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Posts Tagged ‘bricked install’

Coming to Grips with Reality

December 8th, 2009 No comments

The following is a cautionary tale about putting more trust in the software installed on your system than in your own knowledge.

Recently, while preparing for a big presentation that relied on me running a Java applet in Iceweasel, I discovered that I needed to install an additional package to make it work. This being nothing out of the ordinary, I opened up a terminal, and used apt-cache search to locate the package in question. Upon doing so, my system notified me that I had well over 50 ‘unnecessary’ packages installed. It recommended that I take care of the issue with the apt-get autoremove command.

Bad idea.

On restart, I found that my system was virtually destroyed. It seemed to start X11, but refused to give me either a terminal or a gdm login prompt. After booting into Debian’s rescue mode and messing about in the terminal for some time trying to fix a few circular dependencies and get my system back, I decided that it wasn’t worth my time, backed up my files with an Ubuntu live disk, and reinstalled from a netinst nightly build disk of the testing repositories. (Whew, that was a long sentence)

Unfortunately, just as soon as I rebooted from the install, I found that my system lacked a graphical display manager, and that I could only log in to my terminal, even though I had explicitly told the installer to add GNOME to my system. I headed over to #debian for some help, and found out that the testing repositories were broken, and that my system lacked gdm for some unknown reason. After following their instructions to work around the problem, I got my desktop back, and once more have a fully functioning system.

The moral of the story is a hard one for me to swallow. You see, I have come to the revelation that I don’t know what I’m doing. Over the course of the last 3 months, I have learned an awful lot about running and maintaining a Linux system, but I still lack the ability to fix even the simplest of problems without running for help. Sure, I can install and configure a Debian box like nobody’s business, having done it about 5 times since this experiment started; but I still lack the ability to diagnose a catastrophic failure and to recover from it without a good dose of help. I have also realized something that as a software developer, I know and should have been paying attention to when I used that fatal autoremove command – when something seems wrong, trust your instincts over your software, because they’re usually correct.

This entire experiment has been a huge learning experience for me. I installed an operating system that I had never used before, and eschewed the user-friendly Ubuntu for Debian, a distribution that adheres strictly to free software ideals and isn’t nearly as easy for beginners to use. That done, after a month of experience, I switched over from the stable version of Debian to the testing repositories, figuring that it would net me some newer software that occasionally worked better (especially in the case of Open Office and Gnome Network Manager), and some experience with running a somewhat less stable system. I certainly got what I wished for.

Overall, I don’t regret a thing, and I intend to keep the testing repositories installed on my laptop. I don’t usually use it for anything but note taking in class, so as long as I back it up regularly, I don’t mind if it breaks on occasion; I enjoy learning new things, and Debian keeps me on my toes. In addition, I think that I’ll install Kubuntu on my desktop machine when this whole thing is over.  I like Debian a lot, but I’ve heard good things about Ubuntu and its variants, and feel that I should give them a try now that I’ve had my taste of what a distribution that isn’t written with beginners in mind is like. I have been very impressed by Linux, and have no doubts that it will become a major part of my computing experience, if not replacing Windows entirely – but I recognize that I still have a long way to go before I’ve really accomplished my goals.

As an afterthought: If anybody is familiar with some good tutorials for somebody who has basic knowledge but needs to learn more about what’s going on below the surface of a Linux install, please recommend them to me.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Graphical Woes and a Bricked System

September 2nd, 2009 1 comment

Today’s big task was to get rid of the Windows 3.1 look of the default GNOME theme by installing the Compiz Fusion window manager. First, however, I needed to add 3D hardware acceleration and OpenGL support to my existing graphics system. Unfortunately, after an evening of searching for how to accomplish these seemingly simple tasks in Google’s proverbial haystack of information, I found myself no wiser, and in the mood to chew through my power cable and just end it all.

Bleary-eyed and pissed off, I turned to the community in the #debian IRC channel for help, and found a room full of knowledgeable folks who were very willing to help me out. Sometime during the ensuing discussion, I followed this guy’s advice and installed a package called mesa-utils that added OpenGL support to my system, and was good to go. The only problem is that I don’t know if I could do it again, because I can’t recall the steps that got me to where I am. Damn.

In any case, with hardware acceleration now supported, I moved on to enabling the Compiz Fusion window manager with this tutorial on the Debian Wiki. Unfortunately, upon activating my newly installed eye candy, my entire system froze up. I restarted X, but the service refused to come back online, and was disabled by the system.

Now, whenever I attempt to boot my laptop, I get a big error message claiming that X failed to start, and can’t get into my desktop. It seems that the changes that I made to the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file while setting up Compiz have caused an error that occurs while parsing the file on startup.

So, I guess my install is bricked until I can remove my changes to that config file… Anybody got a live CD?