Archive for June, 2007


House finally listed

Posted in General at 12:11 pm by jw

Well, after all our work our house has finally been listed for sale.  Now we just keep it clean and hope someone else likes it as much as we did!

Pittsburgh Moves Listing


Moving my firewall

Posted in General at 1:34 pm by jw

The CPU fan on my AOpen MiniPC died, which made me very sad because it doesn’t look like it’s an easily replaceable part.  While I’ll look for a source for the fan, it wasn’t feasible to just leave my firewall offline (as it hosts my email server, controls my home internet connection, monitors my UPS and does a whole bunch of other things) so I had to find another machine and move it over pretty quickly.  Fortunately I have a bunch of PCs laying around the house, much to my wife’s disgust, so I could pretty quickly just grab one and drop it in as a replacement.  The transition wasn’t quite as smooth as I’d hoped, but wasn’t too bad:

Step 1: Backup the MiniPC

The MiniPC would run for a short period of time, and could be coaxed into running longer by hitting it whenever the fan stopped.  This meant I could safely get all the data off the drive.  Although I did have the critical parts backed up (ie the email database), it would take considerable time to rebuild the full configuration so a direct transfer was a much faster idea.

My initial thought was to backup over the network to one of my desktop PCs, but I haven’t put the time into getting Samba to talk happily to Vista yet, so that didn’t work terribly well.  Failing that idea, I dug out my USB/IDE drive chassis and connected a blank IDE drive up.  Gentoo detected this quite happily from single user mode and I could then perform a full system backup onto the drive:

dd if=/dev/hda | gzip > /mnt/usbdrive/backup.gz

I ran the backup through gzip because I found quickly that the bandwidth to the USB drive was the real bottleneck in the system, so using gzip let me mitigate that a decent amount (went from 5M/sec to 15M/sec).  Fortunately it was only a 30G drive, so the whole process didn’t take much more than 30 minutes during which I could keep the CPU from overheating with beatings to the fan, and compressed air.

Step 2: Restore to new PC

Restoring to the new PC was the reverse of the backup to the USB hard drive.  It all ran pretty seamlessly (dd is an awesome command):

gzcat /mnt/usbdrive/backup.gz | dd of=/dev/hda

 The drive in the new machine was actually a 250G drive, but it dutifully copied the 30G image onto the drive and left me with the exact image of the 30G drive and a large empty space at the end of the partition table.  Running a quick fsck told me the drive hadn’t cleanly been unmounted (not surprising seeing I actually booted from it to do the initial backup) but was otherwise fine.

Step 3: ???

Well, the system booted, which was a minor miracle in itself given the complete shift in architecture from a Pentium 4 based system to an Athlon XP system.  The bigger problem was system level utilities like “awk” were failing with an Invalid Instruction exception, which from what I could tell was due to the system using SSE2 for floating point on the P4 compiles, but the Athlon XP not supporting that part of the instruction set.

Step 4: Profit!

So, how to get the base utilities working again?  The compiler wouldn’t run with the same errors, and higher level stuff like emerge was failing anyway so rebuilding the system wasn’t going to be easy.  Finally I decided to reboot from the Gentoo CD, download a new stage 3 install which I could extract to the USB drive and then copy across to the HDD the apps that weren’t working.  As the Stage 3 installation was built for a generic x86 processor, these were sure to run.  I just didn’t want to copy over my configuration so I couldn’t do a simple extract.

A few reboots later, and chasing down all the files that were necessary to copy across I had a functional compiler and functional emerge, even if the system still wasn’t booting very cleanly (Stage 3 only contains a minimum set of apps).  From there it was a simple matter to rebuild the kernel with networking drivers to get the system back onto the internet, some hacking of the udev rules to convince it which adapter was eth0 and which was eth1 (it picked eth4 and eth5 to start with for its own private reasons which escaped me at the time), and a few specific emerges to rebuild critical utilities that I didn’t want to be without for the time to fix the entire system (ie my email).

Once it was all up and running, I could issue the grandaddy of all Gentoo rebuild commands:

emerge -uDNe world

It almost worked.  I had to mess with l7–filters and iptables not having their dependencies set up properly but fortunately “emerge —resume” works to restart the last failed merge so you can merge in specific packages when needed.  After that, a quick 18 hour build process saw some 600 packages rebuilt with Athlon XP as the target system instead of Pentium 4, and a reboot showed everything up and running cleanly.

So, that’s how you move a Gentoo box to a system which doesn’t have the same instruction set.  Wasn’t the smoothest transition, but I didn’t lose any email and really only suffered a few hours effective downtime.  Not bad overall!


Quick update

Posted in General at 10:59 am by jw

Been a pretty busy few weeks, hence the lack of updates.  To summarize, we’re working pretty hard on getting our house ready to sell – putting a lot of work in so it looks a whole lot better than when we bought it.  Mostly it’s a lot of work repainting the areas that needed it, actually painting other parts for the first time (a bunch of stuff was unpainted when we bought it), fixing up a whole bunch of broken light fittings and strange electrical wiring, and just generally making things a lot more presentable than when we first saw it.

Just to add comedy to our whole “moving back to Australia” saga, the green card application actually came through last week and we had to go through the whole decision process all over again choosing whether we wanted to spend the cash to fly back to Sydney to complete the processing or just forget about it and continue with our plan to head back to Australia anyway.  Returning to Australia ended up winning out for purely family reasons – given the choice, starting a family with our own families to help out is a much better idea than trying to do it all on our own over here.  It’s still a shame to leave, but we’re starting to get pretty excited about returning home.

In my spare time in the evenings, I’ve been catching up on computer games that have sat on the shelf for a while:

Rainbow Six: Vegas

I really enjoyed this game.  Was good to have a tactical shooter that was pretty simple and fun to play, just like the original games in the series.  It still misses the fun of planning multiple teams and different routes through a known facility but controlling a group of people and being able to split up your force to use multiple entry points was still pretty cool.  I haven’t yet tried it on “realistic” mode where your health doesn’t recover, but when I get bored enough of other games I’ll probably return to this one and give it a shot.

The only negative was the Securom protection on the game which was turning out a little buggy with Vista x64 and actually made my DVD drive disappear from the system on occasion, when it wasn’t just refusing to recognize the original disc in the drive.  A quick “no-cd” patch from Megagames fixed that up.  I’m glad the crackers are out there to let legitimate customers actually enjoy games people make that buggy and broken “copy protection” software messes up.

Half Life 2: Episode 1

Finally got around to playing this all the way through.  Was really just more of the same from Half Life 2, but seeing I enjoyed the original, I definitely enjoyed this as well.  The first half of the game where you only have the gravity gun to defend yourself and solve puzzles was pretty innovative.  Most of all though, I’m looking forward to Episode 2 and particularly the Portal aspect of that game.

Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars

Haven’t had a lot of time to devote to this game yet (been in a FPS mood recently), but the small amount I’ve played has been quite entertaining.  The live actors doing the video is pretty smooth and the graphics and gameplay have been exceptional, though it seems it may end up a little too much on the micromanagement side for my tastes.

Dawn of War: Dark Crusade

Still enjoying this.  Stupid Tau have me all blocked up as the Necrons, almost to the point where I’m going to have to restart my game because the more you lose the stronger the enemy position becomes.


Fired this up again last night, but it keeps crashing on me after 5–10 minutes of play.  Not sure if it’s the game, something to do with Vista x64, or something to do with the video drivers.  The game wasn’t that great anyway but I was just looking for something light to play for a while.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2006

I ended up playing a bunch of this, just for light entertainment.  It’s a pretty engrossing golf game overall, and good for just wasting time.

Final Fantasy XII

I actually finished this a while ago (on PS2) but never posted about it.  Was a lot of fun, I thought, and although I played mostly just the main story line it kept me entertained for a few weeks.  Definitely worth playing through.

Final Fantasy X

Finished this after I finished playing FFXII.  Again, a very fun game and again I charged through the main storyline too fast and had problems with the final boss.  One day I’ll learn to look around a bit while following the questlines!

Final Fantasy X-2

Only just started this before having the PS2 taken off me by Tahnia who wants to play the entire FF series through from 1 to X-2 and then Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2.  Scary thing is she’ll do it too!  Still, it looked an interesting game and the combat system was (shockingly) like a cross between X and XII.  Be fun to play it more and see how the game turns out.  Not really sure about how much I’ll enjoy playing “dress-up” with the major characters though.


Still have a bunch of games lined up to look at, but mostly just the flight sims now which I really haven’t been dedicated enough to create new button assignments for (my joystick has a whole bunch of buttons that I need to program for each game).  Maybe when I get more uninterrupted time at the PC I’ll think about it some more.  One game I think I’ll end up getting soon though is UFO: Extraterrestrials, which is essentially a remake of the old UFO: Enemy Unknown and seems to be as good as the original.