Saturday, January 11, 2014

Got A New Toy

The Setup: My laptop runs Ubuntu Linux, which has an automatic update feature, part of what's known as the "package manager" for installing/updating/removing software. It's usually very handy, but the other day it was running and couldn't finish what it was doing: most of the updated packages did just fine, but one was listed as "broken," and there were bunch of error messages, which didn't resolve when I followed the instructions for fixing it, and didn't resolve by just leaving the thing alone, letting the next automatic maybe fix it for me (I initially suspected that the updated package itself, as it was sent to me, was what was corrupt).

So the next update didn't help, and I took a harder look at the error message. Basically it said that there was a problem with a perl script (technically, a perl "module") needed in some way or other. I don't know much about perl, and I didn't know that the package manager system even used perl, but some googling of what looked like  important parts of the error message (mainly a problem with something called a "bareword") led me to forums where others were asking about similar messages in various contexts; these discussions led me to believe that the perl script in question had been corrupted.

So, the next step was to find the script on my laptop and open it -- gedit couldn't open the file, which might indicate a problem, but emacs handled it fine, though it showed a bunch of non-printing characters here and there -- and then search the internet for the same file. I compared the two: the non-printing characters weren't supposed to be in there, so I fixed my file to look like what I found online. I ran the package manager again, and the offending package installed just fine...

But how and why did that perl script get corrupted? I hadn't messed with it, and couldn't figure why something would poop gibberish into the middle of the file unless the disk itself was starting to go bad. Uh, oh.

To make matters worse, the package in question was an iupdate of the kernel, the little program that makes the rest of the computer work. What if my fix didn't solve the problem but only masked it; if the update failed without saying so and the kernel somehow became corrupt, rebooting could break my system. I couldn't let my computer shut down until I figured out what to do if things went wrong.

An Interlude: Anne's back has been slowly getting better since she pulled a muscle a few weeks ago, but she currently prefers to sit on an exercise ball because it less uncomfortable than regular chairs. I was home yesterday by myself, playing around with the weights, when I saw the exercise ball over by the dining room table and decided that I should add it to my routine... I started doing crunches on the ball and I heard a sudden  crunch-pop sound -- I'd pushed the ball up against some knitting needles and put a hole in it! Great, I just broke Anne's only chair.

Out I went to the local sporting goods store, where I got a replacement ball. No big deal, but the stores next door were a Best Buy and a Staples, and I thought well, while I'm here...

The New Toy: I went into Staples, determined to get some form of backup system for my laptop's drive. Big external drive, tape drive, whatever. I did some looking around, and some discreet Internet research while in the Mass Storage Aisle, and decided to get a Seagate Central NAS. Three terabytes of storage, wifi connection and provision for multiple users, and it was said to be fine with Linux; my only remaining question was how it would work with the Squeezebox. I go up to the help desk with the empty box ("display container only, ask for assistance") where they couldn't answer my question but assured me that returning it would be OK if things didn't work out. Then they go to get me one, and -- they don't have any in. Oops!

Oh well, I go next door into Best Buy (where I bumped into a co-worker, who was having trouble returning a broken phone -- let's hope it's not foreshadowing) and purchase the 2-terabyte model sitting on the shelf.

Epilogue: There's not much to tell -- installation basically meant turning the device on and plugging it into the router, configuration was done using a web browser interface and it was beyond simple; and backing up my laptop was really easy using luckyBackup and an ssh connection, though it seemed to take forever. (I'm not sure how fast things are supposed to be, but 125 gigabytes took about 14 hours.)
The only downside so far other than the speed -- if that's even a problem -- is the poor integration with the Squeezebox Touch. I think I can live with that for now, and may solve it by installing squeezeserver on the NAS, if its brain can handle the extra load.

I also made myself a rescue disk, and when all my pieces were in place, system backed up and disk where I could reach it, I crossed my fingers and rebooted. That was about an hour ago, and it was a total anticlimax: everything was fine.

Doug and I were talking a week or so ago about smartphones and tablets, and the thrill -- for a little while -- of getting a new app to play with, how it's almost like a sugar buzz. The last two days were like that for me; it was as exciting as my first thumb drive.