LJ Archive


Fixing Starships, Transporters and Even Computers

Shawn Powers

Issue #180, April 2009

As a system administrator, it reassures me when I see the computer systems break in Star Trek episodes. The reason it brings me peace of mind is that I know if I perfect human cloning and mind transfer, my sysadmin skills still will be useful in a few thousand years. Also, I'm fairly certain Data (the android Lieutenant) must be running some sort of embedded Linux, so my particular skill set will be very much in demand.

I'm getting a little ahead of myself, however. Although I'm sure system administration will be a popular topic in future millennia, with this issue of Linux Journal, you hold the future in your hands right now. Cheesy anecdotes aside, this month we have tons of articles and columns to help you keep the packets flowing.

Because most system administration begins with installing an operating system, it seems appropriate to start there. We've got a couple really interesting articles this month that deal with both system installing and system restoring. Bill Childers tells us how to leverage PXE network booting to install operating systems (even Windows!) by using a remote booted Linux kernel. Once you understand the nuances of PXE booting, it's amazing the things you can do without even a local boot device. Add to that Christina Barrado and Sebastian Galiano's article on FreeBoo, and you'll be able to install, restore and dual boot in no time (or at least, in less time than with conventional methods). FreeBoo is an open-source alternative to programs like Rembo. Using PXE and FreeBoo will make booting and restoring multiple operating systems much easier than ever before.

Once your systems are up and running, it's the system administrator's job to keep them that way. Applications such as Munin can keep track of long-term trends. In fact, Munin can keep track of more than just system logs, and Patricia Jung tells us all about it. Whether you use Munin, or you just grep system logs, when the inevitable problem comes along, it's important to know what to do. And, Kyle Rankin explains how to salvage a hard drive when the mysterious Master Boot Record fails. Thankfully, he goes into a little more detail than the standard Windows answer. Sometimes, fdisk /mbr isn't enough. GRUB is a bit more robust than that, thank you very much.

Victor Burns shows us an intriguing new method for dual booting between Linux and Solaris. No, I'm not talking about full virtualization or standard dual booting, I'm talking about running both at the same time. With Solaris-Zones, you really can have the best of both worlds. Speaking of both worlds, Bill and Kyle hash it out again this month. This time, it's with e-mail clients. I won't say Bill is GUI, but he sure prefers it in an e-mail client.

If you add our regular cast of columnists to this issue, you'll see it's quite a great month to be a Linux Journal subscriber. Mick Bauer shows us how to set up the Squid Web proxy securely. Dave Taylor hones our scripting skills, and Marcel Gagné shows us one of the most important things a system administrator can do—back up. If you're not a sysadmin, don't worry about being left out this month. Even though we all need to administer our own systems to some degree, we've also got information that will appeal to those readers without racks of servers to manage.

Mike Diehl teaches us how to program using Irrlicht to get some awesome 3-D graphics in our programs. Reuven M. Lerner shows us how to write plugins for jQuery. Plus, we have tech tips, new product information and news from the Linux industry that is bound to tickle the fancy of any Penguin fan.

Perhaps none of us might be around when it's time to do tech support for Galaxy-class starships. It's unlikely we'll be able to debug code for a holodeck any time soon. And, to be honest, I don't expect to get a call requesting my help in programming any interstellar guidance systems. I think it's a fair guess, however, that when the time does come, most of the devices will be running the Linux kernel. If we practice now, perhaps we'll be ready if the time comes sooner than I expect. Or, if we get visited in a time-travel episode. Admittedly though, the latter is probably unlikely.

Shawn Powers is the Associate Editor for Linux Journal. He's also the Gadget Guy for LinuxJournal.com, and he has an interesting collection of vintage Garfield coffee mugs. Don't let his silly hairdo fool you, he's a pretty ordinary guy and can be reached via e-mail at info@linuxjournal.com. Or, swing by the #linuxjournal IRC channel on Freenode.net.

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