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I was logged in ( to X ) when it started, I first got an error message complaining about Gnome not being able to find an icon (I've seen this before when I removed a program for which I had a launcher on the panel). Then all the icons on the panel disappeared! I then tried to repair the problem (at that point I thought I knew what caused it, see below) but had some trouble with some libs or something (can't remember now), so I rebooted. When it came back up I was not connected to the network any more. Ok so for more symptoms:
* If I try to login (user nicholas) it says "Cannot change directory to /home/nicholas". Permissions for /home and /home/nicholas are fine.
* If I login as root and su to nicholas it says "No Shell". Permissions for /bin and /bin/bash are fine.
* The command "ifup eth0" says "execve [sic] (/lib/dhcp3-client/call-dhclient-script, ...) Permission Denied".
* I thought I might have messed up some system libs so I did "apt-get install --reinstall $(dpkg --get-selections | grep -v deinstall)" to reinstall all installed packages, no joy. However, the packages "at" "f-prot-installer" and "hplip" will not install (failed to configure), "at" and "hplip" are the only packages I need to have "ubuntu-desktop" installed (meta-package that depends on the default desktop packages).
* Gdm will not start, but X will run (only as root) using "startx"
* I have compared a complete list of files from another ubuntu system, and I think all of the files are there (not sure my test was a good one)
* While trying to figure this out, I ran a find on everything in /, and I got an error about the "hardlink count in / being wrong (maybe a bug in the file system driver)"
What I did:
I'm not sure this caused the problem, but it's the last thing I did as root. I had installed the coldwar demo (stealth FPS type game, recently ported to linux), but it did not work (not a good enough graphics card), so I wanted to uninstall it but couldn't remember how. I read on the ubuntu forums that there it no defaut removal tool but to do "sudo checkinstall bash coldwar_demo.run" (hoping to then do an "apt-get remove coldwar" and remove it, but at the same time get a .deb out of it), somehow when I ran this it called the package "nicholas" and not "coldwar" so I removed it. Then the problems started.
I have looked at the deb package it created and it contains all that it should, as well as all of the directory /var/lib/gnome/Debian (which contains some .desktop files) and the empty file /var/lib/dpkg/lock. I have tried installing the deb again, with no joy.
Although I am willing to do a reload, ( I have good backups) I don't want to if it can be fixed some easier way.