This is a weblog I'm keeping about my work on Debian and any other useful Debian related info I come across. It is not meant to compete with other news sources like Debian Weekly News or Debian Planet. Mostly it is just a way for me to classify and remember all the random bits of information that I have floating around me. I thought maybe by using a blog it could be of some use to others too. Btw. "I" refers to Jaldhar H. Vyas, Debian developer for over 8 years. If you want to know more about me, my home page is here.
The name? Debain is a very common misspelling of Debian and la salle de bains means bathroom in French.
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Last weekend I went to Mumbai to attend the Mini-Debconf held at IIT-Bombay. These are my impressions of the trip.
Getting there was a quite an adventure in itself. Unlike during my ill-fated attempt to visit a Debian event in Kerala last year when a bureaucratic snafu left me unable to get a visa, the organizers started the process much earlier at their end this time and with proper permissions. Yet in India, the wheels only turn as fast as they want to turn so despite their efforts, it was only literally at the last minute that I actually managed to secure my visa. I should note however that Indian government has done a lot to improve the process compared to the hell I remember from, say, a decade ago. It's fairly straightforward for tourist visas now and I trust they will get around to doing the same for conference visas in the fullness of time. I didn't want to commit to buying a plane ticket until I had the visa so I became concerned that the only flights left would be either really expensive or on the type of airline that flies you over Syria or under the Indian Ocean. I lucked out and got a good price on a Swiss Air flight, not non-stop but you can't have everything.
So Thursday afternoon I set off for JFK. With only one small suitcase getting there by subway was no problem and I arrived and checked in with plenty of time. Even TSA passed me through with only a minimal amount of indignity. The first leg of my journey took me to Zurich in about eight hours. We were only in Zurich for an hour and then (by now Friday) it was another 9 hours to Mumbai. Friday was Safala Ekadashi but owing to the necessity of staying hydrated on a long flight I drank a lot of water and ate some fruit which I don't normally do on a fasting day. It was tolerable but not too pleasant; I definitely want to try and make travel plans to avoid such situations in the future.
Friday evening local time I got to Mumbai. Chhattrapati Shivaji airport has improved a lot since I saw t last and now has all the amenities an international traveller needs including unrestricted free wifi (Zurich airport are you taking notes?) But here my first ominous piece of bad luck began. No sign of my suitcase. Happily some asking around revealed that it had somehow gotten on some earlier Swiss Air flight instead of the one I was on and was actually waiting for me. I got outside and Debian Developer Praveen Arimbrathodiyil was waiting to pick me up.
Normally I don't lke staying in Mumbai very much even though I have relatives there but that's because we usually went during July-August—the monsoon season—when Mumbai reverts back to the swampy archipelago it was originally built on. This time the weather was nice, cold by local standards, but lovely and spring-like to someone from snowy New Jersey. There have been a lot of improvements to the road infrastructure and people are actually obeying the traffic laws. (Within reason of course. Whether or not a family of six can arrange themselves on one Bajaj scooter is no business of the cops.)
The Hotel Tuliip (yes, two i's. Manager didn't know why.) Residency where I was to stay while not quite a five star establishment was adequate for my needs with a bed, hot water shower, and air conditioning. And a TV which to the bellhops great confusion I did not want turned on. (He asked about five times.) There was no Internet access per se but the manager offered to hook up a wireless router to a cable. Which on closer inspection turned out to have been severed at the base. He assured me it would be fixed tomorrow so I didn't complain and decided to do something more productive thank checking my email like sleeping.
The next day I woke up in total darkness. Apparently there had been some kind of power problem during the night which tripped a fuse or something. A call to the front desk got them to fix that and then the second piece of bad luck happened. I plugged my Thinkpad in and woke it up from hibernation and a minute later there was a loud pop from the power adapter. Note I have a travel international plug adapter with surge protector so nothing bad ought to have happened but the laptop would on turning on display the message "critical low battery error" and immediately power off. I was unable to google what that meant without Internet access but I decided not to panic and continue getting ready. I would have plenty of opportunity to troubleshoot at the conference venue. Or so I thought...
I took an autorickshaw to IIT. There also there have been positive improvements. Being quite obviously a foreigner I was fully prepared to be taken along the "scenic route." But now there are fair zones and the rickshaws all have (tamperproof!) digital fare meters so I was deposited at the main gate without fuss. After reading a board with a scary list of dos and don'ts I presented myself at security only to be inexplicably waved through without a second glance. Later I found out they've abandoned all the security theatre but not got around to updating the signs yet. Mumbai is one of the biggest, densely populated cities in the world but the IIT campus is an oasis of tranquility on the shores of Lake Powai. It's a lot bigger than it looked on the map so I had to wander around a bit before I reached the conference venue but I did make for the official registration time.
I was happy to meet several old friends (Such as Kartik Mistry and Kumar Appiah who along with Praveen and myself were the other DDs there,) people who I've corresponded with but never met, and many new people. I'm told 200+ people registered altogether. Most seemed to be students from IIT and elsewhere in Mumbai but there were also some Debian enthusiasts from further afield and most hearteningly some "civilians" who wanted to know what this was all about.
With the help of a borrowed Thinkpad adapter I got my laptop running again. (Thankfully, despite the error message, the battery itself was unharmed.) However, my streak of bad luck was not yet over. It was that very weekend that IIT had a freak campus-wide network outage something that had never happened before. And as the presentation for the talk I was to give had apparently been open when I hibernated my laptop the night before, the sudden forced shutdown had trashed the file. (ls showed it as 0 length. An fsck didn't help.) I possibly had a backup on my server but with no Internet access I had no way to retrieve it. I still remained cool. The talk was scheduled for the second day so I could recover it at the hotel.
Professor Kannan Maudgalya of the FOSSEE (Free and Open Source Software for Education) Project which is part of the central government Ministry for Human Resource Development spoke about various activities of his project. Of particular interest to us are:
Veteran Free Software activist Venky Hariharan spoke about his experiences in lobbying the government on tech issues. He noted that there has been a sea change in attitudes towards Linux and Open source in the bureacracy of late. Several states have been aggressively mandating the use of it as have several national ministries and agencies. We the community can provide a valuable service by helping them in the transition. They also need to be educated on how to work with the community (contributing changes back, not working behind closed doors etc.)
Shirish Agarwal spoke about the Debian philosophy and foundational documents such as the social contract and DFSG and how the release cycle works. Nothing new to an experienced user but informative to the newcomers in the audience and sparked some questions and discussion.
One of my main missions in attending was to help get as many isolated people as possible into the web of trust. Unfortunately the keysigning was not adequately publicized and few people were ready. I would have led them through the process of creating a new key there and then but with the lack of connectivity that idea had to be abandoned. I did manage to sign about 8-10 keys during other times.
I led this one. Lots of spirited discussion and I found feedback from new users in particular to be very helpful. Some take aways are:
Kumar Sukhani was a Debian GSoC student and his project which he demonstrated was to be able to install Debian on an Android phone. Why would you want to do this? Apart from the evergreen "Because I can", you can run server software such as sshd on your phone or even use it as an ARM development board. Unfortunately my phone uses Blackberry 10 OS which can run android apps (emulated under QNX) but wouldn't be able to use this. When I get a real Android phone I will try it out.
Siji Sunny gave this talk which was geared more towards hardware types which I am not but one thing I learned was thee difference between all the different ARM subarchitectures. I knew Siji first from a previous incarnation when he worked at CDAC with the late and much lamented Prof. R.K. Joshi. We had a long conversation about those days. Prof. Joshi/CDAC had developed an Indic rendering system called Indix which alas became the Betamax to Pango's VHS but he was also very involved in other Indic computing issues such as working with the Unicode Consortium and the preseration of Sanskrit manuscripts which is also an interest of mine. One good thing that cameout of Indix was some rather nice fonts. I had thought they were still buried in the dungeons of CDAC but apparently they were freed at one point. That's one more thing for me to look into.
My cousin met me and we had a leisurely dinner together. It was quite late by the time I got back to the hotel. FOSSEE had kindly lent me one of their tablets (which incidently are powerful enough to run LibreOffice comfortably.) so I thought I might be able to quickly redo my presentation before bedtime. Well, wouldn't you know it the wifi was not fixed. As I should have guessed but all the progress I'd had made me giddily optimistic. There was an option of trying to find an Internet cafe in a commercial area 15-20 minutes walk away. If this had been Gujarat I would have tried it but although I can more or less understand Hindi I can barely put together two sentences and Marathi I don't know at all. So I gave up that idea. I redid the slides from memory as best I could and went to sleep.
In the morning I checked out and ferried myself and my suitcase via rickshaw back to the IIT campus. This time I got the driver to take me all the way in to the conference venue. Prof. Maudgalya kindly offered to let me keep the tablet to develop stuff on. I respectfully had to decline because although I love to collect bits of tech the fact it is it would have just gathered dust and ought to go to someone who can make a real contribution with it. I transferred my files to a USB key and borrowed a loaner laptop for my talk.
While waiting to do my talk I sat in on a workshop Praveen ran taking participants through the whole process of creating a Debian package (a ruby gem was the example.) He's done this before so it was a good presentation and well attended but the lack of connectivity did put a damper on things.
It turned out the schedule had to be shuffled a bit so my talk was moved later from the announced time. A few people had already showed up so I took some random questions about Debian from them instead.
Krishnakant Mane is remarkable. Although he is blind, he is a developer and a major contributor to Open Source projects. He talked about the Accessibility features of GNOME and compared them (favorably I might add) with proprietary screen readers. Not a subject that's directly useful to me but I found it interesting nonetheless.
Finally I got to give my talk and, yup, the video out on my borrowed laptop was incompatible with the projector. A slight delay to transfer everything to another laptop and I was able to begin. I talked about setting up BIND, postfix, and of course dovecot along with spamassassin, clamav etc. It turned out I had more than enough material and I went atleast 30 minutes over time and even then I had to rush at the end. People said they liked it so I'm happy.
I gave the concluding remarks. Various people were thanked (including myself) mementos were given and pictures were taken. Despite a few mishaps I enjoyed myself and I am glad I attended. The level of enthusiasm was very high and lessons were learned so the next Debian-IN event should be even better.
My departing flight wasn't due to leave until 1:20AM so I killed a few hours with my family before the flight. Once again I was stopping in Zurich, this time for most of a day. The last of my blunders was not to take my coat out of my suitcase and the temperature outside was 29F so I had to spend that whole time enjoing the (not so) many charms of Zurich airport. Atleast the second flight took me to Newark instead of JFK so I was able to get home a little earlier on Monday evening, exhausted but happy I made the trip.
Today I was walking past the Courant Institute at NYU when I saw a man wearing a t-shirt with a picture of a cow diagramming all the various cuts of beef.
Now I've lost all interest in science. Thanks a lot jerks.
Wishing all of you a happy Gujarati New Year (Vikram Samvat 2071 called Parabhava.)
May Lakshmi Mata protect you and your loved ones from poverty, misfortune, and systemd in the upcoming year.
From the crack journalists at CNN.
Interesting fact: anyone who wore a kilt at debconf is allowed to vote in the referendum.
_ __<; </_/ _/__ /> > 7 ) ~;</7 / /> / _*<---- Perth ~ </7 7~\_ </7 \ /_ _ _ |
If you don't, the UK will have to rename itself the K. And that's just silly.
Also vote yes on whether Alex Trebek should keep his mustache.
Unfortunately I was not able to attend debconf this year but thanks to the awesome video team the all the talks are available for your viewing pleasure.
In order to recreate an authentic Portland experience, I took my laptop into the shower along with a vegan donut and had my children stand outside yelling excerpts from salon.com in whiny Canadianesque accents. Here are some notes I took as I watched the talks.
Debian recently instituted a code of conduct which makes the astute observation that "a community in which people feel threatened is not a healthy community". So imagine my shock when I read Russell Cokers blog via Debian Planet, where commenting on a link from the intellectual powerhouse known as salon.com he said "The next logical step is to treat conservatism as a mental health problem."
Being a conservative myself I immediately lost all my self-esteem and Dovecots SSL cert handling stopped working. What if I attend debconf and Coker uses his white privilege to sic Mental Health Services on me? I'm scared, so very scared and I don't know if I can continue not working on Debian Minix any longer.
I demand that the Debian project, nay the world, should be OUTRAGED—I'm talking spelling naughty words in hexadecimal levels of outrage— and force this maniac to shut up before any more innocent flowers are brutalized by his "opinions."
Each year the 7DRL competion gives me an opportunity to abandon developing a roguelike game part way through. This year I am going to strive mightily to actually complete a playable game though owing to family commitments I have already gotten off to a rocky start which does not bode well.
But enough negativity...
So this year 7DRL coincides with the first ever Procedural Death Jam. This is a similar type of thing except the genre is Procedural Death Labyrinth. Procedural Death Labyrinths are a subset of Roguelikes (or is it the other way round?) If you have taken advantage of the wonderful offer Valve has given to Debian developers, you can find a number of examples of Procedural Death Labyrinths on Steam.
The most important part of any software development project is of course choosing a cool name. My game is called "The Girl Who Played With The Dragons Nest" (Can you guess what I've been reading?) It is written in C++ with the Curses toolkit. It will of course be open source.
I intend to blog my progress here if you care to follow along.
Wishing everyone a happy Gujarati New Year (Vikram Samvat 2070 called Vishvavasu.)
You'll get your Diwali present tomorrow :-)