What’s Your Next Project?

Ubuntu 8.10's Create a USB startup disk dialogInitially, the title was “What’s Your Next Geeky Project?”, but I’m interested to know other projects too.

I’m a DIY guy. I like messing around with stuff, figuring out how to do things and learning new (ahem) skills. Most of my projects involve computers because that’s where most of my skills are. I tinker around the house too, not as much as I’d like, but then again, my skills aren’t very advanced. I’ve yet to go under the hood and mess with the car, maybe someday.

Like any good DIY’er, I’ve got a list of projects I’d like to make time for, again most of them are geeky. This week’s project was one I’ve had on my list for a while, creating a live USB Linux install that I can take anywhere. Creating a live USB install is a new feature of Ubuntu 8.10 and is also available in Fedora 9 and 10. These two distros are very similar, so it stands to reason they both support live USB.

So why do I care? Live USB simply means that I have a fully functional Linux O/S installed on a USB drive (thumbdrive for ultra-portability), and I can use that O/S on any computer, anywhere, any time (as long as the computer’s BIOS can boot to USB).

In short, it’s not a laptop, or a netbook, it’s a stickbook.

Think about that for a second.

With my little stickbook, I can use my own “computer” all over the place; at someone’s house, on a loaner laptop, in the library, on a friend’s laptop. No security worries, no concerns about cookies, no configuration changes. Easy breezy.

You could also use this option to test drive Ubuntu or Fedora; it’s about as much work as creating a bootable Live CD.

All you really need to know is how to boot to and change a BIOS, which isn’t too bad, even though it’s different for each manufacturer. Speaking of which, I’ve no idea how to do that on a Mac (added to my DIY list).

Pretty sweet. I’ve been itching to try this since I upgraded to Ubuntu 8.10, and this post from TechRadar reminded me.

I had been hoping to write this post from a live USB install of Fedora 10, but a number of issues prevented that. Fedora’s live USB creator utility only works on Windows or Fedora. So, I had to start up a Windows VM to create the live USB. I booted it up and messed around a bit, but eventually got the root password all hosed, which torpedoed my efforts.

Faced with a do-over, I figured Ubuntu would be easier, since as with Fedora, they have the utility built-in to the O/S.

Anyway, this is dead simple stuff, and all you need is a USB drive with a few GB of free space. The live USB is a non-destructive process, meaning your data are preserved. So, if you have a big enough USB stick, you can still use it for moving files around e.g. those conference presentations.

So, what’s next on my list? Learn Rails. Add more monitors to my workspace.

Around the house, I’m slowly replacing the switches and outlets. Building some standalone stairs is also on the list.

My guess is that you’re probably a DIY person too, to some extent, and like me, you have a backlog of hobbist projects.

So, what are they? Geeky or not, share them in the comments.

Update: Sherman (@rednektek) points out that the USB drive will only support about a million or so writes before it dies. I think the TechRadar post mentions that as well. Seems like a lot; can anyone put that into perspective?




  1. I've got a list and no time to do them in.
    #1 finishing my workshop in the basement, I framed the entire room over Thanksgiving and haven't put enough time back in it. Full sound proofing and wiring so that when I get tired of the woodshop and the wife runs out of projects it'll become the home theater
    #2 The live USB stick I owe you
    #3 I have an RFID reader that I want to make a firefox plugin for to authenticate me to site
    #4 A Asus openwrt based router to play music that I can control with my iPhone (much cheaper than the soundbridge and sonos solutions)
    #5 Finally getting sports scores to appear on my 42″x8″ dot matrix LED display (think train station sign)
    #6 …alright never mind the list is too long already

    I love mating the physical world with the interwebs, things like the plants that tweet actually interest me, I'm thinking the Arduino and Xbee aren't too far off in my future. Needless to say my ADD brain has way too many things running through it

  2. Nice, your list has some cool items on it. Is this how startups are born 🙂 We could put all these into a virtual hat and pick out one to work on for giggles.

    I agree with the appeal of bringing technology into the physical world; Paul and a friend of his have done some cool stuff with automating the home.

  3. My lists 're something that I would like to improve.
    – use more time to workshop about SQL, I'm interesting about CBO.
    – improve my language… that's a poor. Perhaps I have to use more… more times 😉
    – write ruby on rails…
    – discuss on forums and other people…

  4. I agree. SSD/Flash disk has Read/Write limits. But normally it won't hit that number and it's so cheap that I just don't care for USB stick.

    For USB Live, why not use UNetbootin? It's much better than the Ubuntu/Fedora built-in USB live creator.

    A lot of things to learn and improve in 2009
    #consolidate tech skills (get RHCE or LPI done which I cannot afford when I was a student)
    #business skills, reading Web Analytics.
    #Optimise my GTD methodology and tools to improve productivity…
    #Build a wiki for our team, probably mediawiki or Confluence (paid). Evaluating both on Ubuntu Server…


  5. Not sure what CBO is. SQL is a good skill to have.

    I've been meaning to jump into Rails for a while, but as an old school 3G programmer (C, PL/SQL), I wonder how easy it will be for me. I have a project in mind and everything, just can't find the time.

  6. I hadn't heard of UNetbootin, but it sounds pretty sweet. I'll have to check it out (adds to list); one thing I'd like to do that's already on the list is try out other Linux distros. So, that will help a lot. Thanks for the tip.

    Funny, I think optimize GTD is on everyone's list of projects. Ironically, we never get to it 🙂

  7. If you've got an iPhone then skip the openwrt router and go buy yourself an Airport Express for about $60 on eBay. It connects to your network (ethernet or wired) and provides audio out which streams from iTunes.

    And you can use the free Remote application from Apple to control it.

  8. Agreed that would be an easy solution, but then I'd have to have a machine with iTunes running for my music. I'm also looking at hooking up an LCD display with some minimal buttons to it for local access if the iPhone is on the charger. Along with a local router for my machines in the media cabinet.

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