Meltdown on the LilyPad

We’ve been mostly offline for the past week here on the LilyPad. This is the result of a meltdown of the RoboFrog computing center (RFCC, my basement). I wish I could tell you that the meltdown was the result of a computer virus, a critically malfunctioning operating system, sabotage, equipment failure, lightning strike, or a random act-of-God. The truth is that it was the fault of one person: RoboFrog’s wife’s husband. So that he can save face, I won’t mention his name. Let’s agree that we’ll refer to him as…HE, HIM, HIS.

There are three…let’s call them production computers…here on the LilyPad. Actually, there are quite a few others, but they’re mostly older,¬†decommissioned machines that get used for special projects and tinkering. The three production machines get used every day. This blog is produced on all three depending on wind direction, position of the stars, mood, and location of RoboFrog. Naturally, the three production machines have names.

My favorite and most capable machine is Untouchable (There’s a reason it’s named that!). It’s a desk machine that I assembled specifically to run Linux. Prior to last week, only one Linux distribution had ever failed to install and run on this machine: Ubuntu 11.04. (Ubuntu 11.10 runs just fine.) The second desk machine is Whitestar. Whitestar is a Dell Dimension 8400. It sits next to Untouchable and is intended to be the experimental machine here at RFCC. Finally, there’s Defiant, the RoboLaptop (second most-used machine); it’s an IBM ThinkPad T-43. So that’s the cast of characters. All of the machines are on the order of five to six years old and there’s nothing exotic about any of them. It’s pretty crowded on the LilyPad. Back to the tale.

HE is an incurable tinkerer, always wondering if the flies are thicker over someone else’s lily pad. We had perfectly installed and configured Arch Linux systems on all three production machines. Xfce is our GUI (graphical user interface) of choice at RFCC. The Linux world is going through a metamorphosis in the area of look-and-feel and GUI functionality. Gnome, Ubuntu (Unity), and KDE (the three top Linux GUI contenders) each have their own ideas about where things should go. We’ve decided to sit this one out at RFCC. Since our machines are…mature…we decided to use Xfce while the heavyweights fight it out. We immediately found our machines more responsive and the environment familiar. Lately, we’ve noticed several of the major distributions touting a version configured with Xfce. HE…decided that we needed to try three of them: Fedora Xfce, Linux Mint Xfce, and Xubuntu. To which I said, “No problem. That’s why we have Whitestar…so we can experiment with new things.” That was all HE needed. Immediately, HE decided to load Linux Mint Xfce on Whitestar.

Linux Mint 11

We like Linux Mint here at RFCC…a lot. **IF**…we were going to run a heavyweight distribution, Linux Mint would be the first we’d try. When Linux Mint came out with an Xfce version, we took notice. I really can’t blame HIM for wanting to give it a try.

HE loaded Linux Mint Xfce on Whitestar with no problem whatsoever. There’s a reason (not necessarily a good one) for everything at RFCC. Whitestar is the experimental machine because we have more trouble installing new Linux distributions on it than any of our other machines. I was impressed that HE managed to get Mint installed so easily. It’s Linux Mint, though, so that shouldn’t have been such a surprise. Then it started!

Linux Mint automatically runs the software updater when you log on the first time. The software updater got HIS attention and HE told it to update everything. Then, it gave HIM a message saying something about not being able to access the repositories. Okay…now we had a broken computer. HE immediately decided that this might be a Whitestar thing instead of a Linux Mint thing. Before I could stop HIM, HE started loading Mint Xfce on Untouchable. (Did I mention that there’s a reason it’s named Untouchable?) You can see where this is going. Everything worked exactly the same on Untouchable. The installation was flawless, but it wouldn’t update. Two broken machines at RFCC.

A rational person would stop while they were ahead…right? I was already a bit miffed with HIM, but as usual, HE was excited about all of this. HE kept babbling on about having a golden opportunity to try some things we wouldn’t otherwise have tried. Frankly, I wasn’t amused at having two computers down and excited is not the word I would have used. There’s more that I’ll get to next time and I’ll tell you how HE managed to drag Defiant into the mess.

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