Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In Hindsight, my Foresight was 20-20

When I bought my portable harddrive, I went to no small amount of trouble to install Ubuntu Linux on it, wasting valuable storage space to make a sort of "Ubuntu rescue partition." Most of the people I asked told me running an operating system from a USB drive was pointless, and probably impossible. Impossible it was not, though it required tedious study of arcane documents and a bit of black magic. For a while it was fun to see Linux booting off a USB drive, but eventually I grew tired of the trick and just installed Ubuntu onto the internal hard drives in my machines.

I came to regret having wasted the space on my external drive, so a few weeks ago I prepared to clear off the drive and repartition it. But before I could start, the motherboard in my desktop was killed by a runaway power supply.

Between my junk box and donations from friends, I was able to gather a booty of no less than eight replacement motherboards, each of dubious origin and doubtful reliability.

Three motherboards evidenced fire damage; they had been toasted before I ever got them.

One motherboard worked, but only with a goofy old style of RAM and not with my fastest processor.

One went into nuclear meltdown in my lap.

Two more simply did nothing at all.

I saved the best one for last. With its beautiful silver coating and more features than even I will use, this motherboard was obviously targetted at gamers and custom system builders. The only caveat was that it dated from a couple years earlier than my old motherboard, so it would run my processor, but not as fast as the recently deceased board had. But it was the best candidate, and it was new in the box. Could it be, could this one actually work? My heart was in my throat as I connected the cables.

Nothing.

Anticlimax. Pack up and go home.

I don't think so. This motherboard, I mean you could just look at it, and you'd just know, it was too damn pretty to not work. Like seeing a shiny Corvette on the showroom floor and being told it doesn't run. Doesn't add up, does it?

When I get stuck, I try to put my problem in the larger context of the situation as a whole. So... This motherboard had to come from somewhere. I didn't know its history but I do know that someone had taken this expensive new motherboard and thrown it away. Now what would cause someone to do that? Maybe they bought it and it didn't work. I refuse to accept that it doesn't work. Then - what could cause someone to think their motherboard doesn't work?

User error.

And the antidote to user error? RTFM. It stands for "Read the F--king Manual," and it's good advice.

In the manual for the motherboard I found that a jumper was incorrectly stuck on where the power switch belongs. That's like holding the button in all the time; it won't turn on until you let go. Furthermore the presence of the jumper had led me to put the real power switch onto the wrong place. Someone had stuck a jumper where it didn't belong and the motherboard was just wired permanently off. I removed the jumper, and the system booted; it seems the original owner threw out something worth $200 rather than open a book and read about it.

Now we come to the foresight I alluded to in my title. Obviously I could not really have known ahead of time, but I might as well have. It turned out that my little Linux partition on my external storage drive was worthwhile anyhow. The hard drive I'd been using with my old motherboard was SATA, but my replacement motherboard doesn't have SATA. It meant that I couldn't boot the hard drive that had my operating system on it. Instead, I had to gut my external storage drive to get a P-ATA drive that would work with the replacement motherboard. And on the drive, there was the preinstalled Ubuntu partition, working just as well now that it is inside my computer as it did when it was outside in the USB enclosure. So I have an operating system for my computer after all.
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