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Happy Makar Sankranti

kitefestival2009-hp.gif

I loved this Google doodle and immediately felt the urge to wish all of you (using it). I haven't been at home for Sankranti (read as kite-flying-festival, for me) since 5 years. I haven't been much of a kite-flyer, but I did have my share of moments! Hope you guys have a great time "flying".

ps1: Read the "Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, if you haven't yet.

ps2: This is my first post of 2010. ;)

Shoot!

I've been caught "shooting" with a camera and looked upon as 'terrorist' material. Not once or twice, but 4 times, at 3 different places, by different people. Friends with "pro" cameras (or pro-looking ones) have been stopped on quite a few occasions being mistaken for reporters. I'm not talking of those instances. I am counting the times when I've been in "real" trouble and was treated as a potential terrorist. Four Times.

The last time was special, since I was robbed of cash by a Public servant in the 'Khakhi', who was apparently doing his duties! I leave the cribbing about corrupt men and lost cash for later. It obviously didn't feel nice, being treated in that fashion.

And that, just for having a camera and trying to learn the art of "shooting" pictures. Thankfully, it was something that I could, shut off (along with my mouth) and throw into my backpack.

What of people born to parents who believe in a particular god. People suspected for what their parents named them. People suspected for dressing the way their fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters dress.

Wonder when the world 'll grow up…

Stress and us

[Cross-posted on the FOSSEE Blog]

Don't tell me I didn't warn you, if you walk into our lab sometime and mistake it for a game zone in your neighbourhood. You are indeed in "the" lab. If you came looking for Prof. Prabhu you'll have to return. You'll only find PR vowing to see the end of baali, for having a nice time pawning him. You won't find me around - I'm cloaked and busy creating havoc. Unless, of course, you are the seer KD. Watch your step extremely carefully or you won't know when and how fuchmed's GM hit you. And don't dare venture anywhere near madrazr, jumping all around with a shockwave, unless you are capable enjoying some real nasty shocks. Well, the team is busy in one of it's two SB sessions per day. SB (short for Stress Buster) sessions are intense 15 minute rounds of bzflag - 3D first person tank battle game.

Hope you didn't start thinking, I'm just goofing off here, doing nothing at all. If it's not already clear, SB sessions are exactly what they are called - Stress Busters. Just to refresh ourselves and get back to work, with greater force. What then, am I doing for the rest of my time?

Mainly I've been developing course content that we have been working on, called Software Tools, Techniques and Practices. I have been working on a session for elementary LaTeX and basic Linux tools. I've also been attending classes of Digital Control and trying to Python-ize the Matlab/Scilab code that the course uses.

But, that's not all. I've helped a guy restore a Joomla site on Day-1. I screwed up a brand new installation of a server with some real skill; then expect to be screwed but get some encouragement with the words, "It was a good learning experience for us." Seen a Debian server upgrade from Etch to Lenny in under 10 minutes. Installed an instance of twiki and struggled to configure it. Helped a Humanities Scholar with LaTeX. Attended a workshop on Instruction Design. Restored Qmail on an old Fedora 3 server. Goofed around in gimp, for a CD cover and a T-shirt design. Chipped in with bits, for mutating Ubuntu into "LivePython". Did a bit of css and javascript tweaking… The list goes on!

Now, don't you think we deserve the SB's? ;)

A Confession

Lost in thought, in the maddening crowd waiting for the next train on a Sunday evening, I was staring blankly, looking at nothing in particular. I had come to see-off UC, Sunil and 9.

A man carrying a stretcher on his head, suddenly comes into my focus and I have an impulse to look down. But, I manage to look at people who are closer to the guy, and see looks of pity, shock and disgust. Most of them looked down, sooner than later. It was not long before the man, was right next to me and I could see an injured man lying on the stretcher with a stream of blood oozing out of his head. All I could manage was another expression of pity, shock and disgust. I didn't want to act as if I had seen nothing. I didn't want to stay as if I could do nothing about it. I didn't want to look down. But, that's all I ended up doing. The man carrying the stretcher was not exactly struggling, but I'm sure he would've more than liked some help. Not one amongst us moved.

Around half a minute later, I see a constable walking calmly (maybe with a shade of concern in his stride) in that direction. The next train was there in less than a minute and 9 got into it. I was feeling absolute disgust at my reaction. In the hope of making some amends, I walked in the direction that the stretcher guy took. Soon I found them. I didn't have to search. There was an audience of onlookers, watching the stretcher carrying guy inspect the other guy. He was waiting near the entrance of the station and I'm guessing he had called for some medical help and was waiting for it to arrive. The policeman and a couple of others were standing next to him, while he was inspecting the injuries. Everybody else was watching — from the stairs, from the over bridge, the platform, the tracks. Everywhere. Being a part of that crowd was the last thing I wanted to do. I walked away.

PS: I (infact, we - uc, sunil, 9 and me) have had my own tryst with the Mumbai local. Keep your head on your shoulders, while you are anywhere near them. They are not the trains in your local fair.

Good, Bad or Human?

Well, this could be called a post after ages, considering that most of previous posts have just been 'news reports'. I have been wanting to make a post since long, but I probably lost it. I really am unable to write anything that I find worth posting [It does raise questions about the existence of this blog. I'm writing this, to answer that question to myself.]

This post is provoked by an act of sharing, an act of kindness, an act of goodness, that surprised me. This post isn't about the act itself, but it's about me being surprised. Why on earth should I (or anybody) be surprised, when someone is just being human? Aren't human beings meant to be and feel human?

I wonder why people say, "this is a bad, bad world." I find a lot of goodness and humanness around me. Unless I strain my memory really hard, I can only recall people who try to be as good and nice as they can be; People trying to be as human as possible. Either there's something utterly wrong with my judgment of people or there's something wrong with the general feeling that the world is a bad, bad place.

There's one other possibility that just strikes me - I am so nice to people that, everyone else tries to be nice with me. I don't think I am such a big deviation from the average. I'm just another goat, in the great herd.

And another one, I'm in a really special place, presently. I have been only to the special places. I have visited only the places that are at an extreme, far away from the 'average' place in the world. But, given I'm just another goat in the great herd, this is very unlikely. I am probably grazing at a random spot on the great grasslands.

Since these are ruled out, it boils down to either a wrong judgment or a wrong general feeling.

Coming to my judgment, I wouldn't call myself an Oracle or the wise one, but I'm no dumb ass either. Well, taking the statistical route, the number of times I've had any real "nasty" surprises in dealing with people has been much lesser than the number of times things turned out nearly as expected. My judgment could, therefore, possibly given some credibility.

So, that leaves me with just one possibility. The idea that the world is a bad, bad place is not entirely true, if not completely absurd and outright wrong. The world is really a nice place, with "human" beings inhabiting it. The nasty surprises that you get, really are the surprises and not the general rule.

Postfix + Mailman for Multiple Domains.

Well, there are a hazaar tutorials on setting up Postfix and Mailman for Debian for a single domain. There were a few for doing that for multiple domains also, but nothing comprehensive, if I could say so. This link is pretty comprehensive and details all the steps for setting up Postfix for a single domain. Here is all you'll want to know about setting up Virtual domains in Postfix.

You only need to make a few changes for adding a second (or more) domain. You just need to add the virtual_alias_domains and add virtual_alias_maps. Here is a glimpse of how my main.cf looks:

myhostname = mail.abc.in
mydomain = abc.in
mydestination = $myhostname, $mydomain, localhost.$mydomain
myorigin = /etc/mailname
virtual_alias_maps =
                hash:/etc/postfix/virtual-xyz,
                hash:/etc/postfix/virtual-abc,
                hash:/var/lib/mailman/data/virtual-mailman
virtual_alias_domains = xyz.in, mail.xyz.in

virtual-xyz and virtual-abc contain the virtual aliases for each domain. Note that Postfix expects hash files and hence you need to run postmap /etc/postfix/virtual-abc each time the file is changed, to keep the hash file in sync with the text file that you edit. Also, you need to run postfix reload, each time you make changes to main.cf or master.cf

Fairly straight forward, right? But it took me quite sometime to get it all right, since this was the first time I was doing anything with Mail Transfer Agents or the like.

Now, onto Mailman. Well the Installation Manual of Mailman, literally has it all. Here is a look at how my mm_cfg.py looks:

DEFAULT_EMAIL_HOST = 'abc.in'
DEFAULT_URL_HOST   = 'mail.abc.in'
add_virtualhost(DEFAULT_URL_HOST, DEFAULT_EMAIL_HOST)
POSTFIX_STYLE_VIRTUAL_DOMAINS=['xyz.in']
add_virtualhost('mail.xyz.in', 'xyz.in')
MTA='Postfix'

The only trouble was to get mailing lists with same names on both the domains (which I couldn't get working). I experimented with multiple mailman instances but that won't work because the MTA can't differentiate between the two instances of mailman. The alternative is probably to have two instances of postfix running too. But that I felt was like going too far, and gave up. [What if we wanted to add another domain to the list?!]

Also, I had to make a few alterations to the Apache file to allow access to the mailman pages without breaking the Zope redirection that was already set-up.

[Thanks to Shantanu and Vattam (and all the hazaar people using Postfix and Mailman and cared to document things for the sake of others, and of course Google)]

FOSS talks at CDEEP

I had the opportunity to attend a FOSS talk session organized by Center for Distance Education Engineering Programme (CDEEP) as a part of the National Mission on Education through ICT. The National Mission on Education through ICT has some lofty goals, which when reached will take the country ahead by leaps and bounds.

The Mission has a budget of $1billion in the 11th Five year plan, 40% of which will be spent on content generation (all of which will be free/open source) and the rest will be spent on making available a minimum bandwidth of 1Gbps to the 30,000 odd colleges spread over India (out of which around 3000 are Engineering colleges). The mission has various projects planned and they are picking up steam rapidly. The project I will be working on, for the Adoption of Open Source in Engineering and Science Education in India, is also a part of this Mission. Prof. Kannan had kick started the session with an introduction to the National Mission on Education through ICT. The talks were all being webcast to various EduSAT centers and on the web.

Then, Prof. Pathak talked on, why open source is important. He said, (not exactly quoting him) " It is theoritically possible for any person to learn and discover things from scratch, but there's been only one Ekalavya in the entire history of India." Education is a social activity and hence open access to content is absolutely vital. He mentioned various things like how IIT-B has been working on Creative Commons licensing and other things going on here. He ended the talk with a hope that soon India will move from being a net taker of Open source to a net giver to open source.

This was followed by three talks, delivered by developers from RedHat meant for programmers who wish to contribute to FLOSS.

The first talk was by Ramakrishna Reddy, titled 10 things a FLOSS developer should know. It was a pretty nice and balanced talk, covering a wide range of things. I would like to point out a few things, that I liked the most.

  • He clarified the term hacker as soon as he used it.
  • He emphasized a lot on groking code; reading code for fun, looking at the code of others, reading as much code as possible…
  • He talked of muscle memory of emacsen. I liked the way he talked of people being so quick with their editors and how learning to use your tools effectively is a big plus
  • Release often, Release early. Everybody talks of it, but he said a few words, which I liked. Some developers don't usually release their code as early for the fear of being ridiculed. But don't bother, "we are just small people, in the whole galaxy."

The next talk was by Prasad Pandit on How to use Infrastructure for FOSS projects. Prasad talked of Website, Version Control, Mailing list, IRC, Bugzilla, Wiki and RSS feeds. He gave quite a few examples on how each thing is important, most of the examples being his personal experiences.

The last talk was by Rahul Sundaram and was on Communication in a FOSS project. For a change he didn't have slides and the reason for that, he said, is that communication in a FOSS project is casual and not having slides and walking in with a t-shirt and jeans represents that casualness which is a culture of FOSS projects' communication.

  • Be polite, but don't be Formal.
  • Be precise, but do provide a context to what you are saying.
  • Don't fear that you'll say something foolish, which, will be archived for eternity. Mistakes are there to learn from. Not just you, but others too.

He talked of quite a lot of things, but these were the things which struck me as particularly interesting/important.

At the end, all the participants walked out with Fedora 11 DVDs from the RedHat/Fedora guys. :D

To do or not to do

Achieve something, I'm often reminded,
achieve something, something that's worthwhile.
Don't just kill time, they say,
for, brutally, it shall kill you someday.

Make the best use of time, I tell myself,
for I realize, how I spend my days
is how I'm spending my life and
I'm going to get just one of it!

But, what is worthwhile, I wonder
everything seems so good one moment
and all meaning vanishes the very next.
I'm utterly confused, somebody help!

Pick one from, spoke my brother,
the 'everything' that seems good
and do it right, just, do it right!
Life, as you live through it, shall
teach you to do things that are right
and at the end of it all, you'll
never regret what you've done
but, only what you couldn't!

-—

Inspired by

  1. a late-night conversation with a friend
  2. Annie Dillard, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives"

Weblogger.el configured!

If you see this post, it means weblogger has been successfully configured in emacs. Emacs Rocks. \\m/

UPDATE [2010-09-02]: I now use org2blog, a small extension to emacs orgmode to post to my blog.

who am I?

dead and lifeless, in a box I lie
just my size, to be buried deep somewhere,
arranged with flowers, bright and fragrant
more alive than dead, are they
the final goodbye I have said,
gone am I, never to return–but
who am I, who am I, who am I?

am I –
the knowledge I arduously gained,
from all the books I read and re-read.
the wealth and riches I made,
at the cost of sweat, often also blood.
the skill with utmost care I groomed,
for that, today, has me world-renowned.
the numerous battles I braved,
where win or loss never, only a fight mattered.
all those dreams I dared to dream,
and the goals I never, or have, reached.

None of it, I realised, am I,
but, who am I, who am I, who am I
deep and loud, for one last time I wonder
"the difference, you make to the world,
is who you are", my Master answered,
"Life's fragrance is in service,
it grows and unfurls, far and wide,
long after you are lifeless and dead"