Helping out at an installfest
If, after reading all of the below, you're still interested in coming to help out at an installfest, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: if this will be your first installfest, we'll probably just have you observe.
Typical schedule for an installfest:
- 8:15am (or so):
- People show up for breakfast, wherever that's been decided to be at. This part is optional. All helpers are invited to breakfast. We
might actually talk about some of the upcoming installs, figure out which
helper to assign to which install, etc.
- 9:40am (or so):
- We leave the restaurant and head over to Sonoma State.
- By this time, we should be ready for people to show, since this is when
most of them are scheduled to show up.
- lunchtime. We'll still be running through some installs. We usually get
some pizzas (everybody has to chip in for their share; NBLUG doesn't
have a budget for that kind of thing). Or you can just grab a smoothie at
the cafe next door. Whatever everybody wants to do.
- Most installs should be finishing up by now.
- All installs are done by now. We start putting tables and chairs back
where they were when we got there, etc. If it's *really* important, maybe
an install can go just a few minutes longer.
- No matter how screwed up an install is, we unplug all networking and
power. Really. Even if your machine will be totally unusable when we do
- Police show up to either escort us
out of the building or put us in jail, depending on their mood.
At 10am, we sget into the room and start setting up. At O'Reilly, we'll usually go with a big "U" shape. One table should be set up right next to the
entrance, for the greeter to sit at. As soon as the tables are basically set up, we'll set up the
switches for our internal network.
All networking is DHCP/bootp; we have no static addresses. We'll also
need to run power to the tables.
If you didn't go to breakfast, 10am is when you should show up at the room
at O'Reilly to start helping out.
How things should go:
Our "greeter" (usually Kat) will be at the table next to the entrance and will "check in" people
showing up to be helped. Each person coming to be helped will have a
number, which should go on their nametag along with their name. I'm
thinking we'll probably want to have some sort of color-coding system for
As much as possible, each install should have one "lead". They can choose
to either do the install while the owner of the system watches, or to have
the owner sit at the keyboard while the lead tells them what to do.
3 or 4 of the most experienced installers will act as "floaters". They
won't be assisting with any specific install, but will be available should
a lead want assistance. The lead should stay with the install if they
call in a floater, though. I always want each install to have one person
who knows everything that's happened with that particular install. It's
very confusing (for us and for the people being helped) when 2 people try
to juggle 3 installs at once and no one person's seen any given install
from start to finish.
As coordinator, I'll be monitoring how things are going, assigning leads
to installs, etc. I'll probably figure out who's lead for which installs
and who are "floaters" during breakfast.
I'll probably have one person be an "assistant coordinator" (Greg?).
They'll handle assigning leads to installs (and writing it down) if I'm
already busy, running extra networking cable or power as needed,
figuring out what pizzas to get and making that happen, etc.
Often, we'll have enough helpers that
we end up with a few people with nothing to do. Let's call them
My inclination is to make people that haven't been to an installfest
before, or who've maybe been to only one installfest the "observers".
The most experienced people will be either "floaters" or be the lead
on installs we expect to be difficult (like the laptop with no CD drive
and a floppy drive that requires special drivers). Then the rest will
be assigned as lead for one install.
Instructions for Observers:
Don't take over installs! You can quietly watch (observe) any installs that you want. It's preferable not to interrupt installs with too many questions, though.
You'll also be a readily available pool of people to become leads for any drop-in installs, assistance with moving heavy stuff from cars into the room, etc. Or you can just hang out, play (linux) video games, eat pizza if that happens, etc... If somebody asks for your help, follow the instructions for Floaters below.
Instructions for Floaters:
Don't take over installs! I know it's tempting, but please try to keep
the install lead as the one in control with you simply providing expert
assistance. Probably better to aim for them still sitting down and
"running" the install while you answer questions, but it's okay if you
type in a few commands while they watch.
Instructions for Lead Installers:
Keep track of what's going on with the install. Don't let somebody take
it over from you. If you feel like you're losing control of an install, please come get the Coordinator or assistant coordinator immediately!
Remember: the idea is to get the user a basic system set up. We shouldn't be tweaking it to somebody's idea of perfection. We're just getting the user set up so that they have a system that they can use to learn how to do things on.
With any modern system, the complete install should be entirely possible
to complete in under 45 minutes, leaving a full half an hour for followup.
Older hardware or special problems will, of course, take longer. The
ideal is to get the complete install and some basic training on how to
update (patch) their system within the hour and a half window that they've
been assigned. The worst-case scenario should be that it runs for 3 hours
and everything's done by then.
If it looks like an install will take more than an hour, let me know. If
it looks like an install will take much more than 2 hours, warn the user
that we may not be able to complete their install at all. Or come get me
and make me be the bad guy.
Things we don't do:
- We don't do anything to hardware
We don't install windows or MacOS. The most we do is help shrink
windows down so that there's room for linux.
We don't install old versions of distributions. It's old if there's no
longer patches provided or if we know there won't be any soon.
We don't spend an hour carefully reviewing every package choice. That
time would be better spent getting a good basic set of packages onto the
system and teaching the user how to install more package s the "official"
way. (apt, yum, up2date, yast, whatever) With most distributions, the most
you should do is pick a few broad categories ("GNOME", "KDE",
"Printing", "Development", ...) and *maybe* a few specific packages that
the user wants (like a specific editor).
We don't set up servers. We can do an install for a machine that will
be used as somebody's personal server of some sort, but we're not going
to configure apache or mysql for them.
We don't tweak the system to be just perfect. Show the user where to
find the settings, don't tweak it for them.
We don't compile things. If we think we need to compile things, we
check with a "floater" and/or Eric about an alternate way to do it.
Then, when the floater can't think of a way to do it without compiling,
you come get Eric. (yes, we do end up compiling the occassional special kernel driver, or the like, but we try to make that the exception, not the rule)
We don't install anything that the user won't be able to update
themselves later on. The easiest way to accomplish this is by not
adding anything to the system that's not part of the OS distribution.
Or, if they really really want something (like playing MP3s) that can't
be done that way, you use a precompiled source for that material, like
an unofficial debian apt repository or freshrpms or something like
We don't get all stressed out and crazy. We don't try to do more than
one thing at a time.
Things we do:
- Keep the install process minimal and reasonably quick.
- Blame Eric if a user wants us to do a "don't".
- Get X working.
- Get networking working.
- Get printing working with a printer that's there.
Get their system set up to be able to do patches. Preferably via the
official method of the OS distribution.
Train the user how to get their system on the network (however they'll
be doing that at home).
- Train the user how to update their system.
Set up the user to be notified about any updates they should perform.
The "rhn applet", "apt watch", getting on the announce mailing list for
their particular distribution... whatever's appropriate.
- Help out with installations of other, non-Linux free and open-source operating systems, such as FreeBSD, OpenBSD, GNU/Hurd, etc. (as long as it's something that
- Stay calm, cool and collected, concentrating on one thing at a time.