On technical support, and other things

So there seems to have been some discussion, lately, about this blog post by Jeff Hoogland on his experience asking a question in #fedora.

I noticed that no-one has actually posted the discussion, yet, so I will: you can find the full log from Jeff’s initial question to when he leaves the channel at the end of this post. Note: my log is from bip and prints nicknames in an ugly and unreadable way so I went through and fixed those by hand, any errors in nicknames are my mistake, but I did not alter the text at all.

I kind of agree with both sides, on this one.

On the one hand, I disagree with Jeff that it’s a bad approach, when helping people, to ask why it is they want to do the thing they’re asking about. I’d say this is frequently a very important thing to do. If someone asks you how to shoot himself in the foot, do you cheerfully assist in aiming, safety catch and trigger release, or do you first ask ‘are you sure that shooting yourself in the foot is actually what you want to do?’ I’d argue the latter. More times than I’ve been able to count, the answer has been ‘well, I just figured it was the best way to test my gun’, or ‘some blog post at www.welovepain.org recommended it’. When you’re doing support in a forum or a mailing list or an IRC channel targeted at general users, including new users, it’s a fact of life that, often, someone will be trying to do something that isn’t actually the best way to achieve their ultimate goal. It’s just responsible, and sensible, to ascertain what their ultimate goal is, and make sure the thing they’re trying to do is a sensible path to achieving it; if it isn’t, recommend a better way to do it.

Having said that, you can take this approach too far, and to me, the log is a textbook example of that. Jeff asked how to launch nautilus as root. Now often people ask this for bad reasons, and there’s a much better way to achieve what they think they need a root file manager to achieve, so the initial question from Southern-Gentleman – “Jef91, why would you need to” – is, I’d say, a sensible one. The initial response from Khaytsus – “ugh” – is not exactly helpful but probably understandable, and the initial response from fenrus02 – “Jef91, DONT run any gnome app as root, at all, ever.” – is pretty much plain wrong, albeit the sort of wrong much used by schoolteachers (sometimes you have to lie just to get through the day).

Jeff’s unfortunate swearing at two points just muddies the waters; #fedora has a policy against swearing to make sure it’s friendly to the widest possible audience, but once you get in an antagonistic situation, telling people off for swearing tends to make them more mad. This is just kind of unfortunate and it’s hard to see how that could have gone better. But it does explain why everyone seems to get a bit pissy.

From then on I kind of have to side with Jeff, because the thing is, he answers the question with a perfectly reasonable explanation: he needs to copy important data off a failing disk, and he wants to do this with a GUI and not from the console. This is a pretty good reason to want to run a file manager as root, to be honest. At this point, I would have said “okay, that’s a decent reason”, and gone on to help him figure out why nautilus wasn’t working as root and make it work. (Ten to one this is the classic ‘have to use “su -” to become root, not just “su”, to run GNOME apps as root’ issue). But the people in the channel keep telling him he shouldn’t, and he should either back up the entire drive (which is clearly not what he wanted to do), or do the operation from the console. Neither of those approaches seems at all helpful to me.

So I have to say – I think #fedora could have handled this specific exchange a lot better. I know the people involved and I think they make a great contribution to Fedora, and I definitely appreciate all the work they do on a volunteer basis, and I certainly don’t help people out in #fedora as much as they do or as much as I’d like to. But just this case looks like a bit of a dropped ball.

I don’t entirely agree with Jeff’s wider arguments, though, about the appropriateness of trying to establish exactly what someone wants to do when helping them out. I think it’s pretty important to do that – but do it politely, and if it’s something vaguely reasonable, do help them to do it, even if it’s not exactly the way you would have approached the problem.

But hey, that’s my take on it. Read the log and see what you think.

05-05-2011 20:01:09 [Jef91] any idea how I can lanuch nautilus as root?
05-05-2011 20:01:22 [khaytsus] ugh
05-05-2011 20:01:24 [fenrus02] Jef91, DONT run any gnome app as root, at all, ever.
05-05-2011 20:01:29 [VileGent] Jef91, why would you need to
05-05-2011 20:01:30 < ParadoxGuitarist!~bmonroe@pool-96-247-45-246.lsanca.fios.verizon.net: =) 05-05-2011 20:01:32 [fenrus02] Jef91, gnome specifically tells you not to do this. 05-05-2011 20:01:46 [Jef91] for flips sake 05-05-2011 20:02:00 [VileGent] Jef91, for safety sake NO 05-05-2011 20:02:07 -!- CyrusYzGTt!~CyrusYzGT@fedora/CyrusYzGTt has joined #fedora 05-05-2011 20:02:11 [Jef91] For fucks sake 05-05-2011 20:02:15 [fenrus02] when gnome says, "NO!" i would believe them. 05-05-2011 20:02:21 [Jef91] I have a computer with a dieing hard drive 05-05-2011 20:02:21 < * VileGent!~notfred@fedora/Southern-Gentleman reminds Jef91 Be polite and avoid profanity someone's kids and their grandmother might be in here listening 05-05-2011 20:02:21 [khaytsus] Jef91: Settle down, Beavis. 05-05-2011 20:02:22 [fenrus02] Jef91, language, family channel 05-05-2011 20:02:25 [Jef91] and don't want to run a CHOWN 05-05-2011 20:02:27 [Jef91] on the whole thing 05-05-2011 20:02:32 [VileGent] why 05-05-2011 20:02:32 [Jef91] so I can grab the data 05-05-2011 20:02:33 [Jef91] to move 05-05-2011 20:02:35 [fenrus02] Jef91, then dont. 05-05-2011 20:02:38 [khaytsus] ..... what does this have to do with ANYTHING 05-05-2011 20:02:42 [khaytsus] Why oul you use naut 05-05-2011 20:02:48 [khaytsus] Use a terminal and rsync the data 05-05-2011 20:02:52 [fenrus02] Jef91, run a real backup program instead. it works. 05-05-2011 20:02:59 [Jef91] dear lord 05-05-2011 20:03:07 [Jef91] I forgot how useless this channel is 05-05-2011 20:03:16 [hackenschmidt] lol 05-05-2011 20:03:17 [VileGent] he helps those who help themselves 05-05-2011 20:03:20 [fenrus02] ok, pack your toys and take them elsewhere then 05-05-2011 20:03:24 [khaytsus] Ask a dumb question and you'll get appropriate answers. 05-05-2011 20:03:34 [Jef91] "how can I open my file manager as root" 05-05-2011 20:03:37 [Jef91] is a dumb question? 05-05-2011 20:03:38 [khaytsus] Jef91: If you really want help, tell us what you're copying from and to. 05-05-2011 20:03:43 [VileGent] yes 05-05-2011 20:03:47 [Jef91] I need to pick through my data 05-05-2011 20:03:53 [Jef91] I need a root file manager to do this 05-05-2011 20:03:58 [Jef91] so I don't have to sit in a terminal and do it 05-05-2011 20:03:59 [VileGent] no you dont 05-05-2011 20:04:02 [fenrus02] no. you need a backup program. 05-05-2011 20:04:07 [khaytsus] BACK UP THE WHOLE DRIVE 05-05-2011 20:04:10 [hackenschmidt] rsync....? 05-05-2011 20:04:13 [khaytsus] Or don't... whatevers. 05-05-2011 20:04:15 [Jef91] I don't want the whole drive 05-05-2011 20:04:18 [fenrus02] BobLfoot, mine finished installing. 05-05-2011 20:04:24 [Jef91] I want bits and pieces of the data 05-05-2011 20:04:38 [VileGent] Jef91, what exactly are you trying to do 05-05-2011 20:04:46 [fenrus02] BobLfoot, ~9mins i guess now. 05-05-2011 20:04:59 [CyrusYzGTt] sudo nautilus 05-05-2011 20:05:03 [VileGent] no 05-05-2011 20:05:04 [fenrus02] Jef91, back it all up. sort through the remainder on restore. 05-05-2011 20:05:04 [Jef91] nvm 05-05-2011 20:05:08 [Jef91] I'll just install pcmanfm 05-05-2011 20:05:09 [CyrusYzGTt] su -c"nautilus" 05-05-2011 20:05:17 [VileGent] CyrusYzGTt, no 05-05-2011 20:05:23 [fenrus02] CyrusYzGTt, gnome specifically tells you NOT to run any gnome app as root. ever. 05-05-2011 20:05:23 [Jef91] See thankyou CryrusYzGTt 05-05-2011 20:05:26 [CyrusYzGTt] su -c"mc" 05-05-2011 20:05:40 -!- pcfe!~pcfe@redhat/pcfe has joined #fedora 05-05-2011 20:05:46 [hackenschmidt] sudo -c "rm -rf /"? 05-05-2011 20:05:52 -!- mode/#fedora [+o VileGent] by ChanServ!ChanServ@services. 05-05-2011 20:06:04 -!- mdomsch!~mdomsch@cl-283.dal-01.us.sixxs.net has joined #fedora 05-05-2011 20:06:04 -!- hackenschmidt has been kicked by VileGent!~notfred@fedora/Southern-Gentleman [hackenschmidt] 05-05-2011 20:06:20 [VileGent] we will not stand for that 05-05-2011 20:06:46 [khaytsus] rm dash f r / is never funny.. 05-05-2011 20:06:47 [VileGent] no one follow hackenschmidts cammand above 05-05-2011 20:07:09 [rangga] yep 05-05-2011 20:08:01 [khaytsus] Jef91: You realize that "picking through" a hard drive is not going to get it backed up any faster. Don't back up /usr and junk, back up /home and /etc and maybe specific folders in /var 05-05-2011 20:08:21 [khaytsus] Dying hard drives don't give you much time to screw around. 05-05-2011 20:08:26 [Jef91] Khaytsus I have like 200gigs of data and only want like 5 of it 05-05-2011 20:08:32 -!- Egyptian[Laptop]!~marafa@adsl-99-159-249-188.dsl.wotnoh.sbcglobal.net has joined #fedora 05-05-2011 20:08:32 [Jef91] So yes. 05-05-2011 20:08:38 [Jef91] Having a file manager will speed things up 05-05-2011 20:08:41 [khaytsus] 200g of data that's not even backed up.. 05-05-2011 20:08:44 [EvilBob] mc 05-05-2011 20:08:45 < fedbot!~supybot@scrye.com: Please visit our trac instance at https://fedorahosted.org/irc-support-sig/ and file a feedback ticket telling us about your experience in #fedora. Thanks in advance for your feedback. 05-05-2011 20:08:48 [khaytsus] Why do I bother 05-05-2011 20:08:53 < dvanstone!~daniel@unaffiliated/ocatacoo: VileGent, too late 05-05-2011 20:08:57 [Jef91] khaytsus I only want like 5 of it 05-05-2011 20:09:00 [Jef91] The rest is elsewhere 05-05-2011 20:09:02 [Jef91] Asshole 05-05-2011 20:09:07 -!- mode/#fedora [-o VileGent] by VileGent!~notfred@fedora/Southern-Gentleman 05-05-2011 20:09:39 [VileGent] Jef91, that is uncalled for 05-05-2011 20:09:46 [Jef91] No. 05-05-2011 20:09:49 [VileGent] yes 05-05-2011 20:09:59 [EvilBob] Khaytsus: You bother because of you're a closet masochist 05-05-2011 20:09:59 [Jef91] Whats uncalled for is when someone asks a question, is asking them why they are trying to do it. 05-05-2011 20:10:02 [Jef91] And telling them they are wrong 05-05-2011 20:10:04 -!- CyrusYzGTt!~CyrusYzGT@fedora/CyrusYzGTt has quit [Ping timeout: 240 seconds] 05-05-2011 20:10:22 [EvilBob] Jef91: You are wrong 05-05-2011 20:10:31 [VileGent] Jef91, and you have also been alternatives to use than what you were trying 05-05-2011 20:10:54 -!- mode/#fedora [+q jef91!*@*] by fedbot!~supybot@scrye.com 05-05-2011 20:10:55 < fedbot!~supybot@scrye.com: jef91, You have been quieted in this channel temporarily. Please read http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Fedora_Channel_FAQ and consider changing your approach and/or the behavior that is disrupting the channel. If you feel this action was in error, please file a ticket at https://fedorahosted.org/irc-support-sig/ 05-05-2011 20:11:10 -!- Jef91!630dbe9e@gateway/web/freenode/ip.99.13.190.158 has left #fedora

10 Responses

  1. eco2geek
    eco2geek May 10, 2011 at 8:53 pm | | Reply

    Wouldn’t it have been quicker and easier to simply edit /etc/sudoers than to launch an IRC client and ask for help? (You would expect someone who describes himself as “the lead developer for the Bodhi Linux project” to know how to do that.)

    Perhaps their controlling attitude regarding the use of salty language (“You’ve been quieted”? Oh my Lord 🙂 has something to do with their response to his query about running nautilus as root. 🙂

  2. eco2geek
    eco2geek May 10, 2011 at 10:41 pm | | Reply

    Let’s find out.

    (Downloads/burns F14 live CD — H’mm, no mc or nano, not even emacs, guess they expect everyone to know vi — runs “yum install nano” as root — adds “liveuser” to “sudoers” — sets password for “root” and “liveuser”)

    Yep, “sudo nautilus” works fine.

  3. adam.stokes
    adam.stokes May 11, 2011 at 5:06 am | | Reply

    No one should bother with #fedora. Those guys in the above log are the main reason why that channel is worthless. VileGent is just a straight up asshole and the rest of his minions are just as bad. To this jeff guy I would stick with the mailing lists or maybe linuxquestions.org.

  4. Links 11/5/2011: Linux 2.6.39 is Coming, Skypocalypse Analyses | Techrights

    […] On technical support, and other things So there seems to have been some discussion, lately, about this blog post by Jeff Hoogland on his experience asking a question in #fedora. […]

  5. bocke
    bocke May 13, 2011 at 3:28 pm | | Reply

    While it is a bit unfortunate handling of a problem, he actually got a good answer – to use a real backup. I don’t know what would he need root anyways. Think about it: you need a root only if you want to mess with your installation, which is generally not a good thing to do for an unexperienced user. He doesn’t need root for a simple user data copying.

    Jesus, is he really a lead developper for Bodhi Linux? Shouldn’t you know a bit more about internal functioning of OS before making your own derivative. I did find Bodhi interesting, but it honestly did seem a bit amateruish.

  6. jack
    jack June 12, 2011 at 4:48 pm | | Reply

    I’ve had the same experience in #fedora. When asking ‘what package replaced libjpeg-devel because my wine compile is failing’ I was repeatedly told to install wine from the repo even after I explained I was trying to compile a specific version that was not available. Same couple of people from the log in your post actually. The package is libjpeg-turbo-devel for anybody else who is wondering.

  7. CT limo
    CT limo July 10, 2015 at 10:26 pm | | Reply

    When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added”
    checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get several emails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove people from that service?
    Cheers!

    My homepage – CT limo

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