I’ve attended FOSS.in in Bangalore two weeks ago. FOSS.in is the largest Indian Free software conference, and has been on my list of conferences to ever attend for a long time. I’m back home for a good week now, so it’s time to recap a bit my experiences there. I travelled together with Lydia, a.k.a. Nightrose, who was attending on behalf of Wikimedia to tell about Wikidata. For the conference, I was scheduled for a talk about Plasma Active, and we also did a workshop on creating device-adaptive interfaces. More on that later.
Lydia and I went a few days earlier, to have some time to see Bangalore and surroundings. It was my first time in India, so also a good opportunity to see a few new things here and there, and to acclimatize. On the first day, we went around the city a bit, and later were invited to PES-IT, a renowned Indian IT college, where a 24hour open source hackathon would take place. Lydia and I held ad-hoc presentations about getting involved with KDE and Plasma Active respectively, followed by hands-on demos and discussions about both technical and non-technical issues. The students and professors were very friendly, and it was awesome to see enthusiastic students spending their weekend together hacking. We only arrived late at night back at our hotel, after some long and enlightening discussions about Free software and Indian culture. What struck me in particular (and in a very positive way) was the number of girls attending, about one third. In most “Western” countries, information technology is very much a male trade, Dutch universities for example struggle to attract more than one or maybe two girls each year for their computer science courses. India is way ahead there, which on the one hand is great to see, but on the other hand raises the question what is going wrong in my home country. Free software communities suffer from the same skewed demographic, so the same question applies here.
Jean-Baptiste (j-b) of VLC arrived two days after us, and we all hopped on a nightbus to Hampi, a UNESCO heritage site, an old capital of a long-gone empire and religious centre a few hours North-West of Bangalore. There, we spent an unforgettable day, from watching (and participating) in the morning ritual of washing your body in the river, sipping a glass of chai, having a wonderful breakfast under the Mango Tree, watching temples in a beautiful surrounding, more wonderful curries, chais, temples and friendly people to enjoying the sunset from the top of a mountain.
On Thursday, FOSS.in started. One of the booths that struck me first was the stand of Aakash, which is a low-cost tablet meant for students. The tablet is procured by the Indian government under the supervision of the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay (IIT-Bombay). It is running a dualboot Linux/Android system right now. The Aakash people have already looked into Plasma Active (they prefer it much to Android, but there were some problems getting it to run on their hardware. The hardware is a 7″ tablet with a a capacitive screen, 512MB RAM and otherwise an Allwinner A13 chip with Mali400 GPU. That should just be powerful to enough to run Plasma Active. I got demoed a few applications, both under Android and Linux which quickly revealed why Android was not the best choice: Android basically made a lot of apps run 3 times slower. In the course of the next days, I sat down with IIT’s developers to look into problems they had with getting PA to run. We made some progress, and fleshed out strategies how to get it to run. One bigger hurdle is the lack of a good graphics driver, other tasks involve “relatively simple” system integration tasks. Doable, it seems, and a wonderful opportunity to bring KDE’s software to a very large new group of users.One thing that struck me as genius in this project is that it is not limited to procuring hardware and getting it to boot, but a large part (60+% of the budget) is allocated to content creation. Software is created under the GPL, content under Creative Commons, non-commercial licenses. Translation of content is an integral part of the project, so this initial Freeing of educational content has the potential of being very useful far outside of India as well. Visionary.
As with any big project, there are also critical voices. Hardware is one issue, building a relationship of trust with Chinese manufacturers is not easy, as is getting the manufacturer to understand the constraints and requirements of Free software. I wish the Aakash project all the success it needs however, and we will continue to support the goals of the project. This could be the beginning of a wonderful thing. :)
Plasma Active Presentation and Workshop
On the first day, I held a presentation about Plasma Active, its approach, technology, goals and so on. The talk took place in the main hall and was well attended. I collected some valuable feedback, and am happy that people understand the ideas and believe them to be right. The next day, we held a KDE miniconf, where Shantanu and me did a workshop on developing device-adaptive apps. In the workshop, we outlined the process from idea to running code on a device, and dug into details. We had about 50 interested visitors, the workshop itself was quite interactive, and we did some live-coding, it was a lot of fun to do.
During the conference it became evident, that the Indian KDE and Free software community would very much like to organize an Indian KDE conference again. After conf.kde.in 2011, which was a great success, this seemed like a good idea, so we did some planning on that, asked if people were willing to volunteer in the organization and outlined a few possible options. The discussion has moved on to the kde-india mailinglist, so if you are among the people who would love to see conf.kde.in 2013 happen, join the list and add your ideas and man/girlpower!
The Internet of Things
One of the presentations I attended during FOSS.in was by Priya Kuber, who works for Arduino. Arduino produces a open source hardware microcontroller aimed at educational purposes. The talk was very inspiring, so I wondered if I could use this for some home automation tasks, as simple example a remote power switch to turn on my workstation in the office, or somesuch. Priya sat down with me and quickly got me going with my own basic programme for the Arduino microcontroller, and it was all very easy and fun. Back home I ordered an Arduino starter kit, which has already arrived and contains basically what I’d call a kid’s microcontroller wet dream, it has the Arduino Uno board, LEDs, sensors for light, temperature, an LCD display and a bunch of other small electronic components along with a nice book. Surely something to spend the calmer Christmas days with, old style. :)
Still in India, I sat down for an afternoon and hacked up some code to use with this little project, and got already quite far. The idea is to connect the Arduino to my RaspberryPi (which is energy-efficient enough to run 24/7), run a small http server on the RPi and use that to remote control physical devices at home from a remote location (I’d like to think of a tropical island here ;)). I’ve implemented the server in twisted Python, it presents a JSON interface, which can be directly consumed from a QML Plasmoid, on either my laptop or any Plasma Active device. I didn’t get around to doing the actually interesting hardware part, yet. Maybe this is the feable start of using KDE technologies for home automation and domotica?
I would like to thank the KDE e.V., the foundation for the KDE community, for supporting my trip. You can also pitch in here, to make participation of KDE contributors in this kind of events possible by Joining the Game.