Ubuntu One

While Spideroak is my go-to for deeper and more long term offsite backup, for quickly moving things between computers, or to my phone or tablet, I have been looking for a replacement for Dropbox since the revelations that their cloud service is not exactly the most secure out there. I think I have found a good solution in Ubuntu One, which is built into the Ubuntu OS.

Ubuntu One runs very similarly to Dropbox. You can choose what folders you want synced and they will be viewable on all devices you have the app installed. I find Ubuntu One to be very fast and works smoothly on both the desktop and phone. My primary uses for Ubuntu One are twofold. First to move files to my phone, since the Galaxy S3 that does not allow access on Linux computers for some reason (oh, I know: Google wants you to use their Music Cloud service. No thanks). Second, I use it for moving files from my day to day use laptop over to my desktop where I can print things or to my work computer, which I do not do that often.

Ubuntu One is a sold Dropbox replacemant. I can see myself getting a lot of use out of it in the future.

Back To School Linux Applications

As far as I know, I am one of the few, if only, Linux users in the faculty on my campus. This comes up from time to time, often when someone walks by my laptop and doesn't see the usual Apple/Windows interface. I have discussed Linux with some of my colleagues; many are interested in how I do the things I do with it for school.

This is a list of Back To School apps for faculty who use Linux. I use each of these on a day to day basis and I would not be as productive as I am without them. Good news for Windows/Apple users: Many of these are cross-platform applications you can use too.

Tomboy: Tomboy is my note taking program of choice. I have a variety of uses for Tomboy: I keep a "to do" list that also loads on Conky (see below) plus numerous notes for each day of the week, ideas for projects, and other assorted randomness. The biggest use as a faculty member for me is having portable notes with lists. I have a pre, and post, semester list. I have a running list of things that need to be added to my annual report. In the summer, I draft and map my classes for the year via Tomboy notes. Tomboy can be synced over a number of computers via the cloud or, what I do, by syncing the folder my notes are in over a number of computers using Spideroak (look down).

Spideroak: I moved to Spideroak about a year ago after issues with a few of their competitors. Spideroak is an extremely secure backup program (see the Security Now! podcast episode about it) that backs up your work and can be synced over a number of devices. It is also cross-platform. I use Spideroak on my home desktop (Linux Mint 15), the laptop I bring to work (Ubuntu 12.04), another laptop running Ubuntu 11.10, and my Android phone and tablet. I can also access it via the web on my office desktop (which I run using Portable Apps...see below) One caveat: You cannot upload files to your Spideroak archive from the web ala Dropbox. I have been told by someone at Spideroak this is for security reasons.

Calibre: Calibre is an ebook manager that can also swap your books between various formats. Depending on your ebook reader, you may want books in .mobi, .ebook, or PDF (I had a student this summer who had a Nook, I think, and wanted everything in PDF) or a multitude of other format options. Calibre lets you transfer between these formats with relative ease to keep up with wherever your books are going.

Conky: Conky is a lightweight system monitor that allows a user to visually display information from their computer. As I said above, I use Conky to display my task list from Tomboy. I also display a monthly calendar, my daily Google Calendar, and various information about what is going on within my computer (CPU. Memory, What Song is Currently Playing). Conky is fairly easy to set up, UbuntuForums have a number of tutorials that users have created, although you don’t have to be a user of Ubuntu (personally I run Linux Mint for the most part) to use them.

LibreOffice: LibreOffice is a great alternative to Microsoft Office that I use on a day to day basis. Many of my students, not willing to put down the amount of money Microsoft wants for their products, also use LibreOffice. LibreOffice allows users to create documents, presentations, spreadsheets, etc. I have used various forks from this project for about 10 years and have never looked back at Office. It’s not perfect, but good enough for me.

Portable Apps: While not Linuxcentric, I use Portable Apps on my work computer a lot to make sure I can use the programs I want. I do trust my IT Department and like them a lot, but I am not that interested in using Microsoft Office or Internet Explorer. I carry a flash drive in my bag with Google Chrome, LibreOffice, and a handful of other programs. I also run HTTPSEverywhere in Chrome to make sure my connections are secure on our Wi-Fi Network.

Linux Boot Drive: Even if you are not a Linux user, I think every academic should have a copy of some form of Linux on a flash drive or CDR. Most forms of Linux allow you to run a "live" version of the OS before you install it. Normally, users would use this to test compatibility and make sure hardware and drivers (I had a laptop years ago that had problem with the rather infamous Broadcom wireless cards) work in Linux. However, this can also be used to, potentially, recover files from a broken Windows system. Say your Windows XP laptop crashes. Depending on how your OS failed, there is a decent chance your files are fine. Booting into Linux could allow you to recover your files before reinstalling. Of course, this is why you should be backing up (see above).

Weekly Reader 4-9-12

  • Lifehacker takes a look at the next Ubuntu release. I had Ubuntu 10.11 on my work laptop for awhile; I really didn’t like it that much. I have moved completely to Linux Mint (11 at home, 12 at work).
  • The spring issue of The Quarterly Conversation has a number of interesting articles.
  • Katherine D. Harris on adding acknowledgement to your syllabus. I will have a post about this sometime in the summer.
  • Scott Rettberg on the Electronic Literature Organization’s archives.


    Ubuntu users who want to try Google Chrome can now do so by installing Chromium, an open source project based on the Chrome code.  Ubuntu Geek has all the details, which will install the browser and also add the nightly build to your repositories.  Some things don’t work yet like flash (although they are getting closer in nightly builds) and the ability to print.

    Nevertheless, the browser itself is very nice and extremely fast.  I find it is as fast, if not more, than Firefox.  That said, this is before it gets boggled down with plugins, themes, and extensions like Firefox can become if you aren’t careful.  I look forward to what comes next for Chromium and appreciate an open source port of another web browser.



    If you’re looking for a light weight PDF reader for your Ubuntu system, I highly recommend Okular.  It is straight forward, with a simple GUI that doesn’t hog memory like many of the readers for Ubuntu seem to do.  I particularly enjoy the ability to not only copy/paste, but to actually box off large blocks of text for copying.  This has been very helpful when working with a pdf in Zotero.

    Add Firefox To Jaunty Notifications In 9.04

    I like the new visual notifications in Ubuntu 9.04’s panel.  However, this only works for selected processes and programs.  An Ubuntu user has created an extension to add Firefox notifications to Jaunty’s panel.  This is very useful and will hopefully lead to other programs adapting similar extensions.

    (Or do they already?  Is there an easier way to get my programs to use Jaunty’s notifications in the panel?)


    Cleaning Up Ubuntu

    A good set of tips from Ubuntu Forums: if you’re looking to do some cleanup on your Ubuntu install, these terminal commands are useful.  Of course, I believe if you have this many orphaned files and partially installed packages a reinstall of your operating system might be more helpful.  I agree with Leo Laporte’s suggestion to Windows users on his radio show: the common user should reinstall their system and get a fresh start every six months to a year.   Luckily, the newest version of Ubuntu comes out on a twice yearly cycle, so this is very convenient for us.