[conspire] Breezy Badger /Netzero

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Fri Dec 16 17:28:42 PST 2005

Quoting Daniel Gimpelevich (daniel at gimpelevich.san-francisco.ca.us):

> Yes, I said as much.

You're probably assuming that I was in possession of your post when I
wrote mine.  That is not the case.  I started writing my reply to John
quite a while ago.  While it was in buffer (and I wasn't reading new 
posts), you sent your own, shorter reply.  A short while later, I
finished mine, posted it, and -- finally -- read yours.

There are several points that I was trying to make for John's long-term 
benefit, above and beyond solving his immediate problem:

1. Techies are from Missouri.  ("Show me.")  Don't make us guess that 
   you were in the correct directory when you typed "ln -s...".  
   Show us!
2. We can't see what the user is seeing.
3. Literally accurate, chronologically ordered recountings of 
   exactly what happened are highly desirable.  Producing those 
   usually requires _trying again_, and either taking really good
   notes or using "script" to capture your session.  
4. You as the user can't assume we know (or remember) your system,
   or your situation.  Yes, there might be _one_ of us who does, 
   but it's rude to not bear in mind that you're speaking to _all_ of us.
   (If you're trying to seek help from just that one guy, kindly at least 
   say so.)
5. You as the user can't assume we also have your choice of "desktop"
   software at our disposal.

> I took all of that into account in my reply....

Which didn't exist, from where I sat, when I composed mine.

> One of the last things I did to his system was "sudo ln -s ttyS0
> /dev/modem" but did not retest the NetZero client after that because
> he had not brought his modem with him anyway. I also warned him that I
> did not know whether that symlink would survive a reboot in the
> presence of udev. I now know that it would not, so the symlink I
> created went away almost immediately, thus leaving the NetZero client
> no more nor less functional as when I tested it.

Suggestion:  Have the user take notes.  We have spare printer/fax paper,
for those who didn't think to bring any.

The smartest thing I ever did, when I was first admining Linux, was keep
a composition book next to the monitor, and record every significant 
change or configuration or problem in it.  This is _particularly_
important for those new to Linux, since they're going to be overwhelmed
with new things to deal with, and cannot be expected to remember things
you mention as followup items.

> Yes, this would all be ideal, but one has to keep in mind that one of the
> manifestations of the problem at hand is that he cannot access his e-mail
> and his Linux installation at the same time. 

So, he can use a text editor, instead.  Save it to a floppy or USB flash
drive, if necessary.

When I was new to Linux, this is one of the things I used that
composition book (or other notepaper) for.  These days, for just a
terminal session, I'd often use "script" to log the session.

> > Your phrase "does not recognize" is your _interpretation_.  You don't
> > state what sequence of events happened that lead you to that conclusion.
> > The latter is the raw data, and is what technicians need.
> Yes, it's his interpretation, but I think it's reasonable for me to assume
> that it's an interpretation of events identical to what I saw first hand
> when I tested to see how well the NetZero client would work, which was
> that everything was fine until it tried to access /dev/modem, which didn't
> exist.

See point #4:  He was addressing this mailing list's entire membership
as a whole, not just you.  And my point was explicitly a broad, pretty
much universal one, that will aid him in _all_ technical assistance and
documentation situations.

> > If you that, and copy and paste the command session, then technicians
> > will know precisely what you did to launch such programs, and will have
> > greater confidence that you didn't forget to mention something
> > important.
> This one's a no-brainer: He has an icon for the NetZero client on his KDE
> desktop, because the name of the script that invokes it is not "netzero"
> but something cryptic that I didn't bother to remember, and not even in
> his $PATH, but buried somewhere in /opt. When the icon is opened, the
> script is run, and what looks like it might be a Motif-based app appears.

See points #4 and 5.

> > Does the Netzero client have a screen for configuration (aka
> > "preferences")?  Does such a screen show a serial port that is to be
> > used?  Does it say /dev/modem?
> It does have configuration and preferences screens, but the serial port is
> not among the options. Evidently, that's hardwired to /dev/modem,
> presumably meaning that Linspire would have its own configuration and
> preferences screens that control to what that symlink would point on such
> a system.

The point was not so much to find out that datum from John, as to ensure
that he _look_, and mention having done so, in similar situations in the 
future.  I'm attempting to help John learn to fish, instead of just
giving him a fish.

> Obviously, it's not all of that that kppp does, because NetZero is his
> only ISP, and they don't accept standard PPP logins. The fact that kppp is
> able to do any of it at all tells me that no kernel modules are at fault,
> and that's pretty much the only useful information that could be gleaned
> at this point from an attempt to use kppp.

Maybe -- but he didn't say so, and it's better that he not obliged
people to guess.

> In light of all of the above, I think it's reasonable to assume that
> kppp was configured to use /dev/ttyS0 and not /dev/modem, which is why
> I said to make sure it behaves identically both ways.

I made the same guess -- but it was more important to stress to John
that he provide reliable relevant informaiton in his help requests, than
it was for me to guess that information correctly.

> >> I did ln -s tty0 /dev/modem but that didn't work.
> > 
> > Again, the biggest problem in the above, even worse than the fact that
> > it's unclear what directory you were in, and thus unclear where "tty0"
> > is, and even worse than /dev/tty0 (as opposed to /dev/ttyS0) making no
> > sense as a serial device, is that we have no way of knowing what you
> > mean when you say "didn't work".
> The current working directory has no bearing on the creation of a symlink,
> except of course that tab-completion will only work if you are in the
> directory where the symlink will live.

The current working directory would _very_ much have a bearing on that
matter, if he were in the wrong directory.  Thus my point that he should 
_show us_, rather than obliging us to guess that he was _probably_
somewhere useful when he did that.

> > You were probably really clear in your mind about what you meant, but we
> > can't read your mind -- or your screen.  ;->
> Agreed, but it can't be helped in this case, for reasons I stated above.

No, Daniel, I know it _can_.  I've devoted a lot of user-assistance
documentation, including that essay I co-write with Eric Raymond, to
helping users get around that problem.

> > Yes.  What does the accompanying documentation state, about how to
> > specify the serial port?
> I did not detect the presence of any "accompanying documentation" for the
> NetZero client.

If John knew of this, then it would have been a good idea to mention it.
("Oh, by the way, I _did_ check for any documentation provided with 
the Linspire-oriented .deb I installed the NetZero app from onto my 
Kubuntu box from:  There was nothing in /usr/share/doc/netzero or
/usr/share/doc/NetZero, and here's what happened when I tried to call up
a manpage:  [small terminal session]"

> I am assuming that the port is specified by the destination of the
> /dev/modem symlink, because when the symlink didn't exist, the NetZero
> client complained that it couldn't find /dev/modem.

That's what I figured, too -- but my main concern was the broader one.

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