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GNUnify, Science Day

Hi all,
This would be a longish post, in part I’ll be dealing with Diaspora Yatra, GNUnify and the rest about Science Day we did in GMRT

Sorry for the absence, have been busy. The post starts with Praveen coming to Pune and we doing a Diaspora katta at Bal Gandharva.

Raju has thankfully provided the minutes of the meetup/Katta. We do hope take the discussion, ideas and implementation forward in the coming year to as many colleges and institutions as possible in Maharashtra.

Then few days later we had GNUnify 2014.

GNUnify was a very tame affair compared to last few years. There were couple of interesting talks I was able to attend but many which I wasn’t able to attend simply because they were parallel threads/talks taking place.

Couple of interesting talks I attended was on ‘R’ programming. Both of the talks on ‘R’ programming were interesting, one a slightly more than the other. Both the talks were given by two different gentleman.

The one which I was more interested in was about taking agricultural import and export data from government sources and cleaning it up and seeing what the trends were talking about. He had got the data from public govt. sources perhaps something like this . I don’t remember the names of people giving the talks as the talks are/were almost a month old as of date. The site mentions a Dr. Kulkarni but there was another person as well. As had met both the person’s for the first time and had been going from one to the other, the identities in my mind have been intermingled.

While the person was unsure as the data looked to be incomplete and unreliable, as it was free and from publicly available sources he was using that to see what it was telling. He had just done this couple of days ago and was still working on them, he didn’t come to any conclusions but was interesting to hear about it.

While hearing to him, in the back of my mind, I remembered about 2 books which I read in the past, both controversial in the time when they were published and both were about data interpretation and statistics.

The first was one Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life which was gifted to me by an American friend many years ago. I don’t remember whether my friend was a libertarian or a Conservative, just remember that the book given was a pretty fat book and it sat on my shelf for couple of years before I started chewing it. Only much later did I come to know that the book had generated lot of heat in its day in the United States.

The other book is and was of course, the superbly crafted book for the masses ‘Freakonomics‘ which shared with regular people how statisticians gleaned trends and insights from data and interpret them. It was an instant best-seller at the time and highly controversial as they touched on many controversial and sensitive issues, ‘names and the relationship with employment, crime ‘, ‘Abortion or/and women education and emancipation and result on population control’ and many other things, many of which the Conservatives were dead against on the principle. They did rebuttals as to how the authors had come to wrong conclusions and there was lot of back and forth. The good thing about it was both the debate it generated and data analysis becoming more of a mainstream idea which before was used to be looked as a specialized domain which concerned only geeks from finance, computer science and Statistics.

Apart from the lecture which was given, it would have been nice to have a workshop as well as have the lecture’s slides been put up to slideshare.net. There were many a things which I have forgotten already. I am sure many of the people who were in the audience would have appreciated it as well.

There were of course, lots which I missed as well due to the nature of parallel talks, in particular of a friend Yogesh Chavan’s talk on GDB. While I have used gdb a bit, there’s always something you don’t know which comes up either while presenting or in the Q&A which follows. The others were o.kish.

Now, just a while before GNUnify we came to know that this year too, we had permission to have a stall to talk about FOSS on account of National Science Day. While I wasn’t really up-to it as Praveen was no longer in the picture and I was feeling bit lazy and Raju having exams, Akshat volunteered his time for the activity. Seeing his enthusiasm, I could not but start gearing up for the Science Day.

As we had done this last year, we scrounged for materials which we had used before but as we had kept the materials in two-three different places we couldn’t find them. We had a vague idea of the literature, pamphlets, stickers etc. we wanted to make and as most of the people in the group are college-going kids, it was hard to raise cash. During discussions and back and forth for raising the cash, Akshat mentioned that this might be an activity which his company might contribute to. As many companies use FOSS and it helps in their day-to-day work as well as not having to deal with monetary seat licensing, Vendor lock-in and other kinds of nonsense, it made sense for them as well as us both. Anyway, we used Akshat to send feelers and after getting a positive response StorageDNA became a sponsor for us for the event.

I take this opportunity to thank both Akshat and his company ‘StorageDNA’ for sponsoring FOSS community for the event.

Anyways, crunch time followed soon and we were able to make some stickers, pamphlets, burnt DVD’s and a Flex Poster. The stickers were nothing but logos of some more, some less famous brands of FOSS products. The stickers as imagined by us were a hit with school-going kids. Next year, if we do, we hope to slightly bigger and better kind of stickers than this year. We also hope to have some buttons if our budget allows us.

See us hard at work/play :-
Me and Akshat half-cutting the sticker sheet

You can look at them below :-

FOSS stickers

We also made a Flex poster which showcased the various FOSS alternatives to commercial software. Some of the content was perused from last year while some more additions were made. We could have added a few more but as this was also done at the last-minute, at that time we thought it was the best. The poster can be previewed here as well.

FOSS comparison poster

The above picture was the flex which was displayed at the stall/booth for the 2 days.

Before delving into the experiences of the two days, a little backgrounder on GMRT and National Science Day is in order. GMRT stands for Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope which are huge radio telescopes and the telescopes are spread over something like 25-30 kms. They are around 25-30 telescopes in this place. You can see one of them with the antennae of the parabolic dish pointing at the sky in the picture below. See the people’s heads and tents nearby in the foreground to see how big they really are. The place has its own challenges as people are increasingly living nearer to GMRT and soon it seems it would be difficult to take observations due to human proximity, cell phone usage (which work on similar frequencies), noise and light pollution, all of which would be on rise as more people start living nearer to the place.

Single Radio Telescope, Antennae pointing upward

Anyways, GMRT is a project which is part funded by TIFR (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research) and partly funded by Govt. of India. The National Science Day started at the turn of century and is celebrated in honor of Sri C.V.Raman who discovered the Raman Effect . The idea is to inculcate a scientific temper in the masses and have a scientific outlook on things.

One of the things which has still not understood at least by me why is such a place not exploited (in the good sense of the word) by our Bollywood filmmakers.

As an e.g. I would ask if anybody has seen the 1997 sci-fi movie ‘Contact‘ and how the American Very Large Array Telescope profited from it in terms of public awareness and tourism, merchandise which helps in outreach as well as part-funding the real science as well. We are very much lacking in thinking on those terms.

Anyways, this year students were slightly less as the S.S.C. board in its wisdom had made higher secondary board exams earlier, hence there was a lesser turnout than the year before. For those who perhaps might not know, in the Indian context we have 10~12 years of schooling starting from K.G.(Kindergarden, Lower and Upper) and then 1st to 10th and after 10th you are supposed to choose a stream Science, Arts, Commerce or go for a Vocational/Professional Courses etc. College is at least 5 years if there are no backlogs after which you are supposed to get a college degree.

I share the above because most of the crowd for us on both days were not school-going kids but college first, second or/and third year students. Some of them were from Computer Science background but most of them were from E&TC background i.e. Electronics and Telecommunications background.

What was still shocking for us that most of the students, esp. Computer Science students were both hardware and software illiterate in the conventional sense of word. We shared with them the basics about the components inside a Computer System and also showed them the Raspberry Pi. We also shared some of the fun projects they could do with the Pi and how to go about achieving them, We hadn’t bought a breadboard or other things so it had to be theoretical rather than practical there, as it is there was lot of electronics to keep eye on.

Although there are lots to play with it, out idea and motivation was to push the Pi as a platform rather than just as a end-product where people could use it to hardware hacking.

The Raspberry Pi at GMRT

Still, we had quite a few interesting and inspiring discussions with some of the visitors to the booth/stall. You can see my colleague Raju Vindane explaining a point or two about FOSS to some visitors to the stall.

Raju explaining a point or two about FOSS

This year as Praveen’s lappy was missing, so we borrowed a friend Aditi’s laptop and installed Debian and a bunch of software on it. Two of the softwares which proved to be lot of help were Gcompris and Ipython which some of the younger colleagues had come into contact recently.

We also showcased bugs bunny and couple of other short animation shorts which are/were made by Blender Foundation. We didn’t curate images enough before-hand otherwise we would have had a size-able number of wire-framed models which we could texturize, model and render the object therein.

The beauty of python is its simplicity and logic. On ipython it becomes much more simple as it interprets and gives solutions or errors on the fly. No need to write bunch of code for simple things to run via the interpreter to check whether it works or not.

For e.g. this is on my Debian testing machine :-


$ ipython
Python 2.7.6 (default, Feb 26 2014, 00:34:35)
Type "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.

IPython 1.2.1 — An enhanced Interactive Python.
? -> Introduction and overview of IPython’s features.
%quickref -> Quick reference.
help -> Python’s own help system.
object? -> Details about ‘object’, use ‘object??’ for extra details.

In [1]: 2+3
Out[1]: 5

In [2]: quit
$

The above was from my Debian testing machine. I don’t think any explanation is necessary as it can be seen before you. I didn’t need to save the content and name the file as ‘addition.py’ or something to see if it works or not. For trying out concepts or little things, ipython can be really handy. The idea was for people who are new to programming or just starting up, to make them aware of a language called python. What is/was hard at times was writing code at the spot which is never easy as when you are trying out something which you know or have worked with in a public situation you suddenly forget. If memory serves me right, all of us both at our camp and the neighboring camp couldn’t remember the code or/and syntax for the simple ‘for loop‘ or the ‘while loop‘ both of which are easy if you have a calm mind. As almost all of us were sleepless, our minds were not in working order, or at least that’s the excuse I can give. The great thing is we understood our mistakes and hopefully we would do much better the next time around.

One of the takeaways and challenges is how to use all the curiosity that young people have. For e.g. take this young kid.

intelligent intuitive kid

Now this person had come last year to our booth as well as this year. Both the times we were amazed as both his intelligence as well as generosity of spirit. We want to help not only him but perhaps his school in some meaningful way so it pays forward. Whom to approach or what to do next is where we are stuck with. We do have some ideas but will take time to find what might work or not. Any ideas, suggestions please send them my way.

Apart from all above, I on behalf of ‘FOSS Community’ had invited people from ‘Mozilla India’ Foundation as we wanted more and more people to interact with different FOSS communities. I have to say some of the people from the Mozilla India Nasik group were helpful especially some of the college-going people.

We interacted with lot of different people from different background and communities, understood some of the things we hope to do better the next time around and genuinely enjoyed ourselves.

Foss community India was represented by :-

1. Me, shirish
2. Raju Vindane
3. Prasad Mhatre and last but not the least.
4. Mahendra

What was very interesting to me was an wide-ranging impromptu Science-Fiction, Conspiracy theory, Darwinism, Roswell, Bermuda Triangle, Space Debris, Parallel Dimensions, Space Travel vs Environment the talk/discussion between a bunch of people. That was fascinating as have followed all of the above (some less, some more) in my spare-time and in India for most part, have found people wanting in these subjects both as interest and knowledge, so it was nice to meet people who are open, have ideas and we could go back and forth on things. Some of the things which I miss in my daily grind. If there is ever a sci-fi convention in India, you would surely find me there🙂

Before I conclude, as always give some info. about some small tool. So here’s for this week.

So, we all get photos from people we love or/and appreciate time and again and we are non-plussed at times how a particular photo was taken as in what the settings on the camera was and how far it was from the object and things like that. In debian there is a tool called EXIF which is exactly for that. So the first thing is to install it from the repos :-


$ sudo aptitude install exif

After you have installed it, go to a folder/directory which has an image which you got from a digital camera, from a friend and want to see how it was done :-


$ exif flex-poster.JPG
EXIF tags in 'flex-poster.JPG' ('Intel' byte order):
--------------------+----------------------------------------------------------
Tag |Value
--------------------+----------------------------------------------------------
Image Description |
Manufacturer |NIKON
Model |COOLPIX S6200
Orientation |Top-left
X-Resolution |300
Y-Resolution |300
Resolution Unit |Inch
Software |COOLPIX S6200V1.0
Date and Time |2014:02:28 12:12:52
YCbCr Positioning |Co-sited
Compression |JPEG compression
X-Resolution |300
Y-Resolution |300
Resolution Unit |Inch
Exposure Time |1/250 sec.
F-Number |f/4.0
Exposure Program |Normal program
ISO Speed Ratings |80
Exif Version |Exif Version 2.3
Date and Time (Origi|2014:02:28 12:12:52
Date and Time (Digit|2014:02:28 12:12:52
Components Configura|Y Cb Cr -
Compressed Bits per | 4
Exposure Bias |0.00 EV
Maximum Aperture Val|3.20 EV (f/3.0)
Metering Mode |Pattern
Light Source |Unknown
Flash |Flash did not fire, auto mode, red-eye reduction mode
Focal Length |8.9 mm
Maker Note |2069 bytes undefined data
User Comment |
FlashPixVersion |FlashPix Version 1.0
Color Space |sRGB
Pixel X Dimension |4608
Pixel Y Dimension |3456
File Source |DSC
Scene Type |Directly photographed
Custom Rendered |Normal process
Exposure Mode |Auto exposure
White Balance |Auto white balance
Digital Zoom Ratio |0.00
Focal Length in 35mm|50
Scene Capture Type |Portrait
Gain Control |Low gain up
Contrast |Normal
Saturation |Normal
Sharpness |Normal
Subject Distance Ran|Unknown
Interoperability Ind|R98
Interoperability Ver|0100
--------------------+----------------------------------------------------------
EXIF data contains a thumbnail (3268 bytes).

I am not going to delve at all on the different settings it shows as simply that would elongate the blog-post as much as I have posted till yet. I do promise to delve into this soon with 2-3 cameras and let people see what all they can find out about it.

There are also privacy issues which need to be balanced while sharing with EXIF but that all in $some future blog-post.

In conclusion, it was a memorable experience, hopefully we can repeat and improve it the next time.

Till l8er😛

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