National Conference on Free Software 2008 :: Day 1

The YMCA camp building is just a stone throw away from the Cochin backwaters, I spent some time looking the slow churning waters and the sun rise above green coconut groves beyond it. Time it seems has a different pace over here, it is a far cry from the bustling city life.

Kerala Backwater, India

My reverie was broken with the arrival of the delegates from Karnataka and I was glad to few familiar faces from my adopted city Bangalore. Its been almost two years since I attended any of the free software events, I least expected the National Conference on Free software here in Cochin, kerala would see such a large gathering from from all over India.

If there is something experience thought me, it is best to beat the crowds to the common bathrooms first thing in the morning. The organisers of the event certainly messed up the event, this is evident to me standing outside the YMCA camp until 9:00 waiting for the transit bus to arrive, I had already downed couple of tea's while I waited. We were expected to reach the CUSAT campus for the morning breakfast and registration. Even after the bus arrived, things didn't improve, there wasn't any sign of volunteers, I went around asking people to get into the bus so that we can make it to the event and have some chow.

The bus dropped us off near the building where the breakfast was arranged, the sight of idly, vada and puri renewed my hunger pangs. Its 9:35 AM and I am so hungry, but the catering staff is asking me for the food coupons, Darn!, a good samaritan in form of event volunteer came to our rescue in time and explained that we haven't registered yet and requested the catering team to let us have our breakfast first.

Registration for the event was no different, it was packed with people. Thank god there were counters for different states. And by the time I reached the registration counter with a filled form, the cost of the event increased. I had to shell out Rs.300 for registration, food and accommodation. Its not that its a huge amount but perhaps the organisers could have clearly stated so on their website and subsequent correspondence when we registered online. Most of the fellow delegates just payed the registration fee and choice to eat at the canteen anyway.

Registration Counter, CUSAT campus

The registrations were stopped midway so that people can attended the inaugural ceremony at the CUSAT Open Air Auditorium. The events keynote address was delivered by the octogenarian Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer over a video link. I won't be surprised if the video link was setup with proprietary software solution. The Minister for Education and culture M.A. Baby , Government of kerala and the Vice Chancellor of the Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) addressed the gathering. There were the usual gaffs about free software and apologies for having to leave early to catch a flight and rants about the political injustices, but not in that order :p .

The most exciting part of any free software conference for me is on the sidelines, I had a wonderful time meeting old friends and make new friends and associating faces to their cyberspace avatars. We headed to the Indian Coffee house for quick lunch, Anivar treated us to nice lunch of vegetable rice and I quickly downed it with a dash of lemonade. I choose to attend the 'Swathanthra Software Philosophy and its Relevance' in the free software stream at the SMS Auditorium, CUSAT. The first lecture was delivered by Dr.Nagarjuna Chairman of Free Software Foundation of India (FSFI). The talk titled 'On right to decode and encode and copyleft politics' is perhaps the best one yet in this event. I think the talk begs its own separate post so I choose not to write much about it here.

Nagaruna talks on free software

The second talk of the session was given by Sasi P.M of CDAC, he briefly talked about the history and some key points of the free software. Perhaps the slides were prepared for some other event since it was generously peppered with 'open source' phrases all over it.

Sasi CDAC Talk

Later Dr.Nagarjuna and I traveled to the STIC Auditorium for his 'Gnowledge' talk, the schedule of the conference is so baldly prepared that it was totally chaos. Reaching the STIC building we saw that there were anybody there to attend the talk. Sameer who guided us to the STIC building saved the day by going back and sending few students over to attend the talk while we grappled with issue of getting an Internet connection using our wireless Datacards. The Gnowledge talk was more informal with Dr.Nagarjuna engaging the students at the end of main talk with a conversation about his work at the Gnowledge knowledge labs, the SELF project, OLPC XO children's machine and the Open Moko Free Runner.

We barely had time to make it the exhibition area, most of the stall had already cleared when we reached there. I spent the next few hours talking to new breed of free software advocates who took over the reins of the free software activities in Bangalore. Meanwhile I missed the Plenary session in the due course.

The first day of the conference ended with the cultural program. Watching the graceful performances I wished I could stay back but my day isn't over till I blog about it :)

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