Well, as forecast, the old laptop was flakey and died on me. Rather thank think of this as a catastrophe, which would have been the case if this machine were important and not backed up, I saw this as an opportunity to test both the new Knoppix live CD that my nephew gave me and the new Debian install mechanism. (A `live CD is one you put into the machine and start it; nothing on the machine is touched. Besides introducing a new operating system, and rescuing damaged machines, criminal investigators use them for forensics.)
The laptop is an old machine. It does not boot from CDs; I have looked in the BIOS. But it does have a CD reader. So I made floppy disks to boot from. With the Knoppix live CD you just type `mkbootfloppy' after it is booted, and insert two floppy disks (an earlier Knoppix disk required only one). I had to use a different machine which, if I remember rightly, I built in 1997.
The new Knoppix works fine. It is even more impressive than earlier versions that I have. Perhaps I could have used it to rescue the old laptop.
But instead, I tested the new Debian install. As I said, the old machine does not boot from a CD. It requires a floppy. Interestingly, the new Debian install requires only one floppy (not two). It is called the `Smart Boot Manager'.
There is a mechanism, which I do not know anything about, for copying the requisit bytes on an operating system dependent on restricted software. So if you are forced to use monopoly restricted software, you can install Debian, which is a competitive, free market product. (Indeed, I know people who sell CDs containing Debian at free market prices.) On a machine that embodied freedom, I used an old command to make the floppy. As far as I am concerned, the command is opaque.
The command was dd if=/cdrom/install/sbm.bin of=/dev/fd0, a disk to disk copy with an `input file', `if', from the mounted ISO image that I downloaded and an `output file', `of', going to the floppy disk. When you have many old timers like me at commercial free software companies such as HP and IBM, you do not have them asking their young programmers to improve their user interface. Instead, they think that what is good enough for a judge is good enough for them, since dd copies from one disk to another exactly. (`Disk to disk copying', `dd', is frequently used as a forensic tool in court.) I think this is wrong, although on my own, I do nothing about the problem.
In the beta 4 installation manager for the Debian installer, I got hung up for a while trying to save some of my disk partitions. These are parts of a hard disk that are modified or erased separately from others. As I write this now, it looks like I could not do it. Fortunately, I have nothing I want to keep on this machine that I use for experiments. (That data that I want to keep, I have copied onto this machine on which I am writing. I back it up. I will lose some work when my hard disk dies, but not much, I hope.)
As I write this, the display on the machine behind me, the old, slow laptop, says that 69% of the base system has been installed. As I said, the machine is slow. Meanwhile, this is the story so far.
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