DebianUtsavam 2012 – Medal of Honor!

Yet another memorable event at MES, Kutipuram! I must say I’m starting to enjoy my life now. I had no clue the event would turn out to be such an enjoyable one when Praveen ettan first mailed us telling us to get it together on short notice.

There is one milestone in my life that I simply have to mention here and that is, it is the first time I’m getting a medal in my entire life! I’m just so happy that it was for my effort at teaching too. Here it is.

Day 1  (28/04/2012) – Welcome to GNU/Linux!

After attending the release party not a month ago which consisted of about 10 people, I was amazed to see around 30 for this event. Most of them were a group of young foss enthusiasts who knew they had to learn about it and they wanted to learn too.

The event was scheduled to start at 9.30am. But holding up the philosophy of “All good things to those who wait”, we started the event sharp at 10.30am with Ershad, the tallest foss hacker among us, inviting the new ones among us to freedom as well as rejuvenating the rest of us. I could say he got through to us with his cycle. Lol! His session lasted for about half an hour and at about 11:00, it was time to get techy and Nakul was the one who was going to get us so.

Let me mention Nakul and Kiran here. Nakul has this “Alright everyone! I’m here so you guys have nothing to worry about. Let me handle it” attitude and his presence made the entire occasion joyful. Whereas Kiran had this “Yup, you are doing great and all of us are learning from you” attitude. Both of them together were an awesome team in organizing as well as getting the event to go forward smoothly. Great and awesome guys to be with. Its an honor to have gotten to know them.

So at 11:00, Nakul came forward with his arsenal of commands. Ummm… Usually people commands the Arsenal I guess but what the heck…

Anyway, command line and shell scripting were his topics. He ordered each of us to go and sit in front of a system and he started his session. Starting from the very basic of changing directories and creating folders (recursively and not), he took us to tee even! Not tee as in “tee hee” but tee as in the command used  to “read from standard input and write to standard output and files”. Changing the permissions, ownerships (leaving poor Kiran both ‘ownerless’ and ‘permissionless’ over a few files!), the representations of ownerships and all were covered. He more or less taught us the heads and tails of more, less, head and tail. He he… Sorry bro,just couldn’t resist writing that sentence and nope! He exactly taught us, along with examples, what all those four commands meant. He wound up his session with the hierarchical structure of the Linux file system at about 12:oo.

However, we were blessed with a senior pass out from MES itself by the name of Haris (Not me!) and he came forward to share with us his experiences in real life about using GNU/Linux. From how he knew Ubuntu to be just a software to remove viruses to how he actually started using Linux to live. It was pretty enlightening know that all of us had much to hope for.

At about 12.15, we stopped for lunch. However, none of us were ready to give up on foss even during Lunch and I was pretty much amazed at the Discussion Sadiq and Ershad had over their lunch. While I’m one who walks around using free software/open source software (Please note that I’m writing both here as Sadiq is going to be reading this), I’ve never dug deep into the roots of its philosophies. But Sadiq had and frankly, he has done an amazing job at it. He exactly knew what he was talking about while supporting Stallman. He wouldn’t settle, no matter what, for using just ‘Linux’ over ‘GNU/Linux’. The discussion heated up the curries and rice on the table which ended in finally Ershad admitting that Sadiq was right. My stomach was too full by then I guess! Ha ha…

We prayed and got back to the labs at about 1.30 and it was my session then. But I let Ershad handle the introduction to my session and sat back while he nicely demonstrated how apt-get, synaptic and all worked along with how software installation in Linux (No! GNU/Linux) was different from that of Windows. He concluded his session at about 2:00pm.

Then I came forward and I guess no one had any clue that I was scared out of my wits! It was the first time I was taking a technical session and suddenly I felt that I was going to mess it up completely. I really felt to howl and shout out aloud, beat a few times on my chest (Like King-Kong) and cool off my tension. But fearing that would further scare all those present there (I was scared enough for all of them), I pulled myself together and started my session.

I’m not writing down my entire session here because that might remind me of more than I want to remember. He he.. My session was on “installing from source” and I had taken the tuxmath game ( as an example. Everything seemed to go well with everyone encountering errors while running their configure scripts and them slowly solving it when all of a sudden came the worst nightmare of every developers – The Horrendous Dependency problems! (reminds me of how Labeebka raised one hand and shouted “Jai Ubuntu!”) No one could install softwares using apt-get because of “Unmet dependencies”, “broken packages” and what not! The lab was infected with confusion and the threatening dependencies popping up everywhere! Sajith sir, Nakul, Ershad, Sadiq and me where on full swing trying to solve these but as much as we tried to solve things, we began to realize that that much things were screwed up.

However, while all of this was going on, the group of  Shamsudheen sir (I hope that is what his name is!) and the sir from the mech dept. (can’t remember his name but I think it is Ayush) got the source installation correct and boy was it a weight off my heart to see the game up and running on their system. I had no idea the game required “Teacher’s privileges” to be installed. Lol! After this happening, unfortunately for our efforts, the internet connection was down and out for the day at 3:00pm and we could not proceed with fixing the Debian system there. Sadiq managed to copy the required library files from the computer in which the installation worked into one of the computers among the girl’s batches and the game worked there too. I concluded my session there telling them the rest of the steps in the installation process and here I forgot to mention an important point. I can only hope the ones who attended will be reading this.

NOTE: While installing from source, the first thing you should do is not run ./configure, but to see whether there is a README or INSTALL file within that folder. This is because ./configure, make and make install are the steps used for softwares that are developed using the GNU make philosophy. But there are many other softwares that will have to be built in a different manner and the instructions for these will be contained in the README or INSTALL file.

Here let me mention Sajith sir. An awesome person who is ready to help when and where help is needed without invitation. He knows how everything works and has a solution for any problem that happens in that lab even if he has to sit and hack at it for long hours. If it weren’t for him, Mine and Nakul’s session wouldn’t have imparted as much as it had imparted. From what I have heard from the students there at MES, he is a teacher under whom the students are proud of having learned! But alas, he is leaving MES to pursue his M. Tech in the coming June. That will be a great loss for them as well as for us as he is the backbone of such events being conducted there. A kernel lover at heart, he aims at making a serious contribution before he returns back to his profession again. Wishing him all success!

Coming back to the event, after I clumsily concluded my session at about 3:00, Sajith sir came forward with a beautiful explanation of what Makefiles are and how they worked. Once his small session was over, our “guest of the day” reached the venue. Mr. Labeeb Mattra and man, did  he have the cutest smile among all! He had this childish face with a geeky spectacle and a whole lot of Debian and FOSS philosophy oozing out of him.

His session was on the Debian philosophy, how it came to be and why it was so. He started at about 3:30 and took us through the romantic world of Debra and Ian (Deb-ian), told us why we needed to support the existence of Debian in our society even if we didn’t use it, how the elections were held at Debian, its philosophy and finally stressing upon FreedomBox and how our personal information was valuable to us. He concluded at about 5:00 and we were on our way home without further delay.

And by the way, all of us “session takers” got Debian medals. Hope someone puts up the pics as well as the list of attendees somewhere.

Day 1 comes to an end.

Day 2 – Debian Packaging

This day was Praveen Ettan’s. However, he let us know he’ll join us only by 10.30am or so and told us to get started on discussion. The internet was down at the morning and Sajith sir was running after it and finally it got fixed. Thank God!

We got started on discussions at about 10:00 with Labeebka chairing it. There was just one topic of discussion and that was why we considered our personal information to be valuable. We traveled through the secretariats of various Governments as well many NGOs and other institutions and saw how it might pose a potential threat to our privacy as well as us being tracked at each and every moment of our life. By the time we had reached this conclusion, Praveen ettan entered the scene and Labeebka handed over the session to him.

Praveen ettan was introduced to us by certain wise and composed person whom I could not get to know and the introduction made us all gape at the great man standing in front of us! I was really jealous of him. Not because of his knowledge or achievements but because of his goatee which was one of my wishes to have before I left college! He he!

Anyway, he started off the session by reading out to us a certain message (or entry by himself) from his phone which inspired all of us to share what we knew with others as well as to write blogs and discuss our experiences of attending the event on the mailing lists. Thereafter he proceeded by asking us what we knew from the previous day’s session and got us to answer a few questions regarding how Debian worked.

He then went on to why packaging was done and how it was done. The theory behind packaging, you could say. A software would get released by someone and its first packaging would happen either if a Debian Developer out of his own interest took the software and packaged it or if someone put forth a request to have that software to be available on Debian. Usually, the package then would go into the “unstable” stage where a priority will be set for it to be Low, Critical or Security. These will stay in the unstable state for 10, 5 and 2 days respectively and then will be moved to the testing stage provided all its dependencies have their bugs fixed and are already present in the testing stage.

There is also an experimental stage where the softwares that are sure to contain a lot of bugs and that crash often are kept. However, on passing continuous tests, these will be added to the unstable state as well.

Now, the testing stage ‘freezes’ when all the softwares that the Debian community decided at their last stable release, would be there in their next stable release, are there in the testing stage. Once freezed, no packages will be automatically added to the testing stage and if you are able to fix bugs from the unstable stage, you have to manually add it to the testing stage. Once the freeze has all the ‘decided-upon’ softwares, the stable version is released and the testing stage unfreezes.

There is something called the ‘backports’ here too which either contains newer versions of softwares that are already in the stable release or softwares that were out after the last stable release. So by manually adding the backports repo, we can install those too.

Praveen ettan made us explain and repeat this session ourselves and finally it was time to go for lunch. Just before leaving the lab, Riyas, a second year fossie (hey, cute term isn’t it?) at mes, jumped up and caught me. Apparently he had not gave up on compiling tuxmath from source and he had almost finished running the configure script correctly. We spent a while together and he did an excellent job of compiling and running the game! Now that is one lad with the proper enthusiasm and potential.

We had a hearty lunch (for which the mes fsug group paid the bills) and returned back to the labs after praying at about 1:30pm.

The hands on session was started and we guided through by Praveen ettan along the steps for packaging a certain Ruby library called mixlib-log using the gem2deb tool. However, gem2deb was not within the Debian repo and we had to install it from source. We did that, made our first package of  mixlib-log and then he tells us to fill out the various informations in the files present within the debian/ directory by referring to the New maintainer’s guide!

We were to run lintian on the .changes file and see the errors and warning there and resolve them one by one. We did it and finally had a package ready but alas, it was just an example and not something to be uploaded. Ah, suddenly I remember how Praveen ettan explained asking for sponsors in order to upload a package and also how the “web of trust” was formed between the various Debian Developers using the PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) mechanism.

The session had no formal ending but all of us sat back for a while with him assigning a gem to each of us. Many among us have already requested to work on a bug and let’s hope this is the start and growth of a new Debian community.

Before ending my entry, there is something noteworthy that happened. Although what I am about to say will make more sense to my classmates at college, I’ll just put it down for the sake of it. Guys, I didn’t even yawn during sessions of entire two days! My friends at college can see how amazing this is considering my unmatched skill of sleeping right under the teacher’s noses by sitting in the first bench!

Expressing my joy of having two of my Juniors from NSS, Ashiq and Ranjith having attended the event, here is to the future where I hope gatherings of these nature will be plenty.


18 thoughts on “DebianUtsavam 2012 – Medal of Honor!

    • It might interest you to know that every once in a while the names ‘Sajjad’ and ‘geohacker’ caming popping up all through the two days! You sure could have added to the Charisma! Ha ha… And thank you so much for the compliment.

  1. Thanks Haris for the nice commentary! I had missed many points. Now there is a reference.
    I liked the post very much. You’re very good at writing. Keep it up!

  2. it was a fun event and i absolutely enjoy your style of writing. Keep up the good work.
    and i sure am glad that you spelled all of the names right, this time around 😉

    thanks to you, the fellows who get bored during lab hours hav a new game to get down on.

    • Thanks mate! And now that you put it that way, maybe the students can install it on the systems and try it out to find where it crashes. Tux4kids is a constant GSoC organisation and maybe someone from your college can get involved in it too!

  3. Another awesome post! Thank you for creating such a vignette of that event, i felt like i was also there with you all. This time also after reading, like your other posts, i took long time to pull me back from the thirst of writing a blog! I didn’t do it b’coz as you said I was scared out of my wits! 🙂 Really inspiring Hariskka. Keep writing!

  4. Pingback: Debian Utsavam at MES Kuttippuram, Kerala at Praveen Arimbrathodiyil blogs here

  5. Thanks again for keeping those two days alive with your beautiful writing style! I have started writing my blog here. It is already too long 🙂 I think I’m going to make it into a book 🙂 See if Ashik and Ranjith can also write a blog post. Do you want to try creating a press release for the event with help of others?

    • I’m much humbled by your compliment. I went thorugh your blog post just after you had written it but alas, there was some error with your “comments” section because when I hit the “submit” button after filling in the firelds, nothing happened. Seriously, nothing happened.

      Ashik has begun with a blog and he is beginning his writing wheras I’ll talk to Ranjith about it.

      As for the press release, I can’t commit too much time into it as I have my project on my hands. I’ll be happy to do the proof-reading part though.

      • I don’t what happened with the comments 😦 Just try if you are still facing problems. Leave the press release for now, but lets keep it in our minds for next event. Call Labeeb for a talk to MES before he comes back to Pune.

  6. Pingback: Why Should We Support The Existence of Debian Even If We Don’t Use It? | Anees

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