Apart from writing Free/Libre Open Source Software, I have tried to contribute to existing ones whenever I can – mainly in the form reporting bugs, fixing documentation errors and so on. But I have always had the dream of making non-trivial contributions in addition to what I have been doing. In pursuit of that dream, I have been searching websites like OpenHatch for projects to contribute to, without finding a good starting point.

A few months back, I read somewhere (could be Hacker News, Planet Python or one of the many open source Planet feeds that I am subscribed to) about how the author made his first contribution to a Mozilla project. That inspired me to try and do something similar. So I went to the Bugs Ahoy website linked to from that article.

These days, almost all the code I write has been in Python and more often than not involves web development with Django. So I filtered the bugs using the criteria “Python” and “Simple bugs”. I looked at the summary of the listed bugs and tried to assess if I could fix any of them. There was a bug related to improving the 404 error page in a project called Input. I had never heard of the project before and only knew the popular Mozilla projects like Firefox, Thunderbird, Firefox OS. Still I decided to give it a try since the project was built using the Django web framework which I have used for my projects.

Firefox Input

I read the bug report and the comments and could see from the history that a lot of people took up the bug to work on, but never completed it. It was a mentored bug and Will Kahn-Greene, working for Mozilla, (whom I had known earlier as the person behind pyvideo.org) was the mentor. He had requested interested developers to contact him on #input channel on Mozilla’s IRC network.

Will Kahn-Greene
Will Kahn-Greene

I contacted him only to find that someone else had started working on the same bug a few days back. Will told me more about mentored bugs and how to find them. With his help, I browsed through the list of mentored and simple bugs in the Input project and picked up a bug that appeared easy to solve.

At that point, I didn’t even know what the project was about and hadn’t read its wonderful documentation. Once Will pointed me to it, I started reading immediately. I came to know that ‘Fjord’ is the software that runs Mozilla Input (that collects actionable feedback from various Mozilla products in different states of development and offers a set of analysis methods for looking at the resulting data). I had to setup the dev environment virtual machine using Vagrant (which I had only heard about before). I read the steps mentioned in the ‘Getting Started’ section of the docs and completed the setup, understanding each step in detail.

firefox-happy-sadWhen I was about to start assessing the code changes to be made, I saw that the VM was running Ubuntu 13.10 which had already reached end-of-life. I informed Will that I will fix it to use the LTS version of Ubuntu which is supported for 5 years from the time of its release. After reading up a little bit on Vagrant and with Will’s help, I made the fix and verified it. Will immediately reviewed my pull request and merged my first non-trivial contribution to any open source software that I had not developed.

Will encouraged me to help with other dev environment related bugs which some times involved just testing if things work. Slowly I was able to fix more issues surrounding the dev environment and even provide Will a few ideas in resolving some longstanding ones. Despite the encouraging beginning, I got distracted after about a fortnight and drifted off. It wasn’t until the beginning of this month that I regained some focus and wanted to contribute again to Fjord.

Will, as welcoming and encouraging as ever, helped me with fixing more bugs related to the development environment. Though Python and Django were the reasons that led me to Fjord, it wasn’t until 10+ merged commits that I even wrote a single line of Python πŸ™‚ In the past week, I hung out on #input every night and informed Will regarding the things I wanted to work on. Then I did the code changes and sent pull requests. Will patiently reviewed all my changes and merged them. Whenever there were issues with my code, he helpfully suggested ways to fix them.

I wanted to continue doing this every day for as long as I could, but with Will’s year-end vacation coming up, I had to pause my contributions till the beginning of the next year. So I am eagerly waiting for the new year! πŸ™‚

I have the annual year-end vacation from Christmas to New year and I intend to use some time to plan the work to be done in Fjord and also my own Xpens.

Whatever contributions that I have been able to make, I have to thank Will for being a tireless and enthusiastic mentor in spite of having his plate full. He has always encouraged and mentored me. He has nothing but praise for those who want to contribute to Fjord (case in point – see this and this). Without him, none of this would have been possible. I am glad and grateful to have such a great mentor! I hope to continue in the same vein and do much more and make a difference.

I hope my story inspires many more people to contribute to open source projects!

rsz_handsWhen I was on Facebook, I was getting to know what was happening in the lives of a lot of friends and acquaintances. I wouldn’t say I was in touch with all of them as they were just sharing updates with me and posting comments only because I was on Facebook. It wasn’t like most of them really cared about staying in touch with me and I would have been hell-banned like I am now as I am out of Facebook.

A lot of my friends whom I try to be in touch with, still share their updates only on Facebook and often I end up having to ask them offline to share stuff with me like the pictures of their wedding, trip photos and etc. But this doesn’t bother me at all as I still know how to get hold of them.

These days I am asked often, “Are you on WhatsApp? Why not? It’s cool and the happening thing right now. You’re missing out on a lot of fun. So and so is on WhatsApp and we all had a fun group chat”. Really? Do I really have to bother myself into signing up for yet another messaging/communication platform just to stay in touch with most people who don’t care? Do you people keep talking with everyone on your contact list on the next happening messenger app? I guess not. With Facebook now acquiring WhatsApp, I wouldn’t think of going anywhere near it. I am content to be using just my Gmail account to communicate via chat and email with people and it suits me just fine. I am sure that if you really care about me, you won’t mind taking that extra bit of effort to get in touch with me and I will be glad about that.

These days, the rate at which the “happening things” happen is getting ridiculous to say the least. I don’t want to bother about getting myself into each of those glorified silos that lock-in and keep out people not inside it. A popular saying on the internet goes “When something is given to you for free, you are the product being sold” but nowadays it has become “Even when you pay and buy something, you are the product being sold”. Why should I sell myself just to keep getting spam from people whom I don’t care about?Β Those whom I care about and vice-versa, I am already in touch. Wanna get in touch with me, contact me wherever I am on the internet – my blog, Gmail, Twitter, Identi.ca, Diaspora and so on. Even a quick Google search on my name will be of help in finding ways to contact me.

Looking forward to getting in touch with a lot more people who care. πŸ™‚

Update (17 Nov 2014) – I have succumbed to the pressure from friends and relatives and agreed to try out WhatsApp for a few months since it is the only way to reach most of them easily.

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feet_off_the_groundIn the past month, I have had my feet off the ground for most of the time. I got married to my sweetheart, we had our first air travel, we celebrated our honeymoon at Taj Mahal just a day off Valentine’s day, getting our own 2-wheeler which has given me my precious first full-time driving experience (though I have a valid driving license πŸ˜‰ ), booking our own flat near my office. Let me ride this wave of happiness as long as it lasts πŸ™‚

 

I cannot just say it was a dream come true. It was a dream of 10 years. A tree we both had planted as a sapling and nurtured for. Even now, it feels too good to be real. We both kept asking each other “Has it sunk in for you?” and the answer was and is still no. It’s the reality of taking up the responsibilities and managing both office and home that’s keeping my feet on the ground.

It was a journey that had literally everything – Happiness, sadness, anger, joy, love, fights, heart breaks, life altering decisions, commitments, problems, solutions and what not! You name and we had it in our relationship. Yes, love is not just a fairy tale. It takes a lot to keep it up and I learned that well.

After so many twists and turns in my story, there was the day. Finally! Feb 9, 2014. I couldn’t sleep the previous night due to a lot of factors – tension due to the thriller adventure my marriage story took and excitement that the big day was just hours away being the major ones. My friends forced me to sleep saying that I should get some beauty sleep and finally I dozed off. The day arrived in a swirl and swept me off. I got ready and came to the temple which was the marriage venue. I was so restless since I had arrived before him and I didn’t take my eyes away from the entrance. Only when I saw him, my lips curved and the smile came out. The one that reached from my heart to my eyes.

After that everything went so fast and before we could realize, he had tied the mangalyam around my neck. After that nothing mattered to me, everything went in a fit of emotions and blur. I didn’t care, I couldn’t even if I tried. The only thought in my mind was “We have done it.”. The marriage being a simple ceremony helped in many ways since the tediousness was reduced to a great extent and we were still fresh for the grander reception which followed a short while after.

The trip to Delhi and Agra was indeed a romantic one with a visit to the Taj Mahal being the heights of it πŸ˜‰ Now being back to Bangalore and having joined office, the routine work and added responsibilities have brought us back from the clouds. Still, everyday I wake up with a smile, knowing that I am with him. Good or bad, we are in it together and that’s exactly what we wanted for the rest of our lives.

Here’s a peek into the biggest day of my life! πŸ™‚

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Until later πŸ™‚

I completed 2 years without having a Facebook account a couple of days back on my birthday. I wouldn’t say the experience was perfect, but still it did me more good than bad. A lot of people use Facebook under the guise of staying in touch with a lot of people, but do they actually stay in touch with people through Facebook? I don’t think so. The stream of updates on Facebook is heavily clogged by photos, videos, messages from apps and meaningless likes from people whom you just know and nothing more. And more often than not, knowing about the lives of other people via Facebook often unleashes bouts of depression caused by comparing our lives to theirs based on whatever they have posted, however true or false that maybe. I am glad to be free from such emotional baggage. I also believe that connecting with people in real life does more good than pretending to do so on pseudo-social networks.

Often, the fact that it is a social network and you are not talking to people in person, makes you say things that you would never say in person. Apart from that, it takes a lot of effort to filter out just the content you want to read. Previously when I was on Facebook, there used to be a “Status updates” filter which used to filter and show just the status updates from people. But that was removed after some time and Facebook started to use various algorithms to determine what content to show me and what I would like to read. Unfortunately the intersection was almost always empty for me. As Facebook never deletes anything, all my activities on the site can always be traced back to me. Right to be forgotten is very important to me. So I am glad I quit Facebook.

Since the primary revenue for Facebook is via advertising, it is always trying to find more about users to show them targeted ads. As a result of this, Facebook wants to be everywhere on the internet trying to track all your online activity which in my humble opinion is nothing short of stalking. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account, all the information is associated with a shadow account which will be merged with your account if and when you create one on Facebook. I don’t want to give them any of my data any more. I use browser plugins to block all Facebook social content and other forms of tracking. If someone who knows me really wants to share something with me, it is very easy to find ways to get in touch with me instead of just broadcasting on Facebook and hoping that I see it. I am very active on Gmail chat and prefer having one on one conversations with people once in a while.

You might be thinking that Google is as evil and it makes no sense for me to ditch Facebook and use Google’s suite of products where you are the product being sold. I totally agree with that point and I have thought about self-hosting those services on my server using something like Sovereign, but I haven’t managed to find the time and motivation to get it done. Google has made such a move a bit more difficult by abandoning XMPP federation which means people using their own XMPP chat servers cannot communicate with the users using Google’s chat. Since I have been unable to abandon Gmail, I am fairly active on Google+ for now. I don’t like how Google is forcing it on all users with Google accounts.

Google+ is fast becoming the omni-present evil that wants to know more and more about your activities. The latest in the series of moves in that direction is the compulsion of using real names with all Google accounts and using +1’s of users and showing them as advertisements/recommendations with their photograph to other users. To mitigate it, I try to use Google search engine in private browsing mode without being logged into any of Google’s services whenever I can.

Having an Android device gives Google a lot more chance to mine data about my life, but I am doing my best to avoid it by using Cyanogenmod and its Privacy Guard. I did try to use my phone without any of Google’s apps, but had to give up due to the need to install a few apps which are found only on the Google Play Store. Being very paranoid about installing any app on my phone and denying it the permissions it doesn’t need has helped a bit, but it is not fool-proof.

You might also find me active on Twitter. I believe Twitter at least tries to be a social network and with the 140-character limit on messages, there is not as much spam as in Facebook. I have a lot of friends on Twitter (still just a fraction of the number of friends I had on Facebook) who do post a lot of content that I find interesting to follow. While I also use Libre alternatives like Diaspora, StatusNet, Pump.io, I don’t have my friends there and with not a lot of people there on those social networks, they often end up being ghost towns.

Services like Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp have become the latest fad and they have a large number of users using them with the smartphone boom. While the ideas behind those services might be unique and trendy, they have a dodgy track record and privacy terms. Snapchat provides a way to send ephemeral picture messages to other users of the service, but do we know for sure that Snapchat isn’t archiving all the messages sent using its platform and selling them to advertisers? Isn’t it creepy what they could do with all the data? WhatsApp has had known security and privacy issues (like uploading the address books of users to their servers) for a long time and still people use it because they just want to appear trendy and don’t care enough to appreciate the harm.

When I talked to one of my school friends a few days back, he told me that a lot of our classmates were having a fun group conversation on WhatsApp. While that made me feel bad about missing on getting in touch with classmates, I was never going to get tempted to install such a thing and use it. For the sake of my privacy, I consider it a reasonable sacrifice to miss out on all first-hand conversations and get to know about them late from someone who participated.

If you are someone who cares about privacy, do consider quitting the use of privacy-invading social networks and mobile apps. I know that it could be very difficult for most people, but at least give it a try, If you are skilled enough, you can even try creating open source alternatives based on open standards. While you might face failures initially, remember that every long journey starts with the first few steps forward and don’t give up.

With curtains coming down on a glorious career living the dreams of millions of fans, a lot of emotion and sentiments were let loose, I thought I would repost some of my blog posts and tweets (a few of them critical as well) on the great man as my tribute.

20 years of my superhero!
Why I’d prefer watching good tennis than good cricket more often!
Sachin Tendulkar – 200* !
If you can’t appreciate, at least don’t sling mud!

Looks like I predicted it right more than 3 years ago πŸ™‚

I said the above words and that is how my marriage got fixed and is going to happen on
9 February 2014. πŸ˜€

What made it even more special was that it happened on her birthday.

If you are living in a major city in India like Bangalore and have visited malls, you might have noticed that lucky draw coupons are offered to whoever enters the mall. A lot of us have at least once filled in those coupons with our name and phone number and handed them over. Have we ever realized that they give the coupons for everyone who enters the mall whether they buy anything or not. Sounds fishy?

If you did enter yourself in such a lucky draw, a few days or weeks later you would get a call from an unknown number declaring you as one of the prize winners in the lucky draw and that you could collect the prize by visiting some location that is mentioned. If you’re an unmarried person, you would be told that only a couple can come and collect the prize. You would even be suggested to send a couple who could be related to you or be your friends or anyone who would do it for you.

A lot of people would be put off by the “couple” requirement and possibly by the prize distribution location’s distance from your home. If you weren’t, you’d be promised thoroughly that there wouldn’t be any hidden clauses or conditions to collect the prize. To enlighten people faced with similar situations, here’s my experience in pursuing it further.

A few times I hadn’t trusted the whole lucky draw and “you have won a prize, no hidden clauses or conditions” thing and ignored it. But my mother, new to the city and its happenings, was always intrigued by this lucky draw prize thing and wanted to pursue it further and see what happens.

So recently when I got a similar call from an unknown caller proclaiming that my mother had won a prize and the same blah blah blah, I told my mother about it and asked her if she was interested in venturing out to collect the prize. She was very much interested and since the prize distribution location that they mentioned was not too far away from my place, I decided to join my parents.

After we reached the landmark near which the gift distribution location was supposed to be located, we found nothing at all. I called the “you’ve won a prize” messenger again and asked him about the location. He apologized and asked us to travel further and reach an another location a couple of kilometers away. Even at that time he didn’t give the exact details of the location. Since we were motivated to see it through to completion, we boarded a bus and went to the new location. Nope, nothing there anywhere in the vicinity of the place he had asked us to get down.

On calling him again, he gave instructions to walk in one particular direction till we come near a “Country Club Resort” and enquire the security guard at the resort who would show us the location. My radar smelled something fishy at the mention of “Country Club” but my parents were still imagining a building near the Country Club resort where the prizes would be distributed.Β We reached the Country Club resort and the guard asked us to go to the underground parking lot of the resort.

There was a small office operating there and I could see a few couples coming in and going out. I went in and asked the receptionist about the gift and a we were asked to wait. A few minutes later we were told that there would be a presentation for an hour’s time at the end of which we could collect our prize. My innocent parents were imagining some prize distribution ceremony that could be an hour long with a lot of guests and speakers. Kaboom! Back to reality! We were then taken into a room full of small round tables with chairs around them. There were couples seated in each of those tables talking to one “presenter” and there was blaring music.

We sat in one of those tables with one of those presenters, who told us about our prize – a kitchen item and a couple of sponsored items from Country Club. He told us that we would be getting our prizes at the end of his presentation on a promotional offer provided by Country Club and that we would be getting our prizes irrespective of whether we buy the product being sold. At that moment I realized what we we had gotten into. They had deliberately not revealed “Country Club” till the last moment as a lot of people would have backed off on hearing it.

The salesman asked us some questions to fill in a survey form. Then he kept talking on and on about the benefits of buying a Country Club resort membership under the promotional offer. Since I couldn’t hear him clearly due to the loud music, I kept nodding my head at regular intervals. My parents very much liked his style of presentation, but they never had any intention to go ahead with the offer. So the presenter redirected his focus towards me trying to impress me into buying it. The price was revealed only at the very end of the presentation after about 90 minutes of showcasing exotic holidays, excellent facilities, the convenience and value provided by the Country Club membership and it was a 6 digit figure. The salesman didn’t know that I wouldn’t splash so much money on luxury and entertainment when there are a lot of people with their basic needs unmet. Seeing that I hadn’t yielded he started advertising partial down payments and attractive monthly EMI.

As it was getting late into the night and well past my dinner time, we asked him to complete his presentation and give us the gift so that we could leave. That triggered the strategy of asking us to wait for a couple of minutes to generate the gift vouchers online and while we were waiting, the salesman started trying to convince us to buy. The cycle of being asked to wait a few more minutes for the gift voucher and facing the blatant canvassing continued for about half an hour. It could have continued further if all the other salesmen and their prospective customers weren’t done with their presentation and left the hall.

The couples who had agreed to buy the membership card were taken inside a special room in the office and given prizes and possibly some additional goodies. We were just asked to go out to the parking area and they just dumped the prizes – a gift wrapped box and a couple of vouchers, in our hands and we left the place.

I told my parents that the people behind these “lucky draws” had used the “lucky draw” and the greed of the people to try and win more customers for their product. By following a “gift coupon for everyone” approach, they collected the contact details of thousands of people to canvass them into buying the club membership.

In case you’re still awake and not bored after reading this far and want to know what the gifts were, here are the details. We got a box containing 6 ice cream glass bowls from an unbranded local maker, a voucher for our family to enjoy the facilities at a Country Club resort on a weekday within a month’s time and a free accommodation in 3-5 star hotels on during our holiday tours provided we pay the minimal taxes of about Rs.4000, valid a for a year. The voucher was not signed by a person of authority as required and that made it invalid and useless.

So did we really get free gifts? Nope. We had invested our time and effort and showed a lot of patience in sitting through the “presentation” and also unintentionally gave our names and mobile number to them. Fair enough. Nothing in this world is free. So just think twice before you reveal your personal details in the hope (greed?) of winning a prize without spending a single rupee.