Wednesday, December 26, 2007

FOSS.IN '07

FOSS.IN was right in the middle of my winter vacations, which as such was no more than 17 days. Still, I decided to attend this event, in a hope that I might find out "how exactly" I can contribute code to an open-source project. Well, the event taught me two things :

1. I can't directly start contributing code to any project, until I know how the community that maintains that particular project works. In other words, I must hang out on their IRC channels and find out how bugzilla works for that community.

2. I must try to answer questions on IRC channels and try to squash bugs. This really is the way to contribute code to any project, unless I already know certain things, which I know I dont know.

Though a lot of things, that were discussed at the event, went over my head, I got an insight into how things are. This, I would never have learnt if not for the event. Among many sessions, a few that stayed in my mind for a long time are below:

Making Gentoo Tick: Anant Narayanan, a B.Tech. student from NIT, Jaipur, is also a Gentoo Linux developer. He spoke about Gentoo linux and I should say he impressed us all, not just with Gentoo, but also with his knowledge about it and his public speaking skills.

GCC Internals: An IIT Bombay professor, by name Abhijat Vichare, explained on a conceptual level, the internal stages of the GCC compiler. It was very informative. The hall was jam-packed and I had to sit on the steps to attend the session.

The Mozilla Project: Mitchell Baker, the CEO of Mozilla Corporation, explained the various levels at which we can contribute to Firefox. She also explained how Firefox needs to work on Windows too and how that needs to be taken care of by the developers. I was amazed to note that more than 95% of the contributors to Firefox are from Windows users. I then realised the power of free software and the power of its freedom.

Hacking the Fox: If I have to title one session as the most informative session as far as I'm concerned, I will give it to this session, which was neatly and interestingly handled by Myk Melez. Myk is also from Mozilla. He made us understand the simplicity with which the Firefox's front end is built.

All in all, the event was a grand success, which was obvious to anyone who attended it. But if I have to answer how much I learnt from the event, I will say I dont know. But all the same, I know I learnt things that will help me a lot in my path to FOSS contribution.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Entering Semester 8

Its been a month since I last blogged. Well, in the vacations, I sat in front of the TV mostly, except for 5 days, when I went to Bangalore for FOSS.IN (will be posting photos soon).

I arrived at college on the 16th (sunday), did registration on 17th (after standing in the queues for over 4 hours), got terribly sick on 17th night, flew to Bangalore with the sickness (Calicut to Bombay to Bangalore) on the 18th, messed up my interview (atleast I dint throw up during the interview) with Google on 19th, flew back to Calicut (Bangalore to Cochin to Calicut) on the 20th, cancelled my trip to Kottayam for ACM ICPC '08 (the train was for 20th night) on account of severe health conditions, rested (slept the whole day) till yesterday and woke up this morning at 7am hoping to get to my first class for the semester, but only to find out that all classes for today have been cancelled. So here I have 2 more days at my disposal. Ya right. All I can do is take more rest. Not to mention, Im terribly weak.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

anti-capitalist.org

I was just StumbleUpon-ing now, when I landed on a website that had the url http://www.anti-capitalist.org. The site had two captions that read "Anti-Capitalist alternatives to barbarism" & "The Machinery of Freedom?" and this interesting picture below.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

FOSS.IN, 2007 @ Bangalore

FOSS.IN/2007, an event I have been looking forward to, is held from December 4th to 8th, hosted by Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. For more info about the event, check http://foss.in.

Delegate Registration for FOSS.IN/2007 is open. Click here to go to the registration page. We donot have to pay any amount for this online delegate registration, which closes on 2nd, December. Only people who register online are eligible for the Rs.600 (Rs.500 for students) delegate fee. Those who do not register online or forget their delegate code have to pay Rs.1200 (Rs.1000).


Are you?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Prolog lab - a practical course. Really?

The inclusion of practical courses in any field of education is quite evident - a student should be capable of applying what he has learnt in the theory courses. Well, the lab courses are doing exactly the same thing - shaping the students so that they are able to find out how to apply the theory in practice.

While the student has to be clear with the theory before he can apply it anywhere, the student may be able to apply that theory anywhere, once he is clear with it. Indeed, it is unfair to expect anyone to always successfully deploy a theory in a given scenario (problem). Otherwise, any new proof that humanity unravels should have been found earlier, when all the theories, that were used by this proof, were known. Or atleast any scientist who previously knew all those theories required for the proof and dint come up with the proof must be termed dumb (incapable). Therefore, we dont have an alien system given to the students to test their practical skills.

So as I said, in the practical course, the student is given the system where he is required to apply the theory he knows. We have lab sessions that teach the student how the application of that theory is done in this system, the student slowly understands the underlying principles of this application and then he is ready for an exam. There is no point, in the exam, to ask the student to solve a problem that he has already done during the practice sessions. Nevertheless, the difficulty of the problem has to be maintained. While it is better for the student to fully know about the system where he is going to apply his concepts, the exam has to only check if the student knows the concepts and how to apply them in this system and not if the student knows the system thoroughly. This is to mean that the student has to get a chance to analyze the system during the exam, after he is given the problem. Since the problem is new to the student (which is almost made sure by the examiners), the student may not know all information, about the system, that he needs, to get a solution to the new problem. He might want to test the behavior of the system in specific cases. He should not be deprived of this necessity, as he is tested for his concepts and not for his knowledge about the system, which is just a scenario where he applies his concepts. Infact, if the student knows very little about the system and yet can experiment with the system, find out stuff about the system and arrive at a solution, it only speaks about his strong concepts and his general knowledge. Remember, we dint give an alien system to the student only to help the student.

This is also one of the reasons why in NITC, B.Tech. Computer Science and Engineering program doesnt include any specific programming language course (like C, C++, JAVA) in the syllabus. We are taught only concepts (purely). We see languages as systems where we are supposed to apply our theoretical concepts.

Coming to the real problem, for PROLOG lab, during the exam, we are asked to write the Prolog code for the question, on paper, before we switch on the machine. Once we complete that, we can type the same code we have written on paper in the machine. Now, if the machine gives the correct output, then our code is correct but if the machine doesnt give the correct code, we cannot alter the code we have written on paper without reduction of marks. After you change the code, even if you get the correct output, you get only 50% of the marks. This needs the student to know everything or atleast enough about the language Prolog to get full marks. If he doesnt know how Prolog behaves for a seemingly trivial situation, something he dint need during the practice sessions, something that can be found out in no time given Prolog interpreter, which is the system, where we apply our "Logical Programming Paradigm" concepts, then irrespective of his concepts, he is doomed to fail.

If this is the case, then practical courses boil down to theory courses. Only that in theory courses, the answer on paper is checked by the teacher and here, the answer on paper is checked by the machine. In other words, this Prolog lab could have been kept as a theory course, with the traditional theoretical evaluation system. If doing that rings a bell somewhere, then, may be we are after all not so sure about what we are doing for Prolog lab. We need to change this valuation pattern and let the student play around with the system, before he needs to write the solution on paper. Ofcourse, he will have to be given full marks if he comes up with a solution that delivers correct output (i.e., if he solves the problem).

Unless we do something about it, we are far from our aim of having practical courses.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Remembering Ernesto Che Guevara

Courtesy: People's Democracy (http://pd.cpim.org)
Dated October 14, 2007

Che's Farewell Letter To Fidel Castro

Havana, April 1, 1965

At this moment I remember many things - when I met you in Maria Antonia's house, when you proposed I come along, all the tensions involved in the preparations. One day they came by and asked who should be notified in case of death, and the real possibility of it struck us all. Later we knew it was true, that in a revolution one wins or dies (if it is a real one). Many comrades fell along the way to victory.

Today everything has a less dramatic tone, because we are more mature, but the event repeats itself. I feel that I have fulfilled the part of my duty that tied me to the Cuban revolution in its territory, and I say farewell to you, to the comrades, to your people, who now are mine.

I formally resign my positions in the leadership of the party, my post as minister, my rank of commander, and my Cuban citizenship. Nothing legal binds me to Cuba. The only ties are of another nature-those that cannot be broken as can appointments to posts.

Reviewing my past life, I believe I have worked with sufficient integrity and dedication to consolidate the revolutionary triumph. My only serious failing was not having had more confidence in you from the first moments in the Sierra Maestra, and not having understood quickly enough your qualities as a leader and a revolutionary.

I have lived magnificent days, and at your side I felt the pride of belonging to our people in the brilliant yet sad days of the Caribbean crisis." Seldom has a statesman been more brilliant as you were in those days. I am also proud of having followed you without hesitation, of having identified with your way of thinking and of seeing and appraising dangers and principles.

Other nations of the world summon my modest efforts of assistance. I can do that which is denied you due to your responsibility at head of Cuba, and the time has come for us to part.

You should know that I do so with a mixture of joy and sorrow. I leave here the purest of my hopes as a builder and the dearest of those I hold dear. And I leave a people who received me as a son. That wounds a part of my spirit. I carry to new battlefronts the faith that you taught me, the revolutionary spirit of my people, the feeling of fulfilling the most sacred of duties: to fight against imperialism wherever one may be. This is a source of strength, and more than heals the deepest of wounds.

I state once more that I free Cuba from all responsibility, except that which stems from its example. If my final hour finds me under other skies, my last thought will be of this people and especially of you. I am grateful for your teaching and your example, to which I shall try to be faithful up to the final consequences of my acts.

I have always been identified with the foreign policy of our revolution, and I continue to be. Wherever I am, I will feel the responsibility of being a Cuban revolutionary, and I shall behave as such. I am not sorry that I leave nothing material to my wife and children; I am happy it is that way. I ask nothing for them, as the state will provide them with enough to live on and receive an education.

I would have many things to say to you and to our people, but I feel they are unnecessary. Words cannot express what I would like them to, and there is no point in scribbling pages.

Ever onward to victory!
Homeland or Death!

I embrace you with all my revolutionary fervour.

-- Che


CHE: A Tribute


A file photo of Che with Fidel Castro

I MAKE a halt in my daily struggle to bow my head in respect and gratitude to the exceptional combatant who fell in combat on October 8th, forty years ago; for the example he passed on to us as leader of his Rebel Army Column, crossing the swampy grounds of the former provinces of Oriente and Camag├╝ey, while being chased by enemy troops. He was the liberator of the city of Santa Clara and the mastermind of voluntary work; he accomplished honorable political missions abroad and served as messenger of militant internationalism in East Congo and Bolivia. He built a new awareness in our America and the world.

I thank him for what he tried and failed to do in his home country, because he was like a flower prematurely severed from its stem.

He left to us his unmistakable literary style. He was elegant, swift and true to every detail of whatever happened to cross his mind. He was a predestinate, but he didn't know it. He still fights with us and for us.

Yesterday, we commemorated the 31st anniversary of the killing of all passengers and the crew of a Cubana airliner blown in mid-air, and we are on the threshold of the tenth anniversary of the cruel and unjust imprisonment of the five Cuban anti-terrorist heroes. We likewise bow our heads in respect to them all.

It was with great emotion that I watched and heard the commemoration ceremony on TV.

-- Fidel Castro Ruz (October 7, 2007. 3:17 pm)

Within 5 Minutes

After 3 days at home, last sunday, at around 7:30 pm, I was sitting in an auto, with my parents. We were on our way to the Central station. The train to Calicut was at 8:15 pm. I was thinking about how life would go back to boring classes, when suddenly... My stomach churned, as though I was freely falling, but only, I was moving forward. I just saved my teeth from hitting the metal bar behind the driver's seat. The sudden brake was due to a two-wheeler, that had given the auto a sharp left cut. The auto-driver didnt get a chance to shout at the motorcyclist, who drove off without knowing what he did.

Phew! I leaned forward. I was sitting on the left side of the 3-seater and could again feel the wind, blowing hard on my face. PAM PAM! I turned back and saw this black pulsar, honking to get way. In a neat curve, it came to the right side of the auto. The speed of the bike rose. It overtook the auto, came right in front and in seconds, decreased the speed considerably. Sudden brake once again. This time more sudden but we were already holding onto supports; so nothing happened, except all of us getting really pissed. The auto-driver shouted at them, nothing bad; just asked them to be more careful, in his "slanguage". All of us pointed our hands at the boys (looked like college students) on the bike, you know, in a fashion to scold them. They had wanted to park the bike on the left, when they slowed down. They, still on the bike (now parked near the pavement), stared at us as we started moving.

A minute passed. My heart came back to beating normally. I was looking down at the road, enjoying the wind, still leaning forward. I had just noticed a fast approaching headlight, when, in split seconds, a fist came to my face from outside. My reflexes reacted and I moved my face back, right in time. The fist couldn't reach me but his fore-arm hit the side of the auto. Just when I realised what came to my face, I saw the guys on the black pulsar, not even a foot away from me. I had this urge to kick the pulsar away; less they attempt that again. But I didnt. They accelerated forward and howled at us (abuses included), after which they took the immediate left and disappeared. The entire thing was very sudden; it took us a few minutes to get our minds from going over it again and again.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cultural Night, Tathva '07

Tathva is NITC's annual technology-festival. This time, Tathva '07 was a techno-management festival, and spanned over 3 days (27th-30th September). On the inaugural day, as is customary, musical performances and dance performances, by NITC students, followed the inauguration.

I played bass guitar for a couple of performances. One of them is below. This song is an own composition.





The dance performances exceeded normal NITC standards (you know!). Nevertheless, we have amazing dancers in our college now. One, of around 8 dance tracks, is below.





Friday, October 5, 2007

When is this getting over ...

This is the "hate-to-see" wall of my hostel room. Now, what are those bits of paper stuck on the black chart? Lets take a closer look.

"Oh these look like post-it notes. What? Post-it notes? You are using post-it notes for remembering pending work? Whats wrong with you, Arun?"

"Relax pal; I just happened to have post-it notes and so decided to waste them differently. Its ok."

But guys, here is the truth: these bits of paper, that remind me about the amount of work I have, are driving me crazy. Still, I'm not removing them coz they are really helping me keep track of pending work. So its a trade-off I guess.

I just wish I know the day when I will have the black chart blank. Seriously. That plastics assignment on top requires reading four very recent research papers. Four of them. There is this economics test next week and a seminar on "Political Economy", that I need to present for 30 minutes. You need to prepare for this dude; I mean this isnt some maths topic that you can keep explaining over and over again for 30 minutes; this is a subject closely knit with philosophy; gonna be tough. Oh, and the main project -- I almost forgot. I just got the mid-term evaluation report for the main project done with now. The report was to be submitted yesterday. Avl Vs Red-Black trees - Advanced Data Structures course project. This work was given to us, when S-7 started and I havent started it yet. Finally, for its part, Design & Analysis of Algorithms has a course project on "Bipartite Roots of Graphs".

These are non-academic work, that dont trouble me much. But bundled with the rest, I get reminded : "Work is work and I have loads of them."

To push all this down the drain, 2nd sessionals are scheduled for next monday. All that can pull me to sanity is my trip to chennai on 19th. I'm only waiting for 19th.

"Tell me, Arun. Why are you speaking like you care about all this? You normally dont think about academics anytime but the day before exams."

"What do you mean? I have always cared about academic work. I sure have. (pause) I have. (pause) Haven't I? (pause) Oh God! Whats happening to me?"

Monday, October 1, 2007

Shyam Prasad

Shyam Prasad was a 2nd year B.Tech. Civil Engg. student in my college. I dont know him personally. As my friends tell me, he had just learnt how to ride a bike on friday. That very same day, he met with an accident. Early this morning we lost him.

He was riding a bike with 2 of his friends behind him. It looks like the bike had gone out of control, throwing his friends off it. He, unfortunately, collided with concrete somewhere, resulting in a serious head injury. His friends escaped fatal injuries. In the hospital, he underwent a surgery in the brain and the doctors were not hopeful of his recovery after the surgery. His family was a little relieved last evening, when his pulse had come back to normal. But he could not make it. Early this morning, he passed away.

This is not the first person, we know, who lost his life in a bike accident. It is also known that in almost all of those cases, what proved to be fatal, was a head injury. If we dont wear a helmet, when on a bike, then its high time we take things seriously and start wearing one.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Garlic Bread

We were 7 or 8 years old, when all of us cousins used to play a game. The game was called "Muniyandi, the servant" (ofcourse, in tamil). It technically isnt a game. Its a small drama show with this protagonist named Muniyandi. This guy works as a servant at a household and does crazy things. To explain one, when his master asks him to make "Upma" (its a dish), this guy doesnt know what it is, tries to mix salt ("uppu" in tamil) and flour ("mavu" in tamil), makes a mishmash of it, gives it to his hungry master and gets scolded badly for it.

A few days back, my friends and I were bored and so went to this new place they had opened at Kozhikode. Its called "Coffee Beanz". There, we ordered for some stuff, along with "Garlic Bread" as starter. For 20 minutes, we waited for the starter. Finally, they brought it. But what they served definitely, or debatably wasnt Garlic Bread. It literally just had pieces of cut garlic on top of a few slices of bread. We just couldnt eat it, despite being really hungry. It made us regret for momentarily forgetting we were in Kozhikode.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

After all the effort, Finally my first blog

It took me one whole day to set this screen up and post this blog. I wanted to blog since last semester, after Mr.Kiruba Shankar, who had come to my college (NIT Calicut, where I'm dong my final year B.Tech. in CSE), for FOSS.NITC, '07, explained how blogs can be useful. Not many but a single huge hurdle stood midway - one I have never crossed without someone poking me from the back with a needle. Well, I don't have to mention, do I? I was lazy.

It was summer and I was at home changing tv channels on my remote. My dad was around and all of a sudden, he asked me about what I think of the nuclear deal (that, I feel, should be vehemently opposed). Be as it may, I took some time to get my head to the question, before which he started to speak again. He was more casual this time. He asked with a smile on his face, if I know what NRIs in America say about the left opposing the "deal". I didn't know but I was amused already. I just knew these guys (atleast a majority of them) say complete nonsense. My dad, then told me that they are asking the communists in India to flee to China and let India grow. Thats it. Both of us started laughing. It was uncontrollable. I wonder if it was interesting or funny, to think if these guys actually fled from India, (from participating in its government, democracy), intending to enable its prosperity. It was surely funny. In some minutes, when we were regaining balance, he went on to say that they (NRIs), in emails to media or to family and friends and on the web, are actually making a strong movement. He continued laughing but I felt something other than amusement then.

"The web is not confined to them, Appa. Infact, even we need to seriously start making efforts to express ourselves through the web. Its effective and now, its important that we do it. Its not all that difficult. We can have our own websites. Or, we don't have to do all that, we just have to start blogging."

"Blogs, yeah."

I smiled as if I won something. It lasted only till he said, "You have one, right?"

I didn't need a needle after that. So here I am.