Monthly Archives: April 2010

At least it’s not 47 hours in the air.

Well, the question I asked in my previous post is redundant. Turns out that due to Amtrak’s strange pricing, it would have cost me US$100 extra to break the journey, which seems pretty silly. I’m not going to hand over that amount of money for something which effectively costs Amtrak nothing at all, and therefore am now an hour into a 47 hour train journey from Seattle to Chicago. In coach class.

Fortunately, I have a power-point, a netbook and a mobile broadband adaptor, although I suspect that net access is unlikely to be available between towns…

Vancouver and a request for travel advice.

I’ve temporarily re-entered the real world of metric measurements and free public health care in Vancouver, Canada.

My plans are to backtrack to Seattle tomorrow, and then on Thursday, catch a train eastbound to Chicago. However, I have a slight problem – the train journey takes over two days, and the last thing I really want to do is spend two nights in a row in a coach class seat on a train. Hence, I’m looking to break up the journey somewhere, preferably in a location where the train arrives late-morning or very early afternoon, so that I don’t have to get out of bed at an insane hour the next day.

As far as I can tell, this limits my options to some very small towns in Montana: Cut Bank, Shelby, Havre or Malta. I know very little about any of them, and on past experience, small towns tend to bore the hell out of me. If anyone has any recommendations about the pros and cons of staying in any these towns, I’d appreciate it. (And before anyone suggests it, no, I’m not flying. That’s cheating).

Portland, Oregon

I’m currently sitting in Portland’s Union station, waiting for a train that will take me north to Seattle, to connect with a bus on to Vancouver. I’ve been in Portland for the last three nights, staying at the Hostelling International North-West hostel (see here for my review of it).

Portland is reputedly one of the US’s most liberal cities, and there’s certainly no shortage of anti-Bush stickers still attached to the bumper bars of the cars here, even though it’s well over a year since he left office. It’s a pretty relaxed city, but it doesn’t have the buzz to it that San Francisco and Berkeley had – in fact, there didn’t seem to be an awful lot of people out and about, and Portland’s Chinatown was utterly dead, even at lunchtime, a far-cry from what I’ve seen from Melbourne and Sydney’s Chinatowns.

Liberal and relaxed or not, I’ve had my first encounter with an angry, middle-aged, paranoid, white American male, who threw a hissy-fit in the middle of the street because he thought I was staring at him. Apparently walking around in mirrored-sunglasses freaks out the nutjobs – it’s not just a fashion-crime on my part, anymore.

Upgrading an Acer Aspire One D150 from an HDD to an SSD

As I mentioned in my previous post, the hard disk in my Acer Aspire One D150 had some issues last week, to the extent that I don’t trust it anymore and planned to replace it with an SSD drive instead.

After soliciting advice from the good people on the LUV mailing list, I ordered a Kingston SSDNow V Series SNV425-S2BN/128GB 2.5″ drive from Newegg.

Transferring the contents of the old drive to the new turned out to be far simpler than I expected, as the SSD drive came with a USB-SATA dock; I’d been planning on copying all the data onto a different drive, then booting Linux from an SD card and copying it all back onto the new drive. The dock made it all very easy, as I could carve out the partitions (keeping in mind this advice about aligning filesystems to an SSD’s erase block size) and then copy all the data across to the new drive from my existing disk (noting to make changes to /etc/fstab and /boot/grub/menu.lst, as I had to change the name of the LVM volume group). I also have a small windows XP partition on the netbook, mainly for emergency use when having to deal with idiotic telcos, which I copied across using dd.

Changing the disk inside the Acer couldn’t have been easier; it has a slot on the bottom that gives direct access to it; just remove the two screws and lift the lid:

This exposes the hard drive, which is sitting upside down in a tray:

To remove it, I simply slid the whole tray away from the SATA connector to the outside of the laptop case (ie, to the left, in the above photo) and lifted it out. After that, I removed the four screws holding the HDD into the tray, and replaced it with the SDD drive:

The SSD drive then slid straight into the SATA connectors in the netbook – exactly the same form factor as the old drive.

I was surprised to find that grub worked straight away, when booting up – I’ve had a history of messing up manual grub installations. Linux started up, but I soon found that I’d forgotten to rebuild the initramfs, and it was having trouble with the new LVM volume group name. Once that problem was solved, it booted without any further issues.

Windows XP was a little trickier – it simply wouldn’t boot at all. I soon found that this was because XP doesn’t like it when the starting sector of its partition changes. Fortunately, someone has written a program called relocntfs that allows this to be fixed from Linux. After I ran that on the XP partition, it worked perfectly.

The one final issue that I had was that resuming from hibernation no longer worked. It turns out that Ubuntu stores the UUID of the swap space partition in /etc/initramfs-tools/conf.d/resume; obviously the uuid of the swap space changed when I created the partitions on the new disk, so I had to put the new UUID had to be put into this file and then build a new initramfs.

The new SSD drive has been running well in the netbook for about 12 hours now. I haven’t noticed any particular increase or decrease in file access speed, but it is rather pleasant not feeling the vibration or hearing the whirr of a hard disk anymore.

So, why am I in the US?

I meant to post this several months ago, but didn’t get around to it. In a nutshell, I am taking 2010 off, and am backpacking around the world, without much of a plan. It has been five years since I returned to Melbourne from Amsterdam, and in that time, I barely left Victoria at all, other than a couple of trips to Sydney. Time to get out again.

I started off in mid-January with a trip to New Zealand, beginning in Wellington for LCA and then three weeks circumnavigating the South Island by train, then bus, and finally heading over land and sea up north to Rotorua, Waitomo and Auckland. New Zealand is truly awesome.

I’ve now been in the US for three and a half weeks, having spent time in San Francisco and Berkeley, Yosemite National Park, Las Vegas, Flagstaff (Arizona, for the Grand Canyon) and Santa Barbara.

The general idea was to catch a train across the south of the US, however I’ve now changed my mind and will be working my way up the west coast, to Portland, Seattle and into Canada for Vancouver, and then across to eastern North America, all over land. Following this, I have a flight in mid-May from Toronto to London, and I’ll spend the rest of the year wandering around Europe, and perhaps parts of North Africa and the Caucasus.

As I write this, I’m sitting on the Capital Corridor train, travelling from San Jose back to Berkeley, where I plan to perform some surgery on my Acer Aspire One D150. Just under a week ago, its hard disk drive had a fit, making horrible clicking noises, becoming temporarily invisible to the bios, and then showing hundreds of filesystem issues when fscked. While it has now been running fine again since then, I don’t trust it anymore and will be replacing it with an SSD drive, which will hopefully be far more tolerant of being thrown around in my backpack.