This year we, the members of FSCI had been trying to have a mini-debconf or a Debutsav down in South India for sometime now. First, preparations were made for August 2018 to have Debutsav in Kochi, Kerala but then the Kerala Floods happened and the organizers were forced to push it back to November end.
So somewhere around end-October there was a CFP announced with two tracks, one on general FOSS technologies and one for the Debian track. I submitted few topics and 2 of my talks were accepted. and the final schedule was known about one or one and a half week before the Event.Before venturing ahead, I would like to thank Balasankar, Kiran and the whole team of volunteers at CUSAT for taking such good care of all the speakers.
If you look at the schedule you would see lot that at least on Day 1 there were quite a few parallel sessions so it was not possible to cover all the sessions as they were happening at the same time. I am covering only those which I was able to cover or was able to take time from the presenter to know her or his presentation.
Aruna Sankarnaryan talks of her journey into free software
She shared how she first connected with FSMK , then entered into Outreachy , shared her contributions in Gcompris, her contributions of adding recordings of Carnatic Music in Wikipedia mostly by adding public domain Carnatic Music so people could have some understanding of the various Ragas that Carnatic Music has.
I *think* she also shared how at times she had to clean musical recordings which also takes a lot of time. She had to leave the project half-way as Carnatic Music has lots of history and she was finding it difficult to give more time to her passion. It is still a project close to her heart.
Then somehow she found herself into mapping, contributing to Gender map, Chennai Flood Map, Some analysis of Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation and so on and so forth. Most of these projects are part of the Humanitarian OSM project. I guess, one thing led to another and she joined Mapbox to continue to work on contribute on such initiatives. She also shared few of the initiatives which I had covered about a year back. She ended her presentation after sharing the many ways people can contribute to FOSS and implored students to take up challenges.
Introduction to Debian and Debutsav by Shruti
A bit of background about Shruti before I share about her presentation. She was a librarian who married Praveen, a Debian Developer. They met and post marriage she learnt Debian packaging and best practises from him and is now a Debian Maintainer of 200+ Ruby packages in Debian Main.
Shruti’s presentation started with how Debian is named about Ian Murdock’s girlfriend at the time Debby as conjunction to become ‘Debian’. The naming of Toy story characters within Debian, bits about what packaging is and why is it necessary, how new releases are churned out every two years or so and why Debian is termed as ‘stable’ or ‘rock-solid’ by people who run Debian.
It was a brief introduction, the idea behind the presentation was that at least students should know some of the history, the terminology used and also how free software development works. She didn’t get into Git as that was to be taken in the Packaging workshop which would be a hands-on session. This was the third or fourth time I have heard her and she has improved quite a bit from her first presentations.
Prashant Sugathan talks about licensing
Before going ahead, if you look at the schedule you would see that two talks were happening simultaneously. Because I had knowledge of what Raju was going to talk about or at least had a fair idea I chose to attend Prashant’s talk as I have always enjoyed talking, sharing and learning about FOSS licensing.
While Prashant didn’t share much of his background, he did share that he is a lawyer and has been with SFLC since the very beginning probably 2011 or even earlier.
As this was more attuned towards students, he started with the basics of what a license is, what does it actually mean ? What does EULA stand for. He shared how GPL is superior and fairer to both the users and creators of software. He shared about the Busybox case , Tivozation , bits of background on AGPL , importance of having a copyright file in your package/work, difficulties which can arise when you combine two or more works which may have incompatible licenses.
Prashant also shared that one of the ways that sflc works with foss communities and vendors is advising them on licensing issues to make sure that no costly mistakes are made. It is easy to have two or more third-party licenses which do not sit or work well with whatever license you want to put it under.
One of the most simplest example I can share is let’s say you have some GPL library and you want to license your work under BSD. Now because the nature and difference between the two licenses, it is possible you will run afoul of the terms of the GPL License.Things can get more hairy if you have few more licenses in the mix, each may or may not have the same interpretation in copyright law.
There are also various software tools which SFLC uses to help automate verification of a client’s software to see that are required for software distribution in the wild and any probable issues that a client may run into if they put out the software as it is. This becomes more important if the final software/release would be closed-sourced i.e. just binaries and no-source-code or incomplete or wrong source-code, all of which companies have tried and paid price for.
The rest of his presentation is and was devoted to mid-management and process oriented people hence he stopped the presentation there itself. It anyways wouldn’t have made sense to students who are just starting to think of software development.
Shirish Agarwal shares about Debian teams and how to be part of them.
After lunch it was time to share and build on whatever Shruti had shared in the morning. I first shared the Debian-dug-in mailing list homepage
I shared some of the early mails of the mailing list i.e. 2010 and then jumped to the mails of November 2018 where Abhijit A became a DD. I shared how we started this community with help of Alexander Wirt in 2010 and how we use it to communicate if and when we want to have events or discuss any major or minor issues regarding community as a whole. The concept of a mailing list was new for many of the students hence had to use analogies of instant messaging clients such as whatsapp, telegram etc. We did share that the main difference between instant-messaging and a mailing list that the archives are public, remain for a long time, is topical-based and one has to be careful when sharing anything as you would in any public stage.
I hadn’t got my laptop, hence borrowed a friend’s laptop, installed riot on it and then showed it to people. I wouldn’t go into details of what riot is and how it can be set up as have already covered that part in a previous article . I can share a snapshot of one of the channels where I hang out often as shared below. I could have shared some more resources for e.g. the debian-mentors mailing list and IRC channel but knew that would be covered in the next day’s workshop hence stopped there itself.
Vipin George talks about using Debian as a forensic Workstation
You can see Vipin on the right. He is the gentleman to the right in the off-white t-shirt. He shared about quite a few forensic tools, almost all of which can be found under either forensics-all or forensics-extra . I am not going to go into specifics of any of the tools as each tool in the list is curated for a specific purpose and each tool would probably require its own article to share why such a tool is needed and how it can help. I can however share that almost all of the tools could be used either for defensive or offensive purposes. These tools are used mainly by sys-admins, forensic experts and pen-testers.
At one point during the presentation there was a flame-war where it was contended that MS-Windows has better or more number of tools for such purposes by a self-admitted MS-Windows fanboy. The result of that argument took the remainder of the day and hence was not able to share about gaming although few people were curious to know about that. Sorry people.
Impromptu Evening session
In the evening, after dinner, it was impromptu decided to have an evening session to talk about free software as many new and old people who had a stake in the future of free software were present. Around 30-35 people of us were there, some of which can be seen in the photograph below and some not due to the angle from which the photo was taken. There were lot of discussions and sharing of personal lessons learnt. One of the conclusions was to have more mini-debconfs and debutsavs in order to make the movement larger especially if we want to have a Debconf in India.
Some left-over sessions from Day 1
Introduction to Ansible by Ompgragash
While I didn’t attend his session, from the slides it seems it was a very basic introduction to Ansible which basically deals with provisioning and automating in the cloud.As the presentation shared seems to be pretty basic, there doesn’t seem much to comment upon.
Raju talks about becoming a Debian Developer
While I didn’t attend Raju’s talk but he most probably must have talked about –
a. How to become a Debian Developer either an uploading or a non-uploading one.
b. Benefits of becoming a Debian Developer
c. The tasks one has to complete to become a DD
d. Typical life-cycle of a Debian Developer.
Ram talks about Project Vidyalaya
Unfortunately before coming Ram had a crash and hence had to send his hdd for data-recovery so he didn’t bring a demo. Although The easiest way to share about Project Vidyalaya is to share about Debian-Edu but with many innovations yet to be done for the way the Indian Education Institutions are run and managed. The distribution will default to Indian language settings (probably based on Debian sid) and would have more or less an overlay of buttons and dialog boxes which are scripted to perform functionality which is present in Debian itself. The trick would probably be in how error reporting, exception handling etc. works in real-world as no program is bug-free. There is and would be lot of infrastructure issues which would need to be fixed for that. There are two-three players in the Indian scene who are trying to do the same thing with their own vision. I am happy to see competition come up in this area.
Amoghavarsha talks about reverse-engineering
It was a very basic talk about reverse-engineering. From what conversations I had with Amogh, there was only a person or two who knew what it was about. Instead of sharing what reverse-engineering is and why it’s needed I would like to point out the movement for having high quality libre drivers for all kinds of hardware. It has lots of content where somebody who has interest in doing clean-room implementations for drivers and why it’s needed could learn from. While we hope that a day will come that open hardware is the norm, as of now it isn’t so these efforts are also needed.
Subin talks about Different Desktop environments
Subin is part of the Student Developer Community, one of the volunteers and organizers of the event and also a member of FSCI. He is also the lead at FOSSersvast , a foss club in Vidyaacademy, Thissur. He shared a bit about history of Unix and shared about the different desktops in use today and why they are needed. The FOSS Club seems to have some nice activities.
Simran shares about Apache Hadoop Sqoop.
The simplest way to talk about Apache Sqoop is that it serves as an interconnect between raw data, Hadoop and databases such as MySQL, Postgres or Oracle. From the interactions I had with her, While one can use Hadoop Mapreduce itself to get interesting data, Apache Sqoop could and is used as a conjunction for both transferring data and even getting more fine-tuned data out of the map-reduced data. While she was sharing about ACID databases, the simplest example which came to my mind is the apt database which checks all the pertinent points.
Todd Weaver shares about Puri.sm
Day 2 was started by a Remote presentation by Todd Weaver. While Abhishek had covered about Librem in May this year. As can be seen in the comments to Abhishek’s article there is a lot of anticipation as people are becoming more and more aware of the dangers of a more or less a monopoly and big tech ecosystem.
Todd divided the presentation in three parts, the past, the present and the future. One of the interesting bits of news that Todd shared at the 1/3rd part was that Puri.sm is incorporated as a Social Purpose Corporation. The nomenclature and the legal framework behind it is pretty recent, although it does show a way in which people could ethically make money as well which is a cause of concern especially to those who are thinking of entering into free software.
The second part of his presentation dealt with the current state of things as they are. Most people though aware of the dangers what big tech. offers or gives and what it takes are known to people but can’t seem to do anything about it. Todd shared how big tech distorts facts to suit to their convenience.
The last part i.e. the future had some of the more interesting questions and answers. While Todd hopes that they would be able to launch the phones in India sometime next year provided the logistics and partnerships work out, he also shared a possible plan to just not assemble but maybe manufacture some of the parts in India itself. While Pune has a couple of fabless design companies that I know of and people have done small production runs of small transistors or IC’s for specific purposes, having a full-fledged fab similar to TSMC is could go a long way in not only lowering India’s foreign exchange bill, but may go a long way in terms of making chips for Indian defence and other places where it might make sense to have our own chips. But this is far into the future and depends on many a thing. At the very least, if they are able to get the price-point right, get some sort of migration tools and give a competitive phone in terms of design and specs, it is possible they may make a dent in the market. I am cautiously optimistic and would be waiting till the Librem 5 phone hits Indian shores.
Biswas Tharakath shares his experience while driving Kerala Rescue project.
Hearing Biswas was a very humbling experience. Here was a person who probably was in his mid 20’s and already had to face a full-blown crisis. Nobody expected was the Kerala floods to happen although the Chennai floods had happened just sometime back.
As usually it happens, the Government is either in denial or state of shock as probably most people were, hence Biswas had the idea to put up a form where people could ask their needs and wants, and some volunteers from each village (3 per village) could fill the forms in behalf and the site could be used to have real-life information. The floods stuck on 9th August and he shared the form on 11th August live after coding it in couple of hours. He also shared the source-code of the form on github.com so people could suggest improvements to the form.
Interestingly, the site took a life of its own as it started get publicity due to Kerala Police and many reel-life actors supporting the site. He shared some info. on the stack used, they used Heroku as their cloud hosting provider, Cloudflare for DNS management, gunicorn as the application server and Python Django as the web-framework for scalability of the web application.
Due to big stars and Kerala Police both promoting the site, the volunteer registration site took something like 10k entries thus ending the free database tier limit on Heroku. They tried moving the database to another service provider but failed, then jumped to AWS and then jumped back to heroku as they got more free credits from heroku. While Biswas shared some of the requests and was trying to be on top of the situation, it was barely manageable. Somebody shares a message on the web about the site and the need for open source contributors. Unlike many volunteer-led projects where people are usually looking for people to have same/similar passion, Biswas started getting drowned in pull requests. There were something like 150+ merge requests and about 450 issues which people bought up. At that time, I guess Biswas realized he needs more hands and talking to people both by repute or otherwise he shared commit access as he knew that time was important.
If memory serves right, he along with the help of remote maintainers and developers also came out with a style guide for the request form so it’s easier to understand how the logic and things flow. I also remember either him or Aruna sharing some issues they had with the OSM map as many people were trying to fork OSM map while if memory serves me right, Aruna shared that OSM supports concurrency protocols which I knew although for understanding, it means everybody could work on different parts of the map at the same time. The only ‘locking’ feature would be the point where a person would be updating that particular point or area. For e.g. a Refugee point or an area to show where water level is high, things like that.
He also commented a bit about the help given by the administration, the police, relief agencies which coordinated on the OSM slippy map and added markers wherever needed. The great thing about the Kerala rescue website was that you could get accurate information on the number of refugee camps where people were, information of places where information is missing, number of type of materials which were required. Apart from food grains, cooking oil, utensils, clothing the site even had information as to how many pairs of footwear were needed according to gender and approximate ages. I even remember seeing requests for spectacles. Unfortunately the site seems to be down due to running out of free credits. It apparently will be back up on 1st January 2019. I did see few people also made android clients but dunno if there was an official Android client for volunteers or not.
Professor Abhijit talks about rise of permissive licensing
While I didn’t attend his talk as have attended the talk n number of times i.e. whenever we do have a free software presentation or talk in Pune, Professor Abhijit’s talk is a staple diet hence didn’t attend that. In brief though, his talk was about why permissive licensing is winning over copyleft licenses. I won’t go into details as a simple search of ‘permissive licensing versus copyleft licensing’ would give more than enough content. There are lots of factors associated and would need an article of its own to make some sense.
Ashish Kurian Thomas shares Unix kungfu for web developers
Ashish’s talk was titled a cheeky one. It basically talked or shared about zsh, oh-my-zsh, how to add git prompt (which IIRC oh-my-zsh enables by default), shared some of the fun and funky commands that most command-line users use all the time and a bunch of aliases. While I didn’t attend his session, I do wish it was more of a hands-on workshop but then that would have required people to install Debian, although from the discussions on the debtusav matrix/irc channel there was supposed to be a docker image having non-free drivers for installation.
The docker image though was for Praveen, Shruti’s packaging workshop where a bunch of people were helping them who were taking different parts of the full-day packaging workshop. I didn’t attend the workshop as had been busy socializing and seeing presentations which I had missed on the first day. But more on this later.
Panel discussion on Debian India, Road ahead
Just to start with, this was the last session of the day.This was a panel discussion with Anusree being the anchor on the extreme left, Raju, Kannan, Abraham Raji, Subin and rounding out at Sruthi. Again lot of learnings were shared along with a strong statement that FSCI would never register at least in the short and medium term due to impersonality that organisations create and they have more than enough organizations who are willing to hold money or do any sort of legal work or otherwise that FSCI needs if need be. There were also some queries about how people can start contributing and I shared some of the simplest examples of how people could get started. The problem with most students is they look for mentors while Debian is more like ‘scratch your own itch’ more often than not. There are lots of fields like bioinformatics, medicine, engineering, Architecture, Animation etc. where Debian has all the tools and is being used by people but that’s story for another day.
Some notable mentions
There are still a lot I have left out. I left Shruti and Praveen’s Packaging workshop as it’s a long drawn-out process having its own fun and challenges.There was also Kasim from IIT Mumbai who was showing a sub-10k laptop for educational purposes, made in China sporting a KDE desktop. I didn’t have enough time to look through it, although the best way would have been to open it and look at the innards as to what makes it tick and how things are placed but that may be for another day altogether. There was also a gentleman whom I met who was using Bangalore OSM to make an app. where people could add reports of either crowding, accidents, materials strewn on the path etc. He showed us both the back-end and the front-end which needed lots of polish. Also, before finishing, I need to call out Bilal for all the beautiful photos that he clicked without which this blog post would have been more forlorn. If you are seeing any digital artefacts, that’s simply because I resampled the images so its easier to load and doesn’t take much bandwidth. Last but not the least, no Debutsav is complete without the full group photograph.