Tag Archives: computers

The Blessings and Curses of Technology

For a number of years now, we’ve enjoyed a home computer network cobbled together by yours truly from pieces and parts, many of them bought used. At its heart sits a server, a refurbished office PC that I bought for a song and upgraded with a pair of high capacity hard drives (one for the OS, one for data), and which runs on Linux. Yes, I had to teach myself many things, including Linux, and become my own system administrator.

This server holds all of our data, be it my manuscripts and cover art, our personal documents, gigabytes of photos, movies, tv shows, etc. Naturally, I rigged the system to run a nightly data backup to an external hard drive, in case the server’s internal drives fail, as they have once already, requiring replacement, and a server rebuild from almost scratch. Sadly, being a lazy sort of sysadmin, I don’t think about checking the nightly backup log to ensure that it’s running properly. The last time the external drive failed (it needed replacement, having turned into an expensive paperweight overnight), it took me over four weeks to notice, four weeks during which none of our precious files had any sort of backup. You’d think the lesson would have sunk in. But no.

Several days ago, I decided that it might be time to check the backup log and wouldn’t you know it, the last clean backup dated from April 1st. We’d been running for seven weeks without a safety net, meaning none of the pictures from our last dive trip had been backed up, nor had the final files for the last Siobhan Dunmoore adventure. Needless to say, I immediately made a copy of the most important folders onto a usb drive, just in case.

Since then, I’ve been trying to get a full and clean backup of the server, but without success. The process aborts part-way through, leaving me with a list of error messages, which differ in some way or other each time I make an attempt. I finally decided that the external backup drive is at the root of the issue, so off I went to Canada Computers and plunked down my credit card for a replacement. And wouldn’t you know it, with the new drive I finally got a clean, error-free backup. Moral number one of the story – hard drives may be getting larger and cheaper, but they still don’t last more than 2-4 years and will begin to fail without warning. Moral number two – check the darn log regularly to make sure all is well. A home client-server setup is a fine thing and allows us to store and share terabytes of data, what with Mrs Thomson and I working off our own PCs, each in our own home office. But it does need more care and feeding that I’ve been providing.

On the writing front, progress on Decker’s War #5 is almost at the 40%, while I’ve begun plotting Siobhan Dunmoore #5, still untitled as of this blog post.

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Some Days I’m the Writer…

…and some days I’m the computer technician.  I’m glad I worked a few years in IT and have a bit of a tinkering gene when it comes to computers.  Quite some time ago, I bought a refurbished and rather powerful office desktop PC and taught myself how to turn it into a Linux server, so that Mrs Thomson and I had a central place to store all of our photos, videos and the like (including all my manuscripts, book covers, etc).  Over the years, it’s pretty much just sat there, running happily along and making the files on it accessible via wifi or Ethernet to any other computer in the house, even to the point of streaming videos to our smart TV.  Just under two years ago, it started to go wonky on me and I found that the additional 1 terabyte hard drive I’d installed was getting corrupted and was on its last legs.  The main 500 gigabyte drive was still fine, but when I checked, it was five years old, which is pretty much the average lifespan of an HDD.  So, with a heavy heart, I backed up all of the data one last time on an external HDD and pulled the two drives, replacing them with two drives of twice the capacity.  Rebuilding the server was a fun weekend (not!), since I had to relearn how to install a Linux OS and configure it to work as a server with Windows clients.

Lately, the ancient box has been making noises that sound like a propeller engine with a gerbil problem.  I spent the better part of a day taking it apart and removing the dust with much compressed air, checking each fan, since it was evident that one of the four was the problem.  Sadly two of them are close together and by the time I found the faulty one, I’d gone through all four.  Long story short, I took the little graphics card fan apart only to see that it was irredeemably broken, which meant either trying to track down a fan for a card that dates back to 2005 or replace the whole card, hopefully with a used one, since the server’s monitor only gets used during the maintenance cycles.  Wouldn’t you know it, the local used parts store was fresh out of graphics cards, so a new one it had to be.  By the time I’d put everything back together again, most of the day had gone by with no writing in sight, but the office is much, much quieter now, almost eerily so.  Hopefully without the squeaking distraction, I’ll be able to catch up on Dunmoore’s third adventure.

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