A whole lot of things to write about…

  • Generally I am the last one in the office to move to a new release of Fedora on the main box. I tend to move through stable -> rawhide / development -> newer release on the test box using a variety of combinations of desktop environments and applications. Since the test box is MIA and I was getting tired of the “raah-raah Sulphur” that seems to be echoing from corners of the office, I decided to take the plunge and take the main box to rawhide / development with the intention of moving to Sulphur (stable). Used a LiveUSB to “install-to-hard-disk” activated the livna repo and pulled in a massive upgrade followed by the install of my preferred applications. First impressions – [i] the graphics look way too smooth and beautiful [ii] NetworkManager had some initial hiccups but then began working nicely (UPDATE: Thanks to the poking around the system by mether it turns out that some till_now_undocumented gconf cruft in /home was playing hard to get with NM other than which the disable-enable trick for the connection seems to work nicely) [iii] Pidgin hasn’t crashed yet, so I am off Kopete for a while [iv] took some time getting used to the packagekitd + yum thing with yum getting locked now and then. I generally turn of yumupdatesd and then do yum install / remove etc and guess getting used to PackageKit will take time [v] scim and Bengali (India) support work nicely [vi] fonts on the browser render well, I could do with some of my browser add-ons though, but I guess they will come in due course [vii] the firstboot doesn’t include the SELinux bits so you can trip up getting the system installed and booted into SELinux “Enforcing” mode. Fun, fun, fun :)
  • The experience with the local mirrors viz the GLUG-NITH and the WBUT ones hasn’t been a happy one. The former times out rejects the connection (as per conversation with Debarshi) with an unerring frequency while the latter doesn’t mirror development yet. The usage statistics for the GLUG-NITH mirror are here, and it does prove that more mirrors and torrent seeds are required. If you know someone who can help in getting this done, do get in touch with the Fedora folks in India via the fedora-india mailing list or the #fedora-india channel on FreeNode. In fact, if you want to help out with the FreeMedia project in India, these would be the means to get in touch. At the last count there are more OPEN media requests than we can handle and we would really love to see more contributions for this effort. Getting the OS bits to consumers and contributors go a long way in ensuring that the latest and the shiny greatest release is available for testing and contribution.
  • The list of projects this time looks amazing. Here’s to a wonderful time hacking and building communities. A slight note on the insanity that prevailed for a short while with various LUGs pushing out lists like “here are the number of folks from ‘our’ LUG who are participating as candidates or mentors”. Without being too sarcastic, that reminds me of the time a number of coaching centers take out advertisements which proclaim to the world and its uncle that “xy number of students appeared in the top ranks for such and such common entrance examinations”. It isn’t really about the breast beating – it is about ensuring that the mentors and the candidates work in harmony and help ensure that a community of usage is built around the project. If they have a collective of people who think, work and learn together it is then that the massive push like the GSoC would be really effective. Till then it would be like the annual festival which is slowly losing some of the sheen.
  • Thanks to all the fine folks at Nokia I finally have my n810 at hand (thanks to ramkrsna from getting it down during his 17 flight backpack across the US trip). First impressions – [i] xrandr breaks a whole lot of things (should not have tried that really) [ii] scim stuff is not suited to a tap style of input [iii] I miss the fact that the button is not outside and I have to expose the keyboard to use it [iv] the keyboard seems a bit flaky [v] a lot of my prejudices around the on-screen tap based usage would require a re-visit [vi] the application wish list is an interesting document.
  • Clare has a lovely welcome note for GSoC candidates that can apply to all the other projects too.

And in some other news

  • Yesterday evening we had a lovely meal at Barbeque Nation which is doing a soft launch at Pune. The concept of a “live barbeque” at the table is fairly unique for me at least and the food was lovely. For a change the music wasn’t really too loud, the seating comfortable and we had a whole lot of stories to share over the fixed price 5 vegetarian, 5 non-vegetarian “eat all you can” barbeque feast. The food could have done with a touch of less salt and I really wished I had dragged my camera along.
  • Runa is back from her vacation and she re-arranged the bookshelf and I have space for more books. She also brought some goodies (read palm-candy) for me. Yay !!
  • During an unguarded moment of enthusiasm I had opined to Lucas that the RoadMap needs to be “un-geeked”. So, I plan to sit down during the coming weeks and ask the lamest of questions on the now-released-roadmap and be a general pain in the posterior for all the fine folks who responded to the roadmap call.
  • ps. we are looking out for a software engineer.

Do children collaborate ?

Runa has gone to Kolkata for a few days. It isn’t a jolly good time to be there, but I wait for the arrival of the goodies – the list of which I slipped in her bag :)

The last blog entry has initiated an interesting round of comments and mails. The one thing I’d like to point out is that I wasn’t the one discussing about “alternative education” or even “home schooling” (come to think of it, I don’t really know anything about how popular home schooling is in India). That stuff was written by Pradeepto and I guess he’s being shy not to follow it up with the discussions he’s been having.

I am a bit more worried about the “rewards-for-results” process that parents seem to follow. I have enough first hand anecdotes from various bookstores, retail stores and what-not to take a guess that the process seems to be adopted since it is easy to implement.

The problem as I see it lies in putting rewards (or “carrots”) in order to “make” the children do tasks and then also providing details of punishments (or “stick”) if the consequences are not according to expectations. Doing it this way makes it easy since the kids do have a lot of interesting things on their wishlist and tying the wishlist to real-life and real-time performance is supposed to get things done faster. It also puts in the incremental fear about “consequences” if things are not_done. Children are not supposed to be “made to learn”. The motivation from learning should be coming from within ie intrinsic and the environment should be such that the intrinsic motivation is fostered and nurtured.

The over emphasis on individual excellence over peer level collaboration that the current education system puts in place does create a paradox. Students go through life striving to be excellent “individual contributors” and then when they end up at a job (including research assignments) they are expected to learn to collaborate. How’s that for fun ? The other side effect of the “rat race” is the lack of focus on skills that children should learn to inculcate – managing their time, their assignments and most importantly taking time to play. The urban sprawl that the country is turning into is ensuring that the housing socities have a tiny patch of green called the children’s park. And the ones between 10-15 years either just laze around at the house watching TV or are compelled to attend an innumerable and wild variety of activity classes like tennis, karate, cricket etc.

There has to be something called multiple process disorder which creates the conflicts in the mind of a child as to what really needs to be done. The other problem of course is the overt studies (including this arm-chair one) which try and figure out what is wrong by boxing things into convenient and “pragmatic” (?) action items.

Random recollections

I don’t recall why I looked up Pankaj Mullick, but once I did, I recalled one of my favorite songs. Admittedly not one of his best renditions but there was something about the LP that made it special. Please excuse the formatting.

ভুবনেশ্বর হে ,
মোচন কর’ বন্ধন সব মোচন কর’ হে ।।
প্রভু, মোচন কর’ ভয় ,
সব দৈন্য করহ লয় ,
নিত্য চকিত চঞ্চল চিত কর’ নিঃসংশয় ।
তিমিররাত্রি, অন্ধ যাত্রী ,
সমুখে তব দীপ্ত দীপ তুলিয়া ধর’ হে ।।
ভুবনেশ্বর হে ,
মোচন কর’ জড়বিষাদ মোচন কর’ হে ।
প্রভু, তব প্রসন্ন মুখ
সব দুঃখ করুক সুখ ,
ধূলিপতিত দুর্বল চিত করহ জাগরূক ।
তিমিররাত্রি, অন্ধ যাত্রী ,
সমুখে তব দীপ্ত দীপ তুলিয়া ধর’ হে ।।
ভুবনেশ্বর হে ,
মোচন কর’ স্বার্থপাশ মোচন কর’ হে ।
প্রভু, বিরস বিকল প্রাণ ,
কর’ প্রেমসলিল দান ,
ক্ষতিপীড়িত শঙ্কিত চিত কর’ সম্পদবান ।
তিমিররাত্রি, অন্ধ যাত্রী ,
সমুখে তব দীপ্ত দীপ তুলিয়া ধর’ হে ।।

What are we doing to our kids ?

There’s a small sequence in the movie Taare Zameen Par where the mother gets busy at an unearthly hour making breakfast for the father, the kid and then of course the little one. And every time I recall those set of scenes I get a memory jog about what I see around me every day. Kids these days seem to be running from one school to another, changing bags and uniforms along the way trying to keep up with each other in a mad, mad race of one-upmanship.

Pradeepto has a small blog entry about “alternative education”. We were talking about it on the very day the programme was aired on TV but not everything that’s there in the blog was being talked about.

The most significant problem with the issue is that the kids are generally pushed into activities by their parents because “co-curricular activities are nice” and since they don’t really like these karate-swimming-tennis-what_not classes – they are rewarded each time they do attend or participate in them.

If the hassled parents of today think that rewards are a good way to enforce behaviour change – I’d say they are dead wrong.

Rewards are a mistake. And a big one.

Rewards don’t really bring about behaviour change. What they end up doing is ensuring that a repetitive pattern of behaviour is put in place so as to minimize the chances of losing out on the rewards. Ergo, the kids don’t do things that would ensure that they don’t get rewards. And since they are being rewarded for something they might not be enjoying – the very act of rewards+praise drains away the intrinsic motivation for taking interest in the activity. There is the additional bit about disparity of rewards causing problems in the social / peer circle of the kids.

The method of in-your-face rewards to enforce behaviour is thus linked with the threat of withdrawal of the reward if the outcome is not desirable. In a way, the linking of rewards with outcome limit the desire of the kids to explore (and take a few learning risks here and there). Rewards are very disruptive. There have been a few studies done on rewards and motivation in the workplace and the general conclusions haven’t been very pleasant. There’s no reason to believe that rewarding kids for something they might not enjoy doing is going to bring about any different result.

It is kind of sad to see that there aren’t more of the schools which focus on an “alternative” way to teach. The current system of education only demands that the kids can regurgitate the facts – not learn from what is there in the text books. It is not that there are brilliant (and not limiting that word to the academic sense only) kids. But they are there “in spite of the system” and not “because of the system”. And that is what is a really bad sign.

It is a start …

We started a small concept called “RandomInk” a bit over 4 years ago. It wasn’t meant to do anything more than provide like minded folks a place to swap ideas around a common platform. The planet came a bit later. It started small. In fact it started small enough for someone to comment “you have that small number of feeds and call yourself Planet FLOSS India ?“. We did. Or rather, this fine young man did. He has been the supreme overlord on that site / domain and has done things without been asked to. And I really don’t have to thank him for that (well he did get me excited about the idea in the first place :) thus cementing his job as the admin_for_life).

4 years seem like yesterday and yet it has allowed me to have the honor and the amazing excitement of reaching out to and meeting a whole lot of really wonderful people. Some of them think like us, some compel us to think in newer ways. And it has been a really awesome journey. We have changed hosting providers twice, changed webmail interfaces thrice, suffered from some crude attempts at breaking-in thrice, changed the look twice and a number of other smaller bits and pieces have come up around the site.

Here’s to us !!