Sunday, December 28, 2014

Not Dead Yet !

It's almost six months now since my last blog - see what FaceBook does to you?

Anyway, here are some pictures and my wife's recipe for Banana bread. I made it under her instruction last night and, as it came out well, again this evening. This time it has some nuts in it too!

1.75 cups of all-purpose Flour1.25 teaspoons of Baking PowderHalf a teaspoon of Baking Soda
Two-thirds of a Cup SugarOne-third of a cup of Butter2 Eggs
2 tablespoons (1 oz) Milk1 cup mashed BananasQuarter cup of chopped nuts

 Here's a shot of the bananas as they were before starting. As you can see, they're pretty black and soft!
So I peeled each one and removed all the black flesh, all the decayed-looking flesh, etc., and still ended up with a deent amount from each one (except one, which was a complete write-off!).

You can see the result here on the right.

The rest of the ingredients are here: eggs and milk in the load pan, sugar, baking powder and soda, and flour. The butter waits in the mixing bowl.

  1. Stir together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.
  2. Use a fork to mash and mix the bananas. Continue until as many of the lumps as possibly have been removed - probably at least five minutes.
  3. Use a fork to mix the sugar and butter together, continuing to mix and cream the mixture for three or four minutes.
  4. Add an egg and beat it in; add the milk and mix it in, and add the other egg and beat that in well too. The mixture should be smooth and creamy to the eye.
  5. Alternately add some flour and some banana, mixing them well in to the mixture. 
  6. Add the nuts and fold them in to the mixture.
  7. Grease a loaf pan (8" x 4" x 2" is about right) (use the paper wrapper from the butter or two or three squirts of Pam-equivalent).
  8. Pour the mixture in to the loaf pan. Smooth it out, and tease it up somewhat at the corners.
  9. Bake at 350F for an hour.
Let it cool before shaking it out of the loaf pan. Enjoy!!


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Everyday Work in Linux

Comparing Linux and Windows, there are a lot of things that you may think "I can't do without XXX to get this done", but in reality there aren't that many that are only available in one OS and not tthe other. While the advertising money may be with Windows programs - because the money is available from what you spend on them - what that means is that you see the advert and think about what you can do. You can very often find just as good a product in the Linux world. One word of warning - this blog post is going to be heavily laden with links!!

Just to start off, and to placate those haters of Linux, I have to say that Apple has not ported iTunes to Linux. In my experience there is a way of doing it, but it's the "normal" cheat - run a copy of Windows in VirtualBox. As I say, it's a cheat, but I don't really mind because I recognise that I need some programs that just don't exist for Linux.

  • For one example, I work with Microsoft SQL Server, and there's just no way that that program is ever going to leave the Windows platform. 
  • For another example, while I use Thunderbird for my daily email needs, I store all my email in a program called TheBat!. This is a great program and I've been keeping my email in it since the mid 1990s. There's absolutely no way that I could convert! However, it runs only in Windows.

So yes, I also use Windows. And a Chromebook, and Linux, and a Mac at times. I've also used George (ICL), OS/360, OS/370, OS/400 (IBM), rt-11, RSX-11, VMS (DEC), PrimeOS, RT-42 (Siemens), SinTran3 (Norsk Data) CP/M, UNIX, PC-DOS, MS-DOS, and a few computers without any operating systems at all! All in all, they're just a whole load of software designed to do what you need to have done, and a fairly simplistic interface on the front (GUI, text, or toggle) to let you tell it what you want. Pick what suits you. I chose the IBM PC and DOS back in 1980 because I needed a machine with a Fortran compiler, and the Apple, although cheaper, didn't have one.

Anyway, here are a few of the programs I use - daily or from time to time - as examples of how one lives just as well in LinuxLand as in WindowsWorld or the AppleArea.

I suppose that everyone knows (or knows about) Adobe's Photoshop. It's taken on a life of its own, really, becoming an ever more expensive package. Photoshop CS6 from May 2012 is still available on Amazon at the time or writing, but you'll have to pay around $1,700 for it!

Photoshop CC, the subscription version, is available (in the US only) for $30 per month - $360 per year. This is much cheaper than upgrading was, as new versions of the CS package appeared about every 18 months.

The Windows alternative is probably Corel PhotoPaint, which has many of the tools that Photoshop has and which comes bundled with Corel Draw!. Also available for a subscription($200 per year), or about $500 for outright purchase, and you get a number of other useful add-on programs.

On Linux the major player is, of course, the Graphical Image Manipulation Program (GIMP). Again, with many of the features of PhotoShop, GIMP is a free product, which can be downloaded for any Linux machine. It's also available for Windows, and there's a comparison of it and Photoshop here. Also Google "gimp vs photoshop" and you'll find more comparison articles.

MyPaint has turned out to be a very easy tool to use with my Wacom Bamboo tablet. It isn't, I think as well-equipped as Painter, but certainly is a very good tool.

For Windows Visio leads, by virtue of Microsoft's overwhelming sales efforts, and also because of its links to SQL Server for database design, which are, quite simply, unmatched elsewhere.

It used to be that a program called Visual Thought was an excellent match for most of what Visio offered, but unfortunately CERN (who appear to have taken over the licence from Confluent) seem to have dropped it almost entirely, so all you get is a few unhelpful pages that you can just about reas (if you read quickly!) before you get redirected

For a very good program for creating diagrams and flows (albeit without database integration) take a look at Dia. It does have some quirks and its own ways of doing a few things, but they're certainly learnable and it's available on Linux and Windows!

Cheese! is the thing!

Ripping CDs
RipperX is a great program. You can get mp3 files from it, or just straight WAV tracks.

Making DVDs
Use K3b. This program will burn media or filesystem CD, DVD, and BluRay discs.

Video Chat 
You can get Skype for Linux, and you can use Google Chat. They both work fine.

So don't ever look down on another operating system - it may well be that the programs there are better for their users than in your part of the world.


We went to Manayunk

So, after 20 years living in the area (for me - 7 for the AG), we finally wandered off to Manayunk (from the Lenape "Manaiung" meaning "place to drink" or "river") yesterday, not surprisingly because the AG had discovered the whereabouts of a yarn store that she hadn't been to before!

Some Problems
After losing the iPod GPS mapping function a number of times (it kept insisting that we were on I-76 on the other side of the Schuylkill River, whereas we were actually driving on Kelly Drive!) we made it to Main Street, found a parking lot and parked.
The AG was paying when all of a sudden, behind my back, there was this very loud scrunching noise - just like when you stomp hard on a soda can. On turning around I found that the driver of a large Mercury Grand Marquis had backed up (getting out of the lot) and gone way too close to one of a set of yellow posts protecting the wall (see picture). Intimate contact at about ten m.p.h. resulted in abrupt alterations in shape to bumper and one read corner (wing and lights). They got out, looked, muttered, got back in, and drove off. I wonder what the story to the insurance will be.

Yarn Store

Hidden River Yarns is the place we went to, just before getting to the parking lot (as you come from Philly, and on the river side of Main Street.

There's a good selection of yarn to browse through (this is just one wall), and the owner is very friendly and a delight to get to know.

Verdict: I can definitely see return visits in our future. It's on the 61 bus line, I believe.

Happy knitting!!


Friday, August 15, 2014


As a very brief update to my blog on my then-new ChromeBook back in January, here's an excellent article on why they're so good.

Oh yes, and how is that ChromeBook doing? Well, it's flown across the countryside with me (Philadelphia to Seattle and back), gone international again (two trips to Canada, as well as the original one to Germany), connects happily to the world through my new cellphone, was used at all my SQL training events in 2014 (see my post on Jan 2, 2015), and is frequently used to offload the pictures and movies from my camera's 64GB SDLC cards because they're formatted with ExFAT and I haven't managed to load the ExFAT drivers onto my LinuxMint machine (17.0) - all my own fault, I think, because they loaded fine onto the previous Mint version!

My new New Year's Resolution should, I think, be to avoid run-on sentences!


Thursday, August 07, 2014

Moving Time Again!!

No! Not moving house. Not yet! This is moving myself from one version of an operating system to another. If you've been using Windows XP and recently moved to Windows 7 or, more emphatically, Windows 8, then you'll look on this sort of a move as being something every bit as traumatic as moving house. I hope to reassure you that an OS upgrade in LinuxLand is lots easier than in WindowsWorld.

Living in a Linux atmosphere, on the other hand, means that you are continually aware of improvements in the world around you and the opportunities for moving from one version to another. Ubuntu, probably the version with the largest user base, produces a new version every six months, and, while you certainly don't need to move anything like that often, one does get into the habit of taking a look at what's on offer, in case some new things are available that you'd like.

In my case I've been using LinuxMint 14 on my System-76 Bonobo mega-laptop for a while (since last November) and while it's been mostly ok, one or two small things have been irritating the bejeesus out of me. One of them is that my laptop has a very nice nVidia graphics card, but one that really isn't supported except with special software that System-76 wrote for it to work with Ubuntu. It totally drives me nuts when I'm working in office programs like Writer and Calc!

On the other hand, these last nine months or so living with Mint have really been a pleasure. Like many, I really don't like Ubuntu's new Unity interface, as it insists on you typing program names. I work with at least three different operating systems - you expect me to remember program names, for heaven's sake?? Mint really does allow you to navigate with the GUI and while some people may say that that's a wimp's approach, my opinion is that if I choose a GUI interface then it shouldn't make me type as a matter of course!

So I started off taking off the bottom panels and pulling the two Seagate 500 GB drives.  In their place I put a 500 GB Samsung 840 EVO SSD drive for the operating system and frequently-used data and a Toshiba 1 TB notebook hard drive. It isn't the greatest thing on earth - 5400 rpm and 8 MB of cache - but it'll get me what I need - more space for virtual machines - until I can go the whole hog and get a mirrored pair of 500GB mSATA SSDs!

So I blew out all the accumulated dust I could find and screwed it all up together again, connected everything, took a deep breath, and turned it on. Nothing much happened, of course, until I popped in the LinuxMint 17 disc and then there was the usual grinding of CD motors as the read head whizzed about and Mint 17 appeared. You'd never know it was any different from 14 - the interface is the same - excepting there's a 17 in the circle (top picture here) and not a 14.

I selected the icon Install Mint, answered a few questions, and let it get on with installation. It took about 15 minutes, which isn't bad, considering! Then a reboot to actually boot from the newly-installed OS and not from the CD. The boot time is down to a lesurely 15 seconds - including entering my password! Almost as fast as my Acer Chromebook.

Next, the printer. I now have a Brother MFC-J870DW, which means that not only do I have a printer/scanner at home, attached to my PC, but I can print to it from anywhere, courtesy of Google Cloud Print, and I can scan and print directly via wi-fi from my tablet or the AG's iTouch. Mint 17 saw the printer part immediately, and identified it as a Brother printer, even getting the model number right, but scanning is a bit more complicated. Installing Brother's printers on Linux machines is, I'll admit, more difficult that doing it on a Windows or Mac machine, but really only because you have to copy and paste lines from a web site into a command prompt and then press the Enter key. If you're scared of doing that then you've obviously never written a letter on a computer!

Next thing to do (it should have been first, really) is to install any and all updated released since the copy of Mint that I installed was cut. That took about five minutes, and there were quite a few listed, but nothing that killed me! After that I still have another piece of hardware to install - a Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet. Now if you go on-line and research Wacom tablets for Linux you'll find a ton of horror stories of people trying and trying and finally giving up. For me, with LinuxMint 17, I have to say that I've had a totally different experience. I plug it in and instantly the whole surface of the tablet maps to the visible area of my two screens. In fact, the first time that I tried it I had to stop in be careful in case I accidentally deleted files and programs and things! After a while it becomes as natural to use as the mouse, and if you're using a graphics program at the time, like MyPaint or GIMP, then there's really no need for a mouse at all, because you can do everything with the tablet and stylus.

So now to software.

I use Thunderbird for mail, so this turns out to be particularly easy, as Mint installs it automatically. All I have to do is go to the View menu of the file browser and tell it to show hidden files. Then find the .thunderbird folder where it keeps everything. It there there's a text file (profiles.ini) and a weirdly-named folder (wyluywb6.default) that holds all the mail, etc. I first do the same exercise on my old main drive (now connected via a USB cable) and find the same pairing, although the folder has a different name. I copy the folder from the old drive to the new one, and open the profiles.ini file in the text editor. In there I find that line saying "Path=wyluywb6.default", which I change to the name of the folder that I'm copying in. That's it! Thunderbird wakes up with all my info just as if nothing had ever changed.

I use Windows at work and very often for things, both work-related and not, at home. To achieve this I use Oracle's VirtualBox software. It allows me to spin up a virtual machine with, say, SQL Server 2014 running in it so that I can follow courseware or try out things that I'm learning. This time I'm up to version 4.13. A few little pieces have altered, and so I add an extension or two and then start up a Windows 7 machine, to be greeted by a complaint that it isn't a genuine version of Windows. That doesn't sit well, as I actually downloaded this version from the Microsoft TechNet site itself! It offers a phone number, I call, am greeted by a well-spoken gentleman who, by the sound of him, originated somewhere on the sub-continent. A few minutes later I had read out a huge long key, entered another equally long key, and was on my way.
Obviously this is a frequent occurrence for Microsoft, and I must applaud them for the professionalism of their staff. However, I have this unpleasant feeling that the same thing may happen for each VM that I restore and launch! We'll see!

Finally, what of that major complaint that I had about the video card and refreshing the screen in LibreOffice products (where parts of the screen would go blank as I typed near them). Well, that problem appears to have vanished totally. The camper is happy!
Well, it's now two days later and I've loaded up pretty much all the programs that I want.

  • GIMP. Very similar to Photoshop.
  • Hugin. Stitches photos together to make panoramas.
  • Audacity. Records and edits audio - I record from cassettes and LPs.
  • Calibre and FBReader. Convert e-books between formats and read them.
  • Geany. Programming IDE.
  • UltraEdit. The best editor, bar absolutely none whatsoever!
  • Cheese. Handles the webcam.
  • Inkscape. For layout and text - something like a mix between Ventura Publisher and Corel Draw!.
  • Dia. A tool for creating flow and other diagrams.
  • VLC. Video playback software.
  • MyPaint. Not nearly so good as Corel Painter, but not at all bad!
  • LibreOffice. Works perfectly, and is much easier to navigate within than MS Office.

Another day has passed and my Virtual Machines are slowly coming back to life. As their disc is now named differently I have to load the metadata of each one, strip off its disc, remove the disc from the library (because each disc has an ID and two can't have the same one), and then re-connect the machine with that disc in ts new home. Tedious, but it doesn't take long and I'm doing it as I need to, rather than all at once.

So, there you are. Pretty much the whole story about upgrading a LinuxMint machine from one version to another - somewhat equivalent to going from Windows 2000 to Windows 7, but much much easier!

The benefits include
  • A much much faster machine (that's from the SSD, not the OS switch)
  • A better organised machine
  • Lots of new versions of software. Even though the release history only notes eighteen months between releases 14 and 17, the implementation, while outwardly so similar as to be almost identical, has improved dramatically.
  • Vastly improved NVidia video drivers, making an amazing difference for Libre Office and VirtualBox in particular.
  • Version 4 of Libre Office is a great improvement over version 3, both in features and compatibility - for example, it now imports Visio diagrams, whereas previously you had to shell out for a Visio licence to look at the things!

So, if you're worried about going where few have gone before, take heart! there's lost of people here to help you !

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Pictures from the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, 2014 (3)

So here we are again .......... in the Barn of the colours and yarn ... !

And so we got to Susan's Fiber Shop
And this rather amazing piece, with the knitting in the middle and all the tassels, was on show at the Fiber Shop
Made by the lovely Esther, shown here in front of her work.

That's it for here ... I have lots more photos, but only a limited amount of time to do layout!
Blogger NEEDS a decent layout program!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Throwback Thursday - with a Vengeance!

This post I'm going to be entirely self-indulgent. It's all about family. My family.
Left is my grandfather, Roy. He is dressed in the uniform of a lieutenant of the Royal Corps of Transport, about 1914. He was soon to fight in the Great War, emerging alive but wounded.
Right is my grandmother, Amy. Taken in 1921, the little girl is my mother, Kathleen.
After service in World War II in the W.R.A.F., my mother can be seen here indulging in a demob party with her friends in the Royal Air Force.
One of those friends, Doug, is seen here with his wife, Binnie, and my father, Joseph.This would have been in the early 1950s.
Here is a photo of the Blogger at the same age that his son now is!
And here's his dog (unfortunately the negative here has aged badly, colour-wise).

That's it!


Monday, May 12, 2014

Pictures from the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, 2014

Here are some more pictures from the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, 2014.

Itsi-bitsi teensy-weensy little lambs!
The old and the new - at the time we went past there was just this cart under a tent - nothing more! 
Some more yarn-bombing of the entrance-way fencing
I've seen "Gourmet Lump Crab" before, but "Gourmet Lump Charcoal" ???
Finally making it to the main exhibition barns.

And this is all Blogger will let me put on a page! After this it appears that its translation program for HTML gives up and does silly things.
More to come! .................. (I hope!)

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Maryland Sheep and Wool 2014 (2)

Today we were back at the Fest, as we are pretty much every year.
So today we went with a friend, Anna, who was a complete newbie to the fair. We left Delran at about 5 am and got to the fairgrounds at about ten past seven, in good time to get an excellent parking spot.
Walking up the path to the entrance we realised that someone had already put in an amazing amount of work this year! The whole walk was yarn-bombed!! The two pictures above show each side, and there's a few close-ups later on.

Instead of making a bee-line straight to the main (and furthest) barn for the Clover Hill stall, this year we headed straight ahead and worked the area at the top of the hill. After lending a (very little) hand helping set up an auction, the girls polished off Sheep Incognito (brilliant, as always, and the subject of attention from the local PBS station) and I hit Tess Yarns to remind my camera just what colour is!

More in an hour or so!

Friday, May 02, 2014

Doing the Right Thing

I'm sure that you've all heard of the flaw discovered a week or so ago in Microsoft's Internet Explorer, the browser that comes included with Windows. This exposed all users of the program, back as far as version five that was distributed with Windows 2000, to active attacks that attempt to exploit the security flaw to introduce new and hostile software onto your computer in order to take it over and use it for other purposes.

It was announced today that Microsoft is fixing the problem and releasing a patch for the program. The patches to fix the problem will work on Windows 8, 7, Vista, and XP, despite XP no longer being supported.

The patch should be automatically available on your Windows computer with the links to Windows Update and Microsoft Update.

Microsoft have no interest in seeing you stay on Windows XP - they're making no money from you! OTOH, they're doing the Right Thing by fixing this problem. In part this is because such a large part of their customer base remains on Windows XP - almost 30% at the time of writing - that something that causes a huge problem for these people will also adversely impact the rest of their customers. In part, also, it would look very bad if they just abandoned that 30% to their fate, and bad publicity is always just that!

So, for whatever the reason, if you're running Windows and using Internet Explorer, 



Monday, April 14, 2014

Installing Programs in Linux

Yep! All Tech this time. Well, almost all Tech. Maybe some Cats and Food later!

Ont of the worrying things about starting using a new OS is how to add programs. In Linux this ends up as being both transparent and easy. The transparent part can be a little frightening at first, but the easy part should get your confidence up!

Installing Programs in Linux  --  Firebird

As you probably know, while I use Windows at work, I use Linux almost exclusively at home. So, to encourage all you users of Windows XP out there who might be wondering about what to move to not that Microsoft has finally given up on supporting you, I've decided to write a few Help articles to show how easy some things can be in Linux.

This little article is an introduction on how one goes about adding programs to a Linux system. You'd think that big programs would be more difficult than small ones, but really the following is the same for almost any program in Linux. The programmers add the program (including a list of everything it needs in order to work) to a Package Repository, and the Package Manager on your computer goes there to find the software you're asking for, download it, and install it. In this example I'm going to install FireBird, a database server, so not a particularly trivial piece of software!

Once upon a time there was a little company in Groton, CT (yes! - where they build the submarines) that created a database engine (the program that handles the data) called InterBase. There's a good article on Wikipedia here that explains the history and gives a good explanation of the way InterBase handles Concurrency (when two users want to change the same piece of data at the same time).
In the 1980s they sold out to Ashton-Tate (of dBase fame) who were bought by Borland in 1991, really for just one reason - InterBase. Borland already had Paradox, a desktop database that was superior to both dBase and Access. Since then InterBase has been both open-sourced and developed (by Embarcadero), and the open-source version is called FireBird. Interbase runs on Solaris systems as well as Windows, is a really nice database with an amazingly small footprint (it'll run from 500 KB on disk! When was the last time you saw anything measured in kilobytes??!).

So let's get to it!

Here I am running Synaptic Package Manager to install the database.

What happens is that I click on the check-box beside the name of the program I want to install. For each selection I have to confirm my choice and the program checks it off, along with any other pieces that it needs but that I don't yet have. At the end I can click on the Apply button at the top of the program window and all will be installed.

At the end of it all I even get a nice reassuring status message:

That's nice, of course, but where's the program? Well, the first item in the second block of green in the first screen-grab is FlameRobin, which is the GUI interface for FireBird, so I can go to the menu system and look for it.I'm using Linux Mint, so the menu system looks like this and if I select Programming from the list of categories I see FlameRobin here. I can click on it to start it.

After starting FlameRobin, telling it where to find the database that FireBird is managing, and giving it all the right names and passwords, here I am!

So, you can see that installing even quite a complicated program into a Linux computer is not that frightening after all. The neat thing about a Linux program is that you get it from a package manager. Your system tells the package manager what release you're running, and the package manager tells your system what other pieces of software it'll need to have in order to run the piece you are asking for.

There are, of course, times when you just can't run a piece of software, usually because your OS version is too old. In that case you are told as much, and you update. Updating is, surprisingly, more like installing a Windows service pack than moving from Windows XP to Vista, for example!

So, let's imagine that you're leaving Windows XP for the wilds of Linux. First, go down to your local Barnes & Noble and get a Linux magazine with a  DVD in it / on it. On that DVD will be a number of "Distributions" of Linux - the basic beast with various bundles of goodies to make it easier to use. Alternatively, go to one of the sites I mention below, download a "live" disc image ("live" means one that you can boot and run, not just install from) of the product.

Put that in your DVD drive and boot your machine: you should be able to select to boot from the DVD (if not there'll be a setting in your PC's BIOS to let you) and you'll get a menu offering you a list of the various distributions on the DVD. Select one and your computer will boot into that distribution - it may be Ubuntu, or Mint, or even Zorin (which can be made into a very XP-looking system indeed). The system will be somewhat slow, as you can imagine, as it'll be reading from the DVD every time it wants to do anything, but you'll be able to see two important things:

  • Does it work with your hardware? Does it work with your wi-fi, with your printer and scanner, and other things you may have attached.
  • Do you like the way it looks?
  • Now you can add the programs that will do what you want to get done, leaving Windows behind!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Virtual Windows

Yep! Another All-Tech this time.

The subject of this blog is taking Windows XP virtual. The idea is to stop using Windows XP, for reasons that I explained in my "XP is an Orphan - What Next" post. However, some of us can't just stop  using Windows XP. The system has been out there for 12+ years, and there's good software made for it that, because the publishers went out of business or were bought up, just isn't going to get upgraded to work with Windows 7. There's lots of software that small businesses use that would cost the proverbial arm-and-a-leg to replace in Windows 7, and there's also lots of hardware that isn't getting driver software written for it for new operating systems. Now I'll not say that any system is perfect in this regard - Linux in particular has problems with Canon gear, as Canon have historically been reluctant to offer Linux drivers. There are ways around this, but they're geeky and complicated.

So one more possible drawback to moving to any new operating system is that you lose the use of some vital parts of your hardware, and that it'll then cost you a fortune to upgrade that too! Therefore, if you need use of some specific piece of hardware, ensure first that the new operating system - be it Linux, Windows, or Apple - can happily talk to your hardware.

What this means is to use a program that runs on your operating system of choice and which pretends to be the hardware of a computer!

Looking at the diagram above, the main box is what your current operating system sees as its "world". The green bit is the free space it has to put programs in - there's one in there already, called "Program" (sorry! - imagination is running short today!) and, within this Host OS, there are some extra bits, called "Driver Software".
There's one bit for your monitor, one for your printer, one for your wi-fi, and even some for things like keyboards, mice, and hard drives. Some come in the BIOS, so you can start your machine, and some are added later when you buy new things, like printers, scanners, and wi-fi.

So you can see that the operating system that all your programs talk to in order to get to do things like print, or show things on the screen, or accept keystrokes from the keyboard doesn't really talk directly to these pieces of hardware either! It talks to very specialised little bits of software that, in turn, talk to the hardware.

Because of this, one can write a program that pretends to be a computer, and load it up with an operating system (called the Guest OS). So long as the program can accept instructions to do things with all the hardware that an operating system expects to talk to and give back the right answers then the operating system won't know any better!

There are two parts to the practice - one is to get your Guest System and the other is to get it to run inside your Virtual Machine program that you run on your Host system.

Getting your VM
You can use the VirtualMachine program to create a Virtual Disc for you (essentially just a large file), or you can get a pre-built one.
If you build your own (a matter of a few mouse-clicks actually - nothing difficult!) then you'll need to bring your own operating system (Windows, MacOS, or Linux) to run in it, as all you'll have is what you get when you buy a ne hard drive and pop it into your PC - a PC that's willing to boot but doesn't have anything to boot from!
Alternatively you can go pre-built. You can download pre-built discs from a variety of sites, including here and also at Oracle's Developer Network site. If you're coming from a Windows environment you can download a Microsoft program called disk2vhd, available free from several places, including Microsoft! You can use this program to create a copy of your Windows system disk (or any other disk, for that matter) that can be booted from by your Virtual Machine.

Installing your VM
This is a pretty easy task - you just have to attach the disk image and go!

I'm going to show you here using Oracle's Virtual Box running on Linux. Virtual Box works pretty much the same on all three major platforms, so using it means that you have minimal trouble if you move from Linux to, say, Apple as your Host system.

Here's what I have to start with (right) - you'll see at the bottom a Nautilus (a File Manager) window open on the folder holding the disk image I want to mount as my C: drive in my new Virtual Machine (VM for short). It's called SQLServer 2012.vdi, as it's hosting a copy of SQL Server 2012!

First, I have to create a new machine (Machine | New from the menu) - see left - and then walk through the chain of prompting dialogs, answering a series of simple questions.
This one asks me for a name for the machine and the operating system I'm going to run inside it.

Next I have to tell VirtualBox how much RAM I'm going to give the VM for its RAM. To do this I can type in the amount (being a geek I know all the appropriate powers of two, but if you don't then just slide the bar slider. You can't go too far - see the brown area at the right to show where my physical memory tops out! I'm giving this machine 8 GB of RAM to play in.

Step three is to add your hard drive. In my case I already have one made, so I selected the third option and found my file. If you don't already have a disk file ready to go you can select the second option and create one, here-and-now.

On the left you can see the list of machines that I can launch after I added my new SQL Server 2012 machine, which has an entry at the bottom, highlit in green.

Before I start I need to make one major addition - connect the Operating System inside the VM to the Host machine. I can do this by sharing a piece of my Host's hard drive, in this case a folder called Public. It will appear inside a Windows machine as a mapped drive.

Fairly soon you'll be able to log in to Windows. As you can see on the right the Windows running inside the VM looks totally normal (yes, I keep my task bar up the right-hand side of the screen!).

If you look closely at the bottom-right of the screen-shot to the right you'll see some icons on the status bar. Here they are, enlarged (below).

These tell you what's going on in your machine - the fourth along, for example shows network activity (i.e. internet traffic). The legend "Right Ctrl" indicates that your Guest and Host machines are sharing the mouse: if it gets caught by the Guest machine then the right control key will release it back to the Host machine

to be extended very soon!