March 16, 2004

Only if your time has no value.

Filed under: digital — mhoye @ 12:10 am

Booting into kernel 2.6.3 means my mouse doesn’t work, unless I add mousedev and psmouse to my /etc/modules file. Once I do that, the mouse works fine in KDM, and KDE doesn’t work at all. It just fails halfway through startup, silently, leaving me with all the functionality of KDM’s background picture. Awesome.

I mentioned it to some of the people at school, whose suggestions ran the gamut from “switch to Fedora” to “switch to Mandrake”. While I have nothing but respect for at least one of those distributions, the idea of reinstalling a whole new operating system to fix the mouse is too stupid to mention aloud. Sadly, though, the number of things machine does that are too stupid to speak aloud is not small so I suppose I have very little high ground in this regard.

You’d be amazed at the number of dots you need to connect to make a mouse work in Linux. I sure was.

Sean, having scored two free tickets, took me to see Starsky & Hutch today. The short review:

I feel like a porcupine has been fucking my eyes.

There is no longer review, because there is nothing in this movie that deserves it. Sean and I walked out of it, and the conversation went like this:

“That was a pretty bad movie.”

And then we talked about something else.


  1. You could run a real OS like FreeBSD instead you Leeeenooooooooks weenie.

    Comment by Jamie Bowden — March 16, 2004 @ 7:38 am

  2. I think your KDE is broken. More than usual, I mean. I doubt it has anything to do with the mouse.

    I, coincidentally, upgraded to 2.6.3 recently as well. I had no troubles.

    Comment by Mike Bruce — March 16, 2004 @ 9:55 am

  3. Jamie: I just got an old 200mhz laptop to spare, and it might come to that. I’ve got my netBSD cd right here.

    Mike: I think that the problems might be that, when I do my regular apt-get dist-upgrade and it asks me if I want to replace the default config-files/scripts/whatever, that occasionally failing to replace the old with the new (not the default action) bones everything. I’m going to have to look into it in a little bit more depth than I have, I guess.

    The real winner here is that all the old XF86Config file generators on this machine are still meant for the pre-4 versions of X, and are hence a huge waste of time.

    Comment by Mike Hoye — March 16, 2004 @ 10:51 am

  4. “… whose suggestions ran the gamut from ‘switch to Fedora” to “switch to Mandrake’.”

    Debian is shit on the desktop. I gave up about a year ago, sounding almost exactly like you do now. Unless you *really* like running unstable, just let it go and switch to something that pre-installs your favorite Desktop Environment.

    Comment by Ian Hurst — March 16, 2004 @ 12:57 pm

  5. My love affair with Debian/Knoppix is very quickly coming to a close; in the last few weeks, apt-get update has reliably broken something very difficult to fix.

    I might just have to move over to Fedora. I’ve got an extra laptop that I’m going to try it out with, so we’ll see.

    Comment by Mike Hoye — March 16, 2004 @ 2:30 pm

  6. Coincidentally, I put the new Fedora Core Beta on my laptop last week (mainly to test out the new Kernel and Gnome), but I haven’t spent enough time on it to say much. It’s still recognozably in beta. Most glaring omission: no video player installed by default. Wtf? Not even Totem? Also, PCMCIA support was only semi-functional, which luckily isn’t important for a laptop install… Fedora Core 1 is a better pick, at this point.

    I actually have the Debian-like Gentoo on my desktop at the moment (what, I’m supposed to follow my own advice?). It has two big advantages over Debian: *useful* documentation (!), and a friendly (!!), helpful (!!!) community. Maybe that should count as three advantages. Unfortunately, though they’ve taken huge steps to make it simple (mainly by emulating and improving on the FreeBSD ports system), having to compile *everything* does suck.

    Comment by Ian Hurst — March 16, 2004 @ 2:59 pm

  7. Helpful documentation in a Linux-based system?

    I think you’re making that up. I’ll ride to work on a platypus-unicorn crossbreed before I believe in useful Linux docs.

    Comment by Mike Hoye — March 16, 2004 @ 3:05 pm

  8. Heh. Seriously, the install is ridiculously complex, and I had like zero experience with their weird system, so I printed their install guide and followed it step by step. Worked perfectly. Look at the Docs here, to see what I mean:

    Better than anything I’ve seen in the Linux world (which doesn’t say much, but still…). I’d better stop before I start to look like an evangelist. Fedora Core 2 is what I’ll use, when it’s out.

    Comment by Ian Hurst — March 16, 2004 @ 3:21 pm

  9. Let me second the, “Gentoo on the desktop doesn’t suck,” comment.

    While, as a distro, it has attracted quite a few idiots who compile everything with stupid amounts of optimizations turned on, it’s also got 1) good install and setup docs and 2) the only web forum I’ve seen anywhere that doesn’t make me want to pull my eyes out rather than read any more posts. I’ve had a few weird things happen when upgrading gcc, but those problems were solved with a little digging on and some patience.

    Compiling everything sucks less once you’re up and running and rarely need to recompile large chunks of the system. Ccache also helps some (though it should also be the first thing you shut off if you run into trouble). Admittedly, I don’t run KDE, which I hear takes a millenium or two to compile.

    Comment by Alex Goddard — March 16, 2004 @ 5:46 pm

  10. The nice thing about Linux is, if you’re having problems, there are always a bunch of suggestions about which distributions to install to fix the problem.

    Just give in and install XP, already.

    Comment by Mike Kozlowski — March 16, 2004 @ 8:45 pm

  11. “Just give in and install XP, already.”

    Oh, well, that’s the most sane choice, sure. But where the hell will that kind of thinking get you in life, huh? Straight to the gutter, man, straight to the gutter.

    Comment by Ian Hurst — March 16, 2004 @ 9:08 pm

  12. “The nice thing about Linux is, if you’re having problems, there are always a bunch of suggestions about which distributions to install to fix the problem.”

    Hey, hey, hey. I didn’t mean to imply that installing Gentoo would solve all of life’s problems, make him rich, and increase his penis size. Surely installing windows wouldn’t do any of those things either.

    Some distros are less brittle than others. Gentoo has been remarkably solid for me.

    I would suggest the solution to Mike’s problem lies in his KDE installation, and that jumping distros would be little overkill. Moving away from a 2.4 kernel caused me no problems. Every problem I’ve heard of with moving to 2.6 tends to be the result of someone not reading the docs, and tends to have a pretty trivial solution. KDE suddenly croaking suggests a KDE reinstall is in order. Or at least a backing up of his prefrences before wiping them to see if that gets you anywhere.

    Comment by Alex Goddard — March 16, 2004 @ 10:15 pm

  13. See, I have exactly the opposite experience – the programs themselves are typically solid, as long as they get the preferences they asked for. If you do the upgrade and accept the default “do not overwrite your previous preferences”, things eventually start going to hell.

    One of the things I’ve done recently that’s saved me a lot of grief is added “purge” to my list of default apt settings. This saves on a little bit of disk space, and a lot of aspirin.

    Sometimes I think the only reason I stick with Linux is that I’d rather go two rounds with Mike Tyson every four months than have somebody flicking my ear every minute.

    Comment by Mike Hoye — March 17, 2004 @ 12:34 am

  14. See, this is what I’m talking about:

    Setting up mozilla-firefox (0.8-4) …
    Updating mozilla-firefox chrome registry…/usr/sbin/update-mozilla-firefox-chrome: line 58: 354 Segmentation fault regxpcom >/dev/null
    dpkg: error processing mozilla-firefox (–configure):
    subprocess post-installation script returned error exit status 139
    Errors were encountered while processing:

    And now Firefox doesn’t work.


    Comment by Mike Hoye — March 17, 2004 @ 1:33 am

  15. Why don’t you just leave a shopping list lying around and let the next “guest” administrator install everything for you? :)

    Comment by Coop — March 17, 2004 @ 7:50 am

  16. whooooooooo! :)

    Comment by sean — March 17, 2004 @ 10:18 am

  17. Apt screwing something up is a huge pain in the ass. It will probably take you a while to fix it. I’m a bit irritated by the number of broken packages I’ve experienced recently. Granted I’m working from the unstable repository, but.

    I’ve considered Fedora. Still Redhatty, but probably acceptable.

    FreeBSD is attractive in some ways, as I tend to like the BSD tools better than the GNU ones. And the man pages are in a whole other league. But you lose a bit of performance and compatibility. Plus, no apt.

    Gentoo is lame. I don’t want to compile things. Do you have any idea how long it takes to compile e.g. Gnome 2.4? A very long time. And helpful communities are for the weak.

    XP is fine if you want to run Windows. If you want to run a Unix, it’s a pretty useless.

    Comment by Mike Bruce — March 17, 2004 @ 11:38 am

  18. Putting on my Gentoo apologist hat and getting long-winded:

    “Gentoo is lame. I don’t want to compile things. Do you have any idea how long it takes to compile e.g. Gnome 2.4? A very long time.”

    Wouldn’t this make *BSD lame as well? IIRC FreeBSD has a binary package system in addition to ports. However, I’m not sure how comprehensive the package system is. Gentoo provides OpenOffice, Mozilla, Firefox and Thunderbird binary packages (and maybe others, I haven’t looked).

    I’m guessing our definitions of “long” vary. KDE’s a better example. KDE’s a shit ton of C++ and takes a day and change on my machine (from kdelibs on up through the rest of the packages if ccache isn’t helping). I run Gnome mostly. It doesn’t take that long at all.

    I have yet to ever think, “My god, why won’t $FOO finish building so I can get on with my life?” My machine’s perfectly usable during compilation. I suppose my feelings on this might be different if I were one of those crazies who plays resource-intensive games under linux all the time (that’s what Windows is for), or if I really had to have the newest thing now.

    I also have yet to have portage fuck up an emerge and break things the way apt is liable to. I have seen things get unmasked prematurely, but have yet to get bitten by that because I’m cautious with glibc/gcc upgrades.

    I’m not saying Gentoo is going to cure cancer, walk your dog and make you toast. However, it’s been a better choice for me than Debian and I have yet to experience any problems that would make me change that opinion.

    Comment by Alex Goddard — March 17, 2004 @ 12:42 pm

  19. As neat as Gentoo sounds, I’m not interested in spending four days compiling to end up with a stable operating system with no package management facilities. Christ, this isn’t the dark ages.

    Comment by Mike Hoye — March 17, 2004 @ 12:54 pm

  20. “As neat as Gentoo sounds, I’m not interested in spending four days compiling to end up with a stable operating system with no package management facilities. Christ, this isn’t the dark ages.”

    That’s somehow worse than breaking your unstable Debian box by running dist-upgrade every couple of days? It’s totally unreasonable to expect gigantic, bleeding-edge, untested, beta-quality software to work properly, ever. When you want something as innocuous as working software, you’re insane not to just run somehting prebuilt and tested. Whether that’s Fedora Core 1, or WindowsXP, or MacOS doesn’t much matter.

    Oh, and Gentoo has package management, incidentally.

    Comment by Ian Hurst — March 17, 2004 @ 1:11 pm

  21. Last time I compiled Gnome (with GARNOME) it took about six hours. I don’t do this very often; usually I just run with whatever Debian is providing.

    I can get a 2.6/Gnome 2.4/XF86 4.3 system up and running with lots of extras in a couple of hours on Debian, almost all of which is download time. In Gentoo that’s practically a multi-day project.

    No thanks.

    Or I could use packages, apparently. But then, why am I running Gentoo?

    FreeBSD’s ports and packages system is kind of lame, but that’s okay. My take on it is that it’s more of a traditional Unix system, not so much a system for running the latest whizzy Linux-ware.

    Comment by Mike Bruce — March 17, 2004 @ 1:45 pm

  22. “As neat as Gentoo sounds, I’m not interested in spending four days compiling to end up with a stable operating system…”

    Perfectly understandable. Even with the heap of (potentially outdated) binary packages you can get to speed along a Gentoo installation, the initial cost of installing the thing in terms of time and complexity (even with the excellent install and setup guides) is pretty high.

    “…with no package management facilities. Christ, this isn’t the dark ages.”

    Um, no. Or do you think Debian doesn’t have package management either? Apt is the only system I have personally used that comes anywhere near Portage. I might conceivably call apt better if it wouldn’t ocassionally break things. Gentoo is not a Slackware-like system you install by compiling everything. Slackware’s package management is (as far as I can tell) still stuck in the dark ages. Slackware’s nice and all, but the package management is next to non-existant. This is why I left it a few years ago for Gentoo. Gentoo uses something much more akin to the ports system in *BSD, or apt in Debian. There is package management in Gentoo, and with the possible exception of having to compile almost everything, it is excellent.

    Comment by Alex Goddard — March 17, 2004 @ 1:55 pm

  23. I want to distance myself from Alex here. I like Gentoo, but my argument isn’t that it’s better than Debian. My argument is that it’s completely insane to run a frequently updated Debian Unstable and expect reliability even approaching one of the prepackaged Desktop systems like Fedora or WindowsXP. Either be accept that Debian Unstable actually is, like, permanently in a state of instability, or go off and learn to live with your favorite polished, static operating sytem, whatever it happens to be.

    Comment by Ian Hurst — March 17, 2004 @ 2:24 pm

  24. Just so we’re clear, I believe the chain of argumentation here is:

    Red Hat breaks -> RPM sucks, get Debian, apt rules -> everything in Debian stable is anciently outdated! -> use unstable -> Debian breaks -> Apt sucks, get Gentoo -> I’m not going to compile everything by hand! -> get something like Fedora (i.e., Red Hat) that’s all good ‘n’ stable.

    And all the while, the FreeBSD people natter on about how swizzy FreeBSD is, and nobody can gainsay them, because nobody’s enough of a masochist to try to install FreeBSD on their desktop machine.

    Comment by Mike Kozlowski — March 17, 2004 @ 2:53 pm

  25. Yeah, I think that about covers it.

    Comment by Ian Hurst — March 17, 2004 @ 3:05 pm

  26. FreeBSD is painfully easy to install. It works fine as a desktop machine. You occasionally run into compatibility problems with some of the more Linux-centric packages.

    Debian stable is of limited utility. Unstable only breaks when some yahoo uploads a broken package and you try to install it. This is the price you pay for bypassing the testing cycle. I think Debian’s packaging and release process needs a lot of work.

    RPM was never the problem with RedHat. Only the most hopeless of nerds has a strong opinion on deb vs. rpm. The problem was that there were no automation tools for updating the system (except recently, if you wanted to pay money) and fetching dependancy chains for new packages. These things exist now in Fedora, so all is well. Debian’s advantage at this point is that it has many more packages available. Given that the largest packages, and thus the ones you most want to avoid manually installing, are available for both it isn’t a huge advantage.

    Comment by Mike Bruce — March 17, 2004 @ 3:14 pm

  27. “I want to distance myself from Alex here. I like Gentoo, but my argument isn’t that it’s better than Debian.”

    I’ve been trying very carefully to defend Gentoo from unfair criticism without defending it from perfectly fair criticism, and I seem to have failed. So let me distance myself from myself.

    Gentoo is not the be all, end all. It is not the best thing since sliced bread. It is not, necessarily, better than Debian, or Xandros, or Fedora, or whatever. In fact, for some uses, I’d say Debian is superior. If you only need what debian stable provides, why in god’s name would you go with Gentoo? The install is not for the faint of heart (even with the handy docs). The people in charge of portage have ocassionally unmasked an upgrade they shouldn’t have, causing some people a bit of frustration until they get a good gcc or glibc or whatever reinstalled. Have a really old, really slow machine with not much RAM? You should probably consider a binary distribution.

    What I’ve been attempting to get at is that in my experience, I’ve been far happier with Gentoo than I was the few times I’ve dabbled with Debian unstable (one regular install, one install from a Knoppix disc). In fact, those few times I’ve tried Debian, I’ve run into exactly the sort of problems Mike’s had (bad upgrades breaking things). With a bit of caution, I’ve managed to avoid ever having to go “two rounds with Mike Tyson every four months.” I’ve gone two rounds with Mike Tyson two or three times total in a couple years of usage. I’m sure it’s possible to break Gentoo in many neat and interesting ways that one cannot break Debian. I’m sure someone, somewhere has had Gentoo break itself.

    I can count the number of times I’ve had Gentoo break itself on my thumbs. This is what I’m saying.

    Your argument regarding pre-packaged desktop systems is pretty spot on. I’ve considered trying out Xandros, or one of the other debian-ish desktop distros but haven’t had the time yet.

    Comment by Alex Goddard — March 17, 2004 @ 3:18 pm

  28. In other words, Gentoo has provided me with a remarkably stable “Debian unstable” type system. This comes with a price, and it is not for everyone. It may not even provide a similarly stable unstable experience for others.

    Gentoo is not even, necessarily, perfect for me. If I found a binary distro I thought would get me something exactly (or close enough) like what I’ve got now, I would switch in a heartbeat.

    Gentoo’s advantages are its docs,, and the fact that I have yet to have it break itself more than two or three times despite running the equivalent of debian unstable. I also rather like the way they’ve handled init scripts and config file updates in Gentoo.

    It’s disadvantages are a long, involved install, wonderfully bizarre problems being possible when you move between glibc/gcc versions and having to compile everything except OpenOffice, Mozilla, and a few other minor things.

    Comment by Alex Goddard — March 17, 2004 @ 3:29 pm

  29. I think the tape is falling off our collective glasses.

    Comment by Coop — March 17, 2004 @ 10:42 pm

  30. Nerdcore 4 Life, baybee.

    Comment by Mike Hoye — March 18, 2004 @ 12:28 pm

  31. apt and RPM are not opposites, or isomorphs. apt can install RPMs (and that’s not a bad way to go, because it combines the strengths of the RPM package format with the flexibility and lack of librpm of apt).

    Me, I’m an rcd man, so I can install RPMs from apt and yum repos all day, without having to play “guess the deps” myself, or squinting through yum’s this-has-got-to-be-a-prank interface.

    But I’d be an rcd man on SLES9 or RHEL or whatever just as I am on FC1.

    Comment by shaver — March 18, 2004 @ 6:41 pm

  32. Mike, I have three suggestions for you:

    1. Use aptitude instead of apt-get when doing upgrades; packages installed due to dependencies are marked as such, and automatically removed (purged?) when there are no longer any packages that depend on them. This can go a long way toward keeping your installed package base from behaving like a ratchet, without requiring much intervention. It also has a nice ncurses interactive mode, which is a good way of looking at changelogs and new packages.

    2. If you’re not doing so already, try using the sarge instead of sid. On many occasions, I have found the Debian testing distribution to be less troublesome than the stable distribution. I personally have both testing and unstable in my sources.list file for some machines, with a low Pin-Priority for unstable packages. This makes it easy to install certain unstable packages, such as the latest kde* and mozilla*, while keeping the rest of the system with a more reliable set of packages. This has worked very well for me for the last two years.

    3. Upgrade frequently, and always accept the new config files unless you know that you shouldn’t. The larger the upgrade the bigger the problems are likely to be, and the harder it will be to find the source of those problems. For an interesting paper related to this topic, see:

    Why Order Matters: Turing Equivalence in Automated Systems Administration

    …But you probably know these things already…

    I mainly use Debian systems when I have a choice, but not because I have tried everything and found it to be the “best”. I did, however, recently install Fedora (with anaconda from CDs), and it immediately failed to upgrade due to many broken dependencies. I also installed a Debian unstable system, using debootstrap and the network sources, with no problems and all packages starting out up to date.

    Comment by Mike Richters — March 19, 2004 @ 12:25 am

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