Student,Contributor,Ambassador

I often hear good things about the strength of the Fedora Ambassadors in India. With a 110+ group of people, it does allow one to look at upsides and, areas of improvement. But more importantly, what it stands as testimony to is the tough work that is put in behind the scenes by various individuals and, groups within Fedora to make that happen. (Hint : some of the said individuals are also mentors for the Ambassadors in India, so, if you chance onto them on IRC, be sure that you thank them for doing a job well and, doing it with a passion that is unique to folks within Fedora.)

This year we have been able to reach out to a number of events and groups which helped us take the message of the Four Foundations to them. That has been good. We have also noticed that a larger number of those signing up to become Ambassadors are students or, are dipping their feet into the FOSS way of doing things. So, here’s the area in which we need to work our hardest.

Earlier I wrote:

Additionally, if during the initial days, the new Ambassadors are encouraged to actively participate in any other part of the project, it should lead to greater involvement and appreciation of the Foundations. This of course has the advantage of helping them build the social connects and network across projects/amongst individuals which is an invaluable part of being an Ambassador. It also builds up the required confidence in the Ambassador to go out and evangelize about contributing back to various projects and upstream. Because, if one has already drunk the Kool-Aid, talking about it is dead simple.

And, it is true. An Ambassador is the face of the project to the external world. It requires people skills but more importantly, it requires an intrinsic knowledge about the project that takes time and effort to build up. Unless an Ambassador takes a keen interest in the various projects within Fedora and, contributes to at least one of them, it is an uphill climb for most. More so for a student who is just learning the ways of FOSS and, gathering experiences via Fedora.

In the coming months, the plan is to put in place a stronger coaching plan for these student contributors so as to tap into their huge talent and, the capacity to produce stunning results. We have always been surprised by the sheer amount ideas that come up when students are gradually pointed to a direction.

Stay tuned. Exciting stuff is going to happen.

Do we need to look for new software ?

In an unguarded moment of misguided enthusiasm (and, there is no other way to put it) I volunteered to translate a couple of my favorite TED talks. The idea was simple – challenging myself enough to learn the literary side of translating whole pieces of text would allow me to get to the innards of the language that is my mother tongue and, I use for conversation. Turns out that there was an area that I never factored in.

Talks have transcripts and, they are whole blocks of dialogue which have a different feel when undergoing translations than the User Interface artifacts that make of the components of the software I translate. In some kind of confusion I turned to the person who does this so often that she’s real good at poking holes in any theory I propound. In reality, it was my turn to be shocked. When she does translations of documents, Runa faces problems far deeper than what I faced during the translation of transcripts. And, her current toolset is woefully inadequate because they are tuned to the software translation way of doing things rather than document/transcript/pieces of text translation.

In a nutshell, the problem relates to the breaking of text into chunks that are malleable for translation. More often than not, if the complete text is a paragraph or, at least a couple of sentences – the underlying grammar and the construction are built to project a particular line of thought – a single idea. Chunking causes that seamless thread to be broken. Additionally, when using our standard tools viz. Lokalize/KBabel, Virtaal, Lotte, Pootle, such chunks of text make coherent translation more difficult because of the need to fit things within tags.

Here’s an example from the TED talk by Alan Kay. It is not representative, but would suffice to provide an idea. If you consider it as a complete paragraph expressing a single idea, you could look at something like:

So let's take a look now at how we might use the computer for some of this. And, so the first idea here is just to how you the kind of things that children can do. I am using the software that we're putting on the 100 dollar laptop. So, I'd like to draw a little car here. I'll just do this very quickly. And put a big tire on him. And I get a little object here, and I can look inside this object. I'll call it a car. And here's a little behavior car forward. Each time I click it, car turn. If I want to make a little script to do this over and over again, I just drag these guys out and set them going.

Do you see what is happening ? If you read the entire text as a block, and, if you are grasping the idea, the context based translation that can present the same thing lucidly in your target language starts taking shape.

Now, check what happens if we chunk it in the way TED does it for translation.

So let's take a look now at how we might use the computer for some of this.

And, so the first idea here is

just to how you the kind of things that children can do.

I am using the software that we're putting on the 100 dollar laptop.

So, I'd like to draw a little car here.

I'll just do this very quickly. And put a big tire on him.

And I get a little object here, and I can look inside this object.

I'll call it a car. And here's a little behavior car forward.

Each time I click it, car turn.

If I want to make a little script to do this over and over again,

I just drag these guys out and set them going.

Get them out of context and, it does make threading the idea together somewhat difficult. At least, it seems difficult for me. So, what’s the deal here ? How do other languages deal with similar issues ? I am assuming you just will not be considering the entire paragraph, translating accordingly and then slicing and dicing according to the chunks. That is difficult isn’t it ?

On a side note, the TED folks could start looking at an easier interface to allow translation. I could not figure out how one could translate and save as draft, and, return again to pick up from where one left off. It looks like it mandates a single session sitdown-deliver mode of work. That isn’t how I am used to doing translations in the FOSS world that it makes it awkward. Integrating translation memories which would be helpful for languages with substantial work and, auto translation tools would be sweet too. Plus, they need to create a forum to ask questions – the email address seems to be unresponsive at best.

In the company of a ninja

It looks like watching the Ninja Assassin hasn’t done Shreyank any good. Else, he would have figured out that it is easy-peasy for a Founder and Chief Ninja like Dimitris Glezos (who is also known as DeltaGamma) to be at Bangalore and, elsewhere. Dimitris paid a surprise visit to Pune yesterday and it was fun. It isn’t always that you get a CEO of a startup provide you with an in-person repeat of his keynote with added wisecracks and side-talks that are too scandalous for a “keynote” :) And, that too, at a fairly crowded Barista. It was awesome.

In fact I wanted to talk with him about how massive the momentum built up by Transifex has been. Just two years ago, in 2007, Tx was a GSoC project within The Fedora Project aimed at looking at managing translations from a developer’s perspective. Today, it is a start-up which is hiring employees, relocating to newer offices, has a foot-print across a significant portion of upstream community projects and, most importantly, has clients willing to pay for customization services and, developer services. Tx isn’t only helping translation communities by allowing them to craft their work in peace – it is keeping developer sanity with the fire-n-forget model of the architecture. I hear that PulseAudio, PackageKit developers are strong supporters of Tx. That is tremendous news. The provocative nature of Tx is also based on the charm that it has been bootstrapped. That should provide hope to developers thinking along the “product” route.

I would say that these two years have done Dimitris good. His focus on the road Tx should take has become more vivid and, he has a deeper insight into the changes he wants to bring about via Indifex. There’s nothing more exciting than keeping a close watch on his team and his company for news that would come up soon. Tx is coming up with a killer set of features in the upcoming releases. That should get the attention of a couple of clients too.

Throughout the afternoon we ended up talking about getting youngsters up to speed to think beyond patches as contributions and, starting tuning their thoughts to products. Dimitris opines that patches are excellent jump-off points but in order to become a valuable contributor, one must start thinking about “architecture”, “design”, “roadmap”, “milestones” and all such issues that form part of the theory classes but never see implementation in real-life scenarios. In addition, there is also the need to inculcate the “CC thinking” in everyday work of creativity – be it code or, content or even be it hardware and standards (the “CC thinking” is a fancy short-hand towards thinking about Open Standards, Open Protocols and so forth. In a somewhat twitter-ish way, we compressed it to a meta-statement we both could relate to and agree with).

Dinner and post-dinner with a couple of us was another story. Having a bunch of hard-core “Fedora” folks in the room creates a passion. Sitting back to savor the flames of discussions and, interjecting with a leading viewpoint to keep the debate flowing is the best way to get action items resolved. Nothing wasn’t touched upon – from the way to get best out of *SCos to mundane stuff like getting feature requests into Tx, OLPC and Sugar, or, talking about the general issues within the IT development community in Greece. And of course, the frequent checks on Wikipedia to validate various points in the argument. We could have done with an offline Wiki Reader yesterday :)

I think I finally went to sleep at something around 0200 today – which is impossibly past my standard time. There are photos aplenty, though I don’t know who will be uploading them. There was food, there was coffee, cakes, and, there were friends – in short, a nice day.