Recovering encrypted drives

I’ve been disappointed in Ubuntu for several years now, since they switched to the Unity desktop. And for a number of years, my notebook has been chewing up processor power for the simplest of tasks, something I believe may have to do with the fact that I encrypted my home drive during the last install.

I have a couple of serious deadlines coming up and I can’t afford to work on a computer that freezes for a minute or so everytime I try to add a new reference to Zotero or access Chrome.

So time to update the system. Here were the tasks I saw before me:

  1. Backup my files on the system (that will be /home, /var/www, and a dump of all the SQL)
  2. Install a new system, reformating /home and /var and copying the files from my backups.

To make the backups, I did two things: I backed the files up using scp to an online repository; and I copied all my /home files to /var/www, with the idea that I could leave this directory unmounted during installation, then mount it and copy all the files back to the new /home.

Of course things went wrong:

  1. Using scp I forgot to set the archive option. This meant that all my original date, ownership, and group metadata was lost (replaced by the current datestamp and the username I used to access the backup directory). This is a serious issue, since the files go back 15+ years, though it is less serious than having them all vaporised. In practice, however, this is best used as a backup backup.
  2. Despite my careful checking of notes, I ended up reformating my original /var drive rather than my original /home. This meant that instead of my backups, I had the original, encrypted drive preserved. So I deleted this second backup, but preserved the originals instead.

Unfortunately, this also meant that the problem that started all this also remained: the files were on an encrypted drive, and, worse, one that was now unmounted and unconnected to any files system. If I couldn’t find the hex passkey, all the data would be lost.

Fortunately, after many years of crashing computers, I have learned to keep passwords and the like when I’m told to. And so a quick look in my online backups found the file encryptionPassKey (this is more secure and less useful than it sounds: the file was in the encrypted file system, which means it would be safe should somebody try to crack my drive, but also useless to me if I needed to find it in order to unlock same drive; this is why it is a good idea to back things up twice!).

Mounting and extracting the information was simple from there on following the instructions here

  1. create a new mount point for your home directory, e.g. sudo mkdir /mnt/oldhome
  2. find and mount the partition with the encrypted drive to this location. This means the file .Private. you do this using ecryptfs-recover-private (which you may need to install first).
    1. if you don’t know where the file is, run sudo ecryptfs-recover-private with no options; it will scan your drives for .Private files.
    2. if you do know where the .Private file is, you can specify it directly (e.g. sudo ecryptfs-recover-private /mnt/oldhome/dan/.ecryptfs/.Private
  3. Follow the instructions. You may or may not be asked for your key. You may or may not be asked for the password you used to log in to the system you are currently working on. In my case, I was asked the second.
  4. The drive is mounted read only.

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Agenda: September 21, 2012 IM Meeting

Time: 0800 Mountain (1300 GMT) Location: Skype Instant Messaging (Dan will start the meeting) Opening remarks (dan) Ongoing work Server/Github (Dan) 3D meshes (Marco and Matteo) Google Earth/Unreal (James) ? DL software (Wendy) Ruthwell mobile interpretative work (Heather) Conference sessions organised by us (Leeds, ISAS Dublin, DH 2012) (dan) Conference sessions attended by us (ESTS […]

On being lazy and ignorant: Job ads that restrict the pool of applicants on the basis of time from degree

The last few weeks have seen the appearance of controversial ads for entry level positions in Harvard’s Comparative Literature Department and the English Department at Colorado State (since revised).

The ads are controversial because they restrict the position to applicants who have had their PhD in hand for less than three years (two years or less in the case of Colorado State).

These conditions are particularly cruel because they seem to discriminate against students who completed their PhDs immediately before and in the first years of the 2008 depression–a period that has seen particular retrenchment in University budgets and hiring practices. Read the rest of this entry »


How to add a twitter feed to Moodle

Like many Digital Humanists, I use twitter a lot: for communicating with colleagues, the general public, and my students. Like most users of twitter (certainly most academics, I suspect), my most common type of tweet is probably one in which I share a resource I have come across—a book, article, website, project, etc. Since I use our university’s Moodle installation to store resources for my students, it would be quite useful to be able to capture a Twitter feed inside our Moodle class space. This post shows how to do it.

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How not to use twitter in an emergency

Southern Alberta, including the City and County of Lethbridge, had an interesting afternoon. Fortunately, few if any people seem to have been hurt or lost their homes, though the fire may have hit at a terrible time for area farmers, who were in the middle of harvesting a bumper crop in a high-price market.

Lethbridge is not a major media market and is not represented on our satellite TV (though we could get lots of information about a storm affecting the East coast). Local (commercial) radio continued to play music through the emergency, much as the Soviets used to do when their leaders died, except with more Fleetwood Mac and NickelBack and less Tchaikovsky. Read the rest of this entry »


Class notes

Instructions for the note taking assignment in my classes.

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English 4400n (Digital Humanities, Fall 2012): Assessment

Information about the assessment in this course.

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About blogs

Describes my normal procedures for assigning and assessing blogs.

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English 1900j (Fall 2012): Blogs

In this course you are expected to maintain a blog. Postings will be required from you most weeks. And every so often you are asked to review and/or comment on your blog postings and those of your class mates.

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The unessay

The essay is a wonderful and flexible tool for engaging with a topic intellectually. It is a very free format that can be turned to discuss any topic—works of literature, of course, but also autobiography, science, entertainment, history, and government, politics, and so on. There is often something provisional about the essay (its name comes from French essai, meaning an attempt), and almost always something personal.

Unfortunately, a teaching approach that emphases the use of templates and standardised formats have turned the essay for most students into the academic equivalent on compulsory figures.

The unessay addresses this problem by asking you to throw out all the rules and concentrate on the effective communication of your ideas and interests.

Unfortunately, however, as the Wikipedia notes,

In some countries (e.g., the United States and Canada), essays have become a major part of formal education. Secondary students are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills, and admission essays are often used by universities in selecting applicants and, in the humanities and social sciences, as a way of assessing the performance of students during final exams.

One result of this is that the essay form, which should be extremely free and flexible, is instead often presented as a static and rule-bound monster that students must master in order not to lose marks (for a vigorous defence of the flexible essay, see software developer Paul Graham’s blog). Far from an opportunity to explore intellectual passions and interests in a personal style, the essay is transformed into a formulaic method for discussing set topics in five paragraphs: the compulsory figures of academia.

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Lethbridge Journal Incubator: Two positions available for academic year 2012-2013

The Lethbridge Journal Incubator is a joint initiative of the University of Lethbridge Library and the School of Graduate Studies under the direction of Professor Daniel Paul O’Donnell in the Department of English. The Incubator provides Graduate Students with Research Assistantships and trains them to act as managing editors and production supervisors for scholarly journals […]

Lethbridge Journal Incubator: Two positions available for academic year 2012-2013

The Lethbridge Journal Incubator is a joint initiative of the University of Lethbridge Library and the School of Graduate Studies under the direction of Professor Daniel Paul O’Donnell in the Department of English. The Incubator provides Graduate Students with Research Assistantships and trains them to act as managing editors and production supervisors for scholarly journals [...]

Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies / Revue canadienne d’études néerlandaises

Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies / Revue canadienne d’études néerlandaises (CJNS/RCÉN) is published twice a year. It offers a variety of articles on the culture of the Low Countries. CJNS/RCÉN is published by the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Netherlandic Studies / Association canadienne pour l’avancement des études néerlandaises (CAANS-ACAEN). CJNS/RCÉN is indexed in: MLA Bibliography; Bibliographie […]

Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies / Revue canadienne d’études néerlandaises

Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies / Revue canadienne d’études néerlandaises (CJNS/RCÉN) is published twice a year. It offers a variety of articles on the culture of the Low Countries. CJNS/RCÉN is published by the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Netherlandic Studies / Association canadienne pour l’avancement des études néerlandaises (CAANS-ACAEN). CJNS/RCÉN is indexed in: MLA Bibliography; Bibliographie [...]

Digital Medievalist

Digital Medievalist is an international web-based community for medievalists working with digital media. It was established in 2003 to help scholars meet the increasingly sophisticated demands faced by designers of contemporary digital projects. Digital Medievalist publishes an open access journal, sponsors conference sessions, runs an email discussion list and encourages best practice in digital medieval resource creation. […]
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