Trying (and failing) to get Ubuntu to work

I really want to run Ubuntu, but it shouldn’t be this hard. Plugging in an SD card reader that I picked up from Best Buy shouldn’t cause a hard freeze of my system (on both Gutsy Gibbon and Intrepid Ibex):

SD Card Reader

The card reader works fine in Windows. At this point, I’m honestly thinking about crashing the Ubuntu Developer Summit that will be held in December at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA to pick peoples’ brains.

Okay, so Ubuntu freezes hard when you plug in the card reader (sometimes). Unless you report that bug, no one will know to fix it. So I’m trying to follow these instructions for debugging removable devices to do a good Ubuntu bug report, and finding that the instructions are pretty out-of-date.

For example, you’re supposed to kill, then start gnome-volume-manager in a foreground mode to see debugging messages. Except that the latest version of Ubuntu (Intrepid Ibex) doesn’t even install gnome-volume-manager. Oh, you can install it (and you’ll get the sound-juicer package with it). But when you try to run it, you’ll get this helpful message:

$ /usr/lib/gnome-volume-manager/gnome-volume-manager -n
manager.c/685: setting[0]: string: filemanager = nautilus -n –no-desktop %m
manager.c/690: setting[1]: bool: autophoto = 0
manager.c/685: setting[2]: string: autophoto_command = f-spot-import
manager.c/690: setting[3]: bool: autovideocam = 0
manager.c/685: setting[4]: string: autovideocam_command =
manager.c/690: setting[5]: bool: autowebcam = 0
manager.c/685: setting[6]: string: autowebcam_command = cheese –hal-device=%h
manager.c/690: setting[7]: bool: autopalmsync = 0
manager.c/685: setting[8]: string: autopalmsync_command = gpilotd-control-applet
manager.c/690: setting[9]: bool: autopocketpc = 0
manager.c/685: setting[10]: string: autopocketpc_command = multisync
manager.c/690: setting[11]: bool: autoprinter = 0
manager.c/685: setting[12]: string: autoprinter_command =
manager.c/690: setting[13]: bool: autoscanner = 0
manager.c/685: setting[14]: string: autoscanner_command = xsane
manager.c/690: setting[15]: bool: autokeyboard = 0
manager.c/685: setting[16]: string: autokeyboard_command =
manager.c/690: setting[17]: bool: automouse = 0
manager.c/685: setting[18]: string: automouse_command =
manager.c/690: setting[19]: bool: autotablet = 0
manager.c/685: setting[20]: string: autotablet_command =
manager.c/699: settings[21]: float: percent_threshold = 0.050000
manager.c/699: settings[22]: float: percent_used = 0.010000
manager.c/664: daemon exit: live and let die

It’s easy to find the source code of gnome-volume-manager online, but the relevant function is more cute than informative. Searching for [“live and let die” gnome-volume-manager] finds this post where someone tries to guess what the message means:

Fedora no longer uses gnome-volume-manager to auto-mount removable media β€” it’s now built into Nautilus. I am guessing that “live and let die” means “hey, someone else is already managing this” but that is pure speculation on my part. So if you get that error message it just means that you shouldn’t have been running it in the first place.

With that clue, you can go back and find this thread where Ubuntu developer wgrant helpfully lets someone know “gnome-volume-manager is no longer necessary either – nautilus does the mounting now.” It is good to find an Ubuntu developer posting answers online. But now I’m not sure how to generate Nautilus debugging logs akin to the gnome-volume-manager logs that fellow Ubuntu folks could use to debug the hard freeze. At least I do know how to generate udevmonitor logs using the new udevadm program.

Please pardon the melancholy tone. It’s just frustrating that plugging in an SD card reader can cause sporadic freezes on my Ubuntu computer. And if you plug in the SD card reader often enough, you may corrupt your system. I do see progress from Hardy Heron to Intrepid Ibex with several annoyances fixed, but there’s still a way to go.

Update: If any Linux/Ubuntu folks want to dig into it, I put all the log files I could think of at for folks that want to check it out.

33 Responses to Trying (and failing) to get Ubuntu to work (Leave a comment)

  1. In 2002, I was hoping that Linux would be ready for my wife to use in a few years. “How hard could it be to make a user-friendly OS?” I thought… I was so wrong.

  2. Matt,

    Can you give some more details about the SD reader? Looks like it’s made by SanDisk.



  3. You’re not the first person Matt. πŸ™‚

    I’ve tweeted it. There’s a UBUNTU enthusiasts group out there, I’m sure they’ll pounce to help you out here.

  4. Rob

    Does even write a SD driver for Linux for this or is Linux having to shoehorn the Windows driver into this?

    Ubuntu is like RedHat in that it’s trying to be a commercial product built on open source but many people forget that open source does not mean commercial product. Things available opensource are for professionals and serious hobbyists and not average users (I’m not talking about Matt Cutts). Unfortunately, many of us forget that and expect everythinig open source to work just like Windows, with its customer written software, plugins, drivers, etc. that seamlessly blend together. (That’s true but for a price and the cost of a bazillion Ghz bazillion Gb water cooled behemoth of a machine).

    If SD would provide Linux installers and drivers, as well as all the other hardware vendors, such problems would very much go away, or at least be no worse than trying to get Windows hardware to work.

  5. Hmm, I haven’t come across the issue so far on a test machine with Ibex installed, but obviously, “Works for me” isn’t the kind of answer anyone needs to solve their problem. Let me see what I can find out..

  6. Glad to hear it, Mani Karthik. I’d be more than happy for some Ubuntu folks to stop by and say “Matt, you’re doing it wrong. You need to do X to fix this,” because I’ll happily do X to make my machine not freeze.

  7. Warren, absolutely. I have two SanDisk MicroMate SD card readers (one white, one black). Both sporadically cause crashes. When they crash, nothing gets written by hald or udevadm monitor; it appears to be an instant hard freeze. I put copies of dmesg, lshal, lspci -vvnn, udevadm monitor, etc. in if anyone wants to look at it.

    This is a fresh Intrepid Ibex install, and I haven’t installed almost any extra software on the machine. uname -a reports “Linux ibex 2.6.27-7-generic #1 SMP Tue Nov 4 19:33:20 UTC 2008 i686 GNU/Linux”.

  8. Dave (originial)

    You get what you pay for.

    Demand a full refund, Matt πŸ™‚

  9. shane

    This blog reads like the ‘linux hater’s blog’ at times. I’m sure you will find your solution eventually. But it’s not too reassuring that you need to be an expert search and information retrieval expert with a public posting to your own highly exposed and read blog to get anything solved. Doesn’t inspire much confidence for grandma joe the plumber getting anything fixed πŸ˜›

  10. Surely this should be titled getting SDDR113 to work.

    Since it sounds like Ubuntu worked fine till you plugged this hardware in.

    We forget that sometimes hardware does this sort of thing, ask Bill Gates about embarrassing blue screens, but let us not turn it into a debate about Windows versus Linux. Indeed in the top three search results in Google is someone saying it just works in Linux and MacOS but the same device doesn’t work in Vista.

    A quick Google shows that there are lots of SDDR113 users using Linux, on Ubuntu and other distros, and it suggests it should work like any other USB storage device.

    Matt says it works sometimes, but not others. Is there a pattern, how often does it fail. Is this failure after some complex event like hibernate?

    On the previous post they suggested running a memory test, might be worth it if there is no discernable pattern to when this causes a hang.

  11. Alas I no longer feel your pain properly. I’m on a shiny, shiny black macbook now, and I am constantly amazed that Absolutely Everything Just works. It was non-Linux-related overheating and keyboard trouble that finally made my PC laptop unusable, but I’m relieved to no longer be fighting with audio drivers.

    Perhaps I’ll give Ubuntu a try again in a year or so!

  12. Peter

    I have one of those card readers that works great on all variants of Fedora. I wonder what Ubuntu does that Fedora doesn’t or visa versa. I know they have put a patch into their kernel to fix issues with the card reader on the eeePC 701/900 and I know that had issues with other card readers. You’ll need to provide a lsusb -b not a lspci btw.


  13. Matt, why don’t you just head on over to the forums. The community is really helpful. They’ll probably help you get it sorted quickly.

  14. Thom

    Question: Does it ever freeze if you plug in the reader without a card in it? Can you, and if so have you tried, plugging the card into the device after the USB reader is plugged in? Have you tried multiple cards including multiple sizes and, more specifically, was this card a cheap (as in deal) card or not? There are a lot of flakey counterfeit cards in the market. Obviously the goal here is to narrow down what part of the drivers the lockup is happening in. USB? Reader? Mounter? Only cards above a certain storage? A brand of card?

  15. Get ride of gnome and Ubuntu. Switch to SimplyMepis and KDE. You will be a much happier camper. I have been down the Ubuntu and Gnome road and wasn’t impressed. Even a Windows user can use SimplyMepis.

  16. shane, I’m the last thing from a Linux hater. I’ve been using Linux in one way or another since about 1990. I want Linux to succeed, and I can see a lot of progress in Intrepid Ibex. It seems snappier, and many rough edges have been polished.

    Simon, I never get a crash on XP with this card reader, and I think it’s fair that Linux/Ubuntu shouldn’t freeze hard just by plugging in a card reader. As far as patterns, it normally works fine the first time you plug it in after a reboot. If you plug it in again, even after cleanly unmounting, the odds of a freeze go way up.

    Tom Boutell, interesting to hear which path you decided on. It’s true that most everything Just Works on a Mac. A couple things keep me from going that way: 1) Macs are just as closed (or more so) than Windows in some way. I always want to be able to extract my data/music/calendars into open formats. And 2) Apple makes 98% of the right choices, but on those other 2%, you don’t really have many options. If you don’t like glossy screens, you’re probably hosed in a while. If you wanted a TrackPoint mouse-nub like Thinkpads have, you’re just not going to be able to get that with a Mac.

    DazzlinDonna, I probably will head that way soon, or do a bug report and see what happens. It’s true that the forums are really handy. This post started out as a “You know how you’re supposed to collect gnome-volume-manager debug logs to report a bug? That program doesn’t really get used anymore” informational post. But partway through, it turned into a “minor glitches affect the Ubuntu/GNOME user experience” post.

    Thom, good idea. I’ll try that right now.

  17. Thom, just plugging in the white SanDisk card reader (with no card) works fine. has dumps from plugging in just the white card reader.

  18. In case anyone is interested, I also plugged in just the black SanDisk card reader (with no card). That worked fine, and I put logs in that anyone is welcome to poke through.

  19. Not only the Card Reader troubles my Ubuntu, even connecting my mobile troubles it πŸ™

  20. bd_

    Does it freeze even if you’re at the text console? If so, it’s probably a kernel bug – trying it with a vanilla kernel would be worth a try. If you can reproduce the bug there, posting to the LKML (with a cc to the relevant subsystem maintainer) would probably be the best route; if it breaks only on the ubuntu kernel then a bug in launchpad would be the best bet, I guess.

  21. Betty


    It is a known bug. It was solved earlier this month. It was solved with the latest release of kernel 2.6.27-7. You can “Google” for the latest download (still in beta on last check). You know me, you know my sites. I showed you love, show me some love!



  22. Dave (originial)

    Find your answer here πŸ™‚

  23. bd_, I’ll try plugging in from a text console when I get home.

  24. Matt, I have an old HP Pavilion (2005) as a desktop, which has a 16-in-1 card reader plus a USB 2.0 port. (This computer came pre-installed with Windows when I bought it in 2005.) In Nov 2007, I installed Ubuntu 7. Today it is running 8.10. I have a number of memory cards (CF, SD, and XD) all of which work flawlessly (and have worked on all versions of ubuntu since 7).

    In addition, I have the usb memory card reader (exactly the one shown in your picture). I believe this works too—exactly like a camera connected to the computer via a USB port. (The volume is simply mounted as an external drive; and often a wizard comes up–like in Windows to help me transfer the media files.) But let me double-check for sure, and post back.

    Btw, you didn’t mention what computer you are using together with this device. Since I have a working system with the kind of hardware you have trouble with, please let me know if you are looking for specific/diagnostic info which would help you solve the problem.

  25. Ian M

    I’ve got a USB + 5-in-1 cardreader front plate for my PC which if plugged into a certain USB port on the motherboard stops the system booting, and on another gives IO errors. Possibly a hardware issue?

  26. Ian M

    Sorry, I meant “possibly a hardware issue you’re having” – mine is obviously a hardware issue πŸ™‚

  27. Ya, I have had similar problems getting ubuntu to work with a few devices. Here is what I do to fix the problem: stop trying to get the device to work on my laptop and wait for a updated version to come out. πŸ™‚

  28. As promised . And like I said earlier, all card readers as well as all cards read just fine. Some screenshots:

    Sandisk Card reader with a micro-SD mounted:

    Drive properties:

    Volume properties:

    Internal, and external Card reader

    My ubuntu version:

    chetan@ckunte:~$ lsb_release -a
    No LSB modules are available.
    Distributor ID: Ubuntu
    Description: Ubuntu 8.10
    Release: 8.10
    Codename: intrepid

  29. Linux is still not ready for the non-tech-savy user. After using Suse for many years and switching to Ubuntu this year, I thought it would be better, but it’s not really.

  30. ardy

    instead of spending all that time trouble shooting, you could go do a little research before making an impulse buy.|(card)|(sd)

    seriously, before picking up anything from anywhere, you should look up which products are good to go for the OS you use. It’s not like you never saw this coming.

    I wonder if you would you have written a similar post if you had a bought a printer for you mac, only to find out it no one supplied drivers for that printer on that OS.

    you go to the ubuntu developer summit with this story and they will pick you apart. The ubuntu wiki is there and it is mainted so that situations exactly like this one don’t happen. and there you go, ignoring it and getting what you deserve.

    sorry, but it’s not like no one is trying.

  31. My sympathies. I have been fighting tooth and nail to get my USB bluetooth adpater to work on my Ubuntu laptop. I think there is a problem with the USB handling altogether, though, as I have had problems historically with my Blackberry. Hell, the only USB devices I have ever gotten to work successfully are simple flash drives and printers. But when I enter a room with geeks, I have instant street cred.

  32. Hi Matt,

    I too lament with you. I’ve been using Ubuntu since the Feisty days and I never had a “fully working” system on any of the versions since Feisty. Either I get some problems with the video, the printer, hibernate and/or suspend, and LCD light dimming (I’m using a laptop). I’ve never had any problems with card readers though because the only card reader I have is the one included in my laptop hardware (which luckily works).

    Now, I’m using Intrepid Ibex and all seems to be well except for the ACPI problems (suspend, hibernate, LCD).


  33. Dylan

    Well I have a similar problem, but I hardly thought card readers would differ significantly. My local store only stocks 1 model of USB reader so wiki doesn’t help much. I guess the method should be:
    1. choose software package you want
    2. find operating system that will run this package
    3. find PC that will run this operating system
    Then you end up with 4 or so (virtual?) PC.