An Open Source Meetup

Monday, Apr 10, 2017

We were all at the LUG (Linux Users Group) meet-up this weekend, with an assorted group of programmers, contributors, professors and students coming together to talk on all things open source. Here are some of the highlights:

The Yocto Project

What is the best way to deploy Linux on custom hardware? Joe Steeve gave us the straightforward way to setup, say, a kiosk (like an ATM machine) with a distro. We could probably configure the .bash_profile for a startup sequence to open up a browser and disable some keys. Straightforward, but unscalable and an overkill. Embedded distros can come in handy for specific applications, but even with so many out there, it is unlikely you’ll find the perfect one for your needs.

Right up, Joe introduced us to the Yocto project, that gives you tools to build your own customized Linux distribution (Yep). At its most basic, you can download the sources, setup the environment and the configuration files, and run the build with BitBake. For even deeper customization for a functionality, you can write recipes for the build that run tasks and add packages to the generated image. I always thought that to make a custom OS, the only way was to assemble it from scratch. The Yocto project achieves the same flexibilty in a way that is a lot less painful.

An Intro to Regex

(aka A Regex Ninja’s Musings*)

It is said that the power of regular expressions compensates for their readability. To obviate the latter, we had a comprehensive dive into their syntax and working with R. K. Rajeev. For string and pattern matching cases, the grammar is pretty compact. The idea of capturing groups looked powerful for transforming strings, because it allowed to pass information about the previous state of the string. It meant that replacing could be dynamic depending on this state. Also was escaping characters seems to be the norm, but inconsistent across implementations. We learned enough to explore more for any application that needed it.

Education: Technology not Tools

We are all aware with a problem in the approach of teaching technology-based courses in colleges. Ignoring the underlying goal and with the focus on the software that is used with instructions specific to it, means that as students, not everyone is aware of alternatives. However, we do have people working to make a change. Two of the attendees who were maths professors have filed a petition to make the course syllabus vendor-free. The computer staff at DBIT have migrated every college lab onto Ubuntu to foster the use of more open tools. Our company Frappé Technologies along with DBIT organises an open source hackathon every year with no restrictions on the way to build a project. It has the goal of ultimately —

Evangelising and using Open source

Pumped with the ongoing contributions from various user groups, there are plenty of opportunities to get everyone involved. It would pay-off well to have such meet-ups at colleges with active student groups, making fantastic hubs. At this one itself, Joe geared up student attendees on remixing a typical final year robotics project by setting up a BeagleBone with a Yocto built image. They could even report and write patches for any cross-compilation issues along the way. Also, Regex was a great way to see some of their Theoretical Computer Science concepts in action.

Rushabh Mehta suggested a way to take evangelising a step further; the meets could develop projects to solve a real world problem. While being an effective way to make an impact, it would mean people with different expertise could come together to figure out solutions.

The Folk

Wrapping up

Plenty of discussions, and views on what we could do to connect even more groups. Not to mention the breadth of everyone’s experiences when turning to open source (Rajeev’s anecdotes since the dawn of the Unix movement in India made Sourceforge look new). It was enlightening to have the flame wars off the forums for a change (Unity vs. Gnome shell, Vim vs. Emacs; we were out of time, or perhaps …). We look forward to more of these in future.

*courtesy R. K. Rajeev.