March 5th, 2007


FOSS Meet At NITC - Report

I had been to NIT Calicut (then known as REC) 15 years back - it was to try my hand at getting a seat in either Electronics or CS. I had to go back home disappointed, though I could have got admission to what at that point of time I thought were `inferior' branches - Mechanical, Electrical etc. It was thus with a touch of nostalgia that I landed up once again at the same old place, this time with a bunch of students in tow, to attend the FOSS Meet@NITC.

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It would be silly to judge the quality of an educational institution by the elegance of its campus - but you will not miss the point that a lot of money has been spent on making things look really grand.

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The event was supposed to be inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Kerala, who for some reason or other, did not show up. The presence of two prominent personalities from the FOSS field, Dr.C.N.Krishnan (of NRC FOSS) and Atul Chitnis compensated for his absence.

As there was a large number of talks, not only had they to be `parallelized', but they also had to be scheduled from 8:30 in the morning to 10 O'clock at night! Kiruba Shankar's talk on blogging was the late night `hit'. Here is his report on FOSS Meet @ NITC, 2007. More late night attractions included Atul's talk, an open air `unconference' with Kiruba and an overnight programming contest (which was still going on at 2:30 in the night, the time I packed off to the hostel room).

overnight-coding midnight-unconference

As the talks were running in parallel sessions, the audience turnout was not really big; I decided to bore them with a talk on `embedded hacking with GNU/Linux'. I was the only speaker in the conference who had an assured audience - my own students!! A good way to make people stay with you during a bad talk is to give them hope that something interesting will happen towards the end. I had with me the RoboSapien which Ajith had sent from Delhi. Robo saved the day for me - most people went to sleep at the beginning of the talk and woke up towards the end to see what I was doing with Robo!

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After the talk, myself and Aanjhan got together for a discussion with the students on how they can involve themselves in FOSS projects. The best time to do creative work and contribute to the growth of Free Software is when you are a student - but the student community seems to be very passive in this regard. Why? My take is that people who write Free Software do it out of passion and excitement at doing something creative - the Indian education system is extremely effective in wiping out both by the time a student gets out of 10th standard. Most students who land up in engineering colleges (even the NIT's) simply want to get a job - nothing more!

I had a Phoenix workshop on the last day which was well attended. At least a few students showed genuine interest in what they saw. It seems they might purchase a few boxes to try out things on their own.

Sreejith conducted an RTAI workshop. There was a team from IBM LTC who conducted, among others, a workshop on kernel debugging. The IBM team started out by asking the students to write a program which generates a segfault - the guy sitting besides me tried out some really funny code before he got a segfault!

sreejith kerneldebug

Aanjhan gave a talk on EDA tools available on GNU/Linux.


You can see Amarjith (one of the moving forces behind the FOSS Meet, a very fired up guy!) talking to students before the IBM kernel debugging workshop:


Meet my `FOSS team':

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This is the hostel where we stayed:

international student's hostel kicked-out

Some of the other delegates/speakers (Hiran, Praveen, Anivar, Sujith, Kushal, Sreejith ):


The event should have been given more publicity in engineering colleges all over Kerala as well as South India. That would have ensured a much better audience turn out.

Kudos to all those who worked hard to organize FOSS Meet@NITC, 2007!

Update: Hiran has a lot of photos here. Read Aanjhan's report here