My desktop machine has been getting flakier for a week or two. Strange messages at boot, CDROM drive unable to burn reliably or verify after burning, and finally it culminated in a morning where it wouldn't boot at all. Turned out (after much experimentation) to be not one but two bad IDE cables -- and these were the snazzy expensive heavy-duty cables, not the cheap ribbon cables, in a box that hadn't been opened for months. Weird.
Anyway, since I had the system disk out anyway (to recover data from it) I left it out, migrated my data to the newer, bigger disk and installed a new Ubuntu Intrepid. Been meaning to do that anyway -- running two disks just adds to the noise, heat and power usage and doesn't really add that much speed.
It took a couple of hours to get the system working the way I want it -- installing things I need, like tcsh, vim, emacs, plucker, vlc, sox etc. and cleaning up some of the longstanding Ubuntu udev and kernel configuration bugs that keep various hardware from working. I thought I had everything ready when I noticed I wasn't getting any sound alerts, so I tried playing a sample .wav file, and got a rather unusual error:
(clavius)- play sample.wav ALSA lib confmisc.c:768:(parse_card) cannot find card '0' ALSA lib conf.c:3513:(_snd_config_evaluate) function snd_func_card_driver returned error: No such file or directory ALSA lib confmisc.c:392:(snd_func_concat) error evaluating strings ALSA lib conf.c:3513:(_snd_config_evaluate) function snd_func_concat returned error: No such file or directory ALSA lib confmisc.c:1251:(snd_func_refer) error evaluating name ALSA lib conf.c:3513:(_snd_config_evaluate) function snd_func_refer returned error: No such file or directory ALSA lib conf.c:3985:(snd_config_expand) Evaluate error: No such file or directory ALSA lib pcm.c:2196:(snd_pcm_open_noupdate) Unknown PCM default play soxio: Can't open output file `default': cannot open audio device
What does that mean? Well, it turns out what it means is ... my user wasn't in the "audio" group, so I didn't have write permission on the sound device. I added myself to "audio" in /etc/groups and sound worked fine in my next session.
Now, I've seen some fairly obscure error messages in my time, but this one may just win my all-time obscurity award. 9 lines and 744 characters to say "Can't open $device."
And with all that, it still managed to omit the one piece of information that might have been helpful: the name of the device it was trying to open (so that an ls -l would have told me the problem right away).
[ 14:23 Apr 07, 2009 More tech | permalink to this entry | ]