Recovering Linux – 5

This is the fifth installment of a series of posts to document “How I recovered my Linux systems…”  See the first post and second post for the preliminaries, the third post for diagnostics and disassembly, the fourth post for reassembly and hardware checkout… 

Disk partitioning is one of those things that most of us can and do take for granted — it’s usually done for us by whoever built our PC and installed the operating system for the first time.  It’s a foundation concept that applies equally to Linux, Mac, Windows and other PC operating system environments, and yet, once “somebody else” does it for a particular PC, the owner/user accepts it and almost never monkeys with it any further.  Why?  Changing a disk’s partitioning often (but not always) involves the complete re-formatting of an existing partition, and when that happens, you’re effectively deleting all data files on that drive partition — you’d better have great, verified backups (for example, local-at-hand backup directories on another at-home system, or a great remote-in-the-cloud backup service like at hand when you undertake any disk re-partitioning exercise.

As a result, these considerations make disk partitioning seem dangerous and difficult to the uninitiated  — fortunately, it’s really not.  All it takes is intention, care and planning; generally, you’re not going to “delete stuff by mistake,” as you’ve got to take several steps with intention, ultimately clicking an “Apply these changes” button before anything destructive happens to your disk drive.  Using a partition editor for “just looking” is harmless, and it takes malice and forethought to do any unintended damage.

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Recovering Linux – 4

This is the fourth installment of a series of posts to document “How I recovered my Linux systems…”  See the first post and second post for the preliminaries, and the third post for diagnostics and disassembly…

Okay, I think I’m ready to power-up my repair-in-progress system.  However, whenever major PC surgery is underway, checking things more than twice is a good idea.  All disconnected cables and signal wires back in proper place?  Loose cable bundles tie-wrapped to something secure?  All screws, er, screwed-in and tightened?  All screwdrivers and stuff out of the box?  All fans unobstructed, and air-flow paths clear so cooling can happen?  Check… check… check… and double-check.

At this point, most folks would replace and secure any enclosure panels and reconnect things like mouse, keyboard, monitor and power cable.  But here, just to be sure that everything’s electrically ready to go, I decided to just plug in the power and do a quick power-on sanity test, just to see fans spin and internal LEDs light up — this would assure me that I’ve got everything hooked up right.

So… carefully!  I plug in the power cord to the rear-panel receptacle and to a handy UPS (uninterruptible power supply) and, gingerly… press the front-panel power button.  Ta-da!…

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Recovering Linux – 3

This is the third installment of a series of posts to document “How I recovered my Linux systems…”  See the first post and second post for the preliminaries…

My PC-A system’s hardware problem identified  — disk drive sda failed  — and backup resources verified… Need to replace the failed drive and rebuild the system from “bare metal.”  I’d been planning to upgrade this system’s Ubuntu/Linux from version 10.04 to the latest long-term support (LTS) version, 12.04, and this hardware glitch has simply forced my hand.

Time to go shopping? Nope, first let’s open up the box and figure out what, by brand name and model, I’m going to be replacing.  And prudence (Murphy’s great-aunt) dictates that I dig out my anti-static ground strap and attach my wrist to the box-frame, just to be sure I don’t zap something whilst I’m digging around inside.

For me, usually the most formidable problem in any PC repair is just getting the darned enclosure box opened… I’ve been inside this PC-A box before (had to replace a power supply about 18 months ago), and I replaced the little enclosure screws which hold the “just-slide-this-panel-off” sheet-metal with those great little case thumb screws — once you’re into your box for any reason, you’ll be back in there again in the future, so make it easy!

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Recovering Linux – 2

This is the second installment of a series of posts to document “How I recovered my Linux systems…”  See the first post for foundation and background.

So, we had two hard drive failures in two different Linux boxes, nearly simultaneously.  As is usual with these things, this couldn’t have happened at a worse time:  my “main box” (let’s call it PC-A in the following narrative) crapped out just a couple of weeks before I was scheduled to give a first class “Ruby for Newbies”.  Fortunately, I had my trusty 10-year-old Sony laptop (also now a Linux system) to take up that particular gap… Class development and presentation covered.

What happened, and how did I diagnose it?  This one was simple:  AsPC-A is up and running nearly all the time (it collects backup sets from other household systems, and generally is the strong hub of our family operations), I monitor and experience its general health as a matter of course.  When it starts acting “sick,” I usually know it pretty quickly.  This time, it began running sluggishly, and was pretty obviously “laboring” as it did memory management (process swaps — I told you, I’m a former VMS hacker, so I’m kinda sensitive to this operational behavior).

And although I don’t reboot our Linux boxes very often — unlike Windows, Linux doesn’t need to be routinely rebooted — now seemed like a good time to do so.  Upon shutdown, and after system (re)initialization, it became audibly clear that the sda (first and boot) disk drive was having physical problems… I could hear it.  What I heard was that the disk was having trouble and making bad noises as it tried to spin up — and it failed on (re)boot.  Quick and final conclusion:  Dead drive.

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Recovering Linux – 1

A few weeks ago, we had near-simultaneous disk drive failures in two of our Linux PCs: both desktops are over four years old, and they’ve been spinning nearly 100% of that time.  Seeing independent hard drives fail at roughly the same time, while perhaps a bit unusual, is not unheard-of… and it did happen.  So, we’ve been limping along using and sharing a single Ubuntu laptop for awhile, during which I (as the sole-source of IT services in our household) have been contemplating the best path to recovery and rebuilding these two desktop PCs.  I’ve successfully completed the first of these system recoveries over this past weekend.  (My dear spouse is put out with me because I did my PC, not hers, first… “Honey, I had to practice on mine in case I blew something up!”)

I am documenting this system rebuild experience here, in a series of posts, for several reasons:

  • Documenting system rebuilds will likely help me (and others) with a future system rebuild/recovery, as such things do happen at unexpected times… and hardware will certainly give up the ghost again, when least expected and least convenient.
  • Researching and collecting system diagnosis and recovery information on the ‘Net is tedious and frustrating, with lots of misleading, opinionated, irrelevant, incomplete, and otherwise just-plain-wrong information out there — which obscures the rare and precious gems-of-wisdom items which are correct, on-target and relevant to a given situation.  Recording this learned wisdom here will capture the nuggets of wisdom, saving time and effort of re-sifting through all that bad dross again in the future.
  • System failures occur unpredictably and infrequently, and “my memory ain’t what it used to be.”  When the next one happens (and it will), I’ll need these breadcrumbs of experience to help me recover my current brilliance for the next set of repairs.
  • Based on the wild success of my previous blog posting, “If It Ain’t Broke  — Or How I Upgraded my DSL Service in 12 Not-So-Easy Steps” (part 1 and part 2), writing a complete narrative of problem-research-fix-&-recovery can be helpful to other folks.  Hopefully, this series of posts will serve a similar purpose and help save time and effort for others…

This series of posts will try to provide a coherent narrative of “how I fixed my PC”…  Though specific to my own situation, they hopefully will be of general use and guidance for others faced with comparable disaster recovery problems.

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…and now for something completely different: Ruby for Newbies class

This is either a blast from my past, or it’s time to try something new…

I’m pleased to announce a free class, Ruby for Newbies, to be held in Denver this Saturday, July 21st — Here are the details/FAQ: Continue reading

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On public responsibility, accuracy and leadership

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to be elected as a voting delegate to the Colorado 18th Judicial District Republican Assembly, where the delegation selected the R-candidate for the district attorney race this fall.  I was pleased that the candidate that I supported, George Brauchler, won the party’s nomination handily (documented here and here).

I wrote a brief note about the experience and nomination in our “Walking A Walk” radio show Newsletter (Issue #169, Website of the Week), where I cited Brauchler’s nomination and mentioned a few of his credentials, including referring to him as “LTC George Brauchler.”  Coincidentally, that week’s guest on our show was Brauchler’s friend and colleague, LTC Steven Howery.

A day later, I received a rather indignant email via the radio station ( from someone who signed with a pseudonym — here’s the email, verbatim: Continue reading

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