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of course, it MIGHT not have been entirely Gentoo’s fault

Two days ago, my computer freaked out and died.

The first thing I noticed was that the ‘su’ command no longer worked. This command, for those of you unfamiliar with Linux, allows you to become ‘root’, i.e. the only person with the power to affect the computer in significant ways. This was bad, but not horrible, as I found that if I could bring up an actual login prompt, I could still log in as root. Still, it was a little unnerving, so I decided to shut everything down and reboot.

When the system came back up, I could not type. Rather, nothing that the keyboard was sending was being recognized by the computer. So I shut it down and waited a day.

Yesterday, I turned the computer on and tried again. Managed a normal login, started the graphical environment… and started testing. The first thing I noticed was that the ‘su’ command still didn’t work. The next things I noticed (as those were the next two things that I tried to run) were that the sound didn’t work, and that the internet didn’t work.

You’ll note that the parts that don’t work now are sound, networking, and easy access to any sort of superuser state. You’ll also note that without those, the only things a computer is good for is word processing, and that only if you have a printer directly attached to the thing, which I don’t.

The good news is that I think I know why my computer decided that it hated life: I had recently merged in a a large number of updates to various programs, many of which do critical things necessary for my computer’s operation. These represented the interesting parts of the continuation of the development of Open Source Software in general; they’re the newest versions of the programs I have since I last updated them all, six weeks ago. When the computer was done compiling and sorting everything out, it gave me a message saying, “the updates changed certain configuration files, listed here… please take a look at these and merge them manually with the originals, which I have saved here… or just run this utility, etc-update, which will do all that for you automatically.”

As I had never seen or heard of most of these configuration files, and I was sure that an automatic update utility wouldn’t destroy my system, I was happy enough to just let the automatic utility do its thing. I’m pretty sure that this is what caused my system’s demise.

Now, this would be fairly easy to repair, but for two things: the automatic updater deleted the original config files when it was done with them, in a move I can only assume was designed to save disk space; and nobody seemed to think it prudent to log the names of the files modified anywhere. I was delighted to find the log file /var/logs/emerge.log, only to be disgusted to note that it only logged the packages that I had merged, not any of the helpful, supplimentary text, such as the names of the config files that I should probably take a look at.

I’m trying to find a way to put the system back together, but it’s coming slowly. Which, as far as I can tell, is terrific.

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