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18 February 2009

The Saddest Story Ever Told

If you depend on a computer like I do, this one will make your innards shrivel up inside you and convince you to become a hermit...

The display unit in my company-owned MacBookPro when belly up on Monday night (thank you, Nvidia), one day before the one-year warranty would expire. (This was actually fortuitous, as my employer did spring for Applecare, but it was lost and never registered to my Macbook. Another story.) I quickly made plans to take the ailing machine to the Apple Store in Salt Lake City on Tuesday. Then I set about deciding on how I would work until I got it back. I am a remote employee; no IT staff to give me a loaner when equipment goes bad.

Here is the lay of the computers in my house:
1. Nicole has a 2.5 year old white Macbook (single core Intel 1.2 GHz?)
2. The kids have a brand new dual core Intel Atom 1.6GHz machine. It has a 1.5TB drive in it and serves mainly as a network storage device.
3. MythTv runs on a very old AMD Athlon 1.3 GHz machine.

Using the Myth server was out of the question. Not only is it too old to be useful in my work, it has reached mission-critical status in our household. We need our TV shows.

Nicole offered, and I breifly considered using her computer. I decided not to because I thought the kids computer might be a bit more powerful (though not a mac) and I didn't want to bother setting up a my dev environment there. You see, I had a plan.

The Plan involved using the kids computer. It was new, though underpowered, but I figured I could make it work fine. Before taking my macbook in I made a copy of the windows virtual machine I sometimes work in. I figured I could install VMWare Player on the kids computer, turn on the VM and I'd be in good shape. Setting up a non-development machine to do development work usually consumes about half a day for me, so I was keen on avoiding this.

But it wasn't meant to be.

The only file system on their computer that had space for the VM was formatted XFS, and I had been having little problems with it that I had mostly chosen to ignore. VMWare started complaining about 30 seconds after bringing the VM up. Then the OS dropped the volume completely. Ouch.

I ran xfs_repair and re-mounted the volume to try again. I'm a hopeful person and besides that, I needed to get some work done. Same exact problem. Ugh.

At this point my thoughts were focused on two things: First, I had a few work tasks that must get accomplished, and I still didn't have a dev environment to do those tasks. Second, I needed to get rid of XFS on that volume. It would not be viable in the short- or long-term.

First things first... I still haven't put the new 250GB hard drive in the myth server to replace the dead one. I decided to stick a USB enclosure on it, format it as ext3 and move the windows VM to it. At least then I could get into the VM without it crashing. The VM ended up performing quite poorly (due to running over USB), but would be ok for an afternoon of work.

Next I had to figure out how to get rid of the crappy XFS partition that was giving me grief. The only problem was that it had about 750GB worth of data that I couldn't just delete. It contained my music backups (expendable), DVD rips (not very expendable, but I could live without them), myth backups (needed for a full recovery if I ever got around to replacing the dead drive in the myth machine) and other assorted backups.

Luckly, I happened to have an extra 1.5TB drive laying around. I plan to put together a new Myth server in a few weeks and have started assembling the new hardware. I briefly tried installing windows XP on that drive (wasn't looking forward to working in a VM), but the aged XP installer didn't like the humongous drove. Oh well. You know the drill by now: USB enclosure, format ext3, and move data off the XFS volume. Ubuntu estimated it would take about 8 hours for the transfer, so I went to bed.

In the morning, the copy looked good, so I removed the USB drive and set it aside. Next I unmounted the XFS partition and reformatted it as ext3. Then I moved my 30 GB VM onto it and fired it up.

It works a lot better. Not only is it stable, but it runs a lot faster (this was expected). I suppose I can work like this for a week until my Macbook comes back.

The next step will be to restore the backup data off the USB drive back onto the backup machine. I'm losing the stomach for hardware maintenance, so I'm going to put it off for a day or two.

NOTE: I've used every model of 15-inch MacBookPro/PowerBook since the Aluminum G4. Each one has needed repairs within the first year (one even shipped with a defective trackpad). My take: always spring for the extended warranty.