Report on Python workshop at Irinjalakkuda St.Joseph's college

2009-11-12T16:50:12

How do you explain the "difference" between GNU/Linux and Windows to a bunch of teachers and students who have zero experience using GNU/Linux? The St.Joseph's college at Irinjalakkuda where I conducted my Python workshop today has an excellent lab - and the admin had installed GNU/Linux (with plenty of educational tools as well as Python/math stuff) on more than ten machines. I simply asked the audience to explore the system, clicking on whatever they found interesting. A group of girl students were soon immersed in some kind of game. A PhD researcher was having fun with Kstars. One or two math teachers were exploring Dr.Geo. Another one was checking out Kalzium and a few others were full of glee having having discovered TuxPaint! Had I allowed the "exploration" to proceed, I am sure there would have been no Python workshop today ... After a few minutes, I asked my audience what they would get when they install "Windows" on their system? Card games? A crappy browser? A music player? Lots of viruses and spyware? What would you give to your kids - GNU/Linux with a whole lot of amazing tools which you get absolutely free of cost - which you can copy and distribute to your friends without being branded a "pirate" - which comes "free" in both senses of the word, free of cost and free as in freedom? Or Windows, which comes with little of educational value in it - which you are legally forbidden to copy - which converts your machine into a breeding ground for viruses? I am sure that a majority of the audience got the point ... at least a few of them will go home with a DVD tomorrow and try it on their home PC. It is then that the problem begins .... as one teacher mentioned, support is a very big issue .... there are very few people who use GNU/Linux on their desktops ... so if something goes wrong, you don't know whom to ask. Checking out mailing lists and googling to solve installation issues is not something which the average user is willing to do - he would rather call the service guy and ask him to fix things. And the service guy would do everything to discourage the user (lies like - Linux is free and so sub-standard, is unstable, uses lots of memory, is hard to use ... stuff like that) - to do justice to the service guy, he has nothing against GNU/Linux, he just doesn't want to bother supporting two OS's instead of just one. The situation is a bit discouraging - the only thing we can do is to push ahead not minding the difficulties - things will change for the better (the change is happening - I see a PC repair centre at Viyoor displaying a big sign which says that he supports BOTH Windows and Linux. Another guy came to my place last week and asked me to teach him Linux installation and networking so that he can provide support). Coming back to the workshop, I followed the same pattern adopted at the St.Thomsas college workshop - the morning session was devoted to "functional and scientific" Python; the teachers had little difficulty applying the ideas presented - one or two elderly teachers surprised me with their alertness and curiosity - the moment I had shown how to do polar plots (the polar rose is my favourite), they were rushing on to try out other interesting stuff like the cardiod on their own! The afternoon session was devoted to more traditional Python with "while" loops and such stuff ... once again, Neko helped a lot in keeping the audience engaged. The two things which are a bit difficult to explain to beginners is the behaviour of the Python division operator (3/2 gives you 1) and the inaccuracies resulting from floating point arithmetic. The first one may be explained by just saying that "Guido got it wrong" (it seems he has corrected it in a recent version of Python):

>>> from __future__ import division
>>> 3/2
1.5
>>>
Trying to explain the second one by discussing the impossibility of mapping any subset of an uncountably infinite set to a finite number of bits (with 100% accuracy) is a bit harder than you imagine if your audience has little understanding of the way numbers are actually represented in the machine ....

Pramode C.E

Mon Nov 16 16:43:10 2009

Sasi Kumar sir, Yes - we do have reasons to be optimistic .... the hardware vendors have not been very alert in sensing the opportunity, but yes, they are waking up!


V. Sasi Kumar

Mon Nov 16 02:28:31 2009

Thanks for the report. Just a point on the support problem. Things are changing, and changing faster as the days go by. I am told that there are many Akshaya centres where they provide training in IT@School GNU/Linux. The adoption in schools has certainly been a driving force. Hardware retailers have been given training by SPACE on demand from them. At least one computer wholesaler in Thiruvananthapuram has apparently started using Ubuntu! And now there are several colleges where they use GNU/Linux.


Amal Abdul Majeed

Wed Nov 25 20:51:10 2009

@ Sasi Kumar: It's good news to see that one hardware vendor in Trivandrum is using Ubuntu. Could you please mention the name of this vendor. Since, my native place is in TVM, I may be able to help them configure linux in the best possible manner for a layman user. :) @Pramode C.E : Sir, I've heard of you from the time, I was doing my B-Tech in MES ( 1999 - 2003 ). You have made a huge contribution to create linux awareness in Kerala. Thank you. :)

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