Summer Workshop 2013- An Everlasting Memory

Just 5 and a half months ago I participated in a Free Software Workshop at SVIT, Bangalore. And now I was on the other side, as an organizer.

Of course I was very enthusiastic about the usage of free software technologies. I was even before the 5 day workshop at Bangalore. I was a GNU/Linux user for a year then, and this workshop gave an extra push. But there were several people at the workshop, who were amazed by the prowess of Free Software technologies after being shot at with several technologies, in just 5 days.

Seeing the enthusiasm we were showing after this workshop, a few of our friends from Free Software Foundation Tamil Nadu approached us. They told us that they had their sights set on a similar workshop to be organized in Chennai. I knew we were up for a huge show.

There was no sound about this workshop for 2 months after that, and then all of a sudden we were informed that they had fixed the venue to be IITM . And then the poster turned out to be yet another shocker for me, because it had my number on it. And after that followed around 20-25 days of getting 20-30 calls a day regarding the workshop.

The registrations got over within four days of opening. Now that was yet another shocker. (Then we had a few vacancies and opened the registrations again). We were sure that the seats would fill, but we did not expect it to fill this soon.

And the date for the workshop was nearing. We, the volunteers at CEGLUG (CEGs GNU/Linux Users Group) took the responsibility of creating a custom distribution of GNU/Linux for everyone to work on. And as usual, we made it a habit of screwing up a more than often. We missed out a package before the Drupal session, so we had to sit and make 70 pen drives bootable over night. And then before the Ruby on Rails session came a similar situation, but this time we decided to work a bit smarter, instead of making another 70 pen drives bootable. We just downloaded the required packages, and a shell script and passed it on to everyone to run. And it went down smoothly.

When the five days started, what was running on my mind was… “Five days, how are we going to keep them happy and entertained?”. And at the end of the fifth day my mind said.. “Five days over. Did we seriously give our best?”. Well, we did put in plenty of effort to keep them engaged. And I am sure the participants recognized and respected that part.

We did collect feedback from the participants 2-3 times, and in general they were positive. We had a session on the basics of free softwares, which resulted in the Female Fan following of Sibi(¬†https://www.facebook.com/sibi.kanagaraj ) increasing leaps and folds (Yes Sibi, you asked for it) . We had called Asst. Prof. Bama Ma’am from Dept. of Information Science and Technology, College of Engineering Guindy on Day 2 to take a session on Python, and her attitude towards the participants and grip over the programming language won a lot of minds that day. There were hardly a handful of people who weren’t in awe at the end of her session. Then followed a series of interesting (and interactive) sessions on Tor, Drupal, Ruby on Rails, Cloud Computing. Personally, my favourite moment, was the silence while the video “Truth Happens” was being played, and the cheers the video got at the end of it. Does signify a lot right?

But the response we got from them on the 5th day evening was overwhelming. Many were curious on how to form a GLUG(Gnu/Linux Users Group) in their college. Of course FSFTN( Free software Foundation Tamil Nadu) comes to their aid there. And there were several girls interested in contributing to Wikipedia. In a session conducted just one day after the workshop, instead of sitting at home and chillaxing(like me) after a hectic five days, there were 17 enthusiastic girls in the session, so much so that even Wikipedia did not allow them all to edit at once ( ūüėÄ ) .

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I did learn more in this workshop as an organizer than as a participant last time. But if I hadn’t taken part as a participant in that workshop, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.

As usual, we, the volunteers/organizers, made the workshop a great success, we were a great team. Interacting with so many like minded participants, organizers and speakers was an experience I will never forget, looking forward to similar experiences in the future…

Life is buggy, indeed!

I just couldn’t think what to write about. But I just had to write about something, its been long due! This is the best I could come out with, given my love for Free Software¬†(become more of an addiction now) is now touching new heights,¬†I am even typing this whole article on vim (its an awesome text editor, just like notepad) .So please bear with me!

Contributing significantly to the free software community, as well as contributing to the open source community has been my long term dream¬†(Yes, both are different).¬†It has become, like I have started relying more and more on free software. The more I use it, the more it amazes me, and the more I talk about it.¬†So much so, that I have become a symbol signifying a weird taste. “A person who has a weird taste of an operating system? Seriously?”.¬†Well yes, that’s what I believe is the general opinion.¬†There is even a certain section of people who believe that I am marketing Linux. Well, no. I am not marketing linux here.¬†There could be a million reasons one could hate something. Of course people hate people for all random reasons.¬†But I hold the opinion that you can’t just love something without proper reasons.¬†There are a million reasons one could fall in love with Linux. And I am not going to talk about that here.¬†Just google, and you will find a million links to impress you.
I cannot not mention my experiences at my first ever Hacknite. For all those who think “Hacking” means just gaining access to someones account,¬†I am sorry to disappoint you, that’s what crackers do!¬†This is what you need to read to understand (somewhat) what happens at hacknites – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacker_(programmer_subculture).¬†To state the obvious now, we had to code for around 14 hours. Not non-stop of course.
We even took a stroll at 3 am (Yes, the campus is slightly scary at 3 am).To answer the “How the hell can you code for 14 hours?” question,¬†people who are passionate about it, will do it. They don’t need a reason like a hacknite to actually be forced to code for 14 hours at a stretch.¬†So what did I do at Hacknite. Me and some of friends, started off developing some app for Ubuntu (Again, something we learnt in Bangalore at the Workshop).¬†As time passed by, we realized that we took 4 hours to¬†fix a trivial problem. And that’s when we started interacting with others present there. We asked people why they find Hacknites fun.¬†Hacknites attract scores of talented developers, designers and business people who all want to create something new in a day or two mainly.¬†But there were any college students like us, completely new to Hacknites,¬†there to just get a hang of what happens at Hacknites.

The first step I personally wanted to take towards contributing to Free Software was help out our own College’s GLUG(/GNU/Linux Users Group)-¬†CEGLUG(CEGs GNU/Linux Users Group). It is probably one of the¬†very few active GLUGs in Tamil Nadu. We decided to arrange a session on Ruby on Rails.¬†And the person who took the session is the person whom I consider to be a close friend, and guide!¬†¬†I actually have no idea how he would react when he reads this, but this has been the fact.¬†Generally the turn out for such sessions are lesser than 10. But¬†this time thanks to some incredible marketing (seriously) there were almost 50 people.

There has been something that’s been bothering my mind for the past 2-3 weeks. So much so that almost 50-60% of my time I spend in thinking about this alone.¬†Although it might be too early to think about this, but how do I actually contribute to the Free and Open Source Community, and gain money out of it as well.¬†The answer was pretty clear.¬†Make my own app (No, not an android app yet). I came up with a random crude idea. That needed a lot of refining to do.¬†I went to my friend and told him that I want to make the app using only free software, not even Photoshop. I was surprised by the response I got. “Are you sure you want to compromise on the quality of the product? Doesn’t that matter too?”

That answer just left me thinking. Irrespective of whether the person who asked the question was equipped enough with knowledge of alternative software, I am still forced to ask myself, and in turn ask you, does using free and open source software almost always mean compromising on quality?

PS: Linux is awesome! And its a Free Software! There is no question of any comparison between Windows and Linux. Linux wins it outright. My only doubts lie in a few other fields. Like image editing, posters etc.

How did it start? – The Bengaluru Trip

Been thinking about starting a blog for quite a while now. But every time I actually sat down after deciding that I needed a blog, suddenly someone would convince me, that I don’t really need one. I never really had a strong feeling within me that I actually need a blog until today.

A friend of mine, very politely said, “You seem to be a man of actions, Prashant. I was expecting a blog post or something on your experiences. But I did not find anything.” Being a man of actions is something different, maybe I am. But yes, if writing a blog is one of the many ways to let people know about how things are/were, then so be it.

If at all you are reading it much later than the year this was published, and if you are being taught in the “History of Computers” about a person named Prashant Anantharaman. Then you can just close the book now probably. Because this blog you are reading is THE blackbox in case my life randomly crashes!

How did everything start? I have been a linux user for over a year now. I started using it in the first semester of my B.E. But thats when I started using it for the first time. Very soon I had 2-3 people on the “Nearby Users” category of the Empathy Messenger. Even 2-3 seems to be huge numbers. After one year of struggling to create an awareness, spreading ideas, celebrating “Software Freedom Day”, none of it had any significant impact. None of it actually convinced me completely to start contributing.

But 5 days of my life could have changed my whole life, whether I am alive when you read this or no. Those five days were from the 26th of January to the 30th of January. You might think, “Wow, those are strong words”. Well, of course they were meant to be, thats the point. Free Software Movement Karnataka had conducted this workshop on free softwares, for a very cheap 1200 bucks. You might think you wont get anything for 1200 bucks. But I am pretty sure in a place like Bangalore, you wont get such great accommodation, food and brilliant lectures for this cheap. The organization was brilliant.

There was a time in my life too when I used to gasp if I find someone wearing a Mozilla T shirt (Back then I didn’t know there existed something called linux). After these five days, I got kind of used to seeing contributers/developers of various open source projects. So much so that I felt like laughing at a first year guy who thought it was very very cool to be a mozilla contributer while the guy is actually telling us what he does is nothing great at all. Whether its great or no, its there on his resume, and it does matter. Most of them were very very supportive and encouraging. Getting to know such knowledgeable people is almost always helpful!

Linux was built (obviously) with the intention of not intimidating people. I know, and have come across dozens or even hundreds of people, who have actually decided that linux is taboo. It is for “freaks” like me. I don’t know how they say so without using it, or even ever looking at it. When I tell them it is very user friendly, (probably more user friendly than the operating system that rhymes with the word widows), the general reply is, “What the hell man? Not possible! I always see you working on some black screen. How can it be user friendly?”.

At last I found a way to create some sort of an awareness in my college. The first being printing T shirts. Apart from this, there was another more interesting option. At the workshop, we came across a group of individuals from a town near Bengaluru called Mandya. From a place like Chennai, where even though its a metropolitan city and all, there are still many who don’t know how to use computers, there was this incredible group of individuals who used a new distro called “Matrix OS” as a way to attract individuals to use it. All I could think was, why not try something similar out here! Obviously people would come if we say we created our own Distro (Which we truly did). People obviously want to know what their college-mates are up to. Be it something cool or no.

All I can do is hope it goes on well! Planning, planning and planning to release CEGLUG Distro soon. Hopefully we should be done with it by the time our college cultural (Techofes ’13) ends. That’s the only time when we can actually expect people to come.