Gory details for propellerheads

There were two networked computers involved in this mess: "Library" and "Guestroom." Both are older systems but still powerful enough to be useful, with processors faster than 1.5 GHz, nearly 1 GB of memory, and very large disk drives. Both started out as dual-boot Windows and Linux Karmic Koala.

Library was the first upgrade target. The upgrade started with a massive download that took two full days. (This was no surprise; major upgrades are always huge packages.) Following download, the system started to install packages, then partway through something snagged and the process stalled. It stayed hung for a full day. I could not break it loose by any normal means, as the system would not respond to any input. I finally pushed the reset button.

Naturally, the new install would not boot properly; apparently the upgrade had failed about the time it was setting up the keyboard, so it wouldn't respond. I felt that my data was probably OK, since the upgrade had no reason to touch that. The Windows partition was undamaged, or at least was no worse off than it was before, since it was on a different logical drive.

Normal troubleshooting did not reveal a way to fix the damaged Linux system. I had lots of disk space, so I downloaded a full version of Ubuntu Lucid Lynx to a CD and installed it as a new system on a new partition on the same drive. This took another couple of days, but in the end the system worked (apparently) and I could mount the old logical drive and move all my old data from it. (And I now had a LL install CD, to get into more trouble with later.)

While I was messing around, I decided to upgrade Guestroom. Guestroom gets used much less, and now Library was working, so I figured it wouldn't take that much of my actual time and I wouldn't miss the computer much during its upgrade. But again, a straight upgrade failed: this time, the upgrade completed normally, but the system refused to boot the new Linux. Rather than mess with it I decided to just use the LL install CD to delete the old Linux partition and replace it with a new Linux LL partition.

I should not have tried that at 2 AM. When setting up the disk partitions, I accidentally selected the Windows partition to overwrite, rather than the old Linux partition. So I killed that poor little Windows XP that never hurt nobody. On the plus side, I never used it and can't remember anything worth saving from that partition.

Meanwhile, back at the Library, I proceeded with installing all the software that I needed and upgrading the packages rendered out of date since Ubuntu released LL. This took a couple of days, mostly just download time but some of it my own time as well, setting stuff up. But in the end, all was not well. There were a handful of minor problems traceable to bugs in Lucid Lynx; these all required minor system tweaks and workarounds. Then after I thought it was basically fixed and I started to actually use the system (in part to write this rant) I found that it would occasionally spontaneously reboot. I'd be typing along and bang, everything would go black and I'd be back at the login screen. This also happened when the screensaver kicked in.

Research revealed that some other users were experiencing similar problems but there was no available workaround. The Ubuntu community didn't have much to offer except to check the system logs for clues. The consensus was that the problem had to do with the video driver and the X windows system. Checking the logs turned up several error messages, the most incriminating one being "WARNING: the screensaver has left the bus."

A Web search for this whimsical error message led me to the Xorg website, which indicated that I needed to install dedicated video drivers for my hardware. They pointed me to the drivers and I installed them. I restarted the system and landed in the boot rescue screen. The new video drivers had killed the whole X windows system deader than a mackerel.

Guestroom was OK, though. While fiddling with Library I had installed and upgraded all the software on Guestroom and it was working fine. I decided this was a hint.

I took a day off. Went sailing, in fact. Didn't have to reboot once.

Returning to the battlefield, I booted both systems and copied all my files from Library over to an archive on Guestroom. Then I shut off Guestroom and rebooted Library with the LL install CD. I deleted all Linux partitions, being careful, this time, not to touch Windows. I installed LL on a brand new Linux partition. That worked. I updated all packages. That worked. I installed all my software. That worked. I updated all software. That worked. I tested and tested and tested and tested. Everything worked. I booted Guestroom and copied all my files back over to Library. I tested and tested and tested some more.

I found that one software package, Stellarium, works on Guestroom but crashes Library, dumping me back to the login screen. I believe this is a bug in Stellarium and will look into it one of these days. I deleted the program from Library.

All's well that ends well. Or, in this case, that just plain ends.

Possibly some Windows users will wonder why I go to all this trouble when I have a working Windows system. That is a good point. Most users of Windows XP or later products have little trouble with their systems. But I am not "most users." Besides being a cheap person naturally attracted to free software, I am continually fooling with these computers, pushing their capabilities and trying new things, many of which I invent myself. When I used Windows I went through this kind of nonsense all the time, not just when upgrading the operating system. Up until this fiasco, the Library Ubuntu system had run nearly continuously for three years without a single crash or anomalous behavior. I guess you could say I was catching up.

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