FIST Camp 2017 Tiruchi – Observations

Published by Arun Isaac on

In other languages: தமிழ்

Tags: freesoftware, fsftn, tiruchi

I attended the free software camp organized by Freedom in Science and Technology (FIST) and the Free Software Foundation Tamil Nadu (FSFTN) in Tiruchi from August 12 to 15. This is an account of my experience there.

I cleared my comprehensive examination, an important milestone in my PhD, just a few weeks ago. I needed a short break, and so I decided to attend the free software camp organized in Tiruchi TRP Engineering College by Freedom in Science and Technology (FIST) and the Free Software Foundation Tamil Nadu (FSFTN).

Group photo at FIST Tiruchi camp 2017

Figure 1: Group photo at FIST Tiruchi camp 2017

I had met the FIST people in the last Tiruchi camp an year ago. They are tremendously more self-reliant and self-driven now. The very same people who were hesitant to speak up in the 2016 camp were now organizing this camp with hardly any support from outsiders. Though the camp workshop was about the Internet of Things (IoT), we spoke not just about the technical side of IoT, but also about its societal impact, both positive and negative. Mugilan and Niranjan, the instructors, instead of teaching the participants how to write microcontroller programs from scratch, gave them the code and focussed on teaching them to upload the code, collect, visualize and interpret the data from the sensors. In other words, the technical sessions were more of a participatory demonstration than an actual workshop. This approach gave the participants a high level understanding of IoT. The idea is that if one is clear with the big picture, one can always figure out the details with a little effort and motivation. Also, the technical sessions were amply punctuated with fun activities and discussions of social issues. This approach meant not only that the participants went home with a holistic understanding, but also that the camp provided a stress free relaxed atmosphere conducive to learning.

Rant about Indian society and education

Schools and colleges don't allow boys and girls (or men and women) to even talk to each other. They condition students into feeling guilty about friendships with the opposite gender. Private institutions see education only as a business. To them, good education is only a matter of maximizing examination marks and placement salaries. They create endless hurdles and bureaucracy ensuring that nothing out of the mundane and the ordinary ever gets done. Perhaps that gives them a sense of power, and justifies their rhetoric that students need a strong hand to discipline and guide them. The only purpose of our education system is to take a human being with all the innate curiosity and critical thinking, and break him, turning him into an unquestioning slave well suited for slogging away for the enrichment and aggrandizement of the wealthy few.

Non-computer science people in the free software movement

The camp had a civil engineering student, a mechanical engineering student, and a commerce student. This is the first time I am seeing non-computer science people take on an active role in the free software movements around here. I hope this is the beginning of a new era in the free software movement, when people understand that free software is for all people, not just programmers. The Free Software Movement Karnataka (FSMK) should take a leaf out of FIST's book.

GnuCash for accounting

The camp expenses were recorded and maintained using a spreadsheet. This is tedious and can quickly become intractable. The much better approach is to use accounting software such as GnuCash explicitly designed for this purpose. To this end, I introduced one of the FIST people to double-entry bookkeeping and GnuCash. I hope that FIST will use GnuCash or some similar software for their future events.

Food and accommodation

We stayed at a marriage hall in Samayapuram. I was worried that the bathroom and toilets would not be good enough, but they were better than I expected – at least enough to get by for the four days of the camp. The food served at the camp was both filling and pleasing to the taste.

Only one complaint: The polystyrene (thermocol) plates provided during lunch, and the plastic water bottles provided for the speakers could have been avoided. Instead of polystyrene plates, paper plates or plates made from some other biodegradable material could have been used. And, instead of the water bottles, a common water can could have been kept. This would have been more environment friendly.

Lunch at FIST Tiruchi camp 2017

Figure 2: Lunch at FIST Tiruchi camp 2017

WiFi router

Due to some confusion, the organizers brought ADSL modem + WiFi routers instead of WiFi routers. Luckily, I had brought an iball Baton ib-WRB150N WiFi router using which I was able to set up the WiFi network required for the workshop. Typically, WiFi routers don't handle more than 10 connections very well. Surprisingly, this one held up well even with 30 to 40 connections. I don't know why this happened, and I don't understand why WiFi routers start dropping connections beyond a point. More reading and research is necessary.

Talking to Ganesh, Mugilan and Niranjan

I spent most of the four days talking to Ganesh, Mugilan and Niranjan. There is a bit of frustration in the air about our pet projects not proceeding fast enough. I can only hope things will improve as our projects get closer to completion. We all agreed on the importance of completing our projects properly, and blogging about them. Not publishing one's work in the name of humility makes no sense.

Tiruchi transport, weather, people, and icecream

Having lived in Bengaluru for a while and gotten used to BMTC's high bus fares (at least 15 or 20 rupees for the average journey), I unconsciously reached out for the 100 rupees note in my wallet even in Tiruchi. Only a moment later did I realize that bus fares in Tamil Nadu are much lower and affordable! Even though the buses are rickety-rackety with a lot of scope for improvement, having inexpensive public utilities without all the advertisement thrust into your face like in Bengaluru is well worth it.

The warmth of the Tiruchi sun was soothing. Still, the monsoons kept the temperature down to manageable levels.

Chicken puffs in Samayapuram actually had chicken in them! So often, in cities, you only find "fake chicken puffs" with mostly flour, and very little actual meat.

Seeing and hearing so much Tamil was refreshing. It is surprisingly pleasant when you can effortlessly understand what passers-by are talking about. In Bengaluru, with only my survival knowledge of Kannada, I have to really concentrate and exert myself to understand ambient talk.

People in small towns are generally a lot more hospitable and friendly than those in bigger cities. The Samayapuram shopkeepers were no exception. Once, when I was having breakfast at a street vendor's shop, just to be on the safer side with my health, I did not drink the water. One of the ladies running the shop noticed this, came running to me, enquired if there was something wrong with the water, and before I could respond, emptied the vessel, cleaned it, filled it afresh with water, and offered it to me. Surprised and somewhat amused by the courtesy, I drank. No city shopkeeper would have bothered that I didn't drink water from their shop!

On the last day of the camp, just before leaving, I had icecream with some of the camp organizers at Michael and Sons ice cream parlour. The ice cream was actually made in the shop itself, and wasn't one of those things that come pre-packaged in a cardboard box. It reminded me of the ice cream my mother once made at home a long time back when I was in primary school.

Ice cream at Michael and Sons on the last day of FIST Tiruchi camp 2017

Figure 3: Ice cream at Michael and Sons on the last day of FIST Tiruchi camp 2017

Image Credits

Group photo at FIST Tiruchi camp 2017 -- by Freedom in Science and Technology (FIST), Tiruchi, released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license

Lunch at FIST Tiruchi camp 2017 -- by Freedom in Science and Technology (FIST), Tiruchi, released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license

Ice cream at Michael and Sons on the last day of FIST Tiruchi camp 2017 -- by Freedom in Science and Technology (FIST), Tiruchi, released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license