Arun Tejasvi Chaganty about articles blog thoughts research

Saying Hi to Guido

Sure, it isn’t the most awe-inspiring of events, but then again you don’t get to talk to the Guido everyday. Besides which, a considerable amount of effort and FOSS pimpage went into this.

The Guido, i.e. Guido van Rossum, will be doing a video conference (VC) at our annual techfest (Shaastra) this year. Because of certain scheduling issues, Guido will be doing the talk from home, using his Mac’s webcam.

Our “VC” team has never ever held talks with anyone not using one of those super expensive VC equipments that all colleges and big companies own, so it was upto us to figure out how the heck to get it to work.

It was a trivial enough of a task. I found out which protocol the VC equipment we have (it’s a Aethra VegaStar) uses; H.323. Then came the task of finding something that supported the protocol. Pre-assuming that the Linux solution sucks (which is obviously a huge error), we tried getting some software (for free) on Windows that supports the protocol.

What do you know, none exists (and more over, NetMeeting used to have it, though it no longer does). Ditch Windows, fire up Linux on my friend’s (S.V. Vikram) computer. Unfortunately it  was running KDE and apparently they don’t have any video conferencing software supporting H.323. Poking a KDE friend (Akarsh Simha), I got the reply: “GNOME is for n00bs”. The only inference I can gather is that in the real world, you reconstruct videos from tcpdump. In your head.

Being the n00b I was, I decided to take the easier route, ssh into my system, install ekiga, and run it (using X11 forwarding). Voila, it works, Shaastra is half saved. Enter the Mac side of things. A friend of mine owns a MacBook (and has been trying to sell Apple to me ever since), and we tried to start a video chat of our own. He starts iChat. What do you know, it doesn’t support H.323. Enter XMeeting, a Free solution. Works brilliantly. (It feels so good that I could only get this working using Free software).

This was a few weeks ago. We arranged a dry run with Guido last Friday (12th September), early in the morning here (Chennai, India). We get to the conference room which has a dedicated IP, and brilliant bandwidth (300Kb/s downloads anyone?). Akarsh has Guido on his GTalk list, and we start to talk him through this.

Unfortunately he’s under a firewall, glorious FAIL (we tried to use a STUN server, which also failed). He drops his firewall completely, but still no go. After lots of calls to our network administrators (who are on holiday), we reluctantly give up and decide to just use Skype. 2 minutes later, we are logged on to Vikram’s Skype account, and I am saying “Hi!” to Guido. Brief para-phrased excerpt of our conversation:

Me: Hello! 
Guido: Ah hello. Great. It works. (somebody knocks on Guido's door) 
Guido: A second, my son is calling. (muffled)
Orlijn (Guido's son): Daddy, who are you talking to? 
Guido: Some guys from India. You want to say hi? 
Me (with a *huge* grin): Hi!!! 
Orlijn (slightly confuzzled): Hello 
Me: What's your name? 
Orlijn: (something that sounds like Orelyn) 
Guido: Ok, now you have to go to bed. (Orijn leaves) 
Guido: So let's try > this with the firewall, because I'm a sitting duck right now 
Me: > Ok. (still working) 
Guido: Great, so I'll see you on the 4th then?
Me (confused about the date): A second let me check. Yup
Guido: Ok, bye 
Me: Good night! 
Guido: See ya

Guido has seen every part of our team. One guy (Sanjeev) writes all the mails, one owning the GTalk account (Akarsh Simha), one owning the Skype account (S.V. Vikram), and finally one on the screen (Me :-)).

Without sounding too cheesy, I’d like to invite all FOSS-enthusiasts and hackers to Shaastra. We have a couple of good talks, a HackFest, and infinite coffee (for hackers only).