Unusual Hard Disk Activity

It’s been a busy past couple of weeks when it comes to computers. It started, as I mentioned on the 24th, when I installed Ubuntu 8.04, a Linux distribution, on Chook’s old PC. I’ve had a good fiddle with it in the meantime, downloading packages and getting a feel for how it does things. I even wound up having to reinstall it twice after I forgot my login password – I’ve had a bee in my bonnet about strong passwords lately and made it a bit to obscure to remember the first time and must have put one special character too many in the second time.

My original plan was to see whether Ubuntu would notice the 170GB of space on my hard drive that Windows was refusing to recognise and install it there. Every time I tried to run the installer on my PC, though, GParted, Ubuntu’s partitioning program, gave me an error message about the logical sector size of my hard drive and the whole installer would hang after that. Thinking the problem might have been with the distribution, I’d downloaded another Linux distro, Fedora 9 – but hit the same trouble as I’d had with Ubuntu.

On the weekend just gone I finally took the step I should have done on the last weekend in September: I searched Ubuntu’s forums to find out whether anyone else had had similar trouble. The search was a success: USB flash drives (like my iPod and Toshiba 1GB drive) interfere with GParted’s partition scanner and I needed to unplug them from my USB hub before commencing installation.

I decided to keep on with Fedora when I discovered that the latter distro includes a feature not present in the 8.04 Ubuntu build: the ability to encrypt partitions during the formatting and installation process. Unfortunately, although everything seemed to go well during installation, Fedora refused to complete booting up.
So after all the fiddling around, my PC can now boot into either of two operating systems:

  • Windows XP Home Service Pack 3, which will be my gaming and iPod partition. While my 360 is my main gaming platform, I’m still keen on playing Dawn of War II, as well as Command & Conquer 3 and Red Alert 3; the controls on the 360 version of C&C3 were frustrating, so I’ll stick with mouse and keyboard for my RTS action (at least until Halo Wars).
  • Ubuntu 8.04, which I intend to use for everything else: browsing, e-mail, instant messaging, word processing, even programming. I wasn’t quite able to achieve my ideal of keeping it purely open source; the Nvidia card and Flash websites (different from a flash drive, in case you’re wondering) need proprietary software. But I’m not too worried.

I’m especially interested in setting up an encrypted storage volume on my Ubuntu partition, and I think Vickie may be as well. She was sceptical about the need for encrypting her data – who’d be bothered reading our stuff, after all? – but I showed her that, while my My Documents folder was nominally accessible only to me under Windows once I’d logged in with my password, I was able to access any and all of the contents of my Windows partition from the Ubuntu one. So if anyone swiped our PCs (especially Vickie’s laptop), gaining access to our data, including logins to shopping websites like Amazon, would be a simple matter of juggling partitions (or perhaps even putting an operating system on a Live CD into the disc tray).

As for Chook’s unit, wanos mentioned setting up a home web server in his comment on my Sep 24th post. Interestingly enough, a book I got out from the library, Lifehacker, has a set of instructions dedicated to doing exactly that. With Chook’s Windows XP product key now spare, I’m tempted to reinstall XP on that PC, download Apache and maybe set up a Net-accessible storage facility.

That can wait until we renovate our computer room once again and install our all new computer desks. In the meantime, I’ve been trying out many of the other tips in Lifehacker to good effect, and I’ve ordered the second edition, entitled Upgrade Your Life, through one of our local bookstores. I’ve also added the local branch of the Lifehacker website to my startup tabs.

Both book and site are well worth a read, folks, especially if you’re keen in getting your tech to do what you want it to.