Monday, November 17, 2008

Dead Computer, Salavaging And Mac Switching

Late Sunday night, I was goofing off on my main computer, purchasing some new music and just generally feeling good about life. As my new purchases were downloading, I got a message that my home partition was out of disk space. Odd, I thought, I should have at least 10 Gigs free there. So, without putting too much thought into the matter, I started making room by moving stuff to other partitions and deleting some old files. No biggie, right?

This went on for about 45 minutes, and my new music downloaded( David Bowie Low & Alladin Sane), Switchblade Symphony (Three Calamites and Sinister Nostalgia) and Second Person (Elements) )... just in time for a major hard drive crash. *SIGH* Ok, I've dealt with those before. The hard drive was relatively new, so I really didn't expect anything too serious. So standard procedure, find a live CD, boot, run fsck and whatever else I need to do and get on with my life....

Not so much. After about 10 minutes I realized that there was a MUCH bigger problem when I could smell the unmistakeable reek of overheated circuit board. So with much swearing, I turned the computer off and checked all the fans... case, CPU, graphics card, power supply all working fine. By the time I finished the check, the computer had cooled so, a quick blast from the dust remover and try again. This time it lasted less than 5 minutes before I could smell it. By this point, it was well past midnight and I was quickly realizing I was in for a LOOONG week, and packed it in for the night.

As I was mulling this over, trying to get to sleep I realized that my best choices were 1) fully replace the guts of the computer or 2) buy a whole new computer. Now, as I said I'm maintianing two homes right now; my apartment in Pittsburgh and my old house in Du Bois (*PLUG* it's nice, please buy my home *END PLUG*). So neither idea was completely satisfying, but I also needed to be back in operation ASAP on Monday for work.

Tossing and turning all night, I convinced myself I could afford a new computer, and that really it made sense. I was spending 5-10 hours a month just keeping Frankencomputer going, I could use those 5-10 hours to do something fun! So, around 5:30 AM, I got up and went shopping online for a computer that I could pickup at a near by brick and mortar store.

Part of my thought process was that in the last 6 months we've had a huge surge of Mac users at work, and part of my job is to support them. So, I finally settled on a Macbook, which would let me run anything that I might need to support thanks to VMWare and/or Parrellels. So, 10:30 AM I'm on a bus headed down to the local Apple Store in Shadyside. Nice place, great service and i was in and out in about 20 minutes. I'll probably blog more about the switch in future, but right now I pretty much like being back in Macworld for the first time since OS 9 was released. Although, the dock takes some getting used to, it seems like Apple decided it was the dumping place for everything that they weren't sure where to put.

Now I was faced with not having a backup of my old data. Yes, I deserve to be mocked and mocked heartily but even with Frankencomputer I really didn't give much thought to backup. Most of my work files get backed up to sourceforge or other servers... but my gnucash files, mp3s, videos, notes for my horror novel and all that stuff was circling the virtual drain.

At this point, I really thought that my harddrive was probably OK at its core and the errors were due to the overheating issue. I figured that if I got the HD into a working rig, I would be able to just pull the files off. So saturday, I headed off to a friend's house to hook the computer up to his Mac Pro. First thing to try was to boot directly from that drive. No dice, HD errors after a long wait. Then we tried just mounting the disk in OS X and I was kind of surprised that Macs don't ship with support for ext2/ext3. Tried to mount from a VMWare image, but it couldn't even find the drive. So, we downloaded a live linux CD and from there we were able to mount every partition, except for the home partition (of course).

By this point, both Dan and I both were getting frustrated. And one of us figured "why not try dd to get an image we can mount in a vm?" So, we tried that and got the first 1288 bytes of a 75 GB image before the process errored out. However, some quick googlin' revealed that something like
dd if=/dev/hda4 of=rob.dd conv=sync,noerror
would ignore any errors and replace the corrupt sections with 0s. So, we started that process and gave up for the day.

Next day, Dan shows up at my place with his Macbook and the file. While its transferring we run down to the Waterfront and I get a new external drive so that I'm all setup with Time Machine.

We get back and Dan heads off, so I start trying to mount the file. However, it still has some minor errros, so I run fsck on it. After what seems like forever, if have a mountable disk image! After about six more hours of copying files, I have about 90-99% of all the files restored. There are a few damaged files, but fortunately nothing important.
It really is amazing how far you can get with simple free tools...