Learning Linux – the wrong way – day 2

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Unborking the borked laptop –


I’m trying to learn some Linux. Ostensibly to do some data science at the command line, because it feels like something I might need to know at some point. I have reclaimed an old Windows laptop ( poorly specced, with missing keys and a penchant for sending the cursor up several lines at once with no prior warning), and I installed a Ubuntu distribution on it.

I then decided to update the distribution, and accidentally lost power during that install. So now, I have a laptop with no Windows, no Linux, and it won’t boot

Day 2

Today the clocks go back 1 hour. That’s supposed to mean an extra hour in bed. That doesn’t happen when you have kids though, so, having staggered to bed at a stupid time in the morning, I am being woken a few hours later. Miraculously, there is no fighting or squabbling (amongst the kids that is), so once breakfast is out the way, I pick up the laptop and retrace my steps from the previous night:

  • install 2015 version of Ubuntu from cover disk
  • fix the broken APT, which I later discover means Advanced Packaging Tool. Without it, I can’t update.
  • Peform a proper installation of Ubuntu 2016 LTS.

At last, I have a decent installation. I take a look at the software centre, which is where you find new programs and tools, and see some new options available. A python interpreter is already installed, Julia is available, and I eventually find an older version of R, so of course, I install that.

It really is old though, so I find myself browsing to CRAN and downloading the latest version. Thankfully, I don’t need to do any command line kung fu to get it installed, which is kind of cheating, but I just want it on there.

Having fired it up, and being glad it worked, I decide to go for RStudio as well.

This is where things start to get interesting – it doesn’t install because of missing / out of date files.

So it’s back to firing up the terminal, and apt-get install to try and find the stuff I need. Ubuntu is pretty good at telling you what is going on, and what the problems are, so I didn’t feel too lost. There was a bit of googling going on, but nothing out of the ordinary.

I’ve written an R package, which builds fine in Windows. I tried a random Linux build using RHub’s online tool, and it failed. So, I wondered if I could download my package from github and build it in Ubuntu.

Once I’d got RStudio installed, I begin installing packages. I figured the biggest bang for my buck was installing tidyverse. Blimey, that took ages. A few things failed (dependencies of dependencies), so there were some false starts getting everything needed, and then it began to build the package.

I had no idea it would take so long. Seriously, it feels like Windows has the edge here.

My first plot in Ubuntu

It’s worth reading that thread as Chris Beeley, Paul Drake and others all chipped in with really good advice.

Various other packages were installed. Data.table was a breeze. Eventually I had what I needed ( data.table, zoo, ggplot2 and magrittr) so I downloaded my package files.

I opened them up in RStudio, and verified that it passed all checks, then built it.


Success, package built, and working in Linux.

I tweeted out some pics, and spawned a bit of discussion amongst several other NHS colleagues – you know who you are. Later on that night, I tried to burn Linux Mint to disk. I used the built in ‘brasero’ disk burner, but it failed. Possibly due to a combination of poor quality disk, and a rickety CD/DVD drive.

Apparently, I should be using a usb-key for this, but it’s been years since I had need for a usb-drive, so did not have one to hand.

I finished off by browsing through an ebook I picked up for free on Amazon (Linux for Beginners by Jason Cannon happened to be on offer a day or so earlier)

It starts off by explaining file directories, and how to navigate them, which is definitely going to take a bit of practice, for someone so used to ‘point and click’ navigation.

So, to recap, some slight progress:

  • 2016 LTS installed
  • R , RStudio and VS Code installed
  • Checked and built my R package on Ubuntu – woohoo
  • Informed that Mint was the way to go, as was usb installation
  • Lots of practice with apt-get upgrade, apt-get install and apt autoremove

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