[conspire] (forw) Re: Linux World Installfest

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Wed Aug 9 17:32:38 PDT 2006

----- Forwarded message from Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com> -----

Date: Wed, 9 Aug 2006 17:32:16 -0700
From: Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com>
To: Paul Cubbage <pcubbage at opencountry.com>
Subject: Re: Linux World Installfest

Quoting Paul Cubbage (pcubbage at opencountry.com):

> Thanks for responding Rick,
> It would be great to have Linuxmafia represented.

Paul, I'd love to come and help out, but I'm not certain when if at all
I'll be able to get away and drive up to S.F.  

Your notion of having explicit time slots seems like a good idea.

> As for ravens, are you acquainted with the Haida tribe: Children of Eagle 
> and Raven of Queen Charlotte island?  I bought a wonderful raven design 
> sweatshirt while touring and keep meaning to go back to get another.

Alas, I had not heard of this until now.

The raven thing on linuxmafia.com, as you may know, harks back to the
machine's former sole hostname (and now secondary hostname) of
"hugin.imat.com", back when I was naming all of my hosts for figures
from Norse mythology.  I was aware that the Aleuts had raven figures as
part of their myths, but hadn't known specifically about the Haida.
(I knew a _bit_ about the Tlingit.)

After picking "hugin" and "munin" as two of my hostnames, I did start
doing a bit of reading about corvids (the family that includes ravens,
thrushes, and crows), and think they're thoroughly fascinating birds,
especially given that they're scarily intelligent.

They're also a real menace to a lot of other bird populations, since one
of their favourite snacks is the young of other bird species.

> I'm sending the following to anyone who seems newbie but has volunteered.  
> Any comments?

It's good.  Before that, you had a perception problem, where people
might stay away because they're afraid of runaway expectations.  People
get oddly irrational about such things, in volunteer contexts.

The other thing you might want to do, as to the _non_-volunteer
attendees (the people seeking help) is set expectations about what's 
feasible, e.g., you are specifically not a shop for general PC diagnosis
or helping people with Windows problems.  Also, you might want to
consider having such attendees sign a disclaimer that says neither 
you, the volunteers, nor IDG bears any responsibility for loss to the
attendee's hardware or software, and that attendee acknowledges the
responsibility for having tested, good data backup, ability to reinstall
existing installed software, etc.

> FYI: There's a kind of standard handbook on Installfests floating around.  A
> good one is at
> http://www.xml-dev.com/xml/LDP/InstallFestHowTo.html
> and you may want to look at it.

I talked to that guy, at the time he submitted it to LDP.  I'm not
entirely happy with its contents, but neither of us really has time to
go into that, at the moment.  Anyway, it's better than nothing.

You know the _biggest_ problem associated with installfests?  They leave
the users with a black box, and _no idea what to do next_.  If you want 
to improve your event, the best thing you could possibly do is sit down
over the weekend and write a trifold flyer entitled "OK, I have
Linux.  What now?" that _briefly_ tells them how to connect with the
Linux community and what key resources they should know about.  I'm not
kidding.  A one-sheet trifold flyer with "Don't Panic!" in large
friendly letters.

Also, attendees need to take notes.  Notes, guys, notes!  On paper.
They need to slow down the caffeine-crazed guy helping them, ask
questions about the many, many things they aren't fully understanding,
and write down the essentials _before_ moving on.  Why?  Because
afterwards, it's all a blur, and the user will otherwise have learned
nothing but that some guy in sandal with scruffy hair did something
bizarre to his/her laptop, that thereupon gets blown away the moment
anything goes wrong.

While I'm at it, I've found over the years that 90%+ of people who do
dual-boot are kidding themselves.  It's almost always the case that
people who intend to dual-boot actually stay in the more-familiar OS
almost all the time.  Thus, with exceptions, I regard dual-boot as
mostly an immensely popular _mistake_; that most people requesting it
are effectively saying "You'll be wasting your time and mine, because
I'll hardly ever use this, let alone get acclimated; the reason I'm
not saying so is I don't know it, yet."

In a way, installfests have not fully coped with changes in the nature
of our attendes over time:

o  Early installfests (1992-8) were mutual-assistance efforts among
   early adopters.  Early adopters tended to arrive prepared, they knew
   their hardware and what chipsets were involved, they had current
   backups or at least knew the risks, they were already fully connected
   with the community, and (if dual-booting) they'd scandisk'd and 
   defragged, etc., before arrival.  They also knew what they wanted
   to accomplish, with what Linux distribution, and why.  Often, they
   would arrive with their own installation media, even.

   1998 was the watershed, the year of the Mozilla code release and
   sudden full release of Linux versions for all SQL databases 
   (except, of course, MS-SQL Server).

o  1998-present, early adopters have been greatly in the minority at
   installfests.  (Also, installfest staff no longer spend time 
   explaining what Linux is, as was the case before.)  Most attendees
   _don't know what they want_.  (More about that, below.)  Most have
   no idea whatsoever what circuitry's inside their machines, have 
   done nothing at all to prepare, have never done a backup, are
   nervous about what you're about to do to their machines, but were
   curious enough to show up.  They have no idea that they _actually_
   need to walk away with not just an installation but also media they
   can use to [re]-do it themselves; they don't know.  You have to 
   stress that to them, and much more.

So, the human landscape has changed.  We can't do anything about people
showing up unprepared.  (It's been tried; it didn't work, and the
problem has in fact gotten worse.)  So, instead, we need to count on
that, and compensate.  Fortunately, hardware autoprobing has gotten 
really good.  Plan on having some cutting-edge live-CD/DVD distros
on hand, and people who know how to use them to, e.g., determine from 
lspci, lsusb, dmidecode, "dmesg | more", and so on what the chipsets
are.   Have a _lot_ of notepaper, for use by both the volunteers and 
attendees.  (Also, expect to cluebat both groups into _using_ it.)

Have at least one machine on-site for duplicating CDs and DVDs.  It's
not your job to give people free blank media (unless you want to):
Have 1/4-sheet flyers handy with the address of Central Computer,
1.5 block away on Folsom, so they can buy their own.

Your trifold "What next?" flayer might want to provide URLs for the 
"Help!  My {wireless chip|winmodem|OfficeJet|scanner|USB ADSL modem}
doesn't yet work, and the installfest guy says it's my problem" question.

I have a bunch linked from "Help Resources" on
http://linuxmafia.com/kb/Hardware/ (a link farm page).

You could also address, there, the eternal "Help!  My distribution doesn't 
include {WMA|AVI|ASF|MOV|MP3|AAC|MPEG|J2EE|Macromedia Flash|RealPlayer|Acrobat
Reader|Win32 supprt|NTFS filesystem drivers|Shockwave|}" question,
gently introducing people to the realities of software patents,
Our Lords in Hollywood, and the consequent need for offshore
repositories of unofficial packages.

Last, you need to deal with people walking in and saying (or implying)
"I don't know what Linux distribution I want.  Pick one for me."  This
is a difficult (yet very common) problem:  In an ideal world, you'd be
able to brain-dump an understanding of the choices and relevant criteria
in ten minutes, and then proceed.  Of course, this never works, and
often an hour of discussion leave the poor guy completely confused.

There are many candidate solutions.  I'm not sure which one to
recommend.  You _could_ run attendees through the automated "Linux
Distribution Chooser" at a Web-browser kiosk:
http://www.zegeniestudios.net/ldc/  I have that and similar efforts
linked from here:
Quoting the closing two paragraphs:

    I personally strongly prefer the Debian distribution, especially for
    servers. However, newcomers should consider starting with Xandros
    Desktop OS [link] Deluxe Edition or Business Edition (recommended
    particularly), Ubuntu Linux [link], SUSE [link], MEPIS [link], 
    Linspire 3.0 and later [link], or MandrivaLinux [link] for desktop 
    Linux machines (not Debian).

    If you're undecided on the question, read Karsten's Distributions 
    Guide [link], consult DistroWatch [link to the "major distros" 
    subpage], and consult the Linux Distribution Chooser [link], first.

Note that you cannot lawfully redistribute some of the above.

I hope that helps.

----- End forwarded message -----

More information about the conspire mailing list