Friday, May 28, 2010

Dear Users: Do not withhold information from developers, kthxbye

I accidentally stumbled upon a debugging case today with a user that seems to be a common problem. I wont call this user out directly, but he was a case study in what not to do when you want help from a developer like myself.

The basic volley started off with the usual chit chat in an IRC channel:

<User> Can someone help me compile a module for my kernel?
<Me> Sure, what seems to be the trouble?

So off we went with some IRC and PasteBin exchanges of his compile problem. I looked at the source code for the driver he was trying to compile, and it was a one-line obvious fix to get it working with a newer kernel such as the one found on the Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid system he was working on.

So now the module compiled, and he tried loading it. Hmm...the module disagreed with symbols from modules on his running system, videodev to be exact.

Weird. That shouldn't happen. I asked him if he had compiled or installed different versions of v4l than what his system came with. He didn't recall. However, after getting him to pastebin "ls -lR" of his modules directory, it was apparent that 3 days ago, he did in fact completely replace the drivers/media install.

This meant that those modules didn't match the stock headers that came with his running kernel. This took a very short time for him, but considerable time for me (volunteer time) to find out. After finding out, he admitted to replacing the modules.

Now it was obvious that he was embarrassed to admit he had junked up his system, and even more embarrassing that I caught him in a lie. He could have saved time for both of us. If I had given up after helping with his initial problem, he would have been stuck not knowing how to fix it.

So the moral of the story here is, don't hide information from people trying to help you. Tell all the gross details. If you fed your cat buttermilk waffles off your keyboard, it might help to know that if your 'H' is stuck.


  1. Same advice goes for your Doctor and Mechanic. The information you withhold could (will likely) be the info needed to fix your problem with the least amount of harmful side affects.

  2. BTW, could you fix your RSS feed? It isn't showing the full content of your posts.