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Hardware Hell

September 1, 2008

Still attempting to recover from my MacBook’s harddrive crash a couple weeks ago (to the – hopefully temporary – loss of all the vacation pictures from the summer), I began the process of setting up a backup system for our data this weekend.

The basic concept, stolen in its entirety from Mike Fischer, is that a Fedora server running in the basement will pull incremental data backups, using rsnapshot, from our laptops and sundry other machines onto a 1TB drive every four hours (one month expiration). That server, via CrashPlan, will copy the latest incremental snapshot across the street to the similarly-setup Fischer server (and possibly other locations) every day.

That is the basic plan. Simple, right?

So, first thing to do is create an install disc for Fedora. That should be easy. Except, apparently, my DVD-RW drive in the desktop no longer can write DVDs. (It writes CDs just fine, but this installer is 3.3GB in size.) In frustration, I head over to the old game machine (which will become the basement server) and turn it on to check for various functionalities. First thing I see is a drive failure notice. ARGH! No solutions found and cannot get past the message (found out today it is possible to get by it – it’s not a catastrophic failure, just a S.M.A.R.T. warning). Much time lost through nearly 2 am until I give up for the night. Next day, I try the DVD writing again with predictable continued failure. So I move to my Mac. Unfortunately, that doesn’t have a DVD-writeable drive, only CDs.

Time for Plan B – use the NetInstaller CD for Fedora and keep the entire image on my MyBook (the only USB device I have that’s big enough). Except… after a couple more hours… I finally realize that my Mac’s DVD drive is essentially hosed and won’t write anything. During all the retries, I cart all the hardware into the basement and set it up (hoping for magic to happen and make it all work). Eventually, thanks to Mike’s brilliant idea, I try burning the disc on Sue’s machine and finally succeed in creating a net install disc.

Now I head back to the basement server and plug things in to try to install and reach the next barrier – the machine (or the installer) is not recognizing the MyBook. Now what?

More angst. Heading to Plan C – set up the DVD disc image on a web server on my Mac. Fortunately, this option actually works pretty simply. The installer starts, I select the proper options, it announces it has found a disc image (yay) and heads off into install land.

After quite a bit of time (a bunch of options selected, the existing working HD reformatted into linux mode, etc.), it finally gets around to failing again – this time it cannot find some important files. After a bit (and another failed try at burning a DVD, this time with a DVD+R disc), we realized that I had not specfically pointed it to the actual Fedora directory but to the one immediately above it. Why did it then say it found a disc image? No idea. Once I redirected it, the install continued without issues (albeit taking a few more hours to finish installing the 1176 applications and then getting all the updates).

Now I have the bad HD removed completely and the new 1TB drive installed physically. However, it is a SATA drive which that machine does not support natively, so I have a PCI card installed which provides SATA ports (thanks again, Mike) and SATA power converters (makes me think of Luke Skywalker). However, I have no idea how to access that drive for formatting and mounting – I will need to wait until morning when I can ping the expert again.

I probably forgot a few more PITA moments, but that should cover the lot of them in principle. I implied but did not mention explicitly that Mike was my IM Expert during nearly the whole process today (including virtual handholding during the actual install process). It is not pushing things at all to say it would not have happened at all without his help. Thanks, Mike! Let me know when you want that steak dinner.

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