Posts Tagged ‘linux’

Wow – I haven’t written anything for a while…

December 23rd, 2012 No comments

But I guess that’s what an intense graduate school schedule can do, along with way too many things happening in life.

I do have a couple of things in the works, including a series of articles on how I build a home-office phone system for when I work at home, as well as some of my experiences working with the Raspberry Pi computer that someone gave me for Christmas. Let’s just say the Pi reminds me why I pushed Linux off my plate some years ago. Managing dependencies for software packages is an absolute nightmare – at least when trying to implement things that people have hacked on their own. As I write this I am 11 hours into a seemingly never-ending marathon of installing missing components just to get one simple program to work. What a nightmare.

Stay tuned for more.

Categories: Rants, Technology Tags: , ,

Resurrecting My Data

April 26th, 2011 14 comments

Recovering Data From a Dead Maxtor Central Axis Server

I am a victim of inflated expectations and underwhelming execution. By Maxtor.

About two years ago I bought a Maxtor Central Axis storage server. It was kind of an impulse buy since Staples had them for a good price. As soon as I got home I noticed that many of the online reviews said that this wasn’t a reliable device. But I don’t always pay attention to online reviews. I should have. Note that the Central Axis is no longer made. After Seagate bought Maxtor they mercifully took this disaster of a product off the market.

For a while the Central Axis chugged along in my basement and worked well. I regularly backed up my system to it and even used it to store pictures so they were accessible to more than one computer in the house. But I was always taking a chance because the Central Axis isn’t really a true NAS (network attached storage) server. It’s just an external hard drive with an Ethernet port. Where many NAS servers have redundant drives in a RAID configuration, the Central Axis doesn’t. It’s just a drive. So if it dies, you lose your data.

You probably see where this is going.

A couple of months ago I decided to upgrade my Windows Vista laptop to Windows 7.

I reformatted the drive in my laptop.

Don’t worry I thought … all my important pictures are backed up. I can get them back. Then, the night of the upgrade I went into the basement and noticed a red light blinking on the Central Axis. I rebooted it. Still a red light. Oh crap. I just lost everything. Seven years of pictures and videos. Gone. More than a thousand dollars of digital music. Lost forever.

Except that thankfully the Central Axis is really a bad server with a hard drive attached rather than a bad hard drive with a server attached. So from what I’ve read most failures are actually the server and the data on the drive is recoverable. Here’s how I saved my pictures (my music I got back from my iPod).

How I Did It

First, I would like to thank user “darkfiregt” on the Maxtor message boards. His/her post on disassembly of the Central Axis (or the One Touch 4, which was the European version of the Central Axis) was invaluable. And also Dedoimedo for some additional information about mounting Linux drives in Windows.

This procedure assumes that your drive failed like mine (and countless others) with a red blinking light and perhaps a clicking noise. This is a last-ditch effort because you aren’t going to put the Central Axis back together again after this.

Basic Procedure

  1. Remove drive from housing.
  2. Connect to a Windows machine.
  3. Mount the Linux partition.
  4. Export data.

Why it Works

It seems that the main failure on the Central Axis is the drive controller. Most people believe this is because of heat. Once this happens, the drive may make a clicking noise, which is normally the sign of death, but in this case is because of a faulty controller which orders the drive heads home over and over again.

Inside the Central Axis is a simple Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM SATA drive. The server runs an embedded form of Linux, so the drive is formatted with an EXT3 partition. Although Windows can’t natively mount this format, there are utilities that can.

What You Need

  1. Screwdrivers: 2 phillips, one #0 and one #2.
  2. A place to mount the SATA drive. This can be a desktop PC with an available slot on the drive controller or a SATA to USB cable on a laptop. I used an Ultra Products USB to IDE/SATA cable I bought from Tiger Direct for $24.99.
  3. Software to read the EXT3 partition. I used Explore2fs, which is free.

The Procedure

  1. Using the small phillips screwdriver, remove 4 screws on the bottom of the case. One is hidden under the “Warranty Void if Broken” sticker (just push the tip of your screwdriver into this sticker and you’ll hit the head of the screw). Another is on the right side of the label just under the “H” in the “HDD”. Two more are under the rubber “foot” at the bottom of the case. (A bonus tool is handy for this – I used my small combination pick from my Harbor Freight pick and hook set to pull up the rubber foot.) Pull off the bottom piece.

    Bottom View of Central Axis

    Location of Top 2 Screws

    Bottom Screws Exposed

  2. Slide the inner cage and drive out of the outer case. This is easier said than done. It took me at least 5 full minutes of tugging, twisting and pulling to get it free. There is a tab which can get caught in the vents at the top of the case if you’re not careful.

    Inner Assembly Removed From Case

  3. Darkfiregt listed this as the next step:

    Once this is out, you’ll have a plastic “cage” surrounding a metal “cage surrouding the harddrive.  Look at the side with the 3 small + shaped posts.  The panel that the posts are on is what we’ll remove to free the drive.  On either side of the end posts, there is a little tap.  Push in on the tap to release the snaps that hold the panel in.  Pull the panel out.  The metal “cage” should now come out.

    Honestly, I just grabbed the plastic piece by the little plusses and pulled it apart.

    Inner Metal Assembly Removed From Plastic Cage

  4. Remove the rest of the screws from the metal enclosure (4 large and 4 small) and pry it apart. The whole hard drive should come out.

    Drive Completely Removed

  5. Connect the drive to your computer with whatever cable you have.

    Central Axis Drive Connected

  6. Verify that Windows can see the partition. On Windows 7 use Disk Management (search for it under start) to verify that the drive is visible.

    Disk 1 (and the partitions without drive letters) Is the Linux Disk

  7. Then, open Explore2fs and browse the drive. Right-click on any folders or files and Export to your local machine as needed.

Using this method I was able to save 68 GB of pictures and videos that I thought were lost forever. Good luck if you’re in the same boat.

Dedicated Weather Watcher

September 25th, 2010 1 comment
Thanks Berteun & Wikimedia Commons


I am a big fan of dedicated devices. By that I mean I usually prefer a device built for a specific task rather than a device built for multiple uses. So yes, I’d rather carry a Buck knife, a saw, tweezers, and scissors separately in my backpack than a single Swiss Army Knife.

This applies to electronics too. I have an iPhone, but I don’t have a single song or video on it. I use my iPod for that. I could use my laptop to listen to internet radio at home, but instead I have a Logitech Squeezebox internet radio. I have a cordless drill for drilling, and a cordless impact driver for driving screws. Drills don’t drive screws – they drill holes.

And so, finally, I’ve found the perfect dedicated device for people who have weather stations at home and want a dedicated system for logging and uploading the data. A company called Ambient Weather makes a small plug computer loaded with an awesome weather data logging and uploading package. Yes, I’m a weather geek. And for years I’ve had a weather station at home and uploaded my data to the internet. You can usually see a real-time display in the right-hand sidebar of this page. But on April 21, 2010 the PC that had been collecting and uploading the data from my station had a catastrophic failure.

For about two and a half years I uploaded data from my system using a desktop PC that I built from parts from Tiger Direct. It was nothing special, just an 1.2 GHz AMD Athlon processor on a Asus motherboard. It ran Windows XP and had a Western Digital hard drive in it and it ran Ambient Weather’s Virtual Weather Station software to handle the data. And honestly, it was a royal pain in the ass to keep running. First, because it was a system in my home office, it had accounts for my wife and me on it in addition to the one that ran my weather station software. And over time the system got polluted with drivers and software that made it unstable. Then there is the problem that consumer-grade parts, like cooling fans and power supplies, just aren’t designed to run 24/7/365 without wearing out. So the case fans were constantly making grinding and squeaking noises and the thing was constantly shutting down. So when it died, I just couldn’t bring myself to rebuild it. So for five months – no weather data.

In addition to the hardware and software problems, I also realized that running an entire PC 24/7 with a 350 watt power supply wasn’t the greenest or most efficient way to get data from a weather station to the internet. The thing threw off all kinds of heat and I’m sure it cost more than a few dollars a month just to have running. There had to be a better way. After a few months of no PC I considered building a dedicated server for the weather station using a micro ATX style case and a simple motherboard. But I’d still have the problem of running a couple hundred watts 24/7 for no good reason.

The WeatherHub 2

WeatherHub 2

Then, while looking at the Ambient Weather site I discovered their WeatherHub2 dedicated server. It seemed too good to be true. Someone was selling a complete kit with the fantastic MeteoHub package installed and configured on a SheevaPlug server. It promised to do everything I needed and use only 2 watts at idle and maybe 7 watts at 100% use. The plug server runs a 1.2 GHz ATOM processor made by Marvell and an embedded Linux OS. Normally the SheevaPlug ships with Ubuntu installed, but for the MeteoHub package, a version of Debian is installed and then the MeteoHub package is installed on top of that. The server has a USB port which can connect to the weather station and an SD card slot which can be used to store weather data.

So, for $279 I ordered one and I can say that I’n not disappointed. It’s only been running for about 3 days (so I’ll save the detailed review for later) but it does exactly what I need with a minimum of configuration necessary. Honestly, I took it out of the box, followed the quick setup instructions, and was completely up and running in under 2 hours. And most of that time was spent figuring out a quirk (OK, bug) in the MeteoHub software that requires data collection to be enabled manually after making certain changes.

So, no more big hulking loud PC for me. I now have a dedicated weather station appliance taking up 1/10th of the room of a PC and using 1/100th of the electricity.

You can see the data from my weather station in the sidebar or directly on the WeatherUnderground website at I also submit my data for quality control checking via the CWOP/MADIS program. You can see my quality reports at