Archive for the 'FOSS in Academia' Category

Let a thousand flowers bloom aka seeding FOSS User Groups

Monday, October 20th, 2008

A handful earlier interns from L2C2’s 21-day Fast Track FOSS internship program - Susmit Shannigrahi, Subhodip Biswas, Arindam Ghosh are busy with the $SUBJECT above these days. They are being led by Susmit who is also a Fedora Ambassador and an active member of the global Fedora Infrastructure group.

Their approach is very much in line with the overall ILUG-Cal’s core vision of helping set up a multitude of student FOSS groups and *mentoring* them so that there is faster and across-the-board uptake of FOSS in general and more active contributions and more Google SoC candidates.

Between 26th and 28th September 2008, they were invited by the organisers of VNIT-Nagpur’s annual Technical Fest - AXIS ‘08 to conduct a 3-day workshop on introduction to FOSS and followed by hands-on installfest and sessions on software development using FOSS tools and infrastruture.

That was 3 weeks back and the results are already coming in! They have formed the VNIT GNU/Linux User Group, so far it has 59 members and counting. They have also set up a local Fedora mirror (so that they do not need to depend on the college’s Internet connectivity at all times to stay updated).

We are expecting more exciting news from VNIT-Nagpur. Good job guys! :)

Clustering LTSP … high performance delivered!

Monday, October 20th, 2008

This is still in the planning, but the looks of it, we are soon going to get a chance to build our second clustered LTSP solution. Yesterday, I had some very interesting and involved discussions with Shwetav Agarwal who volunteers at The Future Foundation School for their ICT in education initiatives.

It looks as if we are going to design and deploy at 6-node (standard COTS hardware as opposed to our other clustered LTSP solution that we are deploying using HP’s c3000 Bladesystem) clustered LTSP that designed to scale up as well as scale out. The 6-node cluster would presently comprise of standard Pentium IV boxes with 2GB RAM each. The OS is likely to be Intrepid Ibex or Fedora 10. The idea is to run the a consolidated, full-fledged thin-client infrastructure that takes care of 100+ nodes.

I also had a nice round of discussion with Stephane Graber, the ltsp-cluster project is all set for v1.5 release in December 2008, and the PPA packages are all Ubuntu 8.10 ready.

IOTA Teachers’ Training FOSS Workshop at WBSUB

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Last year, we - the Indian GNU/Linux Users’ Group - Kolkata Chapter, had conducted the highly successful 2-month long weekend program on GCC programming workshops and tutorials at the Rajabazar Science College, University of Calcutta.

Recently there was a call for support and collaboration from the Institute of Open Technology and Applications (IOTA), an autonomous society that has been recently set up under the aegis of Dept of Information Technology, Govt of West Bengal. IOTA’s mandate, afaik, is to identify cases and espouse the use and adoption of FOSS in the state of West Bengal. Towards that end, training in FOSS based technologies of high school teachers across the state, has been identified by the society as one of the courses for immediate action. Several training programs are in the offing. The teachers’ training program at West Bengal State University (WBSUB), Barasat was a part of that.

Between 2nd and 4th October, 2008, 51 high school teachers belonging to 42 different schools from across the district of North 24 Parganas attended the workshop. A team of six ILUG-CAL.ORG members gathered in Barasat (North 24 Parganas) from 4 different districts of WB, worked nearly against time to plan, execute and successfully deliver the program, with less that 20 hours of head-start before the event took off.

The following ILUG-CAL.ORG members were involved :

Susmit Shannigrahi   Fedora Ambassador
Sarbartha Sengupta   Co-ordinator, RCCIIT LUG
Dipanjan Chakraborty   Co-ordinator, RCCIIT LUG
Arindam Ghosh   OpenStreetMap GSoC 2008
Rabi Kumar   Python enthusiast & Phoenix fanatic
Indranil Das Gupta   Coordinator, ILUG-Cal

During the workshop, the team was also assisted by Dr. Subhojit Sarkar, Visiting Faculty, Physics, WBSUB

About the Workshop

The workshop was designed to impart a hands-on, working level familiarity with the FOSS Desktop environment and in using as a productivity suite and basics on Internet usage including emailing and accessing educational content from the Net.

Getting ready for the Workshop

The WBSUB is a very recent University (born like 4 months back), so infrastructure-wise nothing was really in place needed to conduct the workshop. And since we had just a 20 hours head-start before the workshop was to start off, Susmit hurried down to the Chandi Chowk market and brought back a WiFi router (WRT54G), CAT5 cable, crimping tool, RJ-45 jacks, LAN testers and other tools of the trade with him.

And so, in the first two hours of Day 1 (2nd Oct), the ILUG-Cal team hurried to set up a complete computer lab - 16 desktop PCs installed using the latest Fedora 9 DVD. We also set up the WiFi network in the lab (triple NAT-ed incidentally) and installed a 50 metre long trunk-line to connect the WiFi router in the lab with the University’s broadband ADSL router’s 100Mbit LAN port.

With all these happening in the background, Dr. Sarkar, myself and Prof Thakur (Vice Chancellor, WBSUB) got the first day’s initial theory session under way. By 1 PM, the infrastructure was ready and in place. Arindam was designated to prepare the hand-out documentation of the lecture schedule outlines. Susmit and myself assisted in bits and parts in the edit process.

I was happy to see the youngsters - Dipanjan and Sarbartha doing really well in their sessions. Rabi was OK, but he really needs a shot of confidence and more exposure. Being a non-native speaker of Bangla, he was ill-at-ease with the participants during his lecture/demonstrations. He was however good when it came to one-on-one guidance during the practical sessions. Arindam was as usual very good in his delivery of the content. As expected from him, he was also very competent in handling the technical nitty-gritty of Susmit has shaped up into a fine mentor himself and a competent speaker.

The training schedule

Between Susmit and myself, we managed put together this training program outline. We based it on instructions from Prof. S. K. Sen (President, IOTA) and Prof. Thakur.

The Participants

The turn-up was good, 51 participants from an expected total of 52 teachers was what we had. Considering that the schools were going in for their annual Durga Puja holidays in another 2 days and with the Pujas starting from the 6th of October, this was indeed *huge* turn-up. What is interesting to note is that the total attendance even for the 3rd day (4th Oct) was still 42.

  1. Participants’ Details (participant name and school name only)
  2. Detailed participants’ registration data (includes age, contact details, subjects taught) available in PDF format.**

** The file contains personal information of the participants and hence it has been password protected. Any persons authorised by the President of IOTA Society may mail me in private for the password.

Our participants were by no means a homogeneous set. Although there was a strong Physical Science / Maths contingent, there were a total sizable number of participants from Humanities / Social Sciences. There were upto 6 teachers in all, who looked after subjects like Physical Education / Work Education / Nutrition. Interesting to note : Only *one* teacher who taught computer applications in his school. Below is the detailed breakup of that list.

Physics   9
Chemistry   10
Mathematics   7
Statistics   1
Biology /Life Sciences   8
Computer Applications   1
Sanskrit   1
Bengali   4
English   3
Commerce / Economic Geography / Biz Org   2
Economics   3
Geography   4
History   1
Nutrition   1
Work Education   1
Physical Education   4 **

** Some teachers look after for more than one subject, hence totalling the count of teachers in the list above will result in 60 instead of the 51 participant count.




The program was delivered and over by 3:30 PM on the 4th October 2008, with the Registrar of the University - Prof. Kamales Bhaumik distributing the certificates and the Vice Chancellor - Prof Thakur addressing the closing session and and interacting with the participants, telling them how they can collect the hand-outs and software CD / DVD after the University opens after the holidays.

A total of 38 participants of the 42 attendees on the final day of the workshop opted to put in their feedback to the following questions (see the charts below), most of them also provided detailed personal remarks / suggestions / comments (it has been presented verbatim, except for possible typos during data entry)

The feedback

A Few Observations

  1. During the training sessions, nearly 25% of the teachers stated that they regularly need to input unit test marks, prepare marksheets, tabulate them, generate individual report cards, often using proprietary software or by a partially manual laborious process. They would like learn if can be used to largely automate such tedious but important every day work and if so, then how. They have expressed a keen interest in the idea of a separate workshop / training focussed on such school administration specific use of and other FOSS packages.
  2. The Birati High School team of 3 teachers, particular Mr. Sajal Kumar Banerjee expressed their interest in exploring free/open source school information system (SIS). Birati High presently uses a locally developed, highly popular but closed-source proprietary SIS product. The entire team expressed their helplessness about the vendor lock-in and annual maintenance contract, including horror stories about the product stopping to work when the annual renewal is due. If a viable alternative is available or is made available they are ready to shift.
  3. The biggest mindshare winner for FOSS was the realisation by the participants that Windows-based viruses and worms are rendered harmless on GNU/Linux platform, with several participants showing a keen interest in installing Linux on their personal and/or school systems
  4. Participants expressed a need for a resource centre or access to resource persons that they can turn to, post-workshop. So that when they run into problems in installing / using FOSS software they can be assured of help.
  5. Several of the participants expressed their helplessness about their inability to convince their school management. The argument went like this - “We have understood the benefits. But we are very new to this, how are we going to explain this properly to our management? Can you help us in anyway?”

Without question, this teachers’ training program, was at the end of it, one of the most hastily organised and yet most successfully delivered programs from ILUG-Cal. As a team working together, it had literally left us with zero room for error. Nearly everything has to be done on-the-go. The largest portion of the credit for the success goes undoubtably to the ILUG-CAL.ORG team. It goes to Susmit and Arindam who had just returned to Kolkata from VNIT - Nagpur on the 30th September where they conducted a hectic 3-day workshop on behalf of the Fedora Project (India). Arindam again came down all the way from Durgapur, even if it he had just gotten home and the Pujas were around the corner. To Dipanjan and Sarbartha, who inspite of personal engagements, came down to Barasat everyday all the way from Belur. To Rabi for being there to help out as needed, which is easy to get overlooked until you miss it. To Prof Sen and Prof Thakur for the advice, encouragement and constant support. Prof. Bhaumik for helping smoothen the administrative wheels and temporarily loaning the cash to buy the urgently needed networking supplies. To Sushil-babu, the soft-spoken Finance Officer of WBSUB for his quiet efficiency and helpfulness. To Bapi, Pinto, Sanjay and other support staff at WBSUB who helped in shifting materials, arranging them and for putting up with my demands for incessant cups of tea.

On a side note : On the second day of the workshop (3rd October) the ODF Olympiad information sachet from IOTA was also distributed to the participants. More on that later.

Baishakhi Linux Updates - OOo 2.4 modifed src tarball et al

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

1. There is now a “ 2.4 modified source” section with an option to download from here. It’s a 402+ MB tar.gz file. I’m presently downloading that. It should be done in a couple of hours.

2. The link to the Japanese mirror site hosted by Mat3Impex for Baishakhi Linux download has been removed from NLTR website. The Japanese mirror was *way* faster as the NLTR.ORG website (the only site to download anything from) as presently hosted in the US is at least 6 times as slower as far as downloads are concerned. (this could become a point of concern though unless this is looked into soon)

An “interesting” Friday

Monday, September 1st, 2008

The friday dawned cloudy with promises of rain and the TMC brigands…. er brigades, promising to bring the city traffic to a stand-still between 4 - 5 PM. Around 10:35 AM, Susmit and Sayamindu landed up near my house and together we headed down to RCCIIT - a local govt. run engineering college with a whole bundle of equipment - 3 laptops, 1 OLPC XO, 1 AMD UMPC, 1 Intel ClassmatePC, other assorted hardware and freebie goodies like stickers and badges from Gnome and Firefox. The occasion was TechTrix ‘08 - the college’s annual Tech Fest which Susmit wrote about here.

Reached the college, the final 120 meters had to be trudged on foot as the road was all dug up, courtesy a sewage project under implementation. Dipanjan and a few others from the local RCCIIT LUG (which is called a SLUG or Students’ Linux User Group for some reason). There was a power-cut and we were late in starting off the “show”. There were about 85 - 100 students, mainly from the 1st year and a few from the 2nd and the 3rd years, as well as a few teachers. I went up first, it was more of a general introduction to Free & Open Source Software and how it pervades all aspects of computing - from super computers to embedded applications like mobile phones and everything in between. Susmit was up next and he spoke about the Fedora project and how to start using and contributing to it. Finally with time running short, Sayamindu went up with a short but lively talk about the OLPC project.

In about 2 hours time, we tried to give these young students an overall idea about FOSS - using and contributing, trying to share with them the excitement from multi-dimensional perspectives. By the time it was over, the heavens had opened up. So we sat down and finished off the packets of snacks that the organisers had arranged. We ended up discussing with our young hosts what they could do next. Around 1:45 PM, already getting late for a proposed meeting with Tamal-da, we decided to call up a taxi and leave. Dipanjan our principal host volunteered to venture out in the torrential rains and get a cab as we were anxious not to get our equipment wet.

Dipanjan disappeared for 15 minutes and then suddenly came back thoroughly drenched. He informed us that the cab was there, but then very apologetically added that we would have to cross the sewage-cum-storm water canal over a foot bridge as the taxi can’t come to this side (college side) of the canal as the roads were all dug up.

The rains had by then dropped down to a drizzle but the roads were flooded. So, we jumped across large pools of water using slippery bricks as toe-holds and hoping not to skid and to get our gear across as dry as possible. The footbridge turned out to be standard issue rickety construction made of bamboo, over a hyacinth covered water body that looked poisonous in color. We crossed it in a single file and they even charged 50p (about 1 cent) per head as “toll”, finally clambering up the slippery slopes covered with slush from what-nots and finally we got into the cab waiting there for us.

By then it was already late and the spectre of the TMC road blocks looming large and ominous we decided to cut out proposed trip to Tamal-da’s office short and headed into the China Town for some much needed food and a place to hangout for next 3 hours so that we could “ride out” the crazy road blockade enforced traffic snarls.

We decided to go to our regular joint - Kafulok. But on reaching there we found the place’s to remain closed between 4 - 6 PM (we had never come at this time of the day before)… baah!!!!! Having left our taxi, it was now left for us to trudge back through the slushy lanes overflowing with the effluents from the tanneries…. nice touch… even nicer with Sayamindu detailing an even more worse Lake Market during the monsoons… YUCK!!!! suddenly our present situations looked a lot better.

We ended up going to the Hot Wok (very imaginative name indeed ;-) . Since Susmit is a teetotaler, it was left to Sayam and me to polish off a pint of Vodka and a couple of Bloody Marys while Susmit nursed a plain water and a Virgin Mary. That the excitement was far from over was pointed out by Susmit - the label of our bottle of White Mischief vodka ;-)

label on the bottle of vodka

By 7:45 we decided that we should be able to get transport and get back home. And so we got on the 2nd cab we found and headed home without any further incidents.

Developing a FOSS based school ICT program outline

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

Yesterday met with Subha-di (Das Mallick of Bal Vividha) and Malini (Intel) at the meeting at the Indumati Sabhagriha at Jadavpur Vidyapeet . The occassion was to review the Master Trainers Program from Pragati which is supported by Intel and to felicitate outstanding contributors to that effort.

FWIW, Dr. Sthanapati, Director, BITM (Birla Industrial & Technology Museum, Kolkata) has proposed a series of camps with funding from Dept. of Science and Technology, Govt of WB. Comet Media Foundation will be the ICT program partner in that endeavor and as such we are supposed to be developing the program outline. The backward district of Purulia will be the pilot site.

Based on the brief discussions yesterday, there are plans to involve Pragati, Intel and others in the initiative. The deadline to get everything in place is November 2008.

So this is basically a call for help and volunteers… any takers so far?

A meeting with Nick Negroponte

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Amit (Gogna) called me up today to say that Prof. Negroponte will be coming to India in the 1st week of August and that Reliance Communications (ADAG) will be setting up video conferencing around the country on matters of the little green laptop. He has asked me to send him a list of names of the people who can make a difference with the OLPC project in this part of the country.

I’m looking forward to the event to see where OLPC goes from here on.

On a related note, yesterday Kushal had punched in the panic buttons saying the Bijra School’s LTSP system was not working, so I had asked Subhodip and Arindam to do a site visit today and fix the problem. They reported back that it was a dusty and loosely seated RAM problem on the server, which they managed to fix.

Which reminds me that we need to hold a fresh re-orientation workshop at the school soon.

Apologies to everyone and a call for help!

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Folks… all of you who have suffered from attempts of F9 download from the WBUT mirror… my most sincere apologies! The last one I know is Tejas (Toolz copy-pasted me a bit of his rant).

Here is what happened… the DNS servers at WBUT failed due to media failure. And today was a holiday at the University under NI Act, due to the local Panchayat elections. The issue can be addressed only sometime tomorrow morning, not before.

My apologies once again for raising people’s expectations and then failing to deliver. Also for fwiw, it is only a 3 Mbit pipe from VSNL that serves the mirror. I was reading a fwd from Gora (Mohanty) about NIXI considering supporting FOSS software mirrors. We are running desparately short on b/w vis-a-vis the demand. If any one can help in anyway in securing b/w support, then Susmit and myself are willing to go whatever work is required to keep the mirror in prime and proper shape. Any help any one? - Ready and standing by for F9 bitflip

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Our mirror is ready and standing by for the Fedora 9 bitflip. Fedora 9 is planned for release at 15:00 UTC today. Out of the 141 global public Fedora mirrors that are supposed to carry the Fedora 9 content, about 41 has till now synced up for the i386 iso.

Thanks to Susmit’s efforts, the WBUT FOSS mirror is among these 41 mirrors globally that are first off-the-starting-block. Cheerio! :D

Is this what Free Software or Open Source is?????

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

“Free and open source software have been gaining ground but many people are not aware of them. One of the primary aims of the centre will be to spread awareness on free and open source programmes, which do not have licensing or intellectual property rights issues,” said Partha Pratim Biswas, a senior teacher and a member of the university executive council.

The above is from a report published in The Telegraph, Kolkata edition. The initiative - IOTA is sponsored program of Dept of IT, Govt of West Bengal.

I’m truly appalled by the quote and the understanding of Free Software!