IOTA event at Science City, Kolkata

December 30, 2008 at 11:56 am (Uncategorized)

IOTA= Institute of Open Technology and Aplications

After around 3-4 days of frantic preparaions, it was finally 26th December, the day i had been eagerly waiting for. We were heading to Science City kolkata to attend this. Our HOD S. Choudhury sir and I made our way from Durgapur to Kolkata in separate buses (because he missed our bus!). I had with me the 3 posters and a flex, along with my laptop bag and a separate bag for clothes etc. 

We took our seat a little late, but the schedule given by the organisers went for a toss. We passed time cracking jokes among ourselves and clicking pictures and shooting some video with Mayank’s handycam. I then saw Mr. Sankarshan and Sayamindu make their way to a corner of the auditorium. I was looking forward to meeting him since i read his tweets where he had mentioned that he was at Sayamindu’s place. So immediately went and met him, shook his and Sayamindu’s hand (there was another person with them, but i did not get his name). We exchanged a few words and then i came back to my seat.

After around 30 more minutes the much awaited moment came, RMS arrived, along with his girlfriend Dora. We knew things will start rolling soon. 

The inauguration somewhat strangely began with the ODF olympiad presentation and prize distribution ceremony. I was reminded of my school days when I too went on the stage so many times to speak about things I had no idea about. The presentations were not that interesting, but at their age, i had not even heard of the term opensource IIRC. So good for them. One thing to notice was that almost all the winners were girls, so the prizes were probably down to presentation skills. Prof. Shankar Sen spoke for a few moments with every prize winner.

After a few more short speeches, RMS started talking. He had this really cool little laptop with him. I saw him working in text mode all the time. He started his talk with saying that he disagreed with everything that everyone before him had said about opensource, because he does not like the term. He then talked about the 4 freedoms that a user should have for a software to be libre. His talk meandered through topics such as anti-public laws being enacted by the government, tight security checks proving to be a big hassle for guests, and the US government being the biggest terrorist in the world. 

As soon as his talk entered the technical realm, people started leaving the hall. Infact, almost all ODF olympiad winners also left one by one. They probably had flights to catch. He kind of got agitated and said “Why are so many people leaving?”.

His talk continued for a few more minutes and then he gave the media present a good camera clicking frenzy by wearing a cloak and a hat and proclaiming himself as the Saint of IGNUcius. It was pretty amusing.

Then came the question and answer session. He could not understand most of the questions that were asked because of differences in pronunciation, and IT minister Debesh Das acted as his translator for a shot while. I also asked a question about the development of programming languages in the future, which he answered very well.

At the end of the day, we met Nandini mam and confirmed the time for the interview that we were to take of RMS. SC Sir and I headed to our accommodation at Ultadanga. He told me a lot of interesting stories about his childhood and college life. It was nice to see that side of his personality.

The next morning was all business. It was the day of our exhibition. We set up the stall a little late. We shared our stall with a group named computer jagat. They are a group of student and faculty from Jadavpur University who publish a Bengali magazine on Computing technologies, including Windows. It is a nice initiative and they are doing quie well.

On our left was the Fedora-ilug-cal stall. To our right was the CDAC stall. The other stalls were that of Conversys Technologies-ubuntu and ORCA screen reader.

After we put up the posters and the flex, I got a chance to speak to Mr. Sankarshan on a few topics, including the latest work being done at RedHat, my OCR project, and some unicode issues. He speaks softly, and his eyes remain the same inspite of his varying emotions. He was also heavier than I expected him to be (i did not lift him though :D). He remembered one of my earlier blogs and asked Susmit to give me a Fedora TShirt, which was very nice of him. He introduced me to Mandar Mitra from ISI, who is a relatively young Ph.D, and a very cool person indeed. He gave me many sugestions on my OCR project. 

As the crowds starting coming, mainly during the lunch, people thronged the stalls that wee giving away free DVDs. The Fedora stall was the most populated, and they had pretty cool stuff to show, like live usb station, DVDs, artwork, tshitrs etc. People came to our stall asking about our projects and we enjoyed answering their questions.

Mr. Sankarshan asked me to demo the deskewing algorithm in the code i added to tesseract, and it failed infront of him, which was pretty embarassing to me, but he said “No issues, you have been hit by Murphy”. I later realised that the image was in RGB format, and it was supposed to be in grayscale to work properly. hmmph.

We had our lunch, which was pretty good. I also met RMS and shook his hand. We were supposed to interview him that day but he did not stay and went away, which had us worried, but Nandini mam fixed an appointment for us at his guest house the following the day in the morning.

So the next morning I reached quite early at his guest house in the Salt Lake electronic complex. Ultimately Mayank Shreyank and Anima came. We then went to RMS’ room and he asked us to wait in the lobby. I interviewed him while Mayank shot the video. There were some funny moments, for example, he asked me to wear a sweater to cover the fedora t shirt i was wearing because he did not recommend fedora as a distribution. He also pointed out some errors in my questions, and made it a little difficult for me, but in the end it was pretty good. We shall release the video during Mukti.

Then we made our way to Science City for the final leg of the exhibition. This turned out to be a very productive day for me personally. I met 2 people from CDAC and one from jadavpur who were working on OCR too, and asked me *many* questions, some pretty tough ones. One of them from CDAC  had been doing the same character segmentation work for the last 2 years or so at CDAC. He told me that he was ready to share algorithms and test data with me , but not source code. His OCR system was working with a 80% accuracy and was not good enough for production use yet.

Then Indranil convened an informal meet of the local lugs present there. We talked about having a common event calendar among other things. Looking forward to working with them in the future.

All in all, it was a very enriching experience. I thoroughly enjoyed it. People appreciated our projects, and we got a lot of exposure. The juniors now no what they are supposed to do. In my and Shreyank’s opinion the event was a great success in the sense that you could see a lot of senior people in circles talking about the free software philosophy and copyright issues during and after the event, which was really nice to see.

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2 Comments

  1. aushim said,

    Just to add that , it was Conversys Technologies not ‘convergys-ubuntu’ as you have mentioned . Conversys is the official ubuntu solution provider here . Their website is : http://www.conversys.in

    And btw thanks for this really good article on the event .

  2. shreyas said,

    RMS is a strange character – that gig of his is getting old – pity he has nothing new to say other than harp on himself.

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