Saturday, May 30, 2009

My Ubuntu Adventure

A long time ago, I encountered the open-source movement as a hobbyist programmer (which I still am, unfortunately) and wanted to try Linux out. I found the Debian site, but the instructions were way over my head so I didn't dare touch it. I'm not sure whether I had my laptop at that time, but I was at least expecting to buy one. Some time later, I met a guy named Nathan and we became fast friends. While he had never used Linux, he knew of Ubuntu and suggested that I request a CD. I did, and what a learning experience it's been!

I was completely ignorant of partitions, and I think I resized the one on which Windows XP Professional was pre-installed. Hey, where'd my data go? Over the next year, I had loads of newbie problems and started experiencing really weird bugs:

  • Certain keys would stop working for no apparent reason;[1]

  • Firefox started giving JavaScript errors about ordinary whitespace;[2]

  • Flash would crash Firefox;[3]

  • sound of different types progressively failed until I had almost none left;[4]

  • I tried to fix Apache by reinstalling and apt-get choked - hard;[5]

  • programs compiled from the same source by gcc became inconsistent;[6]

  • diffs contained corrupted data.[7]

So now, even though I was fighting to keep coding, I had run into crippling problems with JavaScript, PHP, and C. Even fixing really basic bugs in GNOME which didn't require testing, I was encumbered by diff's corruption. So now I was reduced to typing (also encumbered) and playing games until I could reinstall.

After I finally got my /home directory backed up correctly, I used fdisk to repartition because I had been warned of the Live CD's "idiosyncrasies" (although I did have to tweak from the CD because of cylinder boundaries). I installed Jaunty and put the data back where it belonged. That messed GNOME up and broke the sudo command[8], both presumably because the data was generated on Intrepid. So for a while I only ran on the Live CD, which uses RAM as hard drive space; that got old really fast, although Google's storage came in handy.

I tried to install Jaunty on another partition, but the Live CD's second option installed it on a very small one that I had intended for something else. I only found out when the JRE required more space than I had. I had to repartition because the second installation made new sections that I didn't want. After figuring out how to work around memory conversion bugs in the Live CD's partition editor, I finally got a clean install.

I installed Jaunty again to get a programming partition, and again on the partition I intend for Windows so I can debug my /home data. All three use the same /home partition so I can easily transfer data. My backup has a profile folder named "chris" as does my main install, so I had to extract without ruining the clean profile. I managed that by renaming the real one "_chris" and copying the extracted data to the temporary installation's profile. The user ids were (I guess) the same for both users, so ownership was automatically transferred.

The other time that I extracted my data, I only ran into problems after restarting. This time, I tried running Pandora, to lighten up my debugging tedium, and it froze Firefox like the bad old days. So now I know two things about the remaining bugs:

  1. They reside in my profile;

  2. they are not all triggered at startup.

This post is intended for two purposes. I would really like to get some help in the comments, as the gurus on Ubuntu Forums seem tired of my queries. I also hope to help the poor Googler who finds my experience all too familiar, and maybe even get whatever bug(s) are behind it fixed.



  3. I didn't make a thread for this case, although this one is related; the above case was later and (I think) cross-browser.

  4. No thread for this one either, but this is related.




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