MinDebconfPune2011 and future

Hi all,
This would be a bit longish post about the #MiniDebconfPune 2011, what worked and didn’t and some suggestions for the road ahead.

First of all apologies for being late. For those who came in late, you can read posts about day 0, day 1 and day 2 posts.

I had wanted to write this post on Monday itself but as had not been able to able to give due time to cousin sister on Saturday (13th August – Raksha Bandhan) had reached a truce agreement with my sister to spend 3 days with her and my niece at my place.

My niece who’s at the grand-age of 2.5 years is a handful, active, playful, moody,trusty and adorable child so it worked to my advantage anyhow. The only loss was this blog post delayed 🙂

So, without further ado, let’s see some of the things that worked nice vis-a-vis MiniDebconfPune 2010.

a. Low/Realistic Expectations :- The last time the minidebconf was held, there were just too many expectations which while resulting in an outpouring of audience which resulted in not everybody getting a good service. (network-wise and things)

As I had not met the team much before but knew it was a small group, I deliberately did not put it up to number of mailing lists. In hindsight it was good because people came in from mouth-to-mouth publicity and I *think* we had a reasonable noise to management scenario. As it was I did find the team quite stretched (only 6 guys doing the whole thing and being up at night as well.)

b. Brave and upfront :- Most of the guys were really brave to try out some of the server stuff at runtime. For e.g. IIRC they came to know about the VNC service just few days either before the event or just during the event. To try out new server stuff at runtime (by runtime I mean here running services live, during the event) is not something people usually do (at least I don’t.) It does make a statement about free software as well as the people who were doing it.

It really would have been nice if the volunteers had shared about all the servers they tried out for the event and the know-how they got from it. I listened to them at the end but perhaps they were too tired/burnt out to think straight perhaps (as I was)

c. New blood :- It is/was nice to see some new people taking the baton up. Especially seeing Sana and Miheer talking, sharing their knowledge was nice. Seeing people package stuff up was an added bonus to the mix.

Now the things that weren’t or need to be improved upon :-

a. Too many things at runtime :- We should have had taken a bit more time discussing and planning stuff. There were just too many things we did at the last moment.

I, for instance have a fetish for history especially net, computing and the free software movement. If I wanted to share that, it would have been perhaps more better if I had made slides on that and all. In my defence for some answers you need to use history to tell people why things are, they way they are and till you don’t tell/share that people don’t get the complete picture.

b. Post-followup for the event :- Now this is where the VALU guys need to do something. There are number of ways in which they need to and can add value to the event.

1. Documentation :- Documentation, documentation, documentation. I can’t stress this enough. All and any workarounds done for the event, tech and otherwise should be documented to hand-over to the next year people.

2. Packaging and maintaining packages :- This is and could be self-sustaining thing. Maybe doing packages on some language, like the recent move to package Ruby stuff in Debian. This will enable people to have skills in at least one programming language and would also add to the packaging skill set which helps in your resume at the very least.

While packaging is being able to show off your technical skills, maintaining is about being persistency, loyalty and consistency. For many software industries these all would be desirable traits. As an e.g. one of the python DD’s/DM’s in Debian got commit access on the main python repo. Events like this I have seen happen with consistency in Debian.

3. Maintaining an upstream Free software project :- This could be another way forward. Maybe something like diaspora or something for now and then probably something in the storage/kernel/filesystem or something as floss skills grow.

4. Events :- Maybe having more events centered around FOSS. People just need an excuse to get together and doing more events is also one way to try out new stuff.

5. In the long-term it would be nice if VIT or somebody else starts hosting stuff for real. Something similar to perhaps what OSUL has done. That would have immense value both to the FOSS projects and to the students themselves.

That’s about it from top of the head for the VALU people.

c. Too focussed on packaging :- While packaging is and would be essential for new things to come in Debian, what’s also necessary though is not to remain just with packaging. The little I know about Debian, it’s really vast. There probably were at least 20 odd projects, things we could have shared about.

For instance, the VALU guys use either apt-mirror or deb-mirror for mirroring debian in college. I had been thinking that those guys would talk,share about it throughout the minidebconf but that was none forthcoming. For instance I find both of them quite cryptic to say the least (in the way the threads go about downloading stuff and all) . It would have been wonderful opportunity to showcase just not the technology but also the implications that happen with it.

d. Bad at marketing :- We were really bad at marketing Debian. It would have been really nice/cool if we had a team for that. We were so short-stretched that we didn’t put any efforts at either selling or/and promoting the Debian CD/DVD , any nice blender, synfig tutorials and videos and stuff like that. The net result was that Praveen was able to sell only a few T-shirts and just 10 odd Debian DVD’s.

If we had planned properly, the sales itself would have been enough to cover the budget for the event.

e. Policy, webfilters etc. :- Ok this is what raises my blood pressure. I have been seeing this growing intolerance towards shutting off ports and services to outside the institution and filtering based on keywords and stuff. Both of which result is loss of user-experience and don’t really make things secure in any way.

If somebody wants to crack your network there are just so many ways, just thinking that keeping port 80 open (as essential for WWW services) is good enough the management just doesn’t understand. If a person wants to access some services (like seeing porn etc.) there are many ways to get around it.

The only loss is for the good guys who won’t be able to try putting up servers just for fun which would also help them in gainful employment.

d.Different desktops :- It would have been way nicer if we had some of the different desktops and an advocate to along with it. For instance I have used almost all the WM’s (Window Managers) and Desktop environments there are (at least the popular ones) and find XFCE and Enlightenment to be engaging at the very least. It would have been nice to know/explore and be updated about the efforts therein.

There are quite a few more points which are up there somewhere but this is all I can recall on top of my head atm. The way I see almost nothing gets committed to the server in the IST (0900-1900 hours) timeframe, there might be some in the delayed queue and some exceptions but by default there is a huge scope and opportunity for Asian developers and particularly Indians to make their mark on the Debian archive.
That’s all for now.

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