The 5 Stages of Google-Based Troubleshooting

I recently reported on getting a new laptop. I also mentioned I was now on Ubuntu 7.10 and that the world looked good. Well, it's now 10 days later and I've encountered my first BIG gotcha. To sum it up: I found that I was unable to watch DVDs. Some weird message appeared, about 'libdvdcss', among other things. I've now solved the problem, completely, as far as I can tell. And solving the problem was the same as every other time I've solved similar problems.

The typical scenario is this—you've got some new software and, at some stage, either early or later, some essential thing doesn't work. Either it never worked in the first place or it suddenly stops working. The only thing to help you is an obscure message, such as the one I got about 'libdvdcss'. Then you start solving the problem, by using Google. In the end, you do solve it, even though there are many moments when you think you never will, even though it sometimes takes days of frustration. However, in each case, I've found that the process goes more or less as follows, here I'll use this specific problem as an example and hope it will help others (when they're Googling too):

  • Stage 1: Innocence. The early stage, where you think: "Oh. A strange error message. That shouldn't be hard to solve. Seems innocuous enough. After all, I'm not the first person who's wanted to watch DVDs on Ubuntu, so there's got to be a solution." So you go to Google and start looking around, calmly, your mind still tranquil and unfevered. You are like a freshfaced sailor setting off on a horrific journey, filled with seamonsters and pounding waves, yet all of that lies before you, and all you can see are the blue waves and seagulls.

  • Stage 2: False Hope. Quickly you find your first tip, such as How To: Install libdvdcss on Ubuntu Gutsy. The entire solution in one small blog entry! Oh, happy day! If you could jump in the air with your hands clasped and your heels clicking, you would do so, except that you immediately set about implementing the tip. All the steps that you're told to follow fly by, one by one, without a hitch. You have not the tiniest understanding of what you've just done, but who cares? You simply want to watch DVDs, not understand the insides of Linux and all its libs, so you complete all the little steps the tip gives you, fire up your movie player and... you get the same error message! Dang!

  • Stage 3: Confusion. You Google a little bit more, but get similar advice. Then you are told about the various ways you can implement the SAME advice. (Seriously, this one is pretty good.) You think: "Hmmm. Maybe it will make a difference if I take the same steps, but this time using the Synaptic Package Manager." You try that approach for a while. Oddly, at random moments, you seem to get completely DIFFERENT error messages. You Google those too. In the process, you've downloaded (via Synaptic Package Manager, via apt-get install, via Add/Remove) a whole host of libs and applications. Your list of movie players is now as long as your arm, on the basis that "if it doesn't work with Xine, maybe it will work with VLC". Then you Google some more and find someone praising gxine or MPlayer and so, each time with a tiny flicker of hope, you install those too. You're not much nearer to your goal (or, maybe you are, who knows) but you now have the best collection of movie players imaginable:

    Pity you can't watch movies though.

  • Stage 4: The overly-aggressive APM. There's always a very significant "deep breath" moment. That's where you say to yourself: "OK. Let's back up a moment. This simply can't be this hard." At that point, you try the product's official site. That's when I read about the Restricted Formats situation on Ubuntu, in their own Ubuntu docs. But they also have another one, called Restricted Formats/Playing DVDs. So then you realize that Ubuntu's docs are layers within layers, somehow. But, you're getting further, you think. And then, suddenly, the error message changes again. Was it because of the restart? Because of the "regionset" thingummy that an anonymous random thread advised you about and that you clung to like an old inebriated lady to her last bottle of aging whisky? Who knows? And what does the message tell you? Initially something about "NAV". Later, something about "APM"... and then you discover that this APM, who you've only just been introduced to... might be overly aggressive. Aaaaargh. What does it all mean? In which lower crevice of hell have you been flung?! Is there no end to the pain?

  • Stage 5: The Sudden Fluke! Either because you made the APM less aggressive or because you suddenly started firing up your movie player with the "sudo" command (or for one of a host of other things), the movie suddenly starts playing! But you have no idea why. Carefully, trying not to breathe lest the gods of flukedom crap upon your head, you try and figure out what happened. Which of the many random ingredients thrown haphazardly into the stew turned your sick brew into a Coca-Cola? Perhaps you'll never know! Quick, watch a movie now that you can, because it may be your last! Pick whatever is currently in your DVD drive because, possibly, by opening the DVD drive you might end up angering the gods. So then I watched "Red Dragon", highly recommended by the way, especially after all of the above:

And, at the climax (or one of the climaxes since this movie has so many), I figured it out (or I believe I did and by now I'm sure of it): for some reason (my fault? Ubuntu's? a random something else?) when I installed the movie players, I didn't have permission to use them, because I installed as root. OK, that doesn't make sense. But, if I don't set 'sudo chmod 777' on each of the movie player's executables, I get an error message, sometimes about region settings and sometimes about 'libdvdcss'. I'm sure that several of the steps I took above were necessary, but like many others out there in Googleland, they just weren't enough. You need to set permissions on the installed movie players, otherwise you will not be able to watch DVDs in them. That's just the way it is, unfortunately.

And, well, anyway, the above 5 stages are just typical of this kind of process. It's always a small fluke somewhere that makes it all work. (There's also a 6th stage, by the way, one which I'm not looking forward to, called "The Regression".) And I'm not blaming anyone (not Ubuntu, not movie players, not regional settings, and not Anthony Hopkins, who is as likely to be at fault as anyone else). I guess that's just the way it is in today's world. Travel with Google and you'll always arrive where you wanted to go, but the route there is always a scenic one.

Comments:

chmod 777 and your in heaven heaven heaven ;-))

Posted by Winkledorm Zanzibar on February 23, 2008 at 06:49 AM PST #

chmod 555 would probably work better. That way nothing could modify or overwrite your programs.

Posted by Lou Ruppert on February 23, 2008 at 09:14 PM PST #

That's exactly how I solve problems.
I'm sure Google is working on index search and theme sharing. Which will cut out all the scenic routes. Someone probably is working on this use-case (AI).

That's why people are afraid to move away from Windows (they really want to, but don't want to be bothered figuring out stuff through Google). When I look at the services running on my WindowsXP it makes me puke.

-Carl

Posted by Carl on February 24, 2008 at 01:17 AM PST #

I had a similar problem with my Arch Linux distro and K3b to burn CD's.
I followed the same steps (Innocence, false hope, etc...) only to discover that with:
#groupadd jor dvd (or something like that)
it would worked.(sic)

Posted by Jor on February 24, 2008 at 07:57 PM PST #

ah ! that's nothing... try to change the DVD subtitles now ;)
Seriously, I had the same problem, and I found out that a logout/login after the installation of the packages was enough to make it works.

Posted by Marco on February 25, 2008 at 03:00 AM PST #

Ha! That all sounds very familiar. I've been using Ubuntu for about a year and a half now, so if I may, here is an excellent site that really helped me set a ton of stuff up when I was new to it: http://www.psychocats.net/ubuntu/. Highly recommended.

Before I search Google for any issues, I also check out ubuntuforums.com and use the search function there. More often than not, that'll turn up a solution, and usually a better one than random Googling. And if it doesn't, you can always register an account and post there. The people are generally friendly and very helpful.

I'd stay away from any of the recommendations to use Automatix or EasyUbuntu though. They sound nice, and they can make setting lots of stuff up easy, but they're kind of tweaky too. Sometimes they cause weird problems, especially when you upgrade.

Posted by Medieval Cow on February 25, 2008 at 07:25 AM PST #

I just started work with net beans,so that i really needs of that book.

Posted by BMW on June 14, 2008 at 07:28 PM PDT #

Googling for exact error text usually helps. Not like you'll get a solution on the first click. But you'll get an idea what is going on.

Posted by Me on June 16, 2008 at 04:42 AM PDT #

It's nice interface! Most important thing is not what software can do, but what users will use.

Posted by Motoring on September 15, 2008 at 07:51 PM PDT #

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About

Geertjan Wielenga (@geertjanw) is a Principal Product Manager in the Oracle Developer Tools group living & working in Amsterdam. He is a Java technology enthusiast, evangelist, trainer, speaker, and writer. He blogs here daily.

The focus of this blog is mostly on NetBeans (a development tool primarily for Java programmers), with an occasional reference to NetBeans, and sometimes diverging to topics relating to NetBeans. And then there are days when NetBeans is mentioned, just for a change.

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