Ubuntu Open Week - What to do when things go wrong - AlanPope - Mon, Nov 2, 2009

   1 [20:01] <popey> Is it me?
   2 [20:02] <joshuahoover> popey: it's all yours
   3 [20:02] <popey> Thanks
   4 [20:02] <popey> A-hoy hoy!
   5 [20:02] <popey> I'm Alan Pope and I have been using Ubuntu for about 5 years now on desktops, laptops and servers.
   6 [20:02] <popey> I like to help other people run Ubuntu, and I do that via mailing lists and IRC, and in real life.
   7 [20:02] <popey> I'm on the Community Council, LoCo Council, EMEA Membership Board and I'm one of the presenters of the Ubuntu UK Podcast.
   8 [20:02] <popey> ..and apparently I look a bit like Elvis
   9 [20:03] <popey> I'm not a developer, in fact my contribution in terms of code to Ubuntu consists of one line of C
  10 [20:03] <popey> <- See lines 36 & 37 in that file
  11 [20:03] <popey> (arguably that's two characters, not one line, but lets not be too picky) :)
  12 [20:03] <popey> I'm telling you this because I believe there is a lot of room for people to contribute to Ubuntu by helping others when things go wrong.
  13 [20:04] <popey> Fabian Rodriguez talked earlier about how to be your neighbour's Ubuntu Guru which is great, especially if you already know how to help them, how to fix things for them, but what if you don't?
  14 [20:04] <popey> My session is called.. "What to do when things go wrong."
  15 [20:04] <popey> or
  16 [20:04] <popey> +------------+
  17 [20:04] <popey> |DON'T PANIC!|
  18 [20:04] <popey> +------------+
  19 [20:04] <popey> This session is aimed at people who need help understanding what to do when things go wrong, and people who want to help others in that situation.
  20 [20:04] <popey> It's quite a basic session, so we won't be going massively technical (I hope)
  21 [20:05] <popey> Ok, lets begin...
  22 [20:05] <popey> All computer systems fail in some way at some point.
  23 [20:05] <popey> All of them.
  24 [20:05] <popey> No matter what a salesperson may tell you!
  25 [20:05] <popey> In fact I'm sure many of you have stories about how your own computers have failed in spectacular/amusing/frustrating ways in the past.
  26 [20:05] <popey> The computer I am typing this on sometimes shuts down in the middle of whilst I'm
  27 [20:06] <popey> ..but hopefully today it will stay yo
  28 [20:06] <popey> *up
  29 [20:06] <popey> So what do we do when things go wrong, and what do I mean by 'wrong' in this case?
  30 [20:06] <popey> Now given this is Ubuntu Open Week, lets start with a basic assumption that you're using Ubuntu or some derivative of it :)
  31 [20:06] <popey> QUESTION: How many people in -chat are using Ubuntu or some derivative?
  32 [20:07] <popey> Ok, good start :)
  33 [20:07] <popey> These are generally not _solutions_ to problems:-
  34 [20:07] <popey> * Rebooting - This may make the issue go away temporarily, or perhaps permanently, but it rarely _fixes_ anything
  35 [20:07] <popey> * Reinstalling - Whilst your system may be 'messed up' almost always there is a way to 'unmess' it without wiping out and starting again
  36 [20:07] <popey> * Sacrificing chickens - Whilst it is indeed fun to draw chalk pentagrams on the floor, and scented candles make the room smell less funky, think of the poor chickens.
  37 [20:08] <popey>  
  38 [20:08] <popey> Step 1: Identifying there is even a problem.
  39 [20:08] <popey>  
  40 [20:08] <popey> In recent versions of Ubuntu the notification system (battery warning popups for example) have 'lost' the ability to be clicked.
  41 [20:08] <popey> Some might consider this a problem, bug or a regression from previous functionality
  42 [20:08] <popey> However this particular change was intentional, a design decision.
  43 [20:08] <popey> Some may like it, some may not, but the fact remains that this particular feature was designed in, and arguably isn't a problem as such.
  44 [20:08] <popey> So part of this process is merely understanding that there is even an issue, and that will come out over the next steps.
  45 [20:09] <popey>  
  46 [20:09] <popey> Step 2: Identifying what the problem actually is
  47 [20:09] <popey>  
  48 [20:09] <popey> Lets suppose someone (you or someone else) has a problem, how can we find out more?
  49 [20:09] <popey> * Questions we could ask..
  50 [20:09] <popey> Many of these questions are generic and thus will help in problem diagnosis for just about any kind of problem.
  51 [20:09] <popey> Of course each issue has very specific questions that may be asked, and we don't have time now to go through all of them.
  52 [20:09] <popey>  
  53 [20:09] <popey> "Describe the problem"
  54 [20:10] <popey>  - Before diving into lots of probing technical questions, get the user to describe the issue in their own words.
  55 [20:10] <popey>  - Think about how this looks/feels for them. Imagine the frustration they have when their system isn't working the way they see it 'should'.
  56 [20:10] <popey>  - It may be that after this very first question with a little experience it's possible to point to an explaination or solution to the issue.
  57 [20:10] <popey>  
  58 [20:10] <popey> "Do you get an error message?"
  59 [20:11] <popey>  - Often users will ignore error messages because they make no sense, are technical, or perhaps don't stay on screen very long
  60 [20:11] <popey>  - In the event that a program crashes, getting the user to run it from a terminal may yield textual error messages they may not otherwise see
  61 [20:11] <popey>  - Error messages and message codes are great, even if we don't understand their meaning!
  62 [20:11] <popey>  
  63 === ChanServ changed the topic of #ubuntu-classroom to: Welcome to Ubuntu Open Week! || Session:  What to do when things go wrong || All questions go in #ubuntu-classroom-chat ||
  64 [20:11] <popey> "When did this previously work?"
  65 [20:11] <popey>  - Perhaps the application in use has never worked, maybe it worked last time it was tested, and that was 6 months ago.
  66 [20:11] <popey>  
  67 [20:11] <popey> "What changed?"
  68 [20:12] <popey> It could be that some software has been updated/installed...
  69 [20:12] <popey> ..or perhaps the printer now has a new IP address thanks to DHCP...
  70 [20:12] <popey> ..or the earth rotated and the day rolled over - see bug 255161 - "The Tuesday printing bug"...
  71 [20:12] <popey> (great bug, everyone should read that)
  72 [20:12] <popey> ..maybe a hardware issue has manifestied itself - RAM going bad, a capacitor going pop, solder on the video card breaking down, dust in the heatsink causing overheating..
  73 [20:12] <popey> ..the possibilities are almost endless. Fun!
  74 [20:12] <popey>  
  75 [20:13] <popey> So 'nothing changed' is often a phrase which should be taken with a pinch of salt :)
  76 [20:13] <popey>  
  77 [20:13] <popey> "{How} can you reproduce the problem?"
  78 [20:13] <popey>  - Some issues are one-off or imtermittent whilst others are easily reproducable. Which is this?
  79 [20:13] <popey>  - There's a big difference between 'Firefox crashes' and 'Firefox crashes when I have 500 tabs open, and I visit my gallery showing a zillion lolcat pictures using a java applet'.
  80 [20:13] <popey>  - If the user can reproduce the error condition it greatly improves the ability to diagnose the problem.
  81 [20:13] <popey>  
  82 [20:14] <popey> (in addition, if someone _else_ can reproduce the error issue, things are even easier to diagnose - more eyeballs on the problem)
  83 [20:14] <popey>  
  84 [20:14] <popey> "Can you screenshot/pastebin the issue?"
  85 [20:14] <popey>  - If the issue is a visual one - such as applications looking 'wrong' then a picture tells a thousand words.
  86 [20:14] <popey>  - Use tools like and pastebinit to capture detail
  87 [20:14] <popey>  - In some cases this is difficult or impossible. Kernel panics for example aren't easy to screenshot. Some people take photos with mobile phones in this instance :)
  88 [20:14] <popey>  
  89 [20:14] <popey> Ok, so by now we should have some kind of handle on what the user is experiencing.
  90 [20:15] <popey> We might not yet know why, and whether it's fixable / changeable, but we should at least understand what the user is seeing which is a great first step.
  91 [20:15] <popey> I'm happy to take questions btw :)
  92 [20:15] <popey> ok, so moving on..
  93 [20:16] <popey> Step 3: Getting more information
  94 [20:16] <popey>  
  95 [20:16] <popey> This is where we start delving further into the issue.
  96 [20:16] <popey> Some of these questions will be more/less useful than others, depending on the specific issue.
  97 [20:16] <popey>  
  98 [20:16] <popey> "What version of Ubuntu are you using?"
  99 [20:16] <popey>  - Applications change over time, and perhaps the 'issue' is just that the user is seeing unexpected functional changes.
 100 [20:16] <popey>  - System -> About Ubuntu, and the command "lsb_release -a" help here.
 101 [20:16] <popey>  
 102 [20:17] <popey> "What have you tried so far?"
 103 [20:17] <popey>  - It's possible the user has gone through a lot of online guides and has got the system into a state which is worse than when they started. It's a good idea to find out what they did, so any damage can be undone.
 104 [20:17] <popey>  
 105 [20:17] <popey> 20:17:01 < Solarion> QUESTION: Is panicking a good option?
 106 [20:17] <popey> Excellent question!
 107 [20:17] <popey> The problem with panicing is it leads to making rash decisions
 108 [20:17] <popey> When people panic, they do silly things like reinstalling without backing up crucial data
 109 [20:18] <popey> or try installing extra stuff to fix the broken thing
 110 [20:18] <popey> or edit random files without backing up the file before hand
 111 [20:18] <popey> Whilst there may be a time pressure to fix something, panicing usually doens't help :)
 112 [20:18] <popey>  
 113 [20:19] <popey> "What version of the application are you using?"
 114 [20:19] <popey>  - Perhaps this is an issue that only manifests itself in one particular version
 115 [20:19] <popey>  - Maybe what the user experiences is actually now standard functionality (as per Step 1 above)
 116 [20:19] <popey>  - Help -> About in most applications can find the version, but what if it's crashing, so the user can't access that?
 117 [20:19] <popey>   - "dpkg -l <packagename>" will list the version of the package the user has installed.
 118 [20:19] <popey>   -<packagename> is useful as a reference of what versions of packages might be installed
 119 [20:20] <popey>  
 120 [20:20] <popey> 20:19:50 < sebsebseb> QUESTION:  How to quickly  and smoothley calm someone down,  that moans and moans and moans, when things start going wrong with their Ubuntu install?
 121 [20:20] <popey> A nice cup of tea and a biscuit may help here.
 122 [20:20] <popey> Seriously though..
 123 [20:20] <popey> In my experience it's a case of managing someones expectations
 124 [20:21] <popey> saying something like "Ok, your system is broken, there's a number of options..1) we investigate things, this will take some time, 2) we reinstall, you may lose config/data, 3) we restore from backup, you may lose config, data"
 125 [20:21] <popey> (or whatever the options are in this hypothetical scenario)
 126 [20:22] <popey> explaining the options to the user, and empowering them to make the decision as to the next step is useful
 127 [20:22] <popey> always keeping them informed of the risks/benefits of each step
 128 [20:22] <popey> 20:21:39 < Solarion> QUESTION: At what point is it advisable to subscribe to canonical support?  Are Universe and Multiverse supported?
 129 [20:22] <popey> Good question.
 130 [20:23] <popey> It's always a good time to subscribe to Canonical support if you have the money :)
 131 [20:23] <popey> But it's a choice the user has to make.
 132 [20:23] <popey> They might be of the mind that they want an "authoratitive answer" to their support questions
 133 [20:24] <popey> some people just dont like placing trust in a community of individuals
 134 [20:24] <popey> some prefer to pay the piper
 135 [20:24] <popey> if so, then paid canonical support may be for them
 136 [20:25] <popey> As for which bits are supported, you'd need to ask canonical that.
 137 [20:25] <popey> 20:22:11 < Solarion> QUESTION: Is canonical working at some sort of global rollback of configuration, perhaps through git?
 138 [20:25] <popey> Dunno, you'd need to ask them.
 139 [20:25] <popey> 20:22:37 < openweek5> Question: when something *is'nt working* is there an easy way to tell if the app is incorrectly/not/wrongly, configured?
 140 [20:25] <popey> Good question. I have compared applications between machines before now
 141 [20:26] <popey> and compared configuration between machines..
 142 [20:26] <popey> I've even had python mess up on me so badly that I had to copy /usr/bin/python from one machine to another to be able to get up and running again
 143 [20:26] <popey> which is somewhat scary :) copying binary program files around isn't really what we should have to do to fix stuff
 144 [20:26] <popey>  
 145 [20:27] <popey> ok, back to the step 3 "getting more info"..
 146 [20:27] <popey> "Are you using any non-standard packages or repositories?"
 147 [20:27] <popey>  - Users often install packages from PPAs or 3rd party repositories, sometimes these packages can conflict with existing packages
 148 [20:27] <popey>  
 149 [20:28] <popey> Ok, so by this point, asking yourself (or the person who needs help) those questions should get you fairly far in understanding what the issue is..
 150 [20:28] <popey> ..but how can you help yourself to fix it..
 151 [20:28] <popey>  
 152 [20:28] <popey> Step 3: Helping yourself
 153 [20:28] <popey>  
 154 [20:29] <popey> Now of course I can't go through every possible support problem in Ubuntu and give a solution here, but I can point to where you can help yourself to get more diagnostic information.
 155 [20:29] <popey> 1) Finding the right package -
 156 [20:29] <popey>  - Whilst your issue might not actually be a bug, the above page is useful for figuring out which part of your Ubuntu system has a problem.
 157 [20:29] <popey>  
 158 [20:29] <popey> 2) Debugging applications -
 159 [20:29] <popey>  - Again, you might not be experiencing a bug, but you can learn a lot about the problem from debugging it
 160 [20:29] <popey>  
 161 [20:30] <popey> 3) Useful tools to help you diagnose / fix issues
 162 [20:30] <popey>  - A live Linux CD. I tend to have an Ubuntu Desktop CD of the most recent few releases kicking around in my toolbox.
 163 [20:30] <popey>  - I'll also keep a Knoppix DVD handy, because that's got lots more useful 'stuff' on it than the standard Ubuntu Desktop CD.
 164 [20:31] <popey>  - A bootable USB key running a recent release of Ubuntu. Many new computers - netbooks especially - don't come with optical drives, so USB sticks are very handy here.
 165 [20:31] <popey>  - A copy of the ISO images of the main recent releases of Ubuntu
 166 [20:31] <popey>  - A copy of the entire repository (perhaps a step to far :) ) on my network so I can easily install/reinstall systems quickly
 167 [20:31] <popey>  
 168 [20:31] <popey> QUESTION: What else do people in -chat have in your toolbox that I missed?
 169 [20:32] <popey> whilst you think on that, a question...
 170 [20:32] <popey> 20:31:24 < aim1159> QUESTION: how to deal with binary apps such as flash plugin, adobe reader and etc.
 171 [20:32] <popey> Good question. There are 3 binary apps on my system that I have trouble with, nvidia driver, flash and skype :(
 172 [20:33] <popey> with flash I mitigate issues (with youtube) by using a great greasemonkey script called "youtube perfect"
 173 [20:33] <popey>  +  == awesome
 174 [20:34] <popey> for nvidia I ran with the nouveau driver on my dual screen desktop for a while, and that works really nicely, but no 3d yet :(
 175 [20:34] <popey> sadly if you choose to run binary stuff like this you're a bit limited, however at least nvidia have their own bug reporting tool which helps to gather info for sending to nvidia
 176 [20:35] <popey> Some good answers to my question about what people have in their toolbox...
 177 [20:35] <popey> 20:32:36 < aim1159> popey: system rescue cd - the gentoo derivative very handy to get thing working
 178 [20:35] <popey> 20:34:00 < JohnRobert> ANSWER: another computer with the internet
 179 [20:35] <popey> +1
 180 [20:35] <popey> 20:34:23 < Solarion> popey: for those situations in which nothing else is working, I like to be sure to pack a portable hard surface against which to pound my head until my thinking clears or consciousness dissipates.
 181 [20:35] <popey> 20:34:44 < furicle> Toolbox musts - a USB -> SATA, IDE adapter so you can take the drive to a different machine
 182 [20:36] <popey> 20:35:04 < Mean-Machine> popey: Ubuntu Rescue Remix
 183 [20:36] <popey> ooo, not heard of that, looks handy :)
 184 [20:36] <popey> 20:36:08 < itnet7> popey: a known working usb wireless adapter
 185 [20:36] <popey> that is vital, especially for random laptops you're installing on!
 186 [20:37] <popey> 20:34:30 < sebsebseb> JohnRobert: Live CD's are also useful if problems happen, as well as sometimes the recovery mode
 187 [20:37] <popey> indeed, recovery mode has saved me a few times!
 188 [20:37] <popey> 20:37:09 < Solarion> popey: network cable is a good idea
 189 [20:37] <popey> heh, I used to carry a yellow and a blue laplink cable around, back in the day
 190 [20:37] <popey> showing my age now
 191 [20:37] <popey> 20:37:21 < FuturePilot> popey: usb hard drive for backup up data
 192 [20:37] <popey> ooo, good one...
 193 [20:37] <popey> I recently did a reinstall for a user.. hang on finding blog post...
 194 [20:38] <popey>
 195 [20:38] <popey> used a USB hard disk to backup user data, then reinstall to convert from wubi to "proper" install
 196 [20:38] <popey> very handy to have around
 197 [20:39] <popey> Ok, moving on...
 198 [20:39] <popey>  
 199 [20:39] <popey> Step 4: Getting help with the problem
 200 [20:39] <popey>  
 201 [20:39] <popey> Armed with the information above, you'll be able to get further help (if required) from any of the following places:-
 202 [20:39] <popey>  
 203 [20:39] <popey> 1) IRC - #ubuntu is the official support channel for Ubuntu
 204 [20:39] <popey>  - There are great people who are happy to give support and advice to users.
 205 [20:39] <popey>  - Arriving armed with the detail set out in step 2 could make support easier for others, and get your issue resolved quicker!
 206 [20:39] <popey>  - #ubuntu can get busy at some times. See bug 392799 "#ubuntu too noisy to be useful"
 207 [20:39] <popey>  
 208 [20:39] <popey> If IRC isn't your thing.. there are plenty of other options!
 209 [20:39] <popey>  
 210 [20:40] <popey> 2) Forums -
 211 [20:40] <popey>  - There's a great set of support categories on the forums, and plenty of people who can help.
 212 [20:40] <popey>  
 213 [20:40] <popey> 3) Launchpad answers -
 214 [20:40] <popey>  - Another great way to get support is via launchpad.
 215 [20:40] <popey>  - If a support request turns out to be a bug, it's very quick/easy to convert a question to a bug report.
 216 [20:40] <popey>  
 217 [20:40] <popey> 4) Mailing lists -
 218 [20:40] <popey>  - is worth a read :)
 219 [20:40] <popey>  - ubuntu-users gets about 1MB of email traffic per month.
 220 [20:41] <popey>  
 221 [20:41] <popey> 5) Your local LoCo team -
 222 [20:41] <popey>  - Your LoCo probably has experts who are willing to help you
 223 [20:41] <popey>  - They may have their own Mailing List, IRC Channel or Forum in which you can get support - perhaps in your first language if it's not EN
 224 [20:42] <popey>  
 225 [20:42] <popey> 6) Your local Linux User Group (LUG) -
 226 [20:42] <popey>  - LUGs are just like LoCos, with a wealth of knowledge to be tapped into.
 227 [20:42] <popey>  - You may even be able to attend a LUG meeting and take your problematic system along!
 228 [20:42] <popey>  
 229 [20:43] <popey> ok, a question..
 230 [20:43] <popey> 20:39:55 < aim1159> QUESTION: i got a complex prolbem with usb hard drives been disapeared from the system. filled a bugreport ( , but nobody ever toch it. and the problem  still exist. how one can force some problems up? I mean someone non-developer?
 231 [20:44] <popey> As your question is about bugs, and the next session is about bug reporting, I'd hold off and ask it then if you can.. however..
 232 [20:44] <popey> This is a frustrating thing for many new users, and it's a difficult one to fix
 233 [20:44] <popey> We have more bugs than we have developer time to work on
 234 [20:45] <popey> We rely on people triaging bugs, and helping bug reporters to get good information in the bug report
 235 [20:46] <popey> which leads nicely onto my step 5..
 236 [20:46] <popey>  
 237 [20:46] <popey> Step 5: Filing a bug...
 238 [20:46] <popey>  
 239 [20:46] <popey> This bit is being covered by Brian Murray in his session at 21:00 UTC :)
 240 [20:46] <popey>  
 241 [20:46] <popey>
 242 [20:47] <popey> So that's the end of the content that I'd prepared, I'm happy to try to answer any questions
 243 [20:47] <popey> 20:46:39 < Solarion> QUESTION: does bribing devs with hardware and beer help?
 244 [20:47] <popey> Y'know, I'd say from my experience the best things are..
 245 [20:47] <popey> a) being polite and staying polite
 246 [20:48] <popey> it's frustrating when nobody looks at your bug (or so it seems) or nobody is replying, but on the whole developers don't deliberately ignore your bugs, they're just prioritising their work
 247 [20:48] <popey> b) providing the debug information that the developer asks for
 248 [20:49] <popey> there are pages about debugging I linked to earlier, and the detail you get can greatly reduce the amount of time a developer spends analyzing your bug
 249 [20:49] <popey> so it makes sense to add it if you can
 250 [20:50] <popey> 20:47:56 < openweek5> Question: I am listening to your dulcet tones on one of your podcasts - i close the lid of my laptop  carry to kitchen- to raid fridge for beer - and not only does your p/cast stop but on reopening the lid - just  grey - no combination of key strokes responds - only the power button?
 251 [20:50] <popey> haha
 252 [20:50] <popey> Personally I set gnome-power-manager to just "blank screen" when I close the lid, that way when carrying my closed laptop I can continue to listen to myself all around the house
 253 [20:51] <popey> 20:48:12 < Solarion> QUESTION: could there be some sort of reward system for ubuntu devs and MoTUs to encrouage bug-fixing?
 254 [20:51] <popey> Ask them.. I refer you to one of my first lines... "I'm not a developer"
 255 [20:52] <popey> Right I think that's me done for the evening, enjoy the rest of open week!
 256 [20:53] <jcastro> thanks alan!

MeetingLogs/openweekKarmic/DontPanic (last edited 2009-11-03 02:29:24 by 99-21-107-94)