Restoring Windows

I had to spend way too much time last night recovering from a stupid mistake made nearly three years ago. A quick flashback: three years ago, my home computer died (mass suicide by the capacitors on the motherboard) and I bought a Dell Inspiron to replace it. As I noted in that post, I popped in an HDD taken from the dead PC into the new Dell and installed Ubuntu on it.

I made one critical error at that point: I installed Grub, the boot loader, on the Win 7 disk instead of the Linux disk. Looking back, I can't even recall if the Ubuntu installer gave me a choice in that regard, but I should've been more diligent.

Fast forward to this week: the Ubuntu running disk started giving SMART errors (not the other SMART) warning me of impending death. Luckily, the disk is still under warranty even under the hard disk cartel's industry-wide reduced warranty period of three years instead of five years.

So in preparation of returning the disk for replacement, I spent some time configuring & preparing for use the long-neglected Windows 7 installation. Windows 7, BTW, is much nicer than I expected; but let's leave that train of thought for another day. The final step in the process was to pull out the Linux disk and restore the Dell to its pure Windows existence.

That's when the three year old mistake came back to bite me:

error: no such partition
grub rescue>

Essentially, the Windows 7 boot loader on the Win 7 disk was gone and replaced by Grub which now couldn't find its second stage loader which was installed on the failing hard disk. In simpler terms, I needed both disks in the PC to boot Windows.

Restoring the Win 7 boot loader ranges from trivial to tricky depending on which side of the retail Windows license holder or OEM Windows license holder line you fall. It is trivial because all you need is a Win 7 CD with which you boot the computer, go into the rescue console and type out a sum total of two commands. It is tricky because Dell, like most other PC manufacturers, subscribes to the logic that it is too expensive to ship a 5$ Windows 7 installation CD with a 1000$ computer.

Microsoft thankfully seems to care about their end users more than Dell and as a work-around to the cheapo behaviour of their OEMs, have added a feature to Windows 7 that allows you to create a rescue or recovery CD from any Win 7 installation. As luck would have it, I still have a few dozen shiny coasters left over from the pre-flashdrive era. I fetched one from storage, popped it into the CD/DVD burner and had a rescue CD ready in a couple of minutes.

But Dell had another card up its sleeves. While the computer seemed to boot from the CD, it eventually errored out throwing the number 0X4001100200001012 in my face. A bit of Googling revealed that this error code seems to appear only on rescue CDs created from Win 7 computers sold by Dell.

Thankfully, some kind souls on the Internet have provided instructions on how to create a USB boot disk using the Win 7 rescue CD. Following those instructions, I was finally able to boot into the recovery environment using a flashdrive and restore the boot loader.

Once Windows was booting properly, I kicked off a full disk erase process using the zeroing feature in Seagate's Seatools utility and went to bed. This morning, I pulled out the dying disk and went down to the Seagate distributor's office to return the disk and initiate a warranty replacement.

TL;DR: be careful where you install Grub!

Software is the only business in which adding extra lanes to the Golden Gate bridge would be called maintenance. -- David Tilbrook

I had to figure this out today to automate some log cleanup:

  1. find all files in the current directory
  2. that are older than 30 days
  3. but not in directories DIR1, DIR2 or DIR3
  4. print the matching file names
  5. and delete them

This is what I came up with:

find . -regextype posix-extended -type f -a -not -regex "^\.\/(DIR1\/|DIR2\/|DIR3\/).*" -a -mtime +30 -exec rm -vf {} \;

I tried doing combinations of -wholepath but it just didn't work. Further, I didn't want to use grep to filter out the directories because there's no corresponding flag in grep to handle the -print0 output from find.

From isql to bcp

I am currently working on migrating a bunch of shell/perl reporting scripts from Solaris to Linux. Clearly, a trivial task since it's all POSIX ... until it's not!

Some of the reports do things which involve dumping data from one database, importing it into a temp table in another database and then doing further processing of the data there. Normally, this would be done using Sybase's bcp utility; you would bcp out from the source database & then bcp in at the target database. However, bcp out works only on full tables or views. You can't provide a select query and get the output of that query in a bcp in compatible format.

The scripts I was working on were relying on some Solaris executable to dump data from a select query in a format that was compatible for import using a bcp in command. Since I didn't have the source code of this binary (typical!), here's how I reproduced its functionality.

First, consider the isql query:

select * from SUPERHEROES where WEAKNESS like '%Kryptonite%'

Which results in:

$ cat $OUT_FILE
ID   NAME          ALIAS          POWER                 WEAKNESS
---  -----------  -------------  --------------------  --------------
12   Superman      Kal-El         Flight,X-Ray Vision   Kryptonite
13   Supergirl     Kara Zor-El    Flight,X-Ray Vision   Kryptonite

(2 records selected)

But in order for the output to be importable by bcp in, it has to look like this:

12|Superman|Kal-El|Flight,X-Ray Vision|Kryptonite
13|Supergirl|Kara Zor-El|Flight,X-Ray Vision|Kryptonite

In effect, we need to:

  1. Lose the header rows
  2. Use a better delimiter instead of whitespace
  3. Trim the field values of extra whitespace
  4. Lose the footer rows

For requirements 1 & 2, we can modify the isql statement as follows:

$ isql -b -s"|" -w9999 -U$USER -P$PASSWORD -S$SERVER -I$INTERFACES -o$OUT_FILE << EOF
select * from SUPERHEROES where WEAKNESS like '%Kryptonite%'

The -b flag removes the header rows and the -s flag asks isql to use the pipe character as the field delimiter in the output. The -w flag is added for good measure: it specifies the width of each output line. The default value of 80 characters is likely to cause each output row to be split over multiple output lines.

The output now looks something like this:

|12 |Superman     |Kal-El       |Flight,X-Ray Vision  |Kryptonite     |
|13 |Supergirl    |Kara Zor-El  |Flight,X-Ray Vision  |Kryptonite     |

(2 records selected)

The footer can be removed by:

$ head -n -2 $OUT_FILE > ${OUT_FILE}.new
$ mv ${OUT_FILE}.new $OUT_FILE

Update (29/Nov/2012) : Just use the set nocount on option in your SQL query which will skip printing of the footer.

And finally, we are left with the task of removing all the extra whitespace around field values. Here's a quick & dirty Python script that does the job:

#!/usr/bin/env python
A simple utility that takes isql generated output
and converts it into a format suitable for import
via 'bcp in'.

The isql output should ideally be generated using
the following flags:
  isql -b -w9999 -s"|"

The delimiter is especially important since this
script assumes pipe ("|") as the field delimiter.

__WARN: The input file will be overwritten!__

Aside: This whole file could probably be replaced
by a one line sed/awk incantation, if I knew how.
import shutil
import sys

DELIM = "|"
NL = "\n"

if len(sys.argv) != 2:
    print >> sys.stderr, """Usage: <input_file>"""

infile = sys.argv[1]
outfile = infile + ".new"

in_fp = open(infile,'r')
out_fp = open(outfile,'w')

for line in in_fp:
    # Strip each line of leading & trailing DELIM
    # as well as trailing newline
    line = line.strip(DELIM+NL)
    tokens = line.split(DELIM)
    # Remove the extra whitespace surrounding each token
    tokens =  [t.strip() for t in tokens]
    line = DELIM.join(tokens)
    out_fp.write(line + NL)


shutil.move(outfile, infile)

The script can then be invoked as:


Resulting in output that can be imported using bcp as:


That's it. I hope this will be useful to someone!

Lens Hack

I recently got a couple of D-Link 942L IP cameras. Unfortunately, these units have a very narrow field of view which meant that they didn't really cover the area we wanted to monitor. So I looked around and found a site called selling stick-on lenses. Bought two, a 13mm wide-angle lens and a much wider fish-eye.

W-67 wide-angle lens  FE-12 fish-eye lens

Here's the fish-eye out of the package:

fish-eye unpacked

The small metal rings that you see in the photo above have glue on one side and are meant to be stuck permanently around your camera's lens. The fish-eye lens has a magnetic ring around its base allowing you to quickly attach/detach the lens to your camera, thanks to the pasted-on metallic ring.

Although these lenses are marketed as mobile phone camera add-ons, they fit perfectly on the D-Link cameras!

At roughly 10$ per lens, I couldn't be happier with this purchase. They've made the D-Link cameras useful!

Here are the links if you want to get these lenses: