My friend Gopal V joined Yahoo! today. Welcome to the gang, Gopal! :)

Gopal V

Gopal spoke about Parrot and DotGNU at Linux Bangalore/2004. He is one of the major contributors to DotGNU. He is also the admin of DotGNU. He is a true blue hacker and knows so much about VM and compiler internals stuff that he positively scares me ;)

I just did the Google Code Jam thing. This was the first time ever that I used TopCoder, so I had to spend the first ten minutes just trying to figure out the interface. The first problem for 300 points was something to do with decibels. I took heck of a lot longer to solve this problem than I should.

The second problem was for 600 points and the problem mentioned something about ‘topography’ but I have no idea what it had got to do with the actual problem. It was an easy problem which is why I am wondering whether I solved it correctly or not! I did get the correct answers for all the 3 examples, though.

I scored 496.11 points and TopCoder says that I am in the 25th position in Division 1.

Update : Looks like I made it to the next round.

Travel

I travelled to Trichur (also called Thrissur) in Kerala on Friday to attend Renaissance 2005, a FOSS festival at GEC, Trichur, Kerala, India. The festival was conducted by the MCA students of GECT. It was a 3-day event but I attended only the 2nd day – I was there to give a talk on Python.

Moonwatching
The room
A view from the room

(Tip : Hover the mouse over the photos to get insightful info ;) Also, as usual, click on it to see the bigger version of the photo )

The train arrived in Thrissur at 5 in the morning. Two of the students came to pick me up and took me in the big Tata Safari to the Government Guest House where I was lodged. Apparently, one of the ministers suddenly showed up, so I got bumped from an AC room to a non-AC room. Well, no big deal.

Morning

After a light snooze, I met with Shuveb Hussain of NatureSoft in Chennai. He was going to speak on High Performance Computing. We went down for breakfast together and we instantly hit it off. He was a delightful person. 4 years ago, he graduated from B.A. in Literature where he studied Shakespeare. Today, he was going to speak on clusters and kernel patches. Amazing, eh? It seems Linux and OSS excited him so much that he started to dabble in it a lot and eventually made a career out of it.

God's Own Plate?
Doctor, my pen is ill!

It was a government guest house, so most of the stuff, from the pillow to the plate, was branded with the famous "God’s Own Country" slogan
After breakfast, we still had some time left before our hosts had to pick us up. So, we went for a stroll and we came across a ‘pen hospital’ :shock: . Apparently, its very real and they do ‘heal’ pens. I didn’t know whether to laugh or be shocked. I remember from my last Kerala trip where I saw a building with its name ‘Hilarious Building’. Heh.

After that, we stopped to get a coconut. The coconut water was simply delicious and the white kernel was so thick! Well, after all, Kerala is the land of coconuts. I wish I could get such tasty coconuts in Bangalore. Then, we headed to the campus.

The GECT campus is really huge – over 100 acres! They teach almost every kind of engineering branch and have so many labs. I heard that GECT is one of the best engineering colleges in Kerala, probably next only to the Trivandrum engineering college.

There were some paper presentations going on in the main hall. These students were talking about ext3 file systems and optimization of IPC in the kernel and so on. Yikes.


There was a short break after the paper presentations got over and before the techie talks started. The HOD of the MCA department was sitting next to me and the nice lady was telling about the GECT college and I was curious about the college and stuff. She pointed out that one of the judges was Pramode C E, a well respected personality who teaches students in his own computer learning lab. I had heard a lot about Pramode previously from many students. I don’t think you can find a single CompSci or IT student in Kerala who doesn’t know about Pramode. He has also written many articles for Linux Gazette and Linux For You magazine. I planned to meet him later on.

The next thing I know, Pramode comes over to us and talks to Shuveb and myself. He looks at me and says ‘Hello BangPyper’ and then says ‘I am a big fan of your blog’. I was speechless. We three soon got talking about lots of techie stuff, everything from favorite distros to Python (of course) to our work and so on. I convinced him to join our BangPypers group as well.

Techie Talks

Then, the talk on embedded Linux by Sree Kumar of NeST, Thiruvananthapuram started. He explained how Linux was taking the embedded market by storm and the kind of work his company was involved in. He gave a good overview of embedded Linux and tried to convince the students that a career in embedded Linux is very rewarding as well.

Shuveb
The audience
Shuveb

Next up was Shuveb who talked about high performance computing and clusters. It was interesting to hear about openMosix and other software which autodetects other computers in the network which are also running openMosix and automatically start to work as a cluster. No need to edit any sort of config file! He uses a cluster in his office environment and uses it for compiling lots of stuff and apparently, this setup gives a lot of performance.

Python talk

It was 1 pm by now and a lunch break was due. The speakers were taken to a separate room (by the looks of it, a staff meeting room) and we were served lunch there. One of our hosts, Brajesh asked us to eat ‘without formalities’. I said ‘Well, you made it too formal already!’. I also learnt my first word in Malayalam – ‘Vellam’ means ‘water’.

After the sumptuous lunch, I had the formidable task of talking to students in the post-lunch session. I started off with finding out the programming background of the students. Majority knew C and C++. None knew Perl and about 3-4 knew Python (again, taught by Pramode). So, my task was a bit easier since explaining a dynamic language like Python is always exciting to a person from a static language background.

I talked with relative ease (having had quite a bit of practice in recent months and students seemed to be listening. I was worried that they were not asking questions but I ignored that for the moment. I could see the sparkle in the eyes of few students when I typed programs at the interpreter prompt and showed instant results. That’s exactly what I love about giving these talks.

Pythonic audience
Python talk
Talking snakes
Momento

The talk went on for about an hour and I am always surprised to see that Jython and IronPython make a significant eyebrow-raising experience for students. The fact that you can write Python programs and run it on all the three – native (i.e. C), Java and .NET platforms, seems to be a big plus point for everyone.

We finally had the Q&A session and I then faced a barrage of questions. The session lasted a good 15-20 minutes with questions like "Will Python take a chunk of the Java market ?", "What about it’s speed?", "What kind of people use Python a lot?" and so on. I was relieved after this session because the range of questions seemed to indicate that the students did listen to the talk and did become interested in Python.

Campus Tour

I then went out of the main hall and decided to go for a stroll around the college. Two students followed me and volunteered to guide me around the campus. They kept calling me ‘Sir’ inspite of my request not to. (It seemed kinda strange to me for people older than or the same age as me to be calling me ‘Sir’).

Foundation stone
College garden
Playground

As I had said earlier, the college campus is really huge. I would’ve loved to have studied in a college like this – big, full of greenery and lively. I came to know that the foundation stone was laid by Jawaharlal Nehru.

There are so many labs in the college including a ‘Fluid Dynamics lab’ (whatever that is)! They showed me the ‘MCA Tree’ where the MCA students hang out after classes (and even during classes ;) ). Then there was the mini-forest inside the campus where the ‘coolest classroom’ (literally) was located. It seems the girls hostel is next to this side of the campus. No comments on that one.

Green campus
Lost in College?
Boy Scout and Girl Guide
Forest in the College

Phoenix

I then went to the other hall where Pramode was going to give a talk and demo the Phoenix project. I had heard about this before and knew it had something to do with Physics but didn’t know much else about it.

Pramode introduced that PHOENIX stood for ‘Physics with HOme made Equipments and iNnovatIve eXperiments’. Nifty acronym. It was a electronic circuit designed by B. P. Ajith Kumar, a researcher working with the Nuclear Science Centre of India. It is designed as a general-purpose circuit to help students create experiments to understand and learn Physics, Electronics and much much more.

The Phoenix box
Pramode explains Phoenix
Phoenix
Manipulating the circuit

The idea of the Phoenix project is to provide a computer interface to the electronic circuit. This allows the student to write simple programs and manipulate the circuit and then observe the effects. Ajith Kumar has provided an interface in C. Obviously, it is difficult to expect a non-CompSci student to learn C and write programs for this. So, Pramode has written a Python interface to this program and now a student can write simple calls at the interpreter prompt and see results instantly!

He ran this program at the prompt:

[python]
p = phoenix()
p.write_outputs(‘11111111’)
[/python]

and then voila, the bulb was lit! This might seem boring to you now but try to think back as a student when you did your first experiments in the laboratory. This would’ve been fascinating to do then. Physics seemed too theoritical for me but projects like these can make a big difference. Pramode even showed how to use the setup as an oscilloscope by running a small TkInter Python program and showing the graph on screen real-time. Changing the wavelength changed the graph instantly!

Phoenix
Measure the waves
Measuring gravity


One of the major plus points of Phoenix is that all the parts used to make the circuit are locally available and it costs just about 2000 rupees. Compare this to an oscilloscope which costs 20,000 rupees. Also, the Phoenix circuit board design, the C API and the Python API are all free for everyone. Anybody can contribute further to the project as well. This is the power of free and open source software and this is an example of innovative projects in India at the same time.

Pramode has written a full article at Linux Gazette about Phoenix.

Evening

After an enlightening session on Phoenix, the fest part of the day was over. I took a few snaps of our wonderful hosts and the girls who took care of the speakers as well as the speakers ourselves.

Beautiful hosts for the day
Three Pythonistas

The guys – Ragesh, Arun, and others (our hosts) offerred to take Shuveb and myself to the Central shopping mall in Thrissur. This part of the city looked like MG Road and Brigade Road to me. Lot of hustle-bustle and commercial shops here. The Central shopping mall looked like the kind of place where all the cool kids hang out. We had dinner in one of the hotels in the mall and the 5 of us enjoyed talking about lots of stuff and joking around.

Fountainhead
Central Mall
Lights of Water

Then, it was finally time for me to catch the bus back to Bangalore. My only regret was that I couldn’t stay back another day. Ragesh told me about a good trekking place just 2 km from Thrissur. Damn, I missed that! The guys have already invited me for Renaissance 2006 in advance :smile:

To summarize, a lot can happen in a day!

Also, the complete set of full-size photos is in my Renaissance 2005 photoset.

I am giving a talk on Python tomorrow at the Renaissance 2005 festival at Government Engineering College, Trichur, Kerala, India.

Renaissance 2005 is a festival about Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) – they have many talks, seminars and competitions planned for the 3 days. As they say in their website:

It is time to acknowledge the Renaissance, FOSS is effectuating in the software field all over the world. It is time to appreciate its sheer power to obliterate the digital divide in our society by making the software available to all user class.
The event will enhance the gist and gravity of software freedom and how each can benefit from it.

Also, see the event brochure and the list of talks.

I have to board the train in exactly 2 hours and I am still in office… gotta run!

Rashmi Bansal asks why the so-called ‘NextGen’ youth Indian politicians haven’t made any impact so far. Let me hazard a guess: Because the oldies haven’t given them a chance to actually accomplish something.

I imagine the situation to be like this:

Young neta goes to old neta and says: ‘I have an interesting idea to make power
available in the villages’.

O: We do not have enough power in the cities itself. Concentrate on that.
Y: We can use the same idea for the cities.
O: Talk to the concerned authorities.
Y: Which agency I should talk to? There are so many.
O: You’re a neta. Find out.

And finally, the young neta goes away grumbling… discouraged yet again.

If you don’t believe this could happen, read about how Lalu remains in power, it’ll shock you.

I still want to believe Rashmi’s words when she says

Given facts if political life such as corruption will remain – whether the young or old are in
power – I for one would still plump for youth. Because young politicans – thanks in part to
their fancy overseas education – have a greater stake in seeing the country progress than
politicians well past the prime of their lives.

I hope the youth politicians do make a difference. Emphasis on hope.

Aside: Rashmi Bansal writes a very interesting blog called ‘Youth Curry’ where she discusses the youth trends in India. Some of my favorite articles by her is ‘Woh Ladki Hai Kahaan’ where she discusses about the freedom and opportunities for Indian girls and the article about what Google can teach youth marketers.

Rashmi is a journalist and has written many articles for Business World, she’s an IIM-Ahmedabad alumnus and founder-editor of JAM Magazine.

Lutz Horn, Bernd Hengelein and Christoph Zwerschke have volunteered and started to translate my Python beginner’s book to German! The project is hosted at developer.berlios.de/projects/abop-german.

If you know Python and German, you’re most certainly welcome to join the translation as well. You can start just one page at a time! Please contact Lutz Horn (lutzhorn at users.berlios.de) or myself (swaroop at byteofpython.info) for more details.

Thanks to Lutz, Bernd and Christoph for taking up this effort! :)

WordPress 1.5 is out!! Can’t wait to switch to it. The list of features is unbelievably amazing.

Personally, I’m tired of all the comment spam. WP1.5 solves that by a simple blacklisting mechanism where you can shift users to a whitelist (so that the next comment they enter appears immediately), the rest are under moderation. If it is real spam, mark it as such and the next similar spam comment would be obliterated on arrival. Same goes for trackbacks (which I have currently disabled due to trackback spam). Simple, yet effective mechanism.

Juan Shen has translated my beginner’s book on Python ‘A Byte of Python’ to Simplified Chinese! Juan Shen is postgraduate at Wireless Telecommunication Graduate School, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China PR.

You can read the Chinese version online right now. More details about Juan Shen and his efforts to spread Python in China is in a appendix in the translated version. Huge hug and thanks to Juan for taking up this effort :)