This post attempts to highlight some of the issued I saw/felt during the recent MiniDebconfIndia organized in COEP specifically with the broader Information Technology education policies and FOSS implementation policies as well. This is not to down COEP but just as an example of a disease which is within quite a lot of IT based Engineering colleges which I have seen/experienced.
Both the days when I was in the DebConfIndia and specifically more the first day it was a pain to see the experience people were having on the wireless networks. First it was not easy to connect to the wireless networks. Even if you did manage to get connected (by some miracle) at the most people got something like 5 Kbps or some pathetic bandwidth like that. A simple web page took something like 2~5 minutes to render. Many a times a ping would also simply get timed out. Of course there are many possibilities why that happened :-
a. People didn’t know how to configure the wireless
b. People didn’t have the correct wireless drivers needed. Sometimes specific hardware needs to have a specific kernel or patch for the wireless to work.
c. The bandwidth was just enough ~ Less bandwidth assigned/given to us.
d. The WiFI Access points were just not good enough to handle all the extra devices that were there.
While all the above factors may have contributed to the shaky experience that people had my money was mostly on pathetic bandwidth that many colleges have. Later at a discussion it turned out that the college has got a beastly 95 Mbps bandwidth. While that might not seem much for a college, the part of the world where I come from that’s enough to feed/connect almost 1600 individuals (at 1:4 connection ratio espoused by Railtel) or 10,000 odd students/individuals (at 1:25 as espoused by BSNL) at 256 Kbps per person simultaneously for surfing and downloading stuff from Internet.
A little bit of friendly banter with the co-ordinator/faculty member of COEP Mr. Abhijit (the only true blue FOSS persona on the campus on the educationist side) it seems they haven’t been able to do traffic shaping as they should and this bandwidth may be abused by both students and faculty alike. I don’t really know the reason as to why it isn’t implemented but this is something which I have seen in lots of educational institutes as well which results in poor experience when workshops/Conferences like this happen.
One of the other issues I saw and it was horrifying to quite a bit of extent is the usage of Access controls and filters specifically in the FOSS Lab. For me, it really seemed ironical as on one hand we were talking about Debian as an anarchist Operating System and on the other hand I couldn’t use Google search effectively. Doing a simple search like say ‘ #DebconfIndia site:flossexperiences.wordpress.com’ produced a page telling me about access controls. Of course, if I really wanted to I could have perhaps proxy servers or done some other stuff to get around it but seemed not nice. I do understand the problem with accessing porn that people might have but doing this to software engineers who one day are supposed to write code for Operating Systems or Application software it really seemed far off. The lack of freedom to surf freely also kills bit of creativity. For all planned inventions, most of them had been Accidental in nature. A simple google search for either ‘ List of Accidental Inventions’ or simply ‘Accidental inventions’ would give ample of food for thought.
One of the other issues or things I saw was that no port other than port 80 was open on the machines in the lab. It also seems any network services which used any port other than port 80 couldn’t be used. Now if some of the engineers studying there are specifically thinking to become network or/and network-security experts that would be huge inconvenience.
Now I do understand that policy issue that networks could be cracked and perhaps terrorists could use such networks but then they have access to funds. They could very well use satellite networks to get their job done. Banning satellite phones in India didn’t save Indians from the 26/11 terrorist attack. If somebody wants to use satellite phones they would use it. Of course this is all hypothetical. Even in the existing setup white collar crime using network services is happening and unless common-sense is used we are just going to make our future generation of Engineers incompetent.
One of the technologies which could really help lot of colleges is the p2p technology. Many people have a very dim of P2P technology. The fact though is its a pretty interesting technology. For e.g. have a look at the P2P-Next project and specifically the consortium driving that project. One of the more interesting implementations people could also see is the article on TorrentFreak where they share how facebook and twitter are using p2p to better their operations as well as an old Dutch University article where p2p has reduced the network expenditure and made the network much more efficient.
To my mind, p2p tools and architecture are going to play a significant role in consumption of network services. Whether it is browsers or whatever else that is the future. The more we discourage these kind of disruptive and now mainstream technologies then more we become ‘ Microsoft slaves on a Debian/Redhat box’ – Abhijit.
It would be good if these policies would be debated and talked about in the College with the Universities and most of the networks should be managed by second and third year students so they have hands-on knowledge and ideas about what happens in the real world. How things work or don’t. Then only we have possibility of having the next Matt Mullenweg.
Lastly, it would have been much better to do hands-on things in the mornings when one is fresh and do the listening/discussions part after lunch. When doing the opposite I did see quite a few people kinda sleeping/being lazy in the afternoon session. That is something that COEP guys should look at.
One of the other things I observed is the tendency in most of the students to still think of any code they write as their property/copyright. This might be due to influences such as ‘Pirates of Silicon Valley‘ or movies such as those or something else altogether which I am unaware about. This though is a dangerous trend which if not scratched will just make for more walled gardens and that is not where the future belongs.
As always discussions, comments are all welcome.