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  • Kartik 2:03 PM on April 14, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , NIT Calicut,   

    Of FOSSMeets at NIT Calicut 

    It’s been over a month and a half since the last edition of FOSSMeet at NIT Calicut. As an active member of organizing team for FOSSMeets ’10 and ’11 and a keen but silent observer for the 2013 edition, I want to share some history, some ideas & few observations with this post. The intent is to generate discussion among people who have been part of earlier FOSSMeets and to leave some things to ponder about (and act on) for juniors.

    Year One

    FOSSMeet 2010 and the preparations that led to it were a great experience for me as a fresher in the college. We have a Google Group for FOSSMeet discussions connecting alumni and others connected to FOSSMeet in some or other way together. The thing I liked most was the open discussions we had on the mailing list about the problems faced in our campus when it comes to organizing a technology focused event like FOSSMeet, the event structure of FOSSMeet itself, lots of suggestions and ideas being shared from alumni, seniors, and even freshers like me and Pranav. It was exactly like the way I imagined an open community works – involving everyone without bias on age, seniority, gender, etc. Much thought was given even to suggestions we gave as freshers (fresh perspectives), and questions/doubts/uncertainties that we raised were patiently addressed. We also had few IRC meetings, and even got trolled in one of them :D. I got to learn the history of FOSS culture at NITC and got connected to many interesting seniors and alumni. What more could a budding FOSS enthusiast ask for?

    I contributed to FOSSMeet that year by designing the website along with Pranav Ashok. It was my first complete website based on Drupal, and I can’t describe in words the amount of learning and fun I had working on it (working till midnight at SSL (that too in first year!); getting ourselves locked in the IT Lab Complex in the midnight of Dec. 31, it was Pranav’s birthday; etc). We made sure all kinds of information that participants/speakers would look for was easily available on the site, and even went on to properly archive the websites of previous editions of FOSSMeet so that visitors get a complete picture about our history. There was a small forum to answer queries raised by visitors (especially freshers of our campus), and registration of both delegates and speakers was handled through the website itself – thanks to the awesome contrib modules available for Drupal (guess the registration team was pretty much relieved that they could just export an Excel sheet of all registrations). The amount of support and freedom given to us by seniors (especially Amarnath) was heartening. Overall, this one website got me started with Drupal and can be credited as the reason for many other sites I did later (including my best website work yet – the CSED site). To happy memories of an upcoming web enthusiast…

    Another way I was able to contribute that year was as a volunteer in the Speaker Hospitality team. I recall asking Amarnath what would he choose, and I had my answer. It was a great experience getting to meet almost all the speakers in person (even Atul Chitnis!), sharing ideas and views with them, getting inspired in the process, and yeah running to and fro to the cool (literally) NITC Guest House to arrange accommodation for speakers and making sure they were comfortable. Seniors including Anil and Febin were very helpful in the process.

    Praveen’s birthday was celebrated on the stage in one of the halls, another example I saw of how people were close to each other while working on things of common interest. Some of my most happy memories include working with GeoHackers on their website in their FOSSHut and going out for dinner at Broast  (my first visit there) with the gang of geeks – 12 of us, each carrying heavy laptop bags, and only one, I, an NITC student. I don’t remember if I participated in any of the workshops, but talks by Dr V Sasi Kumar and Atul Chitnis were quite interesting. Overall, this FOSSMeet was a huge success with good participation, effective talks and workshops (most popular was one on Blender IIRC), and a lot of happy memories. :)

    Related Links

    Year Two

    Something was different this time, less enthusiasm among the team, lack of proper leadership and hence lack of a clear vision about the aim & purpose of the event, perhaps it was the fatigue of conducting another related conference just a few months earlier – FOSS in Education (which saw RMS visiting Calicut and we students getting to interact with him in person). There was comparatively lesser amount of discussion on the mailing list (intrusion of Facebook into our lives can be attributed to this), or if we look at it the quality of discussion was different this time.

    I took the responsibility of Speakers Manager along with helping out with the website (logical promotion from my previous year’s responsibilities) this time. I had visited two professional FOSS related conferences that year – PyCon 2010 and FOSS.IN 2010 – and met a lot of geeks and hackers. Anjhan’s keynote at FOSS.IN had a great impact on me, and also made me realize how grand FOSSMeet used to be when he mentioned it there on that stage. I realized expectations were high and I had a relatively important role to perform.

    A lot of hard work followed in hundreds of email exchanges with potential speakers (some of them I had befriended the previous year or in other conferences), arranging for their travel plans, accommodation arrangements in the Guest House and hostels, making sure all their needs were met, etc. Anil Vishnu, my senior, again was a great help. One thing different this time was the visit of Chamba team to our campus a week before FOSSMeet started, this was a great initiative to try and get talented students from NITC involved in their team.  But I found myself burdened with work and responsibility and aghast with conflict of interests among FOSSMeet activities and some event by a group which was part of organizing bodies of FOSSMeet; perhaps it was just lack of communication among our whole team – a serious problem which scales with the size of teams.

    On the website front, we tried to make the session proposal process more open this time, and received a few proposals. I believe a smooth web experience matters a lot in making things open using technology and we faced few problems in that respect, but web team couldn’t be blamed completely for this because that year we faced problems with our hosting provider with one server upgrade and a last minute server crash. I learnt how difficult it becomes sometimes to convey ideas to others in the team. There were some heated exchanges and ego clashes which had long term impact much later. Alas, important lessons learnt the hard way.

    Another disheartening aspect of this year was low attendance in some of the best workshop sessions arranged that year – Git workshop by Noufal, Intro to GCC Compiler Collection by Praseed Pai, and many of the talks. I had even personally identified the best technical sessions and tried to promote them in our class but the response wasn’t as expected. Python workshop was overcrowded, the most popular session that year. It, indeed, showed the need of a better mechanism to allow entry to a workshop based on prerequisites and interest of participants. Otherwise, it becomes a problem for both the organizers and the speakers in effectively conducting the sessions. Some speakers mentioned missing prerequisite among the audience, and some were of course disappointed with low participation in their sessions.

    Some of the best moments from that year were my interactions with Niyam Bhushan and Praveen. Praveen inspired an urge in me to ask questions, and Niyam left a message to never give up on my passion. At the end of the event, the team faced a complete burn out, and not much effort was done to properly document the event – something I think is very important. One other thing I personally felt was a need to question ourselves – Was it all worth the effort? Were we able to realize a dream of having NITC community involved in open source development? Heck, were we gaining anything out of this, technically and otherwise (an inner satisfaction)? We were so tired that no other FOSS related activity was done that semester except for one preplanned LaTeX session.

    Year Three

    I remember meeting Jerrin, Shamil and a few others and questioning ourselves about last FOSSMeet and think about the next one. I had personally moved away from most of the FOSS activities in the campus (were they any left by then?) and wanted to play a minimal role in FOSSMeet that were to happen. We tried including all technical groups of campus this time, ISTE was a fresher. But there were internal troubles within our team, somehow we had failed to inspire our juniors to lead the effort. And again, there was minimal discussion over the mailing list or the Facebook group that had been formed. I also felt there was lack of interest in our team to discuss on questions like the aim of FOSSMeet, why should we even do it or how it could help change the face of technical activities in the campus, when I once raised them in a physical meeting. Sadly, after some efforts, some preparations and  some rescheduling of dates, the event was called off.

    Year Four

    Before starting on this one. I want to acknowledge the efforts of the team behind bringing FOSSMeet back! The efforts by Shamil, Jerrin, Arunanand (Taa), Nimish, Vipin and Jaseem are commendable. Especially, with the help of Taa’s professionalism & experience and a burning desire in Shamil to bring it back, the seniors were able to inspire the juniors to make FOSSMeet happen this year. The team composed of many dedicated second years – Govind, Karun, Shiv, Vinith, Adithya, Hemant, Pallab, Vimal and many more – who put their best efforts. Third years including Yazar, Prajith, Sudev, Ashwin, Bandna and many more helped with their experience and wherever they could. The speaker line up was good, both for talks and workshops. I heartily congratulate everyone in the team to make this happen, bringing something of legacy back to life isn’t an easy task, something I can tell from experience.

    But all wasn’t so well during the actual conduct this year. I observed few things myself and there were comments from speakers and participants as well (see links below). I couldn’t be an active part this year because of other commitments, but it was great and humbling experience being a silent observer for once.

    One general observation was the same as earlier – audience not fitting in the right sessions, which leads to some of them being overcrowded and some being almost empty. Also, the expectations of a speaker aren’t met in terms of prerequisites and interest of the audience in their session. This is IMO a not-so-difficult problem to solve – IIT Madras has been doing this in their HackFest (during Shastra) at least for last 4 years since I know about it. A screening process for delegates, that could be easily implemented on the website, which helps them choose which sessions to attend based on their interests and earlier experience in those fields could be very effective. This is more important for the type of audience that FOSSMeet caters to – students, some of them completely uninitiated about how free communities and open source works. This could also help in scheduling the sessions depending on the numbers and difficulty levels of sessions.

    There were some complaints about arbitrary reschedulings, delays in initiation of sessions, etc. Also, something I observed myself, there were no volunteers in some sessions to introduce the speaker, to track the time taken in a talk or to present the memento at the end of the session.  I understand the problems organizers face (being one myself earlier) but I felt this could have been dealt with more professionally and carefully. An intro session on where to find information, how to identify volunteers, etc. during the inauguration of the event could certainly help.

    This time the team opted to use HasGeek’s Funnel for proposal acceptance. Funnel is a pretty awesome tool for the task, but switching to it should have been done well in advance. I observed there were some proposals on the website in the beginning which never appeared later on Funnel. Also, there was some gap in communication among the proposers and organizers (especially pointed out by students from Amritha – I was really happy to see so many proposals coming from students there), again this is something organizers should be very careful about in conducting a professional event.

    Another complaint was about the student audience being complete novice for some sessions. Personally, I was shocked to see the number of students who appeared for Django Hacknight who were completely clueless about even the syntax of Python (sadly, the hacknight that was supposed to be done among 4-5 people turned into just another beginner session on how to start with Django with about 25 participants). This is not an easy problem to solve, only thing that can help is regular meetups/sessions during the year by seniors interested in technology and open culture. Student organizations like CSEA, FOSSCell, IEEE have been trying to help but regularly tend to get lost in clearly defining their purpose of existence and things they need to focus on.

    My happy memories about the event were really good technical talks by Harisankar on Ruby and Rails and another by Ram on Advanced Git.

    Blogposts about FOSSMeet 2013

    Conclusion

    It’s been an interesting journey over last 4 years, with many ups and downs. I have tried to cover things which can be improved on, mixed with history and memories at this time of nostalgia while I am about to leave college. I might be biased in my views on things or might have failed to see the complete picture, for which I invite viewpoints from others. On a happier note, this long (and) overdue blog post is finally complete. :-)

     
    • Nitish Rawat 6:43 PM on April 14, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      FOSSMeet has been packed with many seminars. I know other chapter has more parallel events but my suggestion is to lessen parallel seminars as it may be attended by more.

      • Kartik 7:11 PM on April 14, 2013 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for your comment Nitish. This is debatable and depends on what an event is focusing on in a particular year.

        Parallel sessions are conducted to provide choice to participants, because all kinds of talks/workshops might not be suitable for everybody. Also, if there are very few parallel sessions, the speaker might face problem as stated in the post itself – a mix of beginners and experienced audience and not being able to cater to any in particular. Most speakers I have met prefer an audience who are, at least, genuinely interested in the topic being presented. And we observed, participants not being able to make those choices by themselves, being newbies, something that can be improved upon in future editions.

    • Pranav Ashok 9:00 PM on April 14, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Nice post Kartik! I had actually forgotten how much we’d worked for FOSSMeet 2010. This post made me open the mailing list and read through some of the archives. I couldn’t believe we were so mature in first year. After watching people come and go for the past four years, it makes me ask this question – was it because of the freedom we got, thanks to people like Amarnath, or was it because we were really mature?

      I feel that the quality of the people have been heavily decreasing over the years. Not just in the area of FOSS, in other fields too. It is hard to come across a junior who designs well or codes websites well. It scares me, for it may be our fault. That we didn’t train the juniors well. Whatever be it, there is an evident shift of interests among people to non-technical things. Personally, I feel that my technical aptitude too, has worsened in the past four years.

      I feel this matter is significant enough to be discussed on a public forum, about what we can do to increase the technical interests of the students in this college. Unless something is done about it, the technical quality of the people coming out of this college is going to rapidly fall in the coming years.

      • Kartik 10:24 PM on April 14, 2013 Permalink | Reply

        I agree with you, our first FOSSMeet was just so different kind of experience. Perhaps it was both freedom and our slight maturity about both technical things and about open communities. (Even I went through multiple emails in the list while writing this :-) ).

        Regarding the technical interest among college mates, this used to haunt me all the time from first year onwards. In fact I was about to write a post titled, NIT = Not Interested in Technology, in the beginning of last year to vent out my frustration. Somehow this campus loves, respects and enjoys cultural and other non-technical activities more than those it should, going by its name.

        And mine has worsened a lot more than even I can imagine.

      • Kartik 6:16 PM on April 15, 2013 Permalink | Reply

        Pranav, just found a blog post by Amarnath I was looking for while replying to your comment last night: http://blog.vaamarnath.co.in/2011/01/open-life/

        Particularly the quotes from Deepak Sir:

        “Philosophy had stopped inspiring this campus about 20 years ago. Now it seems like that even technology don’t inspire this campus.”

        and

        “When students get enrolled here they are like horses. But after 4 years they pass out as donkeys.”

    • Ashutosh Raina 10:49 PM on April 14, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      I am total outsider ( but Karthik does know me :) ). Firstly, I have zilch idea about Python, Django and all the related technologies. I do write but using tools that will make the FOSS guys frown.
      Having said that I will make a few quick points.
      1) I had zero interest or aptitude for coding/programming/development/computers. I first laid my hands on a computer when I was closer to 20. So, it is never too late to kindle the fire not only in yourself but also in the people around you.
      2) Gone are the days when Science was the tool for the brightest. It is now PR , marketing , law ( throw in socialising as well , if that is a thing at all). We need to make a serious effort not only to retain talent but also to create.
      3) I second your frustration. I was in the same situation in college. My seniors were awesome. They were geeks, they had their own companies and they taught us well. Sharing knowledge was the cornerstone of all our meetings and interactions. We were inspired by them and they continued to encourage talent and all the time.
      4) When they left and we were in in-charge the battle was just to get volunteers and other people to help run a technical festival ( one of the most important ones in Mumbai after IIT and VJTI ).
      5) My batch especially were all too busy doing everything for ourself, we forgot to teach and interact. So, the question is did you guys fail at that too ?

      The battle for attention of students is a tough one and requires for us to create a culture and heritage. We cannot be in this for the short-term and think about just for the year we are in-charge. Create mechanisms of sustainable learning throughout the year. Hopefully, then in a decade we will have some real technology enthusiasts.

      P.S. Hopefully I did not bore everyone on a nice Sunday evening.

      • Kartik 12:03 AM on April 15, 2013 Permalink | Reply

        You bring out an interesting point in number 5. I felt a bit lonely trying to share my knowledge among juniors (I believe I did enough on my part), perhaps if there were more of my batch mates interested in this interaction and sharing of knowledge, things could be different. @Pranav, remember I asked you once, we should perhaps pass things we learnt to juniors?

        Number 4 is what I observe happening these days in most of the technical groups that exist here in our campus – getting juniors to work on mostly pointless events. I led one, CSEA, this year and tried to do things differently, can’t say we succeeded at a level of my satisfaction but still it was a good experience.

        “Sharing knowledge was the cornerstone of all our meetings and interactions.” This was the most important thing missing in our meetings and hence a disappointing factor. I also observed a serious gap in interaction between us and our immediate juniors.

        PS: It’s Kartik, not Karthik :P I don’t expect this coming out from a Northie in general. ;-)

  • Kartik 8:06 PM on February 15, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NIT Calicut, ,   

    LaTeX Project Report Template Updated 

    The LaTeX logo, typeset with LaTeX

    The LaTeX logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    This will be quite short.

    Many have told me they found the LaTeX Project Report Template that I published about two years back pretty useful. Today, I am releasing an update for the same. This includes a fix for a nasty bug in the original template apart from some layout changes.

    Fork it from Github at https://github.com/k4rtik/latex-project-report-template to start creating your project reports. Visit http://k4rtik.github.io/latex-project-report-template/ to get started. (I just discovered how cool Github pages are!)

    Change Summary

    1. Changed base template to a technical project report.
    2. Added example for inserting an image.
    3. Fixed numbering bug with references and acknowledgement pages.

    Please shout out in the comments section if you found this useful. :-)

     
    • sudheendra chari 10:49 PM on February 15, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      thanks man, gonna use this for my major project report :)

  • Kartik 11:20 PM on February 8, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , introspection, NIT Calicut, people,   

    Even after giving enough time to that someone you are pissed off with, you can’t always expect to be impressed. Perhaps Randy was wrong.

    I held this view for a very long time; but time has taken such a turn in last few months that I am only left wondering what Randy exactly meant by enough time.

     
  • Kartik 12:22 AM on February 4, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NIT Calicut,   

    Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth 

    This one needs to be quick, 14 minutes until midnight.

    Logicomix

    Logicomix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    In this post I want to introduce a graphic novel which I read about a year back – Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth.

    How I ended up reading this is an interesting story in itself. Let me try to recite in minimum possible words. During that time (Sem 6) I had enrolled for a course called Computational Complexity by Murali sir. Now, as the name suggests, the course was pretty complex in itself. I had struggled to find good resources to read to ease myself into taking interest in the course. Classic CS hard cover books like Computational Complexity by Christos Papadimitriou weren’t of much help to this cause. Reading about the author, I discovered the UCB Professor had contributed to a graphic novel. I was curious and used some common pirate tricks to get the book’s PDF.

    I have been a comics fan since early childhood. This graphic novel turned out to be a good find. Scrolled through few pages of the PDF lying comfortably in my bed, and I was hooked; finished the book in a couple of nights. The book basically tells the story of Bertrand Russell and his search for the foundations of mathematics, narrated by himself. One of my early mentors, Devendra sir, had once suggested to read the works of Russell (which I still hope to be able to do sometime), this book told me why he suggested that. Also, the book takes us through the interesting history of mathematics of the late 18th century and early 19th century.

    I wrote a small review at Goodreads. FWIW the book got me interested into mathematics once again, which I had started despising since Sem 4, and led me to believe how learning the history behind development of a discipline can make it so interesting. I would recommend this book to anyone who ponders over the question - why learn theory when practice is what helps the most in our professional lives?

    And it’s already 20 minutes past midnight when I finished writing this post. Need to start early next time to meet my daily goal. :)

     
  • Kartik 10:00 PM on February 1, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NIT Calicut,   

    28 Days Challenge 

    Inspired long back by Oliver Emberton’s herculian 30 Day Challenger, I have decided to try it out for myself this month. Feb being the smallest month should serve as the easiest possible start. ;-)

    The motivation for doing this are similar – stretching myself to give up on a bad habit, get the most out of my day, or being more productive in general.

    Given that I have a lot to say, things that keep on forming virtual blog posts in my mind – some of which are technical, some about my dream college, some advice for juniors, some worldly pondering, some internal struggles – I have decided on my first challenge:

    Publish Something Useful Everyday for Next 28 Days

    The definition of useful might sound a bit flaky, but this definitely includes writing every day. And that something could be source code, photographs, or just a bunch of thoughts (this post is #1) among other possible things.

    I will be keeping track of my challenge here on this blog (and that will make this Feb my most blogged-in month! :)). I am yet to decide on a punishment if I fail to meet a day’s goal; I think I should do that after observing this experiment for about a week, given meeting expectations at work and in my BTech Project are my first two priorities.

    Alright, all the best to me.

    Cheers

     
    • unlimitedgreed 11:59 PM on February 1, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Some much needed inspiration. Thanks mate! :D

      • Kartik 12:22 AM on February 2, 2013 Permalink | Reply

        Your recent webcomic is partly the source of my inspiration; the pleasure is mine. :)

  • Kartik 4:09 PM on December 28, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: CSEA, , , juniors, NIT Calicut, ,   

    Always code as if the guy who ends up maintaining your code will be a violent psychopath who knows where you live. Code for readability.

    John F Woods. Source: https://groups.google.com/d/msg/comp.lang.c++/rYCO5yn4lXw/oITtSkZOtoUJ (With special attribution to two juniors who posted this on homepage of CSEA’s upcoming website.)
     
  • Kartik 1:59 PM on July 18, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NIT Calicut,   

    It is necessary to work, if not from inclination, at least from despair. Everything considered, work is less boring than amusing oneself.

    Charles Baudelaire (discovered this in Vinod Pathari Sir’s email signature and found it particularly interesting)
     
  • Kartik 2:33 AM on March 27, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Friend, , Friendship, NIT Calicut, , Relationships, self discovery   

    Ponderings of the Year Past: Part 2 

    The following are few important lessons I learnt over the gone year – 2011 (see Part 1 here):

    Friends

    To be very frank (and you can call me weird), I didn’t know the meaning of a close friend until about early 2011. As far as I remember, until first semester, definition of a friend for me was somebody who shared similar interests, mutual respect, and trust. I remember objecting to Rama to call him names (in return of his such various favors) by saying “dude, I respect you!”. But I have learnt friendship was much more than that – sharing your deepest secrets, laughs and cries together, making fun of each other, having frequent fights but getting along soon after and more. Looking back at school life, I had one such friend; hundreds of acquaintances otherwise. You want the count, see your Facebook (and next sub-section). Somehow, there was loneliness in college, nobody to call a friend with its new definition, getting along was not so easy, something was obviously wrong.

    I did an experiment once using WhatIsWrongWith.Me, but failed to get too many sample points to form a decent conclusion, only one of the 5 responses seemed honest which called me ‘a guy who is afraid to make friends actually close friends’ and having ‘very very bad dressing sense’ among other things. I failed to recognize who could it be from, until he told me himself months later. This and some other self-discovery related events initiated a feeling of self-remorse and burning need to correct these things.

    To loosen up, I went out, apparently had lot of fun, made blunders – did things I would never imagine myself doing (not anywhere near ZNMD in scale though), made some better acquaintances (one such, who claims he has no friends only acquaintances – pretty close to my idea of friends now), and more. And as I discovered later, this led to more harm than gain – including loss of interest in things I was passionate about, growing carelessness, and even integrity of self. Anyhow, going over all these experiences, I did gain realistic perspective of relationships – all’s well that ends well.

    Friends != Facebook Contacts

    This new year’s eve, I sat down to review the list of friends (Damn FB, it has made it so tough to organize friends list with the introduction of timeline, why can’t they just show the list in alphabetical order? Or provide an option to sort friends list with various parameters?), and removed about 140 after checking whether we ever had a message exchange, or any other interactions by using “See Friendship” option. Now I have made it a point to accept requests only if I know the person or if they respond reasonably to my simple question – do we know each other?

    Part 3 will be out soon. Criticism welcome on this and other posts.

     
  • Kartik 1:29 AM on March 27, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Computer engineering, Computer science, , , , , NIT Calicut, ,   

    Ponderings of the Year Past: Part 1 

    It’s been long since I wrote something. To be frank, it was last July in which I actually spoke out my mind. Of course, I wished to write a lot more (who doesn’t). This one is going to be long, so I decided to partition it.

    The following are few important lessons I learnt over the gone year – 2011:

    Computer Science != Computer Engineering

    Vineeth Sir always calls it Computing Science, we even had a discussion over it, perhaps over a year back( and once again recently); the doubt got cleared up only after I looked up ACM’s Computing Curricula Recommendations which defines five sub-disciplines of computing: Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Information Systems, Information Technology, and Software Engineering (they have pretty decent comparisons among these disciplines using pictures and charts). The story didn’t end there though, I was yet to realize what repercussions this seemingly subtle difference had in store for me.  Some people like Nandu (had an hour-long discussion with him months back) would call it the Department’s shortcoming that it is too focused on the Science part of the field, which leads to lesser interest in technology among students and hence, lack of quality of academic (or otherwise) projects. Anyhow, for me this was the year of actually realizing this difference – with low scores and finding lesser interest in some of the core theory subjects including Data Structures and Algorithms (not all though – I loved Discrete Computational Structures and managed to secure an ‘S’). Perhaps I always wanted to be a Computer Engineer! I was always the tech-geek with basic know-how of (almost) everything, mostly counting on my experience, trying to help others and having the fondness for cryptic syntax, etc; but over time it dawned on me that that’s not all – theory subjects tend to be more intellectually inclined (or research-focused if you may), and as Murali Sir frequently points out – it should be a matter of choice and not inability to prefer systems over theory in CS. Perhaps the most important thing that I missed to do was reading owing to over-confidence and a fuzzy image of self.

     

    Lot more to say. Part 2 coming out soon.

     
  • Kartik 8:40 AM on February 12, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , NIT Calicut, , ,   

    Control All Computers in a Lab from a Single System 

    Quoting Dhandeep, our super-cool lab-admin:

    now , all 70 systems in the lab can be switched on and switched off by single commands from the hostel…

    Yes, that and a lot more is possible in our Software Systems Lab now. How? Read on…

    The Setup

    We have over 70 systems with Ubuntu 10.04 LTS installed on them. There is an administrative account (let’s call it admin for this post) and a guest (limited privilege) account on each. Needless to say, admin password is known only to admins and guest password is known to all who use the lab. All these systems are configured to be able to controlled remotely (read: OpenSSH server is installed on each).

    Basic Idea

    1. Log in via SSH without a password
    2. Write your desired command and run it in background
    3. Run the above in a loop for the lab’s subnet.

    Detailed Steps

    See Tips for Remote Unix Work (SSH, screen, and VNC) for the first step (and for more immensely useful tips on remote usage of *NIX systems).

    For Step 2, here is one example command:

    ssh -t admin@labsystem "echo  | sudo -S shutdown -h now" &

    In the above command labsystem is usually replaced with an IP address like 192.168.xxx.xxx and the <pass> with the password of the admin account.

    WARNING: it’s not suggested to use the above command out in the open to save the password from prying eyes; also note that for additional security, you need to take a measure to make sure this is not saved in bash history or if the command is in a script, it’s not accessible to others.

    The requirement of ampersand at the end depends on particular usage (if you want to run, let’s say,  uptime command over ssh, you would not want the output to go to background, or you can redirect the output to some file). Putting the process in background, in this case, will help in the next step.

    The -S switch for sudo makes it possible to supply the password via stdin (we had discovered this switch from sudo’s man page, but didn’t manage to conclude “echo pass |” will do the trick until we discovered it at StackOverflow)

    Step 3: use your favorite scripting language (bash, python, etc.) and run the above command for all the systems of your lab subnet. An example in bash:

    for ip in {101..180}
    do
    	ssh -t admin@192.168.xxx.$ip "echo  | sudo -S shutdown -h now" &
    done
    

    The above code snippet will run the desired command for all systems in subnet within the IP range 192.168.xxx.101 to 192.168.xxx.180. Now, you can clearly see how putting the process in the background will help – the next iteration of the loop need not wait for the command in previous iteration to finish!

    In the passing, here’s a small video I shot featuring Dhandeep when he got all excited to see this working:

    That’s it. Try this out, share your tricks and have some *NIX fun in your lab. :-)

    PS: I have not covered how systems can be switched on with this setup. It basically involves broadcasting a magic packet to the subnet. Hope Dhandeep comes up with a blog post on that soon. ;-) Here it is: On the push of a button..

    Ciao

    Kartik

     
    • firesofmay 8:53 AM on February 12, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Sweet! I love it! ;)

    • Amarnath 8:54 AM on February 12, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Interesting. But, I think you forgot to mention the important prerequisite for doing this task. Don’t you need to generate public keys for all machines to be controlled and pass it to the central control node? I believe only this would help in password-less remote login via SSH.

      Indeed Dhandeep seems to be pretty excited about it. :-)

      Cheers

      Amarnath

      • Kartik 10:03 AM on February 12, 2012 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for your comment Amarnath.

        Indeed, that is necessary and is mentioned as the first step. But instead of describing the whole process myself I chose to point to a good resource (Tips for Remote UNIX Work…) for that kind of setup. You missed out perhaps. ;-)

    • Lokesh Walase 5:41 PM on February 12, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Awesome !! :)

    • Imran 11:04 PM on February 13, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      You can use puppet to design more efficient system which gives you more flexibility in automation

      • Kartik 12:56 AM on February 14, 2012 Permalink | Reply

        Yeah, that’s right. I have that in my to do list to learn soon. :-) Though, I am not aware if it works for normal desktop systems too.

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