Colin's Journal

Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

April 7th, 2003

A case study: Sods law

So there I was proudly stating that I had not had any kernel panics with the BeFS module, and how I had recovered my data when guess what happened? Yes, my music stopped, the screen stopped redrawing, and my keyboard did the “flashing all the lights” thing.

I’m not sure exactly what caused this kernel panic, but thankfully I don’t seem to have lost any data. The floppy drive has been on the way out for a while, and when I rebooted it was making a very sickening screeching noise. I’ve unplugged it for now, and I think I’ll get a replacement. So was it the module, the floppy, or something else entirely? Not sure…

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April 7th, 2003

Digital Archaeology, or how I rescued my email

Many moons ago (approximately sixty by my reckoning) I bought myself a new computer, and having very carefully selected hardware that was supported, I installed BeOS. It was a fun, fast, life enriching operating system that was blazing the trail to a bright future. It also had very few applications that ran on it, and tended to crash rather a lot, particularly when web browsing.

BeOS came with it’s own disk file system (BFS), it’s own way of handling email (single file per message), it’s own “almost a database” way of organising data, and many other fancy features. As the fortunes of the startup behind the o/s waned, and Be Inc started laying off staff and changing direction, I started looking for an alternative.

I ended up choosing Linux, and found myself on a frustrating, slow, life shortening operating system that had many unfinished applications, and a web browser that tended to crash a lot. Thankfully as time progressed Linux has improved in leaps and bounds, to the point where there are lots of finished applications and browsing the web almost never leads to crashes.

During my migration to Linux I kept my existing BeOS installation to one side, thinking that one day I must really go back and retrieve my data off it. Several hardware upgrades later however, and I found that I couldn’t boot into BeOS anymore. I retrieved the boot CD and floppy from the other side of the Atlantic, and found that I still couldn’t boot into BeOS. So much for my data…

A couple of weekends ago I found a Linux module that handles BFS (or BeFS so as not to be confused with the other BFS that’s out there…) I compiled, installed, and tried to mount my BeOS partition. It worked! No kernel panic, no errors loading the module, just a mounted file system with all my data sat there.

Since then I’ve been going through my old BeOS system and pulling out various parts of it that I would like to keep around. I also discovered somethings that I had forgotten doing, like writing a POP3 client to handle downloading email (written as a work around for a bug in the client that shipped with the system).

Among the old data were all my old emails (a little over five thousand of them), but they were stored in a format that Evolution (my email client) refuses to read. Thankfully the format is very simple (full email text as a single file), and the mbox format that Evolution does understand is equally simple. I’ve written a tiny Python script to convert BeOS Mail to mbox format, and after a few iterations to shake out the bugs it has worked well enough to restore all my old email.

I’ve now got just over 19,000 emails in my system, dating back to June 1998, and hopefully I’ll be able to keep these around for many years to come. Just remember when transitioning systems that you need to move your data over as soon as is possible, because it only gets harder as time goes on…

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