Shaastra 2009 Hackfest – Day 1

Okay, Day 1 started with me trying to schedule some sleep in vain. While still trying to setup a distcc farm, build Qt, I went at 10 AM for a break, followed by Atul Chitnis’ talk on “FOSS and Technology” at 10:30 AM. Atul was down with Chickengunya, but gave an excellent talk nevertheless. I don’t know about others, but I did have something to learn from it.

He started by saying that the talk would appear a little biographical to begin with, and went on to talk about his younger days, when he pulled apart a grandfather clock, and about his college project – they had quite a lot of learning in them. The punch line of the first bit of the talk, if I’ve got it right, was “Understand everything deeply, to the core. Because, if you want to develop something new, you had better know the inner workings of the system at hand”. Trying to take things apart is sometimes the way to understanding the inner workings of a system, and Atul stressed that this is of educative value, even if it fails. Even while putting things back together, you can learn something. He then explained how the FOSS way of doing things – open interaction, open source code, a nice community that is always willing to help – supported the user to dive deep into the working of technology. He asserted that it is through Free and Open Source Software that new technologies could be born, because building new technologies implies the requirement of understanding how things work on the inside – not just how to use an API. He also explained how FOSS was beneficial to students of technology, in enabling thinking, and in helping them to work with a large team. (On a side note, I was wondering whether the community-interaction in the scientific community would be analogous to that in KDE and other FOSS projects would, when he said this). He told the audience several anecdotes – I found the one about Harald Welte’s GSM stations the most exciting. The question-answer session at the end was very interesting. Someone who had attended one of Atul’s talks before could easily say that Atul had Chickengunya, because he wasn’t moving about as much as he would, but I don’t think someone who was blindfolded would! His talk very good in my opinion.

We quickly broke for lunch, because Shreyas’ talk was next. Shreyas re-did the “FOSS Foundry” talk after guaging the audience’s skills, although he had originally intended something different (and more exciting!). It was very interactive, and everyone in the audience was actively participating. He managed to keep people who had not slept the entire night awake and absolutely active. I’m sure everyone enjoyed his talk.

Okay, now let me talk about the pre-hackfest talks. I assumed the responsibility of building KDE this hackfest. Prakash has been running around doing many other things, so he goaded me to join him in the pre-hackfest talk for KDE. I didn’t know what to say – we didn’t even have presentations prepared – but I think we did something reasonable. I couldn’t afford to stay through the rest of the pre-hackfest talks (that were intended to give an overview of various organizations), so I can’t comment.

Then, the hackathon began. The kernel hackathon seemed to be the most attractive and the best in my room. Aneesh is a charismatic speaker, and from whatever I could gather during my compile-time breaks, he, Kamalesh and Prasad really had motivated their participants. Participants stayed up as late as 4 AM. I heard that they talked about the release cycle of the Linux kernel, helped people build the Linux kernel, went over some of the options in the kernel config, and talked about how to debug the kernel running on an emulator using gdb.

As for KDE, we had a few people staying as late as 4 AM. Kashyap was probably busy with other responsibilities, while Prakash gave an introduction to the KStars code-base and I sat trying to build KDE. (I made a lot of blunders, which is why it still hasn’t built). Later in the night, I live-fixed a simple bug to demonstrate the thought process and the procedures involved in fixing a bug and commiting it to the repository. Here’s a link to the commit. The participants made several suggestions, and we filtered the good ideas from the “unclean” ideas. Some folks were still hacking on KStars early in the morning with Prakash’s help, while I went back to the failing build.

The Mozilla JetPack hackfest seemed to be going really well, although they were in a different room, and I didn’t get to hear much. Siddharth was very enthusiastic. He was teaching people JavaScript, which was a pre-requisite for JetPack.

The GNOME mentor Arun found out that people didn’t know about function pointers, so they couldn’t understand event-driven programming. So he opted the route of “get your fundas right” and strengthened participants in the basics, so that they can hack GNOME today. I don’t know much of what happened there.

I was completely isolated from the Sugar hackfest, so I have no idea what went on.

Jai was conducting the ffmpeg hackathon. They submitted a patch for review. Today, they will be writing a decoder! That’s a lot of nice news :). Kudos to Jai.

So that was Day 1. We knew what to do, unlike last year. Things were completely under control and went off fine, although KDE didn’t go as good as expected.

We should be hanging out on #iitm-hackfest on FreeNode. Do catch us!