The Iziko South African Museum

This would be a bit long on my stay in Cape Town, South Africa after Debconf16.

Before I start, let me share the gallery works, you can see some photos that I have been able to upload to my gallery . It seems we are using gallery 2 while upstream had made gallery 3 and then it sort of died. I actually asked in softwarerecs stackexchange site if somebody knows of a drop-in replacement for gallery and was told/shared about Pwigo . I am sure the admin knows about it. There would be costs to probably migrate from gallery to Pwigo with the only benefit that it would be something which would perhaps be more maintainable.

The issues I face with the current gallery system are few things –

a. There is no way to know how much your progress your upload has taken.
b. After it has submit, it gives a fake error message saying some error has occurred. This has happened on every occasion/attempt. Now I don’t know whether it is because I have slow upload speeds or something else altogether. I had shared the error page last time in the blog post hence not sharing again.

Although, all the pictures which would be shared in this blog post would be from the same gallery 🙂

Another thing I would like to share is a small beginner article I wrote about why I like Debian.

Another interesting/tit-bit of news I came to know few days back that both Singapore and Qatar have given 96 hours visa free stopovers for Indians for select destinations.

Now to start with the story/experience due to some unknown miracle/angel looking upon me I got the chance to go to Debconf16, South Africa. I’m sure there was lot of backend discussions but in the end I was given the opportunity to be part of Debcamp and Debconf. While I hope to recount my Debcamp and Debconf experience in another or two blog posts, this would be exclusively the Post-Debconf Experiences I had.

As such opportunities to visit another country are rare, I wanted to make the most of it. Before starting from Pune, I had talked with Amey about Visas, about Debconf as he had just been to Debconf15 the year before and various things related to travel. He was instrumental in me having a bit more knowledge about how to approach things. I was also lucky to have both Graham and Bernelle who also suggested, advised and made it possible to have a pleasant stay both during Debcamp and Debconf. The only quibble is I didn’t know heaters were being made available to us without any cost.

Moving on, a day or two before Debconf was about to conclude, I asked Bernelle’s help even though she was battling a burn-out I believe as I was totally clueless about Cape Town. She accepted my request and asked me to look at hostels near Longmarket Street. I had two conditions –

a. It should not be very far from the airport
b. It should be near to all or most cultural experiences the city has to offer.

We looked at hostelworld and from the options listed, it looked like Homebasecapetown looked to be a perfect fit. It was one of the cheaper options and they also had breakfast included in the pricing. I booked through hostelworld for a mixed dorm for 2 days as I was unsure how it would be (the first night effect I have shared about previously) .

When I reached there, I found it to be as good as the pictures shared were, the dorm was clean (most important), people were friendly (also important) as well as toilets and shower were also clean while the water was hot, so all in all it was a win-win situation for me.

Posters I saw at homebasecapetown

While I’m not much of an adrenaline-junkie it was nice to know the activities that could be done/taken.

Brochures and Condoms just left of main hall.

This was again interesting. While apologies for the poor shaky quality of the picture, I believe it is easy to figure out. There were Brochures of the city attractions as well as condoms that people could discreetly use if need be. I had seen such condoms in few toilets during and around Debconf and it felt good that the public were aware and prioritizing safety for their guests and students instead of having fake holier than thou attitudes that many places have.

For instance, you wouldn’t find something like this in toilets of most colleges in India or anywhere else for that matter. There are few vending machines in what are termed as ‘red light areas’ or where prostitution is known/infamous to happen and even then most times it is empty. I have 2-3 social workers as friends and they are a source of news on such things.

While I went to few places and each had an attraction to it, the one which had my literally eyes out of socket was the ‘Iziko South African Museum‘ . I have been lucky to been quite a few museums in India, the best rated science museum in India in my limited experience has been the ‘Visvesvaraya Industrial & Technological Museum, Bengaluru – India‘. A beer from me if a European can get it right.

Don’t worry if you mispronounce it, I mispronounce it couple of times till I get it right 🙂 .

Looking up the word ‘Iziko’ the meaning of the word seems to be ‘the hearth’ and if you look at the range of collections in the museum, you would think it fits.

I was lucky to find couple of friends, one of whom was living at homebase and we decided to go to the museum together.

Making friends on the road

So Eduardo, my friend on the left and his friend, we went to the museum. While viewing the museum, there were no adjectives to describe it other than ‘Wow’ and ‘Endless’ .

See –

fossils of fish-whale-shark ?

OR

Giant fish-whale-dolphin-shark some million years ago.

and

Reminder of JAWS ;)

While I have more than a few pictures, the point is easily made. It seems almost inconceivable that creatures of such masses actually were on earth. While I played with the model of the jaws of a whale/shark in reality if something like that happened, I would have been fighting for my life.

The only thing I missed or could have been better if they had some interactive installations to showcase the now universally accepted Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species‘ I had never seen anything like this. Sadly, there was nobody around to help us figure out things as I had read that most species of fish don’t leave a skeleton behind so how were these models made? It just boggles the mind.

Apart from the Science Museum I was also introduced to the bloody history that South Africa had. I saw –

The 1913 native land act which was not honored .

I had been under the impression that India had got a raw deal when it was under British rule but looking at South African history I don’t know. While we got our freedom in 1947 they got rid of apartheid about 20 years+ . I talked to lot of young African males and there was lot of naked hostility for the Europeans even today. It was a bit depressing but could relate to their point of view as similar sentiments were echoed by our forefathers. I read in the newspapers and it seemed to be a pretty mixed picture.

I can’t comment as only South Africans can figure out the way forward. For me, it was enough to know and see that we both had similar political histories as nations. It seemed the racial divide and anger was much more highly pronounced towards Europeans and divisive then the caste divisions here between Indians. I also shared with them my limited knowledge and understanding of the Indian history (as history is re-written all the time) and it was clear to them that we had common/similar pasts.

As a result, what was surprising (actually not) is that many South Africans have no knowledge of Indian history. as well otherwise the political differences that South Africa and India has in the current scenario wouldn’t have been.

In the end, the trip proved to be fun, stimulating, educative, thought-provoking as questions about self-identity , national identity, our place in the Universe kinda questions which should be asked all the time.

Thank you Bremmer and the team for letting me experience Cape Town, South Africa, I would have been poorer if I hadn’t had the experience.

The long tail in a common’s man journey to debconf16 – 2

This is an extension of part 1 which I shared few days ago. This would be a longish one so please bear.

First of all somebody emailed me this link so in the future a layover at Doha Airport will be a bit expensive from before, approx INR 700/- added to the ticket costs 😦

Moving on, Let me share an experience I shared one of the last few days I had while I was in Cape Town –

Singer singing some great oldies from 60's , 70's till 90's.
Singer singing some great oldies from 60’s , 70’s till 90’s.

I had booked a place near Long Street, Cape Town using Bernelle’s help. What I had not known at that time that near Long Street there are free walking tours every couple of hours. I took part in all the tours and those were nice experiences. Where they start the walk, there was the gentleman pictured above. I was amazed by this gentleman’s rich voice. He strummed lot of classics from the 60’s, 70’s till the 90’s . I had two coffees and thought I was at a premium rock concert. It was a bitter-sweet experience for me because I could see that he has such prodigious talent and still he had to struggle to survive to make ends meet. I did my 2 bit but wish I could have done something more.

Side note – Before I forget there is one trick of feh which I use to view images without it getting very high-resolution (especially on my low-end systems) –

┌─[shirish@debian] - [/run/user/1000/gvfs/mtp:host=%5Busb%3A001%2C006%5D/Card/DCIM/Camera] - [4621]
└─[$] feh -g 1350x1000 .

This actually makes it far far easier to traverse through the 1000 odd photos of the trip that I have in my personal archive without doing any sort of conversion methodology. Btw, it took me time but finally was able to create an album at gallery.debconf.org . Haven’t been able to upload photos as came across an error which I have shared at https://lists.debconf.org/lurker/message/20161113.215659.fce58823.en.html

Moving on, here’s the funny story/experience I wanted to share –

could have been arrested ;)

What happened was this. This is from the Doha Airport. I had seen big buggies (ones similar to golf carts) which was ferrying people from end of the concourse to the other. I had been walking the whole day and even with the horizontal escalators and everything, it takes a toll. I was half-tired, half-sleepy and saw a buggy stationed. From behind it looked like the buggies I had seen. As there was no place to park my behind there, I entered into the buggy and sat there. Around 15-20 minutes later a Doha cop in another buggy came to me and asked me if something had happened ?

I had no clue what he was talking about. He told/shared/asked me in friendly tone whether I had committed a crime or wanted to report a crime. When I replied in negative to both, he asked then why I was sitting there. I replied it was for stretching my legs and it was the buggy which was being used to transport people from A. to B. He gently told me I had entered into the wrong one and it was actually a cop buggy. I couldn’t believe it. He did go his own way as he saw I was dead-tired. After 10-15 minutes, half-believingly I came out of the buggy and to my shock the gentleman was right. There was nothing to do but solder on to find a spot in this big airport. I shared this with few friends and family and managed to elicit few laughs hence sharing.

The somewhat sad one was I had met a couple with a baby. Now as shared before, Most Airports including the Doha Airport is Air-Conditioned/Climate-Controlled and is probably in mid-20’s so it was more than cold for me. The couples with the baby were from Asian sub-continent. From their clothes and the way they were, they were not very well off. I do remember them sharing that they had a death in the family and hence were going. I didn’t know at that point in time that there was something called bereavement fares and if they were able to take opportunity of those tickets. But this is besides the point . The issue was that their baby had been running a high-fever and the A/C was making matters worse. I had seen a pharmacy but no clinic in the airport. It was much later I came across http://dohahamadairport.com/airport-guide/facilities-services/medical-emergencies but as can be seen on the web-page it doesn’t tell whether the services are chargeable or not. I assume it would be paid, although in some of the ‘developed/industrialized’ countries it is rumoured not to be for simple ailments such as the baby was going through. Have no idea if that’s true or not. I also don’t know how it equates with travel insurance as well as most travel insurance is also supposed to help you in situations like these. I was concerned as it was a baby and babies as all know are very very fragile. If anybody has an idea or had similar experience would like to know specifically related to International Airport environment as it has ‘transit’ issues unlike in domestic airports where I don’t think it would be a bit more easy.

Now coming to my own inadequacies/lack of foresight which I had mentioned I will share, I had asked/queried and got to lead a Debian-installation workshop on the Open Debian Day. I had done a few earlier and had installed it a few times on my system and for my friends, relatives and some clients. The only bad experiences I had were to do with UEFI but even those in the jessie releases had got resolved quite a bit, so was pretty confident. The day before the Installfest was to happen, ‘Mensah Nyarko Yaa Dufie’ (one full name) of Ghana approached me to install Debian on her system. I had some older version of the Debian DVD either 8.1 or 8.3 and had known that 8.5 had been released just a few days back. Had seen pretty fast internet (as far as downloading Debian DVD) is concerned hence asked her to wait a bit while I downloaded the newest image. I sha256summed it to make sure that the image was bit-to-bit perfect.

Now I hadn’t bought a pen drive/disk from India as I was under the impression that in such conferences, pen drives should not be an issue. I had asked Bernelle privately before via e-mail as well and she had assured me that some pen-drives would be available. She gave me a handful of HP pen drives. The pen drives as we came know during our usage were somewhat flaky. It would pop out/lose connection even with the slightest nudge to the lappy.

Somehow I was able to transfer the image to the usb disk. As people say hindsight is 50:50 maybe it was not such a smart move on my part to download the big DVD image and maybe I should have got the netinstall iso . Be careful, the link I have just shared is of the old version, if you have good web link and want to try the newest stable netinstall head to cdimage.debian.org . Apart from that goof-up I dunno (still) of anyway to know if a copy from an .iso image to usb was successful or not and did it do correctly –

I did the following command –

sudo dd if=/path_to/debian-dvd.iso of=/dev/usb-mount-point

which is usually /dev/sdb on all of my systems . Her system was a brand new HP (don’t remember the model details) which she had bought just a few weeks/months before debconf. We tried a few times but it failed at installing the boot-loader stage. I asked Ritesh Raj Saraff (a friend and DD) and while he had some ideas, none of them worked. Ritesh later pointed out Steve McIntyre and shared he is part of the Debian-Installer team. At that point in time, I had no clue who Steve McIntyre was otherwise I probably would not have approached him. He quickly acquiesced to my request and shared that he would be there for the workshop. With load of my mind little bit, I apologized to mensah and asked her to be at the workshop the following day. I had no clue what was wrong at this point in time, whether it was the iso image in the usb disk or a UEFI issue. This also wasn’t good for my confidence but as somebody from the Debian-Installer team was there, I was somewhat relaxed.

Next day, some more people came for the Installfest. While I had made 2-3 copies, clearly it was not enough as more people came. I was in a frenzy and asked Deven Bansod, Keerthana Krishnan, Prabaharan Jaminy (the whole GSOC and Outreachy attendees) to volunteer to help out in making more iso images on usb disks. I introduced mensah to Steve McIntyre and we tried 2-3 times to get debian installed on the system but it didn’t move from the same place. Ritesh shared that dd had a memory leak and hence cat was a better way to do it. So we did –

$ cat debian.iso > /dev/sdb
and soon other machines had debian sporting on their desktops.

But mensa’s lappy wouldn’t get move from the boot-loader stage. Suddenly Steve had the bright idea (light bulb moment) that maybe the .iso is corrupted/usb disk is bad or something is incomplete. We started on another usb disk.

Now this is where I have a query – While I don’t want to compare, in Ubuntu there was an image self-checking mechanism where probably behind the scenes (backend) the checksums published in a file are compared with checksums generated by apps. which are on the .iso image. While it does extend your time, the end result is you know if there is some issue on the decompressed image on the usb disk. AFAIK we don’t have anything similar. The only two things I know is the wiki page and of course the various checksums of the image as shared at http://cdimage.debian.org/debian-cd/8.6.0/amd64/iso-cd/ or http://cdimage.debian.org/debian-cd/8.6.0/amd64/iso-dvd/

If anybody knows of any movement or a bug in the BTS which I can follow for the above issue please let me know.

This time Steve was able to install it without any issues. I asked him whether he had to make some specific FAT/Ex-FAT/NTFS partitions as some new UEFI-based lappies need one or more but he replied in the negative. While mensa did get her debian install, the GUI didn’t come while command-prompt was available. Then Steve added backports to the sources.list, got the new kernel, new Intel/Nvidia drivers (think it was one of those hybrid models IIRC) and she was able to boot into GNOME-Debian.

I didn’t saw any bug-reports about checksumming state of the applications before installation but did couple of reports about badblocks support and memory checking and from action on both bug-reports it is also need of the hour (although the earlier one has been marked as won’t fix :().

In this whole thing, I liked/appreciated the way Steve handled things, I intuitively understood/knew that he wasn’t just part of the Debian-installer team but someone better. I can’t explain it but it was there. A little investigation in the evening and it turned out that he had been Debian Project Leader for two consecutive years (2008 and 2009) . In hindsight it probably was a good thing I didn’t know that before otherwise I probably wouldn’t have interacted with him and it would have been my loss. To have been the DPL and still being so humble while technically being so proficient, I was amazed and didn’t know what to make of it.

Here i.e. in India, if somebody wins even the mohalla elections (neighbourhood elections) the person carries a big chip on her/is shoulder not just till he is on the seat but even beyond, and here was an example of a previous DPL asking time from one of the developers in a video if it’s possible in the next couple of days.

Lastly,last week have able to report 2 bugs upstream. The first one is of youtube-dl . It’s somewhat complicated hence will not go there atm. The second and more surprising one was from ‘nano’ our esteemed text-editor- Hopefully the bug will be fixed once a new version comes.

The long tail in a common’s man journey to debconf16 – 1

I was going to put a technical post but saw the discussion of one of the meetings of the debconf meets and decided to share a novice’s travel experience.

Before I start here’s the discussion log http://meetbot.debian.net/debconf-team/2016/debconf-team.2016-10-20-20.01.log.html

and specifically this part which hit me (using fake names for discussion as haven’t taken permission from the folks to cite them by name.) –

20:36:52 abcd: $100 CAD is a lot for some, but you’d only need it if you won’t sleep in sponsored accom, which arguably is acceptable.
20:37:04 it would, efgh, fixed sponsorship sum for everybody and allocation of rooms completely decoupled. Hotel gets the money from everybody and the “base fee” from DebConf.
20:37:15 people who can’t afford also have special needs and may be uncomfortable in sharing rooms. That’s quite frequently in our community. Managing each case will be much more complicated.
20:37:31 hijk: we could set aside budget for such special needs, for sure.
20:37:43 I’m talking about managing each case
20:37:46 hijk: yes, but we’ll have the special cases no matter what.
20:37:48 yes, and the special cases need to be catered for regardless of how everybody else is housed
20:38:06 hijk: room allocation already includes this.
20:38:19 people having to expose their personal problems to have us permitting them staying in the hotel
20:38:23 that’s just too weird

It just goes on. I dunno whether I’m weird or not or the experience I would share is just normal, this I would leave for you to decide.

As have shared before, some friends of mine from the free software community had cajoled me last year to apply for debconf bursary (debconf15), which surprisingly got approved, but as it was late and my pre-conceived myths/notions of visas taking a looooong time decided not to go further. Many things take a long time to happen in the Indian bureaucratic maze. For instance have been in a civil case for almost a decade now among other things so know and accept that things take their own sweet time otherwise known as ‘Indian patience’ 😉

Did the application and again, surprise, surprise this time too I was approved. Luckily, had done the application for bursary early so was a bit positive on the visa-front. There was a goof-up at the embassay but thanks to people at travel.stackexchange.com where I asked quite a few questions, I was a bit informed and travel was relatively hassle-free. Internally though, I was nervous as hell. I had been feeling like a ‘conman’ or a ‘fraud’ or being an ‘imposter’ because I knew before-hand that the project is so huge and had done the mistake of putting up a talk and a workshop where the big guns would be, which again was accepted (not good). The only thing I was thinking of as a saving grace is that there might be some newbies who don’t know about the project at all (on Open Day) and hopefully I could help with that but as you will see, even there I was fully inadequate.

I live in Pune which is around 3.5 hours from Mumbai (BOM) from where international flights take off. While Pune has an Airport, due to defence considerations, there cannot be much improvement either for domestic or International carriers. There have been attempts to have an exclusive civilian Airport for a long time (almost a decade) and would still take a decade or more.

Hence had decided to take an early morning train from Pune to Mumbai, change couple of locals and finally land up at the Mumbai International Airport. Hind-sight as they say is 50:50, while I do have friends in Mumbai, I also found about a homestay which is closer to the Airport and still relatively budget-friendly.

Anyways, met few friends but as was paranoid about missing connections found myself in front of the Airport at 20:00 hrs. with about 7 hours + to go before my flight. While there is nothing to do around the airport rather than hanging around, just hung around outside the airport as knew that inside the airport will be chilling and once you go in, you cannot come out or at least it’s an inconvenience to the security therein. The International Airport in on three levels, the basement is for vehicles, the first level to receive International and Domestic passengers and the upper-most level exclusively for people flying internationally. This again, came to know when I tried to enter into the ones meant for Domestic and International Passengers coming into the city.

Came to the check-in counter at around 02:00 hrs, did the security thing and just had to wait as the flight was of 0400 hrs (from my limited search experience, the cheapest flights are at such times when nobody else (i.e.civilized people) wants to fly). Entered Doha around 5:15 Doha time and saw a much much bigger airport than either the Mumbai International Airport or/and the Delhi International Airport . While I have written some negative stuff about Doha, there were two positives that I am sure, I had forgotten to share –

a. There were no transit Visa Fees that I had to pay. Most countries and airports I researched have something called transit visa and that can really get expensive, so saved money on that.

b. The free ride into the city and back with voluntary tipping the driver or/and guide (approx. 3-4 hours)

While the second from what I could tell/know is a gimmick, this is something I wish other countries and airports emulate.

There are hotels in the airport and I could have had hotel accommodation if I had booked a slightly more expensive ticket, roughly INR 5k/- each way which would have given me a bit more legroom as well as stay as my layover was more than 24 hours. But this information was known at last minute. Qatar Airways has just a toll-free number and trying more than a few times gave up. They don’t have an office in the city. When I reached the check-in counter they said if I had upgraded to ‘Y’ class I would have had the hotel thing. Changing tickets at the last moment was too expensive and anyways for hotel accommodation for layovers they required at least 24 hours notice.

Had to make do with recliners and chairs which are not really comfortable. There were only a couple of waiting rooms on air-side which had a view of the aircraft and hence were a bit more pleasing than those which were on the land-side and were fully blocked without a view. I wish there was a map of the Airport from within the Airport as even with the single terminal it is really easy to get lost.

Somehow the day and night went by and took my second flight and reached Cape Town, South Africa. Throughout the journey had been stressed as had to be awake at all times and make sure that nothing gets stolen. Having attendants at toilets were also good so that there is no possibility of any violence there. So it had been 2 days, no shower and no sleep.

Later also came to know about Airport Sleeping Pods and shower stalls but these also seem to be less in number, at few airports and there always be a bit of premium attached to them as airports are a monopoly business.

Anyways, reached the venue. Throughout the travel there was quite a bit of unnamed fear which I later came to know after seeing Dr. Ramanujan’s ‘The Man who knew Infinity‘ . It was/is the fear or unknown, while in the movie it is articulated as fear of crossing seven seas, symbolically it is the fear or unknown.

Now while I was dead tired, I still pushed myself as I didn’t want to have the effects of jet lag interfere with the normal sleeping and waking patterns. I did freshen myself but didn’t allow myself the luxury of the bath-tub as I knew that if I went in, I would not come out that day. Met all the people, learnt who’s who, where things are happening etc. and slowly night came. Night came and I was so-looking forward to sleep but sleep was not to be. I later learnt it could be either of the two reasons, it could either have been ‘travel-induced insomnia‘ or/and what is known as the first night effect‘.

It was only on the second day when I was in bath-tub for about 2/3 hours I could feel the tension leaving my body. I finally realized that I am in Cape Town, South Africa and could enjoy and be surprised at seeing birds within few feet of me 🙂 .

Now I don’t know whether I’m the only weird/paranoid one, I do know that it would not have been easier for me at least for the first night as I was turning and twisting throughout the night. I opened the lights, read for some time hoping for sleep to take over but that didn’t work. Tried quite a few things but sleep didn’t come. If I had been sleeping with other people I dunno how they would have reacted. I myself am a light sleeper (most of the time) and if I had sleep coming and somebody else acted or been the way I was, I wouldn’t been able to sleep. However much you try, whatever is the natural reaction is, will be. There are still some bits to share but that would be in part 2.