Mini Debian Conference – Day 1

This post would attempt to continue share/capture the goings on that went in Pune’s 1st Mini Debian Conference #MiniDebconfIndia as well as share thoughts, ideas and experience gained therein on Day 1 of the Conference as well. This is being based on Day 0 post as well.

On Day 1, put up a call to Pavithran and came to know that the venue for all of today has been changed to FOSS Lab (which is situated on the opposite side of the road approx. 100-150 metres away from the main Venue Seminar Hall). I took a slight roundabout to reach the venue as I had never been to the other side of the COEP campus. I was aghast as well as sad at the same time to see so much construction happening all around the Campus. Aghast as almost all the new buildings atleast in the COEP campus are bland and seem like matchboxes just stacked one upon the other. There doesn’t seem to be any beauty or any thought of architectural finesse to make students think and develop themselves creatively. The only happiness is that more students perhaps may be able to get into Engineering or whatever other courses they may do. The insipidness of the new buildings would be enough to kill any creative/different ideologies that students might bring to the table. This is not something which has been happening in COEP per-se but is a systematic flaw/symptom of the policies and practises followed by most of the Institutions. If some of the schools, colleges follow otherwise they are an exception rather than norm. It doesn’t need more money rather more thinking.

But anyways, after doing my roundabout searching reached the venue at around 10:30 a.m. or thereabouts as per the schedule but was pleasantly surprised to note/see that Praveen and his colleagues had been sharing the story/practice of Packaging since 8’0 clock in the morning. So at 10:30 a.m. few of them went down and had breakfast.
I also tagged along and was able to congratulate Praveen on his becoming Debian Maintainer .

Vikram and Raghvenda S talk
Vikram and Raghvendra S answering queries

< />Anyways, we returned to the lab and soon the lab was jam-packed to capacity with something like 80 odd people being there even though it was the 2nd day of the Conference. Vikram along with Raghvendra S shared the dias. While Vikram started his presentation/talk on Debian Edu in which he had encased quite a few anecdotes from ancient mythologies to make a point or two. He demonstrated in his words the old waterfall model in which he used a half than less water bottle to showcase the education/knowledge he has and showering that knowledge to the cups. Of course, as the cups are small and they are scattered some of the knowledge is bound to go by the sides. His idea is to tear down the old way of teaching and teachers and just use/consume virtual digital goods which was very well appreciated by students. While some parts of what he said overall I could not agree with his perception. In fact he started with the famous quote

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

– George Santayana, the philosopher and not the musician Carlos Santana , the evergreen guitarist which he was wrongly attributing it to.

From my perception/perspective/opinion good education cannot come just from consuming/using only good Visual graphic/Video content. Any Graphics or Visuals can at the most be an aid in the educational process. One would always need somebody to put stuff into context (One may call them Facilitators or by some other fancy name but they are needed – Teachers) for students to know about it.

While I can relate to boring insipid teachers taking the joy out of learning, I can relate to History and Geography as subjects which I had to bear but which became alive when I read books like Russka and books like that. One of the more interesting examples of this was validated in the book “Video Vortex Reader: Responses to Youtube” which I had been in the process of reviewing since last month. The Chapter ‘Why not (to) teach on Youtube by Alexandra Juhasz (page 133) is particularly pertinent to the debate.

As said in the beginning itself, the Internet or/and virtual digital goods/technology while can play a role in enhancing one’s knowledge but without suitable human intervention/connection could have haywire results. While I do not deny that somebody genius may be able to assimilate and understand skills and knowledge without human intervention for the masses it still is a long way to go.

Just as an e.g. even if I take Wikipedia which I do try to contribute to, it has its critics and some valid points too.

At the fag-end of his presentation, Vikram also went sharing about the SETI@home project about which I have explained in a bit of detail in the next (hopefully last) blog post on the subject.

After his talk/presentation Raghvendra S put up a small 15-20 min presentation where he, on behalf of FSMK shared the experience when they held a workshop for teachers. While the teachers were all enthusiastic to learn FOSS the exercise couldn’t move anywhere as unlike the Kerala Govt., the Karnataka govt. doesn’t provide either funds or have policies for inculcating FOSS syllabi.

Praveen and Kushal bantering
Praveen and Kushal bantering

While sharing experiences, Kushal Das pointing towards OLPC as an another worthy educational project. My thoughts on the OLPC I have already put up number of times on the blog itself hence no use in going there.

This was followed by a brief Q&A where somebody shared an anecdote that while teaching in Kerala some teachers using some game/teaching software (was it tux typing or something else?) found that the graphics in the game was not making any sense to the children/students. The game/software was about flowers and all the flowers that were being shown in the game were alien to the children and hence there was not much progress. The teachers then went around the local area and shot few pictures using digital cameras and all, edited/cleaned up the pics. and sent them upstream to Debian which is supposed to now come in the next snapshot of that software.

The above anecdote also reinforces the same point I wanted to make.

On the same discussion another query was raised as to why there isn’t a single OS which satisfies everybody?

Abhijit gave the short answer that it isn’t needed. Even Microsoft has 7 variations of its OS going all the way from Windows Starter to Windows Professional, Premium and Server.

A longer answer and perhaps a more correct answer to the same question would have been to look at a few use-cases for the answer. For instance, if we look at a file server (something that Google and every other search engine,File sharing and all sorts of Cloud computing services would need per se) simplistically, it needs to have a fast filesystem, a fast database which can query and filter results (in nano seconds) as well as parallely be able to make copies of its content and probably results of queries as well. Nowadays lot of data mining and data segmentation also happens quite a lot. In such a scenario if there is other software which is not needed it would just make the system bloated and would just be a hindrance to getting the job done.

Another use-case would be Gaming/Animation/Graphics where the on-board graphics or dedicated graphics chipset and the onboard memory work in tandem and almost every resource is used for either doing floating point algorithims, graphic rendering or some heavy duty stuff. Again more software would use memory which otherwise could be used more efficiently here.

In either of the cases, some essential background services have to be working, but more light the system is (services not running) the better the system response would be.

While some might say the above use cases are niche, almost all of them are becoming more and more mainstream . Think uploading video to the web and playing rich Graphic games. A part of the issue is also efficient software and hardware which is part of the problem. People’s understanding and budget constraints are also part of the same issue. The move to 64-bit (and at some point to 124-bit) and multi-core processors are attempts at alleviating these issues but as expected the human appetite to computing is always more than what has been already achieved. For instance, more people are able to shoot and process video which in turn has made video on the web huge resulting in a virtuous (profitable) cycle of upgrade for computer manufacturers and a vicious cycle for users and developers.

During this interaction, Abhijit, a faculty of COEP quipped that without the socio-political awareness (self-awareness) about what one is doing, it is like being a Microsoft user on a Debian box.

Throughout this first half of the day I was constantly being reminded of

We don’t need no education.
We don’t need no thought control.

Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall – The Wall One of Pink Floyd’s better works.

After this there was interaction between the Debian Developers and people present on behalf of CDAC – Chennai. CDAC Chennai has made BOSS Linux – a Debian Derivative . Praveen showed the Debian Derviatives FrontDesk and also pointed out by using some package on the Debian PTS. As an example he chose some package. For e.g. Debian-installer. As could be seen on the PTS page, while he was able to show the issues with it on the page, on the bottom right corner, he was able to show which version Ubuntu is using and the patches that they have applied. It also shows the number of bugs that have been reported in the downstream OS/package. Praveen offered to put up BOSS’es name below Ubuntu giving similar stats for each package if BOSS makes its development and bug-reporting accessible to Debian. The main issue/concern that the Debian Developers had was that while CDAC wanted to benefit from Debian’s work it didn’t want to give some of the benefit/code back to the parent. Also there were concerns raised when it was found that they have a public bug reporting portal and a private bug thing as well. This again raised concerns as they might not be giving importance and communication to the bugs in the public space. Another concern which was shared was if BOSS tracked the CVE’s and security fixes done by Debian. At the end of it all, the idea that a broken buggy Debian system and experience is being given to Government institutions (the main target of BOSS Linux) which would result in either compromised systems or/and not good user experience for users.

They do have the option of using an instance of launchpad and using either in house expertise or using Canonical’s consultancy be more relevant and really have a two-way street which would benefit both of the distributions immensely.

Then lunch was upon us where I interacted with couple of newbies who had concerns regarding joining PLUG as to whether it would be a good decision to join as they have just joined/started using GNU/Linux. I explained that while joining PLUG and lurking on the mail would be good, they shouldn’t think that joining the mailing list would make them experts in one day. Later, also interacted with some of the CDAC officials for an extended chat.

After lunch, Praveen started his packaging lesson which he had left in the morning. He started off with sharing in detail the contours of the GPL license. He also mentioned the LGPL and also showed the GNU philosophical page about not using LGPL license when making the next library. I wanted to debate but this was not the right fora or time for the same. It is a huge debate in itself. It would have been interesting to discuss what is called as ‘defensive patenting‘ paradigm and Institutions such as the Open Invention Network . A good book to read on the topic would be say ‘Against Intellectual Monopoly‘ by Michele Boldrin and David K.Levine. They are a growing number of authors (100 odd books at last count) which are writing about it. I do hope to review this one as well in another month or two.

Another topic that he briefly touched upon was with GPL, GPL linking exception and LGPL licenses. Praveen mentioned specifically the Java GPL license which also had the linking exception. Co-incidentally Java or Android specifically became a topic in the newspapers just couple of days ago which I put up in another blog post.

A little later Kushal Das jumped in to the discussion and showed bugs and his package lekhone-gnome which is hosted on Fedora. While I have some issues overall I felt it was a good tool. Maybe he needs to focus a bit more on the documentation aspect of the tool. He also needed to share why the name lekhonee which was not understood by most of the people.

As I had visited fedora after a long time while the homepage looked good, it would have been better if they had OpenID enabled to the site as well. Its irksome atleast for me to do the username/password routine for each site I visit. While I know that there are issues with OpenID and its possible to hack (man in the middle and many such vectors) but then what isn’t .

Left the place around 16:00 hours when Praveen was about to start packaging a single binary. While I have no doubt over Praveen’s packaging skills but the transference of that skill over a day or two is not possible. At the most what I hope is that students would have got a concept or two in those couple of days.

That’s all for Day 2.

Some Notes for self :-

1. Do a bit more networking the next time around.
2. Try to remember few of the good people/person’s name.

I met somebody who had the new Nokia N900 and showed me the Maemo OS on it. He hadn’t put the newer Meego as it was still a new piece. He also shared an Adventure game that he had downloaded to play on the device as well. That would have been cool to see/use.

Some of the other blog posts on the same topic :-

:- Raghvendra S


As before, all photos in this post are courtesy Pavithran and you can see his contributions on the FOSS community wiki.

3 thoughts on “Mini Debian Conference – Day 1

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