Minidebconf at NIT-C

This blog post attempts to share a bit about the minidebconf held at NIT-Calicut.

When Praveen shared with me the idea of doing a minidebconf at Calicut and for me to share some of the things I knew I was a bit apprehensive. Calicut is in Kerala which for many people (including me) is the mecca of FOSS. This is where the FOSS movement had its birth and the govt. also supports it. So with that I assumed (wrongly which came known later) that people (specifically students) would know a lot more than I do as I use only a small subset of the various softwares provided by Debian and know only a little of the big community that Debian is. So with a bit of apprehension and a bit of excitement I said yes to go to the event.

I arrived in Calicut on the 20th and had come via the beautiful Konkan railway landscape so was slightly light-headed (seeing all that natural beauty on the way) . On 21st Pavi joined me and asked me to help out with the Debian introductory session late night. It took us sometime to come up with a presentation which while sharing the essentials of what Debian is about was not too technical nor too light. The idea being that we would introduce some of the concepts and terminology to students so they would be more ease when Praveen and Nandaja started their debian packaging session.

Anyways, the next evening after the excellent and extensive introduction to concepts about Free software as well as freedom in creative works by Dr. Sashi, I, Praveen and Pavi poked Abhishek with questions on privacy and other things so people got the idea or concept of why a project such as freedombox is necessary. Abhishek shared a cool video which also made people understand the value of it. The project is young and needs young hands and cool minds. All of us took some questions on it and while we knew some of the technical side of things, none of the people in the room were a UI designer. For Freedombox to win, they would need good UI people who in-turn would also help the debian-project as well. Crossed fingers. We did an impromptu hack night which actually turned into a Q&A about Debian and that went on quite a bit late.

Next morning, me & Pavi started with a joint presentation on Debian Introduction which went on for quite some time. We showed them IRC and the various ways in which they could connect with the Debian community at large. Net connectivity, as with many colleges we have done in the past was also not up to the task (apart from asking the sysadmin to open up the ports for IRC (6667, 6668 and 7000) . The introduction took quite some more time then we anticipated but both of us were satisfied as most people did get the concepts. We asked/grilled people every now and then asking them to describe what they heard in their own way so they had to be on their feet a bit. If something was left unclear, we would again go over it using as many analogies as possible.

Anyways, after that finished, we took a 5 min. break and then proceeded to Debian installations on a number of machines. We had pre-decided to use Debian Live Wheezy release and we proceeded with installation. As with most places, on some systems it didn’t install due to some sort of hardware issue.Anyways half-way during the installation we asked people to break for lunch . Then we came to the last but important stage of choosing the boot loader. From our previous experiences we knew it contained a grave bug which we were familiar with (#700642). Due to network issues the workaround we had could not work and we had to improvise another work-around for the same issue which we did. The idea was two-fold, let people know about installation process and procedure and at the same time let people think and debate and try to understand what the bug is/was and try to come up with a solution. That whole thing took quite sometime.

After that was done, I and Pavi didn’t have much to do hence we played around on one of the big iron servers on which Debian was installed and some of the services were zombified. We tried various methods and finally had to kill some of the processes and actually restarted the server (which actually would have been a no-no if it was a production server). After restart we made sure that there was a log of the state of the process and it would write to the system so that some of the people could and would come to know when a process zombified and why that happened. For people new to the term zombie process, they should read a bit about zombie process to have bit more idea about them. On a desktop system zombie processes has some concerns , on a server that’s a big no-no as such zombie processes could come in the way of serving clients etc.

I had been urging for quite sometime Vipin to share his GSOC experience. After quite a bit of insistence from my side there was an impromptu introduction to GSOC happened. A good find for us was an experienced GSOCer by the name of Ramkumar. I had to ask Ram to be a bit more basic as people hadn’t even heard of GSOC. Anyways, Ram was exhaustive sharing his tips and strategies while Vipin filled in some of the things, Praveen being a GSOC mentor also shared some of his insights and the day drew to a close. While officially the day ended around 23:00-23:30 hrs. me, Pavi and few of our friends were still up till 3 a.m. doing stuff.

The last day was killing as there were a few sessions I wanted to attend but it was not to be. Pavi pulled me to help out in OSM which actually is one of his hobbies (mapping using OSM). I skipped the part when he went around for the traces. I missed both the KDEnlive talk as well ram’s git unchained talk which I wanted to attend even though I rarely do any commits to any repos. I also didn’t attend Nandaja’s talk as well but that was due to sheer tiredness on my part due to the humidity and all the running around I was doing that day.

As Nandaja has already shared the issues we were facing the last day I don’t want to share much other than the fact that the room where minidebconf was being held was quite far from where the rest of fossmeet was happening which would have been inconvenient for the participants as well as multiple tracks). I had to cancel my talk on Debian-edu as it was after Praveen’s on packaging so timing was a bit of issue as it would have been late night on the day the session closed even if I wanted to do that.

There was a feedback session in the evening where everybody shared their opinions. From my perspective, it was a bit of unorganized chaos (but then this is India 🙂 ) and the other thing was it would have been nice if they had made Videos of the various speakers whose sessions I had missed.

What was really great about the feedback session was the play between Vamsee and Nandaja where Vamsee asked her if she wants to do internship at their organization and the way she said yes. Vamsee was pretty humble and forthright which I liked in his way to offer apprenticeship and Nandaja replying in the positive.

It would have been really nice if the Git unchained talk as well as the KDEnlive talk could have been on video to be viewed later (even a rough cut would have been better than nothing at all).

That was the end of the minidebconf. While obviously I felt a bit saddened, I also did feel enriched as had met Nandaja, Ram and various speakers and the student community at large. Some of them were highly enthusiastic and we hope to see that enthusiasm into some real contributions.

Apologies in advance for any mistakes in the post as well as any people I might have missed out sharing about. There was too many things to share it in one blog post. Till again.

2 thoughts on “Minidebconf at NIT-C

  1. Thank you for the time taken to write this up. I really like the enthusiasm you guys bring in.

    On the topic of network connectivity, I’d suggest you have a look at apt-offline. It surely won’t fit the requirement where you have no network connectivity at all, but if you have situations where only the non-Linux boxes have the connection, you can use apt-offline.

    Just FYI, apt-offline sits on CD-1 of a Debian ISO. This was a request I raised some time ago, so it should reflect on the Wheezy ISO too.

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