Arun Raghavan

Extremely pithy tagline here

TAG: college

FOSSKriti ’09 is *here*

Been a hectic few months, but I could hardly miss posting about this. Some of you might remember the little F/OSS miniconf, we did last year at Techkriti, IIT Kanpur’s technical festival. FOSSKriti ’08 sparked off a number of great F/OSS events in colleges across the country. FOSSKriti ’09 is now here, bigger and badder than ever (for small values of ever :P)!

Last year, we started planning the event sometime in mid-Jan, and we did the best we could in about a month. This year, Shashank (better known as Chintal), Zakir, Surya, and the rest of team had more time, and you can tell that they’ve been busy. The theme for this year is "The Open Web", and we have an awesome line-up of talks, workshops, and hackfests around this theme. We’ve got folks from Mozilla, Drupal, Yahoo, and Sahana and more. It’s going to be four butt-kickingly amazing days!

Bottom line: If you’re in the vicinity, be there. It’s happening from Feb 12th to 15th, at IIT Kanpur.

FOSSKriti '09 - The Open Web

p.s.: It blows that I can’t make it. :(

One small step for student-kind

Today, the VTU (the university that granted me my bachelor’s degree) did something incredibly smart. In one fell swoop, they have achieved what Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have been trying to do for years, in vain.

That’s right — the VTU has done the one thing that will ensure that no student of theirs will ever learn a Microsoft-related technology — a ton of Microsoft software is now part of the official curriculum.

Thank you, VTU!

Aside …

Reminds me of the “Basic Computer Skills” Lab in 3rd semester, where we had to create a document in Word and a presentation in PowerPoint. The external examiner expected you to remember exactly under which menu each random feature lay. It took her about 10 minutes to figure out that I was searching through the menus blindly after every question. :)

Not to mention 5th semester, where our DBMS lecturer tried to strong-arm me into learning Visual Basic for a project on databases. This one I managed to hold out on, and did my work in PHP+MySQL.

IITK Fascism Update

So we (some of us students) met and decided to do something about the sudden implementation of the Internet shutdown from 0000-0600. Some updates:

The intimation about doing this was sent at 2357 hours today (yesterday, to be precise) to all. The notification basically stated that because of “undesirable activities”, Internet will, with immediate effect, be disabled from 0000 to 0600 every day. And that’s it — poof. The hostel network is disconnected from the rest of the Institute, thus making sure that nobody can access the Internet (or even the Institute’s own computing facilities). To compensate, the Computer Center (with a capacity of <200 computers) is to be kept open 24×7.

Of course, this was unacceptable, so a bunch of us decided that something needs to be done. There are 2 issues — the decision, and how it was implemented. While the decision itself needs discussion (more about this later), the implementation is of immediate concern. People were not prepared, and work on several people’s theses were affected. Plus, this has been done just a little after the end-semester exams, when most students are not on campus. This sort of fascism usually rears its head under precisely these circumstances. We decided that what needed to be addressed right now is the implementation — the Internet has to be made available this night.

A couple of our student representatives spoke to the Dean of Student Affairs (the DoSA — the official channel between the students and the administration). The DoSA basically said that they, the various Deans and the Director (and Deputy Director?) have made the decision at nothing would be done about it. More precisely, the Director, as the highest power in the Institute has taken the decision and that’s that. Further discussion may be taken up with him.

About 60-70 of us went to the Director’s house at about 2:30 (the entire process was peaceful — there was not shouting or slogans). We met with the security, who called the Head of the Computer Center (CC) and the DoSA to the place after some attempted dodging.

The CC Head turned up first and started asking what our problem was. He offered such resources as a vehicle to transfer us from hostel to CC as well as as many pen-drives as we require to transfer data from our machines to the CC machines. The DoSA just said that we’ve given you 2 years to think about whether this should be implementing it, and now we will be implementing it, so there.

Our student representatives (who did a pretty good job), after some dialogue, got the connection reinstated for tonight. They will be further taking up the issue later today.

The decision itself is extremely foolish, of course. Moreover, the dictatorial way in which this is being done is just as shocking. Let’s see how things pan out in time. Perhaps sense and sanity will prevail.

I don’t know

Today was the last day of Alfaaz, the literary festival at college. The last 2 days have been horribly busy, so I missed a lot of good stuff. I did make it to the book fair, though. I browsed around, found a lot of popular stuff, and some less common stuff, particularly from Yoda Press and Undercover Utopia. The former had some really interesting books. I picked up Rahul Roy’s A Little Book on Men and A.R. Venkatachalapathy’s In Those Days There Was No Coffee. There was more interesting stuff (particularly a “Sexualities” series of which the Rahul Roy is a part), but with budget constraints and what have you, this is what I could get. Apparently they have their books at Blossoms so not all is lost.

I just finished the Rahul Roy book (yes, 1 hour). It’s a short, illustrated, book. Very visual. I guess the intention is to analyse masculinity and its social roles and personal influences in a way that is accessible to people who don’t read much, or at least not much literature of this kind. Of course, the analysis is not very deep (I would have preferred more), but I think the experiment w.r.t. presentation style paid off. The book provides a reasonable amount of food for thought and pointers towards more works on the matter. Good stuff.

My second choice might make sense to some who know me. Being a Tamilian whose only real cultural predilection is coffee (something I do rue sometimes), I found both the title and the topic apt. The book is something of a cultural history of Tamil Nadu. Looks a little more heavy than I want to read right now, but will get to it soon. Happy purchase.

While the Book Café guys wrapping up, they decided that they’d give out a few free copies of Al Raines’ Soul Search Engine (signed!) and November Rain. grin

And the funny part is I went to the fair once, left without buying anything, thought “what the hell” and went back to actually buy the books, which is when this happened. Oh sweet indecision.

I know there’s something I’m forgetting, but maybe I’ll remember and make another post of it.

FOSSKriti Finalé

FOSSKriti is winding up now. Today was also very good.

We started with Piyush continuing the KDE track, this time for developers. It was a good talk — the quick ‘n dirty PyQt demo was the icing on the cake. It really showed people how easy working on desktop apps can be.

We had a BoF session in the afternoon that rotated around Open Standards and Open Formats. We had about 20 people there, and after a 5-10 minute intro, we got around to a pretty interesting discussion. We started talking about whether open standards are really a “good thing”. The general consensus was that companies should be able to make money from their products, but vendor lock-in is bad. People agreed that the Adobe’s PDF model of keeping the format open and making money off the tools seems to work well. We then progressed to talk about how we can impact open format adoption. We settled on:

  • Use open formats
  • Accept only open formats in communication, to what extent is possible
  • Get people to use open formats
    • Start with people who are willing to experiment and change
    • Then move to people who don’t care, and show them how open formats are better for them
    • Keep trying, no matter how bleak it looks
  • Keep bugging companies that use closed formats to open them

The discussion was lively, and went all around the board — good fun.

Finally, Chaitanya Gupta of Cleartrip.com gave (actually, is giving) a talk on Common Lisp. People are sitting in there instead of standing in the queue to listen to Strings, so I’m guessing something is going right. Grin

Oh, and did I mention that we distributed 200+ Ubuntu/Kubuntu-KDE4/$distro_of_choice CDs just today?

So it’s been a fantastic four days. Neither the weather nor colds, sore throats, and $illnesses could get in the way. We had awesome speakers who came here against a whole bunch of odds (thanks Shreyas, Ankita and Piyush!)

Saurabh Nanda made it possible of course, to arrange the event at all.

And of course all the volunteers out here kicked butt. They tirelessly did stuff late into the night if it needed doing — designing and putting up posters, waking up early (or not sleeping) to get to the airport in the morning, and on and on.

A very special thanks goes out to Atul Chitnis — our event would’ve floundered somewhere right near the beginning. He guided, helped, prodded, pushed and made FOSSKriti what it is. And there’s Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay, Pradeepto Bhattacharya, and Runa Bhattacharjee who supported us from the moment we told them what we were planning to do. Thanks, guys!

So things are winding down, and I’m off to pass out in a ditch somewhere. :-)

[Rohit has to get photos up (put ’em up, dammit!), and I really really hope we can get videos of some of the events (update soon)]

… addendum

Can’t believe I forgot this — even before the Beagle Hackfest started, Sainath got started on hacking up a Beagle search plugin for Pidgin. You just select some text, and you can easily start a Beagle search with a couple of clicks. And it extends well to any search service. He’s going to release this soon, so the dude’s made FOSSKriti even better!

FOSSKriti Goodness

So the Beagle Hackfest happened on Thursday, starting at 10 p.m. We expected a few people, but were pleasantly surprised by the 60 who turned up. I might’ve scared off 20 of them with my initial presentation on what and why were were there. That still left us with 40+ really enthusiastic people.

We had some trouble starting up the machines, but our awesome participants stuck it out till we got things hammered out, with an amazingly patient dBera helping a lot. Things went on till 4 a.m. (at which point we needed to get just a little shut-eye (a few didn’t sleep at all) to prepare for the next day). At this point, we submitted a Firefox Beagle Search Bar written by Jai Kumar Singh (a.k.a. flukebox). In a day or two, another group should be able to submit a patch for a BibTeX filter. And there’s another project that I hope to talk more about in the days to come.

Yesterday (Friday) morning, we had Shreyas Srinivasan delivering a talk on building sexy UIs with Clutter. We had about 200 people in the hall, and it was a huge success. How do I know this? There were a lot of questions after the talk and they were almost all relevant and insightful. Afterwards, a bunch of people even got in touch with Shreyas about getting started on contributing. ‘Twas good!

Today started with Ankita Garg delivering a workshop on the Linux kernel. The lab was packed, and we had to turn away a huge number of people. A lot of the crowd was too new to Linux to appreciate what was happening, but some people took away what was intended.

This was followed by Piyush Verma’s talk on KDE4 for users. This went well — good turn out, and people learnt about KDE, asked good questions. He’s going to be talking about KDE 4 from a developer’s perspective. Looking forward to that. :-)

Next up was Ankita again, with a talk on LinuxChix. We had expected a large turnout but had about 13 women and 20 men. But the crowd was interested, and we had a good discussion after the talk covering the LinuxChix organisation, and how it can be useful in the context of the audience. Ankita’s got the list of stuff that came out of the discuss so I’ll link to it when it’s out.

Since we ticked off a whole bunch of IITK people by turning them away from the kernel workshop (we decided to keep only the non-IITKians). So Ankita very awesomely agreed to take another session. And we had a packed lab again. This time, the crowd was a lot more savvy, and things went better. If only we’d had more time, we could’ve had a longer session with more questions. But bravo to Ankita for talking for 6 hours today. Anyone who’s delivered even an hour-long talk will know what a feat that is.

As the finale for today, Saurabh Nanda and Chaitanya Gupta of Cleartrip.com are conducting a Ruby on Rails workshop, followed by a hackfest. We’ve got the CSE department’s largest classroom full of interested and engaged people, so we’re happy to go as late into the night as we need to. :-D

So that’s how FOSSKriti’s been going so far. Tomorrow’s the last day. It’s been legendary! (I told you so …)

[photos soon]

And the surprises are out …

And the surprise is out — the wonderful folks at Cleartrip.com (especially Saurabh Nanda), in addition to being awesome and supporting sponsors, are going to be delivering two workshops.

The workshops are on Ruby on Rails (a hackfest will follow the workshop) and Common Lisp. I was around when these guys were planning out the workshops, and their energy and passion when it comes to RoR and CL is incredibly contagious.

So not only are these guys making FOSSKriti possible, they’re helping us make it kick even more butt!

(p.s.: more info on the CL workshop and RoR hackfest will be out soon)

FOSSकृति Update

Things are going well on the FOSSKriti front. We’ve got an awesome set of talks and workshops (but you’re going to have to wait to find out more here). We’ve got a great set of speakers who are not only good at what they do, but passionate to boot. It’s going to be legen…<wait for it>…dary!

What’s more, we’re having a Beagle Hackfest too! We’ve collected a set of easy-to-attack tasks that have cropped up on the mailing list and IRC in recent times. It’s been a long time since I was around a Beagle/Dashboard hackfest. I still remember the first time I got all excited about this stuff, back in the day. :-)

The schedule’s out, with a couple of surprises still to be sprung. If you’re going to be dropping by, drop me a line here!

More updates soon …