Archive for the ‘Living in India’ Category

How do we vote in India with Electronic Voting machine

April 5th, 2009 5 comments

India is going to polls during the months of April and May 2009.  Elections in India employ Electronic Voting machine(EVM). These machines  are manufactured by  two companies  owned by the defense department.  I had the opportunity to get hands on training in operating the machine as a part of pre election training for polling officials.( I am going to work as a presiding officer in  a  polling booth in the first phase of elections.)

The electronic voting machines that we use, have two parts :- a control unit and a balloting unit. They are interconnected by a flat ribbon cable of 5m length.


The Indian Electronic Voting machine

The balloting unit enables the voters to cast their votes. Each balloting unit can accommodate 16 candidates. 4 such units can be cascaded and connected to a single control unit.

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Balloting unit                                                             Control Unit

The connecting  cable is permanently attached to the balloting unit. It is connected to the control unit via a connector on the rear. Also, the main on off switch is on the rear side of control unit.

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The various parts of balloting unit is shown below.


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A voter can vote when the ready lamp glows. He can press  the candidate button shown against  his candidate. As soon as the   button press is received the unit produces a long beep sound and the candidate lamp glows.

The  control unit is organized   as shown below.


The control unit  has several functions. These are performed at different points of election process. It is powered by  a  6V rugged battery.  The battery and  candidate set switch are sealed before delivery to the polling station. The polling officials are not supposed to open this section. The candidate  set button can be used to set the number of candidates on the balloting unit. Also the same control unit can be used for 2 simultaneous elections ( ie Parliament elections and  state elections.)


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The result section is used for displaying the results, closing the poll and resetting the machine. This section is sealed at the start of the election in the presence of   polling agents



At the end of the polling the close bottom is pressed and the machine is sealed again. The ballot section on the bottom of the control unit is used  along with the balloting unit. As soon as a voter is identified, the officer in charge of the control unit presses the ballot button. The busy lamp on the top of the control unit glows  along with the ready lamp on the balloting unit. When a voter casts his vote, the busy light goes off.

The total button can be used to find out the number of votes cast at any time.

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The polls start at 7 am in the morning and end at  5pm. Before the start of actual  poll, a mock poll will be conducted.  This is to ensure that EVM is not having any preset votes and to make sure that   the machine works as advertised.  The result section will be sealed and signatures of  polling agents and presiding officer  will be affixed on the this time  At the end of the polls the close button is pressed. The machine is sealed again and  put into a box and returned to a counting center.

Update April 17 : I had my election duty at Keezhpaloor , near Meenagal in Aryanadu. The  polling was smooth and about 65% of the electorate cast votes in my booth.

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How to become a certified (Pseudo) Free software Activist

January 5th, 2009 7 comments

My recent posts on the state of free software in Kerala,  have drawn flak from several pseudo free software activists.  Some of them have even called me an agent of Microsoft.  I think this post is going to generate some more heat and the pun is intentional.

Recently Kerala State IT mission and  C-DIT have launched a new initiative called Centre for advanced  training in free and open source software(CATFOSS).  You can read about the objectives of the centre in this lenghty article.  ( Google  cache here)

Last week CATFOSS  announced admission to a six  month training program in advanced free and open source software.  As an academic, I was interested in this novel program. I looked at the website and discovered  several interesting information.

<Quote from CATFOSS>

In order to resist this process, two decades back, Mr. Richard Stallman founded the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) movement in 1983. As the name FOSS itself implies, the ideology behind the FOSS movement has been that the fruits of the ICT revolution should flow freely among the users of this technology, the world over

<Quote from CATFOSS ends>

As far as I know, RMS has some objections to  Open Source  Software. Look at his article “why open source misses the point of free software” .

I was educated in a Government school and my English is not very good.  Still, I will recommend the website as an excellent model for precise writing . See this.

<Quote from CATFOSS>
One of the major problems the State government had to face in the process of to propogating FOSS was the lack of trained human reources and non-availability of FOSS based tools. Thus, the Centre for Advanced Training in Free and Open Source Software (CATFOSS), proposed to be initiated by the end of November 2008 at Ernakulam in the ITes Habitat in collaboration with Kerala State IT Mission (KSTIM) and Centre for Development of Imaging Technology (C-DIT) will unquestionably be a courageous step and perhaps the first of its kind in India to develop highly qualified manpower who can enrich the applications of FOSS based software tools in a time bound manner, thereby bridging a very crucial gap in the e-governance sector and IT industry in Kerala and elsewhere.

<Quote from CATFOSS ends>

Brochures and websites show you only the tip of the iceberg. Let us look at what else  CATFOSS offers.  If you are interested in the  recently announced  Advanced Training in Free and Open Source Software,   you can apply online here.   ( Google cache here). The course fee is only Rs50000/- and employment opportunities are very good  even during  the current recession.  The seats are limited,  so rush your application.

Let us see what you will learn. The prospectus is here.  (Google Cache here)

< Quote from Prospectus>

The curriculum at CATFOSS will have the following objectives :
a) Introduction to free software ecosystem, its philosophy and technical aspects.
b) Empowerment to spearhead free software projects.
c) Thorough knowledge in free software development work flow.
d) Indepth knowledge in designing, implementing, deploying and maintaining a free software
based solution for the society.
<< Quote from Prospectus ends>

Wow! Lot of advanced things to learn.  Is there any company recruiting  Free software activists? May be the  Kerala government can accommodate some. Who else ? God only knows . We, keralites  are living in God’s  own country.

There is a bonus. CATFOSS will teach you soft skills free of cost along with the course.  Look at the academic committe who formulated this crap.

Finally, how much public money is needed for this. Only  82 lakhs. 😀 .

Free software enthusiast of Kerala , wake up.  There is a new course designed for  you. You can become  a Free Software Activist in six months. Results assured. Rush the seats are limited.

Update: The  CATFOSS site has been take down. The google cache is here. I am adding relavant links from google cache.

Free Software : The current fashion in Kerala

December 12th, 2008 15 comments

Kerala is abuzz with free software mantra after the present  Government of Kerala formally endorsed free software as one of its natural allies. Lot of common people are showing interest in free software and its bi-products such as copy left books , wikipedia etc. As a long time user of free software, I am pretty amused at the
current hype.

If you look closely you can see different genre of self styled  free software pundits. I will try to list out some of the common types that you can see on Kerala streets.

a) The Total Newbie

These are the most common variety. They have heard of RMS and Linus and they think that free software is free beer, Most of their views on free software is formulated by hyped news paper articles. They are afraid of trying out Free Software and most
probably stick to their current computing platform. Engineering students, Government employees, University teachers, Cyber police, Journalists and petty politicians of both left and right wing are generally of this type. They are mostly innocuous.

Newbies and Total Newbies wondering about the free beer


This category is seen among school teachers , some school students and very few members of general public. They have read about the virtues of free software and attempted installing it at least once. Most of them have lost valuable data in the process. I am sure their interest in free software will die out when they find out that they can not play an MP3 on Ubuntu/Fedora after installation.

c) Free Software Volunteers

These are the most dangerous type you may encounter. I think there are a quite few of them around. They speak about RMS, GPL and freedom. They can deliver fiery speeches and will laugh at you in public if you boot up the other OS. I had a pretty good encounter with one of them recently. I was teaching some  college lecturers about the use of computers in recording and processing music. Unfortunately most of the commercial music software is available on another platform and I had to prepare my classes on it.

The so called free software volunteer who  looked at my teaching schedule  asked me , ” Hey , I know you are a free software chap. Why don’t you teach them all these software on Free platform. Let their souls also be saved. “ . I politely pointed out that there is not much free stuff available on FOSS platforms. He then asked me to try all proprietary stuff on Wine. I said “OK , can you tell me how do  I install ‘foobar’ with wine”.  He tried for some  five minutes and  said, “  I am busy working on a speech for the upcoming free software  conference. I will call you once the article is written”. I haven’t heard from him since.

A  Typical Volunteer

Free software volunteers can be subdivided further

i) Pure Volunteers

The Pure volunteers have never installed free software by themselves and they don’t know how to operate it .They have memorized the Jargon file and quote from it even in deep sleep. They are driven by their ego and make a living by oratory skills and other gimmicks . Pure volunteers will respond to all of your queries for help with wrong answers. Their target  audience is mainly newbies and total newbies.

If a  newbie says ,“XYZ make video card is not recognized in Fubuntu” .  A Pure Volunteer  will reply , “ Dude, you are using the wrong distro. Use UDORA with kernel 2.X.X” . The Kerala  LUG/FSUG  mailing lists are infested with them.

All the free  software meets will be managed by Pure Volunteers. If you are  planning to have a one day FOSS meet, just find out the nearest volunteer and buy him a Biriyani. If you closely look at the presentations and documents  they make , you can read a PPT renamed as ODP PDFs made from MS office etc. They secretly use MS office to write all their correspondence, but never admit it. Some of them will object to the term FOSS. ( Only GPL V3  is acceptable) .  Keep a safe distance from them. They roam around with catchy T shirts depicting  GNU and Penguin.

ii) Organizers of free software groups.

The more enterprising among Pure Volunteers will eventually become Organizers.  You can find these type of people as founders of free software startups , NGOs, LUGs and FSUGs. They come form different walks of life .They also preach a lot but they have a ulterior motive of making money. Their thinking is like this “Let the government adopt free software , we are the only authorized/official group. So naturally all money should come to us”. They are adept in keeping away closed source stuff they use from public view and generally very arrogant. Deal with them carefully. They will steal your skills and market it.

d) Power Users.

Power users of free software are sometimes found. They know what they do and may not preach about what they do. You can find a few lurking in some of the Linux user groups around. They are generally  timid  and gentle. Most of them have a dual boot setup and wont mind admitting that they use windows.

e) Geeks

They are sighted very rarely. They tinker and work on command line. Typical geek definitions apply. They are averse to company and generally  found with    command prompts.

f) Free software contributors.

I have not seen many of them in recent past. Of course, there are several Keralites contributing to many free software projects. Most of them live outside Kerala. ( Pretty difficult to survive in Gods own hell) .  There are some minor free software projects started by resident Keralites. These projects die off quickly once the number of developers cross the magical figure of one. I am not naming any but try to meet some of the so called contributors on mailing  list and ask him about finer details of the projects directions.

The average Keralaite is confused about computers , software and freedom. For him free software is another government scheme like free noon meals for school students. :)Let us see how long the hype will last. Finally, let me ask how many kernel developers are there in Kerala , or Show me 10 Debian developers who are resident in Kerala.
Update: If you want all the above types, have a look at the photo blog of Arky. and Proprietary software.

December 11th, 2008 41 comments

I am just back from The event had several renowned participants and and exhibition on free software.  I was responsible for setting up the stall of IHRD. We show cased LTSP and  remastering Ubuntu.  I was busy with the stall yesterday and day before yesterday and could not attend any sessions.

At our stall with a Thin Client on the table.

Today morning, I went to the convention centre at Mascot hotel. I was planning to attend a few technical sessions. I was shocked to find  many speakers running Windows Vista and power point presentations.  I thought the guys running the show were hard core GNU fanatics. ( Ricard Stallman was present on the opening day of the conference.).

I was listened to two talks , one on  GRAILS and the other on Javafx. The guy who spoke on grails used GNU/Linux and openoffice impress. The  talk on Javafx was simply crap. The speaker seemed  to know very little of Java.

I asked him whether the Javafx is available on any free platforms and whether it is  free software.  He said  some bla bla and quickly wound up. Any way,  took some photgraphs of his presentation. I think he was trying to carefully hide windows and powerpoint.

Teach yourself   free software   with  Windows XP  in 21 days

Back in the exibition pavallion, I scanned around for  proprietary  stuff. I could spot them on a couple of stalls.

Hands on Free Software with Windows VISTA. 😀

Finally, the Linux user group was running a windows  theme on  one of their Laptops 😀

Learning  windows (theme) on Linux

You cannot get rid of proprietary software even in a conference on freedom and free software 😀

PS: I use windows if it is absolutely needed.

The online method of finding fair value of land in Kerala :D

May 29th, 2008 1 comment

             The registration department of Kerala has launched a web site which lists fair value of land in various parts of Kerala. Here is a report about the inauguration of the site . Being a land owner( and,of course a member of the so called land mafia), I was eager to find out the fair value of some of my property.

At 2.30 pm on 29th May 2008, I got the following screen.



I had a different screen in the morning, but could not go beyond the starting screen.

This is a classic case of Kerala Government web sites getting failed on the very first day of operation. The fair price of land being a sensitive issue, the the server might have got fairly good amount of hits this morning. The sys admins of most of the government websites are unaware of issues like slashdot effect.

Ok. Let us find out what this is.

sunil@debian:~$ nslookup

Non-authoritative answer:

Browsing to also gave the above page. Hence, it is assumed that the domain is hosted on a dedicated IP.

Let us run nmap and find out what OS is being run.

debian:/home/sunil# nmap -P0 -sV -O -v

Starting Nmap 4.11) at 2008-05-29 20:07 IST
DNS resolution of 1 IPs took 0.00s.
Initiating SYN Stealth Scan against [1680 ports] at 20:07
Discovered open port 80/tcp on
SYN Stealth Scan Timing: About 39.46% done; ETC: 20:09 (0:00:46 remaining)
The SYN Stealth Scan took 84.78s to scan 1680 total ports.
Initiating service scan against 1 service on at 20:09
The service scan took 6.29s to scan 1 service on 1 host.
Warning: OS detection will be MUCH less reliable because we did not find at least 1 open and 1 closed TCP port
For OSScan assuming port 80 is open, 35912 is closed, and neither are firewalled
Host appears to be up … good.
Interesting ports on
Not shown: 1679 filtered ports
80/tcp open http Microsoft IIS webserver 6.0
Device type: general purpose
Running: Microsoft Windows 2003/.NET
OS details: Microsoft Windows 2003 Server SP1
TCP Sequence Prediction: Class=truly random
Difficulty=9999999 (Good luck!)
IPID Sequence Generation: Busy server or unknown class
Service Info: OS: Windows

Nmap finished: 1 IP address (1 host up) scanned in 94.289 seconds
Raw packets sent: 5074 (224.128KB) | Rcvd: 27 (1875B)

The server is running widows 2003 server. I was under the impression that all the Kerala government sites are on free software.

I did some more research on some prominent Kerala government sites and I feel most of them are vulnerable. Some of them running unwanted services, open relays,outdated software etc. Try running nmap on a couple of them. No wonder they get hacked so often.

Let us wait and see how the registration department web site will come up.

Update 8pm 29 may 2007:

The site is back online.

Here is a screen shot. Even though  it is showing server busy, I could access records from the site.


            There is a detailed  page here on how to access your lands fair value.  Now look at the front page there is a user login box  on the right side. Click on the user drop down box. All user names are listed. This seems to be for  data updation  from various district offices. 

          Now, select any user from the  list, click on the  forgot password link.. :d  Tomorrow  each of the users will see  thousands of mails announcing change of password.