Kushal Das

FOSS and life. Kushal Das talks here.


No summer training 2020

No summer training 2020 for me. Last year’s batch was beyond my capability to handle. Most of the participants did not follow anything we taught in the course, instead, they kept demanding more things.

I already started receiving mails from a few people who wants to join in the training in 2020. But, there is no positive answer from my side.

All the course materials are public, the logs are also available. We managed to continue this training for 12 years. This is way more than I could ever imagine.

As I was feeling a bit sad about this, the keynote at Railsconf 2019 from DHH actually helped me a lot to feel better.

Two new federated services for dgplug

Last week we started providing two new services for the dgplug members.

Mastodon service at toots

Having our own instance was in the plan for time in my head. I had personal Mastodon account before, but, that instance went down and never tried to find a new home. This time, I think if a few of us (the sys-admins from the group) use this as a regular thing for ourselves, it will be much easier to maintain than depending on someone else.

Any regular dgplug member can get an invite link for the instance by joining the IRC channel and asking for the same.

Blogging platform

In our summer training, we spend much time talking about communication, a significant part is focused on blogging. We suggest https://wordpress.com as a starting place to the newcomers. At the same time, we found that some people had trouble as they were more focused on the themes or other options than writing regularly.

I looked at https://write.as before, but as I saw https://people.kernel.org is now running on WriteFreely, I thought of giving it a try. The UI is much more straightforward, and as it uses Markdown by default, that is a plus point for our use case. Though most of this year’s participants already have their own blogs, we don’t have many people at the beginning, which helps as not too many support requests to us.

Just like the Mastodon instance, if you need a home for your blogs, come over to our IRC channel #dgplug on Freenode server, and ask for an account.

backup of the systems

This is the biggest question in providing the services in my mind. We set up the very initial backup systems, and we will see in the coming weeks how it stands. Maybe, we will take down the services, and try to restore everything from backup, and see how it goes.

Btw, if you want to follow me over Mastodon, then I am available at https://toots.dgplug.org/@kushal

DMARC, mailing list, yahoo and gmail

Last Friday late night, I suddenly started getting a lot of bounced emails from the dgplug mailing list. Within a few minutes, I received more than a thousand emails. A quick look inside of the bounce emails showed the following error:

Unauthenticated email from yahoo.in is not accepted due to     domain's 550-5.7.1 DMARC policy.

Gmail was blocking one person’s email via our list (he sent that using Yahoo and from his iPhone client), and caused more than 1700 gmail users in our list in the nomail block unless they check for the mailman’s email and click to reenable their membership.

I panicked for a couple of minutes and then started manually clicking on the mailman2 UI for each user to unblock them. However, that was too many clicks. Suddenly I remembered the suggestion from Saptak about using JavaScript to do this kind of work. Even though I tried to learn JavaScript 4 times and failed happily, I thought a bit searching on Duckduckgo and search/replace within example code can help me out.

$checkboxes = document.querySelectorAll("[name$=nomail]");
for (var i=0; i<$checkboxes.length; i++)  {
      $checkboxes[i].checked = false;

The above small script helped me to uncheck 50 email addresses at a time, and I managed to unblock the email addresses without spending too many hours clicking.

I have also modified the mailing list DMARC settings as suggested. Now, have to wait and see if this happens again.

dgplug summer training 2018

dgplug summer training 2018 will start at 13:30 UTC, 17th June. This will be the 11th edition. Like every year, we have modified the training based on the feedback and, of course, there will be more experiments to try and make it better.

What happened differently in 2017?

We did not manage to get all the guest sessions mentioned, but, we moved the guest sessions at the later stage of the training. This ensured that only the really interested people were attending, so there was a better chance of having an actual conversation during the sessions. As we received mostly positive feedback on that, we are going to do the same this year.

We had much more discussions among the participants in general than in previous years. Anwesha and I wrote an article about the history of the Free Software and we had a lot of discussion about the political motivation and freedom in general during the training.

We also had an amazing detailed session on Aadhaar and how it is affecting (read destroying) India, by Kiran Jonnalagadda.

Beside, we started writing a new book to introduce the participants to Linux command line. We tried to cover the basics of Linux command line and the tools we use on a day to day basis.

Shakthi Kannan started Operation Blue Moon where he is helping individuals to get things done by managing their own sprints. All information on this project can be found in the aforementioned Github link.

What are the new plans in 2018?

We are living in an era of surveillance and the people in power are trying to hide facts from the people who are being governed. There are a number of Free Software projects which are helping the citizens of cyberspace to resist and bypass the blockades. This year we will focus on these applications and how one can start contributing to the same projects in upstream. A special focus will be given to The Tor project, both from users' and developers' point of views.

In 2017, a lot of people asked help to start learning Go. So, this year we will do a basic introduction to Go in the training. Though, Python will remain the primary choice for teaching.

How to join the training?

First, join our mailing list, and then join the IRC channel #dgplug on Freenode.

Touch Typing

Learning new things, is an essential part of life. While we try to spend a lot of time learning various tricks about our tools or a particular programming language, many newcomers miss another important common skill.

The art of Touch Typing.

Ever since, I started going to conferences, I met many people who do touch type, and they generally type really fast. I found that to be very common, in our circles. But, when we meet beginners and discuss the things they should learn, we completely miss talking about this point. Most of the beginners I’ve met can’t type well. And most of the errors people ask about, are caused by, guess what?

Typing mistakes.

Also, because they type very slow, beginners lag behind in workshops.

GNU Typist

In the dgplug summer training, just about after we’re done with the communication sessions, we ask people to start spending some time learning to type.

My favorite tool is GNU Typist. It’s a small command line tool which can help anyone learn touch typing in a few days. Remember that the package name is gtypist.

In the main menu, you choose one of the many courses shown. The “Quick QWERTY” course is powerful enough to give you a start. After a few screens of description, about how to use the tool, you get into a screen like the one shown below.

As you see, any error will be marked by the tool. In the beginning, it is okay if you keep checking where your fingers are. If you spend a week with this tool, you should be able to start typing faster, and with fewer errors. Your muscle memory will kick in, and you’ll will be amazed by your new super power :) When I first used the Das Ultimate (no relation :P) or the Kinesis Advantage keyboard, I spent the first few minutes in gtypist to become familiar with them.

KDE Touch

KDE Touch is a GUI application to learn how to type. It will give you similar levels of detail, using various pretty looking graphs & charts. If you do not like the command line tools, you can always start learning using this tool.

There is also the Tux Typing tool, which is aimed more at kids. The tool shows various words and if you can type them properly, you will be able to provide to food to the nice little penguin.

People who are reading this, most probably will spend the rest of our lives in front of computers (for various reasons). Learn to type well; having that muscle memory is a powerful tool and will be a be source of great strength for you.

Installing Python3.6.1 in your Fedora24/25

Yesterday, one of the participant in the dgplug summer training was trying to use Python3.6.1 in the Fedora 24 box. There was some issues in the installation, I actually don't know how the installation was done. So, I just suggested to build Python 3.6.1 from source. Then have as many virtual environments as required to learn Python.

The following commands can help anyone to build from source on Fedora 24 or on Fedora 25.

$ sudo dnf install dnf-plugins-core wget make gcc
$ sudo dnf builddep python3
$ wget https://www.python.org/ftp/python/3.6.1/Python-3.6.1.tgz
$ ,tar -xvf Python-3.6.1.tgz
$ cd Python-3.6.1
$ ./configure --with-pydebug
$ make -j2

After the above command, you will have a python binary. Now, next step is to create a virtual environment.

$ ./python -m venv myenv
$ source myenv/bin/activate
(myenv)$ python

Now you have your own Python 3.6.1. Happy hacking :)

Looking back at the history of dgplug and my journey

During a session of the summer training this year, someone asked about the history of DGPLUG and how I started contributing to it. The story of the dpglug has an even longer back-story about my history with Linux. I'll start there, and then continue with the story of dgplug.

Seeing Linux for the first time

During my class 11-12, I used to spend a lot of time in the hostels of the Regional Engineering College, Durgapur, (or as we call it, REC, Durgapur.) This institute is now known as NIT, Duragpur. I got to lay my hands on and use a computer (mostly to play games) in my uncle’s hostel room. All the machines I saw there, were Windows only.

My Join Entrance Examination(JEE) center was the REC (year: 2001). That was a known & familiar environment for me. During breaks on day 1, I came back to hall 2 (my uncle’s room) for lunch. The room was unusually full; I think more than 7 people were looking at the computer with very anxious faces. One guy was doing something on the computer. My food was kept in the corner, and someone told me to eat quietly. I could not resist, and asked what was going on.

We’re installing Linux in the computer, and this is a very critical phase.
If the mouse works, then it will just work, or else we will not be able to use it in the system at all, someone replied

I had to ask again, What is this Linux? “Another Operating System” came the reply. I knew almost everyone in the room, I knew that they used computers daily. I also saw a few of them also writing programs to solve their chemical lab problems (my uncle was in Chemical Engineering department). There were people from the computer science department too. The thing stuck in my head, going back to the next examination, was that one guy, who knew something which others did not. It stuck deeper, than the actual exam in hand, and I kept thinking about it all day, that day. Later after the exam, I actually got some time to sit in front of the Linux computer, and then I tried to play with it, trying things and clicking around on the screen. Everything was so different than I used to see on my computer screen. That was it, my mind was set; I was going to learn Linux, since not many know about it. I will also be able to help others as required, just like my uncle’s friend.

Getting my own computer

After the results of the JEE were announced, I decided to join the Dr. B. C. Roy Engineering College, Durgapur. It was a private college, opened a year back. On 15th August, I also got my first computer, a Pentium III, with 128MB of RAM, and a 40GB hard drive. I also managed to convince my parents to get a mechanical keyboard somehow, (which was costly and unusual at the time) with this setup. I also got Linux (RHL 7.x IIRC) installed on that computer along with Windows 98. Once it got home, I kept clicking on everything in Linux, ran the box ragged and tried to find all that I could do with Linux.

After a few days, I had some trouble with Windows and had to reinstall it, and when I rebooted, I could not boot to Linux any more. The option had disappeared. I freaked out at first, but guessed that it had something to do with my Windows reinstall. As I had my Linux CDs with me, I went ahead and tried to install it again. Installing and reinstalling the operating systems over and over, gave me the idea that I will had to install Windows first, and only then, should I install Linux. Otherwise, we can not boot into Linux.

Introduction to the Command Line

I knew a few Windows commands by that time. Someone in REC pointed me to a book written by Sumitabha Das (I still have a copy at home, in my village). I started reading from there, and learning commands one by one.

Becoming the Linux Expert in college

This is around the same time when people started recognizing me as a Linux Expert; at least in my college.
Of course I knew how to install Linux, but the two major things that helped get that tag, were

  • the mount command, I knew how to mount Windows partitions in Linux
  • xmms-mp3 rpm package. I had a copy, and I could install it on anyone’s computer.

The same song, on the same hardware, but playing in XMMS always used to give much better audio quality than Windows ever did. Just knowing those two commands gave me a lot of advantage over my peers in that remote college (we never had Internet connection in the college, IIRC).

The Unix Lab & Introduction to computer class

We were introduced to computers in our first semester in some special class. Though many of my classmates saw a computer for the first time in their life, we were tasked to practice many (DOS) commands in the same day. I spent most of my time, helping others learn about the hardware and how to use it.

In our college hostel, we had a few really young professors who also stayed with us. Somehow I started talking a lot with them, and tried to learn as many things as I could. One of them mentioned something about a Unix lab in the College which we were supposed to use in the coming days. I went back to the college the very next day and managed to find the lab; the in-charge (same person who told me about it) allowed me to get in, and use the setup (there were 20 computers).

Our batch started using the lab, only for 2-3 days at the most. During the first day in the lab, I found a command to send out emails to the other users. I came back during some off hours, and wrote a long mail to one of my classmates (not going to talk about the details of the mail) and sent it out.

As we stopped using that lab, I was sure no one had read that mail. Except for one day, the lab in-charge asked me how my email writing was going on. I was stunned, how did he find out about the email? I was all splutteringly, tongue tied! Later at night, he explained to me, the idea of sysadmins, and all that a superuser can do in a Linux/Unix environment. I started thinking about privacy in the electronic world from that night itself :)

Learning from friends

The only other people who were excited about Linux, were two people from same batch in REC. Bipendra Shrestha, and Jitu. I used to spend a lot of time in their hostel and learned so many things from them.

Internet access and the start of dgplug

In 2004, I managed to get more regular access to the Internet (by saving up a bit more money to visit Internet cafes regularly). My weekly allowance was Rs.100, and regular one hour Internet access was around Rs.30-50.

While reading about Linux, I found the term LUG, or Linux User groups. As I was the only regular Linux user in college, I knew that I never had much chance to learn more on my own there, and that somehow I will have to find more people like me and learn together. Also around the same time, I started learning about words like upstream, contribution, Free Software, & FSF. I managed to contact Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay, who sent me a copy of Ankur Bangla, a Linux running in my mother tongue, Bengali. I also came to know about all the ilug chapters in India. That inspired me. Having our own LUG in Durgapur was my next goal. Soumya Kanti Chakrabarty was the first person, I convinced, to join with me to form this group.

The first website came up on Geocities (fun times), and we also had our yahoo group. Later in 2005, we managed to register our domain name; the money came in as a donation from my uncle (who by this time was doing his Ph.D. in IIT Kanpur).

I moved to Bangalore in July 2005, and Soumya was running the local meetings. After I started using IRC regularly, we managed to have our own IRC channel, and we slowly moved most of our discussion over to IRC only. I attended FOSS.IN in December 2005. I think I should write a complete post about that event, and how it changed my life altogether.

Physical meetings in 2006-2007

A day with Fedora on 4th April 2006 was the first big event for us. Sayamindu Dasgupta, Indranil Dasgupta, and Somyadip Modak came down for this event to Durgapur. This is the same time when we started the Bijra project, where we helped the school to have a Linux (LTSP) based setup, completely in Bengali. This was the first big project we took on as a group. This also gave us some media coverage back then. This led to the bigger meetup during 2007, when NRCFOSS members including lawgon, and Rahul Sundaram came down to Durgapur.

dgplug summer training 2008

In 2008, I pitched the idea of having a summer training over IRC, following the same rules of meetings as Fedora marketing on IRC. Shakthi Kannan also glommed onto the idea, and that started a new chapter in the history of dgplug.

Becoming the active contributor community

I knew many people who are better than me when it comes to brain power, but generally, there was no one to push the idea of always learning new things to them. I guess the motto of dgplug, “Learn and teach others” helped us go above this obstacle, and build a community of friends who are always willing to help.

শেখ এবং শেখাও (Learn & Teach others).

Our people are from different backgrounds, from various countries, but the idea of Freedom and Sharing binds us together in the group known as dgplug. Back in 2015 at PyCon India, we had a meeting of all the Python groups in India. After listening to the problems of all the other groups, I suddenly realized that we had none of those problems. We have no travel issues, no problems getting speakers, and no problem getting new people to join in. Just being on the Internet, helps a lot. Also, people in the group have strong opinions, this means healthy but long discussions sometimes :)

Now, you may have noticed that I did not call the group a GNU/Linux users group. Unfortunately, by the time I learned about the Free Software movement, and its history, it was too late to change the name. This year in the summer training, I will take a more in-depth session about the history of hacker ethics, and Free Software movement. and I know few other people will join in.

The future

I wish that DGPLUG continues to grow along with the members. The group does not limit itself only to be about software, or technology. Most of the regular members met each other in conferences, and we keep meeting every year in PyCon India, and PyCon Pune. We should be able to help other to learn and use the same freedom (be it in technology or in other walks of life) we have. The IRC channel should continue to be the happy place it always has been; where we all meet every day, and have fun together.

Second update from summer training 2017

We are already at the end of the second week of the dgplug summer training 2017. From this week onwards, we’ll have formal sessions only 3 days a week.
Guest lectures will start only from next month.
This post is a quick update about the things we did over the last 2 weeks.

  • Communication guideline review: We use Shakthi Kannan’s communication guideline and mailing list guideline in the training. We still have a few people having trouble with not typing SMS language in the chat or in the mailing list. But, we’re learning fast.
  • Basics of Linux command line tools: We used to have only the old logs and the TLDP bash guides for this. Last year I thought of writing a new book (along the lines of Python for you and me), but did not manage to push myself to do so. This year, I have started working on Linux command line for you and me, though I haven’t yet edited the things I’ve written yet. We are using this book as a starting point for the participants along with the old logs.
  • GNU Typist: We also ask people to practice typing. We suggest using gtypist to learn touch typing. There are a few blog posts from the participants talking about their experience.
  • We had two sessions on Vim. Sayan will take another special session on Vim in the coming days.
  • We talked about blogs, and asked everyone start writing more. Writing is important; be it technical documentation, or an email to a mailing list – it is the way to communicate over the Internet. We suggested Wordpress to the beginners. If you are interested to see what the participants are writing, visit the planet.
  • The Internet’s Own Boy: This week we also asked everyone to watch the story of Aaron Swartz. The summer training is not about just learning a few tools, or learning about projects. It is about people, about freedom. Freedom to do things, freedom to learn. One of our participants, Robin Schubert (who is a physicist from Germany) wrote his thoughts after watching the documentary. I am hoping that more participants will think more about what they saw.
    Following this, we will also have a session about the history of Free Software, and why we do, what we do. The ideology still matters. Without understanding or actually caring about the issues, just writing code will not help us in the future.
  • Next, we actually asked people to submit their RSS feeds so that we can add them to the planet. We also learned Markdown, and people noticed how Aaron was involved in the both.

In the coming days, we will learn about few more tools, and how to use programming to automate things in life. How to contribute patches to the upstream projects and such related things. But, we will also have sessions on software licenses. Anwesha will take the initial session on the same. The guest sessions will also start. If you are interested in teaching or sharing your story with the participants, please drop me a note (either email or twitter).

dgplug summer training 2017 is on

Yesterday evening we started the 10th edition of dgplug summer training program. We around 70 active participants in the session, there were a few people who informed us beforehand that they will not be available during the first session. We also knew that at the same time we had India-vs-Pakistan cricket match, that means many Indian participants will be missing the day one (though it seems the Indian cricket team tried their level best to make sure that participants stop watching the match :D ).

We started with the usual process, Sayan and /me explained the different rules related to the sessions, and also about IRC. The IRC channel #dgplug is not only a place to discuss technical things, but also to discuss about everyday things between many of the dgplug members. We ask the participants to stay online as long as possible in the initial days and ask as many questions as they want. Asking questions is a very important part of these sessions, as many are scared to do so in public.

We also had our regular members in the channel during the session, and after the session ended, we got into other discussions as usual.

One thing I noticed was the high number of students participating from the Zakir Hussain College Of Engineering, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India. When I asked how come so many of you are here, they said the credit goes to cran-cg (Chiranjeev Gupta) who motivated the first year students to take part in the session. Thank you cran-cg for not only taking part but also building a local group of Free Software users/developers. We also have Nisha, who is a fresh economics graduate, taking part in this year's program.

As usual the day one was on Sunday, but from now on all the sessions will be on weekdays only unless it is a special guest session where a weekend is a better for our guest. Our next session is at 13:30PM UTC today, at the #dgplug channel on Freenode server. If you want to help, just be there :)