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2012 August 29 [Wednesday]

Contributing to Libre software

"How do I start contributing to Libre Software?" is a very common question (I asked that too) one comes across on most FOSS lists. Today, I posted the following on a private list and was asked for a public link, so here goes:

SWOT

There are many Libre software projects to choose from, so choosing one project can be quite confusing when you are starting out. Do yourself a favor and take a few moments to do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis before you decide to jump onto the Libre software bandwagon.

Its better to give yourself time to think (or write down) which technical area or field interests you
  • Which language do you want to program in?
  • Is it front-end software or backend stuff?
  • Web programming or something else?
  • Do you like writing system software or application level software?
  • Or, do you like libraries, prefer working with algorithms/statistical applications, etc..

Once you have figured out your field of interest, its easier to shortlist something and get started on finding a project to work on.

From Failure to Success

If you are still having a hard time figuring out your interests, fret not ! Its OK to NOT know what you want when you are starting out - make sure you keep an open mind and be willing to try out new things that are unfamiliar (and sometimes hard and confusing) and/or fail at them. Failure is a good teacher!

Its what you do when you fail that distinguishes you from a successful person. If you give up your failure remains a failure BUT if you decide to practice and try again (and Again and AGAIN), you can convert your failure into success. Remember, the bridge between failure and success is Practice!


FINDING A PROJECT

As I mentioned above, there are so many Libre software projects that its overwhelming at the outset. Having figured out your field, dont randomly visiting a bug-tracker and try to solve bugs, which is not a bad idea if you have only a few hours per week. However, if you want to wade a little deeper, try using Google to your advantage - scan the orgs at the Google Summer of Code.

This recently concluded program, has a ready list of organisations to choose from and the 2012 list is available at: http://www.google-melange.com/gsoc/program/accepted_orgs/google/gsoc2012. Besides these few hundred GSoC Orgs,
However, if you are interested in working outside of the SoC span, projects are always interested in contributors and would welcome your efforts 24x7x365. That said, these SoC tasks require a longer commitment of 40 hours per week in terms of time, so you need to decide what you want to do. Its not part-time work, so commitment and rigor is a prerequisite.

FOUND A TASK, WHAT NEXT ?

After you have searched Melange (or ESA) for keywords of your choice, visit the Ideas page for each organisation. Here, you will find a list of tasks ranked as per preference or difficulty level (NB: This entirely depends on the Org). Remember to cross-check with the Melange page if the task has already been completed via GSoC, or not.

If a task is still available, find out what is required to get started on it and prepare a short abstract. This will help you to,
  • figure out the development stack vis-a-vis your skillset,
  • realise how much time and effort is required to bridge the gap, if any ;
  • prepare a timeline estimate. (Dont obsess over the timeline as it is just an estimate and it will vary if the Org changes any requirements.)

These done, talk to the Org - always, Always, ALWAYS talk to the Org _before_ you start work on anything.
Just because a task is listed on the Ideas page does not mean its a part of their workflow (which can always change), nor is the opposite true. The best way to find out is to talk to them, first. Again, remember that these SoC tasks require a longer commitment in terms of time.

COMMUNICATING WITH LIBRE COMMUNITIES

Most Libre projects have their own communication channels. This could be via Mailing lists or Forums, including IRC channels on dedicated servers or on freenode. Its important to work with them via these public channels and that means learning to communicate and not worry about asking silly (psst..there are none!) questions.
Communicating with the core developer and/or mentors and community of users is crucial - they can be an invaluable source for ideas and helpful hints. Many projects have separate lists (and IRC channels) for users and developers. Join them and introduce yourself (or lurk around to get a hang of how things work) and when you are ready, do talk about the task you want to work on.

A development mailing list, where the core developers would be available, is distinguishable via the "*-devel" mailing address. Same is true for IRC channels - If you like CLI tools, try Irssi or Quassel if you want a GUI client. Pick your poison from this list of IRC clients.

EXPERIMENT WITH THE DEVELOPMENT STACK

Finally, and most importantly, you must be comfortable working with the software the project uses - that means, you should be able to clone and get the software to install and work on your local machine. Here, communicating with your Org helps - You can ask for help if you have hardware or software issues, clarify installation and dependency issues, etc... No software works flawlessly (else, people would be out of jobs :)) and Libre software is no exception - the only difference being "software development on a libre / public scale".

Another aspect of getting familiar with the development stack is familiarizing yourself with the projects internal system - Since, each project uses its own bug tracker and DCVS, Wiki (for documentation), Email/Forum and IRC communication system, take some time to get familiar with each of these. If you plan to stick around for any length of time, you would be using some, or, all the software stacks they use on a regular basis.

Your transition from newbie to active contributor is a lot faster when you are comfortable with the development stack. Doing your homework before the SoC program starts will give you the confidence required to grok it enough to start working on the code-base, suggest changes or solve bugs, etc..

I hope these suggestions help you find your niche learning shell to contribute to, and of course, welcome to the Libre software. Have fun!

2011 April 15 [Friday]

Vidalia calling volunteers

Openhatch is holding a 'build it' initiative in collaboration with Vidalia which is the front-end for the proxy you installed on your system. Most importantly, for a change, has India-friendly timings instead of a graveyard shift(s) which make it hard for non-owls (like me) to attend meetings. So, if you have C/C++ skills, dont forget to join #vidalia on irc.oftc.net at 18:30 hrs, today and volunteer! Continue reading for more details from, https://blog.torproject.org/blog/vidalia-get-involved,

Hello everyone, for those who don't know me, I'm the one that's taking care of Vidalia these days.

The other day I was contacted by paulproteus in the #vidalia IRC channel about an initiative they (OpenHatch) are organizing called "Build It".

The idea

Open Source projects live and die depending on contributors and people that want to see the project evolve, but this isn't so easy sometimes. The guys behind the Build It initiative have a theory about this difficulty:

"...lots of users of free desktop software want to get involved in customizing or contributing to the project's development, but they haven't gotten to the first step of getting the program to compile."

Since I'm a Gentoo user for years now, the compilation part comes naturally to me and I haven't thought of this issue that way but it's an interesting approach.

The event

This week, people involved in Vidalia and other Open Source projects will be at a specific time online to help users (future developers, may be :) ) jump over this compilation wall. Particularly, Vidalia is scheduled for this Friday at 13:00 UTC in the same place as usual: #vidalia at OFTC.

While this event is taking place on a particular day and a particular time, I'm online all the time (even when I'm not in front of the computer). So if you want to contribute to Vidalia or any of the projects around Tor (or Tor itself), don't hesitate, just get online and start typing, but be patient and stick around. Also, you'd probably want to read this: https://www.torproject.org/getinvolved/volunteer.html.en

If you want to know more about the Buld It initiative, you can ask in #openhatch at Freenode, or read here: https://openhatch.org/wiki/Build_it


2010 September 18 [Saturday]

ILUG-Bangalore meetup today

Announcing the ILUG-Bengaluru Meetup on Saturday 2010Sep18

Time:  1800 - 1930 hrs

Venue:  Jaaga,  Rhenius Street (Off. Richmond Road) , Opposite Hockey Stadium, Shantinagar, Bangalore

Directions: http://jaaga.in/contact

Agenda:

Open house:        Anything goes barcamp-ish session.

Regular Activities:         GPG keysigning - http://www.debian.org/events/keysigning


Note:  This is a back-to-back meetup with Ubuntu-IN . The Ubuntu-IN meetup is from 1630 to 1800hrs and is about Indian Language Localisation and all other things Ubuntu.

2010 July 14 [Wednesday]

meld it


All *nix machines have the feature allowing you to compare two files --often useful to do a quick 'cmp' or 'diff' on the cli for a file comparision --a good feature for a small script file or documents. However, if you want to compare chunks of code, between two versions, then the readability isnt optimal.

Meld to the rescue!

Meld is a visual diff and merge tool which allows you to compare two or three files located in different directory paths on your local machine and edit them. It allows comparison of upto three folders.

I love useful software written in Python using the PyGTK toolkit. Meld has been packaged for Ubuntu and "sudo apt-get-install meld" would install this small utility which can be accessed via: Application >Programming >Meld Diff Viewer.

Its that simple.

2010 April 24 [Saturday]

python in scientific computing workshop

Fossee is conducting a "Python in Scientific Computing" workshop from April30 to May01,2010.

VENUE

Sir M Visvesvaraya Institute of Technology,
Krishnadeveraya Nagar, Hunasamranhalli, NH-7,
Via- Yelahanka, Bangalore-562157, Karnataka, India

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=sir+mvit&ie=UTF8&hq=sir+mvit&hnear=&ll=13.153958,77.605104&spn=0.056917,0.077162&z=14

ATTENDANCE/REGISTRATION

Free, python beginners are welcome. However, registration is required and you can  register at mvit [dot] eventbrite [dot] com. NOTE: Please register only if you are SURE you'll be able to attend on both the days.

They have a limitation on the number of computers, so you should bring your laptop if you can. For more information please email them at workshops [dot] mvit [at] gmail [dot] com.

2010 April 22 [Thursday]

python lug meetup on 20100425

UPDATED UPDATE: This meet was CANCELLED.

Bangpypers, aka Bengaluru/Bangalore Python meetup is scheduled for Sunday, 2010apr25.

Time:  1500 Hrs onwards.

UPDATED Venue:
TenXperts office in Koramangala. On Hosur Main Road opposite Star Bazaar there is a small cross road (attached to Robert Bosch's compound). TenXperts office is on that road above Innovative Cars shop on the first floor.

Here is the map<http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=robert+bosch+koramangala&sll=12.936987,77.612818&sspn=0.004298,0.009645&ie=UTF8&hq=robert+bosch&hnear=Koramangala,+Bengaluru,+Karnataka,+India&ll=12.939067,77.612658&spn=0.016145,0.038581&z=15>


Agenda:   This meet will be focussed on taking an existing floss project and working on it. Current suggestions are Pygments and a Python standard library module for unit tests, but feel free to suggest and/or work on your own choice of any floss'y python project.  If you are new to Python, you are most welcome to come and learn. The idea is to get a local community along the lines of dojorio.org [English translation].


2010 March 9 [Tuesday]

Gesellschaft

At the recently concluded PyCon-2010, there were some discussions about diversity, women, etc... I suppose, much of my energy would have been saved if I had published this mail earlier or even blogged about individual sexist behaviors i've experienced within the Indian floss community. Na, its not fear, rather why would I want to think about evil creepy stuff on a personal space like my blog!? However, during various discussions, I realized that many folks dont know what you experience on an individual level on $random-foolist (or off-line harassment) within the floss community, unless you talk about it...Talking is the first step....

Hi $PersonsName,

As I write this mail the words "Out the creeps publicly" uttered by a devel (who shall go nameless) comes to my mind and hence i'd prefer to not be anon and back my words under the pseudonym 'svaksha'. Do feel free to trim my long train of thoughts and I wont be offended if it does'nt make it to your article as /self is too late in all probability :) -- my mental resources are wound up around a lexical parser atm.

Initially when i used to hear all the women speak about their experiences i took comfort in the fact that i am not alone in hoping for change. But i had not factored in the possibility that change is tougher when "clueless new idiots" follow in the steps of "sexist old timers". Over the years the attitudes towards diversity still remains sexist, especially within the Indian community where cronyism is normal.

My observations are largely India-centric salted with some experiences on international lists and sans a timeline ...

The usual personal mails asking for personal details under the guise of "i want to volunteer" or guised as a personal interview (since when did marital status become relevant to floss contribution?). Another peculiar one was a guy writing emails in different scripts despite my requests that i didnt understand them. It was when i requested a friend to translate them that i realised why -- personal questions in a non-english script meant fewer people would know he was asking personal questions.

Then there was this instance of a jerk trying to crack into my server when he became aware of my gender. I was happy with the anonymity --- Very very few folks (i trusted) knew my location and real name but that changed when I founded the Ubuntu-Women project, was termed a "militant feminist" (a pejorative term for Feminazi?). 

This pejorative was echoed in the Indichix (LC-India) mailing lists in 2008 to avoid answering the question of 'controlling a woman's group by proxy' - hmm...cronyism and elitism is gender-neutral ;-) These personal attacks descended into personal life queries (hint:: the coffee, splenda thread) by one Indian male who subscribed to a grrls-only mailing list by pretending to be a woman. So much for the "cultured_Indian"! 

Other experiences include, an smtp header spoof of my mail id to send a sex-related email to Ubuntu lists ; an indian gentoo devel in his interview wanted to be stuck in a lift with me even while he admits to never having met me. Another was the death threats from "mikeeeeusa" on DW which went off-list ~~ IIRC around 5 women were the initial targets but Clytie (an AU contributor) had threats sent to her teenage daughter too.

http://eaves.ca/2009/07/06/structurelessness-feminism-and-open/ has a point I could relate to viz.elites and cronyism -- both of which are true as far as the local Indian floss community is concerned. I've heard past incidents of getting cronies to use social engineering (a bully's crony will pretend to be your friend and find out where you work, etc..) and use pressure tactics (complaining to your superiors/boss@work --the easiest way to bully an individual who fears losing his/her livelihood) to silence disagreeing voices -- This may probably not be sexist as it happened to an indian male (who shall remain anonymous) floss volunteer, but i'm writing this to highlight a deeper and more serious problem within the fragmented Indian floss community.

Pretending to support women racks up the good_publicity_karma (hence commercially lucrative via corporate sponsorship for privately controlled commercial conferences pretending to be a community event) while one can continue to be being elitist and deny decision making power via "cronyism" (the elites will use red herrings and out-shout newbies or anyone who disagrees with them with cries of "show me the code") on the side -- a very subtle game that is hard to decipher on a superficial level.

However, when subtle aggressiveness is reserved for the local community members only very few folks outside that circle are aware of it. This small subset of highly aggressive Indian men will never exhibit this negative attitude on the international project lists and irc channels where they _do_ participate, because it will permanently damage their reputation. This is never good for business or landing a job in future. Also, international lists and irc channels have lesser bystanders[0] taking care of SEP[1].

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bystander_effect
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somebody_Else%27s_Problem]

If readers are thinking its a malaise with the whole Indian community or a cultural baggage, its not. There is a lot of positive stuff happening thanks to many individuals who are polite and respectful and dont feel threatened by (wo)men. There are many men and women who continue their good work on an individual basis but unfortunately they are relegated to the  back-burner by pompous self-promoting jerks. I'm personally hoping to see a truly open community initiative like LCA or debconf (and others like it) happen in India.

Regarding including links and threads, i am undecided. The marketing gimmick "bad publicity is still free publicity" is another reason why I prefer to avoid blogging too much about negative behavior as it can acquire a cult-like halo and an easy way to fame for other men or newbies, especially when they see peers getting away with it. While technical misdemeanors (like a ddos attack,...) are punished quickly i've not yet heard an a$$hat being ostracized or boycotted from the community and this despite there being discussion and more discussion and protests about the said negative behavior.

Besides, the online world is so small that there is the danger of forming a mental picture of an individual and getting over-familiar via blogs, twitter, irc, lists, etc... Its possible that judging folks during real life meetings based on these preconceived assumptions is another cause of social behaviour problems.

I dont have any magic answers and have always believed that community action is the best way to solve the problem. Yet, getting women to speak-up openly against the negative attitude is a lot harder, especially when they feel they will not get any support as the lone voice, statistically speaking.  Few folks will want to waste their time tackling a regular barrage of red-herrings and logical fallacies. Example: Using the term "we" is purposely misinterpreted as taking over control and using "I" is interpreted as "the problem is singular in nature" and since _one_ person is statistically too small to figure in change, the status quo continues --This tactic works very well in situations when no change is desired.

Y'all probably are aware of all this so i'll stop as i've got to leave now.

ciao,
-vid



As you've probably guessed, the above was my mail sent to a private un-archived women-only list. I'm also reproducing (with permission) an exchange with another floss contributor who wrote after he read the above e-mail:

Devel: And you cant have a community of human beings and donkeys right? That's why I refuse to believe most of the Indian FLOSS communities are communities at all. I dont care and I dont bother.

Me: That is the scary bit...everybody stops caring. When I stop caring its just downhill then. Somewhere we have to make an effort to build the community, sustain it and grow.

Devel: You have to make sure the community is worth it. [emphasis mine]

Wow, that last line really hit me hard and brought me to my senses. His thoughts were echoed by another person, "dont beat your head against a wall, it will bleed".
Both said words that I cannot forget.

Do some people behave differently in public and in private? Yes, my (Indian) floss experience proves this is true. Pretense is an individual's negative attitude and India is not exactly famous for the way it treats its women-folk. That these negative social attitudes magnify themselves on the internet is not at all surprising because evils minds will learn to use tools like tor and fake email id's/online profiles to stalk women online. They dont have the courage to do it in the open with their real identity and face the ensuing repercussions.

Why expect women to say *Stop harassing, stop stalking* ? Given the low female participation, women are an even smaller percentage in the existing scheme of things and the lack of space to speak up within projects is another crucial point that gets overlooked.  Instead of telling women how to adjust to sexist bullying, men within a project must learn to speak up if they wish to see change. Most times that action is taken against those who manage to offend those in power, else in floss communities sometimes one can get away with any negative behaviour with zero repercussions.

In my years within most Libre software projects, the common thought that surfaces is the expectation that "change is slow" because positive results with respect to reducing sexist behaviour takes time. I disagree.  Is it that women have to be offended with negative attitudes or sexism for action to be taken? Why cant a lone individual (irrespective of gender, nationality or any other criteria) say "stop being a jerk" and get tons of community support. If there is a lack of community support, its due to apathy and a lack of firmness and strong action with low tolerance to negative behaviour by every person involved in the floss community.  This is not as easy as typing this blog entry was, since it needs impartial and strong leadership qualities. 

If we dont want a gesellschaft instead of a community where people care for others, then attitudinal change on an individual level is the need of the hour. FOSS Communities are mostly made up of individual people who use the same technology they create and although women (add foo-group of choice) are a subset, they should not be the diversity tokenism card for spin doctors trying to prevent a PR disaster!


2008 September 19 [Friday]

SFD week in Bangalore

At our last meeting we decided that SFD-2008 will stretch into Software Freedom Week in Bangalore.

From tomorrow ...

2008Sept20 : SFD with students at ChristUniversity from noon to 3pm.

2008Sept24 : Its time to say STOP SOFTWARE PATENTS on World day against Software patents.

2008Sept25: BMSE SFD Celebrations organised by BMSLUG and SUN Club.

2008Sept27 : Gnu turns 25 and you can sing Happy B'day Gnu at RV College which is organizing the 25th Anniversary.

Besides these FSUG-Bangalore in collaboration with the Centre for Internet and Society are conducting an essay competition all over Karnataka state for school students. Check the wiki page for regular updates on SFWeek.

2008 August 31 [Sunday]

Stop software patents

There is a Gnu/Linux Habba (festival/event) on 2008Sept21 at Mysore and 2008Sept24 is the "World Day Against Software Patents", and the Bangalore FSUG has a call to sign and spread the same.

Aug31 is the last day to signup if you are a software association, software company, software consultancy, software project involved in the Libre software arena. Just sign it !!

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