Geek Weekend: Part 4 Adventures with a netboot

It was bound to happen, after a few painless upgrades and installs, something was bound to go wrong.

I was trying to install Ubuntu from CDROM on the Dell Latitude C610, just like I did on the Inspiron. It would get partially into the process and then freeze and hang. It always hung at the same point: at 46%, trying to start the partitioner when it read “scanning disks”. This was also a brand new unformatted drive, so my only options were that the CDROM had issues ( it was making a horrid grinding clunking noise) or my brand new hard drive had issues.

I broke down the laptop, removed the hard drive and put it back in, just to make sure there were no issues with how it was seated, or connections. It was perfectly fine. I tried booting from CD again. And Again. And Again. ( yeah, I can be stubborn in a “head to the brick wall” sort of way). I was starting to get tired and frustrated. At that point trying to boot from CDROM starting throwing FileIO errors and just complaining. I knew it was time to just shut off the laptop and take a step back. OK. At this point, I had to assume that the CD was bad. How was I going to boot? I figured it was either USB or the Network. I copied the ISO file to a USB thumb drive, but this laptop model does not have a “boot from USB” option. The Network it would be. I knew this would involve some other research and complications, so I voted to go to bed last night and approach it again $later.

After a full day of chasing kids, $later=tonight after dinner. Some research showed there were a few options:

1) mount the ISO image on a tftp server on the network and PXEboot to that
2) PXEboot using the Ubuntu netboot files and just pull the whole install over the network

Just to try something completely different, I opted for #2. It seemed like time for a change in approach and this was a good chance to learn a little more about netboot. Poking around on the web found some useful references here and here.

Now comes time for some true confessions. It has been about 7 years since I have done any serious sysadmin work, and a good 5 years since I spent time immersed in unix or linux. The command line is coming back to me as I work, but I am not even close to as comfortable as I once was. ( really, this is one of the reasons for doing the linux installs… beyond hoping for something other than VISTA to migrate to). I was prepared to do the tftpd and SHCP server installs and configs on the Ubuntu installed Inspiron and even started down that road. Then I found this site on how to use a windows box as the tftpd and DHCP server and I took the cheesy route. I wanted failures to be because there was really a problem, not because I made a typo in a config file. Remember, at this point I was still not sure if the new hard drive was good.

Bad try #1: Attempting to use the windows box as the tftpd server, and my default DHCP setup on the linksys router.

Problem #1: for some reason, my router decided to lose its brains and not let me log in. At All. Or even display the login prompt. Or re-assign DHCP when I powered it off and back on. For a moment, it looked like the router was trying to become toast. I did a restore to fosctory defaults, reconfigured it, then poked about for a good way to designate the PXE startup file. Nothing I could find easily.

Bad try #2. Attempting to use the windows box at the tftpd server and DHCP server. This came so close. I actually got to the PXE and the install started. But once I got to the menu where it prompted me for an archive, it always responded that I had a bad archive mirror or it was not available. I checked from another computer, and the archive was in act present and serving files. Sigh. This laptop was really wanting to be scrapped. Seriously.

Problem #2: A little poking around and I found this mention that although all the instructions tell you to leave the WINS setting alone, you need to put your default gateway in as the WINS server. Yep, sure enough. Woot. Now I had a full intall going nuts.

Problem #3: OK, this was not really a problem, but a momentary freak out. The install paused and ran and ran at the point where it was starting the partitioner and scanning the disk. I was convinced for about 60 seconds that the hard drive was bad after all, and all of this had been an exercise in futility. But the install cranked forward and everything was OK

Problem #4: After install over the net, I had a good install of core Ubuntu. Command line only. no Desktop or programs or….. Yikes. OK, Yes, I used to live in this world, but I do not know Ubuntu at all yet.. WTF? I really wanted a desktop and some cool applications to play with tonight. Although an unrelated cause, this link gave me the command to do the apt-get for the desktop. I really need to read up on apt-get.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… while all this was downloading and installing over the network, I decided to run the Xubuntu install on the very old Compaq M300. The install from CDROM went smoothly for this one and was actually completed before the over the network install of Ubuntu desktop was completed.

Problem #5: D’oh- do NOT forget to reset the BIOS so that the newly installed laptop does not try to go out to the network and re-do the install.

So, I now have one laptop with Ubuntu and another with Xubuntu. I am going to go toddle off to the office, plug them both into the network and so the software updates and alternate installs. My next post may well be from Ubuntu land.

Geek Weenend: Part 3

Ubuntu 7.10 install on Inspiron 5600 with new laptop?

Wonderfully easy.
This install included a HardDrive replacement on the laptop( the old hard drive was dying) and an install of Ubuntu from CDROM. The install was fast, smooth and very easy.
I added on a Java and Netbeans install for Ogre and it is ready for basic stuff.
Things still to debug/do:

1) could not get wireless working with our current WEP setup ( it wanted a 128 bit key or nothing.. I really did not want to have to go there). I opened up the security on one of our access points( not like we have many high tech neighbors nearby, anyway…) and it connects just fine. I would like to dig into this more tonight and figure out how to get it working with WEP.

2) Still need to configure it to mount the shared drives on the network. This is probably not the most important thing, shared drives here are either media or network backup. But I want to get it set up before the weekend is over, so backups will be easy later.

3)Decide on a methodology and configure to connect to the HP InkJet Printer on the network. Still thinking on how I want to do this.

4) Get AVG on it. GOing to do rounds of AVG stuff on all computers tomorrow, so this one is just waiting.

All in all, I am pretty pleased with how it went. Now, the install on the Lattitude C610 is just not going as pretty… more on that later on. For now, I need to go back to wrestling it and cooking dinner.

Geek Weekend: part 2

Part two is short, sweet and simple. A memory upgrade for the old eMachine computer in my youngest daughter’s room. It is a good little machine, really. All she does is word processing, internet ( read facebook and youtube),iTunes for music and watching DVD movies with her friends during sleepovers. It was originally a Win2000 box when we bought it new back in the day, and it got updated to XP a couple of years ago. At that point, with 256 MEG of memory, the performance got very very draggy. Since she was only using it for schoolwork and paper typing up until about 8 months ago ( is is not quite 14), it was bearable. However, as she grows into more and more video and music on the box, it was becoming painful to even listen to, much less to watch her use.
So, a fairly cheap 1 Gig memory stick to add in, and voila! now she has a box with significantly less drag and more zip.

Geek Weekend: Part 1

The weekend actually got an early start, because Dell Delivery was insanely fast, and parts for Desktop, along with both laptop hard drives, arrived late Thursday afternoon. So it was a memory and video card upgrade evening.
I was upgrading a Dell E510 to 3gig memory with an Nvidia Gforce 8400 card. It was insanely easy. Plug and chug for the memory, and a plug in and a driver install for the video card.

Life is very sweet at 1920X1200 on my desktop, and I can not believe how QUIET this computer is when it is not paging Virtual Memory off the hard drive all the time. It is a joy.

I was tempted to start on the laptops then, since it all went so smoothly, but I still had to work in the morning and was concerned it would turn into an all night affair. So- off to bed and dreaming of a world in rich rich color definition.

Weekend Forecast: Full Geek Mode

Thanks to a man with a dream, we have a long weekend coming up here in the states. I decided it was time to make some of my dreams come true, and get caught up on some hardware/software maintenance as well.

To prep for this, I have renewed my AVG licenses ( to be installed this weekend- easy peasy)
ordered new hard drives for 2 different laptops, ordered a video card and memory from two different vendors ( one batch from Dell/one batch from eMachines for an old computer we have here) and will hopefully be picking up some very old laptop SDRAM from a friend.
I need to rollback a windows bases flash only terminal box we have sitting around from an old project, as it will make a great web browsing/reference “terminal”.
I need to fix an auto disc mapping issue with the shared media drive on two computers.
There should be at least 3 Ubuntu installs in the mix.
If it all goes well and nothing explodes I will end the weekend with at least 4 additional computers functional in the household. This is probably some sort of horrible sin, since it will put us at more computers than humans in the family– but it feels worse to me having hardware just sitting around gathering dust. We frequently have folks over who borrow computer time, so this will ease some of the crunch that way.

One of them is the “terminal”, one a very old but wonderfully thin and portable M300 that will have Ubuntu and be perfect for ultra portable writing anywhere. I am claiming this one as my writer’s brain. It gets no games, no second life, none of the silly experimental stuff. If all the installs go well, I may even track down a USB wireless connector so that I can do the write and post thing from almost anywhere. It is a master of portability, and at 3lbs, easy to take on trips and to coffee shops to help me get significantly more writing productivity.

With 4+ kids and Ogre on a mission to get significant progress done on the office storage cupboards, this should be a geek adventure indeed. I will tag all the posts on the ups, downs and progress as I go under “admin”.