Doctors All, Car Crashes, and Insurance

A few days have passed since the big exciting release of the Karmic Koala. Reviews are mixed with people claiming it's the greatest Ubuntu release of all time, and others saying it's an utter disappointment. That's to be expected, of course. People focus on different things and some people will find themselves running a trouble free release. Others will notice weird video problems, flickering screens, and application crashes. If you really must ask, my experience is mixed. All in all, I am feeling rather positive about where things are going.

As usual, I tend to run multiple Linux distributions; my primary notebook has Kubuntu 9.10 while my secondary notebook has Ubuntu 9.10. I have another machine here with LinuxMint (based on Kubuntu 9.04), a handful of servers with Ubuntu 8.04, one with Ubuntu 9.04. I also take care of a couple of CentOS 5 systems, one RHEL 5, one RHEL 4, and one venerable Fedora 9 machine. I also keep the latest OpenSUSE, Mandriva, and Fedora close by in VIrtualBox images, just in case. With this varied distribution landscape, it's sometimes hard for me to be 100% happy with any distribution, but as they say on television, it sure as heck beats the alternative. I'll let you guess what that might be -- hint, not doors , but . . . oh come on, you can do it.

Incidentally, my wife, Sally, who is sitting beside me, has Kubuntu 9.04 on her notebook and I'm not allowed to touch it.

The other issue that clouds my judgement somewhat is that I usually start running a new release in the late Alpha stages. I need to know where things are going and what people are working on. In fact, that's usually where I get most excited; thinking about all the cool stuff that's coming out. Consequently, I'm likely to load up the third or fourth alpha of the upcoming Languid Lemur, 10.04.

Throughout this, I'm always happy (and a little impressed) to note that the people directly involved in putting out a distribution like this are able to sit back, look at their work with a critical eye, and lay down the groundwork that will improve and build on what they've only just released. That's why I was excited to hear about Project Timelord on the Kubuntu site. Inspired by Doctor Who, the mysterious Time Lord who travels in his TARDIS, righting wrongs (strangely enough, by getting into trouble), the team is looking to improve Kubuntu on a few key fronts. These include translation and localization, bug tracking and squashing, quality management, Kubuntu specific tool development and integration, and my personal favorite, marketing.

When it comes to improving things in the Linux world, I regularly come back to marketing because we, as a community (and that includes the businesses that make Linux their business) generally suck at marketing. The Linux and FOSS community produces some of the best and most advanced software products available and somehow we can't sell it worth a damn.

Back to Project Timelord. My guess is that we are starting with William Hartnell and working our way forward, one doctor per release of Ubuntu. With 13 possible iterations, that would take us to Kubuntu's Yellow Yak release. Being number 13, it will be up to the people of Project Timelord to make sure the Yellow Yak isn't evil. But I digress . . . If you are interested in seeing Kubuntu achieve world domination, then spend a few moment to familiare yourself with Project Timelord and help our where you can. There's an excellent document detailing what I'll call the Hartnell incarnation here. I do have great hopes for Project Timelord. Kubuntu shouldn't be, as one commenter put it, the 'red-haired stepchild of Ubuntu ' but a full-fledged member of the family.

So what does this have to do with car crashes. You might have noticed I wasn't here last week. That's because I was having the Week From Hell. Sick child, more things that I could handle, and my car in the body shop being repaired after a crash. A day after I got it back, all shiny and new, I lent it out so my son's caregiver could take him to an appointment. When they were getting ready to pull out of the parking lot, somebody backed into them, smashing my front bumper. The good news is that there were no injuries of any kind. The bad news was another $1100 in damages. That kind of damage can be fixed.

That, not surprisingly, got me to thinking about all the things that we can fix when disaster strikes. Well, it also made me think about how incredibly evil and self-serving auto insurance companies are, but that's another, much longer story.

Since I spend my time working with computers, the great disaster for me, is loss of data. Catastrophic data loss, as happens with a disk crash, can mean more than a little inconvenience. Some businesses that have suffered such a loss, never recover, for lack of a backup. That's why companies will spend countless thousands of dollars protecting their investment in data with enterprise backup solutions. Backups are insurance, but without and of the evil self-serving stuff thrown in.

Those of you running Ubuntu at home, or any of the many *buntus, can and should protect yourselves as well. It's not complicated. You could back your files to the disk on which you are running your system, and while that will protect you from an accidentally deleted file,it won't help if your hardware packs it in. For that, you need to back up to some kind of external device. Starting today, and over the next few posts, I'll cover backup solutions that you can use.

A USB drive is identified after being plugged in.

The simplest and most economical is probably an external USB drive. A few months ago, I purchased a Seagate Freeagent drive. It comes in a glowing case and plugs into a USB port (though it does have a SATA plug as well). I'm not suggesting you should go and buy a Seagate drive over another brand, just that these types of drive represent an inexpensive and viable means of getting data backed up from your PC to an easily accessible external device.

When I got this drive, I formatted as an ext3 drive but that's not 100% necessary if you are going to dump compressed backup files on that disk. Modern distributions like Ubuntu/Kubuntu should just see the drive and give you an opportunity to mount the drive. Clicking on the drive icon lets me open up a file manager. Using the file manager, I can just drag and drop into that folder. Easy.

The catch, with a device like this, is that you can only use it on one machine, unless you set up sharing with other computers in your home or office. Another device you might consider, given this constraint, is an external drive that comes bundled up with a small networked computer. These devices are sometimes referred to as NAS, or Network Area Storage. My most recent purchase of a NAS was a Buffalo LinkStation Pro Duo, a 2TB unit that can be used as a 1 TB mirrored system.

NAS units, like the LinkStation, can be used to set up FTP, SMB, WebDAV, and so on. Whatever works for you. You can also assign folders to different people, and set up security accordingly. The beauty of a NAS is the complete freedom to access your data from any computer in your building or even outside, with certain Web accessible systems.

For the curious among you, the Buffalo LinkStation runs a version of Linux called Fahrenheit.

Here again, you can use the classic drag and drop, but that's not a robust or flexible backup solution. For that, you need software solutions engineered for backups. As I cover other topics (remember that I am easily distracted), I'll stop over and tell you what I'm experimenting with in terms of backup solutions, and what I think of them.

Until next time . . .


Network-attached storage

NAS and SAN maybe palindromes but they don't stand for the same words in reverse. That is pretty confusing.

The BIGGEST problem is ...

I've installed Kubuntu on three of my own laptops and on nearly a dozen laptops or desktops owned by other people. Neither I or anyone else is having problems. On a third of them I've upgraded to KDE 4.3.3, including two of my laptops, and no one is having problems. The oldest user is 78 and the youngest is 46 (except for my four and eight year old grandsons, who watch NASA rocket launches and play addictive games, respectively).

I've read reports of problems from dozens or more people, and tried to help many of them. Far and away the main reason for most problems by most people is the failure to do THREE IMPORTANT STEPS:
1) Use md5sum to check the downloaded ISO
If step #1 confirms the iso md5sum check then the NEXT step is absolutely essential ...
2) Burn the valid ISO at less than 10X, preferably 8X or less.
3) After the burn is complete boot the LiveCD and then CHECK the burned CD by using the option on the LiveCD menu.

I've found that a LiveCD which checks out on the machine that burned it may not pass step #3 on a different machine, especially if it is an older machine, or visa versa. A LiveCD burned on my 5 year o.d ACER Aspire 3690, and which passed the LiveCD check on that ACER failed when I ran the check on my friends new HP laptop. Checking it again on the ACER showed that it was still good.... ON THE ACER! So, EVEN IF you've checked out the LiveCD on one machine and it passed you MUST run the LiveCD check on the next machine you boot it on in order to make sure it was damaged since the last time you used it, and to be sure that the current machine you are using can read it properly.

A USB LiveCD works very nicely but it is still a good idea to check the LiveCD from its menu even when booting it as a USB boot.

Sailing the waters of Kubuntu installation and operation will be easier if these steps are foilowed.

The expanse of space surrounding Planet *buntu is getting busier and busier. As a result, achieving a stable orbit is particularly difficult when you're easily distracted. Consequently, Marcel Gagné's blog looks at pretty much anything and everything that orbits Planet *buntu. News, howtos, rumors, opinions, controversy, tech tips, helpful hints . . . you'll find it all here. Oh look! A shiny object!

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