debian upgrade / fatal server error: failed to initialize core devices

Michael Friendly friendly at
Mon May 7 11:21:48 PDT 2007

I'm just a normal user and the sysadmin who has been helping me
is unavailable, so please bear with me because I'm not sure exactly
what to report to get help.

I'm running debian/stable with linux kernel 2.6.8-2-686.  I recently
did an apt-get upgrade followed by apt-get dist-upgrade to upgrade
my server/workstation to current.  I followed almost all default
choices, and the process seemed to go relatively smoothly.  Afterwards,
the only untoward things I noticed were incessant warnings from
gv, xdvi, xpdf, etc. about X errors for missing fonts:

  % gv
Warning: Cannot convert string 
"-*-Helvetica-Medium-R-Normal--*-140-*-*-P-*-ISO8859-1" to type FontStruct
Warning: Missing charsets in String to FontSet conversion
Warning: Unable to load any usable fontset
Warning: Cannot convert string 
"-*-Helvetica-Medium-R-Normal--*-100-*-*-P-*-ISO8859-1" to type FontStruct

On Friday I was forced to reboot, and then my xorg xerver failed to
restart, leaving me with the linux equivalent of the 'blue screen of 
death'.  Included in /var/log/Xorg.0.log are a collection of font

(WW) `fonts.dir' not found (or not valid) in 
         Entry deleted from font path.
         (Run 'mkfontdir' on "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/misc").
(WW) `fonts.dir' not found (or not valid) in 
         Entry deleted from font path.
         (Run 'mkfontdir' on "/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/100dpi/").

I read about this in, which says

The Debian package xfonts-base puts these fonts in /usr/share/fonts/X11. 
If this is the package you are using, the FontPaths should instead be

     Fontpath   "/usr/share/fonts/X11/misc"
     FontPath   "/usr/share/fonts/X11/Type1/"
     FontPath   "/usr/share/fonts/X11/75dpi/"
     FontPath   "/usr/share/fonts/X11/100dpi/"

And, sure enough, those are there, but there is no 

But, I also get a variety of errors in the log,
euclid: ~ % grep '(EE)' /var/log/Xorg.0.log
         (WW) warning, (EE) error, (NI) not implemented, (??) unknown.
(EE) Failed to load module "speedo" (module does not exist, 0)
(EE) AIGLX: DRI module not loaded
(EE) xf86OpenSerial: Cannot open device /dev/psaux
(EE) Configured Mouse: cannot open input device
(EE) PreInit failed for input device "Configured Mouse"

pointing to other things.  Not knowing exactly what to do,
I'm reluctant to start manually editing configuration files
when there might be simpler debian solution.

For anyone who is willing to help, I've placed my .log
and xorg.conf files at


Michael Friendly     Email: friendly AT yorku DOT ca
Professor, Psychology Dept.
York University      Voice: 416 736-5115 x66249 Fax: 416 736-5814
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, ONT  M3J 1P3 CANADA

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