FossConf and a failure presentation on KStars! 

Yeah… I was to give a talk on ‘Astronomy and Linux’ at FossConf 2008, Anna University MIT Campus, Chromepet – yet another of those FOSS Conferences. After all, it looks like India is becoming a breeding ground for FOSS activity and it’s so nice to know that every metro (and even the “non-metros”) now are making an effort to organize FOSS Conferences. There are reasons to feel more at home at FossConf, than at FOSS.IN and I think they are best not discussed. But I must say that FossConf needs a long way to go as far as good organization is considered – and this is completely acceptable because this is the first time it is being held!

The best part of FossConf was:

1. The conference is free – delegates are not charged anything

2. The conference is Free, free as in freedom – anybody can walk in to the talks. No ‘registration’ required.

3. The conference is Open Source 😛 – There is hardly any procedure and everything is straightforward in the procedure. You can see through the entire conference’s logistics.

Just like the genre of software it is all about!

It was a nice time – met many of those guys we met at FOSS.IN and the ILUGC guys.

Today morning, I started off along with Mr. Arun Khan (an IIT Alumnus, working to bring FOSS into corporate sector) to Chromepet. Mr. Khan was staying at Taramani House, so we walked down to G.C. and took a bus to the main gate, then walked down to the Gandhi Mandapam Bus Stand, took a bus to Guindy, and finally got to AU-MIT-Chromepet by local train from the Guindy station.

The conference started late. So everything was cascadingly delayed. But come on, it’s the first time they’re organizing this! Doesn’t matter.

So, my talk was to start at 1:30 PM, I got the projector only by about 2:00 PM, and it nearly took me till 2:15 to get my slides on the system. I had carried my friend Prakash’s Debian laptop, but I didn’t know we needed to install some i810-switch package or something like that to switch display to projector. So we tried for several minutes to get the laptop projection, in vain. Thejaswi Puthraya’s laptop didn’t work as well because his monitor was not detected by the Xorg, and anyway it wouldn’t have worked later either. So I couldn’t set up projection even after 2:30, which is when my talk was supposed to end! Anyway, the FossConf people provided us with a Desktop, I loaded my .pdf from the thumb drive I was carrying and rushed through my presentation. Unfortunately had to drop the part about how we did Webcam astrophotography with Linux. Just blurted something out about why Astronomers use Linux and something about KStars. I said that I couldn’t get projection going, so I wouldn’t demo KStars, which is what I wanted to do for a large fraction of the talk, (The next speaker was waiting, and I regret having made him wait) and that I would however demo it on a laptop screen for those who were interested. So after my ‘talk’, I went out to an empty classroom with friends from my institute, Thejaswi Puthraya et al, and gave a ~20 minute long demo of KStars on Prakash’s laptop screen. I also met a gentleman who was interested in helping us come up with an open source stacking software – i.e. “Registax equivalent”, and he took my contact. I really liked the ‘planet trails’ feature in KStars which lets you see the retrograde motion of planets beautifully! I demoed the use of the Alt-vs-time tool, the Jovian Satellites tool, the Solar System tool, the Details dialog, etc. Unfortunately, I only had KStars from KD 3.5.8 or whatever, and not from KDE 4.0, so it was really slow and lacked a few nice features that are now in KStars 1.3

After this, I was just in time for the last few minutes of Sudarshan’s workshop on building Python extensions from C libraries. My friend Arun Chaganty a.k.a Slinky was there throughout and I really regret having missing it. Sudarshan works on Python for OpenMoko (don’t know what exactly the project is called) – the Linux distro for the OpenMoko GTA-* Neo-* “Open”Mobiles. Sudarshan owns an OpenMoko GTA-01 himself, and he showed towards the end (after I walked in) a demo where he SSHed into his phone, invoked the python interpreter and showed how his port of libgsm into a Python module was capable of doing the GSM operations like sending SMS, detecting network service providers etc etc. Slinky feels honoured for having got an SMS from what seems like his next guru, Sudarshan, during his demo! (Sup3rkiddo, are you reading this?)

After that, we (Slinky and me) walked into Mr. Raman’s talk on Perl for Beginners and I must say that it was very well presented. Then, we head back to our institute with Mr. Arun Khan, talking about various topics ranging from FOSS to How IIT has changed or Whether they had a lingo in those days as well on the train back. It was an entertaining journey back to the campus.

We met Mr. Khan again at 8:00 PM at Gurunath for a further discussion (which ensued till 11:00 PM) on various things – FOSS, Linux, Gen-fart (Random and arbitrary discussions in IIT lingo) – lots of things. Mr. Khan had a message to convey to us – and if I’ve got it right (and I hope I have) – in summary, it read “Advocate FOSS” and “Contribute to FOSS”. He explained why he’d like to see us working towards these – so that the corporate industry adopts FOSS solutions! All of us – Varun Hiremath, Prasanna, Saad, Slinky, Prakash and myself had a nice time with Mr. Khan.

Now I’m back here at Prasanna’s room typing this blogpost – preparing for yet another astronomy session – the highlight being the Jupiter-Venus conjunction.