Category Archives: “Roll Your Own”

How Much Weight Can Clouds Hold?

I have been running my computers primarily on an Ubuntu system since Sept 2006.  Over time, through a lot of tinkering and experimenting, I have generally “gunked up” my laptop installation.  With the next Long-Term Service release of Ubuntu now in beta, with the final release due later this month, I decided that the new version will be a good point for a complete format-and-reinstall on that machine.

So if you’re going to roll with that sort of program, you have to do a lot of backing up.  My /home folders are all due for a sound cleaning out; a bigger project than one might realize.  Lifehacker coincidentally had a post late in March that I begrudgingly took to heart (get rid of your ‘Miscellaneous’ filing category) as I set upon this task.  I have always had trouble locating anything on my computers without at least a halfway-decent organizational structure, so a lot of what I need to do is just clean up stuff that’s been straggling, maybe add some new categories here or there.

When I checked out what I have on my server, there are lots of folders that are just going to be huge by nature–Movies, TV, Music, Photos, setup files–all are major data hogs.  I can’t and don’t expect to pare those down much.  After you isolate those big swaths of info, though, what I have left isn’t taking up much room at all– for me, it was just barely over 4 gigs.  This is the area I can attack.

I’m using the free version of Dropbox for a variety of things: it’s an easy way to stash small files (word processing docs, spreadsheets, PDFs, maybe photos) that you’re planning to use in multiple places.  I have a folder for “employment” documents, for example (resumes, cover letters, reference lists), that saves me from worrying if I remembered to grab something that I need before I left the house.  Also, it’s tons smoother than logging in to the server at work for those occasions that I’m working remotely.  Lists that I frequently need all have their place in the Dropbox1

Between the 2 gigs that I can get for zero monies from Dropbox, and another 2 that are available through the Ubuntu One service (almost exactly the same thing as Dropbox), I just about have myself covered.  Why not just leave all this backup stress behind and toss my non-media data into the cloud?  *sigh*  Well, there are a few things:

  • First, and obviously, one 2-gig service isn’t going to give me enough space.  I’d be spreading myself out on multiple services, and that sort of negates the inherent efficiency of moving in this direction.  Do I value the convenience enough to pay a hundred bucks a year (the going Dropbox rate) for 50 GB?
  • Also, we’ve got your typical cloud-pushing paranoia.  “Can I trust someone else to secure my data?”  “I’ve never seen where this data is physically located,” etc., etc., etc.  I have to say I’m starting to get over this one (these services all appropriately tout their security features), but it’s going to take time.
  • Any technical limitations that I wouldn’t have with everything being stored “locally”?  Doesn’t seem like it, but in my experience, you need some thorough real-world testing to know for sure.

I guess the toughest pill for me to swallow right now is the 100 bucks.  You want me to plunk down a fairly significant wad of cash for 25 times more storage.  What I would really prefer is slightly more storage (say, 20 or 25 gigs) at half the annual price.  That would make it easier for me.

But either way, make no mistake – as we link our digital lives to more and more devices, seamless interoperability and access across multiple platforms becomes more and more important.  I don’t know for sure if I’m ready to completely leap into cloud-based storage, but I’m going to have to think long and hard about it2, and this probably won’t be the last time.

  1. Did I mention that I don’t need to sweat having one of *my* computers, with the client installed, immediately available, either?  Because there’s a web interface.  Pretty nice. []
  2. That’s what she said. []

(Fast) Slow Week

Quite a bit of action on the work front this time of year, and not nearly as much at home.  I have been ruminating on a few topics I’m anxious to share with you soon, up to and including a return of the podcast for the 2009-10 season.

One thing I did at home this week was to install the DD-WRT firmware on my router.  It’s got a much more robust feature set than the stock firmware, and I haven’t dug into everything that it can do yet.  Best thing I’ve found so far, though: support for zoneedit.com.  To you, dear reader, that will mean less down time on those occasions when my IP changes and I’m not at home…

Other than that, take a look at the Milwaukee gallery for some shots I took at a baseball game with the Schrubbe boys a couple weeks ago.  We had really good seats!

Pardon the Interruption 2

My Internet connection at home was down for the last three days.  I’ve been troubleshooting it myself and on the phone with the Indian tech support for the last 8 hours that I’ve had at home.

It was annoying as hell, and finally pushed me over the edge to moving my email ops to Google Apps.  I just had to, with that sort of service interruption.

Now I’m going to go to bed.  If the connection stays good for the next 24 hours or so, I might have more for you tomorrow.

Sigh.

Basic Installation

One of the little projects I monitored on the computer today while I was doing other things was an install of Windows XP on my desktop computer.  I wanted to be sure that I could do a podcast again some time soon, and I know for sure that the hardware and software support that I need should work with this OS (Windows 7 is kind of wonky with audio mixing on my hardware).

I do have a nice, easy slipstream’d XP-plus-SP3 disc that I can run when I need to do an XP install (used nLite and the tutorial that I read quite some time ago on Lifehacker).  I have it set up so that I don’t have to key in the product key, pick my time zone, tell it who my users are, things like that.  I put in the CD, tell it where to install, and in about 20 minutes it’s pretty much all set.

The only thing lacking is all the other software that you want to have with your “basic” installation.  When I rolled this disc, anyway, there was no means of adding extra (i.e., non-Windows) software to your deployment.  So, I often end up downloading and reinstalling a bunch of stuff anyway.  With that in mind, here is my list of software that I NEED for what I consider “basic functionality” when I do a new Windows installation.

It should be noted that I wrote this with XP in mind, but to my knowledge, nearly all this software works in Win 7, too.

  • Audacity
  • AVG anti-virus
  • DisplayFusion
  • Firefox
  • Image Resizer powertoy
  • Flash player
  • Java
  • Launchy
  • OpenOffice
  • Pidgin
  • cleartype tuner powertoy
  • Skype
  • Tomboy notes
  • VLC
  • WinSCP
  • 7-zip

The good news: seems like the audio shat I need is back to functional.  And I am back to making lunch…

New Lappy Setup

This is another in my series of “posts of reference for my future self about computer crap,” so be advised.

So I got my new laptop from the UPS man yesterday. Since I’ve become sort of a hardcore Linux man, I am wiping the hard drive before I use it. I called Lenovo customer service first, and asked about obtaining a refund for the Windows license. I ran out of patience with that process really quickly. I sent them an email instead, and we’ll see what happens. More to come on that front (or not).

After not accepting the software license(s), the next thing I did was boot into SystemRescueCD from my USB drive so I could run GParted and wipe the hard drive.  I found out that the “rescue” partition took up an ungodly THIRTY GIGS of that hard drive.  I mean, this is a 320-gig drive, so you actually have about 290 to work with to start, and then after that rescue partition, you’ve got somewhere between 250 and 260 to go.  Quite a difference.  It was nice to (A) wipe out those unneeded partitions, and (B) know that I’m good enough with these machines now that I DON’T need them.

The Windows 7 release candidate just came out, so I thought it might be worth it to test an install of THAT OS on the new laptop, since I have the space for it, and I’m sort of curious.  I installed Windows first, because when I add Ubuntu, it’s going to very polite about the boot loader (adding more options, not over-writing), where Windows is usually a dick.

I was thinking of taking Joe’s advice and setting up encryption with Ubuntu to protect my data in case of loss/theft.  I even found a nice guide on how to do multiple partitions inside an encypted volume.  However, since I am restoring my /home partition from my old machine, I don’t believe encrypting will be possible.  Maybe next time I do a total reinstallation (but I don’t know when that will be).  And I don’t believe I would be able to dual-boot with that setup, either…

When I booted up the Ubuntu installation disc, I was pretty stoked about how nice it looked immediately (without any extraneous drivers), and quickly set up the drive to partition the way I like.  From the time I clicked the “INSTALL” button, it took about 15 minutes to be ready to boot into Linux.

So with my OS of choice ready to go, I was all set to restore the /home partition.  This is the part that took longest.  I had the data backed up to my server, so transferring it all over the network was going to take some time.  And I needed to copy over 32 gigs.

I will need to pick up a small bluetooth adapter for the laptop.  I found a bluetooth adapter on NewEgg that apparently works with Ubuntu pretty well.  The other nice part is that it’s small enough that you can just leave it plugged in forever and forget about it.  There are still two more USB ports on the other side, so that should be plenty.  I’m also going to have to reinstall a bunch of extra software that doesn’t get included by default, but that’s not too tough with APT.

Pretty smooth overall, all things considered.

Another Little Linux Project

In case you didn’t infer it from the title of this post, there is some serious geekery ahead.  You’ve been warned…

So last night, just before I went to sleep, I fired up the laptop to do whip out a little blog post for Friday, and in the midst of doing that, the system just totally froze up.  Like, it came to a screeching halt.  And when I tried to reboot later, I had a system that would power on, but not actually boot or do anything useful.  I did just a little troubleshooting, and I figured out that that problem lay somewhere besides the hard drive.  That was good and bad.  Good that I still have that data, bad that I now have no way of accessing it (for the time being).

So, during the day today, I spent a little time shopping around the internets for new laptops.  Wanted to get the lay of the land and figure out what could be had at what price.  I have recently been thinking about a netbook for later in 2009, but without a reliable, “full-size” laptop to fall back on, I’m just not sure.  I looked at the offerings from Dell, Lenovo, and HP, and I decided that if I am getting a new one, I should probably go ahead and get something with a 64-bit processor.  I’d like a new machine to last a while.

This got me into researching the advantages and drawbacks of 64-bit Ubuntu.  There’s a thread in the forums there where they’ve been discussing it for about 2 years now, but the good news is that at this point, there don’t seem to be any serious shortcomings at all; in the early 64-bit days, there wasn’t enough software that worked on those processors, but this is no longer an issue.

So, blah-blah-blah, reading-reading-reading, and I realize, “hey– I think my desktop machine, although not a dual-core, could run a 64-bit OS…”  Kept hunting about on the ‘tubes, and ultimately found that, yes: my P4 HT processor can do it.  What with Ubuntu 9.04 hitting the web just a couple days ago, this seems like a reasonable time to give it a try.  I had been planning on waiting for the bugs to settle out of the new version, but I figure if I’m going to make a big change like this and do a clean install, I might as well go for broke.

I do continue to keep /home on its own partition, so I never lose my personal data, program settings, etc., but I will need to reinstall all my software.  I found an easy way to do that, but with the switchover from 32- to 64-bit, there will probably be plenty of packages in that list that I can’t use anymore.  I’m hoping that the ones that won’t work will simply error out in apt.  One thing that I imagine will actually work BETTER with a 64-bit OS is the video card support– I am running the server kernel on my desktop machine at present, in order to take advantage of the 5 gigs of RAM I have installed in this 32-bit environment.  I had to do a bit of dicking around to get the nVidia drivers to work appropriately with this kernel (the standard one was easy).

Well, my disc image will be done downloading in a few seconds, so I’ll be back to report to myself here on how it went…

Easy Way Out vs Frustrating Hobby

Had a bizarre sort of set of issues with my home server setup during the course of the day that had me frustrated to the point of wondering if it was worth it to even run the damn thing.  I caught myself thinking, I don’t really need to have my own server.  I could pay for hosting and run something like Google Apps for mail.  Why am I doing to this to myself?

But the real reason is: I enjoy the frustration, I guess.  By the end of the day (before I went to sleep, anyway), I had everything figured out put back together again.  All’s well that ends as such.  I learned a couple more things in the process and might not spend as much time on a similar problem the next time through.

People have asked me more than once how or why I could enjoy all the inherent tinkering and tweaking and troubleshooting that comes along with this sort of setup.  In my mind, they system is never perfect; it’s never working exactly as well as it should.  There is always something extra I could be doing, and that voyage of discovery is what I enjoy and what makes this a hobby.  Make no mistake, it is one that drives me nuts and keeps me up nights on occasion, but I don’t think I’ll actually be selling out to Google and giving up on it any time soon.

… Just don’t ever ask me the same question while I’m the middle of an upgrade (!!!).