Kohomba Kankariya

After a long silence in the blogosphere, I am back again... :-) I happened to be in Kandy on the 23rd to attend the annual alms giving in rememberence of my grandma. My eye met, somewhat accidently, a notice about a `Kohomba Kankariya' is to be performed at the University that very evening. It was a long time since me seeing one for the last time, so I jumped at the opportunity. We arrived at the uni in time. It was great to see some of the well known faces in the group of performers. During the introduction it was clearly mentioned that this is not a performance to cure someone, which is a Kankariya is officially meant to be, but rather a cultural exhibition, so that the timings of some events were to be `edited'. The dances were longer, and unusually better. There were many `competitive' encounters where dancers used to recite drum-verses, simple to complicated, and drummers played them flawlessly, and dancers danced to them. It is very interesting to see this works so well, considering that there is no rehersal, and some of the performers, who come from different schools and backgrounds, have not even met each other before.



University of Peradeniya

During the vacation, I visited the University of Peradeniya. Unlike other visits for `official' purposes, this was a purposeless visit, just to meep people and see around. I spend the morning at the Faculty of Engineering and met a lot of old friends and lectures. Also spent a short while at the `server room' where LK-LUG server lives, and fixed a small problem with the network card driver after a recent upgrade. In the afternoon, I visited the newly built IT Center. Chinthaka Kumarasiri of LK-LUG was there, and I met Thusitha, a very old schoolmate of mine, who also happened to be Chinthaka's roommate. I spent the afternoon `sight-seeing' and on photography. Some of the `selected' photographs can be found here.



Taking a Break

After the FOSS week and 1001 other things, finally I decided to use some of my leave. However, I decided to deviate from the usual practice of using leave for non-work related activities and trips, and just spend some time doing one of the most relaxing things in the world: nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, but to sit by the flowing waters and watch swimming fish, or listen to birds sing, looking for changing patterns of clouds, or a pleasent mixure of them all; no deadlines, no commitments, no responsibilities. I choose week days to travel so to avoid traffic. I went home (Kotmale) on Tuesday the 4th through Avissawella. The road was very scenic and it was a treat to drive by misty mountains and flowing rivers. I decided to go through Nawalapitiya (instead of Hatton), but the road between Ginigathhena and Nawalapitiya is being reconstructed and will have to be avoided for the next few months. The holiday was nice and calm, and I didn't make any major trips except to the University of Peradeniya on the 8th. Apart from sleeping late and just hanging around the garden, I also found a bit of time for some photography. My mother helped me with selecting scenic angles. She also happily `forced' me to go to a car wash to clean the otherwise ignored exterior of the Jimny... ;-) The number of cats had grown to three this time, with the new addition of two kittens. However my mother doesn't like petting them too much, although she is very keen to feed them and advocates their `freedom'. So me and my brother had to do a bit of `training' for them to stay in human hands and one such training sessions ended up with a bleeding finger. I returned on Monday the 10th and it was also a pleasent journey which took only a few hours.



Mini Code Fest

Following the Asia OSSS Code Fest, we had a miniature version of it on Saturday, partly for everyone to get the hang of it, and partly to close out urgent pending items on Taprobane. UCSC kindly provided logistics, in addition to a lot of encouragement. There was a quite a number of known faces including Anuradha Weeraman, Bud (his blog entry on the event is here), Chamindra, Chamath, Deep, Kosala, Mahangu and Tharindu of UCSC. Many others joined from the UCSC (don't rememebr all the names, may be next time), including Gowri who maintains the network. We managed to get the infrastructure setup within a couple of hours, including an apt-proxy. Unfortunately, we couldn't figure out a neat way to go out of the network and connect to IRC or SSH, and this forced us to use a local ircd instead. Anuradha Weeraman was working on the installer, Mahangu on the Taprobane documentation project, and Bud and myself worked on closing bug reports for a quick 0.4.2 and close out this branch. Lot of interesting work was going on all over including installing, testing, remastering and so on. There was a wired set of IBM machines with some strange CDROM drives, and booting Taprobane on them was impossible. However, Tarindu managed to install Taprobane on one of them over the network by manually copying files and running grub. Dr Ruwan, director of UCSC, visited us in the afternoon. Being a hacker himself, he has been a big supporter of FOSS activities in Sri Lanka. We are planning on the next codefest on the 15th. If anyone is interested, contact me or ask on the Taprobane list.



Virtusa Motor Rally

Annual Motor Rally organized by the Virtusa Club was held on Saturday the 24th. The 50+ km route was was in the Colombo city and suburbs, starting from Virtusa's Trans Asia (TA) facility and ending at Keith's place near Bolgoda lake. We named our team the `Tux Racer', and had Anuradha W, Dihan and Nipuna of the KM team. 32 teams were lined up for the Rally. All the other teams were to be driven in cars, and my Suzuki Jimny turned out to be the only SUV. This was a mixed blessing, as we had to travel through bumpy terrains where it could do better, as well as good roads with sharp corners where cars are superior. External participants were also allowed as long as the majority of a team remained to be Virtusans. The `clue list' was long, but not very difficult. Teams also had to find answers to questions such as the number of red lines in a railway gate and times of watches shown on advertisements. Some activities were difficult; for example, we had to buy something prized between 18-20 Rs and two 500 ml bottles of soft drink from a named super market, and later when we reached a checkpoint, one member had to drink the whole one liter of drinks in a given time, all by him(her)self. This drinking part was not mentioned in the instructions and came totally unexpected! The event was fun, and apparently the pedestrians also were aware that something is going on as we were asking for certain landmarks. The course went through the Fort area, Slave Island, Borella, Parliament area, Athurugiriya, Homagama and ended up in Bolgoda. I was driving fast till the end expecting to finish in style. However, the very last bit was wetter than expected with grass and gravel, and breaking resulted in a 10-15 meter skid, and the Jimny stopped just less than an inch away from a big lorry parked right in front of us. It was a big lesson in estimation for me, luckily non-destructive, but unfortunately `Anuradha's entrance' also happened to be a discussion topic of the afternoon. Keith's place was located in a very scenic location by the lake. One part of the garden sloped towards the lake. After a pleasant lunch, the winners were announced. We turned out to be the 4th overall, and our team, along with many other teams, had been severely penalized for speeding between certain checkpoints. Being an event on the public roads, we were strictly supposed to maintain speed limits and adhere to all the other traffic laws. The organizers are expected to revalidate the calculations in due time. I once read an article about the `Paris-Dakar Syndrome', the participants looking forward to the next one at the end of each Rally. It turns out to be universal, not just limited to big rallies such as Paris-Dakar, for most teams were making plans for the next one. But more than everything it was such a fun filled event.



We Need Mirrors

"Mirror mirror on the Web, who is the fastest of them all?" We are badly in need of HTTP/FTP mirrors, just like the Ancient Mariner who desperately wanted water: `Water, water every where, not a drop to drink!'. Our Swiss mirror is being throttled after Taprobane appeared on Distrowatch. There are many well wishers who are kindly offering gigabytes of bandwidth left in their sites to host Taprobane. Unfortunately, considering the terabyte of downloads from the Swiss mirror yesterday, we need more heavyweight hosting for the ISOs. We are trying some potential options, and any offers would be greately appriciated.



Taprobane on Distrowatch

Distrowatch has added Taprobane to it's long list of GNU/Linux distributions. The waiting list is long and there is a 90 day waiting period to make sure that only sustainable projects get added, but apparently we have made it early. Wow! It's interesting to see that someone has taken the trouble to study what's in our first public release (0.4.1), and put that all information into a release page. I wish to express our sincere thanks to the folks at distrowatch and its contributors for their efforts. Also, the Taprobane team and everyone at LK-LUG should be commended for the hard work and support in contributing, distributing and advocating our own GNU/Linux distribution.



There and Back Again

After the FOSS Fair events on Sunday, me, Suchetha and Sanjaya went to meet Rasmus and Sam Ruby, returning from their trip to Habarana, Minneriya and Sigiriya. David Axmark's flight was somewhat early in the evening, and the plan was for him to directly return to the Airpot. We met Sanjeewa Wijerathne and Rasmus at the Airport Garden hotel. The discussion over the dinner was quite amusing. There were some interesting comments about Slackware from Rasmus, which Suchetha didn't like of course, such as `Slackware is dying', `I have five years ahead of you for not using Slackware' (during a discussion about each one's age), and `like slackware?' in reply to a comment about a dying nation... ;-) It was very unfair for all of us at the table to bash a singled out Slacker, but I am sure everyone, including Suchetha, enjoyed the whole affair, and there wasn't anything personal. The matter came to a climax when Sam Ruby, who joined us after the dinner, commented in a mild serious tone `What's Slackware, we don't hear about it' and added that he used to hear many good things about Slackware years ago, but that has ceased lately. We bid farewell to Sam and Rasmus, and drove straight to Suchetha's place. It was a very scenic setting by the Bolagoda lake. After weeks of hard work, we crashed and slept tight, and woke up quite refreshed. After enjoying a fabulous breakfast prepared for us by Suchetha's mother, we made a relatively early start towards Kandy. The journey was pleasant and the drive was nicer with less traffic. Sanjaya was fast asleep at the back, while Suchetha and myself had a conversation which wondered all over the place. At once point, we started singing. In fact, we managed to sing `Mage Raththaran Helena' to completion, and a variant followed. Later we started a bit of `Panamure' as a part of an elephant discussion, but neither of us was successful at coming up with any more song suggestions. We met Greg Stein and Bruce Momjian at Kandy, had lunch at Senani, which was high up at Rajapihilla Mawatha with a great view of the city. Greg and Suchetha had a lot in common to talk about, and the discussion over lunch was a lot of education for the rest of us... :-) In the evening, we went to see a cultural dancing show at `Avanhala'. It was nicely done as a pleasant mixture of all three variants of Sri Lankan dance and music. At the end was a fire walking session. After the show, Sanjaya insisted that he wanted to try out fire walking himself, as he had done it few times before. But as the fire they had setup there was much hotter than a typical session, he took our advice not to go ahead. However, we made friends with the organizors, who turned out to be somewhat neighbours during our long stay in Kandy years ago, and one of them gave us the news of a funeral of a close aquaintance of ours in Ampitiya that took place on the very same day. Then we visited Dalada Maligawa in good time for 'Tewawa', the ritual of offering sounds. Among many things and people we showed Greg and Bruce was the old gentleman who was playing `Horanewa' for decades as his `Rajakariya' (King's duty). When the LTTE bombed the Maligava (which me and Sanjaya witnessed few minutes afterwards as we were in Kandy at that time) he was known to be performing the morning ritual. He has been thrown yards away by the bomb, but it is said that he picked up the horn (Horanewa) and completed the Thewawa in the midst of everything. The King's dury is generally taken very seriously. Greg and Bruce got a chance to peek inside the inner chamber as it was the time for the evening offering. We also went to the library of ancient books at Paththirippuwa and I showed Greg the place the King used to judge his subjects. Suchetha accompanied Greg and Bruce back, while I went to the funeral house with Sanjaya. It was nice to see some old places there, despite the sadness of the occation. After dropping Sanjaya at IFS, I joined Suchetha and Greg in the midst of a merry discussion. Our topics were very diverse, but we rarely got to anything technical. Next morning, Suchetha and myself joined Bruce for breakfast and afterwards Bruce went on to do some shopping. We followed with Greg later, and in the city I got a parking ticket, and one of my tires was loosing pressure. So I drove Greg and Suchetha to join Bruce at the place where he was shopping and returned to Kandy, paid the fine, got my driving license back and pressurized the tyres. After a couple of hours drive, I joined the others at Pinnawala elephant orphanage for lunch. The elephants were out for bathing, and we had a good view of all the hapennings from the table. It was interesting to watch one elephant that was chained to a rock in the river (probably due to violence induced in elephants in mating seasons) `learned' how to remove the chain from the connection and set itself free. However, this didn't create any dangerous sitation. A farewell dinner was sponsored by OpenWorld at the `Vadiya' seafood restaurant of the Mount Lavinia Hotel. After some tedious driving towards oncoming traffic with lots of lights, we joined Sanjiva and Shahani (Mrs Sanjiva), Deepthi and two others from OpenWorld. One thing I hated was the killing and cooking of sea animals right there, which I had seen only once before at a Chinese restaurant at San Fransisco. After the dinner, we bid farewell to Bruce and Greg. We also briefly met Himira, my group mate at the University and great contributor to the LK-LUG behind the scenes. I came back to my lodgings around the midnight, completely exhausted by weeks of work followed by a nice trip, and of course looking forward to work the next day.



The FOSS Fair

To complement the FOSS Week events that happened as seminars and conferences where participation was by registration or invitation, we also organized a `FOSS Fair'. The name, and also that of FOSSchool, was coined by Suchetha. There were public demos at Crescat and Majestic City shopping complexes, and an install-fest and seminars at BMICH on the 10th and 11th. The dates were selected to coinside with the Software Freedom Day. Martin, Danese and Micheal were to leave soon, and other speakers went on a trip to Habarana and Sigiriya over the weekend. There was a dinner for all the sponsors and speakers at the Havlock Lodge, to which I dropped in for a couple of minutes to say goodbye to Martin, David (who was to leave on Sunday evening after the trip) and Danese, and drove straight to Narada Center to join others on the BMICH events. The install fest happened at the `Restaurant Longue' of the BMICH, which was behind the committee rooms. There were booths from some sponsors such as RedHat, Neat, Suntel, IBM and Intel. After helping transport some of the machines to the install fest, me and my brother went directly to the Committee Room C reserved us for the seminars. As the Colombo International Book Fair was happenning at the main BMICH, we managed to get a fair crowd. After a while, Bud also joined to `load-balance' the seminars. During Saturday night, we got hold of some the banners used at the other FOSS Fair events, printed some direction signs, and started very early on Sunday. We maneged to put up banners all over the place, and direction signs for people to easily find the seminars and install fest. The turnover was much better. Dr Nandalal also did a few presentations at the seminars. After winding up the events, I started the long drive with Suchetha and Sanjaya to join the FOSSSL speakers. The details of that trip will come as a seperate post.



Arthur C Clarke

I was about to enter the FOSSSL Conference on Friday to listen to Bruce's presentation, when Sanjiva stopped me asking if I can take David and Sam to see Arthur C Clarke (`Dr Clarke', as we normally call him here in Sri Lanka). I had seen him many times, but had never `met', so I jumped at this and said `yes!'. Four of us, David, Sam, my brother Sanjaya and myself, managed to pack ourselves into my little Jimny, and headed towards Dr Clarke's residence. It wasn't difficult to find the place, and apparently we were expected. The office was in the 1st floor (if one start counting from 0, or `ground floor'), and there was an interesting 'road sign' in the middle of the staircase which had an arrow pointing upwords: `Mars, 30,000,000 miles'. Prof Sam and Danese had already arrived. Dr Clarke was very cheerful in his ways, although he was affected by post-polio syndrome. He looked at the `GNU/Linux' sign on my T shirt while shaking hands, and commented `so you are one of the Linux guys' (or something to that effect). He also came up with a funny joke popular in the FOSS circles. We spent about an hour with Dr Clarke and the discussion was diverse. David took pictures of almost everything in the room. When Danese asked Dr Clarke if he believes in god, he was quick to reply `No, but I hope she believes in me'. We all got copies of a reprint of Dr Clarke's famous 1945 article on Wireless World which led to the invention of satellite communication. He asked us to bring along the copies to his table to be autographed, and while doing that, he said in a perfect street-salesman tone `ten rupees, ten rupees!'. At the age of (around) 85, he is still active and cheerful, and is looking forward to dive again.


FOSSSL Conference

The FOSSSL Conference was a major event of the National FOSS Week. It was Sanjiva's idea to get two key persons for each letter of LAMP. We wanted to consider the broader meaning of each word, so L stood for the whole GNU/Linux platform, M for the database component, not just MySQL, etc. Martin Michlmayr, former DPL, and Micheal Tiemann, creator of G++ represented `L', the OS component. `A' was represented by Greg Stein, president of ASF, and Sanjiva, who is also a member of the ASF and OSI boards, and leading the Apache WS project. Database component was obviously MySQL and PostgreSQL. Bruce Momjian of PostgreSQL and David Axmark, co-founder of MySQL represented the letter `M'. As letter `P' has many sub-components, not just Perl, PHP and Python, but also upcoming Ruby on Rails. Rasmus Lerdorf, creator of PHP, and Sam Ruby, contributor to numerous projects including Perl 6, together represented `P' it at FOSSSL 2005. Danese Cooper also was a speaker at the CxO conference and was present for the panel discussion at the end of the conference. The main conference was held on the 8th and 9th. Each day, there were four 1 hour keynotes, each followed by another 30 minute speech. I had a slot on the first day to talk about Taprobane GNU/Linux, just after Martin's Debian keynote. Bud, Pradeeper and Chamindra also spoke. There was a dinner for the speakers on Thursday at `Akasa Kade', on the top (11th) floor of the same building where `Raja Bojun' is. The view of the sea from the top was fantastic. The sea side of that floor was kind of calm and quiet, and watching the great waves, looking small but numerous from afar, to meet the shore was a soothing site under the dim moon. At the dinner, Michael Tiemann explained, in reply to my question if he did any coding lately, about his pet project to calculate the lences he need to carry around by analyzing his past photographic records, and another to visualize some of his reports at RedHat. In addition to the main conference there were 4 hour tutorials by keynote speakers to cover technical stuff in detail. Two of them were on the 7th, and the others on Saturday the 10th.



The Codefest

The AsiaOSS codefest was hosted by Virtusa at its Trans Asia advanced technology center. Most participants were from Japan and Sri Lanka. We had Niibe, Kazuki Ohta, Masayuki Hatta from Japan (among others), and Bud, Anuradha Weeraman, Pradeeper and members of the Sahana team from Sri Lanka. I started working on Kudzu optimizations (which is yet to be blogged somewhere else), while Anuradha W started writing the installer for Taprobane using gtk2-perl. I did a short presentation about Taprobane. We also tried timing Taprobane bootup with Knoppix. Taprobane took nearly 2 minutes, while Knoppix took 3. But the win is not exactly 1 minute, because we didn't have pcmcia and scim starting. Me and Anuradha W finished the coding at around 5 a.m. and went home. The next day (7th), we were a bit late, and it delayed the starting of the `key signing party'. It was a nice experience. Martin Michlmayr also joined the party. The official innaguaration of the week was at Trans Asia, but didn't have time to join. Another very important outcome of the codefest is the SCIM Sinhala input module by Kazuki. He converted my GTK im module to SCIM and Niibe uploaded it to Debian. Me and Bud left the codefest in the afternoot for few hours to attend Martin's FOSSSL tutorial on `Contributing to Debian'. Rasmus Lerdorf did a parallel tutorial on PHP (obviously). In the evening, most of us joined the AsiaOSS dinner at Ceylon Continental. We met Bruce Momjian, Greg Stein, Sam Ruby, Rasmus Lerdorf and Danese Cooper outside the hotel. I also had a brief chat with Manju, CEO of ICTA, who had used Taprobane for his presentation despite it's still tagged `beta'. Overall, the codefest was very successful. We did get a lot of interruptions on organizing stuff, but neverthless managed to some good coding. We are looking forward to the next one and also to host a few local codefests. Devaka Randeniya and Tyrell Perera of Virtusa R&D did most of organizing behind the scene. Suntel provided Wifi and wired Internet connectivity, and Virtusa MIS helped with other IT logistics.



Grand Start for the FOSS Week

National FOSS Week made a great start on Monday (5th) with the FOSSchool event organized by LK-LUG / UCSC. The event was at the UCSC auditorium which could host about 250 people. It was a pleasent surprise to see delegates from CICC and several hackers from Japan, including Niibe, at the opening ceremony. The morning event was for schools. The auditorium was full, and we had to put extra chairs to host everyone. Each participant got an Ubuntu pack and a Taprobane CD. Prof Sam and Dr Ruwan of UCSC introduced the week and the event to the participants. LUG presentations included various aspects of FOSS including desktop, development and education. Evening session was for the grad/undergrad students studying CS related courses. Again, it was a packed house. In addition to our LUGgers, Martin Michlmayr, former DPL, and Dr Shahani Weerawarana (Mifan used the name `Dr Mrs Sanjiva Weerawarana' instead, while thanking everybody) also spoke. The event was considered a huge success and a great start for the FOSS week activities. After the event, Bud and myself joined Martin for dinner at Chamindra's place. Except for everyone's attempts to get Ranusha, Chamindra's little `fellow', call me `uncle Anuradha' instead of `Anuradha aiya', we had a nice time.



Perception vs Reality

Our FOSS Week has finally been slashdotted. With all due respect to Slashdot editors, was a bit disapointed by the original title "Sri Lanka Declares a FOSS Week" being changed to "Sri Lanka Declares an Open Source Weak"! The spelling mistake resulted in replies such as "Microsoft declares Open Source weak". However, this has been corrected now - after much damage has been done. Most comments implied a perception that Sri Lanka is far behind in terms of technology. I was disappointed to see comments questioning how a "small developing nation declaring an open-source week" becomes newsworthy on Slashdot! Cost is a very good reasons for a developing country to use Free and Open Source Software. But a small country like Sri Lanka, there are other more important motivations: flexibility and independence. It's extremely difficult to convince big software companies to customize their products (e.g.: localization) for Sri Lanka because our market is too small for them. By the way, Sri Lanka is one of the very few developing countries that can boast 90%+ literacy rate (check this and this) which is very high when compared to other developing countries. For the last decade or so, we have steadily been improving the FOSS penetration in the country. With the formation of LSF, we are now becoming a big contributor, too. Apache WS work, and the Sahana Project which started to help manage the Tsunami releif errorts and now becoming a generic disaster management system, are some recent developments in Sri Lanka in terms of contribution. Not to mention independent contributions such as Prozilla or Dr Nandalal's contribution towards OIO. Anyway, those perceptions are not easy nor quick to change. I don't care either; there are more useful activities to spend energy on.



Loadavg Exceeds Unity

Time has become a sparse resource with the upcoming FOSS Week and Taprobane. Managed to release Taprobane 0.3 with a script to simplify remastering.

Dr Nandalal agreed to create a Medical companion for Taprobane, and Tyrell, Kamal and Ojitha will [naturally] create a Java companion. Owners for Games and LAMP companions are yet to be defined.

Came across SquashFS which seems to be superiour to zisofs and cloop. Spent yesterday's late night converting Taprobane to SquashFS and results are impressive. Apart from a minor tweek to linuxrc (not the shell scipt, the new parallel one I wrote in C) transition was smooth and the results are remarkable. Compression was higher and booting was faster. Anyway, more testes need to be conducted before making a decision to move.

Asia OSS codefest is going to be bigger than expected. Hopefully, we should be able to sort our some issues with localizations and live CDs.



Torrents of Bits

Finally managed to release 0.2 of Taprobane. Bittorrent turned out to be a far better mechanism than I even imagined. Used Linux Tracker to track the torrent, but The Linux Mirror Project also became a seeder with considerable bandwidth. Got the installer somewhat working. Gtk2 Perl became handy again. Bud pointed out that the Artistic License makes more sense for the distro, and the licensing question at the beginning of the installation doesn't make sense. As FSF had ruled out the original Artistic License as non GPL compatible for its vagueness, we decided to use Artistic License version 2.0 to be used in Perl 6.



Getting the hang of this

Looks like I am getting the hang of this. It feels like I am writing a diary again, with the primary difference that anyone out there can read it, and comment that it's crap. It was a bit shocking in the morning when Suchetha broke the news that the Cinema Lounge of BMICH we "booked" for the SFD event was given to someone else. It turned out that we had to fill the official form, which I through was only a formality. Anyway, Dr Ruwan and Prof Sam managed to get a committee room and the restaurant for the events. Managed to do some late evening Plonning on the new LK-LUG site (which is penguin.linux.lk for the moment). After getting the raw mbox archives of the mailing lists and running mhonarc, managed to convert some of our recent work into news items. Taprobane 0.2 is almost ready, a cloop file is being made while this is being typed. Only change today was to install alsa-utils. Now Debian depends on hotplug/discover to do the needful and the startup script in alsa-base is almost bogus. However, alsa-utils still has the old initscript. Until we figure out a way to restore mixer level and all that, this initscript is going to be there. Chamindra was proposing some analogies between Alice in Wonderland and real world, and thinks he is the Gryphon. I strongly disagreed with him, for it's very clear that he is the White Rabbit. However, I he quite agrees about me being the Chechire Cat and Harsha Zen as the Mad Hatter... ;-)


So it begins!

After a lot of waiting, finally I decided to follow the trend for a change; blogging. And so here I am, typing keys into a WYSIWYG editor, for a change again. Let's wait and see how this whole thing turns out.