2013-04-23

Operational Disaster

My return to blogging did not turn out to be a real return, evidently! Here is an update after several months, again!

Operational Disaster

An unprecedented, peculiar and curious sequence of quick events took place in the middle of March. I was investigating the possible use of VirtualBox image as a distribution mechanism for my organic synthesis planning product. My scientist created a CentOS 6.4 image with the program and its dependencies, and shared it. I made a copy of it, and imported the same into VirtualBox in my Windows 8 computer. It worked well, as intended. Thus far, the experiment was successful!

To ease testing the program in the VirtualBox environment, I mounted my primary data virtual disk in the CentOS image. The testing itself was successful. It appeared as if this mechanism was proving to be technologically sound and convenient as well.

Disaster Strikes!

Some more testing later, I decided to re-test the entire procedure. I removed the CentOS image from VirtualBox. However, it complained of an existing image when I tried to import the appliance the next time. Since the old image was no longer needed, I asked VirtualBox to delete it from the disk. It did so!

I ran through the procedure again, with the same initial success. I was quite satisfied with this approach. Then, exactly as before, I tried mounting my primary data virtual disk in this new CentOS image. Navigating to the drive where it was located, I was astonished to not find it there! Concerned, I opened Windows explorer, and navigated to the said drive. Indeed, the .vmdk file was gone!

What Had Happened?

As of the time that I deleted the CentOS image, the mounted external virtual disk had an entry in its /etc/fstab. So, when VirtualBox deleted the image, it deleted the mounted disk's file as well! VirtualBox claims that mounted disks that are used by other images are not deleted. How did this deletion happen, then?

The answer is straight-forward: the mounted disk was not used by any other VirtualBox image! It was the home partition of another Linux image, but that was a VMware image! So, VirtualBox was indeed true to its promise. But, my data was lost!

More Disaster!

I was distressed at having lost my home partition in this unforeseen manner. The lost virtual disk was my primary data drive. The host Windows home folder did not have anything of consequence, except in the Downloads folder. Fortunately, I had a backup from January. It was stored in a separate NTFS drive in the laptop, as well as an external USB disk.

So, losing no time, I proceeded to restore the contents from that backup. It was an encrypted backup. Since I always name my top-level folders with a common prefix, I asked for the files to be restored to my Windows home folder. Towards the very end of the unpacking exercise, something went wrong, and the system froze! I gave it several minutes to recover, but to no avail. There was no disk activity; no sign of life; even the Caps Lock key stopped responding after a while. I waited patiently ... with my fingers crossed, for over half-an-hour. The computer had really frozen!

Disappointed, I switched the power off. With considerable trepidation, I switched it on a few seconds later. Truly enough, the system froze while booting! I felt really let down. I tried restarting the computer a few times, with the same inevitable result — the login screen wouldn't appear. My entire Windows had become unusable! Two strokes in a row.

Rescue Attempt

I used my wife's computer to read about rescuing Windows. There was a Windows rescue partition (drive) in the hard disk. I tried to restore Windows using that rescue partition, following the instructions that I found in Microsoft's Web site. Alas! My earlier impulse upgrade to Windows 8 haunted me unpleasantly there. The rescue image was that of Windows 7, which came pre-installed with the HP hardware. When I attempted a rescue, it kept informing me that I had a more recent version of Windows installed, and that it couldn't rescue it!

For an hour, or so, I was quite dumbstruck. But then, life has to go on, of course! I contemplated possible courses of action. And finally chose what I knew best.

Go The Linux Way!

I burned Kubuntu 12.04 LTS to a DVD, and booted into the Live image. After making sure that all essential hardware worked as expected, I installed it to the hard disk as the only operating system. During the installation, I opted for the proprietary firmware for the Broadcom 4313GN wireless card, etc., to be downloaded and installed. Everything went smoothly. The only irritating aspect was the download of over a dozen English language packs! Readers will remember that I was irritated by this in my old Debian (virtual) installation too.

Upon re-booting, I found – as expected – a few hundreds of updates. Accordingly, I allowed the system to update. Next, from the Kubuntu PPA, I upgraded KDE to 4.10.1. After verifying that the system was working properly, I restored the backup from the external USB disk. It Just Worked!

Laptop Power Management

Initially, the laptop battery powered the system for only about 2 hours. Windows (both 7 and 8) used to last between 4 and 5 hours on a single charge. I read several articles and blog posts on what all improve battery life in Linux. None of them improved the situation measurably! powertop showed a baseline discharge rate of over 23W when idling. That was disappointing!

My HP laptop has an integrated Intel 4000 HD graphics card and an nVidia GEFORCE 630M discrete graphics card. I realised that I had to try Bumblebee. Following the instructions in one of the Ubuntu fora, I installed Bumblebee. I installed the primus configuration rather than the optimus one.

Having read a few bad things about Bumblebee, I had a trepidation similar to that I had when I re-booted the frozen Windows system. Fortunately, though, Kubuntu booted normally, and to my great relief, Bumblebee worked. powertop showed a new baseline consumption rate of a little over 10W when idling! Now I get the same 4-5 hours of battery life on a single charge!

What Do I Not Like?

The power management is a little too eager. It puts the wireless interface to sleep every few minutes. For it to wake up takes several seconds upon next use. I have to keep staring at the screen until then, sometimes a little impatiently. These days, though, I use powertop to put the Broadcom 4313GN wireless card into bad state so that it is not put to sleep so aggressively.

What Do I Miss?

All of this is fine, of course, but do I miss anything? What I miss most is Google Drive native application. I usually do not sign on-line petitions, but I did sign the one at Drive4Linux. I was disappointed to find only about 1,500 signatures. Nevertheless, I signed it, and requested my G+ contacts to follow suit if they use Linux and Google Drive.

Other than the above, I have not felt any notable inconvenience or loss of functionality, so far! Thus, after a break of about five years, I have returned to running Linux natively in my primary computer!!

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