Some segments from the 11th 5 year plan

The 11th 5 Year Plan’s IT section available from this link [~ 3MB PDF] has a few mentions about Indian Language Computing. A few selected bits are as below, but do read the document as well.

  • A project for introducing ‘Master’ level and ‘Post Graduate Diploma’ level courses in the domains of Knowledge Engineering, Computational Linguistics and Software Localization has been initiated at eight institutions in India
  • Out of the proposed 6% of GDP spending on education in the NCMP, 1% should be set aside for IT-support to education through PTICs, HSPTICs, local language content creation, installation of PCs in each of the government primary and secondary schools.
  • Maximize Government transactions online through development of content in local languages.
  • India has 22 official languages and this advocates the requirement of content in local language for different regions. Enabling all Government transactions online, necessitating development of content in local languages. Software applications for domestic use should be useable by more than 50% of the population rather than by restricting them to a mere 5% of the English speaking population
  • Making available all basic software as FOSS with Indic interfaces and make appropriate fund available for the same
  • Service support of FOSS at lower cost to all taluka towns, through Call Centers in all regional languages,
  • Setting up a Central Lab (what is normally referred to as a Society in DIT parlance) for Indian Languages and Speech Technologies along the lines of C-DAC etc. This should be supported by Regional Labs.

The intentions are fairly well documented what is now required is getting things done.

All hail the Fearless Leader

Paul has a mail about “Steering Committee Formation” for L10n Projects. L10n is very important to the project in terms of languages, workflow, processes and infrastructure and at this stage a steering committee would be ideal for getting things done. Quoting from the mail itself: “I encourage the L10n (Translation) Project to start talking about an L10n Steering Committee. I also encourage interested community members to step and serve as committee members to better organize and communicate about all the great work that’s being done in L10n.

My wish for the Steering Committee is that it will encourage communication, foster consensus and build community. In short it would get the Translation Project ninjas become the more amazingly powerful than they are now.

Hindi, Kashmiri, and Urdu localisation workshop being organized

Gora posted a mail about this. Snippets from his mail:

[…] Towards this end, RGF and Sarai, CSDS, have jointly funded fellowships for
localisation of free/open source software (FOSS) into languages
including Assamese, Hindi, Kashmiri, Oriya, and Urdu. Typically,
such a localisation effort covers at least two-thirds of the
applications included in a FOSS desktop, working out to the
translation of about 40,000 phrases, or of nearly 3,00,000
words. While the Hindi translation is quite advanced,
localisation work is just commencing in Kashmiri and Urdu, and is
at an early stage in Assamese and Oriya.

Notes from the conclave had the tagline “Knowledge shall set you free” and keeping this in mind the organizers had arranged for conclaves to discuss around this topic. The conclaves were held behind closed doors but the attendance was by no means invite-only.

As revealed so precisely in this quote (from The Future of Ideas by Lawrence Lessig):    This, however, is a new century; our questions will be different. The issue for us will not be which system of exclusive control—the government or the market—should govern a given resource. The question for us comes before:not whether the market or the state but, for any given resource, whether that resource should be controlled or free.

The Government of India says that anyone who can sign or count the numbers is literate, the Knowledge Commission talks about knowledge and infrastructure around it. Hence one of the objectives was to arrive at some sort of definition of knowledge. Since knowledge hegemonies impede and affect dissemination, the idea was also to talk about the “text” based knowledge which has become accepted per se across various segments of the Internet. Thus, the internet as a carrier medium is very much different from internet as a knowledge repository which requires interactive participation.

The focus was more on knowledge dissemination techniques. Instead of talking about and around the seductive appeal of technology, the mutually agreed point was to discuss around usage of technology as a means to an end objective of knowledge dissemination for the largest possible segment of the society. The Indian economy is at a stage where it needs to be powered by knowledge as much by infrastructure projects. Institutional and non conventional structures have the agenda and perhaps a mandate to participate in creation, tagging and dissemination of knowledge. An important aspect of dissemination would of course be to identify and understand the target audience and arrange for the focal point of the knowledge circle to be located near them. This of course implies that the state provided infrastructure could be used, but the state would not be directly participating in the management of knowledge.

For most societies, the existence of an academic “open” system encourages and provides incentives for knowledge sharing and information transaction. The sharing is both within education framework and outside it, rather than being a homogenous monoculture. An interesting point that emerged during the discussion was that the relevance of traditional education has changed due to the nature of social and labour expectations. And thus traditional education is the primary place for dissemination of knowledge. India is perhaps the only country which has a dedicated satellite for education content production (at the uplinking studios) and distribution. Thus, the EduSat community needs to be strengthened and re-focussed into achieving its mandate.

While the agenda this time was deliberately kept vague to encourage the churn of ideas, the intent was to look as how to see digital societies can go beyond localized educational institutes and change the mode of education. Discussions around the Commonwealth Education Project, the Open Education Project and also the by now increasing awareness that research conducted at universities need to be put under Open Access Licenses.

The first day of the conclave ended with a discussion along User Technology Interaction Models, Community Radio, Community Infrastructure, Content Courseware Development, GIS and Geolocation. At a very high level knowledge was identified into implicit and explicit knowledge, academic and non academic knowledge and short-term+long-term information.

On the second day the conclave did a deeper dive into the aspects of encoding of the knowledge content and how information technology can be applied at verticals like health, education, governance etc. A significant number of instances were discussed where the content would not be useful or relevant without re-processing and re-writing to make it relevant to the context.

The discussion also touched upon the area of tacit knowledge and how to address the capture and storing of such a corpus and encoding such that everybody is allowed to access, use and share that information. In this case technology would be the enabler and not the driver.

More discussions on the mailing list

Day 3: /etc/init.d/freed.in2008 restart

Gora introduces Niyam Bhushan who looks incredibly healthy, fit and unlike his normal drunk-on-knowledge self. Lo it is Dr Nagarjuna who is replacing Niyam (who is sick and not feeling up to a talk) to talk about SELF project. His talk touches upon the by now familiar domains of knowledge, openness and enconding of content so as to make it available to the widest possible segment. In between he also shares his experience with design elements that go into the making of a successful knowledge portal by taking us through the notes Niyam has put up during his involvement with the SELF Project.

Quote of the morning belongs to Raj Mathur – Andrew, I love you. Can I bum a cigarette off you ?

Venky (Venkatesh Hariharan) is up next talking about the topic of Open Standards and how they are important for us. Taking the real situation of OOXML, Venky takes us through the lessons learned and how future standards war, especially the ones where proprietary standards are thrust upon us could turn out to be. For those who are not familiar with the why and how of “Open Standards” he provides a quick primer into the much more interesting aspects of the Great Game.

Aanjhan brings up the most eagerly awaited talk of the day – Software for Hardware. Aanjhan has been doing some heavy lifting by packaging a significant number of software packages related to Electronic Labs / simulators etc for Debian – way to go tuxmaniac. He also had a number of good things to say about the Fedora Electronics Lab spin – so, Chitlesh you’ve got a supporter here. After the interesting talk and even more eye catching demos, Aanjhan ended with a call to help in propagating the existence of these packages. The current curricula in various academic institutions prohibit (both explicitly and implicitly) the usage and adoption of these fine examples of free software. With growing awareness one hopes that a larger segment of students would be contributing to them besides using them for their coursework.

Gora: We regret to inform you that lunch has been delayed by close to an hour. We are pushing the next speaker up on stage to do what he is supposed to do. Speak.

Shreyas Srinivasan of Radio VeRVe goes up to talk about Independent Music and why it ought to form an important part of our daily life. Leading the audience through the definition of independent music (“where the rights of the content rest with the musician / creator”) he explores the reasons as to why the mass music culture is nearly a mono culture. The well entrenched chain of distribution and promotion hassles are good enough reasons to inhibit any musician to attempt to break into the market. Since significant real estate is in the hands of “labels” – they end up defining what the populace would listen to. In this context, internet based independent music stations like Radio VeRVe provide more than a fair chance to creativity. Building an ecosystem that is not only limited to music, Radio VeRVe operates in the same space as Magnatune and Jamendo does. He has a few T-shirts for the important questions – I ask one, but don’t get a T-shirt of my size :( Sadness. It is a good interactive session probing into areas we generally don’t end up looking into, but more importantly engaging the participants to “think about it”. For those who attended Sajan’s talk on Community Radio it does help to put things in perspective.

Amazingly delicious lunch. Jokes abound as to how is actually with talks and conclaves wrapped around it to provide the patina of an event.

Unfortunately, we (Runa and me) take leave in order to catch the flight just as Friji begins her talk. Andrew says “Oh! I don’t actually do anything, the event just happens”. Sure it does Andrew – sure it does. It happens because there is a large collective of folks who want to push the boundaries of existing pedagogy to investigate the currency of knowledge and how that currency is important in creating a sustainable economy and a strong nation. It happens because of the team of volunteers who run around all over the place to make it happen.

If you have never attended a ever – make sure to mark it on your calendar the dates for the next edition. You will never stop being surprised by the enthusiasm, the depth of view points and the passionate arguments. You will never ever think of not coming to this event.

“The network will go down when Andrew moves out”

With those words Gora hustled everyone out of the halls when it appeared that we were shooting past the time. Of course, there was fun during the wonderful dinner when Gora’s beer can (containing around 1/4th the remaining quantity) was emptied into a various glasses and replaced with packaged water. What happened next is anyone’s guess :)

Gora herding folks for dinner

Day 2 begins a bit late – but hey, network is up and so up go the pictures. Schuyler Erle/Mikel Maron start their Open Street Map talk with animations of their excursions around Mumbai and other places and emphasizing how it can actually represent multiple points of view on the same map.The process followed by mapping agencies and commercial organizations have limitations in terms of workforce and coverage. The “collaborative” model provided by Free and Open Source software provides an ideal counterpoint towards making access to cartographic information easier. Taking multiple examples from Google Maps, Yahoo maps and maps from other cartographic organizations, they point out the fallacies in the belief that Satellite Maps or Sat Nav systems are accurate in terms of data accuracy.

Samiah gets a “LUG-D syndrome” – a sprained neck as a result of lugging around too much load. Rene, Kiran and Andreas ensure that the Gyaan hall has all the crowds. Dhyaan is empty enough for Raj Mathur to fiddle around with trying to broadcast the conclave-which-did-not-happen over the Internet. I discreetly catch up on a large bit of work related mails and of course prod Andrew to explore the possibility of publishing GNU books at a cheaper price. I catch the end bits of Rakesh Peter’s wonderful talk on “Software Defined Radio” after Shreyas twitters about how interesting the demos are. Runa’s up next with her talk on “Setting Up a Translation Community”.

Rahul and Andreas discussing Indic and Scribus

We run through the talk from Jayesh Gohel at a fairly fast clip to arrive at the end of the day. By then all the chatter and gossip was around the standard fare – kebabs and more kebabs. We all wait for the conclave to end or at least somehow arrive at a situation where the folks at the conclave can take some time out for dinner. Lots of pieces of hardware are found around the podium and we keep on announcing them. Had a small aside with Andreas as to how the Indic and related text layout support in Scribus is going to enable Indic to be used by the largest possible section of the population. Passed to him my blog about the DTP issues and he was pleasantly surprised to hear about little magazines. I got to know about the fact that church groups seem to be the largest constituency of Scribus users for their newsletters, pamphlets and the like.
Wonderful dinner – awesome conversation and fun moments with photographs. What we got was quotes and quotes.

Gora: If anyone sms-es me tonight, I’ll murder that person

Shreyas: I want to open a Boozegoolla shop

Friji: I am not like Plan 9, I am much more mature

Gora: Even if you had the last beer can, I am not going to have it from your hands

Shreyas: Man, with a 1km mall, run inside it 42 times you will have a marathon

Sunil: I have another question. Again.

Tirveni: I am SuperMan with a SuperBaby inside

Jace: I strongly object …

Gora: Use the microphone dammit and learn to wait for your turn.

Kishore: I am Obee Van CanYouBee

Day 1: /etc/init.d/freed.in2008 start

Day 1 begins at the guest house with parathas – hot, spicy and fairly fast moving. We pack ourselves into the vehicles provided (thanks Tirveni) and make our way to the venue. The overnight arrivals – Gopal, Samiah trundle along with us, others take the next car.There are barricades in front of the registration area – someone from the securtity does the usual needful and in order to prevent trespass. Kishore works his magic, gets those removed. Inside there’s Rajesh trying to wrap his head around the huge banner of the event that has landed up and no one really has a clue what to do with the branding.

Is it past 1000 already – oh then we have lit the lamp – OldMonk. Haa haa, we are still waiting for crowd to trickle in. They do, in batches and this is a crowd that I haven’t generally seen at conferences. So, the lamp is lit – Shireen, Samiah, Runa and Krishnakant do the needful. The rich voice of Andrew kicks off the event with a mindmap (fairly apt for an event that is traditionally untraditional). Raj, Gora, Kishore, Niyam and Raj, Gora again get to piece together the underlying theme of the event – the why – the how and of course the whereto. We start off a bit later than expected, but nothing is actually critically lost.

Samiah takes the stage with her “All work and no play” talk and after taking us through the pedagogical systems that are used to teach, she provides an insight into “Game Based Teaching” model that when effectively used for kids would be providing visible improvements.

Lunch is an interesting experience talking with Sanjeev who explained in a bit of detail about the Agile based project NRCFOSS is undertaking and raised a need to re-use the existing code bases present on to estimate FOSS software projects. A curious view point and I don’t recall having heard about this earlier. Lunch is good, but the gulab jamuns are sinfully delicious.

Valsa goes up next with her talk on “Maximising creation and access to content” – by asking “what’s the use of the content if access to them is denied, and what’s the use of the hardware if there is no content to use it to access”. Let knowledge flow freely. Four pillars of the World Ahead Program – Accessibility, Connectivity, Education and Content.

In parallel start off the conclave aimed at arriving at some sort of alignment and agreement around the concepts and implementation of them for a world where knowledge does set one free.

Sajan Venniyoor talks about “Access Denied” or a short history of the community radio in India. Starkly driving home the points around: legality, cost, technology, copyright, spectrum (or lack thereof) and the royalty charges he ends with the stern prophecy that all this is going to impact how we access our knowledge bases sooner rather than later.

Atul’s up next with his view on “Open Mobility” where the concept is not themed around the “computer” but around the designs and innovations that make it possible to use and consume services while being on the move. With gadgets coming up from various era to explain what mobility means – he hammers home the need to create a community of developers around mobility devices which enable them to be “open” – enabling creating of applications and content.

I am sleepy and I go out for some super sweet coffee. The caffeine kick gets me worked up enough and I return to a really well covered talk by Krishakant Mane on GNU/Linux and a11y.

Photos are being put by Jace here and I put up a few ones here.

Day 0: 2008 “Tell me – how tired are you today ?”

With this question Gora (he-who-should-blog-but-never-does) got nearly all speakers who landed in Delhi on Thursday to land up at JNU. Feels like home – the planning is being done out in the open in front of the speakers, the wireless depends on Raj Mathur (OldMonk) to figure out the cryptic calligraphy that has the necessary bits from Andrew, Kishore is waiting on Gora to make some changes in the schedule and Gora is waiting on someone to provide him the power for the router. So in the midst of all this we eat some delicious dal vada and wait for things to settle down. And we hear that the halls are being named “Gyaan” and “Dhyaan”. This looks like it is going to be a long haul and its going to be much later than the promised 2030 before we go for the hotel ;) Fun knows no bounds when Gora and Tirveni get Pradeepto to stand under the neem tree outside Palam for his pickup. He waits … and finally calls back to get something going about his pickup.

The volunteers are kicking up some serious butt – they are putting the swags into the bag, procuring/purchasing the last minute stuff and of course just being around when needed. This is an inspired gang of people. I slipped some GNOME badges/buttons into the swag bag and hopefully we will see folks wearing them. That generally flies out like crazy.
We end up going to the place to stay at Gurgaon “Mall View” thanks to Kishore – the Merciful, who drives us down including the souls from FreeMap. We order pizza en route and join up with Pradeepto and Aanjhan to gorge on them before hitting the bed for the day.

Is it different from how conferences usually goes ? You bet it is. It is as close to a family atmosphere as you can be. If you aren’t there this time. You are missing enough fun that can recharge your batteries.

See you at 2008 where knowledge shall set you free

Knowledge shall set you free” – with these words the organizational ninjas of that you-must-attend-at-least-once event called have set in place a very interesting meet. These are interesting times we live in. Times of Open Standards, Open Formats, freedom to share, to collaborate and to synthesize new content using affordable and sometimes non-traditional means. There is a neat line up of talks this time around and a I expect that the fun bit would not be the talks themselves but the ideas that buzz around once the floor is ready for a debate. A debate is something that any speaker would look forward to – since it provides adds another perspective to the truth. Knowledge is a constant striving search for truth and in its various forms and shapes I expect lots of interesting conversations. Of course, its Delhi and JNU and it would be meeting old friends and making new ones.

I plan to muse a bit about how the walled garden nomenclature of everything as “communities” is perhaps something that is a throwback to the times when we needed labels and tokens to recognize a movement. And now it is a time for a re-think and a relook to what exactly we mean by communities. Runa will perhaps be blogging about her talk as well.
To get to the venue all you require is a mind open to experiences and a printout of this page.
Knowledge shall set you free