Computing woe

January 9th, 2010

I hate golf. I hate golf. Nice shot. I love golf.

Goes for computing too


My laptop has been on death’s door for some months. The screen turns off randomly. I attached an external monitor, and that solved the problem for a little while, but eventually it stopped sending signal to that monitor also. It’s probably a really simple fix, like a loose wire, but I can’t figure out how to get at the relevant innards. The laptop has been a good little friend, but its probably not worth the investment of having it fixed. My plan was to just keep using it as long as its usable, then use my old desktop after it died.

Just for funsies I decided to upgrade it to the latest version of Ubuntu. I don’t have any idea what possessed me to do something so stupid. Every time I upgrade Ubuntu, it brings me nothing but heartache, and I swear never to do it again. Their slogan is, “Linux for people.” Years ago, when we spent an evening together upgrading our laptops to Edgy and it rendered both our laptops unusable, Michael dubbed it “Linux for people who hate themselves.”

I backed up all my data on two (2) hard drives and ran apt-upgrade. It ran for several hours, first downloading packages, then installing them. Occasionally it would ask me if I wanted to clobber a config file.

Meanwhile, I turned my attention to the tower I’m grooming to take over for my ailing laptop. The plan was simple: format over Fedora 9, install Debian, copy personal data, celebrate.

It’s been about a week and I’m wondering if I’ll ever get to the celebrate step. I burned four install disks for various Debian-based operating systems. I’ve tried each one on three different optical drives. Each time I got some non-descript error about a disk error. I’ve tried enough drives to cast suspicion on the disks, but I’ve tried enough disks to make me distrust the drives. In short, I don’t have any idea why I can’t install a new operating system.

Meanwhile, on my laptop, the screen has died and its external monitor is also blank. Usually leaving the lid shut for a few hours will prompt it to come back. Sometimes you can also push the little pin that tells it if its lid is closed. Those failing, wiggling the external monitor cable can sometimes do the trick. This time, none of those worked. For lack of a better idea, I went to bed.

The next morning I still couldn’t get any kind of visual from the laptop. It’s never before stayed off after being shut that long. Lacking any better option, I shut it down. A couple minutes later I booted up and it wouldn’t boot past init 3. I ran dpkg --reconfigure -a and it picked up installing where it had apparently left off (I’m guessing it was waiting on some kind of input from me). Eventually it completed and I was able to start gnome.

Except that it had no internet. It was claiming not to have any network cards. I have no idea what caused this. There was nothing in the logs. Even if there had been, it’s not like I could have googled it, given that it had no network, its successor wasn’t booting, and the server is headless. The server was actually my best bet at that point, had I plugged in a monitor I could have googled from Links.

In replacing the optical drive on the tower, I noticed there were two hard drives plugged in. I unplugged the extraneous one and learned something new upon reboot: Fedora 9 won’t boot if it can’t mount one of the entries in fstab. Even though the operating system and all the files it actually used were on the intact hard drive, it mounts / read only, which prevents the obvious fix: edit /etc/fstab.

Fortunately, Ubuntu’s install disk is also a live disk. However, I got the same non-descript error that had prevented me from installing when I tried to boot of the disk.

To summarize:

  • I can’t boot off the hard drive.
  • I can’t boot off the live disk.
  • I can’t reinstall the operating system.
  • None of my other computers are in a condition to permit me to download additional ISOs, not that I have any reason to believe they’d do any better.

So I sucked it up and reinstalled the hard drive that fstab wanted, removed it entries from fstab, and re-removed the hard drive. It wasn’t difficult, it just seemed stupid to fix problems with this operating system when the idea was to obliterate it. However, after two days of fighting with four computers, I tired of not having a working computer.

Since Fedora’s not so bad, I decided I’d just upgrade the tower to the latest version and go on with my life. It dies toward the end of the pre-upgrade steps. I’m told Fedora upgrades are always buggy and I should just start anew from CD, Would that I could!

For lack of a better idea, I tested the memory. I was relieved when It failed, because it meant I may have isolated the source of my woe. I took out one of the two sticks and retested. It passed. Just for fun I swapped sticks again – the untested stick should fail, since together they failed, and the one I’d already isolated had passed – it passed too. Curious, I put them both into the two previously unoccupied slots. They again failed together, but passed when tested separately. I don’t have any idea what conclusion to draw from this, but it does me no practical good because I still can’t reinstall the operating system.

It would seem I’m stuck in computer limbo right now. I’m grateful to have working-ish machine, but I don’t want to move all my data until I’m happy with the machine, and I’m hot happy with this. I have two more towers, but they’re even slower than the Fedora box running at half-memory capacity.

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