Hell Oh Entropy!

Life, Code and everything in between

Going to FUDCon: Phnom Penh Edition

Posted: Oct 19, 2016, 04:49

A little over a year ago, FUDCon APAC happened in Pune. I know because I lost a lot of nights sleep over it. The event also marked a turning point in my life because it coincided with my decision to move on from Red Hat and accept an offer with Linaro, a decision that I can say now was among the best I have taken in my life despite the very difficult choice I had to make to leave arguably the best team one could ever work with. FUDCon also brought me in touch with many volunteers from across Asia and it was interesting to see the kinds of challenges they faced when talking about Fedora and Open Source in general. That was also when I got to know Nisa and Somvannda from Cambodia better, especially when I had the chance to go over to Phnom Penh for APAC budget discussions. They had wanted to do a FUDCon in Phnom Penh in 2015 and we simply put out a better bid then.

I was not as frustrated as I look in this picture. Photo by Kushal Das.

We started a new trend at last year’s FUDCon, where we held a discussion to decide and announce next year’s FUDCon date and location. We did not actually make an announcement to that effect, but we did have lots of discussions and in the end agreed to support Cambodia in its bid for 2016, especially with Sirko Kemter moving there and taking care of some of the logistics that we had concerns about.

So here we are a little over a year later and it looks like the Phnom Penh FUDCon is happening as planned, alongside Barcamp Phnom Penh. I was ambivalent about going, primarily because I was going to be away for a long time in September and I did not want to be without my family any longer - I love to travel, but there’s only so much time I can spend without my family. That problem is now solved since Nisha has been increasingly getting involved in Pyladies and python programming and wanted to be part of FUDCon as well. It’s going to be expensive, but hey, we deserve a vacation right?

Photo-op with the youngest participant at FUDCon. Photo by Kushal Das.

And an interesting vacation this promises to be with a planned visit to Siem Reap and then back to Phnom Penh to attend what is claimed to be the largest gathering in Phnom Penh. Nisha will be doing a talk on spatial mapping. I had done an impromptu workshop at FUDCon Pune in 2015, where an idle discussion on C programming turned into me showing a group of very interested students how a simple Hello World program gets translated into something that the machine understands and executes. I will attempt to make that into a more formal workshop at Phnom Penh.

So if you’re coming to FUDCon, I’ll see you there!

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FUDCon, where friends meet

Posted: Jun 30, 2015, 18:32

The madness is over. FUDCon Pune 2015 happened between 26-28 June 2015, and we successfully hosted a large number of people at MIT College of Engineering. This was not without challenges though and we met yesterday to understand what went well for us (i.e. the FUDCon volunteer team) and what could have been better. This post however is not just a summary of that discussion, since it is heavily coloured by my own impression of how we planned and executed the event.

The bid

Our bid was pretty easy to get together because we had a pretty strong organizer group at the outset and we more or less knew exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted to do a developer focussed conference that users could attend and hopefully become contributors to the Fedora project. The definition of developer is a bit liberal here, to mean any contributor who can pitch in to the Fedora project in any capacity. The only competing bid was from Phnom Penh and it wasn’t a serious competition by any stretch of imagination since its only opposition to our bid was “India has had many FUDCons before”. That combined with some serious problems with their bid (primarily cash management related) meant that Pune was the obvious choice. We had trouble getting an official verdict on the bid due to Christmas vacations in the West, but we finally had a positive verdict in January.

The CfP

The call for participants went out almost immediately after the bid verdict was announced. We gave about a month for people to submit their proposals and once we did that, a lot of us set out pinging individuals and organizations within the Open Source community. This worked because we got 142 proposals, much more than we had imagined.

We had set out with the idea of doing just 3 parallel tracks because some of us were of the opinion that more tracks would simply reduce what an individual could take away from the conference. This also meant that we had at most 40 slots with workshops taking up 2 slots instead of 1.

fudcon.in

The website took up most of my time and in hindsight, it was time that I could have put elsewhere. We struggled with Drupal as none of us knew how to wrangle it. I took the brave (foolhardy?) task of upgrading the Drupal instance and migrating all of the content, only to find out that the schedule view was terrible and incredibly non-intuitive. I don’t blame Drupal or COD for it though; I am pretty sure I missed something obvious. SaniSoft came to the rescue though and we were able to host our schedule at shdlr.com.

The content

After the amazing response in the CfP, we were tempted to increase the number of tracks since a lot of submissions looked very promising. However, we held on tight and went about making a short list. After a lot of discussions, we finally gave in to the idea of making a separate workshop track and after even more discussions, we separated out a Container track, a Distributed Storage track and an OpenStack track. So all of a sudden, we now had 5 tracks in a day instead of 3!

Sankarshan continually reminded me to reach out to speakers at the event to make sure that their talk fit in with our goals. I could not do that, mainly because we did not have the bandwidth but also because I realize that in hindsight, our goal wasn’t refined beyond the fact that we wanted a more technical event. The result was that we made a couple of poor choices, the most notable being the opening keynote of the conference. The talk about Delivering Fedora for everyone was an excellent submission, but all of us misunderstood the content of the talk. The talk was a lot more focussed than we had thought it would be and it ended up being the wrong beginning for the conference since it seemed to scare away a lot of students.

The content profile overall however was pretty strong and most individual talks had almost full rooms. The auditorium looked empty for a lot of talks, but that was because each row of the massive auditorium could house 26 people, so even a hundred people in the auditorium filled in only the first few rows. The kernel talks had full houses and the Container, OpenStack and Storage tracks were packed. It was heartening to see some talks where many in the audience followed the speaker out to discuss the topic further with them.

One clear failure on the content front was the Barcamp idea. We did a poor job of planning it and an even poorer job of executing it.

Travel, Accommodation and Commute

We did a great job on travel and accommodation planning and execution. Travel subsidy arrangements were well planned and announced and we had regular meetings to decide on them. Accommodation was negotiated and booked well in advance and we had little issues on that front except occasionally overloaded network at the hotel. We had excellent support for visa applications as well as making sure that speakers were picked up and dropped to the airport on time. The venue was far from the hotel, so we had buses to ferry everyone across. Although that was tiring, it was done with perfect precision and we had no unpleasant surprises in the end.

Materials, Goodies and SWAG

We had over 2 months from the close of CfP to conference day, and we wasted a lot of that time when we should have been ordering and readying swag. This is probably the biggest mistake we had made in planning and it bit us quite hard near the closing weeks. We had a vendor bailing on us near the end, leading to a scramble to Raviwar Peth to try and get people to make us stuff in just over a week. We were lucky to find such vendors, but we ended up making some compromises in quality. Not in t-shirts though, since that was an old reliable vendor that we had forgotten about during the original quote-collection. He worked night and day and delivered the t-shirts and socks despite the heavy Mumbai rains.

The design team was amazing with their quick responses to our requests and made sure we had the artwork we needed. They worked with some unreasonable deadlines and demands and came out on top on all of them. The best part was getting the opportunity to host all of them together on the final day of the conference and doing a Design track where they did sessions on Inkscape, Blender and GIMP.

We struggled with some basic things with the print vendor like sizes and colours, but we were able to fix most of those problems in time.

Venue

We settled on MIT College of Engineering as the venue after considering 2 other colleges. We did not want to do the event at COEP again since they hosted the event in 2011. They had done really well, but we wanted to give another college the opportunity to host the event. I had been to MIT weeks earlier as a speaker at their technical event call Teknothon and found their students to be pretty involved in Open Source and technology in general, so it seemed natural to refer them as potential hosts. MITCOE were very positive and were willing to become hosts. With a large auditorium and acceptably good facilities, we finalized MITCOE as our venue of choice.

One of the major issues with the venue though was the layout of the session rooms. We had an auditorium, classrooms on the second floor of another building and classrooms on the 4th floor of the same building. The biggest trouble was getting from the auditorium to that other building and back. The passages were confusing and a lot of people struggled to get from one section to the other. We had put up signs, but they clearly weren’t good enough and some people just gave up and sat wherever they were. I don’t know if people left out of frustration; I hope they didn’t.

The facilities were pretty basic, but the volunteers and staff did their best to work around that. WiFi did not work on the first two days, but the internet connection for streaming talks from the main tracks worked and there were a number of people following the conference remotely.

HasGeek pitched in with videography for the main tracks and they were amazing throughout the 3 days. There were some issues on the first day in the auditorium, but they were fixed and the remainder of the conference went pretty smoothly. We also had a couple of laptops to record (but not stream) talks in other tracks. We haven’t reviewed their quality yet, so the jury is still out on how useful they were.

Volunteers and Outreach

While our CfP outreach was active and got good results, our outreach in general left a lot to be desired. Our efforts to engage student volunteers and the college were more or less non-existent until the last days of the conference. We spoke to our volunteers the first time only a couple of days before the conference and as expected, many of the volunteers did not even know what to expect from us or the conference. This meant that there was barely any connect between us.

Likewise, our media efforts were very weak. Our presence in social media was not worth talking about and we only reached out to other colleges and organizations in the last weeks of the conference. Again, we did not invest any efforts in engaging organizations to try and form a community around us. We did have a twitter outreach campaign in the last weeks, but the content of the tweets actually ended up annoying more people than making a positive difference. We failed to engage speakers to talk about their content or share teasers to build interest for their sessions.

FUDPub

Best. FUDPub. Ever.

After looking at some conventional venues (i.e. typical dinner and drinks places) for dinner and FUDPub, we finally settled for the idea of having the social event at a bowling arcade. Our hosts were Blu’O at the Phoenix Market City mall. The venue had everything from bowling to pool tables, from karaoke rooms to a dance floor. It had everything for everyone and everyone seemed to enjoy it immensely. I know I did, despite my arm almost falling off the next day :)

Budget

We had an approval for up to $15,000 from the Fedora budget and we got support from a couple of other Red Hat departments for $5,000 each, giving us a total room of $25,000. The final picture on the budget consumption is still work in progress as we sort out all of the bills and make reimbursements in the coming weeks. I will write another blog post describing that in detail, and also how we managed and monitored the budget over the course of the execution.

Overall Impressions

We did a pretty decent event this time and it seemed like a lot of attendees enjoyed the content a lot. We could have done a lot better on the venue front, but the efforts from the staff and volunteers were commendable. Would I do this again? maybe not, but that has more to do with wanting to get back to programming again than with the event organization itself. Setting up such a major conference is a lot of work and things only get better with practice. Occasional organizers like yours truly cannot do justice to a conference of this size if they were to do it just once every five years. This probably calls for a dedicated team that does such events.

There were also questions of whether such large conferences were relevant anymore. Some stated their preference for micro-conferences that focussed on a specific subset of the technology landscape, but others argued that having 10 conferences for 10 different technologies was taxing for budgets since it is not uncommon for an individual to be interested in more than 1 technology. In any case, this will shape the future of FUDCon and maybe even Flock, since with such a concentration of focus, Flock could end up becoming a meetup where contributors talk only about governance issues and matters specific to the Fedora project and not the broader technology spectrum that makes Fedora products.

In the end though, FUDCon is where I made friends in 2011 and again, it was the same in 2015. The conference brought people from different projects together and I got to know a lot of very interesting people. But most of all, the friends I made within our volunteer team were the biggest takeaway from the event. We did everything together, we fought and we supported each other when it mattered. There may be things I would have done differently if I did this again, but I would not have asked for a different set of people to work with.

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The new fudcon.in: Why and How

Posted: May 18, 2015, 22:31

We had a major change earlier this week, with the new fudcon.in website going live. This was a major task I was involved in over the last couple of weeks, and also one of the major reasons why we did not have a lot of visible action on the website. Hopefully you’ll see more action in the coming weeks as we come closer to the big day with just over a month to go.

Why did we do it?

The old fudcon.in website was based on Drupal 6.x with the COD module. Technically, this is a supported version of Drupal, but that is a pointless detail because every security or bug fix update was painful. The primary reason, it seemed to us, was COD. The 6.x version seemed more or less dead. We still stuck to it however, since the 7.x upgrade was far more painful than doing these updates and hacking at settings to get things working again.

That was until we decided to add the Speaker bio field to our sessions.

The COD module is very versatile and can let you ask for arbitrary information about a session. However, when you add a field, you can capture data from users, but cannot actually show it. The problem seemed to be in the way COD stored its additional data - drupal seemed unable to query it when displaying the session node and hence would refuse to show all of the additional fields, like FAS username, Twitter handle and speaker bio. Praveen and I hacked at the settings for days and couldn’t get it to work. We went live with the missing speaker bio, which apparently nobody else seemed to notice.

However, when we put out the talk list, the absence of speaker bio was evident, so I decided to take a crack at fixing it in code. I gave up because I was quickly overwhelmed by the Drupal maze of dependencies - I have spent way too long away from the web app world - and decided that I may have an easier time upgrading all of Drupal and COD to 7.x than peering at the Drupal/COD code and then maintaining a patch for it. I also felt that the upgrade would serve us better in the longer run, when we have to use the website to host a future FUDCOn - upgrading from 7.x ought to be easier than upgrading from 6.x.

How we did it

I sat back one weekend to upgrade the Drupal instance. The instructions make it sound so easy - retain the sites directory and your modules and change the rest of the code, call the Drupal update.php script and wait for it to do the magic. It is that easy, if your website does not use anything more than the popular modules. With COD, it is basically impossible to go from 6.x to 7.x, especially if you have added custom fields like we did.

Data definitions for COD seemed to have changed completely between 6.x and 7.x, making it near impossible to write a sensible migration script, especially when the migrator (yours truly) has no idea what the schema is. So I went about it the neanderthal way - remove all content, retain all users and then upgrade to Drupal 7.x from COD 6.x. That thankfully worked like a charm. This was a useful first step because it meant that at least we did not have to ask users to sign up again or add hundreds of accounts manually.

Once our user schema was on 7.x, the next task was to get COD 7.x. This again worked out quite easily since COD did not complain at all. Why would it - there was no conference content to migrate! Creating a new event and basic pages for the event was pretty straightforward and in fact, nicer since the new COD puts conference content in its own namespace. This would mean shared links being broken, but I didn’twant to bother with trying to fix that because there were only a few links that were shared out there. If this is too big a problem, we could write a .htaccess rule to do a redirect.

Adding sessions back was a challenge. It took me a while to figure out all of the data that gets added for each session and in the end I gave up due to exhaustion. Since there were just about 140 session entries to make, Praveen and I split that work and entered them ourselves. Amita and Suprith then compared content with fudcon.in to verify that it is all the same and the finally Praveen pushed the button to upgrade.

Like everything else, this upgrade taught me a few things. Web apps in general don’t think a lot about backward compatibility, which is probably justified since keeping backward compatibility often results in future designs being constrained - not something a lot of developers are comfortable with. I also had to refresh a lot of my database foo - it’s been more than 6 years since the last time I wrote any serious SQL queries.

The biggest lesson I got though was the realization that I am no longer young enough to pull an all-nighter to do a job and then come back fresh the next day.

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Talk selection for FUDCon Pune 2015

Posted: Apr 14, 2015, 23:39

We received over 140 submissions for FUDCon Pune and Amit, Kushal, Neependra and I had our task cut out. We had room to select about 40 talks and some workshops given that we did not want to go over 3 main talk tracks for the conference - workshops would be treated separately since their requirements are usually completely different from the talks.

We decided to do this in multiple passes, reducing the number of talks till we had a list that we were satisfied with. We started by individually scoring all of the talks and then comparing notes. This gave us an indication of talks we had full agreement over and with that out of the way, we just had to fight it out over the remaining talks. We quickly found out that this was time consuming, but there seemed to be no other way, so we stuck to it and asked for our original self-imposed deadline to be pushed over from 3rd April to 15th April.

Docker, Docker Docker, Gluster, Gluster, Gluster...

One thing that stood out during our selection process was the sheer number of submissions for Container technologies (Atomic, Docker), Software defined storage (Gluster, Ceph) and OpenStack. We did not want to reject a lot of these talks but at the same time we did not want to turn a Fedora conference into a Cloud conference, so after discussing in the FUDCon planning meeting, we decided to have 3 separate tracks for these talks. Each track would run for a day, with an introductory talk in the main track followed by sessions and workshops in a separate dedicated track. On the last day, a representative from each track would give a 10 minute summary of what happened at their track.

This format obviously meant that these talks were not suitable for inclusion in the tracks as is - speakers would have to get together and work on the kind of talks they want to see at their track so that they tell a coherent story around that technology. We also identified leaders for each track to coordinate this effort, but the leaders do not decide what goes in their track. It is the job of the entire group to come to a consensus about their talks and what their track looks like. We have begun communicating this to the speakers now and are looking forward to their active participation.

And the speakers are...

This has been the slowest bit. The mass mailer module on the Drupal COD is not working for us for some reason and we’re now trying to figure out how to not do the busy work of sending individual emails and using a script to do this at least for accepted proposals. The rejections are a bit trickier because we haven’t declined a lot of talks outright. There are a lot of cases where we want to request speakers to run a BoF for their topics or merge their workshop with another workshop proposal if possible, to provide more complete coverage on the topic. Even for those that we have declined outright, we would like to make sure that they still come since we would like to hear from them at the barcamp or at the lightning talks. We would like to try as much as we can to get space for everybody to share their experience and knowledge at FUDCon.

All of this means that we have to send out a lot of personal emails and that is taking time. We would like to hold off publishing the list until we have sent out these emails, so we hope to come up with a finished list by the end of the week, or latest by the next meeting.

Travel and Stay

As we have mentioned before, if you are an active Fedora contributor or a speaker and want to come to FUDCon but don’t have the resources to travel or the means to stay in the city for the duration of the conference, then let us know. We have a limited budget to support travel and stay, which we can use to help some of you. Being selected as a speaker does not necessarily entitle you to travel and stay, you need to make this request regardless of the result if you need assistance. The deadline for submitting these requests is 30th April, but we’re processing them every week, so don’t wait till the last day to make your request.

Every week brings FUDCon Pune closer and we’re very excited about sharing ideas with some very interesting people. See you all at FUDCon!

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FUDCon Pune Planning meeting minutes: 2015-04-07

Posted: Apr 07, 2015, 04:33

The FUDCon volunteer team met again today after a week to discuss progress. Todays meeting had sparse attendance and we mostly just skimmed over the main points. The main highlight was the acceptance of a number of travel sponsorship tickets. If you intend to come to FUDCon Pune and need travel assistance, please file a ticket for sponsorship. We’re accepting requests till 30th April 2015.

The other highlight was that the talk selection process wasn’t going as fast as we had thought. We will need another week before we can come up with a list of selected talks. The deadline for it is now revised to 14th April.

We also had some movement on the SWAG front, with a couple of volunteers (including yours truly) to get quotes for various swag items. The full minutes follow; most points are a repeat of last week to maintain a current state of each of the main points.


7 April 2015

Agenda + Minutes
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FUDCon Pune Planning: CfP closing edition

Posted: Mar 10, 2015, 08:40

It has been a month since we opened the CfP for FUDCon Pune and it was time to close the CfP. We had a great response to our call for speakers with over 140 talk submissions from around the world. The final list will be much shorter, but I would like to thank everyone for expressing their interest in the event. FUDCon however is much more than just the talks and speakers; it is about contributors and users of Fedora and Open Source getting together, meeting face to face and sharing ideas. To that effect, we have some more interesting announcements to make in the coming weeks. If you’ve been following the FUDCon planning meetings (they’re all open, so you can even dial in if you’re interested and awake), most announcements won’t be surprises, but I’d like to pretend that they are anyway ;)

We had a pretty good meeting a few hours ago and we officially closed the CfP link and removed it from the fudcon.in website. This meant that a few talks snuck in after the 9th March deadline (which is sufficiently vague - which timezone?!) but we’re letting that pass. Amit, Kushal, Neependra and I will be going through the talks list in the coming weeks to make a shortlist and will try to inform selected speakers as early as we can so that they can make their plans. Likewise, some of us will be looking at sponsorship tickets in about 2 weeks time. More on that in the coming meetings.

The full meeting minutes are pasted below for record. We edit the same set of points, so some of the points are repeated, but they’re there to complete the picture of the state we’re in.


Last meeting : http://piratepad.net/fudcon-pune-planning-20150203

10 Mar 2015

Agenda + Minutes
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FUDCon APAC 2015: Call for Papers, Progress and more

Posted: Feb 20, 2015, 09:28

I am late by a couple of weeks, but here it goes anyway: The Call for Papers for the Fedora Users and Developers Conference has been out since 9th February. The event will be from 26th June 2015 to 28th June 2015 and will be held in Pune, India at the MIT College of Engineering. If you’re doing anything interesting with Fedora, CentOS or Open Source in general and want to talk about it, then go ahead and register for the event and propose a session. The last day for submissions is 9th March 2015.

In related news, preparations for FUDCon have been going on in full swing. Praveen Kumar and I got the fudcon.in website up after archiving the 2011 content and got everything in place for the CfP with help from Pravin, Niranjan, Amit and Huzaifa. Rupali has been negotiating with hotels for accommodation and the FUDPub - we have a great deal for accommodation at a 3 star hotel for INR 3000 + taxes for a twin sharing room and we’re getting promising rates for the FUDPub too. Suchakra and Prima Yogi have been churning out drafts for the new FUDCon Pune logo. Shatadru is working on flyer designs for the CfP. Amita has been writing Fedora magazine articles and Chandan has been posting regular updates on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

We have meetings every Tuesday at 4PM IST and details are on the fedora-india mailing list. We also try to transcribe the meeting on #fedora-india on freenode and have an active etherpad for the meetings. Feel free to join in and ask questions or make suggestions!

Oh and one more thing, we’re having a Fedora 21 release party tomorrow at MIT College of Engineering at 10 AM. I was supposed to write a separate post for this but I guess it’s too late for that now. I’ll be more punctual with my posts in future, I promise!

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FUDCon will be in Pune this June!

Posted: Jan 24, 2015, 08:16

We had to wait 4 years for this, but it is finally happening again. The 2015 APAC chapter of FUDCon will be in Pune this year and it will be from 26-28 June.

After a great event at COEP in 2011, this year our hosts will be MIT College of Engineering. MITCOE has offered us great infrastructure, which paired with their enthusiastic staff and eager students makes for a great place to have this years FUDCon. As in 2011, we will try our best to keep all our decisions and arrangements transparent. Amit has mentioned a list of channels we intend to use for our communication, so hop on if you have suggestions or even just want to lurk to find out how things are going.

And finally, if you’re interested in speaking at the event, make sure you plan your travel accordingly. The official CfP will be out real soon.

See y’all in Pune!

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