I’ve been “down the rat hole” for the last several days trying to get a new Climate Data Analysis system built. The oldest one (a “period correct” box with a small Pentium in it) is archived to the garage and could likely be recovered iff needed (I put a picture of it up when I first did the GIStemp port) and the HP Vectra that replaced it about 5 years ago “has issues”. So I figured “Just install a new Linux and go”. Easy peasy…
Little Did I Know…
I’d spent a couple of days archiving data off of the Vectra. I’d figured I’d just update the OS there. Then I discovered that somewhere between the start and end of the process, the CD / DVD drive was no longer visible… A day or two passes as I figured all this out, found out it could be seen from the OTHER buss slot on the motherboard, and figured out that it was a failure of the M.B. not the cable or device. OK, not doing a M.B. upgrade on that old box… But all the data was found, copied (again…) and the Windows parts moved to the newer ASUS-64 bit box (and really it was time to ‘kiss off’ the Windows 2000 Pro on it anyway ;-)
The Red Hat 7.2 partition had the data saved a couple of ways already, but I made one last archive copy. And really, it was time to move on from Red Hat 7.2 anyway. Works fine. Bullet proof. But the browsers on it are too archaic to use to get new browser code downloaded… The disk still lives, which is a good thing, as it has all my old GIStemp and GHCN copies on it. (and on the 1/2 dozen backups…) So “someday” I may do an organ transplant of the disk to a newer box. For now, it’s headed for the “deep archive” of the garage…
Which brings us back to the Compaq Evo… I’d not used the box in about 4 years. An attempt to install Mepis on it had broken the Windows bootup process and I’d only half heartedly tried to fix it. Why? Because mucking about in Windows System Problems makes me feel contaminated… But I’d resolved to recover all the data on that disk anyway, and had copied it (using Linux boot CDs as I was not trusting Mepis all that much…), again to a couple of places. By now I’ve got about 1/2 TB of copies of those two disks on those two machines…
In the end, it was a zero length boot.ini file in the Windows partition. Copied one from the Windows XP on the “new” box I bought at Weird Stuff ( 64 bit no less ;-) and applied it to the Evo (using that Linux rescue CD again) and got both Mepis and Windows XP Pro booting on it just fine. Only to find out that I’d forgotten which password I’d used on it. (Turns out I was trying the ‘3 or 4 year old’ pattern, not the 5 year old pattern that it was… and which I still remembered, but discarded…)
So I took the short path of “crack the password” rather than searching ever older blocks. This code was a great help:
While Microsoft tells you to give it up, if you forgot the Admin password, you are toast (and this was the admin password), Ophcrack boots a tiny linux, sucks out the password file, and then does a Rainbow Tables attack. Took about 10 minutes.
One Complaint: I don’t know if I grabbed a copy for the wrong language pack or what, but the GUI came up with cryptic headings and text. Looked like about 1/2 the letters were gone and another 1/4 were strange symbols. I did see a familiar string in one box (though all caps and I knew the case was not all caps) and that was, in fact, the password. On the someday list is find a copy with proper English display…
So a few days back I had a working Windoz box with a questionable Linux on it.
The Fateful Decision
At that point, I decided to “replace Mepis”.
Why? It was the boot / install process from Mepis that “had issues” and ate the boot.ini file; or that patch of disk with the boot.ini file just coincidentally failed… so it was a “untrusted” bit. Also for the simple reason that it doesn’t handle the NTFS file systems well, and newer releases do, and, frankly, when an install bites me that hard, I don’t reward it by keeping it around. Oh, and the look of it was a bit too “in your face” for me. I like more subdued.
At any rate, for the last 3 or 4 days I’ve been fighting various things trying to get an install that was stable, and had what I wanted installed.
I won’t list all the blind allies I went down. Not that attempt to install Red Hat 7.2 (in desperation to just get something stable onto the box) where it would not go. Likely the hardware was too “new” for that old a Red Hat… nor the endless hours (about a day?) spent trying to get Fedora Scientific Spin installed (already has a FORTRAN compiler in it along with other neat tools). Seems that the ISO file they give you can’t be put on a CD in quite the usual way. They suggest a couple of particular applications to do the copy. But ImgBurn was not among them. It does a just dandy job for most things.
I spent a little while distracted by a poor level of attention. They said to use a particular raw writing program and I found “rawwrite”, that only writes floppies. They wanted rawrite32, that I had on the laptop that’s got a dying fan, and works very well for making SD card images for the RaspberryPi.
With that in hand I made a USB drive that didn’t work. It also left my 32 GB USB claiming to only be 3.5 GB… but I’ll fix that later.
One minor irritation was discovering that the Evo would not boot from USB. As I was trying several different configs, I didn’t want to burn each one to a CD / DVD each time. And this tool was a wonderful discovery.
It basically bypasses the regular boot loader and gives you one that lets you try any partition you would like. If I’d had that 4 years ago the EVO would have been a much easier machine to work with… Also the Vectra, that had insisted on replacing GRUB (probably via some HP “enhancement” for “security”?) after happily running dual boot for a long time… and then stubbornly resisted all attempts to get GRUB back in place…)
I’ve not explored all the feature set, but it has more than I used, which it can do. IMHO, it is a permanent addition to the SysAdmin Recovery Tools kit.
So several distribution to USB attempts later, I’ve got a working Puppy Linux that I like for “private browsing” and misc. use. I’ve also got their config file for a version that has FORTRAN in it. On the “someday” list is to make a bootable USB install of Puppy with GIStemp and FORTRAN (and data…) all in a bundle. Then anyone who wants their own portable GIStemp can have one ;-)
I’d tried a couple of Debian versions as it is the base from which many others flow (including Ubuntu and many of the liveCD versions), but was having consistent “issues”. I’d done an initial install without the wire in the ethernet port, and the install CD could not make the wireless dongle work (a new one, so not a big surprise). Did get it to install, but then it would not install a bunch of packages that ought to be installable. (even after editing the package.list entries and moving to the wired ethernet). But it ran.
For a while.
It would sporadically just hang. Dead. Mouse might move, but no click anywhere got anything and the best I could do was a powerfail crash. (Thus the exploration of Fedora, Puppies, Gentoo – where the install is complicated but doable and it was late so I was leaving that for today sometime…). But I really wanted generic Debian…
So this morning I tried a few more things (and found that the Debian live DVD didn’t work in the EVO since it only has a CD drive not a CD/DVD drive… but it does work nicely in the Asus box… where I don’t want to use it as the fan is loud… it is for serious server / recovery / misc use only. I.e. the “shit happened” go to box.) I also found that the USB Fedora was not going to go. I decided to give it one last try for Debian.
I changed to a slightly different release. 7.8.0 XCFE ( I’d tried LXDE before ) on the chance that it was the window manager screwing up. I’d only been running the Linux OS, Xorg services to the W.M., LXDE windows manager, a browser – Iceweasel, a terminal window with ‘top’ in it, and the Synaptic Package manager. It had to be one of them and I was hoping it was not the Linux OS. So I did the install One More Time.
Boot was fine. I opened a couple of terminal windows. In one, ‘top’ ran fine. It gives a report of what is running, using how much memory and CPU, so “gives clue” when you hang with a window image still displayed. In another terminal window, used “apt-get” to manually add FORTRAN ( as gfortran ) and the Chromium browser (in case it was IceWeasel). All was working fine. At this point I had a nice, new Debian, running effortlessly and well, with FORTRAN and a C compiler in place. As I’m typing this on that machine, it is using all up about 25% of the CPU and 1 GB out of 2 GB real memory with 4 GB of empty swap.
So I figured maybe I had things working. And decided to ‘take it for a drive’ for a while. Various small things. Launched IceWeasel and did some browsing. Then, a few pages later, The Hang happened. Reboot…
This time I launched Chromium and did a web search on “Debian IceWeasel hang” and got a load of hits. Exactly the symptoms I was having.
I had the “Smoking Gun”…
As of now, the system has been up and working fine for about 15 minutes. Not long, but far longer than it had been up without a hang before. So I’m going to declare probable victory and start moving all the GIStemp codes, GHCN (and other) temperature data, etc. ad nauseam onto it. Added to the “someday” list is to figure out what version of Mozilla / FireFox / IceWeasel / SeaMonkey / whatever works without hanging. But I’ll install Opera first… ;-)
And with that, I have a working Dual Boot small and quiet machine that can be used as a Daily Driver. I can stop sinking whole days into “down the rat hole”, and get back to doing things that have wider value. I can also spend a few minutes in the garden ‘glowing’ ;-)
Yes, we are on the verge of W.W.III in the middle east as Iran puts ships on the oil supply ‘throat’ of Europe off of Yemen (where it fostered a war) and yes Iran is a few months away from a nuclear bomb (but don’t worry, we will have ‘negotiated’ a deal in a few months… oh, wait… and then a few more to ‘ratify’, or not…) and yes Iran has played a nice game of Go putting stones of conflict all around Saudi – in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, North Africa, … but what does that matter when I’ve finally got this sucker working?! ;-)
So the sun is shining, the day is young, and I’m due for a break after several days of frustration. This evening is soon enough to re-port the GIStemp station, unarchive all the data, consolidate all those backups into a much smaller and more valuable set, and maybe, just maybe, get some of the 40+ posting ideas started in write up.
But for now, hey, I’ve got a beer and a hammock calling my name…