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Ubuntu and my computer’s brain transplant

I have a Sharp MP30, which I love. It’s a dual boot system, Fedora Core 3 (a Linux operating system) and WinXP. The OS I use 99% of the time is (or I should say, was) Fedora.

The Sharp is getting old now, over two, which is about 80 in computer years. It also has ATI graphics which does not play at all well with Linux. Meanwhile Fedora Core 3 was new-ish when I got the laptop, and so old by now that it is officially not supported. A three year old OS, and it’s considered such a fossil by the open sourcerers that it’s consigned to museum status.

(I can’t resist pointing out that Microsoft worked on Vista for five damn years. And even with that long a gestation, most reviewers are saying it was released before it was ready and with way too many bugs. Bunch of volunteers: 1. Monopoly: 0.)

Okay, so I’ve been casting around for an updated OS for about a year now. But every LiveCD I tried refused to boot right when it had to start interacting with the graphics. I tried CentOS, every variety of Ubuntu, every variety of Fedora (they’re up to 7 by now), and so on. I have enough CDs to decorate a large Christmas tree.

I heard about something called an installfest. Linux users groups get together to help ordinary schmoes install the OS. You bring the computer, they help you over the rough spots.

Well, in the middle of July, lula and lilax (Linux Users Los Angeles and Linux @ LAX, and LA Linux groups generally) held an installfest at Santa Monica Community College with the kind help of David Morgan, Dan Kegel, and as Dan would say, “a cast of thousands.”

What a trip. Within minutes of sitting down, a resident geek showed up, watched me try to start up, and said, “Try safe graphics mode, instead of the default.”


Here I am, having trouble with graphics, and that never occurred to me.

That allowed Ubuntu 6.06 LTS, one of their super-robust for-business versions to boot just fine. Another thing that had never occurred to me: try the bulletproof version.

The final step was to give the boot process a special instruction before it got going. So, at that initial screen before booting really starts, the one where it says “Start or install Ubuntu,” then “Start in safe graphics mode,” and so on, I had to hit the down arrow for the second choice. Then, along the bottom of the screen are choices for various function keys, the last one of which is F6. That allows you to give the boot process special commands. In my case it needed “noapic nolapic” (without the quotes). That was it. Use “safe graphics,” add the noapic business, and suddenly the Sharp booted even the latest stable version, the delightfully named Feisty Fawn (7.04).

(Apic is, apparently, a new interrupt handler for multiprocessor systems that was included in the kernel for some reason. It’s still kind of buggy, like Vista, and if you have a single processor system, it’s doing exactly nothing.)

I was now the proud owner of a triple boot system. Since I hardly ever use WinXP, I’d carved a couple of gigabytes of space out of its assigned 10GB. But then I wanted new software to go with my new system, and in minutes I was out of space. Two gigs isn’t much these days.

I decided to get rid of my tried and true Fedora Core 3 and use that space for my new setup, backing it up first, of course.

Except I couldn’t. I kept stubbing my toes on permission problems, refusals to copy, stupid error messages, and time-wasting frustration. I got tired of it. I didn’t want Fedora for anything anymore anyway.

So I just went ahead and repartitioned the space without any backup. It felt a bit like stepping off the platform on one of those high bungee jumps. The cord is supposed to hold. You’ll find out in a minute. (Or less, actually, in the case of a bungee jump.)

I knew enough to make sure my bootloader, the thing that points you at the different possible operating systems at the beginning, knew where the new operating system was.

I rebooted, and hoped for the best.

I didn’t get it. “Loading …” it said, and then “Error 22.”


I was dead in the water, because without a functioning bootloader in a multi-boot system, you can’t boot anything. I inserted one of the Live CDs, booted off that, tried changing the commands I thought I’d got wrong, and tried again.

“Error 22.”

Well, what the geeks do when faced with a cryptic error message is google it. I started another computer (this household is liberally supplied with old, retired computers), and searched for ‘grub “error 22” .’ (Grub is the name of the bootloader: GRand Unified Bootloader.)

Since I was dealing with an ubuntu system, and since they have the best help forums anyway, I scanned till I found an ubuntu-related site listed in the results (it was about the fourth down). Somebody had had the exact same problem, and the third answer had a link to the ubuntu documentation that answered that exact question. Turned out I just had to reinstall the bootloader. The page gave me the four small commands needed to do that.

And here I am. My beloved Sharp has been unfossilized, and has a new, faster, better brain. Noticeably so. I suddenly have oceans of free space — 9 gigabytes! — and I’m finding all sorts of cool stuff to load on, not to say lard on. I can even think about finally getting that Buster Keaton film recently loaded up at I have oceans of space … for another few minutes, at least.

Technorati tags: ubuntu, Sharp, MP30, computers, linux, install, grub, laptop