireless up and running. While it’s certainly not hours of coding on the command line, you have to be prepared to be patient if you’ve never used a Linux system before.

Also, as I indicated above, there are so many options for a Linux operating system. Wikipedia will give you a list of all the distributions for each base system. It’s amazing that there’s so many.

The nice thing with so many distributions is that it can be put on pretty much any kind of computers. I was able to install Debian on my laptop with 10 GB of space on my hard drive. Many sources I read indicated that you only really needed about 4-5 GB, 10 GB was probably overkill if you just needed an operating system.

One of the really nice features with most Linux operating systems is that you can write an image of the operating system to either a CD or a USB and run it from that medium on your computer without installing it. This gives you a chance to try the operating system without having to install it right away.

If you go one step further, you can install a program called VirtualBox which creates a virtual machine on your main operating system. This lets you run the Linux operating system within your native operating system. The picture below shows Debian GNOME running with Windows 8 in the background.

Debian Live Using VirtualBox
Debian Live Using VirtualBox

This was running off my laptop. To show just how versatile Linux is, below shows a lightweight version of Debian running off my BBB.

Beaglebone Black Running Debian with XKDE.
Beaglebone Black Running Debian with XFCE.

While it’s hard to tell, I’m running a keyboard, mouse, monitor, and an ethernet cord all into the Beaglebone Black (just above the top left of the keyboard). Maybe it’s just me, but I’m amazed that you can run a full operating system off something so small (when you think that the BBB is a computer, compare that size to a laptop, or even a desktop). Of course, the operating system is somewhat slow if you’re going to run it solely off the BBB, but that’s to be expected when you can only package so much onto such a small surface.

I’ve only scratched the surface of what Linux really is. In the meantime, I’ll be working to get a better grasp of how to use Linux and how I plan to use Linux to interface my BBB to a multitude of embedded electronics and related software. That is all (hopefully) in the near future.

Below are a number of resources you can check out to get more information on what Linux is, the types of distributions there are out there, and how to get a Linux operating system installed on your computer. – Great resource for explaining what Linux is (In much more detail than my post.) – TechRadar resource that breaks down the top 10 Linux distributions – Link to Ubuntu, which is one of the easiest Linux distributions to set up if you’re interested in trying it out.



A Short Update

Well, there’s not a whole lot new in the world of James, other than a few minor things.

Beer Brewing

I just recently transferred my Dunkelweiss-like beer into the secondary fermenter. I left it in the primary fermenter for two weeks instead of 1, I don’t anticipate this to cause any issues with the outcome of the final beer, but we’ll see what happens.

I tried my bottled Irish Hills Ale, and at least I can say it tastes like beer. It does have a hoppy finish, the body isn’t too bad, but I think I was hoping for something with a bit more body to the beer. It’s a bit lighter than I expected, but it’s a good beer for the first run. I can at least say I’ve got a drinkable beer and I’m happy about that! 🙂

Beaglebone Black

I’ve been working my way through the book “Exploring Beaglebone” by Derek Molloy. It’s a great book that provides a lot of information of the Beaglebone Black (BBB) microcontroller. I’m trying to work my way through the book in a sequential fashion since I want to understand not just how to put circuits together, but how the Beaglebone architecture works.

What I’ve been working through this last month is just learning how to run the Linux command line. The BBB comes pre-loaded with the Debian operating system, which means in order to use the BBB, you have to understand a bit about the Linux command line. From what I’ve read, you can connect your BBB to a computer monitor, add a keyboard and mouse and run a Linux operating system like Ubuntu off it, just like an ordinary computer! This is pretty incredible since the BBB is the size of a credit card.

Learning the command line is rather challenging since the book presents all these new terms that make a non-savvy Linux user like myself scratch their head. There’s a lot to learn and it will take a long time to fully understand the Linux operating system.


Sadly, I still find myself using the “Auto” function of my new DSLR for the majority of the time. I can say that I’m getting a little better at knowing when to use longer exposure times and different shutter settings to create different photos. I was in Toronto last weekend and managed to get some good photos of Niagara falls and downtown Toronto. You can see the album here.

I’m hoping once I get a little better grasp on the BBB to get my time-lapse project somewhat underway. I’ve been slacking in this department.

Classic Car Hunt

Since I’ve decided that I want a classic car, I’ve been mostly trolling Craigslist for that new classic to hopefully enter my garage soon. There’s lots of options out there, but I have a feeling I’ll find myself with a 1974 – 1979 Corvette.

One of the things I’ve found is that it’s a bit challenging for me to jump right in and start looking into classic cars. So much scrutinizing is needed when looking at a classic car and while I’ve decided that I’m going to get one, I know it’s not a quick process. Sure, if you really wanted to you could go out and buy one today in good shape if money is no object, but when you’re on a budget, finding the best car you can for your budget is a time consuming process. There’s so many things to think about. What kind of classic do I want? What are the main issues with these particular models? How easy is maintenance? How easy is it to find parts? How much will certain parts cost? When looking at cars, what red flags should I be aware of? How original is the car?

A lot of these questions come down to figuring out a few things, like how involved you plan to be with owning a classic, how much you want to spend time doing repairs (I’ve been told no matter how much you spend, classic cars will ALWAYS need repairs) and how much money and work you want to put into it.

I’ve started looking, though it’s going to be a long process. For now, I know I want a black, blue, or silver Corvette (though not the 78 silver anniversary two tone silver, I personally don’t love the two colors), model years 1974 – 1979 with a standard transmission (though the transmission isn’t a deal breaker, I could do auto if the right car came along). We’ll see what happens



Beer Batch #2: Dunkel Rye, Son!

Even though I haven’t had a chance to try my first home brew beer, I figured I would get started on my second batch. I was feeling in the mood for something German related and I was recommended a Dunkelweiss (more specifically a Dunkelweiss). It’s similar to a Hefeweizen, however it’s darker and has a more complex malt taste with a lower alcohol by volume, this one’s around 4.30%. The website gives a better description.

One thing I should have learned a long time ago, but somehow continue to forget through my own moments of stupidity is that steam really hurts. My arm is in a bit of pain as I write this post. Gosh darn pain receptors.

So, same as last time, we’ve got the grains, hops, malt extract, and the yeast. Since this isn’t as strong a beer, there’s only boil hops in this recipe, there’s no finishing hops.

Ready for the Boil
Ready for the Boil
Batch #2 Ingredients
Batch #2 Ingredients

The recipe is as follows

  • Grains
    • 8 oz CaraMunich
    • 8 oz Special B
    • 4 oz Carafa I
    • 4 oz Rye
  • Malt Extract
    • 6 lbs Liquid Wheat Extract
  • Hops
    • 0.5 oz German Traditional Hop Pellets
  • Yeast
      White Laps 300 German Hefeweizen

At some point in the future, I’ll need to give a breakdown of how the grains influence the overall flavor and body of the beer. I have yet to do more research on the different types of grains and their traits.

For this particular recipe, the CaraMunich and the Special B grains give a caramel base to the beer, the Carafa I is a german roasted malt, similar to a chocolate malt. The rye grains contribute a deep red color and add a rye flavor.

The liquid Wheat Extract is a mix of 40% barley and 60% wheat.

The hops give a “Medium intense floral and herbal (grassy) tones” (see for more info.)

The yeast is a German yeast typically used in the production of Hefeweizen beers.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t tried enough varieties to know what kind of combinations of grains, hops, and malts will produce what kinds of beers, but the best I can do for now is give a quick breakdown as to what the ingredients are supposed to produce.

Home Brew Batch #1 – Irish Hills Ale Update

It may be a bit early to open my Irish Hills Ale, but I’m going to be in Toronto for the weekend and figured it would be a good way to start the long weekend.

Ready for Consumption
Ready for Consumption
It's Carbonated!
It’s Carbonated!
Success! First Beer!

Well, my first beer is carbonated, so that’s a good sign. So how did it taste?

Well, it tasted like beer, which is a start. It was a little bit weak in my opinion, though I want to wait for a little bit before I decide how the beer tastes. It may need a bit more time to age, I’ll give an update in the near future.