Dealing With BT

I know I’ve posted about my ADSL problems in the past. Although I haven’t mentioned them since then, they have been lurking all the time and frequently re-appear, meaning the Internet is either painfully slow or unusable for days, even weeks. My normal ADSL speed is something around 4.5 to 6.5 Mb/s, I live about 1.5 miles from my exchange. That speed is not so bad, it’s the dropouts and the serious speed drops which are annoying, somewhere between 16Kb/s and 1.5Mb/s which made the Internet as it is today, full of flash and graphical adverts, pretty painful and almost unusable for geek purposes (ie downloading Linux isos, or updating machines, or installing an OS over a network). At the worst times, I just can’t connect for hours. Though that doesn’t happen that often, it did happen a couple of times at the weekend.

I think I’ve reported this to my ISP perhaps 5 or 6 times, possibly more. At one stage, my employer paid for a business phone line to be installed in my house with a business ADSL connection over it. When the engineer came, I explained the reasons why we were having this extra line and so, as the cable for the new line had two sets of wires in it, he replaced the cable into the house and ran both lines over the new cable. I got a consistent 7.5Mb/s with the same equipment for over a year until leaving my employer meant losing my business line. That’s an average of 2Mb/s faster than the good speed on my residential line.

After losing the business line, I went back to my old ISP (free activation, you see, the old connection had been ceased). And I’ve been having the same recurring problems ever since. I’ve tried 3 routers, 2 Linksys and a BT Business Hub, 4 or 5 microfilters, I’ve removed all of the extension cables from the house long ago and now it’s my ADSL router on a 1m cable and a single wired phone in a microfilter plugged into the BT master socket. I’ve already checked and I don’t have a bell wire, which is known to add noise to a line and is only of use to old phones which actually have a bell in them. BT will sell you a ‘noise reducing face-plate’, which simply disconnects the bell wire for around 10 GBP.

So anyway, last time I was having real problems was around 4 or 5 months ago, I went through the usual ISP support/BT fault/submitting speed tests routine and although I was able to demonstrate the appalling line speed, I ultimately came up empty handed. The only remaining option was to have BT send an engineer to perform tests at my house, with the risk of being charged 150 GBP if they found nothing wrong, but since I know my line is noisy, I can hear it pop and crackle and scratch with just a phone plugged in, no DSL equipment, I was pretty confident. My man turned up, and he was an incredibly nice guy, but couldn’t find any problems. As I explained the now ceased business line didn’t have any of the problems with the same equipment that my residential line had, he simply went to the exchange and switched the cables over, probably in no officially recorded way, meaning that my residential line was now running over the cables which served the business line. I led a happy life from then on.

That was until about 2 weeks ago when I came home to find a parking fine, a card telling me to submit a gas meter reading or get an estimated bill and some unrelated alarming news which I had to share with my parents. As freephone numbers aren’t free from a mobile phone, I picked up my otherwise unused land-line to call the parking and gas people. I never use my landline for anything other than calling numbers which cost more from a mobile and for receiving calls from people who don’t have mobile phone contracts (ie my mother), everybody else uses my mobile number. My landline had no dial tone so I reported a fault with BT. I got a call a day or so afterwards to tell me that they had done some tests from outside of my property and have fixed the fault. I got home and still had no dial-tone, so I called the engineer back, I explained that I had 2 lines in my house and that an engineer had previously switched the wires at the exchange as I’d had so many problems, he said this probably explained the hassle they had finding the fault and asked me to try the other line, I did and I had a dial-tone, so I was back on the old residential line and my ADSL problems have returned. At this point, I’ve had to disconnect my telephone so I’m able to use the Internet. I have the same problems with 3 different phones and 3 different routers ad nauseum.

After the issues became pretty acute over the weekend, I called BT yesterday morning to discuss the issue with them. The wiring outside my house, from the telegraph pole to the box at the end of the road and from there on to the exchange is almost certainly pretty old, probably anywhere between 20 and 50 years old, I think my house was built in the 1920’s. Since the cable from my house to the pole and the master socket had been replaced about 18 months ago and my equipment has no problems on the other line, I’m pretty sure there’s something wrong with the cabling between the pole and the exchange for my residential line. As I said, with just a phone plugged in, my line is really noisy, at bad times, I can barely hear the person on the other end.

I wanted to explain the issue to them and have them conclude to either do something about the cabling, put somebody with some technical understanding on the case to diagnose the cause of the problems or otherwise just decide that they would solve the problem by moving my line officially from the residential line to what was my business line.

The person who answered put me through to customer services in India. I personally have no problem with Indian call centre workers, but I was relieved to be put through to support in the UK as I find Indian call centres to have a lot of background noise, making the person on the other end hard to hear and the accents difficult to understand. The next person I spoke to refused repeatedly to allow me to explain the issue and said that he couldn’t understand what my issue had to do with my phone line. At least twice I asked him if he would stop interrupting me and allow me to explain the issue, when he didn’t I explained that I was getting pretty annoyed with him and the fourth time I put the phone down. He called back twice, the first time, I ignored it because I was still simmering, the second I answered it as I’d calmed down a little, I realised that he would keep calling and that I wouldn’t get anywhere without speaking to him. He said that he was sorry but we seem to have gotten cut off for some reason, I bluntly told him that I had put the phone down on him because he kept interrupting me. No doubt I now have a ‘rude or difficult customer’ mark on my customer records.

After allowing me to cut to the chase and explain that I can’t use my phone because it makes the Internet go off and I need the Internet more than the phone, he put me through to another support department. I briefly explained the problem and given my problems describing the nature of the issue with the last person, I said that ultimately I would like to move my residential line to use the wiring which served the business line I once had. The lady explained that it would cost 122.50 GBP. Why? The wiring is already here. I already know that from a technical point of view all they need to do is switch the wires at the exchange, they just have to record it in their systems too. I think at this point, I used the word ridiculous and asked whether it was a joke about 3 times each. The lady explained that it was a standard charge. I asked who it was standard to, I was pretty sure that it was standard only to BT, which makes it not standard at all, but proprietary to BT. She didn’t answer, she just asked whether I wanted to go ahead, I said no. She said that for ADSL problems I would have to speak to my ISP, since my ISP wasn’t BT. I neglected to point that out that I had repeatedly done so as I was still pretty much flabbergasted.

The problem is you see, for the benefit of people from outside of the UK, that in the old days, BT built and ran the telephone network and were owned by the UK government. In the 1980’s, the ruling Conservative party government, headed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher decided to modernise Britain by privatising most of the government run utilities, like the gas, electric and phone companies, to increase competition and thus performance and no doubt to wrestle political power away from the workers’ unions which generally funded and proivided the backbone of support for the main opposition party, Labour. Despite privatisation, BT still own the telecommunications network almost exclusively, a few other companies set up their own networks, but none of them took off. Mercury Communications was the most notable but was eventually absorbed into it’s parent company, Cable and Wireless. In the 1990’s a separate telecoms industry developed, using cable technology, headed primarily by Telewest an NTL which has since bought Cable and Wireless. BT still had an almost complete stranglehold on the traditional PSTN/copper wire telephone network and dial-up Internet connections. Though you can get dial-up and more recently ADSL from any number of companies, your supplier would still be supplying you with a connection from BT Wholesale since BT own all of the exchanges. Your alternative would be to use cable from whichever supplier covered your area. A few years ago, Telewest, with it’s consumer broadband division since re-branded as Blueyonder, bought NTL and the combined company was then bought up by Virgin to become Virgin Media.

Still with me? Ultimately that means BT still own all of the copper telephone network and you either get ADSL from them via a reseller or you get cable. Since I live just outside the cable area, literally by about a mile or 2, cable is no option for me and 3G Internet is still extortionately expensive for such an unsuitably small bandwidth allowance which I could blow in a busy evening, I’m stuck with a BT phone line and an ADSL connection from BT Wholesale. In any case, I’m in a 3G dead spot. The problem with BT is that they are a telephone company and their ‘bailiwick’, to quote an American phrase, is the phone network, they were caught completely unaware by the explosion of the Internet and then broadband, even today, they are still catching up. The long vaunted BT 21CN (21st Century Network), which will bring fibre to the home, is still about 18 months away from being enabled in my area and 21CN doesn’t support IPv6 (yet). So long as your phone works, they don’t care. The Internet is a secondary service. If the Internet doesn’t work, they don’t care unless your phone doesn’t work either. For Internet problems, you have to go to your ISP, who have to go to BT.

A few years ago Ofcom, the UK communications watchdog, nailed BT to the cross and told them to allow other companys to access the telephone exchanges to install their own equipment. The result is what is known as Local Loop Unbundling or LLU. LLU providers are generally quicker to market with newer ADSL technologies than BT Wholesale, consequently LLU providers have been doing 24 Mb ADSL 2+ for a couple of years while I think BT are only just rolling it out. Sadly my exchange is supplied by only 2 LLU providers, none of which do static IP addresses, which as an IT professional I need (I have firewall rules and host servers at home and so on). In any case, my ISP offered to upgrade me to a 24Mb service and then told me my existing line wouldn’t support it, though my former business line would, so officially, I can’t use 24 Mb, unbundled or not.

So, to boil all of this down:

  • On my existing line, my phone and ADSL connection are not usable at the same time.
  • BT won’t fix the problem because they won’t investigate it any further than they already have and my phone line is capable of making phone calls, which means their network works in their eyes. The Internet is unimportant and they’re not going to replace the stretch of cabling between my telegraph pole and the box at the end of the road or my exchange, just for me.
  • My ADSL provider can’t fix the problem since it just gets forwarded to BT.
  • Since BT don’t care, I have to diagnose the problems myself.
  • I can’t get cable.
  • 3G is too expensive, the bandwidth limit is too low to make it an option (around £30 for 5 GB per month) and I live in a 3G dead spot.

This leaves me with 4 choices:

  1. Pay 122.5 GBP  to BT to switch the phone lines over, probably pay my ISP for the migration too.
  2. Get rid of my BT line and try to use 3G instead.
  3. Pay thousands to get a leased line.
  4. Move house.

Not too much to choose from there since 2, 3 and 4 are completely out of the question. I recall reading somewhere else, that since the rollout of ADSL, ordinary people have had to become experts in telecommunications and PPP protocols just to be able to argue with their ISP and BT about their service problems. Never been more true and I’m technically minded. No doubt, housewives across the land with useless ADSL connections are just getting ushered quietly away and told that it’s not BT’s fault.

BT are slowly moving towards replacing parts the existing copper network with ‘fibre to the home’, or at least to the box on the end of the street, something which should have been done 5 years ago, top cable speeds are currently double the ADSL 2+ top speeds and maybe 8 or 9 times that of the fastest ADSL Max product which are notoriously advertised at up to a theoretical 8Mb, which as we know, nobody can ever get. Virgin Media are now trialling 200 Mb/s cable. It’s not all rosy on cable though, Virgin Media’s support are widely reputed to be dreadful and their network management techniques are equally questionable.

My apologies for making you sit through all of this boring drivel, I just need somebody to rant at, almost as much as I need somebody at BT to help solve the issue. I think another call to my ISP and to BT is in order.

UPDATE 15/07/2009: It turns out that when you cancel a telephone line with BT, for a residential line they ‘close’ the line, but leave the equipment connected at the exchange. For a business line, they ‘cease’ it and disconnect any equipment at the exchange. The cost of reconnecting a former business line is therefore the same as installing a new telephone line, which means I don’t save money by simply asking for a new 3rd telephone line altogether.

My existing ISP charge £46 for a migration, though they would consider waiving it should I agree to minimum contract period.

Linux on Dell Laptops – Don’t Press the MediaDirect Button

I’ve been pulling late nights at work on and off for around 4 or 5 days. Last night was one such night. Upgrades and updates dragged into the night with me waiting on standby to go in and do my thing. My thing started around 2 hours later than planned and I got to bed pretty late. Straight from the computer screen I found it hard to get to sleep and it took maybe another hour to get to sleep. 3 hours later, with the work continuing, somebody triggered our monitoring system and I blearily stumbled out of bed to attend to the triggered alarm and see what the fuss was about. Unsteady on my feet I reached in the dark for the the power button on my stupidly large and heavy Dell XPS M1710 laptop, overbalanced slightly and instead pushed what felt like a smaller button, but the machine powered on all the same.

What I got instead of the Grub bootloader and Ubuntu’s pretty usplash boot screen was something light blue in colour and Windows like, telling me it was scanning for media files, then a Grub boot error appeared behind it, which looks pretty weird in a Windows environment.

Thankfully, somebody else beat me to the monitoring alert but what they didn’t do while dealing with the alert was recover my laptop’s partition layout and all of my files. That would have been hard for them to be honest as my laptop’s filesystem isn’t monitored by work’s monitoring system as you might expect, so perhaps they could be forgiven.

Now, someone had told me that they made the same mistake doing almost exactly the same thing, blundering around, all half-asleep in the dark. I won’t say who that is, it wouldn’t be fair, though the person in question happened to be at a developer summit for a very popular Linux distribution at the time and the following morning, had one of the company employees, who worked on the development of the kind of low-level tools used when dealing with this kind of thing to take a look. MediaDirect had destroyed his partition table, thankfully however, the dev was able to do all sorts of crazy shit and put his partition table back how it was before. I don’t have a dev who can do crazy partition table shit and neither do you.

Put simply, the Dell MediaDirect button, when used to power on your machine will delete any non-Windows (FAT or NTFS) partitions and replace them with a Windows partition which is like an instant-on media player, similar to the instant-on Linux system you can get on some Dells. That’s even though I completely blew away the entire pre-installed Windows OS, including the pre-installed MediaDirect partition, repartitioned and installed my own operating system. MediaDirect is installed in a protected part of the disk, called the Host-Protected Area (HPA), which can’t easily be wiped by you or I, but in any case, it’s too late, my partitions are fragged. When booted into Ubuntu, the MediaDirect button starts your media player of choice, that’s Rhythmbox for me, Banshee always falls over on importing my music collection. Sadly I assume the instant-on Linux feature won’t delete Windows partitions…

Thankfully, I rsynced my home directory to my new HP server about a week and a half ago and I haven’t really created/edited/downloaded any new files in that time, I’ve just done a lot of console work. My Firefox bookmarks are synced with Foxmarks, all of my personal mail is done over IMAP on my own remote mail server and all of my files, minus a few small edits, are on the home server.

This story has 2 morals:

  1. Make backups more often than you already do. If you do none, then just doing it once will be better than nothing. My having backups, despite being a sysadmin, is more to do with the good fortune of having just purchased a home server and rsyncing my files to it so I could sync my laptops against it, rather than against each other and then have various versions of the sames files; and so I could play my music files without having to carry the heavy laptop around the house, than it does about good planning and regular backups. Do a backup today or do it tomorrow if you can’t do it today.
  2. Don’t press the MediaDirect button when you want to power on your Dell laptop which has Linux installed. I believe the problem doesn’t exist when Linux is pre-installed, Dell thought of this at that point, but it doesn’t help you if you purchased a Windows laptop and installed Linux either in a dual-boot, or as the only OS.

I don’t yet know of a way to disable the MediaDirect button’s action, but I do have some good news. I managed to recover my partition layout while I was writing this post. I was searching Google for ‘Ubuntu Dell MediaDirect’, which seems to be so common that Google Suggest suggests it and I came across this Ubuntu Forums thread and used the second set of instructions in this post to recover my partition table. Essentially, you boot from an Ubuntu live CD, modify your apt-sources.list and install testdisk, tap Proceed a few times until it shows you your original partition layout and then you save it. Thank fuck for the guy that wrote teskdisk, the guy who wrote the forum post and the guy who told him how to do it. Major kudos to those guys, I now hand that knowledge over to you in case you should ever need it. I just have to find a way of turning off that insane MediaDirect power on function.

Thankfully, in my middle-of-the-night blind stupour, I had the presence of mind to power the machine off as soon as I realised that it was doing something bad that I didn’t understand, even though I was still too half-asleep to understand why I thought it might be bad. That bit of instinctive reaction stopped MediaDirect writing files over the top of my existing files, even though it ate the partition table. Had I left it much longer, I might not have so many files left.

More details about HPA here. Testdisk home page here for all your partition recovery needs. How much would you have to pay for the equivalent Windows tool? Free Software saves lives, for me at least.

Belkin Are Shit

Flush from the success of Windows is shit and O2 are shit, I thought I should tell you Belkin are shit.

My dad bought a Linksys WAG54g wireless ADSL modem and router like mine, so my mother can use the Internet downstairs again now that I’ve left with all my network equipment. I set it all up, secured it and wrote out detailed instructions on how it works, what the terminology means, what the settings do etc and went home only to get a call later that evening saying she couldn’t get on the net. So I half mumbled some stuff down the phone and left them to get on with it, only to find out a few days later that they hadn’t got it to work, so the next weekend I went down to set it up again. It had occured to me that maybe it was configured per user on the Windows machine so I set about setting it up for each user. Strangely however, it seemed that the settings were correct, but just not enabled or something, so I did various checks and applies and reboots etc, only for the thing to continue to work as my user and not for anyone else. The ‘Enable radio’ button wouldn’t enable radio.

Then after getting pissed off I realised that I was an admin and everybody else was a normal user, so I bumped my mother’s user up to admin and tried again – it worked. Cool. Only I’d set everyone up as a normal user for a reason to stop them changing anything they don’t understand, my niece particularly, being 6, likes to whizz the mouse around while clicking the mouse furiously, which often leads to scrambled icons, opened programs and destroyed settings. So I decided to get the latest drivers for the wireless card, obviously you shouldn’t need to be an administrator to use a network card. Oh fucking yes you do. If you use Belkin cards you do. To be honest, I’ve always been the admin of every machine I’ve used, so maybe that’s common to many cards and drivers and I’ve never noticed, but what a fucking stupid idea. The whole point of levels of user authority is to prevent people who don’t know what they’re doing from things they shouldn’t be doing. There were no driver updates, so I had to set every user to be an administrator to get on the net. That’s shit. Sure I could have faffed around in the registry or something looking for the magic key to let normal users use the device, but I’m not going to spend an hour on Google looking for shit about Windows.

Man alive, Belkin are shit. Allegedly.

(As a side note for the lawyers out there, I’m happy to tell the world that Belkin are great and listen to their customers if you get your programmers to fix this ridiculous situation).

O2 are Shit

I discovered today that O2 can’t tell their arse from their elbow.

It took their struggling billing department monkey 30 minutes to conclude that he couldn’t find out what my call tariff costs are. What? The fucking billing department don’t have access to my tariff information. What’s that all about? 30 minutes, no doubt on a premium call rate.

All I wanted to know was the cost of data calls when using the built in modem on my handset via my laptop, the cost of GPRS calls, the cost of calls from my mobile while in the Netherlands to a UK O2 mobile and vice versa and to make sure that International Roaming was enabled on my contract.

To be fair to the guy on the other end, he was kinda new and his system for some insane reason didn’t have the title of my phone tafiff with a button next to it that told him what my call charges were. Surely thats a basic principle of database design – the linking of relevent information for presentation in simple reports.

Nor could he issue a letter or leaflet telling me what my call charges are. Isn’t that insane? Why not? Isn’t it a common customer request? My tariff is 2 and a half years old and I can’t remember what they are, but damn, why can’t they do that? Why don’t the billing department have the relevent call charges at their fingertips? Surely thats one of the main things people want to know from a billing department.

After 30 minutes the guy came back from the data services department to tell me that GPRS calls are 12 pence per minute, data calls using the modem are 35 pence per minute, but when using the mobile phone modem with a laptop the calls cost £2.35 per megabyte. Eh? Whats the difference whether I use the modem to make a data call from the handset itself or use a laptop and a bluetooth connection to phone to use the modem.

Let me clarify, I need to be able to use a dial-up modem connection in the event that one of the servers at work goes down and I need to SSH in to have a look at the problem. I could be anywhere, I could be in the middle of the woods but still have my mobile phone and a notebook. How does it make any difference to O2 whether I dial straight from the phone or use the laptop to dial using the phone modem.

I know I’m repeating myself but I find this contradictory information frustrating. Either that or there is some vital piece of information that I have missed. I’m not a mobile technology expert to be honest.

Fucking O2 are shit and it probably cost me £30 if not £45 to find out. I hope this turns into a google bomb.

Fixing my PC with initrd

Fucking hell.

So as people might know (hell, I’ve complained about it enough), my main workstation broke down. Removed all of the components from the board and no difference. So it was either the CPU or the motherboard itself. I put all of the parts into another machine and it ran fine.

Well I have work to do and I need Windows for some of it and I don’t have a spare machine good enough to play some of my games, which meant I needed a new motherboard and/or CPU. After some faffing I spotted a tiny burnt out component on the board so I took pot luck and bought a new Socket A motherboard that fitted the bill as closely as I could find at short notice. Seems most people aren’t stocking many Socket A boards these days as everyone is moving on to bigger and better things, but being skint as usual I decided it was better to just buy a replacement board than a replacement machine while I wait for 64 bit support, PCIE and ATI graphics etc to be known to work well together. Not much point in buying a 32 bit machine now when I would have upgraded to 64 bit next year anyway.

So I bought a board with SATA as I need the extra disk channels. I have 3 PATA disks, one for Windows which needs to go on hda, my Linux system disk which needs to go on the SATA controller as my other disk, my enormous Linux /home doesn’t work with the SATA converter I have and so needs to go on hdb. I also have 2 optical drives which of course need to go on the other PATA channel.

So, I install Windows and I boot from a live CD to alter the grub and /etc/fstab settings accordingly. All works fine. Nice boot menu, Windows boots fine. Try to boot Linux. Umm. No. pivot_root error and can’t find initrd. Shit. But it works fine on hda. Try all possible permutations of disks and controllers, but one always fails.

So I post to Wolves LUG mailing list about whether I will be attending the meeting and say I won’t as I’ve been fixing my PC and I need to get it up and running but the SATA controller is being an arse and Linux can’t boot from it. Dave Goodwin pops up and offers some advice. I follow through and explain what I have done so far and he says do this:

You should just need to do the following to “fix” your problem :

Edit /etc/mkinitrd/modules and add in the sata modules necessary for your card, as well as probably scsi_mod and sd_mod. (Just list the modules, one per line).

Then, try running :

mkinitrd -o /boot/mkinitrd.img.custom `uname -r`

(Where the output of `uname -r` looks pretty like 2.6.10-5-K7.

Edit /boot/grub/menu.lst (or edit it at bootup) and get it to use your new custom image, and cross your fingers 🙂

And it worked. Gawd bless him. I’m so grateful to him for picking this up. I was expecting to spend the rest of my days swapping disks over to do any work. It took me a week of testing and diagnosing to get this far and probably 3 weeks before that of working out where the problem lay and getting a spare machine to work on.

Life can now continue, but what a ball ache.

I Hope You Die

If you are one of the useless, clueless, tasteless, know-nothing wankers that buys these things, which means they can afford to waste my life with their horrifically irritating TV adverts up to twice per 3 minute break.

Really. I hope you die of the most horrendous, agonising ass cancer that your God can produce. Really.

Beloved Mailing List Frustration

I’ve been growing disconcerted recently with the Wolves LUG mailing list, the lifeline of our LUG. We have a growing amount of new people which is always good, but we also have a small number of people that persistently post rubbish. Some of the new people got annoyed at the amount of posts and suggested a forum as an alternative. Thats not an unusual thing to suggest by new people, but being new to the list and list culture, they didn’t really understand the way things work on a list and consequently flooded the list with repeated statements of the same points which ended up in several near flame wars. Personally, I was probably a little hot-headed in my approach to the issue of list flooding (JUST STOP!) but also quite reasoned I thought on the forum debate.

Essentially, I put the issue down to the large amount of useless and meandering non-technical discussion that has been increasing steadily over the last 6 months. Many of the large contributors to the list have backed away almost completely from posting on there and have noted that the list is ‘a bit shit these days’. I also put it down to the really bad readability of some of the posts on the list. About a year ago, one newish poster got a serious roasting for repeatedly ignoring direct personal requests to adhere to some kind of readable posting format and he responded in an equally volatile way. After some consideration and some reconciliation, the flamed party saw the sense between the flames and became reformed and the flamer became quite good friends with his flamee. As a side effect of this we became more tolerant towards poor email technique, html posters and top posters were politely asked not to do so, but we let most other things slide.

We’ve always prided ourselves in the fun side of the list and always been proud of not being a dry, technical list. Jokes and banter have always made up a large part of the discussion. However in recent times, the not so funny jokes and unproductive chatter have begun to drown out the useful technical stuff and the witty repartee has disappeared with most of the long-time list members.

So now we find ourselves in a situation where the list is full of crap, I could quite happily killfile a small but prolific number of people there and I’ve gone from reading every email on the list to deleting 75% of it on arrival. It’s a sad way to be. With the silence of most of the people that used to use the list I’ve found myself filling in with a lot of the technical assistance, but this recent row was too much for me. I lay awake all night thinking about how to temper the poor state of the list content with the unintentional and likely to be repeated bollocking that got given out to an unwittingly naive poster with appalling list etiquette. I wrote out several different mental replies to the recipient of my wrath after he complained that such attitudes to new people, not just by me, would put people off both us and Linux, which is a terrible thing to happen. As he stated, idiots can use any operating system, which runs directly parallel to what I was thinking, that bad manners aren’t operating system dependent, but nevertheless, he pissed me off for his bad manners and we responded by giving him and some other new people a terrible impression of Linux people.

As I said, I lay awake trying to verbalise my feelings about his and others’ bad etiquette, our reactionary response and the solution to this continual problem. In my flame I had said that we can all help stop people feeling overwhelmed by making our posts more readable and not meandering way off the point within a thread, leaving several different strands of the same thread talking about different things. I also pointed that he had arrived in the middle of a large technical thread and a large number of other heavily discussed non-technical threads. His lack of a threaded email client, the unusually high traffic of the list in the few days since his arrival and the lack of readable threads meant he felt overwhelmed and thought a forum would help. Mostly people disagreed but his continual flooding of the list, saying the same thing pissed me off. The solution is, in my opinion, better readability, less drivel, better manners on his part and more tolerance on mine. But I said that and the problem of useless posting persists. It’s strange how I’ve gone from enjoying the off topic posting to hating it. It used to be funny or useful and now it’s neither.

Anyway I’ve trying to formulate all of this into a post that would be readable on the list in such a way that people would stand up and take notice, rather than fan the flames of the ill-feeling. Instead I’ve just decided to stop posting there altogether for the time being and delete most of what is posted without reading it. I will in the future, read the new technical threads and post assistance where I can help, but for now I just don’t care to read or post. At the moment, the content of the list isn’t worth the effort of writing something like that.

This is of course just my disappointed and slightly reactionary opinion. I feel bad for saying this publicly as I know it will appear on Planet Wolves and for not saying something on the list itself, which may appear cowardly (it’s an effort and aggro thing, not fear of conflict). Some people will agree and some won’t, but I really care a lot about the LUG and particularly the mailing list as the primary source of our community spirit and the publicly archived version of our shared knowledge. I’d hate to think that people might read our archives and think we talk a load of rubbish and don’t actually know anything useful.

Whatever you think I welcome your opinions either as comments or as private emails, though don’t expect me to go into it with you if you start to rant about how wrong I am. I’m looking for a solution to how we can make things better without ramming etiquette or ‘stick to technical discussion only’ down people’s throats.

All Soundblasters are not equal

Recent readers will know that I bought a new Creative Labs Soundblaster Live soundcard as they seem to be very well supported under Linux, in a bid to finish this goddam Ubuntu jingle for LUG Radio. Well it arrived today and guess what? It doesn’t work properly under Linux at the moment.

It seems that there are two Soundblaster Lives and they use different chipsets. The older 5.1 is known to work perfectly under Linux using the emu10k1 kernel module and the newer 24 bit 7.1 card doesn’t (the numbers refer only to the number of surround sound speakers, not a versioning process like software release numbers).

Before I bought the card I checked the ALSA website which says here that the Soundblaster Live is supported by the emu10k1 module. I also searched Google for Linux support and read this. Sounds fine I thought at the time.

Until it didn’t work. After searching the Ubuntu forums for the SB Live, I read this thread which points out that the new 24 bit SB Live 7.1 uses a different chipset to the SB Live 5.1 and in fact uses the audigyls module which isn’t entirely working and also only available in v1.06 or above of ALSA, which isn’t available in Ubuntu yet. Why is it you only find this stuff after you buy it?

It also seems that the 24 bit 7.1 card is a piece of shit anyway. Rather than do onboard hardware mixing, it palms it off to the system CPU do do all the work and it is this that has made the driver slower to develop as they had to work out how to do this. Now I know that modern computers like mine are powerful enough to handle this, but would you be happy with a software modem if you were expecting a hardware one? Nowhere in the product spec does it say this.

So I had 3 choices:

  • Upgrade to Ubuntu Hoary
  • Compile the latest version of ALSA myself
  • Or forget it and buy a SB Live 5.1

I don’t fancy upgrading to Hoary as I have yet to hear if it works with the version of ALSA in Hoary. I prefer to stick with a stable version of Ubuntu now I’ve moved over full-time.

I don’t fancy moving to a compiled version ALSA as this means I will have to work out how to put the packaged versions of ALSA on hold in apt and risk making a mess of the sound system by compiling it myself.

So I wimped out and found a 5.1 from Scan for £10 or so. Thats something I could really do without to be honest. It cost me £26 or so for the first card at a time when I’ve just found out I am £3 overdrawn and have no money coming in until early April. I had to transfer money off my credit card to cover my bills for the next 6 weeks.

Well, I’ve made a big noise about this jingle now, I seem to be getting some decent traffic because of it, especially when I was linked by Jeff Waugh on Planet Gnome, Planet Debian and Planet Ubuntu. Also I told the LUG Radio guys about it nearly 6 weeks ago and they having been waiting for it ever since. I’ve had quite a few people post comments about it too so I now feel some kind of responsibility to produce something. God help me if it’s shit…

Don’t know what I’m going to do with the SB Live 7.1 just yet. I might try to sell it on ebay or something to see if I can make some money back, or I might keep it and see if a) it works under Hoary and b) if it is actually a better quality card than the 5.1 despite the hardware mixing cop-out.

One day I will learn that knowledge of Linux hardware support is not innate, nor is it as simple as it looks from a kernel perspective. The ALSA people are doing their job (although it would be nice of them to state that the 7.1 is actually a variant of the Audigy LS and not a variant of the SB Live as the name suggests, by listing the 5.1 and 7.1 separately), but it seems Creative have named the 7.1 based on where it fits into their range and not on what chipset it uses.



After reading a lot of threads about this problem I filed a bug against the ALSA website to get them to point out that the 24 bit SB Live 7.1 uses the audigyls driver and to ask them to specify that the 5.1 and 24 bit 7.1 are different as it just said that the SB Live uses the emu10k1 driver, so as to prevent other drowning souls in the various support forums around the world from buying the wrong card. They have since updated the site to reflect this. Good of them to research this and actually do it.

Of course Hoary is now out and the 7.1 should be supported, but I have yet to open my box and swap the 7.1 in to check…

Why are mobile phones so complicated to buy?

I need a new mobile phone (thats cell phone for non Brits ;)). I’ve never been too bothered about having the lastest, greatest phone as my miserly student finances can’t afford it and my needs are modest. I normally keep a phone for 2 to 3 years, however after about 2 years, my phone is getting a bit flaky and storing all my numbers in phone memory instead of the SIM memory and then at christmas, with no warning it ‘remembered’ all of the numbers I’ve ever deleted so I then had about 2 or 3 numbers for quite a few people. Its also a bit out dated now, monochrome screen, ZX Spectrum style ring tones etc…

So I would like a new phone. Colour screen, polyphonic ring tones and camera are pretty much par for the course these days so I’m not going to save money by not having those, besides I want them. Java games I’m not bothered about, data storage is nice, an MP3 player and radio maybe but not critical. Picture/video messaging I probably won’t use much, but a camera that can save video clips I will. Some kind of Linux interoperability would be nice too (recommendations gratefully received).

Well, getting a phone isn’t a problem. Most retailers will give you the phone for nothing with a pay monthly contract these days unless you want the hottest, newest phone. What is baking my brain is the call time deals.

For example:

Random cool phone handset, free. 200 free anytime, any network minutes. 200 text messages free for the first 6 months, £6 per month after the first 6 months (may be cancelled after the first 3 months). Line rental £5 per month for the first 6 months, charged at £15 per month with the difference rebated at the end of the first 6 months provided you return your rebate claim form within 30 days of the end of the initial 6 month period. £15 per month for the second 6 months, charged at £30 per month with the difference rebated at the end of the second 6 months provided you return your rebate form within 30 days of the end of the second 6 month period. Line rental is £30 per month thereafter, based on a minimum 18 month contract period.

This is a pretty standard mobile phone contract tarriff in the UK, though £5 per month is among the lowest deals around at the moment, but with more expensive contracts, the terms are normally the same. If you want a new phone without a contract then you are paying a few hundred pounds for a handset.

I just want an affordable phone contract without the hassle. For this reason I am staying put with my perfectly reasonably priced contract, although the call restrictions on call time (500 mins per month after 7pm til 7am and all weekend) and cross network calls (50 mins per month after 7pm til 7am and all weekend), plus 100 free text messages for £20 per month, is a little inconvenient. The cross network and pre 7pm calls are what cost me more than I can afford as a penniless student. Thats why I’m looking at these ‘Cool new camera phone’ and £5 per month for 6 months with free anytime any network calls, as I will be able to afford it in 6 months when I have finished uni and the charges go up. Charge me £15 or £20 flat fee for 12 months minimum with 200 cross network minutes and 200 text messages and I’m yours. Make me fill in forms, pay extra, get it rebated, have the price go up in stages, then fuck you.

I would go on Pay as You Go, but that would mean I would never be able to afford to call anyone ever.

What the fuck is going on?

Windows is hard to use

I’ve barely used Windows in the last few months and now I have my laptop back I’m stuck with Windows on it until I can sort the crap restore partition thingy out and install Linux.

It’s struck me how hard Windows is to maintain. The amount of calls I get when people explode their Windows installations definitely supports this theory. I have a fresh installation. First thing I do is head to Windows Update and install all of the updates and patches. Then I install Firefox, a firewall and anti-virus. Then I update them. Then I install Microsoft Office (I will be moving to on Windows when I am more comfortable with it. By this time I may have finished uni and won’t be using Windows at all). Then I update it.

Then I install all of the million apps you need to make Windows do anything useful. Real Player and it’s horrible ad laden bulkiness, Quick Time, Acrobat Reader and all of the other things I never use. An adware remover.

I think adware and spyware are the biggest threats to Windows users at the moment. I watched a video clip the other day that showed a malicious website installing such malware with no visible output to the user and certainly no asking the user if they wanted to install the software. The guy showed the Program Files directory before and after to show the new software installed. I don’t care if XP Service Pack 2 makes you have Automatic Updates turned on, in my experience people just tell it to fuck off when it tells them that there are updates to install. Just booting into Windows and getting prompted to check all these things for updates is a pain in the arse, so much so that I’d prefer not to use it and the rest of the world have no interest in learning about why they should care, let alone actually doing this, which is why my phone keeps ringing with people complaining that porn and adverts keep popping up and why I get emailed viruses all the time. I have tried explaining it to them…

Windows takes too much looking after and ordinary people are overwhelmed. Even I, as a techincally minded individual think Windows is a hideous, uncomfortable, over-complicated beast that drains me of energy to use. Linux, in my case Ubuntu is a case of hitting reload in Synaptic and then Mark All Updates then Apply or whatever. To install stuff, hit search, find your package and choose install. Imagine having all the Windows software you might possibly want to use in a searchable list with an install button next to each one and an update button to get the latest version of everything you have installed, all at once.

But people want Windows. I think this is mainly due to the PR thing. Like people saying they want a ‘Pentchinum 4’ because they’ve seen it on the the TV and their friends have one. I think if Linux were more able to play MP3’s, DVD movies, Real, Quicktime, DivX, XVid and so on multimedia formats out of the box, then the only real reason to use Windows would be for games. But if thats all you want a computer for then buy a console. But try explaing that to people…

I really must get around to testing Ubuntu on an innocent bystander.

A Perfect World?

Is it the nature of being computer people that makes us frustrated by real world inanimate objects’ refusal to do what we ask of them and means we are also the only people in the world that actually know how to follow instructions and put things like furniture or toys together?

I know Jono feels like this. Ask him about having to move his cooker with the broken door that refused to stay closed when he was moving house.

Inanimate objects drive me to distraction. They’re sooooo fucking stupid. I think this might be to do with the fact that I spend all day interacting with an idealised abstraction of a real world environment which behaves in the same way all the time. You can’t drop something on the floor when you remove the item that was on top of it from the fridge when you’re using a computerised environment, that kind of clumsiness is already taken care of for you. If this were going to happen, you would probably get a nice little warning message asking if you really want to drop the chicken on the floor, or leave it in the fridge. I believe Jono calls such idiotic objects ‘infidels’.

I also thought over Christmas that I was the only person in my house that knows how to follow assembly instructions for new furniture or my neice’s toys. My mum just gives up at the point electricity becomes involved, especially when she has to unplug something to plug the new thing in. Not for her to follow cables to see where they go, no. My dad is pretty good at putting stuff together but he is easily misled. I seem to be the only one who can do stuff like this without getting confused. I wonder whether this is also to do with my computerised existence. I spend a lot of time reading howtos, man pages, walkthroughs and so on.

Are we living in an overly perfected world that makes real life frustrating?

Laptop Update

So, regular readers (heh ;)) will know about my Tiny laptop saga. Well despite their 7-10 working day return time, 4 weeks from the day theI logged the fault call, I got my laptop back. And well, it’s great. Nice new keyboard and the processor fan doesn’t make the whirring, clipping sound it did the last time they changed it, so, all cool.

Except that after twice phoning me and telling me Windows needed to be replaced at the cost of ~£60 which I refused, they installed Windows XP Home anyway. Weird. It hasn’t shown up on my invoice or bank statement so it looks like they just did it anyway. We like free stuff :D. The fact that it’s Windows makes it less pleasurable, but well it now means I have a spare Windows license to put on something, which isn’t such a great thing, but at least I have it if I really need to.

When I logged the fault call they asked me for my Windows license key and I said I didn’t know because I had to wipe it. I forgot that the Windows sticker was on the underside so they must have just banged a new copy on and used my old license key. Why didn’t they just do this before instead of trying to charge me for it? Bastards.

Well, anyway, so now I’m back to square one. I have a copy of Windows on my laptop and want to put Linux, more specifically Ubuntu on it. I still need Windows to do some uni work and would prefer to use the copy already on there. So I’m back to this irretrievable partition problem. I think I’ll just set up the Windows installation how I want it, then Ghost the partition and use it to write the partition back after I wipe the disk and repartition.

Let the day soon be that I no longer need Windows…

I’m watching the Brit Awards…

I’m going out in a minute but I’m watching the Brit Awards (the British music awards).

Best British Rock Band…

Surely I can’t be the only person in the world that is able to recognise the fact that Franz Ferdinand are shit.

Can I?

At least it wasn’t The Darkness. Ugh.

Fucking robbing bastards!

Don’t buy a computer from Time or Tiny Computers, now also known as The Computer Shop. For those of you outside of the UK, the above companies are part of the same group and are high street PC retailers, peddling generic build family PCs.

About 3 years ago I was looking for a laptop PC to make life easier while studying my Computer Science degree. I searched and searched for the best deal I could. I somewhat naively bought a laptop from Tiny Computers for around £900 which was the best deal at the time. I also paid for an extended 3 year warranty and a PCMCIA network card.

So within 2 weeks of my purchase Tiny went bust and were bought up by Time as they essentially occupied the same market. I still got my laptop and despite being under no legal obligation to honour the warranty, they did as I paid by finance agreement. Lucky me, all those that paid cash were left high and dry.

Within a month my network card became faulty and after about 8 or 9 calls, I was finally told they wouldn’t replace it. Fucking thanks. Not a biggie though, I bought a better quality and more robust card for £25. Its suddenly struck me though that I didn’t have a copy of the terms and conditions of my warranty agreement. Could I work out how to get one? Not a fucking chance. I got passed from department to department and gave up.

When I got comfortable with the way the machine was set up, I decided it was time to install Linux. The machine came with Windows XP Home preinstalled and no Windows disk. I needed Windows for my uni work. All of the installation was crammed into an inaccessible partition with a recovery CD to drag it out if it went wrong. So I phoned them up. “Hello, I bought my laptop with the intention of dual booting between Windows and Linux, the guy in the shop said it wouldn’t be a problem. I didn’t get a Windows CD, how do I wipe the hard drive and set it up again without a Windows CD? Can I drag out the installation from the hidden partition and put it somewhere, sort out the disk layout and put it back on the first partition?” To which they said no. If I want to install Linux I will have to lose my exisiting Windows installation and buy a new copy of Windows. “This,” I thought to myself, “is why people pirate copies of Windows.”

While on the line I asked another question. “Any chance of a run down of the hardware in the machine? Sound, graphics and motherboard chipsets, screen model and the like? It’s not available through your website or the documentation that came with the machine and the Device Manager just lists generic parts and rebranded part names.” “No.” “Thanks. Remind me to recommend you to my enemies.”

‘Fortunately’ for me, my uni has a deal with MS to offer a free copy of Windows to the Comp Sci students to allow them to produce new generations of Microsoft drones, grateful for what MS gave them when they were penniless students. So thats what I did. Wiped the disk, re-partitioned, installed a copy of Windows from uni and installed Linux. Thanks a fucking bunch Tiny. Good job I had that or it would have cost me £140 or whatever for a new copy of Windows XP.

After a year of owning the machine, the keyboard went haywire and started printing the wrong characters. Not a software problem, the fault exists in Windows and Linux. I phoned them up, they told me to fix it myself. Not too big a problem. They said it would be easier to just open it up and make sure the keyboard ribbon cable was seated correctly. So I did and it didn’t solve the problem so I phoned them up again, told them what I’d done, they started faffing, I started getting irate and they agreed to take it back and fix it for me. They did and charged me for the delivery. Bastards. On-site warranty my arse, free return to base my arse.

3 days after getting it back, the processor fan went and my CPU overheated within 30 minutes so I had to send it back again. Fair enough, this time they just fixed it and sent it back. No delivery charge. All is well except the laptop still runs hot and the fan clicks a little.

Whistle forward a year or so to about a month back. I noticed over christmas that the keyboard was starting to stop responding altogether. I opened it up, checked the cable and it made no difference unless I stretched it out. Obviously a damaged or dying line on the ribbon cable.

So I phoned them up. Explained to my very polite Indian call centre worker at the cost of £10 what my problem was. Indian call centre worker, no problem. 10 fucking quid when I paid for a deal that provided me with a freephone number not fucking cool at all.

So I had to send it back. Expected. My warranty had run out 3 days beforehand, fuck. My bad. Should have got around to it quicker. They would still take it back if I paid for parts, labour and carriage. Umm, well I have to, there is no way I can find the parts manufacturers and buy them myself. Best just to get the company that supplied it to sort it out. Yes ok, I’ll pay. They collected it the next day and said they’d phone with a quote when they had one.

A week later they did. “£160.” “What?” “£160.” “What the fuck for? A keyboard ribbon cable?” “No, a new keyboard, a new processor fan and a new copy of Windows as it is corrupted and thats the problem with the keyboard.”


“Right. First of all, I can’t afford that, I’m a university student. I have £400 to live on for 3 months. A new keyboard fine. A new processor fan? Well, it runs hot, but *you* put it in like that last year and it’s been the same ever since. A new copy of Windows? Not fucking likely. Look, it’s not a software problem, I have Windows and Linux on there and the problem is the same in both. It’s the ribbon cable, probably as a result of the poorly fitted processor fan causing it to run hot and melt the cable which runs just next to it, so you’d better replace that. I’m not paying for a new copy of Windows when I had to hose the one supplied cos the guy in the shop didn’t know what he was on about and I had to get a new copy anyway, which I have right here. Besides which, if the software were the problem, why are you replacing the keyboard?”


“Uhh, ok, I can tell them not to reinstall Windows.” “How much is it now?” “£96.xx” “Better.” So I handed over my credit card details. In truth, I could have argued the toss over the processor fan, given that they fitted it, but it was over a year ago and well I hadn’t complained at the time as I didn’t think it was a problem. “It will be back with you in 7 to 10 days.”

That was about 2 weeks before I had another guy phone up with the £160 quote and the same news. I told him I’d paid and I’d refused a new copy of Windows as I’d already had to get a new copy and besides Windows wasn’t the problem blah blah. So he apologised for the error of the repeat phone call and went away.

3 weeks on from the original fault call, I still don’t have my laptop back. Bastards.

They obviously have a policy of selling a new Windows license to every punter that returns a PC that doesn’t have the supplied version of Windows on it. Thats not fucking on. Besides I already have a copy of Windows and I don’t really use Windows anyway. As soon as I leave uni it will be off all of my machines. The thing is, if my machine only had Linux on it, they would have said that it was a Linux problem and they don’t support Linux so I will have to reinstall Linux or buy a new Windows license from them.

Time, Tiny and The Computer Shop. Thank you for fixing my laptop (I assume you are anyway) after the warranty has expired, but you fucking stink of sweaty, festering, mangey, flea-bitten camel arsehole. Really, you do.

You charged me £10 for the fault call because you moved your call centre to India so you can pay less than minimum wage to cheap third world workers. You build shit laptops that don’t stand up to regular usage and don’t provide any kind of hardware information, even on request. You fixed a keyboard and broke a processor fan. You fucked my machine up before and are charging me for a replacement of the part you didn’t fit properly which also caused another part to fail which you are also charging me to fix. And worst of all, you are charging me for something I don’t need because you thought I didn’t know what I was on about. Good job I do or I’d be 60 something quid worse off than I already am. What do you do with your regular customers that aren’t as technically aware as I am?

I think sloppy customer service from such companies is pretty endemic these days, particularly in the UK and from companies that are used to supporting people that don’t know anything about technical issues, but trying to charge your customers for things they don’t need is taking the piss.

Fucking robbing bastards!

Words of advice for lazy Linux users

Learn to Search the Fucking Web (STFW) and Read the Fucking Manual (RTFM).

Now thats a terrible thing to say, especially to people that literally just stepped straight off the boat as it were. But now some rationalisation.

I’ve been annoyed recently by a few people who asked stupid obvious questions and displayed no effort to help themselves. Information that anyone could find out just by going to the website of the enormously well known software in qustion.

Sure, I’ve not been using Linux so long that I don’t remember my own mistakes, in fact I’m really happy to see they’re not archived any more. I certainly remember my early days when starting out with Linux seemed like staring up the North face of Everest, but having passed that stage I can tell you that there is no little secret that everybody else understands about Linux that you don’t. People that know a lot about how Linux works do so because they have read a lot.

Searching for answers to technical questions is hard when you don’t have the surrounding knowledge of the basic principles of what you have to do, but at least try. You can then say, “Aaah yes, I tried looking at that but couldn’t work out what it meant even after reading the man page, could you explain a little?” You are not expected to know the answers to everything. You are expected to try to help yourself before asking.

These incidents were different, this information was easy to find. Where do you download program xyz? What is the release schedule of distributor abc? Search the fucking web! One of these people is a very competent Linux user.

Now heres the thing. Learn how to help yourself, show some effort, show some etiquette and learn that subject headings like “Help me pleeeeeeeeease!” and “It doesn’t work!” mean nobody is going to help you because people get a lot of mail and they use the subjects to determine whether they can help you or not. If you get no answer it means nobody knows, it doesn’t mean you are getting ignored. Asking again means people might then start ignoring you. If you really need to ask again, do some more work on it yourself and leave it a few days before going back, apologising for repeat posting and explain that you have tried to solve it yourself by doing xyz but you really don’t understand what is wrong or how to fix it.

For a less crass and ill-tempered explanation of these ideas read

How To Ask Questions The Smart Way and

How to Report Bugs Effectively.

Seriously, these are the two most important things a Linux beginner can read. I learnt a lot from these and you learn how to get more help from people.

Next learn how to use google and the man command. To give you a head start, type

man man

at a command prompt.

Learn to do that and you’re already ahead of the game. Show some attempt to help yourself and people will be willing to help you because it shows you have tried to solve the problem yourself but it is beyond your skills. The contents of man pages may baffle the hell out of you for some time but at least you can show you tried and ask for someone to explain it to you.

Don’t forget to go back and thank the people that helped you when you fix something. A quick description of the solution and a thank you will do, it helps people close the issue psychologically.

Learn to trim replies to posts so that people don’t have to wade through acres of unnecessary quotes to read your single line reply. Write your comments below what you are commenting, not above. Top posting as it is called means that people won’t understand what you have written until they read what is below it and they will have to go back and read what was above it for it to make sense. Doing either of these will mean people will become less likely to read your mails as you are showing poor etiquette by making it hard work to help you. Don’t write single line “Yes I agree” posts. It wastes people’s time.

Don’t post anything other than text to a mailing list. Don’t post pages of code or output either. Put them on the web and post a link. Don’t ask people to mail you in private unless it is a sensitive matter and you have at least spoken before. Don’t email people privately with questions.

Also read a little about using the command line. If you can get your head around the ls, cd, mv, cp, man and su commands you are running on full steam. If you can get used to using bash file name autocompletion (type a few letters and use the tab button), command history (use the up and down arrow keys), and the difference between absolute file paths (starting at /) and relative paths (starting in your current directory) you are almost the master of your own universe.

Ok, I’m going to stop now or I could be here for days. Read the above 2 links it will really make a difference and stop you getting torn a new arsehole. Learn to search the web, learn to use man, show some willingness to help yourself, show some etiquette and show some gratitude.