USB flash drives are really cheap these days, so I decided to create a portable environment that contains all my favorite applications, as well as Java IDEs and utilities. This is attractive since I can boot up any computer with this thumb drive, and have the same environment to work with. Besides, it is kind of cool.
You would think that this would be as easy as booting from the install disk of Ubuntu, and choosing USB disk as the target drive. Alas, it is not so. Ubuntu will try to install Grub which will be unable to boot from your USB disk. Moreover, I started running into problems with using the same USB disk at different computers. So, I searched around and found some excellent articles at debuntu.org and by Ryan Cloke. Both were written for the prior version 8.04 of Hardy Heron but are still largely appropriate. There were a few typos in the instructions, so I decided to reproduce instructions here with my edits, as well as add instructions related to setting up the Java development environment.