Thursday, December 31, 2009

SSPM engineering college will start FOSS based education

Back from Konkan with fond memories

Just last sunday, I was busy in the computer lab of SSPM engineering college in Kankavali with my colligues and friends Anusha, Prathamesh and Prashant, setting up the machines for the 5 days workshop.
Those were 5 beautiful days and another success for free software in education.
Looking at those 5 days, I think there is a lot to write and might not be sensible to do in just one blog post.

But here is the complete overview of the workshop and its conclusions.

day 0 20th December 2009

Mr. Mhapeskar, the HOD of computer department was waiting for us in the lab. At around 10.00 AM, the car came to pick myself, Anusha, Prashant and Prathamesh from our hotel.
At first look itself the college seemed to be impressively built. The infrastructure was extremly good and the construction was fabulous.
Anusha commented "it looks just great and seems they have maintained it very well". While Prathamesh, who was to take on the lab setup with Prashant, noted, "it looks more like a management college in a city instead of an engineering college".
In the lab, the HOD was rather surprised to see us (I in particular look, too young for a professional of this caliber and add to it that I am visually disabled). "Who is Krishnakant?" he asked and although it did not look obvious, he was a bit shocked to find that it was me.
Meanwhile Anusha, and Prathamesh took on the responsibility of checking the configuration, while Prashant was busy sorting out the computers we planned to setup and those which we would keep for the participants for hands-on installation.
to our amazement, all the computers were having 512 MB ram and were pritty fast given the configuration.
We soon got out the Ubuntu 9.04 cds and the 3 of our most talented and dedicated colligues started to take on the mission of setting up the machines sorted out.
Mr. Bane sat with me to understand the entire schedule and how we planned to manage the hands-on.
while I was busy checking out the internet availability and if all needed ports were open, Prashant was told by the HOD that there were faculties from other colleges who were about the age of 35 or even 40 and will become a challenge for convincing them to realise the advantage of Free Software.
"We don't think it is a problem because we have gone through this before", said Anusha and Prashant who were discussing about a couple of machines whose cd roms were not working.
I then took the pen drive from Prathamesh and got even those machines installed by setting up Ubuntu through the USB startup creater.

I had set the target for installation till 3.30 in the afternoon and we were almost completely done around 2.30 but the machine on which we were installing Fedora took a bit of time because we needed a blank dvd for burning the ISO.
Never the less, we completed the installation by 4.15 and went off to a late lunch.
The lunch was good (I had the konkan style chicken and Anusha took some fish).
I already had a good taste of prawns the previous night when we had arrived at the hotel (by a some what delayed mandavi express).
Any ways lab was set and we were all set for the 5 day mega workshop under the Short Term Trainning Program (STTP) which many universities recommend specially for teaching "linux" to the faculty members.
Now since universities like Mumbai have included GNU/Linux to a fair degree in the books, it has become necessary for training the staff and also an opportunity for we free software promoters to spread awareness.

Day 1, 21 December 2009

The innogration was totally formal and we all went through the sterio type mechanical speaches from Principle and other people on the stage.
The 4 of us were really waiting fo all this to get finished so we could get on with our sessions.
I finally got to speak to the audiance who was actually wondering "how can this man be a main resource person?" I think it is natural for people to think like this when they meet me for the first time.
Later on this became obvious from the feedback we got.
I did my best to make people realise that it is not just the matter of learning this because it is in the academia, but because free software respects our freedom and now has become a successful revolution. It is used in the main stream industry due to the fact that it is flexible enough to let us make changes and add new functionality.
Besides what matters is the fact that the openness of the source code discourages evils and so GNU/Linux can't really be cracked for wrong reasons.
I made it a point to let people know that Unix had already provided a complete solution to the so called "virus problem ". Linux kernel just adopted the same method but Microsoft purposely ignored that same solution for carrying out their dirty spying business and helping anti-virus companies to grow.
There were many points I covered and from the feedback I could make out that what I attempted to say was taken seriously by all participants.
After Lunch, I took on with the desktop overview for a short period of time, demonstrated the menus on the desktop and also showed them the Orca Screen reader which I use.
Then the entire session was taken over by Anusha as an experienced Developer in the Free Software circle and a great promoter of GNU/Linux, this was not her first workshop. Within no time, she had all the participants interested in GNU/Linux (Ubuntu distro).
She really did this in an impressive way, involving participants in activities such as asking them to open their own word and excel files and also making them understanding that what openoffice or Microsoft Office offer is a concept with different brand names.
She uses some good technique for impressing people by making sure that they try out their daily computer tasks on the desktop.

For example, she invited some one who had a digicam and told him to attach it to her laptop with his power cable.
Every one is usually surprised that the camera not just gets opened but the photos get imported. What's more she did demonstrate the fact that those photos can be uploaded to on-line galaries directly from fspot photo manager.
I can see that she has been very successful with such interractive experiments.
What such methods of demos do is that these techniques help to remove the fear of linux from the minds of regular end-users.

Towards the end of the desktop overview session, people were more than impressed with what Ubuntu had to offer.
As if this was not enough for the already impressed participants, Anusha Invited Prathamesh to demonstrate the 3D desktop and that was the most impressive show of the day. People were plesently surprised and were amazed at the look and feel of the cube effect and how people can have many applications which can stay on the cube.
Also other themes were demonstrated by Prathamesh. Mostly importantly Prathamesh made it a point to tell people that this 3D desktop can run on moderate ram Memory and does not require extreme graphics display card etc.
This is a lesson for those who do such workshops or hold seminars for FOSS awareness.
The most important point is that the sooner you manage to remove the misconceptions about linux and the faster you take the fear off, it becomes that much easy to promote the entire culture easily.
How convincingly you can show the ease of use of the desktop will determine how comfortable people will feel switching over from Windows.

Also we all make it a point to inform the participants that commercial support is indeed available for this free software and that FOSS has got great commertial popularity although Community is the main driving force.
In the following sessions of the day, we took up hands-on installation, both the live and alternate cd.
Again we took about 1 hour to explain the partitioning option of GNU/Linux. We generally prefer to show the manual way of partitioning so that we get a chance to explain some fundamental concepts like mount points, and file systems.
Rest of the day went perfectly well. People enjoyed installing Ubuntu and we soon found out that the participants are now going to enjoy the rest of 4 days for sure.

day 2, December 22 2009

The morning session started from where we left the previous day evening. Anusha started the day with the hands-on demonstration on adding and removing additional software through Internet and apton cd.
This is another point to note. Keep in mind that at many places the Internet will either be very slow or won't be available at all. In such a situation you have very limited choice for demonstrating the process of adding (installing ) softwares on on any Linux distro.
We always carry an apton cd containing most demanded programs such as the codecs for audio video, audacity, VLC, Latex and other development tools.

Though there were some glitches during the practicals, we some how got it working soon.
The day continued with me demonstrating the usage of on-line help resources such as the IRC channel. I also made it a point to demonstrate the use of internet data card (tata indicom in my case).
Anusha meanwhile did a smart thing by instructing all the participants to make use of the apton cd and install packages like latex, postgresql and glade.
We soon found out that participants, at their choice were installing more packages.
I also demonstrated the file permissions and explained why viruses don't attack GNU/Linux.
We had a nice time demonstrating them the installation of xampp for the up coming php sessions.
Prashant ended the day by demonstrating the gcc compiler and also a bit of PHP to start with.
He also gave a short demo of dia and xmind, he seems to like the 2 tools a lot.

Day 3, December 23 2009

By day 3 we had already got encouraging feedback from Mr. Mhapsekar that participants are really having great fun learning the technology and are just loving to come in the Free Software world!
He told us that participants are not really willing to leave the lab even after 5 and so wanted to extend the timings of the lab sessions.
at the same time Prathamesh made a nice observation, "you know kk, as soon as the participants come in the lab, they streight away go into Ubuntu, even though they have the choice of windows as the second OS".
This essentialy means that people were finding our workshop pritty interesting and as time was passing, they were getting more and more comfortable with the new desktop environment.
Ever since the first day, we had been asked time and time again about LaTeX and it was Anusha again who took over the stage and did her session in her own style.
"either pay attention to me right now else loos out on some thing interesting ". Anusha addressed the back row where Prashant was trying to handle some confusion. Any ways she got hold of the entire classroom pritty soon and with her tryed and tested methodology, started to make participants aware of the bennifits of using the most popular type setting tool.
By the end of her session almost all participants had done a fair bit of hands-on under the supervision of Anusha, assisted by Prathamesh and Prashant.

It was then Prathamesh all the way till the evening with his networking sessions where he covered ftp, ssh and pritty much every thing which people expect to see from a network based OS.
I was observing from behind that every participant was trying to get into each other's machine through ssh and also downloading some goodies from prathamesh's laptop through ftp.
He actually configured proftpd and put up all the little software tools which he wanted participents to download.
The day ended with continuation of php session which actually went on till the next day morning.

day 4, 24 December 2009

Morning session started with tuns of questions from participants. The interesting fact is that the questions being asked were no more of the beginner category. Participants had by now gone well over basics and wer asking very focused questions.
This goes to show that if properly oriented, People soon loos the fear of the GNU/Linux OS and once they know that it is not "just command line " system, they start loving it.
And even on the forth day, people were after Prathamesh, not so much for his networking experience but for the 3D desktop!
(not that his networking session was bad, infact He already got an offer to setup the mail server for the college).
The first session of the day was taken over by Anusha half way, when Prashant who was teaching PHP, changed ends and while he handled the hands-on, anusha did the demo on concepts like MySql connectivity with php etc.
Meanwhile we were informed that there will be an interruption before lunch because the principle of the college wants to hold the validictory on the 4th day itself.

The formality went as informal as it could get.
We all felt very nice to know that people did not take the workshop as a compulsion, but actually enjoyed learning what ever little we 4 of us could teach them.
The rest of the day went on with a very intensive session by Prathamesh on Kernal compilation.
"our participents are so impressed about this workshop that they actually are demanding an extention to it for a couple of More days", said Mr. Mhapsekar.
I would have even loved to do it, so would the entire team, but Myself and Anusha had to go to amrawati for conducting another 2 days STTP on Linux.

Any ways we had already covered enough and so did not want to overload the participents.
I ended the 4th day by introducing the participents to the Python programming language.

I must say that the 4 days were heavy but we were not at all stressed, not to mention the delicious sea food for which Konkan is so famous.
Some participants like the faculties coming from Karjat came to our roomm. We had nice fun sharing our experiences with other colleges and also some PJs which even those people were better than us at cracking.
due to the encouraging feedback from participants we planned the day 5 in a different way.
The first decision we made is to drop the Bash session all together.
We wanted to take the time for teaching more of python vs teaching the good old bash.

day 5, December 25 2009

The day started with anusha taking over the entire lab for her most favorite session on UI design with glade and event driven programming using pygtk.
People were amaised to see how easy it was to design interfaces.
Since anusha had ended the 4th day with some introduction to glade, it became very easy for her to continue fresh on the same topic.
People particularly liked the fact that they did not have to do a lot of widget alignment and placement like they do in VB.
Eventually the session ended with a great trouble stopping people from continuing with the UI design.
Infact in many sessions we had to force people to stop the current session and move on to the next one.
One thing we all must learn as a lesson is that people get carried away when they like some thing and specially when you teach the basics to perfection.
With the given time constraint we had to control the hands-on sessions.
After Anusha finished, I took on with postgresql and how python connects to the popular free software database server using pygresql.
One thing which we had done particularly for this workshop was that we had setup an ftp server on prathamesh's laptop and provided all the resources like deb packages for participants to download on their machines.
By now people had really got involved in python. I then took up the post lunch session till the evening on pylons.
"our participants are enjoying so much that they wish to extent the sessions", told Mr. Bane who was escorting me to the HOD's cabin for the formalities to be completed.

I had to eventually terminate the pylons session due to time constraint.
Many participants told anusha that they were ready to come to Mumbai for learning this amaising web framework.
Infact we had planned to go to Kudhal and many enthusiastic participants even joked about coming behind us to Kudhal to learn pylons.
Overall the sessions were successful and Prathamesh even got an offer from the HOD to install and help train the server administration staff for their college.
Participants gave very good feedback except that they felt there was not sufficient time.

Indeed the happyness we got from the workshop was some thing we will carry in our minds for a long time.
We are now in the process of finalising the program to shift their lab totally to Ubuntu. The HOD was already into it from the second day, after anusha and prathamesh did a comprehensively convincing session on Ubuntu installation and adding new softwares.
it is sure that the lab will switch over to FOSS, the only question is how many weeks from now.