Note to self: do not overwrite the kernel without first saving a backup of one that is known to work.
Saturday we got the cable installed, so it was the first time in almost a month that Athena had an Internet connection. I installed quite a few programs, including Firefox, Thunderbird, and OpenOffice, Azureus and a bunch of small utilities and minor apps.
Then I decided to try to make the sound work, and for this, I had to add the driver to the kernel. The kernel is the core of the operating system and one of its jobs is to get everything else up and running, including hardware. Consequentially, the kernel must be able to read the boot disk, and initialize hardware. I thought I had done everything right: I found a Howto on the subject, which told me to look up which driver I needed to on a table, which I located and enabled in the kernel configuration program. Then I recompiled the kernel and copied it to my boot partition. No big deal, right? I didn't remove anything, just added a module. Well, you already know what the result was. I had kernel panic a few seconds after the bootloader tried to launch the operating system. I had to go get my LiveCD, mount all the paritions, chroot over to the new environment, configure and compile a new kernel (this time I used genkernel), which I then copied over to the boot partition and rebooted. This all occured after midnight, so it wasn't until almost 2:00 that I had Athena back up to her old self. No sound support, but everything else humming along nicely.
I think the problem might be that I used genkernel to begin with, so when I added the sound driver I wasn't adding it to my current configuration, I was adding it to some other configuration that was the default starting point for a custom kernel. That, and/or I think I missed a step somewhere where the initrd (initial root disk) gets generated. I think maybe I should have been making a new one, but the Gentoo Handbook section on manual kernel configuration doesn't have that part (or I didn't notice it for some reason). It might have gotten generated and I forgot to copy it over.
Anyway, I might have another go at it sometime this week, but I'm definitely going to do it this time as a separate kernel and initrd, with a separate bootloader entry in Grub (that way I can boot either one from a menu on startup).
Speaking of bootloaders, the thought has occured to me that it would be relatively easy given this tool to (and I would probably do this on one or more separate drives) boot a true 64-bit version and possibly have the option of Windows. Samba server pretty much makes having Windows on the box unnecessary, but I definitely want to get 64-bit Gentoo going, and possibly even a handful of other distros as well. I'll probably keep my x86 installation around and use it primarily, because there are some programs that don't port well to 64-bit (Firefox being one--although Mozilla is pretty good in a pinch) that I would like to have around.