Techfest 2008: Bombay, India

Bombay, India. While the official name of the city is now "Mumbai", the name "Bombay" is still used by a lot of the inhabitants, and its use draws images of one of the world's largest cities, a gateway to the sub-continent. Therefore an invitation to speak at Techfest 2008 (http://www.techfest.org/), a large student-organized technical showcase, was impossible to turn down.

Techfest is a yearly three-day event that encompasses "everything technical". While computer hardware and software had their place, the fest also included demonstrations and competitions centered around alternative energies, clean water production, recycling and included civil and mechanical engineering challenges. They even discussed cost-effective medical remedies.

The Techfest was hosted by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, one of India's centers of academic excellence. I spoke with students from all over India who attend this Institute. The Fest, however, was open to all, and the normal population of the school grew ten-fold as students from other schools and residents of the region attend to see what is new in the world of technology.

There was a mixture of International speakers, speakers from India, and speakers such as Dr. Rober Kahn, co-inventor of the TCP/IP protocol, who participated by video conferencing and Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia fame. In addition there were many exhibitions, not only of what the students and faculty of IIT were doing, but industry participated, showing the students the value of applying their course teachings.

I was invited into a panel discussion of Free and Open Source Software (naturally) that included two veteran FOSS Evangelists from India, Venkatesh Hariharah (head of Open Source Affairs at Red Hat) and Atul Chitnis (best known for his wide range of technology knowledge in general, and his fierce support of Free and Open Source Software). Our panel session was heavily attended, with the room filled to overflowing. The moderator was Abhimanyu Radhakrishnan ("Just call me Abhi"), the Editor-at-large for CNN/IBN and it was video-taped for a segment on television. The panel was kept snappy, answering questions from Mr. Radhakrishnan, and after the taping was over we took questions from the audience, most of whom used FOSS. It was here that I heard the question that I heard over and over again from the participants of Techfest, "How do you make money with FOSS?", and I learned to patiently answer this as I was asked it the next several dozen times.

After the panel I was taken back to my comfortable room at the Institute guesthouse where I battled to get through their firewall and out onto the Internet. It turns out that the policy of the Insitute is to allow only web-based email, and my normal method of using email was not really compatible with their policies. To be fair, it would probably not be compatible with many universities' policies, but it is the way I liked handling email and it would be nice to have found a demilitarized zone, perhaps password protected and bandwidth throttled at the guesthouse that I could have connected with. Nevertheless, with a little experimentation I managed to use a combination of ssh and other tunneling techniques to get past their firewall to my mail server. Thank you, OpenSSH developers!

Even with the panel going overtime for an additional hour we still did not cover all of the questions on FOSS, as I discovered after I removed my tie and dress shirt and returned to the campus proper with my Tux Penguin T-shirt to wander around looking at other exhibits. I had not traveled far before two students stopped me to ask me some questions. As I started answering those questions other students joined, some of whom could not get into the hall for the panel discussion because it was full. I kept answering questions, and the crowd kept growing. Before long there were probably about 50 people standing there listening to the questions and answers. I talked for about an hour, and at that point the questions started to trail off, so I excused myself to go back to the guest house. Unfortunately that triggered a round of "May I have a picture with you", and "May I have your autograph." After another half hour of pictures and autographs I was released to continue looking at Techfest.

The next day was "BarCamp". For those of you not familiar with "BarCamp", it bills itself as the "un-conference". People show up, determine what the topics of conversation will be, and people make presentations and lead discussions. Unfortunately some of my "official duties" (such as awarding some prizes to the competition winners and doing an interview on the OpenMoko phone) kept me from seeing all of the talks, but I did see an interesting talk on Mobile FOSS technology by Atul Chitnes (one of my fellow panelists) and an interesting talk on the topic of using robots for creating immortality by a 13 year old. I gave a talk on using FOSS in Education that was well received.

Each night found some type of entertainment, usually centered around pyrotechnics of some type, and after three days Techfest 2008 came to a triumphant end. I return to the United States tomorrow for a brief period of time before heading down to Jacksonville, Florida for the one-day "Florida Linux Show" on February 11th.

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techfest 2008. Panel

Anonymous's picture

techfest 2008. Panel discussion on Open Source.

the videos of maddog are here :

http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=rattle9&view=videos
www.sunnydoiphode.blogspot.com

I was hoping to see and meet

Mike Roberts's picture

I was hoping to see and meet you in Jacksonville. Alas, I'll be in Indiana visiting family. I almost got to see you in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area in 1999 when I first started dabbling with Linux. Instead I ended up buying your "Linux for Dummies" book and moving back to Florida the day you were presenting. Your "Linux for Dummies" book did more to get me going with Linux than anything and I am truly grateful.

Knowledge of Linux and other FOSS has certainly done quite a bit to increase not only my income but also my flexibility in careers. It even helped me get picked to be on the Linux Journal Reader Advisory Panel. Among other things that means I get to see my name on the masthead with yours which is pretty cool in my book. Maybe it isn't so much the knowledge of FOSS but the spirit of FOSS that has enhanced my career.

I hope you enjoy your trip to Jacksonville. I know there will be one less person in line wanting to meet you there and hoping for a photo op. :-) But if I ever hear you are in the Tampa Bay area, I'll be looking for you!

Mike Roberts is a bewildered Linux Journal Reader Advisory Panelist.

Thanks

maddog Hall's picture

Mike,

Thanks for the comments, and I too am sorry that we will not see each other at the Florida Linux Show in Jacksonville. Maybe next year. :-)

I enjoyed writing the "Linux For Dummies" book, as I wanted to show that even "Dummies" could use Linux. Of course the "Dummies" in the title was always a point of contention....if you were a Dummy you would never have picked up the book, and still be using only closed-source software.

Warmest regards,

maddog

Glad for Questions

Mary Riley's picture

I'm glad so many students had questions for you. This just shows how much interest there is in open source in general and Linux in particular.

Having established itself as

Kraig's picture

Having established itself as Asia's largest international science and technology festival in the last few years, TechFest is a confluence of students, academia, and the industry. With an expected footfall of over 30,000 students, Techfest 2008 promises to be bigger and better.
Best regards, Kraig
CEO of Font River

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