Sunday, February 19, 2017

revivifying the computer

A couple months ago, I went on a rant about keyboards. One of my good ones is attached to what Laura OLPH called the "Ultra Geeky Linux Computer".

I should have recognized the signs that the boot hard drive was dying (hard drives always do), but I didn't until the computer wouldn't boot anymore. I'd been backing up onto a second (and, in fact, a third) hard drive in that computer, but I hadn't in at least several days. So there was data that I would lose.

Most of my important stuff is in my Dropbox folder, so I knew I wouldn't lose that. There was a possibility of losing some emails I'd rather keep, but that wasn't a real problem (because most of my email accounts use the IMAP protocol, they'd sync up as soon as I logged in again anyway). The key thing was podcasts (I listen to 'em when I exercise), and there were two of them in particular.

The first is This American Life. You can get the .mp3 file of the weekly story for free IF you download it within the week; otherwise it's a 99¢ download at iTunes. I'm incredibly cheap about that kind of thing, and I HATE giving money to Apple, so I download them weekly (I have gigabytes of TAL stories on my backup drives). I hadn't backed up the last couple to the backup drives.

The other was Car Talk. When you sign up for the podcast, they only give you the last two. But I had them for years, and I was still listening to Car Talk episodes from 2013 or 2014. I wanted to get my old list back. I had been using Opera browser as my podcast feed, and I'd been saving my Opera profile through many updates. Could I get the files back?

So here's what I did:

  1. Buy the new hard drive.
  2. Download the latest Linux Mint live DVD image, burn it to disk, make sure it will boot up. It did.

  3. Try to see files on the old boot drive. Hooray! I can see the files! (So the problem must have been in the boot sector.) But because of the Linux copy permissions, I can't copy-and-paste them in the live CD session.
  4. OK. Disconnect all the hard drives (the DOA boot drive and the two backups), connect the new drive, install Linux Mint. 
  5. Sound doesn't work. Sound doesn't work? Research indicates it's a stupid choice of setting in alsamixer, which I don't initially understand, but I got it working.
  6. Hook up the DOA old boot drive. Yay! I can see it! AND I now have the permissions to do the copy-and-paste, which I do. I managed to salvage the "This American Life" files.
  7. Check the email program. Yay! Everything's there!
  8. Download Opera (not available through the Linux Mint repositories [their version of the "Google Play Store"], but it is available in the right format for Linux Mint). But wait. There's language on the site about how Opera now can do RSS, which is what I use for podcasts. I've been using it for years for that. What?
  9. Install and open Opera. Weep with disappointment. Opera has changed their format; they no longer open the old profiles. I've lost all my feeds.
  10. Take out the DOA drive, hook back in the other backup drives, and begin the hours-long process of tweaking the system to my liking (I'm still not done).
So I've got a couple of other podcast solutions going now (one is using the Firefox bookmark system, which works better for my purposes if I don't use the built-in Live Bookmark feature), and I've sworn off Car Talk. I'm more of a Judge John Hodgman kind of guy these days, anyway.

Edit Feb 22: A superficial bit of internet research unearthed the fact that the original Car Talk guys retired in 2012 (and Tom Magliozzi died in 2014); they had a number of shows "in the can", but recent shows are just amalgamations of calls and bits from their active period. So it's time to move on from Car Talk anyway.


  1. Hey Jim, too bad about your computer but thanks for the interesting links to podcasts, I now subscribe to This American Life. Just listened to 531: Got Your Back. Great stuff!
    Hey just curious, I use Ubuntu most of the time at home, is Mint as easy to use? Are there any benefits to a non computer savvy person switching to Mint?

  2. David - the key reason I use Mint is that it can come with the codecs for .mp3, Adobe Flash, Windows Media player, and so on (there was a checkbox t fill in the install dialogues), where with Ubuntu you have to go and get them (or at least I did when I used to use Ubuntu). Mint is based on the long-term Ubuntu distros and uses the Ubuntu repositories, so everything you like about Ubuntu (except for the all-open-source, if you do that sort of thing) is available in Mint.

    As for Podcasts... I can't do links in these comments, but go check out 99% Invisible, and the offerings from Gimlet Media.