Bristol and Bath Linux User Group: Guide

Guide

This is an early draft of a guide (not the quide, though I'm not aware there is one, or any others) for the Bristol and Bath Linux Users Group mailing list. It is aimed at those who are not used to participating on mailing lists, esp. technical ones. It is not intended to be a general guide to the lug, though, being a fairly listbound lug, it might as well be considered as such. None of what is written here is written in stone (it's written in 7 bit ASCII, using vi for a chisel, actually).

This guide was written by phil at swedeheart dot net, mutilated mercilessly by David dot Smith at ds-electronics dot co dot uk and further edited by marc.gray@gmail.com for the new LUG site. Emails obfuscated to protect the original authors against spam.

Background

History

The mailing list has been going since sometime around 1997-8, formed at the same time as the LUG itself.

Purpose

The mailing list is to provide a forum for discussion and debate, support on questions both simple and complex, and sometimes to reminisce.

Technicalities

Joining and leaving

The mailing list is hosted by www.lug.org.uk, and uses mailman. You can subscribe, unsubscribe, or modify your options by visiting this page. If you are subscribing or unsubscribing, the mailing list manager will send you an email asking for confirmation; you must reply to this message before the changes take effect.

If you get completely stuck, send an email to owner-bristol@mailman.lug.org.uk and they'll try to sort you out.

Feel free to post a "hello" message to the list, announcing who you are, what you do, and your connection/involvement level with GNU/Linux. Then spend, if your needs are not urgent, a week or so just listening to the mails that arrive, to gauge the attitude and general disposition of the list.

Rules

Acceptable topics

Some fora, be it newsgroups on Usenet, irc channels, or mailing lists have a general topic, which is their raison d'etre. People frequent a particular place because of that. You won't make many friends in the angling community by turning up to the river and performing stunts on a jet ski. Similarly, you need to stick to the topic at hand. Not everywhere is as rigid as everywhere else. The chaps on the linux kernel mailing list are less permissive than we are, for example. Rest assured, that you'd really have to try before being banned from posting. I'm not sure I could give a canonical list of acceptable topics. But I can list a few topics that won't get you far;

  1. How do I install/configure Windows? (How do I get rid of Windows is welcomed though)
  2. Trying to sell something on a commercial basis (private PC sales okay).
  3. Sending a virus/trojan to the list.
  4. Email snowball fights, "wacky" flash animations or chain letters urging people to send cards to poor Craig Shergold are also out of order.

As long as it's Linux-related, that's fine. So Windows/Linux interoperability problems are okay, on the whole. Also, the occasional foray into nostalgia, such as old sweets, or TV programmes (Bagpuss, say) happens now and again. Employment opportunities (sits vac, as it were) seem to be okay, too. Book reviews would be very welcome.

Posting

Never post in HTML. Disable this in your mail client. This means you MS Outlook [Express] users.

Any post made in HTML will be picked up by the mailing list server as spam. If you find that your mail has been bounced from the list because it triggered the spam filter, it's probably because you posted in HTML. Please reconfigure your mail tool to post in plain text. Actually, a good page to read is http://www.expita.com/nomime.html - Configuring Mail Clients To Send Plain ASCII Text. Now you've got no excuse :)

Don't quote all of the mail you are replying to- just enough to provide context for your comments. Especially disliked is quoting the entire previous message, footer and all, just to post "Me too". A simplistic example is available here.

Don't attach files. Any text (error messages, excerpts from config files) can be quoted in-line, which is much more readable. Virtually all ISP accounts, even free ones have some webspace. Learn how to use it, and, should you need people to examine a file, place a copy of it there, and put the url in your message. Alternatively, solicit for people willing to receive it. One exception is for digital signatures.

Don't antagonise a flame war. Don't start flame wars, either. Don't pretend you had no idea it would start a flame war when you slagged off gnome v kde, vi v emacs, monolithic v micro kernels, open source v closed source, Slackware v Mandrake v RedHat v Debian/Mac OS v GNU Linux v Windows, Star Wars v Star Trek... In other words, don't feed the trolls. And keep off the grass.

When replying to a post, your text should either be placed below the quoted text, or inline. Inline usually makes most sense to someone reading the entire mail from top to bottom. A simplistic example is available here.

Signatures (or sigs for short) are considered acceptable, but they shouldn't be more than 4 lines long.

If your client has the ability, set word-wrapping to 76 characters. If not, do it by hand until you get bored enough to find out how to get vi to do it (with vim it's :set tw=76, or -c 'set tw=76' on the command line).

Just a personal thing, but if you're going to swear, just do it. No starring things out. Children learn how to spot swearwords from a mile off, and the easily offended will be offended anyway, because they know what you're really thinking. However, some people work for companies, or use ISPs that bounce mails with what they feel are offensive terms. And when list mail gets bounced, it heads to the list administrator. If you are a nice person, you would probably want to save him the extra hassle.

Bear in mind that posting HTML mail will in many cases cause you to be ignored - as one poster pointed out, most of the HTML email he receives is UCE (aka spam), and gets filed away as such.

Basic netiquete (for which there are guides all over the web) is not to write in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS LIKE THIS as it comes across like you're shouting. If you are shouting, cool down. Go get a cold glass of milk, or perhaps Dr. Pepper if you're lactose intolerant. Listen to a little of Epiphany Radio over ICEcast and relax.

Speaking of basic netiquette, two good guides are ESR's How To Ask Questions The Smart Way, and RFC1855, which is pretty much as old as the commercial web, but still relevant, by-and-large.

Why did my post take n hours/days/weeks to arrive on the list?

Unless there is a problem with the mail server, or your system, or somewhere inbetween, the most likely cause is that it has been forwarded to the list administrator. There are a number of reasons why this might happen, but the most common one is that you have sent it from an address which is not subscribed. The list is configured to allow only subscribed people to post - this is to stop spamming.

You can fix this (and help out the list administrator who has to review and approve every non-member post) by subscribing this extra address to the list. If you wish, you can configure this address to receive no mail, so that you only receive one copy of each posting.

How to ask questions

Be polite

If you're asking for free technical support from people who normally charge for this sort of thing, the very least you can do is be polite. Thank people in advance and thank people when you get things sorted out (people like to know when they've been helpful, and also when they were right). Remember that not everybody is here to help, perhaps because they're too busy, don't feel they're knowledgable enough, or are curmudgeonly. To put this another way - just like the GNU/Linux distro you've installed (or will install once you find out how), this mailing list expressly comes without warranty, and no promise of suitability for purpose. Come with no expectation of help, and any you receive will be all the more welcome.

Help yourself

There's nothing more irritating than someone who makes no effort to help themselves. These people are lusers, and deserve LARTing. Or at the least, ignoring.

If the answer to your question is contained in a HOWTO (often installed in /usr/doc/Linux-HOWTOs or similar, with the most recent gathered together at The Linux Documentation Project), or man page (try typing "man programname"), or found in the 3 seconds it took to enter "programname compile problems" into Google, then you didn't try hard enough. If there's a website for the utility in question, that should be your first/next point-of-call. You may well find a FAQ there that contains the answer, or perhaps a list of known bugs that they intend (or not) to fix with the next release(s).

If the answer was staring you in the face within the logfiles of your application (if it has them), or the syslog, or by enabling some debug mode, you didn't try hard enough. Many a-time increasing the debug level has shown something simple, like a config file typo, or incorrect file or directory permissions/ownership have been revealed as the culprit in this fashion (can you say "perl -w"?).

Describe your problem

Start with a sensible subject line, as descriptive as allowed by the length limitation. Remember that many people are very busy, and don't read every email - don't get filtered out by using a line like "HELP" which screams "clueless newbie". It's very hard for a beginner to know what is useful information, and what's simply superfluous. Certainly the colour of the mains cable is junk. The version of the distro is a good basic point to include (Slackware 8.0, Redhat 7.1, etc). Note that there might be more than one kernel version supplied with the distro, so include that too, plus any patches you've applied. The output of "uname -a" can be handy if you don't know what kernel you're using. The version of the application you're having trouble with is essential (try invoking it with --version, -V or something...check the man page).

Provide the error message if any (some applications can and do fail silently, but you can often evoke more output with a switch such as --verbose, -D, -debug or whatever...) and do so as exactly as possible. You might not know what "error loading shared libraries" means, and not think it relevant, but to some people it tells them so much more than "it doesn't work".

Sometimes it's possible to work out what's going wrong without actually having the application, but for anything non-obvious, it's usually helpful to try and replicate it on their own box. So give details of how to recreate the problem - what did you do that lead up to the error? And what did you expect to happen?

With reference to networking problems, there are several programs that can spit out invaluable information.

netstat -a -n

This shows all the connections your box is making with the outside world, and all the ports it is listening on for incoming connections.

route -n

This shows what you might call Linux's internal knowledge of your network- where it is, and how to get to other computers.

ifconfig -a

This shows the interfaces that you have setup on your machine.

lsmod

Will list all the loaded modules (though your network card may well have support compiled into the kernel and not be shown).

Responses

If you fail to receive any responses, don't throw a tantrum. It won't win you any friends. Take a look at what you posted, and try to judge if you provided enough detail. But perhaps it's simply that no-one has an answer for you - it happens. Simply repeating your request may help, as not everyone pays the group total attention all of the time. Wait about a week, and try again. Then give up.

Remember that some people are pretty intolerant, and prone to meanness, which you mustn't take offence over. A lot of it is not meant in any seriousness.

Basically, given anything you say, there will be a percentage who feel you are not treating this weighty, fundamental issue with enough seriousness, and another percentage who chuckle to themselves (or out loud) that you're getting overly worked-up. One topic to elicit these responses is security, where it is probably possible to take a line with which no-one agrees.

Conclusions

The BBLUG is pretty friendly, and wide-ranging in interest, commitment, and traffic levels. Some days are quite heavy with much mail flowing back and forth - this is usually on some contentious issue. Some days pass with nothing, especially on the weekends. Some users are pretty knowledgeable, and being Linux programmers/systems administrators is their paid profession. On the other hand, some people are beginners, who might have only installed Ubuntu onto an old box this afternoon - or at least, they're trying to.

On the whole, there are no stupid questions- only stupid ways of asking a question, and some questions which you are able to answer yourself. Which is always satisfying. More satisfying still is the time when you can start helping other users. On second thoughts, I take it back. There are stupid questions, which sound bad no matter how you phrase them. But everyone's allowed to ask a few.