All posts by Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay

Advocacy, chit-chat and event planning for GNOME in India

I could possibly see it coming. Sitting on a draft mail to the list for Advocacy, chit-chat and event planning in India I managed to misplace it completely. So what’s in this post is a faint recollection of what I had drafted along with hopefully additional ideas.

The list has been existing for a while now (from 2003 December onwards) but there’s not much that’s been done through the list. This is to be construed as a “Call to Arms” for pushing GNOME visibly across India. The mission of the GNOME Marketing Team can be taken to be a jump-off point. The idea that was around when the list was proposed was:

+ Enabling companies/developers doing work with GNOME in India to connect to others through the list
+ Coordinating and planning “show-n-tell” sessions at various places
+ Track GNOME desktop deployments across the country
+ Figure out what can be done in education with regards to GNOME

With the Project Days around the corner (where I think Shreyas and Sayamindu are cooking up something – folks can you do that on the above list please ?) this seems like a nice time to discuss what can be done. Additionally, this can perhaps be extrapolated to what are the easy to do “show-n-tell” for various tech-fests and other meets which are coming up.

There’s a substantially more number of developers/companies working with and on GNOME so it seems to be a nicer idea to spread the reason to be talking more about it. The obvious question that I get asked is “why should I be on this list since I am already filing bugs/posting to other GNOME lists/insert-your-favorite-task”. It is a fair question. As on date the list does not offer anything that would make it sticky for companies or developers. But given that it is right now relatively low traffic, it might not be a bad idea to start being on the list (and the channel #gnome-india ?) while spreading the message across. There’s another planned blog on “why you should be here” but that’s for another day.

Tracking GNOME desktop deployments would assume increasing importance if coupled with tracking the usage of localisation. I never tire of repeating that it is time enough that folks started to really “use” localisation on the UI and the localisation framework (input-rendering-printing) so as to enable all the existing rough edges to be polished.

The education bit would perhaps be best explained by Sayamindu, the short bit is coming up with a list of technical stuff (I prefer to call them developer fundamentals) which would allow students to begin contributing to GNOME. If he does not blog, more on that later.

An idea called Prajna

This month the iLUG-Cal list has a thread on Prajna or the Cognizant FLOSS Corps. You can read more about it here. Without even attempting to summarize what the concept is all about, I’d request anyone who is interested to read up the blog. Right now what I expect from the Prajna team is a Plan of Action which would allow others from outside of Cognizant to join up. There are a large number of like (if not similar) projects that are running piecemeal across the country. What I like about Prajna is that it has within itself the seeds of being an over-arching umbrella to create a federation of such projects.

What Prajna also has the ability to get going is training up a skillset in FOSS that can be useful to startups and companies alike. Having a hands-on experience in managing deployment prepares the mind to face different challenges as can be read off Indranil’s blogs on the internship experience. Prajna also is well placed to have a means to extend the reach of localisation. Right now there’s not much happening in terms of usage of localised desktops in the area of education.

How Prajna ties in existing Commons Knowledge and experience into a project that can be readily replicated across various states remains to be seen. I wish them all the best.

Users of localized operating systems

Yesterday night, over an exchange of mails a few friends narrowed down the root cause of the misbehaving (the rendering for a particular document was off-the-charts on one distribution, but was pretty much sane on another). All of that led me to think that given that Indic Localization has been the talk-of-the-town for over four years now, and pretty much available through major Linux distributions for the past two years, there has not been a large number of folks actually using localized Linux. That’s kind of sad if that is true, it is really a bad thing if folks actually use it but don’t talk about it.

Let’s take the case which kept a few of us busy last evening. The original poster “uses” localization bits. Being a writer, he’s affected by fonts, input methods, rendering and printing bits. Anything that means:

+ installation or re-installation of the Operating System

+ fiddling around with various fonts

+ tweaking input methods

+ rebuilding/recompiling applications

is a waste of hours which take the writer away from the core task. Somewhere along the way it might be time to start thinking about “users” like our writer to see how localization help them do the work (while also being booted into a local language environment). There would be various types:

o the blue-sky users from the ICT4D group who require the L10n on the user interface to enable to be part of “inclusive computing”

o users of various eGovernance projects who require L10n framework (input-rendering-output) to get the various kinds of transaction down

o the users (like our writers) who use tools and not really the OS and expect the tools to be “L10n aware”

The current mode of Indic Localization aim to meet the requirement of the first two groups (second more than the first perhaps), but what we don’t seem to be getting into the third group into the game. Given that spinning out a custom distribution (and LiveMedia) has become so much easier across distributions it would be a good idea to have feedback loops going by getting the third group involved. Localization of late has attained the unfortunate tag of “string crunching”. Fact remains that L10n does mean that but actually means much more than the very restricted comprehension of the term. Thus, the greater the number of folks using L10n bits the better it is in terms of being enriched.

In a side note, these two were incidents of yesterday and trivially interesting.

“Clear”trip dot com (pun intended)

Sometime back I was telling all those who cared to listen that the Calendar might be the single most elegant piece of UI improvement that Cleartrip has put in place. Sadly, I guess they are failing to get some other bits in place eg. the confusion between Madras and Chennai (the location selector has Madras whereas the results has Chennai) and the flights on the Calendar not getting reflected on the trip selection bits. The site has become noticeably slow in churning out the results (or is it due to the readability of the inserted advertisement while the results page loads ?). In short, I don’t think I am going to use the site even to check the options of which are the flights available till they get some improvements in place.

Does it work for you ?

Jack retasking can be defined as automatic re-assignment of audio jack functionality based on device type being plugged in. For example, when a microphone is plugged into a speaker jack, the system can automatically re-route the mic data to that jack. Intel says that Intel HD Audio also provides improvements that support better jack retasking. So, on your new and shiny Linux distribution, does jack retasking work ? Additionally, when you figure that it works, do you receive any notification saying Device A (where A can be speaker/mic) has been plugged in ? I’d be happy to know the results – use $SUBJECT: Jack Retasking and mail to sankarshan {dot} mukhopadhyay {at} gmail {dot} com to let me know. Chipsets which are relevant are listed here.

And then there were none…

Social networks are addictive. In most of them I am “barely” present – the profile is kind of like a pebble or a placeholder that is there on the off chance that I may meet up with some old friends. These days one such pebble has unleashed a flurry of conversations between friends long since disconnected. As it is wont to happen slowly but surely the talk comes around to one of the following topics: wives/partners/marriage, children, jobs, parents, houses/cars/material things once the novelty of talking about the “good old days” wears off. So some weeks back (stop passing snide remarks – this blog is actually a lost+found draft) we ended up talking about jobs – the job environment ie the social commune at workplace and of course the managers. On hindsight even though the representative sample size was woefully inadequate, a strange pattern emerged – [1] working in a monolithic corporate does not automatically mean that folks are happy/unhappy [2] managers are nearly completely responsible for enjoying current workplace commune [3] working from $HOME in India at least is more often than not counterproductive [4] many fear the query “what am I doing today” and thus do nothing
[2] above is kind of surprising since it is a general dogma that factors like payouts, bonuses, freebies, workmates etc among other things determine the kind of joy of work. From a sample size cutting across broad general classes like Medical, BFSI, IT and Education, 20% agreed that they had managers who “managed by walking around” and they liked talking about issues at work during the walks. Of the remaining once the concept of MBWA was explained, they contrasted with their current protocol of fixed meeting times/days and arrived that MBWA might be a good idea in the flux jobs they had. Especially since MBWA includes the element of making notes of the “hot bricks” and attempts to get these out of the way as soon as possible. What was more surprising is that only 25% of the sample have scheduled, invariant one-to-one meetings with their managers on a regular basis. The remaining just have ad-hoc interactions. Note, in cases where the layer of a {Tech|Team}Lead is between Manager and associate, the MBWA bits apply both to the manager and the Lead. This is a bad jolt actually since the first thing that collapses when a company scales (and this is most seen in startups than anyplace else) is the MBWA and effectively clear communication. Folks become too busy in work that is not ordered according to priority and talking with the team breaks down.

However what bothers me more is [4]. When I started out, one of my mentors had drilled into me that “Fear is the Key” but don’t let it cramp your style, instead use its presence to chart out new work areas and attempt new things. When I see that a large number of my friends and associates get all hot in terms of “let’s not take risks” I feel a bit unhappy. Taking risks is something about pushing the limits of one’s capacities. Sometimes some risks do border on foolhardiness and on rare moments they are pure idiocy, but just because risks would push one out of the comfort zone of a well defined role does not mean that one should not take risks. Fear of failure is not unusual – in fact it might as well be one of the natural human reactions. What I observe is the fear of success. Since if the risk is successful one would be out of the current comfortable presence and start working on making the same if not more comfort appear in the new venture. One has to fear the moment in the future when we wake up and the brain pops the question “what have you done till now ?” As the quote goes

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

Books and stuff…

Finished reading A Long Way Gone – normally I am a very fast reader, but this book just holds you on to each page and makes you think over what is written. Highly recommended. Currently on the second reading of Strange Pilgrims and All Quiet on the Western Front. This does mean that my “ToRead” book list has become very short with only 3 books read to be gone through. For a month’s worth of reading it has been a nice trot.

Talking IndLinux again

In contrast to the well laid out elaborate discussions about meeting date and time yesterday’s meeting on #indlinux had a stand-up feel to it. The raw logs have been made available here. While the aim of the meeting was more to figure out what is stalling the forward progress of the “IndLinux Society” the secondary objective was to figure out the “organisational structure” that could be adopted. I got busy sometime into the meeting and so here are a few thoughts on hindsight.

To begin with (even before we go into structure issues) it is important to figure out what IndLinux wants to be. Around 2 years back the goal was to be the “upstream” in all-matters-Indic for distributions alongside other objectives. 2 years down the line that idea really will not fly. The distributions have put in place their own workflow as have the various projects and imposing an additional element in the workflow would meet with a small amount of hassles. A very casual way of handling this would perhaps be through progress tracking how Indic is faring across projects and distributions – an automated process similar to the “Damned Lies” would work well when hosted on the IndLinux Server.

The broad objectives of the “IndLinux Society” (?) were already discussed and agreed upon. So moving forward the thing to consider for IndLinux might be how to create a “stack of applications” on top of the in-progress localised desktop and move towards solving issues that are not being currently addressed by various upstream projects and distributions. These could relate to fonts and specifications, publishing/DTP, spellcheckers and word corpora (collaboration with existing bodies who have the work done and releasing them under appropriate licenses), OCR, AT-SPI bits. All these are sub-projects which have to be mapped to the objectives and then further on made more granular through task-based breakup and milestones. Milestone creation would allow the tracking of the project and arriving at a conclusion on the success or failure of the projects. Additionally, it would also equip IndLinux once the “body” is formed to participate into a Summer of Code like program and offer projects based on these goals.

Additionally, it would be a good time to look for staffing the project with the main aim of putting in place a metrics based system. The immediate need would be for the following: Project Manager (initially also someone who can coordinate with the companies doing Indic in India), Community Engineer (in order to get more developers to commit code) and a Server Administrator. Given the broad objectives of the project all the 3 positions should be made accountable to the project and these should be paid positions with remunerations in place. At this stage it may seem funny (or even nonsensical) to be talking about staffing and monies, but it would help a lot to be prepared and be aware of what the scaling up would require and mean.

As regards a legal body and the form it can take I’d rather say one starts looking at these folks. It is a working model that provides a good public private collaboration and if it works for them there’s no reason why it should not work for IndLinux.

Buying books … online

I have had it with buying books at a bookstore especially if that bookstore happens to be a Crossword – their in-store staff simply don’t make the cut. Having no idea about what books they have in stock they invent irrelevant stories to ward off possible purchases. In short I would not recommend buying books from them. The issue with Landmark on the other hand is the perennial hovering of their in-store staff which is annoying and reminds me of the bookstalls of some “large names” when they appear at the Kolkata Book Fair. Much as I like to buy books after I touch them and read the print size the callous approach taken by these two leave me with no other option but to move to online book purchases. On a side note, Landmark scores over Crossword in being prompt to reply to e-mail book requests and transaction related queries but is just about it.
Runa suggested trying out NDTV Shopping for books. I tried them out and they seem to have understood what good service is about. I ordered, purchased and packed a book to be delivered to my mother at Kolkata on Sunday. She’s received it in an excellent packaging on Tuesday (that’s yesterday) evening. I had purchased two books for myself too on Monday however a glitch with the payment gateway (the usual browser related stuff I assume) put the approval in a limbo. I exchanged a couple of mails with the mail address provided and lo behold !! – the order has been cancelled (which I had requested) and the transaction amount refunded. All this without a glitch. The only thing that could be better was the search engine. That is an important part of the shopping cart experience and the current search engine just does not allow too much modification allowing one to figure out the book of choice. Oh !! The prices are nicely below those offered by the brick-n-mortar bookstores.

Update: As someone who suggested so persuasively on IM, kudos to Indiaplaza (formerly Fabmall) for an excellent job.