Mike’s Linux Desktop Experiences

November 24, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Mike @ 11:19 am

I have been keeping better records as of late and far too many photographed documents. This means that 1. I need a more regular backup solution and 2. I need a bit more storage.
For now, my backup solution has been to keep an old HDD laying around which I’d occasionally plug in and copy everything over to.

Of course, this gets done infrequently, and you’re in a precarious situation where both your drives are online at the same time. This is not really a “backup” solution, more of a snapshot archive.

The other problem with keeping good records is that you need to consider what happens if some boob breaks into the apartment and walks off with your computer. You don’t want that stuff just laying about. The key stuff, like passwords and all that are strongly encrypted. Ditto for pgp keys, but financial information, cached data, personal notes and email are all wide open.

Windows has many weaknesses, and one of those weaknesses is that it is very difficult to separate your personal work environment from the OS environment. The “home” directory concept was weak in day 1 and, while there have been many improvements, Windows still spews crap all over the drive.

So I’m throwing Truecrypt on there to encrypt the OS volume and I’m considering also encrypting the remainder of the disk.

So here’s the plan:
1. 4GB RAM
2. 1TB HDD replaces the 300GB HDD.
3. Put Truecrypt on the OS volume of the white tower.
4. Move the old RAM to the Black tower
5. Put the 300GB HDD in the Black tower, using the Linux cryptothing FS.

Dropping 4GB on the board was a small issue, the board only supports 2GB, and Windows only supports 3.something, but taking out the existing 768MB and replacing it with some modern 2GB sticks increases performance of the system.

The machine is in a nice Antec case and runs a cool Celeron 420. The beauty of this is certainly not the speed. It’s pokey. But it runs cold, quiet and reliable.

The only caveat with the RAM is that, because it is an unsupported configuration, it could, in theory, hurt the reliablity, which is massive, but if that happens, I’ll replace the Motherboard and CPU.

The RAM:

Click, boot, done.

The HDD:

At first I thought I would be lazy and use the RAID features in Windows to just do a mirror, then take the original drive offline and try to run Truecrypt.

Alas, Microsoft decided that RAID is not included with XP Pro, that’s only for the “server” OS… and I’ve been using Windows on MS’s terms, so I can’t hack it to do software RAID. It’d be a waste of time anyway.

So I booted the Linux Rescue CD and used dd.

The Windows disk manager doesn’t let me specify the bytes, clusters and that level of detail when creating partitions. There might be a command line alternative, but it didn’t occur to me that it might be quite so bad. I simply set the target partition to be slightly larger than the source. Then when the RAID failed, I figured, I’d just dd everything from the source to the destination.

# dd if=/dev/sda1 of=/dev/sdb1

The target volume being smaller than the source, it failed.

I didn’t want to wait around to repeat the whole thing, and I realized also that I didn’t want to use the MS disks to figure out how to create a bootable Windows partition, so I did this:

# dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/sdb bs=512 count=1

That copied the partition table and boot records. Now my target disk had the right size partition.


# export SEEK=$((32363523423/2))
# dd if=/dev/sda1 of=/dev/sdb1 seek=$SEEK skip=$SEEK

So I think I discovered a bug in the documentation for dd. The output reveals the count in records, but the input to seek and skip, while in the doucmentation it says it wants blocks, it really wants records. So when I did the /2, it resulted in me spending a long time anyway 😦

dd may not work as advertised

I went to my German classes, and when I returned, everything had copied.

I then used fdisk to create a second partition (why trust Windows with this?). I powered off the machine gracefully, and disconnected and removed the 300GB drive.

Then I booted… everything worked fine. I even did a quickformat of the new 600GB volume.


So then, I upgraded Truecrypt to the latest version 6.3a and did a system drive encryption. having a perfect, bootable mirror (my original drive), I feel confident that my likelyhood of hosing myself is low. Besides, I have a third slightly out of date copy of all my important records and photos on an old 40GB drive.

It’s been running now for 20 hours or so. It’s got another 40 hours or so before it finishes encrypting the drive. This is a great burn-in test too of the new HDD.


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