A gathering of the Fedora faithful

I spent a day and a half at the Freedom in Computer Technology 2008 convention on 26th and 27th of this month. Susmit has already blogged about it. Some pictures are:

People waiting to get the Fedora mediaThe stall

more pictures are available at the usual location. I missed out taking a group picture of the volunteers and the stall before we went into business. My bad. Noted that down as a mandatory picture for next time.

For various reasons it had been a while I have been at a stall, so the “buzz” at seeing folks lining up to hear about F10, L10n and getting their media was exciting enough. Somewhat strangely, not many questions were around the proprietary codec stuff (read: “I want to play mp3″). Having the GLUG-NIT,Durgapur (and, I met Debayan as well) at the next stall meant that we had converging streams of interested audience. It is always a good feeling to finally meeting up with a lot of names from IRC and mailing list. The F10 artwork got rave reviews :)

A big round of “Thank You” to all the volunteers (Gopal+his student, Dipanjan, Sarbartha, Ravi, Susmit and Indranil) who made time over the weekend to turn up, tirelessly stand around and answer questions with a big smile. A sizeable quantity of the media and leaflet/handouts were given away. Names of those interested to be on the list have been taken down and Susmit plans to get back in touch with them. Another good thing that came out was the ad-hoc sit down with the colleges who desire to have some “Activity Day”.

I had a small talk on the “Community Model” and how FOSS businesses should begin by looking at getting their act together on it. Had a couple of questions. However, given the audience profile, most questions were around FOSS software and licensing vis-a-vis “freeware”.

Would have been really nice to have network so as to show-off a few stuff – well next time perhaps. The LiveUSB station also got some love :) so I guess that made up for the trouble taken to set it up. The next time IOTA organizes a convention like this it would be good to have a segment for Workshops as well as an Expo area for stalls to be set up. Casting the net a bit more wider in the industry does help in getting stuff being talked about.

ps: I don’t know if the Stallman speech would be having a transcript available, but it would be good to have

pps: Was nice to know that Gopal’s student has been using Fedora since F7 and is proficient with a Linux desktop. It was obvious in the way he helped manage the stall at times.

Another website, another day

I just read a piece about 5000 DDA flats being allotted through lottery and recalled a snippet of conversation that I had yesterday.

It turns out that the DDA website is close to being a piece of useless web_real_estate. The current problems include

  • every time there is a draw of lots for allotment, the website cannot handle high traffic and inevitably goes down
  • since the server cannot handle load it is difficult to fathom whether the application form has been scrutinized. It turns out that IIS throws up some message about being unable to handle the load
  • the website actually does not do anything more than what can be done via a simple set of CGI scripts that query a database

Can the powers_that_be take note of this ?

bn_IN moves out of beta for Firefox

Just read off Seth’s blog that for Firefox 3.0.5, bn_IN has moved out of beta. Thanks to Runa for making that happen. The mandatory download link

Incidentally, the same post from Seth provides pointers to what would be required to be done to move a locale out from beta. That’s a good list to have handy and a page that requires to be bookmarked.

The curious incident of the online bookstore

Sometime during the month of August this year, I planned to buy the two books – God Created The Integers and On The Shoulders of Giants. Since the local brick-n-mortar version of the Landmark bookstore did not have the latter, I took a chance and ordered it off the online store.

When the book finally arrived it was a mess. The package was torn, the book dog-eared and it was wet.

I took the above two pictures with the phone camera and put them up on flickr.

Curiously enough, on the 15th of Dec 2008, a person claiming to be heading the said bookstore/portal called up and asked for the pictures to be taken down. I requested him to write to me with the same statements that he made over phone. I await that e-mail.

I don’t really have much to say except that they just lost my business. And, I remain amazed at the notion of customer service/satisfaction that these folks have.

…and here we go again

In an article on l10n and i18n published in this month’s edition of LinuxForYou (the article isn’t available online), Kenneth Gonsalves makes a statement as (italics are mine):

The vast majority of applications today are internationalised – the need of the hour is to provide translations in Indian languages. Except for some major applications, very little work is being done in this field. I don’t know whether it is because people are not aware of the need, are too lazy or they do not know how to!

This thought seems to be the new black. Adding on to the pre-existing notions of:

  • translations are very easy to do
  • translations are for hobbyists

On some days I am surprised about why such perceptions prevail. If any language team/community works on

  • a single distribution
  • two desktop environments
  • a browser
  • a mail client
  • an office suite
  • web-site content translation
  • release notes translation

then, assuming that most projects end up following a 6 month release cycle, it leaves folks with around 3+ months (on an optimistic schedule) to work with. In fact with “string freeze” (or, the time when the developers hand off the English versions to the translators) the effective window to actually translate is around 1 month. And, I have seen that for whatever little translations I have done for GNOME and OLPC.

And, the fact that schedules are tight can be seen on the mailing lists during desktop environment release times. So, if we can assume that the teams aren’t lazy and they know what they are doing, adding any more applications to be translated (and localized) would require capacity to be added. Which means that those who do go about FOSS evangelism and FOSS advocacy have to comprehend the following:

  • translation is not easy. Idiomatic English does not lend itself easily to translations and more importantly, message strings are sometimes not well constructed to be translated. For example, read this blog entry.
  • translation is not for hobbyists. It is a process of ensuring newer applications and releases are available in the local language. Thus, it means that teams working on translations improve quality of existing translations, check for consistency and still manage to work on newer releases. It is a serious business and folks take pride in a job well done.

If there are more applications that require translations/l10n, it would be a good effort to start coordinating with the language teams (via the IndLinux mailing list perhaps) rather than assuming that teams don’t know about such applications or, are lazy.

A quick meeting at SICSR,Pune

On the 11th I was at the SICSR (any of these two URLs) to meet with some students. The ‘pitch’ (as they say) was simple. Use participation in FOSS projects to gain skills that will complement their knowledge gained via academic training. Since this batch of students also arrange GNUnify, I guess it was a bit more easier to convey the message. There were some interesting moments. However, I did come back with the feeling that somewhere along the way, I wasn’t too forceful or compelling in putting across the need to learn FOSS culture and gain skills towards becoming better developers. Time will tell.

Rewards and Trust

A few months back I had blogged about Rewards and Punishment. The underlying theme was that rewards and punishment are two sides of the same coin of ‘control knobs’ and fail miserably in producing motivation, increasing efficiency and creating a better human being. In addition to that, rewards have the following issues:

  • rewards tend to be an implicit punishment towards those who did not receive a reward
  • rewards tend to get people to do uninteresting things by providing a wrong kind of incentive
  • rewards tend to be habit forming
  • rewards tend to discourage collaboration (since generally, in the end there is a single winner)
  • rewards tend to discourage risk taking choices (since rewards are for repeat occurence of one single good habit)

A significant aspect that I did not write about was that rewards (and punishments) tend to upset the ‘everyday trust’ that glues a team together. A team is a social unit where diverse tasks are completed by a group of people. A feeling of (what is called team spirit) togetherness that a team builds is based upon a trust currency. Control knobs to kickstart motivation, if ill-selected and hastily applied, tend to strike at the very base of the trust framework.

The ‘individual above all else’ theme of rewarding (or, punishment [which could be called negative rewards]) makes it nearly certain that collaboration is not a way to move forward. It is somewhat simple to confuse the demonstration of appreciation with the showering of rewards. They are never the same thing. Rewards, irrespective of whether they are positive or negative do not lend themselves to an increase of motivation. In fact, they become misdirected if they are habit forming.

Most of the time those who are in the process of completing tasks feel miserable because of the feeling of being irrelevant in the whole universe of things. A sense of trust and thus a sense of belonging and being recognized helps to overcome the turmoil of feeling irrelevant. Rewards are not recognition devices. They are a big bull’s eye painted on the receiver which says “look at me, I chose to ignore collaboration and hence got a trinket”.

That isn’t a trust enhancing scenario.