Archive for August, 2007

Installfest Zindabad!

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Yesterday, 25th of August, 2007 will go down as a very special day in history of FOSS in eastern India. AFAIK, on this day the *first* successful Linux Installfest was organised by a student LUG - the WBUT-LUG. It was supported in this maiden endeavor by the ILUG-CAL.ORG.

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Despite being over-cast in the morning with heavy rains in between 9:30 - 10:30 AM, there were 5 desktops and 3 laptops which landed up along with 22 participants (including the 5 volunteers from the first year). The University provided about 12 computers additionally for playing around. From ILUG-Cal’s side, the following people turned up to act as volunteer instructors and as L1 and L2 support.

  1. Susmit Shannigrahi (WBUT Alumnus and Fedora Ambassador)
  2. Debarshi Roy (Author of Opyum, Fedora Ambassador and GSoC 2007 candidate, perhaps the only guy who did not have a WBUT connection)
  3. Soumyadip Modak (WBUT alumnus and GSoC 2006 candidate and long-time FOSS hacker)
  4. Arindam “mak” Ghosh (student under WBUT’s BCREC)
  5. Subhodip “beton” Biswas (student under WBUT’s BCREC)
  6. Ajitesh Chowdhury (student under WBUT’s BCREC)
  7. Swagnik Chatterjee (student under WBUT’s BCREC)

The last four deserve a special mention as they travelled down all the way from Durgapur, which is about 200 kilometres away from Kolkata. Thanks a lot guys for so overwhelming answering the call for volunteers :D

The biggest credit for setting up the installfest infrastructure goes to Susmit, who in his capacity as an intern with L2C2 Technologies, worked hard for the last couple of days to setup the local Fedora i386 repositories - base, updates, everything as well as the Livna repo. Not only did he lead the “show-and-tell” session at the Installfest, he made sure that bootable CDs for i386 and 64-bit ones were in place and that the infrastructure functioned without a glitch. All thanks to him, WBUT now has it’s own internal Fedora repository. :)

Ankur Kulshrestha (from 2nd Year MTech Biotech) and Rabi Kumar (from 2nd Year, BTech IT) as well as the first year volunteers (some 5 - 6 of them), for taking up the initiative and leading the preparations of the programme.

Support during the programme also came in from faculty members of WBUT, Subrangshu Supakar (Dept of Bio-Informatics), Santanu Chatterjee (School of Information Technology), Raju Chal (School of Information Technology), and of course the programme wouldn’t have happened unless Prof Ashoke R. Thakur, the Vice Chancellor had personally encouraged the students to go ahead.

The installfest, which was scheduled to start from 12 PM onwards, actually got underway around 1-ish, with last minutes preparations. The students asked me to “inaugurate” the programme. The InstallFest Howto had already been circulated earlier by email to all the participants to prepare them for the culture shock. So, I spoke on what to expect, some ideas of possible future roadmaps for the WBUT-LUG, introduced the ILUG-Cal volunteers as well as asking the participants to introduce themselves to their fellows.

We had a good mix. About 50% coming in from Biotech programmes and the rest from CSE and IT. And they came from all the years. Out of 22 participants, 7 were girls. While that may not be great, it’s better than the typical LUG atmosphere of nearly 100% male only participation.

The participants soon warmed up to the new concept of an Installfest. Excepting two systems, we managed to install all the systems, update and add support for stuff like mp3 and DVD playback. On one system there was a slight problem with the mouse. The mouse was working, but without a visible cursor. Soumyadip who is ILUG-Cal’s resident hardware geek, rose to the challenge and soon got that to work as well. Before that, nearly everything, from it being a 64-bit system to it being a Microsoft mouse, got blamed :D

One Acer Aspire 5000 AMD Turion64 based notebook, belonging to Ankush from MTech Biotech gave us hell, but by 9:15 PM it too got sorted out. Somehow, the participants didn’t expect the volunteers to stay back that late and really help out the way they did in sorting out “their” problems. Again, a culture-shock thing. However, it worked in the programme’s favor as I came to know when Ankur called me up this morning. He expressed their thanks to all the ILUG-Cal volunteers. Rabi and others wanted to know how to become a part of ILUG-Cal’s activities and how to drive the programme ahead within their own WBUT-LUG.

Also, while the programme was going on yesterday, some faculty members from other colleges who had come to attend an Intel Academic Initiative event that was being held in the adjacent lab, came over to our lab to watch. Some, like Kalyan Mahata, a lecturer in IT, at the Govt College of Engg and Leather Technology, wanted to know how *he* could participate in such a programme. To cut a long story short, he has offered to organise a similar programme at his college, provided that WBUT-LUG can assist them by the way of technical know-how and by providing resource persons as collaborators.

We called it a day/night at around 9:25 PM. The total expense incurred (as volunteers didn’t get any payments) was Rs. 1455/- only. The next two coming Saturdays are ear-marked for Installfest with other new participants, who couldn’t be accommodated in the first instance. Let’s hope we can keep up the pace, it is after all the Turn, turn, turn time.

Off to Siliguri…

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

In a few more hours, I’ll boarding the Darjeeling Mail from Sealdah and be on my way to the New Jalpaiguri (NJP) station, in North Bengal. From there, my host, Siliguri Institute of Technology (SIT) will be taking me over to their college which sits close to NH55.

A Techno-India Group College, SIT is organising a 2-day seminar on Linux System Administration, utilizing a AICTE seminar grant. The focus of the Seminar would be towards Network Administration. My guess, its the lowest common denominator. However, I believe my presentation may take them a little by surprise. More on that later.

The audience is expected to comprise of  the faculty, staff members and students of SIT, along with participants from other colleges. Speakers include, Prof. B. Maji Techno India Group, Mr. Kausik Halder, Netaji Subash Open Univesity, Mr. Swagata Pal, Techno India Group, and myself.

I’ll be carrying Shashank’s new book “Beginning Fedora : From Novice to Professional” with me. Thanks Julie from Apress for sending me a review copy, it arrived at a rather handy moment. I expect the book to  be a  major hit with new users of Fedora .
More when I get to Siliguri. I hope to connect to the Net from SIT, but you never know, with the weather being so bad.

Volunteers needed to support WBUT-LUG’s InstallFest

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

The nascent West Bengal University of Techology’s Student LUG (WBUT-LUG) is organising its first event - an InstallFest and Hands-on Workshop on Linux Installation of the 25th of August, 2007 (Saturday) from 12 PM onwards. This is most likely the *FIRST* Installfest to be “formally” organised in West Bengal, by students themselves.

Due to a huge expression of interest from amongst the students, it has been decided to hold repeat sessions on consecutive Saturdays, so as to accomodate the large number of students.

However, we need volunteers to assist these new, would-be users.Already Susmit Shannigrahi, a WBUT / HITK alumni and a Fedora Ambassador has volunteered. We need more volunteers for 25th and for 2 more Saturdays after that.

The volunteers can also bring in their own systems. There will be a 2 Mbps dedicated connection, with both wired as well as Wi-Fi (802.11b/g) networks available for downloading software updates.

FWIW, Susmit has already created a local YUM repository for Fedora 7. And we may use Cobbler ( for doing n/w based installs on the boxes.

So, who all are volunteering for the 25th August, 1st September and 8th September 2007? Also, if you know of somebody who may be in CCU during those dates and is interested in helping out, then please forward this message to them.
You can contact me at indradg at gmail dot com

To new beginnings…

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

“To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven”

That tune is going round in my head since this evening. All because of the fact that the students of WBUT-LUG are organising a series of Installfests. The first one is scheduled on the 25th of August, with subsequent ones being planned on the following weekends. AFAIK, this will be the first installfest in this part of the country. The best however is that it is the students who have taken all the initiative. My team is only acting as facilitators.
Few people are aware of the background of WBUT-LUG. It all started back in 2004, when Sankarshan, before his RHAT days, Soumyadip, Sayamindu and myself had landed up at WBUT, following a call-to-arms by Prof. A. R. Thakur, then the Acting Vice Chancellor. He felt that we were essentially wasting our lives away, that we should do something useful for a change. “Useful” in our dictionary meant one thing - that we should use the fledgling University as the happy playgrounds for large-scale F/LOSS experimentation. To find out what works and what doesn’t, even better how to make it work. We were given a single point charter that read “Just Do it!” (well, Nike said it much before Prof. Thakur did :)
Being old LUG / GLUG / FSUG hands, one of things we tried was to incubate the Uni LUG. A mailing list was setup, meetings organised. Even Satish (Mohan) came and spoke at a meeting, as did several senior ILUG-CAL members, like Archan Paul et. al. However hard we tried to blow life into the LUG, it didn’t gain the necessary traction among the students. The faculty were the least interested, they were more concerned with having to cope with new stuff. And with no extra pay, there just was not enough incentives. The LUG fell into disarray. Disillusionment set in, and after about 8 months, even we gave up trying.

Since then there has been no WBUT-LUG to speak of. However, behind the scenes, a quiet change was taking place. WBUT’s network infrastructure, in-house servers, the digital library, desktops (both in the academic departments, as well as in the University offices), and the Labs were all getting shifted to FOSS. Today, over 95% of WBUT systems run completely on FOSS.

The guys who were in the 1st year, when this changeover started back in 2004, are today in their 4th year. They are the first generation of the WBUT students who have worked exclusively on FOSS. The earlier batches have all graduated and have left by this year (2007). The batches who have come after them have found FOSS the predominant presence.
It was a few 2nd year students of BTech (IT) and strangely enough about 8 - 10 students of 2nd Year, MTech (Biotech) who came up to me one day saying they wanted to organise a “Linux” workshop and if I would help them in doing so. I agreed on the condition that they would have to commit time to the effort and revive the WBUT-LUG.

They agreed! Somehow, the idea of a LUG got translated into something different. It was somewhere, where they could try out new stuff and hone their tech skills, away from the more restrictive lab environments. Part of this was due to witnessing first-hand the degree of freedom enjoyed by the participants of Fast-track FOSS Internship Programme.
Today, around 6:30 (my usual snack time), I went down to a nearby cafe. While I waited for my order to be served, a group of second year students came by. When they wished me, I asked them if they are participating in the InstallFest (which has been called a “hands-on workshop” so as not to raise the heckles of the powers-that-be ;-)

Every single one of them replied in affirmative. As we stood discussing how they would manage to bring in their system, two of them said “Sir, we’ll be buying our computers only after the Puja vacation, can we get a copy of Linux to load on our comps?”

I told them “But of course! Why do you ask?”, to which both of them added “স্যার, কারণ আমরা ওতে শুধু লিনাক্স‌ই লাগাবো… তাই” (”Because sir, we are going to install only Linux on our comps”)

Now, they didn’t say that to please me. I’m not a faculty, hence they wouldn’t get any extra credits from me :) However, having being exposed to FOSS as the predominant platform since joining up in engineering at WBUT, for these first time computer buyers, “Linux” was the de-facto choice, much the same way MSFT Windows have been now for the n-th generation of GUI users.

All that quiet work is only now beginning to show results… The tide, it seems is finally turning!

Black??? Thanks but no!

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

The first lot of 22 nos. AMD Ultra Value Clients (UVC), branded Protos PC, which we ordered from Wipro were all delivered in a black painted enclosure. However, I’m less than happy with the choice of color for a few reasons.

I’m sure that the matte black finish look would fit nicely on a desktop, however IMHO, the UVC is far better suited in info-kiosks and similar deployments. And that’s precisely why the choice of color black is worrying me. One of the USPs of this box is that it can work in non-a/c environments. Think about it… outdoors, hot summers and a black enclosure… perfect partners for getting over-heated fast.

protos3 protos2
The paint job also leaves much to be desired as it smudges and scratches rather easily. FWIW, the lime green test unit originally given to me by AMD ran a bit cooler in hot weather and didn’t quite scratch so easily. Come to think of it, I have carried it around the country for more than 6 months, literally packed in with a bunch of other hardware and junk in my backpack, without a single scratch.

Coincidence? Nah! I don’t think so? What say Wipro?

Err 99 is Canon’s 42 :P

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

Newest experience with the camera. Just now I had tried to shoot a timed shot in the full-manual mode, the shutter fired after the de-facto 10 secs. But instead of the image being displayed, the small LCD panel flashed “Err 99″.

At 2:30 AM, such a message isn’t exactly welcome. Tried again, same error. Power cycled the camera, still no change. Detaching the EF-S 18-55mm kits lens, and keeping the body pointed down (so as to keep the dust from going inside as far as possible), pressed the shutter. No errors this time, a burnt, over-exposed frame filled the display.

A closer look at the gold contacts on the lens showed up a faint finger-oil stain. Dabbed it off carefully and re-attached the lens. Tried to shot a snap. It worked! Goody! The staining must have happened while trying my hand at “reverse lens photography” recently :-P
Apparently Err 99 seems like a generic code to signify any error condition. I guess 99 is Canon’s 42 ;-)

If you want to have tea… just say so!

Saturday, August 11th, 2007

It was 9:10 PM, we were ready to leave office. I wanted nothing more than a cup of hot tea and a quiet smoke, before going home. My interns being with me the following conversation ensued:

Me : Guys… wanna have tea?

Arindam : (looks at Sawgnik and asks)… How about you?

Sawgnik : (looks undecided, and more inclined to go home for dinner)… ummmmm?

Me : Well… will you or not?

Arindam : (body language says he wants too, but looks for strength in numbers, and mumbles) Sawgnik…. ?

Me : (pretty disgusted with the undecidedness) Fine… you guys decide, while I go and have my tea!

Arindam : (looks at the rest)… Sir, I’ll have a cup too!

Sawgnik : (looks at Arindam) Me too! (looking decided at me) Sir lets go!

(Arindam looks happy)

Me : Look guys! If you want do something, just go for it! There is no point in thinking too much if others (in your group) will support you or not! Especially if doing it is important to you.

Me : Because, if you are unsure, you will negatively bias the ones who are even less sure than you. And they in turn would make you feel even more unsure, OTOH, if you are positively focused its likely that others would react positively as well and support you in your goal!

The morale of the story isn’t that we all had tea that evening. I wouldn’t realise effect what this discussion would have on my interns for some more time yet. Not until I conducted the exit interview of our first batch of fast-track FOSS interns on the 31st of July.


All over the country, I find various attempts to mentor / nurture / guide students into the culture of FOSS and its indigenous development. Somehow, there seems to be a dissonance somewhere. The RoI on the effort expended doesn’t yet justify itself. Somehow, somewhere there seems to be a lack of communication in many of these extremely well-intentioned and even well-planned efforts.

When the 4 boys from BCREC, came to me for the internship in early July 2007, two of them were clearly not yet FOSS enthusiasts. Interested they were, but only to a casual degree and definitely not in any academic or professional sense. Simply put, they were not sure why they were there, what was expected of them, and what they would take back aside from a certificate, except that they would in it with their friends and hence….

There was even a hint of objections from their seniors at DGPLUG, that these guys weren’t committed enough, so what’s the point in tagging them along? Nevertheless, I explained to the boys that the internship would run like a bootcamp and they would need to roll up their sleeves and get dirty. No one objected, even though all were a bit unsure, apparently this wasn’t an approach they were habituated to.

However, with about 7 - 10 days into the programme, these guys had gone from being pushed and prodded state to one where their were self-motivated and goal-oriented. The exit interviews threw up some interesting issues. Here are some of those:

1) Apart from Subhodip and Soumya Kanti, the others were not too keen on working with FOSS. It was just another option, perhaps a bit exotic, and which they didn’t understand much.

2) These other two weren’t involved in local FOSS activities at DGPLUG because, they didn’t exactly know what to do and what would be the logic and benefits of doing something that was being perceived as a less-popular alternative. Freedom, choice, opportunities at learning, self-skilling weren’t understood concepts.

3) There was no notion of “Release Early! Release Often“. They were hardly to blame, this approach is evident how much of Indian academic/govt research / efforts go, even in the area of FOSS. People look towards publishing the finished product. So no one actively blogs, maintains wikis, moderates mailing lists, in other words, there is not effort to build a community or traction around a project’s activities. This leads to the loss of user/early adopter feedback, possible collaborators, and restricts the activities largely to a very limited scope and often limited vision. Inherently preventing useful contribs the chance of getting into the mainline distributions, being one of the side-effects.

4) Little clue about using search engines and other online FOSS resources effectively (eg. IRC). Extremely weak in their search techniques, will little clarity about the power of keywords and boolean operators. Partly the reason was restricted Internet access and lack of interaction with FOSS peer groups and SIG. Little opportunity to learn by watching others. Therefore, frustrated in their initial attempts they would let their interest go the traditional “mainstream” proprietary way.

5) That the 21-days of uninterrupted working space with a DIY focus was something that was totally unexpected. They never expected to be allowed to open up systems at will and tinker inside with hardware options and see the resultant effects. So far, they had be accustomed to an atmosphere where too many permissions had to be taken. Plus, in very few cases, such permissions if at all given would often not be bestowed on an entire group, rather few specific “trusted” students.

6) That working inside a regular office environment, with a 2 Mbps leased link which translated into unlimited and fast internet access, and with other office folks not paying any attention to them (read: looking over their shoulders to keep an eye on them), wasn’t at all expected by them and allowed them to boost their productivity.

7) The flexi-time strategy - you work as long as you want, then you go home, provided you manage to finish your work within it’s delivery schedule, worked remarkably well. They were not asked to leave so that others could work or because it was lunch-time/closing time/weekend. This allowed the momentum of work at any point to generally keep up a scorching pace.

Subhodip informed me that between themselves for the last 7 - 8 days of their internship, the project, the work and its possibilities was the principal item of discussion at night before they went to sleep at their rented lodgings.

Arindam and Sawgnik added that, now for the first time they actually understood “Why FOSS?“. Both of them are now keenly interested in actively engaging in the local FOSS activities at Durgapur and within their college. Arindam adding “Now that I know that all the things I did on Windows are possible on Linux, I’m shifting to single boot once I go back

Now, for those who are wondering why I wrote about the “CCU tea-party” above, it is because of a casual comment from Arindam as we wound up the interview. I had asked him “What is the lesson that you’ll be taking back from here?” He replied “sir… what you told about tea the other day applies here as well“… he paused and added “That’s what i need to do from now!

I sat alone in my cubicle thinking about what he had said. Arindam was the guy in that group who was least interested in the internship in the beginning, had no commitment and was not sure whether he wanted to do the internship… thinking like the boy in the Eureka Forbes ad “Ush se kya hoga?

The first 21-days FOSS internship program ends

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Back to blogging after a longish break… the days and times have been hectic…. today we concluded the first installment of our fast-track long FOSS internship programme, organised jointly by us and WBUT.

We have chosen the format of a 21-days long internship, which includes working weekends. We are taking in Engg. students, typically from the 2nd and 3rd years from various engineering colleges under WBUT to work on various FOSS projects. Each batch will have a specific focus area. Our goal is to create small, dynamic teams well-exposed to and capable of carrying on activities in a given area of specialization during their post-internship period.

The first batch of our fast-track interns were students of Dr. B.C. Roy Engineering College, Durgapur. They were here from 11th July to 31st July, working on preparing a custom LTSP 4.2 setup on Fedora 7 for the Bijra School Project, Durgapur. It was an advanced LTSP deployment considering it is shipping with a standardised image containing, local device support (local FDD/CD-ROM/USB stick on the terminals), network audio, localised (l10n) desktop support (BN_IN) along with management tools like the fl_teachertool, DR and some content like Project Gutenburg, the Offline Wikipedia, WordNet 3.0, Bangla (BN_IN) Archive Project, and custom-rolled vidcast tutorials (by Kushal Das for the KDE edutainment pack. We are also took some pointers from the Red Hat High initiative.


[The Interns, from L to R : Arindam, Subhodip, Soumya and Sawgnik]

A more detailed report would be shortly forth coming as well as the publication of a plethora of other resources, however for the time being to keep your appetite whetted, here are the first batch of pictures as we worked towards the deliver of the system.

Tomorrow, we start with our 2nd Fast-track batch. This time, they are from the Heritage Institute of Technology, Kolkata (HITK).