Saturday, December 1, 2007

Finally Reinstalled! Yay!

It was a tale of tragedy, a tale of woe... almost. But I'm already getting ahead of myself.

My notebook is somewhere around four years old. It was a good computer when I got it, but it wasn't long after the warranty expired (two weeks, as I recall) that the CD-ROM drive started to die. At first it refused to read any burned CD, but pressed CDs were still okay. It was about that time that I finally wiped the Windows XP install that came on it and installed version 5.10 of Ubuntu Linux. Shortly after that, the computer refused to read any CDs at all. Score one for Sony.

Fortunately, Christer helped me upgrade to version 6.06 some time later. Unfortunately, the upgrade did not go as well as I had hoped, and I began to get paranoid. Not long after that, I made a mistake. I tried to install a new Perl package via CPAN. I was working on a lot of things that day, and perhaps not spending enough mental energy on some of them. I learned an important lesson that day: if CPAN asks whether you want it to update your version of Perl, tell it No. Exit out of CPAN and install it via yum or aptitude instead.

To make a long story short, I broke a lot of things that day. The easiest thing to do would have been to back everything up and just reinstall. Unfortunately, with no CD-ROM drive, that didn't seem to be an option. So I repaired things the best I could and lived with it. I take comfort in the fact that at least it was a broken Linux system. If the number of things that had gone wrong had happened in Windows, I would have been completely screwed.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago, when I learned that Ubuntu could be installed over the network using a combination of kickstart and PXE. This seemed like a good plan, because my computer does not support USB boot (another point for Sony), but it does support PXE booting. I decided to read up on it and see if I could get it to work. Then I went on the road for a couple of months in a row, and got distracted. By the time I got back, Christer and Clint had figured it out.

I managed to go about a month without leaving town, and Christer and Clint spent that month trying to convince me to reinstall. My paranoia kept me from doing anything until yesterday. As a Linux instructor, I'm dead in the water without my computer. I was afraid that something would go wrong in the middle of the install, and that I would have to go back on the road before I had time to fix it. Finally, I backed everything up and went for it.

The installation seemed to be going well. I had booted to a PXE server that Christer and Clint had set up an Ubuntu install on, and I was already to the copying files stage. That means that my drive had already been wiped, and that I was way past the point of turning back. Then my notebook decided to overheat and turn itself off, without warning (and Sony scores against me yet again). I propped it up to get some airflow underneath, found a portable fan and pointed it at the hot spot on my computer and started over.

Things were going well. All of the files had been copied from the PXE server, and the installer was downloading files from Ubuntu's security server. Then it stopped. I mentioned it to Christer and he said that his Internet connection had died too. We went to check on the PXE server (which was also playing the role of router) and realized that somebody had decided to reinstall it, to get it ready for class on Monday. My worst fear was coming true: there were problems with the install, and I might be without a computer for the next month.

I considered my options. Christer had not yet had backed up the Ubuntu PXE code, but the Red Hat code would be in-tact when the server came back. I've PXE installed RHEL5 more times than I can count, and I knew that I could get it working pretty quickly. Of course, I didn't know if my wireless network card was supported in Red Hat like it is in Ubuntu, and I wasn't looking forward to spending a month with an enterprise version of Linux on my personal computer. Then I realized that the installer had paused, and was giving me the option of retrying. The PXE server had already done its job, and my computer had everything it needed except for its security updates. All I had to do was wait for the Internet connection to come back, and assuming my computer didn't overheat and shut itself down again, I might be good to go.

The server took forever to install. Our auto-installer at work sets up a PXE install for multiple versions of Red Hat, SuSE and even OEL. When it finally came back, I pressed ENTER on the Ubuntu install and crossed my fingers. Half an hour later, I was ready to start customizing my brand new install of Ubuntu 7.10, aka Gutsy Gibbon.

The person who caused my pain (he knows who he is) will be forgiven soon. Until that point he knows that I am still mad at him, and he can safely assume that I am still shaking the fist of doom at him, even in my sleep. In the meantime, it's nice to finally have a completely working installation of Ubuntu again, and even nicer to have a working Perl install again too. No more installing Perl packages manually using make, no more installing Ubuntu/Debian packages manually using dpkg. The world is a happy place again.

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