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Fri, 17 Feb 2006:

Just got back from FOSS.MCC and was wondering about the state of educational instituions and students trapped with in. These kids don't have enough exposure to what is going on outside. You could say that it is their fault for not going out and finding out things for themselves - but it is not '99 anymore.

Me and spo0nman walked back from the event and ended up talking about what happened out there. The audience, at least what was left of it by the time I got there, emanated vibes of helplessness at what was happening up there. Swaroop's attempts to download Feedparser from sourceforge, Shreyas's tricks with gdb and emacs and finally Atul's talk about because you can felt quite out of place. I went through a similar experience talking about compilers at Freedel, with the whole crowd wondering what the hell this guy is talking about. It is not fun when you talk about what you really like doing and have the audience indirectly say we don't care.

The solution is to go back to 1999 when we were all kids looking at FOSS and saying oooh. Next time someone organizes a sort of first level talk at a college, please do the following at least for half a day. Just pull 10-15 machines off the college computer lab, bring enough ubuntu/knoppix/<whatever> liveCDs, boot them up and let the kids wander through them. There will be a few interested questions about mail, chat and what not - but they have to see the utilitarian side of these before they see the l33t world of emacs whizes or gdb gurus.

I say this with a bit more pain because I've actually convinced a bunch of people to use FOSS not because of the coolness of being able to read the code, but simply because they saw what I was doing with it. A big percentage of those have run away behind shiny things (Silver XP !!!) later, but I've got more real users (who understand the word Freedom now) out of it than if I had taken the path of showing them how I debug thunderbird to fix a thread-order bug in message views. Developers aren't that easy to come by, sometimes you've got to settle for users and bait them with eye-candy. That's what was missing today.

Sadly our colleges are the same they were in '99, though we and the world has moved on. So, back to 1999 I say ... back to '99.

We cannot disregard philosophy merely for personal gain, no matter how important that gain might be.
               -- Spock, "Journey to Babel", stardate 3842.4

posted at: 22:44 | path: /conferences | permalink | Tags: ,