Friday, May 18, 2012

Broke and Fixed Again: Computer Woes

I have been running Linux since my early university days. I cut my teeth on Debian, then switched over to Ubuntu because I'm lazy and conditioned to having a computer "just work." At the time, Ubuntu had better out of the box compatibility with most everything—and being Debian-based, was still familiar to me.

It's been an interesting ride since then, notably with some DVD issues and the occasional xorg.conf problem. While I'm mostly happy with it, and happier than I would probably be with windows, Ubuntu is not without its frustrations.

First and foremost, they are set on being the shiny cool dev, which is frustrating for people like me who see their computer as a tool and not a toy.  The biggest offender in my eyes is Compiz, a compositing window manager that looks really cool but doesn't really serve any useful purpose except to waste some CPU cycles. Funny enough, I remember Compiz being all the rage when it was first released but now it seems that no one's talking about it. I hate to say I told you so...

 I also had issues with PulseAudio when they first started shipping it as the default sound server. It seemed very much an issue of, "Wow, this is so cool, let's ship it now instead of testing it to make sure it won't break things for people."

Related to this, perhaps, is my second issue of the six month release cycle. Releases go out whether or not they're ready; whether or not certain issues have been fixed. I tend not to upgrade until months after the fact, just so that things get a chance to get sorted.

Yeah, it's safe to say I have my issues with Ubuntu.

One of the updates to 11.04 broke the heck out of the X windows manager. In layman's terms, this meant Priscilla (I name things, sometimes) would hang for ages while booting (long enough that I would assume it was caught in an endless loop and reboot futilely), until finally yielding a dull gray screen. And nothing more.

I had a big assignment for work due in two days. This did not make me happy camper. At all.

table flip
Not that I really did this because beads
would have gone flying everywhere.

In the interest of science and posterity, this was basically how I fixed it:

1. Boot up. Wait for the inevitable hang time at "checking system V runlevel compatibility" or, for variety's sake, "checking battery level." Curse the Ubuntu devs with the foulest words you know.

2. WAIT. WAIT LIKE VLADIMIR AND ESTRAGON. Also, mix yourself a drink. At this stage I was taking slugs of soju straight out of the little green bottle.

3. Given enough time (I mean like, I nuked an omelette and ate it and gave myself a manicure levels of time here), it will just attempt to load X. It won't work, of course. But you'll see a cursor and a grey screen, and it responds to mouse movement. BINGO! In the immortal words of every hacker in every cheesy thriller/action movie ever: "We're in."

4. Ctrl-Alt-F1 into tty1. THAT'S RIGHT, WE'RE GONNA COMMAND LINE UP IN HERE. THIS ABOUT TO GET REAL, SON. If you're having this problem at all, you're mostly likely (like, 99% likely) using 11.10. Upon logging in to your account, you'll be prompted to upgrade to 12.04 LTS. Do it. Other places on the Intarbutts recommend manually starting X via startx at this point, but that just froze things back into uselessness for me. You're free to try for yourself though. If that's the case: congratulations! Otherwise, you're going to need to upgrade this bidness.

5. Sit and stare at the command line while you continue to drink, because you have nothing else to do.

6. Finish your drink and pass out in desperation because this is going to take a while.

7. Wake up, if the screen has gone blank hit an arrow key to prompt the command line to repeat itself and thus come back into the world of the living. Answer the install questions to your preference (do you want to keep your old Network Manager settings or switch to 12.04 default options?) and make yourself some breakfast, because this nonsense is also going to take a while.

8. After all of this, you're going to need to restart. sudo shutdown -r now

9. Linus be praised! Your machine no longer hangs during boot up. But what's this? You can't log in to your own account? HOT DAMN, SON.

10. Time to command line again! Ctr-Alt-F1 is a magical, magical key combination.

11. ls -Shla | grep "Xauthority" to see what you've got, because this is an issue with Xauthority. Note: this isn't really entirely necessary, but it's good to double-check that you indeed have some kind of Xauthority file. I can't imagine why you wouldn't, though.

12. sudo mv .Xauthority Xauthority.old In other words, change the current .Xauthority file into something else and allow the system to generate a new one that should work and be able to authenticate your login credentials. Guess what? RESTART!

13. You're back to using your computer like a boss!

14. Have a drink.

Now if only I could get DVD playback working again...

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