Epilepsy, Javascript, Security and Debian

This would be quite a long post so would request everybody to relax, have their favorite hot/cold drink in their hand, kick up their feet and relax as it’s going to take time.

The first update I wanna share is about my epilepsy. For those who didn’t know I suffered a series of epileptic seizures about a year and a half back. I stayed in an hospital for about 3 months, luckily medicines helped me and didn’t had to go for brain surgery (which was a real possibility), needed a month and a half of physiotherapy to regain balance and muscular movement. It is still not 100% but can move around which is more than enough to be thankful for.

Last month, after coming from the Kerala trip, took the brave step of getting an MRI and a battery of tests. While the expenditure of the tests and MRI was expensive ( INR 25k), I was more apprehensive if it would result in a further stay in hospital which I was really afraid of. Thankfully, the doctors had said that 99% of the issue is gone. While I am supposed to visit him once every few months, he has advised to take another similar test around 6 months to a year from now but that’s upto us. The moment the doctor shared this, I felt like an unimaginary weight I had been putting on my shoulders had been lifted.

Due to my own experience, I tried to read as much as I could about epilepsy. While I have been lucky than most, from what little I could garner and understand epileptic seizures and strokes happen when some sort of abnormal chemical reaction happens in a brain. Why it happens could be for any number of reasons. In my case, it apparently was that the blood which flows to the brain had become thick and hence had to take blood-thinning medicines.

Some of the probable reasons for thick blood could be fatty tissue ( I am fat), thinking too much or just being out in the sun too much. I don’t know which of the reasons to believe as all and either of them is as likely as other or not. The only realization I have from the various explanations given is that probably that the doctors don’t know (more research is needed) . One of the other causes which I found out is also pollution which could have been a contributing factor. I say this as most people who were next to me were patients who had similar issues and most of them were in the prime of their health and still they got it.

One of the interesting things I came to know while I was researching about MRI (after the first check happened) after I was able to sit on the computer and use the web on my own was to know that MRI was actually named NMRI i.e. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imagining but due to the word ‘nuclear’ having negative connotations probably due to the association with the Atomic Bomb explosions. Ironically, I am a bit thankful as at least I was able to understand and empthasize a bit with people who may be going with something similar.

People who suffer from depression or mania of some sort come to know inherently that it’s not something they can control or be in charge of, at the most they try to find ways to learn to live with it. Most people, including me, more than ever before are hard on ourselves even though we are as if not more falliable than the next person. We are going to make more mistakes, whether it is in our spelling or our understanding of things. I hope this message and prayer brings some sort of peace and understanding to those who are either going through it or are part of people who are living through it. To have emotional outbursts and frustrations is pretty common as we are not in control as we were before. I would stop here now.

JSFOO

Last week I had volunteered to be part of JSFOO . I had been hearing about JSFOO from friends, colleagues for quite some time now. I volunteered and shared I would write about my experience and as well as help them with the report of the event. Having attended the event, I have mixed feelings about the event. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but most talks I found boring simply because it was another version of ‘My Javascript is better’ and at the most ‘hello world’ kinda script was shown . While there were two tracks, I could be in only one I found them to be too basic to my liking even though I am no Javascript developer. The first one I attended was from Ironswap security which was about XSS . I found the talk to be a bit confusing and at the same time was surprised when a couple of attendees asked me what XSS was. I don’t think even the presenter asked if people knew what XSS was and just went about his presentation.

One of the other things which irked me when some lady gave a sort of caricature explanation of what Open-Source is. I don’t know whether I heard her wrong, or she didn’t know what Open-Source is. While I am more of a free software person, I still understand the various nuances and the reason why open-source came in and what it means both from a business and a legal perspective. I just groaned inwardly for some new developer who might be thinking what open-source is and went with a vagueish understanding or definition.

There was an interesting presentation though about Frappe charts though. Although the lady sharing it was too fast, probably to get the whole thing under 20 minutes. I do hope nobody had to subtitle that talk as I know from personal experience how taxing, frustrating such an experience might be, more so if the person speaking, is speaking fast. You can’t roll the subtitles fast enough than the eyes and the brain can process. I do wish she had slowed down and gave some more attention to charting as it’s both as a business decision-making process function but woefully misunderstood and rated lower unless you are into stocks or bonds or have to give some sort of cost-benefit analysis to your peers, seniors etc. IMO how to make charts and how different ways to make chart is able to get different visual ways and understandings should be 101 for any student irrespective of whatever background s(he) is from.

One of the other interesting presentations was by Jyotsana Gupta who was from Mozilla who tried to share about some of the security addons. I wish she had taken more of a time and had gone more a bit in-depth, would have enjoyed that quite a bit.

The other interesting conversation was from somebody from Amazon Alexa and how to program for sound. He had a full day free workshop for the next day which I was unable to attend although I guess it would have been just as enriching. For India, it seems next to impossible as there are just so many dialects and ways of speaking and having probably more than a dozen or two dozen words and phrases for something or the other. While I could guess-work it still seems a long-haul from the basic ‘keyword’ patterns which people use and privacy issues but that’s another potboiler altogether 🙂

One of the things I kept hoping, probably against hope is somebody would talk about the Javascript Trap and share about librejs but that was not to be, although with some recent conversations and understandings that may also be a long road indeed, sharing below.

DevSecOps Pune 2 – Lean Coffee format

I almost didn’t go to this meetup. I called up the number of the organizer but then hung up as I ain’t a security expert, while this meetup was for security experts. The only thing which kinda pulled me for this meetup was not really the security aspect but the lean coffee methodology which I hadn’t heard about before so was curious. Somehow the organizer called me and I agreed to be part of the meetup although I had no idea what I would talk about. I have played with some security tools for myself and my clients but not in a serious manner. Anyways, turned up the next day and was lucky to call before as I was thinking that it would start at 11:00 hrs. but started at 10:00 hrs. The place is also near to my place so was able to make in one piece without much sweat. I had gone with the idea of not participating much. Also one of the rules of the game was not to talk of products but processes hence just went like that.

We were passed chits and I just wrote Debian on it, thinking it probably wouldn’t be picked up. As per lean coffee setup, was given a marker and any two choices I could put the marker too, I put my marker on what most people were interested in and anyway I had no knowledge of the two subjects. Somehow two people put a mark to Debian .

The first topic was taken up by Muneeb, a long-time friend whom I had not met up for a long time. He started with passwords (shared secrets) and shortcomings of the same. He shared about PKI but only asynchronous PKI or PKI with a certifying authority which I knew from the many public and not so public fallouts is and was a broken infrastructure. He also shared a bit about digital certificates which again has been on the way out in almost all countries except India. It is good if you are making money either as an agent or being a certifying authority but doesn’t do anything in terms of making the infrastucture any safer. There was talk of SSL but even as a novice web-user I know that all SSL is not the same. There used to be a slew of excellent add-ons such as certificate patrol, perspectives and convergence of which only certificate patrol has managed to still eke out a web presence. The site itself answers the many questions about how SSL itself is broken. It is an excellent resource for those who want to know about it.

While I didn’t go into the details of either how SSL is broken or MITM attacks are possible, I did share about synchronous public-private key infrastructure, Web of Trust and getting the public key signed by multiple developers. I did share the whole key-signing party which happens and how people trust or don’t trust you depending on n number of factors, part of which may be their own paranoia which depending on how you look at it can be healthy or not.

The other topics which were shared by people were often compliance and war stories they had encountered when dealing with different companies and compliance methods. I remember sharing about LTP and getting blank looks about it. I had actually been thinking about if as an attacker I would either do multiple DOS attacks on a machine/network and use one or the vulnerability to worm my way through. My question was about if they offered such kind of services and was told that in most companies they weren’t allowed to do even basic pentesting so what I was wondering is far out there from the reality. This is when some of their client companies are apparently doing software exports to other countries.

Something which I have seen for quite sometimes is the kind of password requirements esp. in Indian sites are. This is an example of an Indian site where I wanted to put a password –

Now while I won’t share the site name. It is a common occurence. Now why it doesn’t work most probably is because whoever coded for the password was looking at having just single numerical character, a single lower character and a single special character.

If you look at most user’s pyschology they would usually try to have a password which meets the least requirements rather than full. If I were an attacker, I would say it is a weak system as the attacker would know that most people would use something like this to fulfill requirements but also give easy access to an attacker. Password – Shirishag75; or something similar as most people use the common username to have the same profile everywhere. The attacker’s job becomes much much easier in such cases. And while I have shared one, there are probably hundreds of Indian sites which use similar methodology to ‘safeguard’ user passwords. What would have been better is the ability to have multiple special characters, multiple upper and lower characters and multiple numerical characters. Anything which improves entropy or randomness should decrease the chance of attack. This of course also depends upon the user to exercise and use that understanding but that’s a topic for another day.

When it came to Debian I shared the short history of free software, the four principles, Redhat and inspiration about Debian and the number of software packages we support and the number of hardware architectures we support. While I did share about the debian-security team and debian-security tools, I didn’t share anything about Debian Hardening as I knew we have a long way to go. Historically, we have taken a lot from BSD world as well shared back.

There was also the whole systemd debate and for a change, I decided to be the devil’s advocate. I knew the multitude reasons when we had to use it instead of the aging SystemV. From what I could remember, we had become de-facto upstream of SystemV which were taking developer resources and not giving enough return out of it. I remember meeting Lennart Poettering when he came to Pune in 2013/14 for Fudcon or some other Fedora event and had been reading lot of flame-wars in 2013, 2014 over systemd, some of which is still causes heartburn today.

One of the arguments which to my mind is the strawman argument is when systemd doesn’t start, the whole system collapses. This is a strawman to my mind as all things will fail eventually, for any number of reasons. For e.g. grub may fail, filesystems may fail, the only things which should probably prevent complete meltdowns are hetrogeneous systems but that probably would have been a topic for a different day altogether.

I do have machines running on systemd and SystemV and find the ones from systemd to be a tad bit more responsive. At some point if I am able to get a new machine, I probably will try OpenRC too as that’s now in Debian as well.

All in all, it was much more of an enriching experience as I was able to share some things while also learn a bit about topics I had no idea about, like compliance.

Before sharing about Debian, there was an inspiring coverage about 2 women who tried to enter Sabarimala and the travails they shared. What is and was interesting is that they were aware of the risks they were taking and still they went for it. There is also probably a semi-fictional movie story called Soni . I say semi-fictional because the way it has been shot and shown, seems to be real. While there isn’t enough data yet, it still tends to suggest that we have a long way to go through either as part of gender-justice or even better law governance. So with the above as inspiration, let’s see what’s been happening in Debian.

Debian

Debian has been in a bit of drama over the last couple of months. If I were to describe Debian as an organization, the mental picturization I would have of it as of today would be of a town-hall. It has beaureacracy, with the current organizational structure. From the current drama, one question which came to my mind is why we have 3 DAM’s for say around 35-50 odd AM’s. If nothing else, it seems quite a bit of strain on the workload of DAM as it is vis-a-vis the number of AM’s . Of course, it’s hard to gauge the amount of work the DAM’s may be going through as there aren’t any statistics which tells the number of hours they have to work, in addition of whatever day-jobs they hold. AFAIK apart from the special privilege of admitting a new member, refusing membership and revoking membership of an existing memeber and perhaps making reports and documentation which probably is shared with the Debian Leader.

Before starting with the drama at Debian, I would like to share an interesting article/blog post which was shared by a free software friend. I found it interesting because FSF for a long time had positioned itself as a vanguard of free software. As with most free software activists, I have no clue as to what to feel. I do feel shocked and more than a tad disasppointed with the way things have moved. For those who are and might be new to the world of free software, ‘FSF’ was always cherished to be ‘the unreasonable people’ . Unreasonable in the sense that they would uphold free software values. They would look to uphold small businesses and user freedoms. They were the reason ‘open source’ was born which is and was born with the idea of supporting ‘big business’. Now if FSF starts supporting Microsoft or any other big company how are they different from ‘open source’ or ‘OSI‘ .

Now coming to the drama, I first came to know about it from a mail at debian-dug-in which led me to provocatively titled mail message called ‘bits from the censorship team‘ , the trail led me to a humongous thread on debian-project, one of which seeks to explain the ‘crisis‘ in Debian. While I don’t know the reasons, from whatever interactions I have had with either Daniel Pocock both via blog posts and emails have been thoroughly professional. While I stand (sadly) by the reasons I had that day and today he has been a complete gentleman as far as I’m concerned. While I probably have had less than 50 odd interactions via mail I did find him to be respectful in all his replies. The same can be said of Nortbert with whom I had a chance to interact a bit more as I use some of the tex packages which IIRC were/are his baby. Whenever I did put up a bug-report or something, he did reach out and fixed those bugs in a timely fashion which is what attracted me to Debian in the first place. The third gentleman I have no idea about hence wouldn’t know. I have to point out though, that if you just read those two mails then they may result in a biased viewpoint. I would request people to read through the whole thread. There are many balanced voices which makes Debian a vibrant community.

What did hurt though was when I came to know about concerns being raised about Praveen’s contributions. While I could understand Rhonda’s concerns, I do wish she had framed in much better way. Most DD’s and even DM’s abandon packages when they are not working on it or they are retiring. If Praveen felt like that, he would do it that way only. I didn’t see any reason to expect any different way from him.

FWIW I have known the gentleman (Praveen) for almost a decade and more. He is and has been generous to a fault and has been a prime motivator for almost all the Debian-related activity, especially events which happen in India. Even last week, he was in Orissa which is known as a backward state due to number of reasons, one major reason being a perennially flooded every couple years or so. So even in a state where the basics are lacking for many, he is there sharing and enhancing digital literacy. Even here, Praveen was able to put a call out and now he has quite a few number of people who are willing to contribute and take over in case he needs to setep aside . Remember this is in a country which has no form of pension or Universal Coverage like most western countries do. While I wanted to share his some of his talks listed without his phone number, for some reason gimp is not co-operating today 😦

Brexit

Lastly, brexit seems to be like a slow train knowing it’s going to crash. Whenever I see any news about brexit, I am reminded of the incident in the Quwaiti Bazaar where a gentleman from Pakistan was unable to buy dates because he had the UK pound while Euro was ok. This was 2 years back. Incidentally today on twitter, a gentleman went through all the laws that Europe imposed on UK and all the laws seem sane. In fact, I remember on agriculture that Indian farmers and businesses wanted to sell some Indian-grown fruits and England denied them saying they had carcigiones, pesticides and what not and they turn around and say no when Europe wants the same standards for everybody.


Book Lovers meetup and Review of the Hollywood Station (Novel)


I went to a booklover’s meetup almost after a year the last time yesterday. I went as the last time I had gone it was just 5-7 people and in small intimate groups you can talk about books or stories you like in depth rather than just share a glimpse of the books that turn you on. Although it was a bit crowdy it was fun. The only downer is that I wasn’t able to get a list of all the books people were reading or/and recommending and the group is on whatsapp 😦

Anyways, few years ago, I had chanced upon a book called ‘The New Centurions’ by Joseph Wambaugh. It was a very different kind of writing as it was written from a Police Officer’s POV while mostly we see crime and investigation of the crime from a third-person perspective. More than that, it sort of shares the emotional turmoil that a Police Officer goes through. It also shed light on how truth is also greyer to him rather than black and white as it seems to us. While I had read that book few years ago, during a book sale some months ago, unnoticed went in The Hollywood Station . While this book is also a classic in itself I was surprised to read that the New York Police Department was operating under a consent decree for a period of five years which was later made 7 years.

There were 2-3 incidents in the book though, which shook me quite a lot. While there aren’t any overtly sexual stuff in the book, there are quite a few suicide cases which the Police Officers experience. After reading any one of the experiences, I had to stay away for almost 2 weeks or a bit more just to get the images out of my head. The scenes or situations described are not detailed or graphic in nature, it’s just the way they happen that leads you to emphatic and wonder what you would have done in that situation.

I would share one of the less scarier ones. Once while on patrol, they get a message about an elderly Causcasian gentleman who apparently lives by himself on the outskirts and with his loaded gun has been firing in the air and harassing neighbors. A whole bevy of officers come in case it becomes a shoot-out. They find an old gentleman whom they are not sure of whether he is on drugs or whatever (the officers are not sure). They ask him to surrender and he seems to comply. The place is semi-dark . While surrending, one of the cops sees what seems to be a gun and calls it out. He is riddled with holes When one of the officers turns over the palm of the dead person’s hand, he finds it had a water gun which even didn’t even have water. While searching, they later find a sort of suicide note in which he laments about his life, thanks and absolves the officers of the law and asks his ashes to be spread over the bay. One of the young officers remarks that he didn’t wear the badge to be an executioner but to protect and serve.

While reading the book and even afters, I am and was pretty sure if I were to be party to any such events, it would absolutely gaurantee me becoming an inmate in a mental asylum. The only resemblances in character formation at least in mainstream Bollywood cinema would be Paresh Rawal’s breakthrough performance as the cop on his last day when Mumbai bombings happened in Mumbai Meri Jaan and more recently Jitendra Joshi’s act as Constable Katekar in Sacred Games Season 1.

I found both the books to be pretty rich in both police trainings, philosophy, limitations which a Police Department has. I am sure there is a bit of bias as Joseph Wambaugh himself was a Police Officer and served the Police Force for a period of 14 years. He also shares some case-laws which would have made for some very dry-reading if read only in context of just a case-law but becomes more important as certain context is given to you.

One of the positives of reading these books were I actively searched about consent decree, its usage being seen through various eyes, from an eye of civil-right activist, from the political establishment and of course its application in the Indian judicial system, if any in reforming the police force. As shared in a blog post last month on the surveillance order it tells of the many steps the Indian judicial still needs to take to raise awareness on such a topic.


Debutsav Kochi 2018

Preparations

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.

Day 1

Aruna Sankarnaryan talks of her journey into free software

Aruna presenting 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

Shruti sharing about Debian and Debutsav

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

Prashant talking 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.

One interesting case study/case-law was between Cokinetic vs Panasonic which was ultimately settled in January 2018.

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.

Shirish talking about Teams in Debian

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

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.

Showing FSCI channel from my desktop

Vipin George talks about using Debian as a forensic Workstation

Talking with Vipin George before his forensic talk.

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

Evening session on 1st evening at CUSAT guesthouse

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

Ompragash talking about Ansible

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

Raju talks about becoming DD

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

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

Amogvarsha 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 shares 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.

Simran shares about Apache Sqoop and Big Data

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.

Day 2

Todd Weaver shares about Puri.sm

Todd Weaver remote presentation

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.

Biswas shares his Keralarescue experience

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

Professor Abhijit talking about rise of permissive licenses

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 shares about Unix webdevs

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

Panel discussion on FSCI and Debian India

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.

Debutsav group photograph

Agencies able to monitor conversations without judicial oversight.

It seems that the BJP has finally lost what little moral compass it held. Today, in a stunning order we lost all the ground that all our civil activist friends had hard-fought in the last few years making Right to Privacy a fundamental right . At least a decade worth of effort has been put down the drain. While the reasons are not hard to fathom, they just lost 5 state elections and instead of introspecting the reasons of why they lost, they have chosen to act in this brazen manner.

The most worrying and interesting part at the same time is that the powers that have been given to the Central Agencies is without any judicial oversight so it’s pretty much given that they will use it more for their personal gains and enmity rather than any real or perceived threat to Indian sovereignty. They might be perceiving that losing in elections is tantamount to threat to Indian sovereignty. They forget that BJP!=India which means BJP is not equal to India, no political party is. In putting this order they are also putting precedents of fascist and dictatorial orders in a democratic, peace-loving country like India. The picture that emerges is a simple one, if they are going to lose, they might attempt these sort of orders in the hopes they can eavesdrop on the opposition, business leaders, threaten them etc. and by hook or crook win National elections which is supposed to be held in middle of next year nobody would be the wiser. They have made many changes in the highest court expecting that the judges that have been appointed would rule in their favor. And anyways, any filing of suit today would have a first hearing at least 3-4 months down the line or even later depending on dates of judges, court-room access etc. If nothing, the General Attorney from Government of India can always ask for more time.

The most worrying aspect of this is they have given even the Police Commissoner the said powers. While we hope that the higher bodies like ED and Intelligence Bureau would use the powers responsibly, the police sadly has been known to overreach its authority against civilians even without the additional powers given to them. Also this is setting precedents that State Police of different States could also ask for the same powers citing law and order. It is a bit ironic if you ask me that if you a law enforcement official serving say in the United States, you would have to get judicial consent before tapping a suspect’s phone even though they have right to bear arms (it is one of the fundamental rights), while here, i.e. in India posessing arms is more or less illegal but still police will get such powers citing law and order.

MHA Order

I wanted to share that the diversity and values that Indian people have and this seems to be the most opportune time to share it as had bunch of experiences in Kerala. There were couple of interesting experiences and observations that I made on my short visit to Kerala, Kochi. After being for the whole of Debutsav I decided to take a mini-holiday of 2-3 days to just look around Kochi. While I had been to Kerala before but each time it had been either a beach, a temple and not really seeing Kerala. This time around, I was able to see how due to Kochi being a sea port had lot of influences on Christian and Muslim minorities and how they are able to have a sort of jovial relationship. I did see Christian schools on roads named after Muslim saints and vice-versa although due to Dutch East India Company, most of the places and even roads had english names. Being alone, I was able to talk to some of the fishermen and they shared both their helplessness with the State’s response to the floods and the uncertainty of the catch. Because Fort Kochi is still a functioning port, I did see couple of huge cargo or freight ships as well as was able to use the ferry which the local people used for point to point travel. I would probably upload pictures of both in couple of days here itself. While I was fascinated by these huge container ships, the fishermen shared with me how it has polluted the inland and how fishing is not good as it once was. The only way is to go to open sea and with the recent floods it is not inspiring.

One of the more interesting experiences was meeting a Mr. Singh. I will not share the gentleman’s details as all the sharing were done off the record. I am sharing here just as an example of a reality which is not exposed often. Mr. Singh is the eldest of the three brothers. While he was born in Punjab but due to reasons unknown (I didn’t ask him) his father settled in Kerala. Just like rest of Keralities of his time there wasn’t much for young men like him to do. So instead of sitting idle like his 2 brothers he decided to risk and go to Middle East. This was in the 70’s. He worked in UAE, Dubai, Qatar and other places. He found many Indians, Punjabis included and none gave a fag about what religion they were. They made many watering holes where Indians used to meet every Friday, socialize and share news of whatever currently was happening there or whatever news they could get of home, India.

When he came back in the 90’s many people including him started either some small shops or restaurant business to cater to people. Unlike Pune though, Kochi doesn’t have seem to have many restaurants but anyways that’s a different story.

Around 1991/92 unrelated to the Bombay riots 1992 there were communal riots even there where his shop was burned down. But due to relationships he had built up in Middle East, many Muslims and even some Parsis came to help him and get back on his feet. So while his children are well-placed, he did feel that the community relationships which have helped and guided him hoped didn’t get trampled by BJP which is trying to upset the easy relationships most communities have built over decades. I did hear some similar stories from other people as well. There are even lot of Assamese people who have emigrated to Kerala and they speak Malayalam better than the natives. In fact, Balasankar confided that the domestic helper who comes to their place to help out his mother and family, her son got 100/100 in Malayalam . This says something about the spirit of the place and the people therein.

How to measure learning outcomes ? The learner and the Cynic

I have been having a series of strange dreams for few days now. I had seen a bollywood movie called Sui-Dhaaga few days back .

The story is an improbable, semi-plausible story of a person, couple, no a community’s search for self-respect and dignity in labor. While the clothes shown in the movie at the fashion show were shown to be made by them, the styles seemed pretty much reminiscent of the materials and styles used by National Institute of Design.

One of the first dreams I had were of being in some sort of bare foot Design school which is/was interdisciplinary in nature. I am the bored guy who is there because he has no other skills and have been pressured by parents and well-wishers to do the course and even failed in that. I have been observing a guy who is always cleaner than the rest of us, always has a smile on his face and is content and enjoys working with cloth, whether it is tailoring or anything and everything to do with cloth. The material used is organic handspun Khadi which is mixed with silk to lose the coarseness and harshness that handspun Khadi has but using the least of chemicals and additives and is being sold at very low prices so that even a poor person can afford it.

This in reality is still a distant dream.

Anyways, with that as a backgrounder to the story, one day there is a class picnic/short travel. Because the picnic is ‘free’ i.e. paid by the Institute , almost everybody else except the gentleman who is always smiling and content agrees and wants to go to the picnic. The gentleman asks that he would prefer to be there in the classroom, studying and working with the cloth.

The lone teacher/management is in a fix. While he knows the student and doesn’t question his sincerity he is in a fix because the whole class/school is going for the picnic and there are expensive machines, material lying around. Even the watchmen want to be on the picnic and the teacher/management doesn’t have the heart to say no to them.

He asks in a sort of dejected voice if somebody wants to stay behind with him. A part of me wants to go to the picnic, a part of me wants to stay behind and if possible learn about the person’s mystery of his smile and contentedness.

After awaiting appropriate time and teacher asking couple of times, I take on a bored, resigned tone and volunteer to stay behind, provided I get some of the sweets and any clothes or whatever is distributed.

The next day, I wear one of my lesser shabbier clothes and go to school and find him near the gates of the school, at a nearby chai shop/tapri. He asks me how I am and asks if I would like to eat and drink something. I quickly order 3-4 items and after a fullish breakfast ended by a sweet masala chai we go to the school.

The ‘school’ is nothing but a two rooms with two adjacent toilets, one for men, one for women. The school is probably 500 meters squarish spaced with one corner for embroidery works, one corner for dyeing works, one corner for handspunning khadi and one corner which has tailoring machines. Just last year we had painted the walls of the school using organic colors and the year before we had some students come in who helped us in having more natural light and air to the school.

We also had a new/old water pump which after a long fight with the local councillor we had been able to get and got running water of sorts. We went to the loo, washed our hands, faces, cracked a few jokes and then using the heavy iron key chain which had multiple keys, opened the front door and we went in. He going to his seat, while I going to mine. As always, he’s fully absorbed, immersed in his work.

After waiting for half an hour to an hour, I announced that I’m going to take a leak and have water. He agreed to join me and we had a short break. After coming back, I sat a little across him and asked if I could ask him a few questions. Without missing a beat, he said sure. I asked him a few probing questions as to who he was, who else was in his family, what he used to do before enrolling here.

Slowly but surely, he teased out the answers sharing that while he had been a successful person and had money (he actually said ‘entrepreneur’ but my dream self couldn’t make out what it was) and while he had money saved, his wife was supporting him in this venture as she was good at Maths (a ‘statistician’ which again my dream self was oblivious was all about) and apart from learning about clothes, how they are made etc. something which he always enjoyed but which was discouraged in his house. They were working on a book about ‘learning outcomes’ (which again my dream self knew nothing about, but when he said he would be sharing stories about me and my class-mates I was excited and apprehensive at the same time.) He assured it would be nothing bad.

I asked him in my innocence as to why such a book was necessary because in my world-view we were doing nothing exciting about a school where most of us were learning in the hopes that with the skills we would somehow be able to eke out a living. Looking at the bleakness of the background of the people around me, I didn’t think there was anything worth writing about. I had learnt about writers who were given money to write about fairy tales and even had got a comic book or two with bright colors and pictures. When I asked him if it was going to be something similar to that book, he replied in the negative . He shared that they were in-fact were going to self-publish the book as the book was going to be ‘controversial’ in nature. While my dream self didn’t understand what ‘controversial was all about but was concerned when he explained that they would be putting up their own money to bring out the book. I felt this was foolishness as nobody I knew would spent money to print a book which didn’t have pictures and it was not also a fantasy like about a hero battling dragons and such.

At this moment, my dream ended. For those who had been working in the education sector I’m sure they would be having a laugh on almost all the aspects of the dream/story. ‘Learning outcomes’ has never been a serious consideration by either the Government of the day or previous Governments. Teachers are the most lowly paid staff in the Government machinery. Most of them who enter the profession, do it out of not being able to get a job any other way and are also not obsessed by the subject/s they teach. They somehow want to make ends meet. The less said of the ‘no detention’ policy of the Government, the better. Even the Government doesn’t believe the stats trouted by its own people but instead on ASER made by Pratham although the present Government has reversed it as it wants to show they have been doing the best job in field of education.

Journeys

This would be a long blog post as I would be sharing a lot of journeys, so have your favorite beverage in your hand and prepare for an evening of musing.

Before starting the blog post, I have been surprised as the last week and the week before, lot of people have been liking my Debconf 2016 blog post on diaspora which is almost two years old. Almost all the names mean nothing to me but was left unsure as to reason of the spike. Were they debconf newcomers who saw my blog post and their experience was similar to mine or something, don’t know.

About a month and half back, I started reading Gandhiji’s ‘My Experiments with Truth‘ . To be truthful, a good friend had gifted this book back in 2015 but I had been afraid to touch it. I have had read a few autobiographies and my experience had been less than stellar when reading the autobiographies. Some exceptions are there, but those are and will remain exceptions. Now, just as everybody else even I had held high regard for Gandhiji and was afraid that reading the autobiography it would lower him in my eyes. As it is he is lovingly regarded as the ‘Father of the Nation‘ and given the honorific title of ‘Mahatma’ (Great Soul) so there was quite a bit of resistance within me to read the book as its generally felt to be impossible to be like him or even emulate him in any way.

So, with some hesitancy, I started reading his autobiography about a month and half back. It is a shortish book, topping out at 470 odd pages and I have read around 350 pages or so. While I am/was reading it I could identify with lot of what was written and in so many ways it also represents a lot of faults which are still prevalent in Indian society today as well.

The book is heavy with layered meanings. I do feel in parts there have been brushes of RSS . I dunno maybe that’s the paranoia in me, but would probably benefit from an oldish version (perhaps the 1993 version) if I can find it somewhere which probably may be somewhat more accurate. I don’t dare to review it unless I have read and re-read it at least 3-4 times or more. I can however share what I have experienced so far. He shares quite a bit of religion and shares his experience and understanding of reading the various commentaries both on Gita and the various different religious books like the ‘Koran’, ‘The Bible’ and so on and so forth. When I was reading it, I felt almost like an unlettered person. I know that at sometime in the near future I would have to start read and listen to various commentaries of Hinduism as well as other religions to have at least some base understanding.

The book makes him feel more human as he had the same struggles that we all do, with temptations of flesh, food, medicine, public speaking. The only difference between him and me that he was able to articulate probably in a far better way than people even today.

Many passages in the book are still highly or even more prevalent in today’s ‘life’ . It really is a pity it isn’t an essential book to be read by teenagers and young adults. At the very least they would start with their own inquiries at a young age.

The other part which was interesting to me is his description of life in Indian Railways. He traveled a lot by Indian Railways, in both third and first class. I have had the pleasure of traveling in first, second and general (third class), military cabin, guard cabin, luggage cabin as well as the cabin for people with disabilities and once by mistake even in a ladies cabin. The only one I haven’t tried is the loco pilot’s cabin and it’s more out of fear than anything else. While I know the layout of the cabin more or less and am somewhat familiar the job they have to do, I still fear as I know the enormous responsibilities the loco pilots have, each train carrying anywhere between 2300 to 2800 passengers or more depending on the locomotive/s, rake, terrain, platform length and number of passengers.

The experiences which Gandhiji shared about his travels then and my own limited traveling experience seem to indicate that change has hardly been in Indian Railways as far as the traveling experience goes.

A few days back my mum narrated one of her journeys on the Indian Railways when she was a kid, about five decades or so back. Her experience was similar to what even one can experience even today and probably decades from now till things don’t improve which I don’t think will happen at least in the short-term, medium to long-term who knows.

Anyways, my grandfather (my mother’s father, now no more 😦 ) had a bunch of kids. In those days, having 5-6 kids was considered normal. My mother, her elder sister (who is not with us anymore, god rest her soul.) and my grandpa took a train from Delhi/Meerut to Pune. As that time there was no direct train to Pune, the idea was to travel from Delhi to Bombay (today’s Mumbai). Take a break in Bombay (Mumbai) and then take a train to Pune. The journey was supposed to take only couple of days or a bit more. My grandma had made Puris and masala bhaji (basically boiled Potatoes mixed with Onions fried a bit) .

Puri bhaji image taken from https://www.spiceupthecurry.com/hi/poori-bhaji-recipe-hindi/

You can try making it with a recipe shared by Sanjeev Kapoor, a celebrity chef from India. This is not the only way to make it, Indian cooking is all about improvisation and experimentation but that’s a story for another day.

This is/was a staple diet for most North Indians traveling in trains and you can even find the same today as well. She had made it enough for 2 days with some to spare as she didn’t want my mum or her sister taking any outside food (food hygiene, health concerns etc.) My mum and sister didn’t have much to do and they loved my grandma’s cooking what was made for 2 days didn’t even last a day. What my mother, her sister and grandpa didn’t know it was one of those ill-fated journeys. Because of some accident which happened down the line, the train was stopped in Bhopal for indefinite time. This was the dead in night and there was nothing to eat there. Unfortunately for them, the accident or whatever happened down the line meant that all food made for travelers was either purchased by travelers before my mother’s train or was being diverted to help those injured . The end-result being that till they reached Mumbai which took another one and a half day which means around 4 days instead of two days were spent traveling. My grandpa also tried to get something for the children to eat but still was unable to find any food for them.

Unfortunately when they reached Bombay (today’s Mumbai) it was also dead at night so grandpa knew that he wouldn’t be able to get anything to eat as all shops were shut at night, those were very different times.

Fortunately for them, one of my grandfather’s cousins had got a trunk-call a nomenclature from a time in history when calling long-distance was pretty expensive for some other thing at his office from Delhi by one of our relatives on some unrelated matter. Land-lines were incredibly rare and it was just a sheer coincidence that he came to know that my grandpa would be coming to Bombay (Mumbai) and if possible receive him. My grandpa’s cousin made inquiries and came to know the accident and knew that the train would arrive late although he had no foreknowledge how late it would be. Even then he got meals for the extended family on both days as he knew that they probably would not be getting meals.

On the second night, my grandpa was surprised and relived to see his cousin and both my mum and her sister who had gone without food finished whatever food was bought within 10 minutes.

The toilets on Indian Railways in Gandhiji’s traveling days (the book was written in 1918 while he resided in Pune’s Yerwada Jail [yup, my city] ) and the accounts he shared were of 1908 and even before that, the days my mother traveled and even today are same, they stink irrespective of whichever class you travel. After reading the book, read and came to know that Yerwada had lot of political prisoners

The only changes which have happened is in terms of ICT but that too only when you know specific tools and sites. There is the IRCTC train enquiry site and the map train tracker . For food you have sites like RailRestro but all of these amenities are for the well-heeled or those who can pay for the amenities and know how to use the services. I say this for the reason below.

India is going to have elections come next year, to win in those elections round the corner the Government started the largest online recruitment drive for exams of loco pilot, junior loco pilot and other sundry posts. For around 90k jobs, something like 0.28 billion applied. Out of which around 0.17 billion were selected to apply for ‘online’ exam with 80-85% percent of the selected student given centers in excess of 1000 kms. At the last moment some special trains were made for people who wanted to go for the exams.

Sadly, due to the nature of conservatism in India, majority of the women who were selected choose to not travel that far as travel was time-consuming, expensive (about INR 5k or a bit more) excluding any lodging, just for traveling and a bit for eating. Most train journeys are and would be in excess of 24 hours or more as the tracks are more or less the same (some small improvement has been for e.g. from wooden tracks, it’s now concrete tracks) while the traffic has quadrupled from before and they can’t just build new lines without encroaching on people’s land or wildlife sanctuaries (both are happening but that’s a different story altogether.)

The exams are being held in batches and will continue for another 2-3 days. Most of the boys/gentleman are from rural areas for whom getting INR 5k/- is a huge sum. There are already reports of collusion, cheating etc. After the exams are over, the students fear that some people might go to court of law saying cheating happened, the court might make the whole exam null and void, cheating students of the hard-earned money and the suffering the long journeys they had to take. The date of the exams were shared just a few days and clashed with some other government exams so many will miss those exams, while some wouldn’t have time to prepare for the other exams.

It’s difficult to imagine the helplessness and stress the students might be feeling.

I just hope that somehow people’s hopes are fulfilled.

Ending the blog post on a hopeful and yet romantic ballad

12/08/18 – Update – CAG: Failure to invest in infra behind delay in train services

broadband issues and Reliance Jio

Sorry for being away for so long. In some ways the next year may well be a watershed moment for Indian broadband but with lot of downsides as well as upsides. This would be a bit of biggie so have your favorite drink and have your legs up.

The last month has been sort of mini-hellish as far as broadband for me is concerned. I haven’t been getting good speeds for broadband and when I get it is intermittent. I have been using a Reliance Jio dongle but that too has been an iffy affair.

speeds of Jio and BSNL

To their credit though, both the ISP’s speeds are constant. We have come a long way from the 56 kbps on-off which was a ‘feature’ when Internet was introduced in India. At times I do get 1 Mb speeds on Reliance Jio but that is late night, never in the morning, afternoon when I’m working.

One of the interesting ‘feature’ which I observed when I started using the Reliance Jio dongle was that the jio page would load/render 10x-20x times than any other site. While Firefox inspector could probably give me and I could share the speed numbers it probably wouldn’t be possible to know if there was either some sort of hidden cache or a ‘fast lane’ to the site in question.

Due to speed issues though, my work-time inevitably gets lengthened leaving no time for blogging.

One interesting thing though, I had been trying to use youtube-dl to download streaming videos from youtube while the world cup was on and it was a total failure. About couple of years back, I had reported an issue with the HLS streams which still seems to be an issue with any big video on youtube even today, especially in case if the connection breaks and you try to continue and at the end youtube-dl patches all the different segments together.

The same/similar issues seems to lie with the DASH streaming as well. I tried using youtube-dl both with the World Cup games as well as Reliance Industries AGM meeting live presentation but with pathetic outputs and this is at friends places where they have fantastic web speeds 😦 . I later was able to download the video when the live-streaming embargo was lifted (about 4 hours later 😦 ) . The same was also true of world cup games when they were recorded for posterity. I did another small experiment, I used the browser to see the games and at those times the speeds were much better than not. Whether it were the browser cookies which were responsible or something else at work is not known.

I have to share I tried not just youtube but thanks to youtube-dl a variety of live-streaming websites but unfortunately the experience was more or less the same. I don’t remember if the CDN’s were the same but did see Akamai serving a lot of content, although don’t know how much Akamai CDN is used in India. I do know it’s been picking up in the last few years or so.

I am sharing the Reliance AGM presentation as a weblink as well as planet.debian.org usually discards youtube videos.

I would urge almost all of the people if possible to download and see the video if they can.

Many people like me would be pretty interested in the service if the pricing is right (which I guess would be enticing as it’s a winner takes all attitude.) and they have proceeds from their hydrocarbons revenue generation. While most of the infrastructure is already in place, which the younger brother has already got lot of dark fiber already sitting all around India for almost 5 years now, it just needs to be lit/powered up. As far as content generation part of the speech is concerned, this needs to be viewed in terms of what Netflix has been doing in the marketplace. The economist shared a series of articles on netflixonomics and the Special Report on Internet talked about in economist last month.

Reliance Industries through its arm Reliance Jio has deep pockets and can afford to be a loss-leader in broadband as well as partnering, developing web-series and be part of the deep surveillance state that is already there while at the same time give a compelling offer to millions of people who have been suffering bandwidth woes till date. None of the other broadband providers has either the amount of money or the kind of management bandwidth these guys have. They already are owners of a handful of channels so getting into web-series production shouldn’t be as hard as for somebody who would be getting it now. From an individual view-point the only way I can save myself from getting in this deep surveillance state is whenever they launch the services is to have a generic ONT just like generic xDSL modems. That way I could change providers without changing equipment and just change the frequencies similar to what was done in the xDSL world if it’s possible, would have to wait, watch and see if some company offers generic ONT equipment for end-user sale.

At the end, I dunno whether I should cry or be happy at the state of the affairs. Most of the telecom companies are losing revenue and quite a bit of consolidation has been happening in the Indian telecom sector last couple of years. The latest happening has been the integration of IDEA with Vodafone and as we know the less competition there is, lesser the benefits for the consumer 😦 . I have also been keeping an eye out on TRAI the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and it seems the institution has been weakened and has been ceding its authority to corporate pressures. Part of it has been the total dis-interest shown by people at large also at the working, surveys and discussions that TRAI often asks the general public. The way things are, it’s not far-fetched that the same mechanisms become common-place in TRAI as they are in FCC, US.

As have probably shared before on the blog there have been at least two if not three different plans for having a national fiber back-haul as well as common carrier status which ISP’s could use to provide competitive services but hasn’t worked till date. It was formerly known as NOFN (National Optical Fiber Network) which has since been subsumed under a new Avatar called BBNL and there was another name which I don’t remember at the moment which it was known in 2k7-2k8. The only thing I have been seeing is the project costs increased while the outcome targets while optical fiber prices have crashed globally.

At the end, the story is just beginning for India’s tryst with fiber. We would know how the story goes only after few years fiber is with us and we know how things play out. For now, Reliance Jio seems to be the clear favorite.