Barcamp Kerala 6 – my experience

I have been following Barcamp Kerala from its inception, but never attended it till Barcamp 6. This time I had both motivation and time to attend it and it turned out to be better than what I anticipated. A large and highly enthusiastic group of intelligent youngsters, highly informative sessions from people who are self motivated and a really informal atmosphere makes it an irresistible environment, especially for geeks (or the new age geeks who has no problem in connecting with others).

I had gone to Thrissur one day before the Barcamp and on the day of the Barcamp I realized that it is a minimum 3 hour drive from my home.  So I started as early as I could (7:30) and was on the NH47 by 8AM. Obviously since I wanted to reach the venue before any sessions started, I was in a bit of hurry. So somewhere near Edappally signal, I hit another car. I had braked real hard and it barely touched the car boot and caused a small scratch. The other guy seemed like a gentleman, but was adamant about compensation. I said sorry and paid whatever he was ready to accept for the damage. I am driving long distances for 4 years now and this was the first accident due to my mistake. So Barcamp experience started on a really low note, but it was all uphill from there 🙂

I reached Barcamp at 9:30 and immediately spotted some of the familiar faces (from Web that is) – Praseed was at the corridor and I met Manjit, Kenney, Anand, Binny, Eldhose, Arun, Anish, Sudhish, Fahad and a couple of other guys. I also realized that I am not as young as I thought myself to be! :-)  Barcamp could be an overnight event with plenty of time for socializing as well. Since I wanted to attend all sessions and had engagements in the evening, I got little time for interaction and that is my only disappointment.

Barcamp Kerala 6 – Sessions

Praseed had a really interesting session on human biases(Biases and Fallacies of Human Race). The session was like driving through a tornado and I guess many would have found their brains overloaded(at least I felt it – but in a good sense). I found it extremely interesting and I want his presentation(well prepared and I am sure he would have spent a lot of time on it) very badly. There were couple of good books mentioned (I had read only one of them). However personally I felt that we need to be careful when we talk about the advantages of an "objective" approach. After all human beings are emotional animals and I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong about it. I am always an advocate of the "middle path".  Also I guess only Praseed can get away with so many highly provocative slides!

Kenney made a proposal on the voice based blood search(Voice Based Blood Search – A Proposal). The idea is simple – when you need blood you just dial a number and after a few selections, you get connected to the real donor. The ability for the donor and the recipient to connect directly is very powerful. This to me is a brilliant idea and if Kenney and the team can get government backing at least in principle, they have something really useful. Government backing is essential in getting around any potential legal minefields and also in getting a large number of donors and hospitals to support it.

During Kenney’s session, another topic came up -  About the formal degrees and on the tendency to over value them. This topic seems to generate a lot of heat almost everywhere and Barcamp was no exception. Getting a degree has become a default qualification for almost anything in our society. There is no point in saying that degrees are useless (I consider it as a period when you can devote yourself for a lot of self study – During my engineering I spent more time on hacking activities than now). But at the same time I want to see that people who for some reason or other couldn’t complete a degree gets opportunity for growth in areas where it is not essential (Which I think was closer to Kenney’s point). Similarly a guy with difficulties in his English communication can’t get  a job where there is little use for English language – and obviously it should change.

Fahad came to the stage and talked about an idea of networking petrol pumps so that thieves cannot get away when they steal a vehicle. Theoretically it may look good, but practically it is useless. First of all, the petrol pump staff are underpaid and a forget co-operation from them. In fact some of them are nastier than thieves who steal vehicles! When I was driving from Trivandrum to Thrissur to attend Barcamp, one of them tried to cheat me by not resetting the meter. Secondly, when something like this is setup thieves just reorganize themselves pretty quickly – hire some pump operators, change the number of the vehicle, have a backup of petrol cans somewhere on the route etc.  And your entire investment went down the drain!

Reading the above paragraph reminded me Rajesh’s session where he mentioned that we(older generation) tend to discourage and de-motivate enthusiastic youngsters. Sorry Fahad!

Rajesh’s session on startups and the challenges faced by a startup(Starting up – what no one told me) was my most favorite session. Since I had taken his path to a certain extend (setting up a company for example), I could completely connect with what he was saying, especially the rattle snake part. The problem with his session is that Rajesh’s session alone wouldn’t give the full picture to the youngsters present there (you need to burn your finger to learn it). In that respect Rajesh’s idea of mentoring startups is a good idea. Even after working 12 years in software industry, I am not confident enough to start my own venture (and it would have been quite the opposite if I was in US). It is probably partly due to the fact that I am not a big risk taker, but is partly due to my experience as well.

Arun Basil came up with a session called Do they serve Beer at the BarCamp? which was loosely a mind map based presentation on Barcamp history. It was followed by some miscellaneous items such as usefulness of mind maps, a plug on a to do program called tudumo and some other general items such as ways to impress girls… 🙂

Manu Zacharia had a session on IT security issues and career opportunities(Ethical Hacking – Hacking in its real sense). This is a session which generated a good amount of interest and probably motivated a lot in the audience to explore further on TCP/IP protocols, buffer overflow and SQL injection etc. Manu knows how to present his stuff and was extremely patient when faced with a barrage of questions.  However, I was disappointed that he couldn’t sufficiently cover the essence of the word hacking, because his focus was on IT security.  To his credit, he did point out that "hacking" is not about IT security alone (Binny would be the best example for a software hacker). His session should have been named something like "IT security and career opportunities". The session was very good and I am sure there would be a lot of people who are even ready to pay money to attend a lecture similar to this.

Muneef took a session on Drupal basics (Drupal 101) and gave an overview of the CMS. However, lack of complete slides and a lack of demonstration of the tool was all too noticeable.  In one slide the feature "pathauto" appeared thrice :-).

I left immediately after Drupal session since it was already 4PM and I had 2 hours of driving back to Thrissur (it went all downhill after Barcamp since I got stuck at Koratty(NH 47) due to a church festival for over an hour). Kerala Barcamp 6 was a good learning experience and it recharged my learning batteries as well.  I think if this is something that can be planned as some sort of overnight camping, it would be much more effective for networking and knowledge sharing.

Trivia

  • Rajagiri college has international level infrastructure and facilities and we should be thankful that they offered the place for Barcamp. However food sucked big time. It was stale and I guess I need to visit colleges sometimes to appreciate my wife’s cooking skills.
  • While getting out of the Rajagiri, I walked past a group who just came out from Barcamp. One guy said – "Man, we wasted our time. If we had played cricket or something we would have enjoyed something" – It was both funny and insightful. Barcamp is not for everyone!
  • It was a really ironic moment when I saw Manu Zacharia and a couple of guys trying to break into their own car. He probably locked himself out and even though he is an expert on breaking into computers, he was not able to break into his own car :-)  Rarely you find such ironic moments in life and you have more probability(this word is now reminding me of Praseed’s session) of finding something like this in a Barcamp!

References

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October 12, 2009 | Posted in Opinion No Comments » | By Jayson Joseph

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