Archive for the ‘linux’ Category

LAN Parties

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Just over 10 years ago (yeesh!) I did a little writeup of Million Man LAN 2. I enjoyed it, but not quite as much as the first Million Man LAN, and I haven’t been since, which is something I’m going to fix this weekend.

Million Man LAN 2 wasn’t my first event, either (or even my first MML). I first heard about this ‘LAN party’ thing way back in April 2000 and convinced a buddy to pack up our computers, drive to Louisville, Kentucky (a mere 120 mile drive), and pay some people some money for the privilege of using their network to play games nonstop for an entire weekend. It was something called ‘LanWar 7‘.

We arrived to Louisville a bit ahead of schedule, and it was the first time either of us had driven that far out on our own, so we took some time to drive down the main drag and check out some of the sights. And, once we stopped at a local Hardee’s to use their restrooms, we realized that we had crossed into another time zone and we were actually late.


But, we finally arrived to the University of Louisville campus, paid our registration fee and hauled our computers inside. What I saw was mind-blowing: rows and rows of people and computers playing games (Quake 3 Arena, Half-Life DM, and Unreal Tournament? Yes, please). There were also file servers full of interesting files to download (all legal, of course), an IRC server, a projector showing geeky videos on a big screen, etc. etc.

It was an incredible experience. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even blink all weekend as I tried to take it all in, and when the weekend was over I hopped on ICQ and tried to get everyone I knew to go to the next one. We gradually got more and more people interested and even formed a loose-knit group of friends who attended LAN parties regularly. And, for the next several years, we went to various parties around the area. Bi-weekly LAN party in the attic of a PC parts store? In. Local LAN party needs staff members to help pull off the event? I’m totally there. No LAN party this week, but want to play LAN games anyway? Just have a mini-event at my house. No problem.

If this all seems weird to you, you have to remember that broadband was still in its infancy around this time. My home internet service at the time had just been upgraded to a blistering 0.5 Mbps, which was phenomenally fast (10 times faster than my crappy old dial-up modem, anyway). Trying to play multiplayer games on a dial-up modem? Forget about it. It worked, sort of, and you had to tie up your phone line while you played. Forgot to disable call-waiting/someone else needs to make a call and picks up the phone/cat knocks the receiver off the hook? Too bad, game over. So, broadband helped with the reliability problem (connected all the time, and I can still use the phone? Sold!) but trying to find people to play games with was still a bit of a chore.

Downloading the latest Linux distribution (or your other favorite large file) would still take hours (or days), and practically necessitated a download manager to get them all while you slept. So, to find a place where there were not only people playing games on reliable private network, but that there were also the files you wanted, but didn’t want to tie up your Internet connection to get available was an amazing experience. To experience that with hundreds of other people who also loved computers, technology, and video games was just eye-opening.

Social networking sites didn’t even really exist yet, and in my hometown, finding tech-minded people was (and still is, sadly) very difficult. Facebook and Twitter wouldn’t even launch for several more years, so to even find people in the larger enthusiast/gaming community (heck, finding that the community existed at all) that you could actually talk to and interact with? It was an experience like no other, and an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

But, like the local arcades, I’m afraid that LAN parties are not long for this world. Reliable, fast broadband is reaching more homes and more people than ever before, Free-to-play and MMORPG games haven’t quite displaced LAN gaming yet, but they’re getting close. Lots of multiplayer games these days rely on some servers out on the Internet somewhere. Social networking and video streaming sites mean that I can find and virtually interact with anyone with any interest (just about) anywhere on the planet without having to leave the (relative) comfort of my own chair. And the Old Guard is, well, getting older. I’m past the point where tearing down my computer and hauling it a state away has become tedious. I have a full time job now with real responsibilities (geez, when did that happen?), and killing a weekend or so playing games is a tough sell. Finally (I have yet to see this firsthand, since I haven’t been to an event in several years), I suspect that the younger crowd aren’t replacing the folks who aren’t coming any more. Likely, they don’t see the point.

So, tomorrow morning, just over 13 years after my first event, I’m going to tear down a computer, load it in a car, pick up the same buddy I picked up then, and drive back to where it all began for me, to the scene of what will likely be the last actual LAN party that I go to.

It’s been a good run.

Prepping a 128 MB USB Thumb Drive to Install Debian Linux

Monday, December 25th, 2006

Some months ago, I upgraded my main workstation. I had reached the point where if I was going to upgrade one component, I had to upgrade them all. This left me with my current new machine and my old machine which was fairly complete and still reasonably powerful. Rather than have a completely assembled computer gather dust in the corner, I decided that I needed to install some kind of operating system. I chose Linux because it was freely available and, well, I like a challenge.

My only problem was that my DVD-ROM drive gave up the ghost long ago and I didn’t have a spare to replace it. It occurred to me that since my old computer supported booting from a USB device that I should be able to get the computer booted and the install process started.

This worked out so much better in my head.

I found several guides on how to create a thumb drive capable of booting, but the problem is they all require you to already have Linux installed in some fashion before you can do it, which I didn’t.

I was moderately successful with installing DSL to a thumb drive, which was neat, but that’s not what I really wanted.

I eventually settled on Debian Linux. I had used Debian for years to power this site before I switched to dedicated hosting this summer, and quite liked it. Also, it was the only distribution that I could get to work with this method.

Installing Debian Linux From a 128MB USB Drive

What you will need:

  • 1 128MB USB Drive (although if you use something bigger you will have more options)
  • 1 Debian install image
  • boot.img.gz
  • 1 Knoppix disc

Downloading the software

For this method, you will need to put some files on your thumb drive to not only start the computer, but to initiate the install process. Debian’s install manual tells you that you will need to download “hd-media/boot.img.gz”, but doesn’t tell you where to get it. I was able to find that file here,
and it will be in a similar location on your favorite mirror. You’re also going to want to download an install image so your computer will have something to do when you start it up. Since I’m working with a 128MB drive, I decided to go with the Business Card .iso. It weighs in at about 40MB and is just big enough kick off the install. If your drive is bigger, you might want to consider going with the Network Install, but it’s not strictly necessary. I saved these in the root directory of my hard drive, to make them easier to find. Both images can be found here.

Next we need a Linux environment to prepare the USB drive. I decided to go with Knoppix for this, primarily because I had already created a Knoppix CD recently to check my laptop’s Linux compatibility (but that’s another article).

Next, put the Knoppix CD in the CD/DVD drive of your computer and reboot. When the Knoppix boot menu appears, type in “knoppix 2″ so we boot into text mode. No sense in loading the entire disc when we just need the text interface.

boot: knoppix 2

Once the boot process has finished and your USB drive is plugged in, you should now find that a mount point has been created for your drive under “/mnt”

cd /mnt

The drives that Knoppix has detected and set up will be listed here. I am using serial-ATA on the machine that I was using to prep the drive, and that showed up as /mnt/sda1 while the USB drive showed up as /mnt/sdb. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you know which drive is your USB drive and which drive is your data drive. A quick test by removing the USB drive showed that /mnt/sdb disappeared, and reinserting it caused it to come back.

Next we need to mount our existing hard drive onto our file system. Replace “sda1″ with whatever your hard drive was detected as.

mount sda1

This will put your existing hard drive in the directory structure. Now we need to navigate to our downloaded images. You will need to change this path to wherever you stored the images.

cd sda1/debian

Now install the boot.img.gz file. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you replace “sdb” with whatever Knoppix detected your USB drive as. This will IRREVOCABLY ERASE EVERYTHING on the target drive. Double check it, and then check it again.

zcat boot.img.gz > /dev/sdb

This could take several minutes. I was given an error that there was not enough free space on the device. I ignored it, and suffered no ill effects.

Once that process is completed, we need to mount the USB drive into the filesystem, substituting the device for your thumb drive for “sdb”.

mount /mnt/sdb

Then copy your install image to the drive.

cp debian-31r4-i386-businesscard.iso /mnt/sdb/

Once that’s complete, unmount the USB drive before removing it from the system.

umount /mnt/sdb

You have now prepared a portable, bootable, Debian Linux Installer that you can wear around your neck.

To restart your Knoppix system just type in ‘reboot’, remove the CD when prompted, and hit Enter when prompted.


Now put your USB drive in the computer you want to install Debian on. Make sure you set in the BIOS that you want to boot from your USB device. Some motherboards (mine included) won’t boot from the USB drive unless you also turn on ‘USB Keyboard Support’, so ensure that’s turned on as well. Once you’ve verified that the settings are correct, reboot and you should be greeted with the Debian installer. Unfortunately, going through the install process is beyond the scope of this article. If you need help with that, I would suggest looking at the Install Manual or nosing around in the forums.