Here's a link about cycling: http://www.bettafish.com/showthread.php?t=47838
Basically, its getting a cycle of good bacteria started. Ammonia is bad for our fish. Let the bacteria grow, and it turns the ammonia into nitrites(which is also bad) which is then turned to nitrates which isn't bad unless it gets too high. This allows you to do less water changes. Live plants also help this cycle alot because they absorb alot of the bad stuff. Read the link above for more information.
There are different ways to cycle a tank. Fish in or fishless. I cycled fish in. It takes about three weeks I believe. You do small partial water changes everyday on the tank for three weeks, so the beneficial bacteria has a chance to bloom.
Basically in a tank,you need a source of ammonia to get the cycle started. Fish release ammonia naturally. If you don't want to use the fish, there are other options like an uncooked shrimp left in the tank (it smells though), or pure ammonia (bought at the store), or fish food added.
This is another good link about cycling: http://www.aquahobby.com/articles/e_fishless.php
Good luck, and if you have more questions just ask! welcome to the forum by the way!
As the above said, the bubbles are nothing to worry about. They usually come when new water is added. I think (if I am remembering right) that the bubbles are just a lot of oxygen in the water. You can swipe it off, or let them dissipate on their own.