What Happened to my Laptop

For the people who wanted to know the chain of events causing the laptop problems in the last post:

  1. Safe search won’t disable, and login for regular Google services is broken.  I decide it’s a cookie conflict between Google services and file a bug report with Google.
  2. Google says “can’t reproduce”.  I discover that clearing private data doesn’t actually work right, and after some testing, go to file a bug with Firefox.  They ask for my version number.
  3. I notice my Firefox is out-of-date, and decide that it might be a quirk of this version of Firefox+Ubuntu.  I go to upgrade Firefox in Synaptic before filing the bug.  I don’t have the notifier running and haven’t updated in a while.
  4. I upgrade a package in Synaptic, but it turns out I just upgraded the meta package and not the actual package (or something.)  A more seasoned Synaptic user says “why not just run regular upgrades like a normal person?  It’ll fold Firefox into it.”  On any other day, this would have been good advice.
  5. I start the upgrade.  It’s churning along nicely, and I locate my cookies file and start examining it.
  6. My battery monitor disappears.  This is normal enough, actually.  I try to start it back up and get a notice about a broken configuration file.  Uh-oh.
  7. My nm-applet disappears.  That’s a little stranger, but neither applet is very reliable in my ion3 setup.
  8. At this point I find that my cookies file is malformed in some way, and that if I move it manually (rather than using the in-browser ‘delete cookies’) the original bug disappears.  Don’t know how that happened, but it’s solved, so I cancel the bug report with Mozilla.
  9. I go to edit the cookies file in emacs, and get a message that emacs can’t start.  Uh-oh.
  10. The upgrade fails with a bunch of package incompatibility messages.
  11. I start to feel alarmed.  I link an apt-guru friend a screenshot of a relevant part of my Synaptic window.  He says, “one of those version numbers looks wrong.  You’re running Hardy, right?”  I am.
  12. I open my sources.list (using nano, since emacs is broken.)  After a bunch of spaces at the bottom, I see something bad: A Debian repository.  I’m running Ubuntu.
  13. I don’t know how I added it.  Maybe I was on the wrong system and didn’t notice the prompt.  Maybe I was trying to install one specific package from Debian (via apt, for some reason) and forgot to take it out.  I honestly don’t remember.  But since I hadn’t updated in a while, it hadn’t come up.  But now I’m in trouble.
  14. I remove it, update my lists, and do a grep to see how many of my packages have upgraded to Debian versions.  750-1000 or so.  I paste the results back to some friends.  One of them looks, shakes her head, and says my system is like that guy in Star Trek after the transporter accident.
  15. Over the next few days, we try pinning packages back to the Hardy version and downgrading.  There are conflicts all over and lots of ninjinuity is required.  Sometimes the system won’t boot properly, claiming kernel module problems, which turns out to be because somewhere in this process my initramfs got misconfigured.  But eventually, everything is put back in working order (except, for some strange reason, gnuplot, which refuses to install the main binary file.  I compile it from source.)
  16. Watching the system boot successfully, I go to pour some milk and cereal in celebration.  I shake up the milk jug a little.  The lid is loose.  It spills all over the keyboard.  The system stops booting and the cycle of horror starts again.  (And yes, if I’d gotten a Lenovo when you all suggested it, I’d have a spill-proof keyboard with drains.  That’s my plan for the next time something horrible happens to my laptop, which should be any day now.)

152 thoughts on “What Happened to my Laptop

  1. Sounds miserable… like reading about every step of a train wreck. Haha.



  2. This sounds like most of my thesis research. “Um… why are you trying to take a lightbulb out of the projector in the auditorium?”

    “Well, you see….”

    *8 hours later*

    “Ah, well that makes perfect sense then.”

    Good luck.


  3. 15 : don’t try to fix it, just re-install the system, it’s easier, faster, cleaner. Of course it’s even easier if all your data are on a separate partition, which should always be the case, even on windows.


  4. wow. I used to work tech support. People would come in with bad problems and we’d just wipe the drive, and reinstall.

    This story is to horrible someone should buy the movie rights.


  5. > 15 : don’t try to fix it, just re-install the system, it’s easier, faster, cleaner. Of course it’s even easier if all your data are on a separate partition, which should always be the case, even on windows.

    That was the backup plan. But I’d spent some time trying to get various things configured right (stuff like ion starting up properly, fujitsu touchscreen working) that rather than remember which config files and such I needed to pull over, I wanted to hang on to this install if I could.


  6. This stuff is the exact reason I switched from Linux to a mac 4 years ago. It’s even worse if you’re running something like Gentoo. It’s tough when you get your system to a state where you literally cannot upgrade anything without downgrading first. 🙂


  7. To make the long story short:

    1. I’ve installed the Ubuntu
    2. CRASH!!!


  8. this is SO like every single Linux experience I had. The whole point to the expression “theory and practice”.


  9. I spent 6 hours fiddling with the slave drive I was trying to add to my machine. I spent forever installing Ubuntu, configuring, and installing all sorts of software on the master drive. I attach a slave drive and the system won’t boot. I notice after the first 20 minutes or so that my jumpers are set wrong so I fix that. No luck. I spend the next hour fiddling with the jumpers, setting them intentionally wrong, swapping master and slave. Still no luck. I boot off the install CD and attempt to format the second drive which is successful in erasing the partition table but not actually partitioning. I try to boot like this but still have no luck. I don’t have an IDE interface or another working machine to put it in so I decide use the Ubuntu CD to install a whole second Ubuntu system on it which fails the first two times but succeeds the third time. (At this point about 3 hours have passed.) It has the same error as before but now I notice the the second drive is making quiet clicking noises. I check Google for the same error message. I find results for systemrescuecd and decide to try that solution. (Requires waiting nearly an hour to download because of my crappy home internet connection.) I do what they recommend but it fails and it is still unsuccessful. I run Ubuntu install again on the drive. (Probably going on about 5 hours now.) Still won’t boot. In desperation, I fiddle with the jumpers for about a half-hour again (even though I’ve tried every possible permutation already) and the system boots. I spend the remaining half hour making the slave automount the way I want it to. Finally… finish around 1am when I have to wake up at 6am for a full day of work.


  10. You have back ups for your ion config etc don’t you? 🙂

    You don’t need to have your homedir on a different partition in Ubuntu. If you reinstall it should pick that up and preserve it I think.


  11. Aww… thats crappy! I remember when my old dell running Ubuntu used to pull tricks like that.


  12. I should totally run be running linux. I’m missing out on so much fun.

    In college (Harvey Mudd) one of the brightest guys I knew ran linux on his laptop. He had won various mathematical modeling and programming competitions, but the ONE thing I remember him bragging and gloating about, his crowning achievement: he got the built-in volume control thingy on the laptop to work with his debian install.

    All I can say is: FUCK. THAT. SHIT.


  13. Riiiight. In other words, the real series of events went something like this:

    1) Want to search for some porn in Internet Explorer 6.0
    2) Disable Safe Search
    3) http://www.google.com/search?q=donkey+midget+crisco+party
    4) Wow, I’ve never seen anything like _that_ before!
    5) pwned…
    6) Invent convoluted Linux story and publish it on high traffic blog so that the gf doesn’t discover the true reason your computer got effed.

    We know how it really happened. Nice try, though, you almost had me! 🙂


  14. #16: This is why you ALWAYS hold the lid when you shake a container, no matter the type.


  15. that completely sucks. the obvious solution is to use the broken parts to start a bonfire. and to prepare your cereal not near electronics.

    What cereal was it? I’m going back and forth between guessing Lucky Charms and Honey Nut Cheerios.


  16. Fact: I once nuked a Powerbook hard disk after a drop of delicious gravy fell from my mouth on to the keyboard and seeped through and dripped directly on the hard disk connector. I was absolutely furious.

    Still. Gravy. Mmmmmmmmm.

    OH FOR F– … the captcha words for this post are “meals reported” 😦


  17. Pingback: good ubuntu gone bad « Beware of Roaming

  18. I shake milk all the time. Gotta blend all that fat n’ protein n’ stuff.

    But I never do it near my laptop.


  19. I really want an answer here! WHO SHAKES MILK? We use BAGS for milk. Once you cut the little hole in the bag, you can’t shake it. So WTF am I missing? Because you use JUGS for your milk, you think you need to shake it for some reason? If you NEED to shake the milk, the milk is frickin BAD.

    ps. great comic though.
    pps. It was really milk right??


  20. > Who shakes milk?

    Oh man, I’ve been a huge milk drinker since I was a kid, like a gallon a day (someday I’ll try the gallon challenge — if anybody’s system can handle it mine can). But I only just started shaking it. it makes it a little frothy and so much better.

    > Ninjinuity: My new favorite word.

    It’s from Three Ninjas — “It’ll take speed and ingenuity.” “No, what we need is NINJA-nuity!”


  21. Well, I guess this proves you shoud have used vi in the first place.
    vi >> emacs


  22. To be fair, this problem didn’t so much arise from you trying to change your SafeSearch settings, it comes from mixing and matching repositories.

    I never ever had this much problem with Ubuntu. Small things gum up here and there, but mostly everything works. Worst case scenario, /home folder is on a separate partition, you can just wipe the OS, reinstall, spend a day or two of configuring, and bobs-your-uncle.


  23. “Hm… that’s odd…”

    “What is?”

    “The whole security system is shutting down.”

    “Well, Nedry said a few systems would go offline.”

    Was I the only one thinking of this when reading points 6 and 7?


  24. you really should upgrade to a real OS and leave that pathetic linux stuff for the children


  25. > Who shakes milk?

    I do. I semi-dropped out of the rat race to marry a girl I dated in high school, 26 years ago, and now live on a dairy farm in NE Pennsylvania. Our milk comes from cows. I know their names, and sometimes extract it personally. The shaking is required because it’s about 8%, and the cream rises when it sits. Now pasteurized, homogenized store-bought milk tastes mechanical.

    On a side note, you should see the faces on the salespeople at the farm expositions, hawking their high-tech farm management software, when I ask them “does it run on Linux?”


  26. > you really should upgrade to a real OS and leave that pathetic linux stuff for the children

    I will never argue with someone who says that Linux sucks, but claiming that one of the alternatives is -good- is just silly.

    > On a side note, you should see the faces on the salespeople at the farm expositions, hawking their high-tech farm management software, when I ask them “does it run on Linux?”

    Hahaha, I’ll bet!


  27. @ Greg: Wow, there are two of us in the dairy industry that run Linux – I’m not alone! Oh happy day!

    Except, I’m one of the guys on the high-tech herd management software side. Guess I have to keep Windows around for something.

    Off topic… 8% ?!?!


  28. Really, I’ve had epic problems like that with Slack and Fedora all the time, but only once with *buntu. And I think that was mostly due to my Intel curse. Whenever I have a PC with an Intel processor, it gives me _NOTHING_ but trouble. So, trying to get ubuntu working, on a Toshiba laptop, and trying to get GLX working on an internal intel card…. Suffice to say, after hosing my system repeatedly, punching sharks, and taking a machete to the resulting zombies, I just reinstalled generic Kubuntu and left it.

    Oddly enough, both Gateway things I have are bulletproof basically. My old desktop that’s something like 10 years old (Though, the only bits original to it are the motherboard and the CPU) is still running as an Ubuntu server, and my laptop (The actual ATI card and AMD processor sold me on it. Tons of RAM was nice, too.) keeps going no matter what I throw at it. It’s currently got Kubuntu working on it like a dream, and I’ve never had any problems with it.


  29. Laughed almost until milk came out of my nose. Fortunately it didn’t get near my keyboard.

    I had a similar experience trying to install Internet Explorer 8… click on my website link for the gory details.


  30. I have a story so long an similar I nearly died laughing reading this. The HORRIBLE thing is that the only way for my laptop to connect to an overhead projector these days is to run Vista…..let’s just say I die a little inside every time it boots, but otherwise it works. I miss my G3 iBook. It was faithful to me for 5 years. 😦 I feel your pain.


  31. I’ve had my little eeepc 710SD for a while and had just set it to use the “advanced” view, which allows you to access the asus-modified version of Xandros. I was in synaptic, and saw a bejeweled clone that looked like fun. Tick the box, ok, run it. click. click. why is it uninstalling all my other packages. oh shiiiiit.

    The game wanted to install Gnome. The eeepc had KDE. Selecting the game uninstalled KDE, which uninstalled all the apps using KDE, which turned the eeepc into a brick. Had to recover from the start.


  32. O mannnnnnnnnnn That sucks in a big way.
    If it makes you feel any better, I’d been forced to work on Vista on my laptop (proprietary drivers, huzzah!) until April 2. That’s when I got a virus.

    This particular little guy infects any .exe you run, corrupting it beyond repair. Your antivirus dutifully quarantines or deletes those now infected .exes, as you look on in horror. So first it was chrome.exe, then firefox.exe, then explorer.exe. I got to run a single instance of each one before they were screwed. On explorer, I got a handle on what was going on … but there is NO FIX. First time in my life to see that, and I scoured.

    Next it was control.exe (that’s the control panel – try fixing Vista without it!), cmd.exe, ipconfig.exe, ping.exe…. I got my data onto a drive just in time for it to get explorer.exe.

    The good news? I’m running a hackintosh now.


  33. Do you really use ion3 with Ubuntu? This is just… crazy, I guess.

    Since I left Ubuntu for good, I’ve been having less problems with packages and everything. Gentoo and Arch are a bit nicer in this aspect 😉


  34. it happens to all of us…some more than others, but its just a matter of time for you. but, to keep things light, it made me lol.


  35. A couple of months ago I managed to spill juice all over my MacBook Pro (which was behaving just fine until this point). It went through the keyboard and both speaker grills, and a bit even got through the air vent at the back.

    Long story short, thanks to insurance and my amazing ability to cause nearly NZ$4000 of damage to a laptop that cost me $2600 new, I now have a shiny new Unibody MacBook Pro 🙂


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