A tale of two conferences

A Tale of Two Cities is a classic novel by Charles Dickens. Indeed students of literature are often known to quote initial lines from the above novel – “It was best of times, it was worst of times. It was age of wisdom, it was age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
IIT Bombay recently organized two conferences on Scilab and Python respectively and everything was positive. The Scilab conference was held on December 3rd and 4th. The conference on Python focusing on its use in scientific and educational computing was held from December 5th to December 7th, 2014. And one can confidently say that there were no negatives about this one. It was all positive. The conference sessions were a healthy mixture of academic research and practical insights. There were a good number of workshops and discussions.
Scilab is numerical computation software used in area of scientific computing with high level programming features, mathematical functions and advanced data structures, . Scilab offers graphical features and can be used by engineers and scientists with great utility.
Scilab is free and open source software and competes against MATLAB, commercial software in the same segment. Indeed the popularity of Scilab can be estimated from the fact that almost 100,000 copies of the software are downloaded from website –

The keynote address in session was addressed by Dr. Claude Gomez, CEO, Scilab Enterprises. His address was the best and perhaps the simplest. He pointed that it is just not enough that Scilab should be free. It should be friendly software with lots of functionalities.  Dr. Gomez informed the audience of history of Scilab from its initial start in 1990s and its present association with Scilab Enterprises.

When questioned on why it is that Scilab had such a small market share in the area of scientific computing Dr. Gomez said that organisations are averse to trying something new. He added that there was reluctance to switch to Scilab.
The Scilab conference had interesting group discussion on various topics such as business models around Scilab, making Scilab popular in India, bridging gap between Scilab and Matlab. Thus the Scilab conference was made interesting and interactive with participation from all delegates.

The Python conference had tutorials that covered basic and useful Python features. Some of the tutorials were conducted by Dr. Prabhu Ramachandran, IIT Bombay in very interactive and enjoyable manner.  Dr. Prabhu Ramachandran points to strengths of Python. He says, Python has nimbleness of an interpreted language and strength of a general purpose programming language. Python has rich library for scientific and technical computation. Python can easily connect to modules developed in other programming languages – C, Fortran etc. Python, he added has libraries for variety of other things like web servers and graphic user interfaces.

Romain Guillebert, Py Py developer from France was one of the key note speakers. He spoke on how PyPy optimized Python and made Python programs run fast. The other key note speaker was Ajith Kumar, scientist, Inter University Accelerator Center. He argued that Python should replace C++ or other programming languages taught in school. Firstly he pointed that Python was far simpler. Secondly Python could be used to support other subjects. Finally Python was a powerful language.

Professor Kannan Moudgalya, IIT Bombay spoke about Spoken Tutorial project at IIT Bombay and how it teaches programming languages through freely available audio video tutorials. He also spoke about FOSSEE project at IIT Bombay that promotes Free and Open Source Software in education.

Professor Deepak Phatak, IIT Bombay is recipient of Padmashree award from Government of India. He spoke about initiatives of National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology of Ministry of Human Resources Development. Professor Phatak spoke on MOOCs – Massive Online Open Courses. Professor Phatak also spoke about SWAYAM – Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds.

Both the conferences were well attended with more than 100 delegates in each conference. Delegates actually participated actively in conference since conferences were not limited to talks, but also included workshops and tutorials.

The conference was well organised with lunch and refreshments for delegates. The conference organisers said that it took them 20 person months effort spread over few months to organize conferences. The two conferences will be cherished for long.

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