Category Archives: Tools

System Tools

When Servers Blow Up – Disk Images Save The Day

We rely heavily on our ownCloud server here on the farm. Be it keeping up with our finances or maintaining health records on ourselves and our animals, we couldn’t live without it!

Friday brought severe weather in Florida, and a power outage that occurred during that storm was very hard on some of our electronics. We lost 3 cameras out in the goat pen, plus a computer monitor, and most importantly, our ownCloud server.

Yes, we have house-wide surge suppression, and yes, everything that got blown up was plugged into a further surge suppressor and UPS! Still, lightning goes where it wants, and on Friday, it chose those items.

Enter today’s tale of recovery. You see, while setting up an ownCloud server from scratch isn’t all that hard, it is very time consuming. Getting the Apache web server running just the way you want it, with SSL properly configured can take hours. But, not when you can work with a disk image!

Once our ownCloud server was up and happy many months ago, we used a Linux utility already installed in most Linux platforms, to do a mirror image disk image of our ownCloud boot disk. That disk image sat on an external USB hard drive, just waiting for the day it was needed.

First thing to do was slap a new computer together from our vast stores of often ancient computer hardware. Next, take the drive you want to use for the new server and plug it into a USB drive adapter. Those are handy devices to have around, and are very inexpensive.

Plug your hard drive via the USB cable into a working computer, and then launch the Disks utility

Click on your Menu button, and select Control Center.

Control Center

Control Center

Then select Disks which will launch today’s useful software tool.

Disks Utility

Disks Utility

Here’s where you need to use caution. Make sure that the drive you have selected is the one you wish to write to, and not your current computer’s hard drive!

Select the drive you wish to write to, select the disk image you wish to put on that disk, and let ‘er rip!

Preparing for the restore

Preparing for the restore

Because the new drive was much larger than the original, you’ll notice the warming in the above screen grab. After the disk was written, I then used GParted to resize the Linux partition to use the entire available disk space.

Of course our ownCloud data directory is on an external drive to our ownCloud server, so once the new drive was written and installed into the new computer, all we had to do was boot it up, plug our data drive in and it’s like it never blew up!

So save yourself some grief, make that disk image of your ownCloud or NAS server now, so you have it when you need it!


Terminal Tools: Midnight Commander File Manager

As I’ve always said, I prefer to do things from the terminal when I can. When taking care of my many computers, it’s handy to have a file manager that will work over an SSH connection. Enter Midnight Commander.

Midnight Commander is a text based file manager, that is very powerful and simple to use.  I’d found it a few months ago, when I was trying to easily find some media files on my son’s computer, without him knowing I was poking around. This of course meant I couldn’t use VNC.

To install Midnight Commander, simply open a terminal and type the following:

sudo apt-get install mc

Of course, if you have connected to a remote computer, you can do the install on that remote machine with the same command.

Once installed, running Midnight Commander is as simple as opening a terminal, either locally or remotely and typing: mc

Midnight Commander

Midnight Commander

Midnight Commander includes an internal editor with syntax highlighting and an internal viewer with support for binary files!


Tools: HTop Tells You What’s Running

While the Linux Mint desktop does come with a system monitor, there is another application that you may wish to look at to augment the built-in monitor.

HTop, is a terminal program that allows you to see every single process that is running on your computer, as well as the load on each of your processors.

Head over to the Software Manager and search for htop:

Install HTop

Install HTop

Once installed you will find the program’s launcher in the System Tools menu.



While you can single click each menu element in the interface as shown below. Because it’s running in a terminal window, I find using my arrow keys a lot easier.

HTop Setup

HTop Setup

There is a nice setup menu so you can customize HTop to your liking.

While it’s running, you can sort processes however you wish, I tend to sort by CPU load so I can find what is causing my system to slow down!

Give HTop a try, it’s a useful tool for your Linux installation.



Web Tools: Converting To Unicode

Of my 7 web sites, I maintain one of them in 4 different languages. While I could rely on Google or another translation service, since I do fairly well in those 4, I like to just do it myself.

The one language that is a pain is Japanese. Many browsers, especially in Windows can’t deal with Japanese or Chinese very well.

Enter Unicode. With it, you can use a special code to force the browser to then display the correct character.

This is displayed, using the Unicode below: ユニコードへの変換



For a quick Unicode conversion, I use a very handy web site called


Here, I can paste the Hiragana, Katakana, or Kanji and get the Unicode translation.

Quick and simple tool that can make your life easier!

Tools: Edit, Add, Or Delete Disk Image File Content

The way most of us install the Linux operating system, is to first download the disk image file or .iso, of the desired system and then burn it to a CD, DVD, or thumb drive. We then use the media we’ve created, to install the operating system.

But what if, in that process, you would like to add your own collection of Linux packages to the disk. This is especially useful if you are installing on a system that does not have network access.

If you have this requirement, then head to your Package Manager and do a search for isomaster.

Package Manager, installing isomaster

Package Manager, installing isomaster

Once installed, you can launch the program ISO Master from your Menu.

ISO Master

ISO Master

In the above example, I have opened the disk image for the Tiny Core Linux distribution.  It’s a wonderful, very compact distro that is fun to play with, and I find it useful for some of my home made embedded controllers.

Tiny Core will work great on the machine I plan to put it on, but I wanted to include on the installation disk, the drivers I need for my Cannon laser printer.

Using ISO Master, I can easily add that driver to the .iso image, and once added, I can then burn and have a disk with everything I need in one place. Handy for doing installs when no internet is available.

Adding printer drivers to a previously downloaded disk image file.

Adding printer drivers to a previously downloaded disk image file.

After you have finished adding, deleting, or otherwise customizing your disk image, you can then save it to your hard drive, and use your favorite disk burning tool to create the install disk.