The Linux Foundation continues to drive innovation. It recently hosted an automotive summit to get the industry fired up about free software. GNU/Linux can be used in conjunction with Google Docs and LibreOffice to write professionally. The hardest part of getting started with GNU/Linux is figuring out what to do. Finally, Bitcoins are bringing freedom to finances. The Linux Week in Review 23 brings you these fascinating stories:
- The Linux Foundation’s Automotive Summit
- How To Write Using LibreOffice, Google Docs, Linux, and Windows
- The Fundamental GNU/Linux Problem: What Do I Do?
- Bitcoins: The Birth of a Free Software/Open Source Economy
The Linux Foundation’s Automotive Summit
Free software and open source have inspired a whole new generation of tinkerers to unlock the secrets of their electronic devices. A few years, I bought a Toyota Prius hybrid. I decided that I wanted Sirius satellite radio, but I did not want to pay someone hundreds of dollars to install it for me. I found a Sirius radio that integrated into the Prius’ multi-function display. I purchased it along with an installation DVD, and I installed it myself over the course of about 4 hours. I did not used to be a do-it-myselfer, but I learned to be one due to my experiences tinkering with software. The Prius is a complex piece of hardware, but it feels like a good device to “play” with. Pulling the panels off inside the car couldn’t have been easier. Once I saw how easy the install would be, I just chugged through it. After this experience, I believe that the next logical step in automotive development is to allow people a safe way to upload software onto their cars to personalize them, and to control some of the non-safety related functions.
The Linux Foundation is taking the idea of GNU/Linux in cars seriously. I can easily see a future where the car’s systems run on GNU/Linux: the navigation system, the entertainment system, and perhaps even the main computer! As a side note, I recently flew on a Delta Airlines flight. They had to reboot the computer system that runs the video screens in each seat. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were running GNU/Linux. Go Delta! Hopefully, the Linux Foundation’s Automotive Summit will bring this same reality to the automotive industry.
How To Write Using LibreOffice, Google Docs, Linux, and Windows
Recently, someone asked me “how do you write?” I figured that a lot of people want to start writing, so I might as well share my answer with the world. Linux offers a lot of writing solutions, but most of us don’t live in a Linux-only world. Most of us use a combination of operating systems and browsers. But almost everybody is connected to the Internet. Why not use ALL of these tools to help us write?
I have found that the most important way to become a good writer is to write every day. I write every day, even if it is only one sentence or one paragraph. I also study a lot of great writers. One of my favorite writers is the Star Trek/comic book writer, Peter David. He says that he sometimes plans his book or story before writing it, and at other times, he just writes on the fly. I use both methods too. I’ll show you my method briefly.
I start all of my writing in Google Docs. This is because I can access Google Docs from any computer connected to the Internet. Google Docs is free, all you need is a Gmail account. Google Docs gives you a lot of free storage space to save your documents. For free, you get 1024 MB of storage space for your documents. You can upgrade your Google Docs storage at the prices given in chart 1 below:
Chart 1: Google Docs Storage Prices
20 GB ($5.00 USD per year)
80 GB ($20.00 USD per year)
200 GB ($50.00 USD per year)
400 GB ($100.00 USD per year)
1 TB ($256.00 USD per year)
For me, Google Docs turned out to be a great deal. I am nowhere near my free storage limit, but when I do get close, I’ll just upgrade to the $5.00 per year plan. I will only buy what I need. Google Docs Writer is a great “lite” word processor. I can write my entire article in Google Docs, and then do the final editing in LibreOffice Writer. In fact, I’m currently writing a Star Trek novel, and I’m doing it in Google Docs. I started with a planning document that gives a rough plan of the entire novel, and then I write segments of the novel following this plan. I should have the novel finished sometime in 2012. Google Docs can export the file in many different formats: .doc, .odt, .pdf, .rtf, .html, and as text. I typically download my document as .odt, open it in LibreOffice, and then I finish it on my GNU/Linux, or Windows computer. So the beauty of the system is that it integrates everything that I use: Gmail, Gnu/Linux, and Windows. It has made me incredibly productive at no cost at all. My days of paying hundreds of dollars for MS Windows ended 5 years ago, and I will never pay for an office suite again. Thank God!
The Fundamental GNU/Linux Problem: What Do I Do?
The great alto saxophonist, Charlie Parker, had a hit song in 1949 called “Now’s The Time”. The hardest part of any endeavor is figuring out WHAT to do. Once you’ve figured out what to do, you have to find the motivation to start. GNU/Linux is just a means to an end. For you to be productive on GNU/Linux, you have to have problems to solve. My primary “problem” now is producing a high quality article every week. GNU/Linux, Google Docs, and other tools in my toolbox allow me to do this very well. As GNU/Linux stabilizes and becomes more mainstream, the excitement about IT is subsiding, and people are instead focusing on what GNU/Linux allows them to do. What I have realized about myself is that I have a myriad of interests. However, if you are REALLY considering taking a dive into GNU/Linux, I can tell you from personal experience that these are things that you can DEFINITELY do with GNU/Linux for free:
- write short stories, articles, and novels.
- write music (this includes producing professional-quality music scores).
- produce professional quality podcasts and other audio productions.
- do complex financial planning and tracking.
In other words, there really is no limit to what you can do with GNU/Linux. What I would advise is for you to sit down and think about what it is that you WANT to do, and then figure out how to do it with GNU/Linux. That is how I learned, and I found this to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. The biggest thing that it gave me is confidence. Knowledge is power, and I no longer have to be beholden to the latest whims or expectations of those around me. Knowledge gives me independence, and the ability to set my own course. It can do the same for you.
Bitcoins: The Birth of a Free Software/Open Source Economy
I am a strong proponent of the emerging Bitcoin economy. Bitcoins are a peer-to-peer digital currency based on hashing algorithms, encryption, a global peer-to-peer network. Bitcoins are well known in the GNU/Linux community, and are slowly becoming more well known in more “mainstream” circles. I’ve received a couple of requests to explain Bitcoins in layman’s terms, so here goes. A Bitcoin is a piece of encrypted computer code that describes a transaction. The record of that transaction is public, the entire network knows about it. So I will be give you an example of how a Bitcoin transaction works. Let us say that John wants to send 10 Bitcoins to Paul. Both the sender and receiver need to have a digital wallet. This digital wallet is part of the free Bitcoin software. So both John and Paul need to have the Bitcoin software on their computers (the Bitcoin software exists for GNU/Linux, Windows, and Mac). The latest version of the Bitcoin client makes this wallet fully encrypted. So now, John needs to get 10 Bitcoins to send to Paul. The easiest way to purchase Bitcoins is to buy them on a Bitcoin exchange. The most popular Bitcoin exchange is Mt. Gox (https://mtgox.com/). You can use “real” money to buy and sell Bitcoins. If you don’t want to keep your Bitcoins in a wallet on your computer, you can just store them in a wallet at your exchange. So now, all John needs to do is to get Paul’s Bitcoin address. He puts that address in his Bitcoin client, and the Bitcoins get sent electronically over the peer-to-peer network. The transaction is verified and corroborated by the other clients on the network. This is important for non-repudiation purposes. Paul cannot say that John didn’t send the money, because every client on the network saw the transaction. However, the identity of the sender and receiver remain anonymous. All that the network sees is the sender’s address, the receiver’s address, and the amount of Bitcoins sent.
Now, how Bitcoins are made is a little bit more complicated. Bitcoins are created on computers all over the world using a complicated Bitcoin algorithm written by an unknown computer programmer who goes by the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto”. Anyone can create Bitcoins if they have a powerful enough computer system. The software that allows the computer to run the Bitcoin creation algorithm is free. The computers running this Bitcoin creation software are known as “Bitcoin miners”. The person running the Bitcoin miner can then sell the Bitcoins on any Bitcoin exchange. Now here are some of the catches to Bitcoin mining:
You need a really powerful processor. Most Bitcoin miners use GPUs vice CPUs, because GPUs are better at the brute force algorithm solving needed to create Bitcoins. These GPUs are normally obtained by buying powerful video cards, and installing them on the mining computer, known as a “mining rig”. The GPUs run at full power the whole time that you’re mining, so you will use A LOT of electricity. Miners with electric bills of $700-$1000 per month or more are common.
The more people are mining, the harder it becomes to mine Bitcoins. This is due to the nature of the algorithm.
The number of Bitcoins that can ever be created is finite (approximately 21 million Bitcoins is the maximum that will ever exist).
As a geek myself, I find the Bitcoin economy to be a fascinating invention. You can actually read Satoshi’s original Bitcoin paper here: http://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf
Will Bitcoin’s succeed? Perhaps. I certainly hope so. It will take a large number of people getting behind the technology. Only time will tell.
This was another great week in the world of GNU/Linux. As I write this issue of the Linux Week in Review, I’m sitting at my computer listening to an episode of the Linux Outlaws podcast. Have a great week until TLWIR 24!