Some modest suggestions to make Linux desktop computing easier and safer

Linux Workshop presentation for Wednesday 31 March 2010

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Every day we use short cuts and convenience tools on our computers without thinking too much about them. Today, I will go over a list of suggestions that you might find helpful in day to day computing. The list arises from my experience and day to day habits and so may not be completely applicable to everyone. I may include tips that you don't agree with and I have surely left off many good suggestions. Feel free to add to this list or to make comments about what is already here.

I want to start with a question for people in the Department of Biostatistics: In the last 3 weeks has email performance improved, gotten worse, or stayed the same?

  • Don't send HTML email (Why HTML in E-Mail is a Bad Idea) (What is wrong with sending HTML)
  • Don't receive HTML email (in Thunderbird...View...Message Body As...
  • If you are sending someone a document use plain text or pdf format
  • If you are sending data to someone, use CSV format
  • Discourage the use of Excel or Access as a method of collecting and storing data. RedCap is the way to go for most small to moderate sized data collection tasks. It is also a great way to develop and manage surveys.
  • Try to get collaborators to send data using some simple format like CSV.
  • Never click on a link in a email
  • Never save or open an email attachment unless your were expecting it
  • Take advantage of Vanderbilt's anti-spam service called VUmailguard
  • Set up and use some sort of reasonable directory structure so you can keep your work organized
  • Version control software is a good idea for most projects - especially if they involve more that one person
  • Learn how to use the department's wiki and use it as much as possible (document development, reports, meeting minutes and agenda, lists, notes, presentations, etc.)
    • jump
    • search
    • topic naming (good topic names help the jump box work well)
    • a little simple markup is all you need
    • permissions/access
    • link (don't copy) existing content
    • fix stuff, add stuff, change stuff - that's what its for
    • Frequently Asked Questions
    • an example of note keeping
  • send an email to if you have trouble (call or come see us if email is not working or your problem is urgent)
  • Check out Getting Started at Vanderbilt Biostatistics to see what the IT team can do for you
  • Learn how to use some Linux command line tools
    • man
    • apropos
    • cd
    • mkdir
    • ls
    • rm
    • cat, head, tail
    • grep
    • cp
    • mv
    • ssh
    • scp
    • top
    • ps
    • df (Don't let your disk fill up. Nothing works right when the disk is full.)
    • du
    • find
    • hostname (computer name) and ifconfig (for ip address)
    • Tutorial for command line tools
  • It is easy to remotely access your linux computer (freenx, ssh, scp, putty (Windows), winscp (Windows))
  • Use batch jobs for long running stuff - How do I run my R program as a batch job?
  • You can mount a share that is hosted on a Windows server
  • When connected wirelessly, you need to use a VPN connection so printing and file sharing will work
  • Use a system monitoring program like top or System Monitor (shortcut: Ctrl+Esc) every once in a while to see what your system is doing.
  • You can use the kill command or the System Monitor to stop a job that is causing trouble
  • If you are really hung up, try ctrl-alt-f1 to get out of the windowing environment
  • If something is not working right and you get an error message, write it down or take a screen shot (ksnapshot). It is a lot easier to diagnose problems if we have an error message.
  • Try out SoftMaker Office if you are having trouble with Microsoft Office compability. SoftMaker seems to do a better job with many MS Office files where OpenOffice has trouble.
  • Be careful with private information. Vanderbilt has policy on protecting private information on computing and storage devices and everyone needs to be familiar with that. We did a presentation last year on this subject. See Encryption Tools for Workstations and Laptops. It has links to policy and discusses some ways to protect private information. If you lose or otherwise reveal private information, the law requires that you report that. You should never store private information on a laptop, external hard drive, or thumb drive. If you do it should be encrypted. See "What to Protect and Where?" for some additional tips.
  • There are many neat add-ons for Firefox. Have a look and try some out. Tools...Add-ons...
  • Workstations are backed up each day at various times. The backups are stored on a server and then saved to tape by an outside service. It is not an archival service; the service keeps tapes about 6 weeks and then recycles them. We cannot recover files from the past. You can usually recover a file by looking in your backup folder (/biostat/backup/vunetid)
  • We can't back up your computer if it is turned off. Log off, turn off the monitor, but leave it running.

  • If you use Windows, don't use Internet Explorer unless you absolutely have to. Firefox and Chrome are both available for Windows; so is R and OpenOffice and Latex for that matter.

A few sites that have handy tips

Topic revision: r14 - 19 Aug 2017, FrankHarrell

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