Category Archives: FOSS

2009 already? An Obama-term away from Dec 2012!

It seems weird that this is the last year I can write dates like 2-9-9. It was fun while it lasted, but it seems we are into the last single digit year of our life! It feels so much more close to 2012 – the year marked by many to mean various different significant things. Whether we really do witness the doomsday; or the return of a Planet X; or a global awakening to psychic connection aided by the return of Quetzalcoatl; or an opening to another dimention to a parallel earth; or an alien invasion, it remains to be seen. Amongst such vivid imaginations, there is another prediction made, that seems more real, which talks about America’s economic downfall. In this world of monopoly-seeking companies giving little heed to ethics, it is possible. This is the age of companies trying new and improved ways to shackle their customers. Even Airtel in India has bought into the completely dumb concept of credit history (see Q26 FAQ).

Thankfully it is the Indian Government and its BSNL making the rules in Indian telecom industry, but USA, today more than ever, needs Obama’s blue print for change, if they wish to make things right. A liberal like Obama has been long awaited. His for-the-people school of thought has made him prescribe Free and Open Source Software for many of his departments (see this and this). Looking forward to an opensource friendly and flourishing technology industry in the near future with no locks and privileges. The time for democracy is here!

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Web browsers in 2012: Ubiquitous or Clandestine?

Web browsers are the first thing people think of when we mention the internet. It somehow reminds me of the days of Windows 3.1 on my first ever computer (a 1995 486DX2). The first thing that anyone did when the computer had boot was fire up the Program Manager! I might take this opportunity to debate the validity of this comparison as non-fiction, or… lets dream a dream that many brilliant minds have already dreamed.

Take a look at what the Mozilla World has envisioned for the next generation of the internet. I will not go into describing again what is already described there, but here is what I personally envision the future of internet to be like, after having been inspired from the recent happenings at Mozilla.

The internet today is capable of understanding various media types. Each of them them have some program on our desktop that understands how it renders. Instead of trying to embed Adobe Reader in Firefox, and using plugins to embed our default video player within the web pages a web browser renders, should we not be using these programs itself? There should be minimalistic application that renders the world wide web like it is today, with Javascript and HTML. We should do away with the web browser interface all together!

An outrageous and abstract claim? Not quite. Take a look at Quicksilver. Its a way to quickly execute whatever task we want the computer to perform without having to fire up the needed programs like iTunes or Thunderbird or your chat application. Enter Ubiquity – the quicksilver for the web!

The way I see it, ubiquity should be pulled out of Firefox and run on the desktop, something like a “Ubiquitous Quicksilver”. It should not matter where the content is physically located. Whether on local hard drive or on the internet. Imagine doing all the same “adding a map to your email” activity that the video shows, but instead, think of doing it in GMail on desktop! What if you wanted this map added to your presentation in “openoffice”, “keynote” or “powerpoint”? How about creating the envelopes for sending some invitation (yes, via snail-mail, dont say its all e-invites these days) to all the a contact addresses you have on GMail or in your LinkedIn or Plaxo account? When Aza adds the “Lunch with Atul at 1pm at Ellite Cafe” in the video, think about it adding to Google Calendar, only this time its an application on your desktop and not in the firefox browser! The location of the content will still be Google servers, but why should that be a problem? You can already do this using Prism.

The web will no longer be limited to HTML pages, you could have URLs pointing to a pdf or any other binary format document, and this could be the starting point of your website instead of index.html. (For those geeks who are laughing on my dream, I know Apache doesn’t allow that. Unfortunately my dream broke here, but I am working on it :p ). The point is, why should URL only be limited to HTML pages, when we know about the MIME Types? “Ubiquitous Quicksilver” is there to map content type to the program that can render it on the client. When a user does a login using http authentication, you could display welcome message as a video instead of taking the visitor to a web page!

I do believe the above can be achieved by simply allowing ubiquity to fire up programs on the local machine depending upon the MIME type it has received. Quicksilver can already do that! All we need is a marriage of Ubiquity and Quicksilver (or maybe a Gecko equivalent of quicksilver?).

Think about what you can do with such power!

Change has come to America!

On Sunday last, history was made! Not because some election results were out, another 48 hours remained for that then! Its because I went to the first election campaign of my life! Its quite ironical that 22 years were spent in India, but the first happened in just 3 months here in the USA! That is because Hilary Clinton came to George Mason University to campaign for Obama and for change. Lots of music and excitement before the event, hell many waited there for almost 3 to 4 hours! I first thought it was a rock show on a Sunday evening! When I was returning home, they had blocked the path to the bus stop, and asked me to go round the dorms. When I asked, the nice policeman said “Hilary is here”. I was like, WOW! Seriously?!

hilaryatgmu1 hilaryatgmu21

So I skipped the plan of going home. Decided to take the last bus; wait and watch for the 1.5 hours that I had till then. My left-brain was screaming saying why do you care! Go home, and relax. Guess my right-brain prevailed here. Hilary came by helicopter, we saw it go past overhead. The democrats started their rants and promises. I had to leave before Hilary got started though. Two days later, Obama was president elect!

I was recently discussing the US elections and related problems on the North Virginia Linux User Group mailing list. America uses high-end Microsoft Windows systems at the polling booths. Their central server is on Windows too. They have touchscreen, for what purpose I do not know, because they still ask voters to mark their votes on paper. Different polling stations scan this vote into the system in a different way, some use OCRs. All the data at the computers are being recorded on a memory stick, not on the hard-drive! Then at the end of the day, the memory stick is sent to the counting station in the city or state. The above information is by no means authentic. This is what I have learned (and perhaps imagined some parts of it!), but at present I believe all of this is true. That means India is way ahead on this front! The Electronic Voting Machine is a work of a genius, as Einstein says, “Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”  Read more on this in my email to NOVALUG.

Obama for change, and change I hope he will bring. I have built a strong support for him over the last few days. Most of it is because of this. I like the idea of America’s first Chief Technology Officer! Obama also believes in transparency, and bringing blogs and web-cast into the government, and getting common man to be able to directly communicate with the people right at the top, including Obama himself! I love the fact that most of the funding for his campaign was brought in from small contributions from random people visiting his website! Its time someone did something about the monopoly in telephone and broadband services, and I see that Barack has that on his mind too! For once, a President is thinking about solving internal problems. For once, someone is not delusional with the false belief that USA is the only developed country in the world, and it needs to fix every other country that exists! Obama also believes in choice and free market philosophy. His all-out support for developing Math and Science in the country is truly astounding! He offers science as the only solution to most of America’s problems, including education, employment and trade! His reform of the patent system by opening it up for citizen review is simply brilliant! Finally companies like Microsoft have someone to check all the junk patents that they keep proposing. If I have interpreted what the coming of Obama really means to the world, and if he really is able to fulfill his promises, I am sure good times are coming!

P.S.: For all those Indians who are telling me Obama is bad for India because he is against the BPO industry, I have only one answer, I am against that industry too! Besides, contrary to popular belief, IT and the BPO is not what India really depends on, certainly not what is running our country. India is a nation ready to become a superpower, and the core industries and the human resource that India generates has much to do with it.

Ravings and Ranting about the Land of Opportunities

So its been 2 months since I landed in America. Time flies!

I have had some great times, even though lifestyle hasn’t changed much from the college life we led in India. There are various aspects of living in America that took time to get used to. I worked at the bookstore for a month, and it was hard to maintain punctuality. Keeping time was not something we made a significant effort to do in India. 8:00 AM is not the same as 8:05 AM here. I learned that the hard way!

The biggest shocker was, however, the telephone services here. We are so used to “incoming free” and “free local SMS” in India, that when AT&T charged me heavily for incoming calls I felt outraged! As if it wasn’t enough that they do not let anyone buy a postpaid connection without credit history and SSN, they had to fleece me on prepaid!

The cost of books is also astonishing here! Its usually at least 10 times its cost in my country! It is as if the American leaders are trying to discourage their kids to use books! What ever happened to paperbag, all books here have to look like a beautiful hardbound Worldbook encyclopaedia! No student ever asked for that!

Food was said to be cheap here. Unfortunately of all places, I chose to be at Fairfax, which ranks among the most expensive county in America. Apart from a heafty rent, I felt the pinch spending on food. I haven’t even had many cuisines here, like I used to have in India. No Chinese, Mongolian or Italian (save the pizzas) for 2 whole months now! Thanks to Patel Bros however, we have access to a lot of Indian food and groceries. I found my beloved Maggi hot and sweet tomato chili sauce! – the secret ingredient in all my cooking.

I managed to squeeze in some DotA nights here too! Thanks to a few friends I made here, who are Warcraft 3 crazy, I never had to renounce my religion from my MNIT days!

I have a teaching assistantship now, at Computer Resources Department (so no more customer service at the bookstore)! I am assistant to a Unix Administrator, not a professor. That basically means I have to do the same linux support job and server management that I volunteered for at my undergraduate university in India, and whats more, I get great pay for it!

Weather is getting cold here. We have started to consisteantly hit the 50 degree fahrenheit at nights. I am looking forward to my first winter in USA. I have seen cold winters at Jaipur in India, so I am not nervous, though I have never been to subzero cetigrade places.

Fridays are a practical holiday here. No classes or appointments on Fridays. Infact the office hours are shorter on Fridays than even Saturdays in many places at the University. So I consistantly get a 3 day weekend. That helps me keepup with my various non-academic interests like computer gaming, surfing the internet, catching up on friends blogs, watching movies and taking part in flamewars on mailing lists. Not that doing 2 subjects a semester is any kind of a load worth mentioning, it is however taxing to sit in 3 hour long lectures with just one 10 minute break in between.

I constantly get to travel to Washinton DC. Went there last Thursday too, to attend the Linux Day 2008 organized by Novell and HP. Their target audience was the industry, but I learned about many new technologies, and got a wind of whats coming up in the Linux domain in near future!

Seems like a decently long update, so I will stop raving now. I am yet to cover many more interesting events. Hope I get other nights like tonight soon.

Meme(me)

Another meme has begun:

1. Take a picture of yourself right now.
2. Don’t change your clothes, don’t fix your hair… just take a picture.
3. Post that picture with NO editing.
4. Post these instructions with your picture.

P.S.: And yes, I am alive. Good interesting posts coming up 🙂

A week at foss.IN/2007

This has been long overdue now! I had this half finished and saved as a draft for ages! So here goes…

The Best Month Ever: How It All Started

December 01, 2007: I flew to Bengaluroo with Anant Narayanan (and lived at his place for the rest of the week), after what seemed to be the end of a huge war. Semester 7 of my undergrad degree was finally over, and however badly I had performed, there was a sense of accomplishment. Good times were coming, we could just feel it in the air…

Foss.IN  Project Days Poster 

December 04: The day had come. The start to foss.IN Project Days.This was surely the crowning glory of the event. I spent most of Day 01 at the OpenSolaris Project Day. It was nice to learn about what the future looks like for OpenSolaris. The day kick started with Glynn Foster‘s “The Secret Diary Of an OpenSolaris Hacker“, which was essentially an overview of how to contribute as a developer. The rest of the day followed the same tone, and primarily covered Project Indiana.

In the evening however, I was invited to dinner, with the Mozilla gang (thank god Anant was a speaker at the Mozilla project day!). So all of us good folks went to “Sunny’s”, a superb Italian restaurant. I had already befriend Mary Colvig during the day, but it was great talking to Myk, Axel, Chris, Krishnakant and others…

December 05 : We slowly sleepwalked into the auditorium complex by 11:00 AM. I spent most of Day 02, catching up with what I had missed at the Mozilla project day on the 4th. We also got Gman (Glynn Foster) to demonstrate DTrace at the OpenSolaris Stall. It is always a great learning experience to know it from the ‘pros’. Now I am really convinced about giving OpenSolaris a second shot (My first experience was not so good with build_56, minus[-] xvm, zfs, dtrace and a whole bunch of device drivers!). Later in the afternoon, we setup the Gentoo stall. Anant distributed the Gentoo T-Shirts. I also met fox2mike (Shyam Mani) for the first time! he is quite a character.

Pranav, Anant Narayanan and Me  The stall

Later Anant and I sat in the unused Hall C/60, where Prasad from Synovel was discussing his plans on Spicebird with Myk and Axel from Mozilla. We talked with Prasad through the following days too, and I am most eager to try out their product. They were to make an alpha release by the end of December.

Mozilla had a party that night. It must have been a group of nearly 100 people at Opus, a nice lounge with beer, good music and karaoke. We had nice chat with Myk Melez and Chris Hofmann.

Chris, Myk, Anant and Me(behind the camera)  Axel and Michell Baker  Krishnakant and Mary  Myk (with his back), Me and Anant  Naba Kumar and Anjuta 

This is when Myk suddenly became my role model. He is apparently, and I am quoting Chris Hofmann here, the second oldest recruit of Mozilla! Myk graduated from University of Santa Cruz, and got involved with Mozilla during his “vacation year”, and it seems he has remained on vacation ever since and has written great code in that time! Oh, and how can I miss out the ‘Convertible’. Myk owns an awesome sports car in California! Wow!

We did not stay too long, because Anant had an early talk in the morning.

December 06: Atul Chitnis walks on stage to start the “inauguration ceremony” of the main conference. This was such a paradox after two wonderful days with OpenSolaris and Mozilla! We came dressed in Gentoo colors on this day, and Anant had his first talk at the 120 seater, ‘Making Gentoo Tick‘.

Making Gentoo tick!  OSol Hackcenter

The talk was a hit, and we had visitors to our stall all day. In the evening I attended the OpenSolaris Hack Center, where I got a chance to hack on a codebase based on build_78! I chose a bug with the time program, which sent my Laptop clock for a six. Just as Anant started his second talk, this one titled Plan9 from bell Labs, I decided to call it a day and be an audience again. His talk was more or less similar to his freed 2007 talk, except this time, his crowd was a LOT more intelligent. We were thrilled by the kind of reception and the 20 minute long Questions round at the end!

So overall, a very successful day for Anant. (He even got 3 or 4 awesome job offers!)

December 07: Hail t3rmin4t0r for giving us the Hack Center, else Mozilla Hackathon would have not happened! My previous post talks more…

We stayed in the area until end of lunch (Hack Center was a section in the lunch hall…awesome or what!). We finally got to meet Mitchell Baker! You could see she was a little twitchy, she had a light meal, and head to the 750 seater, to setup before her talk… and what a talk! It was a revelation to know that Mozilla Foundation is a ‘Not For Profit’ establishment! Most of her talk revolved around the business structure of Mozilla, and how it facilitates effective opensource development. After this happened the lightning talks. Incidently this was the ‘all star’ session, where everyone from Rasmus Ledorf to Rusty Russel did a 5 min. Anant Narayanan gave a lightning talk on his ‘Lightning Talk Timer’, that was being used in the background.

This was the end of the day’s proceedings, well almost. Later in the evening we took Myk, Axel and Chris to Gangotri, a local Chaat store. Myk had been complaining all week that Taj Residency was showing him the India they were expecting, not the India as it really is. So Anant and I decided, what better than giving them a taste of what the street food here tastes like. They had Paapdi Chaat and Panipuri. All of them liked panipuri, but not the former. Axel was best able to adjust to the taste however, and the spicy pani in panipuri was not that big a deal for him as the others. Maybe its the Aryan connection? He is German afterall!

Myk trying panipuri  Axel liked panipuri (the Aryan connection!)

We also sent sweet boxes for Mary as she could not join us. There was some issue with customs over the Mozilla T-Shirts…

December 08: Relatively a dull day.

Most of the time flew in dreaming of yesterdays. I managed to catch hold of Glynn Foster for a quick picture. It felt good side-by-side my Google Summer of Code Administrator for OpenSolaris organization. The day had lots of photos with friends from IRC. We finally seemed to have found time for our friends. I also had a good talk with Prasad on a wide range of topics. We started at Spicebird and ended up discussing his IIIT Hyderabad days!

Distro Greaph  Glynn and Me

Closing Ceremony: The day ended with Rusty

Sounds funny! In words of Atul Chitnis, foss.in has this unsaid tradition of doing something different as a closing ceremony each year. In a very dramatic style, he announces “We have done keynotes, felicitations, rockshows but this year, we do Rusty”. Interesting! What followed was that Rusty Russel started the session with anecdotes of how his first contributions to Opensource had come about. Eventually, he got the whole crowd involved in sharing their first experiences, and finally the entire hall was on stage. The last bit of it felt a little stupid and overdone, but as far as Rusty is concerned, he is simply one of the best presenters I have come across.

This year we do Rusty!  Show me the code!

We didnot stay for the FOSS.in party afterwards. I had my train back to Chennai that night so we left as soon as the closing ceremony was over. With it ended the best week I have had the entire year! FOSS.IN ROCKS!

I squashed my first bug…

This week at foss.IN/2007 has been quite an experience. It is by far the best FOSS conference I have attended. This conference sports something called “the Hack Center” which is an initiative to help enthusiasts get a real feel of what a particular project tastes like [in code]. As a result, while I was at the Mozilla Hackathon today, I squashed my first ever bug! No kidding! Here’s proof. It was fun spending time with Myk and others from Mozilla and though what I solved was more trivial than what the word trivial means, it feels great to have a bug “AssignedTo” me 😉

Curious about what foss.IN is all about? A more detailed account of the 5 days in Bengalooru coming up after tomorrow concludes. Stay tuned…