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Problems and Solutions

This blog presents some thoughts about how you can get help understanding error messages. It describes how to use the X Window System primary buffer and ends with a note about hard disk burnout under Ubuntu Gutsy running on a laptop.

When I write a book, I depend on reviewers to keep me honest and point out places in my writing where I need to emphasize important points. One of my favorite reviewers is Matthew Miller of Boston University. He has been good enough to go through many chapters of several of my books. One of his comments on a section of my Ubuntu book that covers how to deal with error messages was so clear and to the point I thought I would reproduce it here:

The first part of this section should be a page in large type which says:

1. Look in the log for an error message.
Maybe with the smaller-print elaboration "Exact, but with machine-specific stuff like your host- or username removed, of course."

I do not use large type in my book, but I thought by going into some detail here I might be able to save a few readers some grief. This advice applies to any computer problem that generates an error message. Any operating system and program. The error message may appear on the screen or it may be secreted away in a log file.

I always start with a good chunk of the error message that I think is unique to that error. I enclose the message within quotation marks in the Google search text box. Some might say that I googled for a string. Depends on how much you like to corrupt nouns, although Google has already been pretty well corrupted.

For example, when I start kpdf to view a PDF file, I see

X Error: BadDevice, invalid or uninitialized input device 167

To copy the message from the terminal emulator window to the Firefox window, I take advantage of the X Window System selection or primary buffer. This buffer is similar to the copy buffer, frequently called the clipboard, but does not require you to touch the keyboard (no CONTROL-C, CONTROL-V).

First, I highlight the error message in my terminal emulator window (double-click, triple-click, click and drag, whatever it takes to highlight the message). Next I open a Firefox window and go to google.com. Finally, I move my mouse pointer to the Google search text box and click the middle mouse button (or the right and left buttons together if there is no middle button). X pastes the string that I highlighted at the location of the mouse pointer. To be efficient, you can type two quotation marks before you paste the sting, right-click the mouse so the cursor appears between the quotation marks, and then paste the string using the middle button. Click Google Search and you get a couple of pages of references to your error message. Poke around the sites that Google returns and you are likely to find an answer to what caused the problem. There may not be a solution—you may find that you have hit upon an outstanding bug. But at least you should have an idea of what is going on.

On occasion, Google may not return any pages or may return only pages with minimal information. You have two options at this point. You can either remove the quotation marks, which opens the search up to any page that contains some of the words you are searching for scattered across the page. Frequently this technique overwhelms you with links. Alternatively, you can shorten the string, leaving it within quotation marks. In the example, you might want to get rid of 167 or you might try simply "X Error: BadDevice". Experiment until Google returns a reasonable number of pages and browse through those pages.

Gutsy Gibbon and Laptop Hard Drives

There is much mud-slinging about the laptop/hard drive Load_Cycle_Count issue and the early death of laptop hard drives under Ubuntu. If you are running Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon (7.10) on a laptop see https://wiki.ubuntu.com/DanielHahler/Bug59695 for an impartial explanation of the problem and a fix. 'nuff said.

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