My Summer of Data experiences

I got the chance to visit the end of a 1 month summer of data program organised at MLRIT Hyderabad. I visited the program for the last 3 days.

The first question indeed is what was I doing there and how I can be of help in the end of a program in which the students are already tired. The need of the hour was Aadhaar and there was already a session which was taken on Aadhaar and how can I add to it? We thought mobiles are being ignored as they are the convenience devices. Most of the people do use Uber for travelling and they in fact share the location via Google maps and that's a huge privacy risk in every way. Tackling an ecosystem is a huge feat and we weren't misinformed about the complexities or difficulties in convincing students to go towards free open and decentralised alternatives.

We need to start somewhere so I took a session about flashing mobile phones with lineage OS. The blog post explains the process and tools involved in the process. The students who came to my session were very enthusiastic in flashing their phones. This is not a small thing as their entire life might come to a halt because of this one move. Despite that many students came forward.

We could flash one device of a volunteer which is what I was working on before my actual session. We made sure that videos were taken so that they can easily be shown on the big screen on where to click. It was not easy making those videos as sometimes some options might be already enabled and sometimes starting again might need going back to factory settings. It was getting late on day1 and we were all told to go to a special lab upstairs so that we get proper network there. I was in the strange condition where everyone was getting throttled after certain MB to a low speed.

Back in the lab I had the help of some active student volunteers who kindly gave me their mobile data so that I could download the Lineage OS ROM and other files needed for flashing. For me it was a new experience using mobile data as now everyone gets more than 1GB per day. So I was using the tethered mobile connection. It even required the volunteer to stay in the nearby region. I do thank them for all their help during that time without which the flashing wouldn't have happened.
I still had a broken phone half flashed and went back to the boys hostel where funnily enough the download started with super speed. After trying other download on another students laptop I finally could also download and flash that night. I also did the biggest mistake of running apt-get upgrade on my Debian unstable.

Next day again with the help of the volunteer I was getting my presentation ready. It was done and presented on the volunteers laptop. I was also trying to flash a 2nd volunteers phone but this time with another os. There I was facing same errors. I have to really thank the 2nd volunteers patience who backed up instantly his data and was really enthusiastic to flash an alternate OS on the phone.

Before my session a team was discussing about short film and it was funny experience seeing how they all voted for something routine which one person didn't like at all. Slowly people came in and we had to differentiate between the short film crowd and others. It was fun addressing a crowd, I have done that many times and damn I really missed the experience for pretty long time.

I had this weird dark room where the projector light was the strongest source of light (for obvious reasons) but I could also use the projection on the white board where I actually made notes the previous day discussing with one of the organisers. We started pretty late and I actually went beyond the specified time. I knew I was going to write a blog post about flashing and how to flash hence I didn't bother with doing the whole flashing process in the limited time. I started with why privacy and why should one bother about flashing phones and the technical terms/tools one can use during flashing.

I did collect some user feedback on how they regard their privacy and if its important for them. They all were very privacy conscious much to my surprise. We also had 3-4 people who already have flashed their phones. It was a very welcoming sign and finally we had a gang of students who want to flash their phones.

After dinner since it was getting late we couldn't do much and everyone were in a room having some fun. We went out and had some photo sessions in the dark. It was weird getting photos in the dark with the camera whose flash really irritates due to the sensor.

One of the major concerns I have over any event is collecting the attendees experiences. It would be nice to have multiple blog posts from every student. I was more interested in making a blog using the gitlab CI which all students have already used to create a personal plain HTML page. I found a good template and adapted it for SOD experience. I even asked a student who was able to clone and make a blog page. We were all getting multiple calls to leave the lab and come to the official stage. This was one time I felt maybe I came too late for the event but the template could be used for future events.

Apparently when we came it was still not ready so we went and had something to eat in the canteen and came slowly and sat in the back. The official ceremony started with an MOU and some inspiring speeches from the college management. In fact they were happy to see the VR demo of their campus.

I was a bit disappointed to see the camera in a broken shape and I couldn't take some last minute pics. After the lunch it was people saying goodbyes and I was crazy enough to propose another flashing session where we had 3 students. We flashed the Motorola phone. The Samsung one didn't even have a proper way to unlock it. The Redmi phone needed some windows exe to flash. Even then the procedure was more complex. we documented the details in discuss.

After leaving the venue I joined the main volunteer team back in the night and it was really nice to see them coming back to the gachibowli office despite staying in such a long camp. I appreciate the dedication of these volunteers. For me it was just 3 days of journey with multiple experiences. The night was fun though. :-)

The event pictures are available for cloning. A simple git command will get the entire picture folder. ;)

git clone https://code.swecha.org/pavi/sod-pics.git

Pavithran

Loves freedom in computing ;)