Patrice Riemens from the Netherlands has his own understanding of issues of technology and society… Here he talks about the role the Dutch have played in cyberspace (and why), and his research in India on multinationals coming out of here even a quarter of a century ago!
Techie-guru and ex-editor friend Vickram Crishna announced in cyberspace that Giovanni Maruzzelli would be visiting India. After a few emails were exchanged, he added Goa to his route.
This Italian techie believes that the right solutions can turn telephones into a powerful tool. He speaks at the BITS Pilani Goa campus (Zuarinagar) on Wednesday, October 22, 2008 at 6 pm. Giovanni explains how techies could make a difference. An interview with Frederick Noronha (FN).
FN: What is the focus of your trip to India?
Giovanni Maruzzelli: I’m focusing mainly on two things: to enjoy incredible India, and to enjoy its incredibly good food.
As an aside, I want to get acquainted with the technical communities that relate (as users, developers, entrepreneurs, administrators, teachers, etc) to free and open source software. I’m making presentations at various venues around India about the free software that I’m now contributing to.
This software is used to connect the Asterisk PBX [http://www.asterisk.org] or private branch exchange to the GSM and Skype networks for making and receiving voice calls and SMSs.
[A private branch exchange (PBX) is a telephone exchange that serves a particular business or office, as opposed to one that a common carrier or telephone company operates for many businesses or for the general public. PBXs are also referred to as PABX (private automatic branch exchange) or EPABX (electronic private automatic branch exchange).]
It uses second-hand, recycled or cheap cellphones as interfaces to the GSM network.
FN: What do you hope to achieve here?
Giovanni Maruzzelli: I would like to get an idea about how open source is perceived in India, and to understand how it is used toward social and economic development.
Also, to get to know what can be done in the future using open source to narrow the digital divide at social (between rich and poor) and geographical (between city and village) level.
I’m interested to both the commercial and the educational-social applications of open source in fast growing countries.
FN: How has the trip shaped up so far?
Giovanni Maruzzelli: I’m still at the beginning of my trip. I’ve just visited Chennai, Mumbay and Auroville (Pondicherry) for very few days each. But in each place I’ve been very refreshed by, and glad to see, the people that come to the presentations of Asterisk-celliax-skypiax.
I see that there is a precise awareness, also among people who have no technical knowledge, about how strategic the new voice communication technologies — and mobile communication — could be for India.
How much easier, on many occasions, it is for people to interact using a phone than using a computer. And how is important to move toward an approach that combines low cost, low power, recycling, and sustainability.
So, I can say the response so far has been very much satisfying and stimulating for me.
FN: What do you see as the potential for Asterisk and the related software tools in India, and why?
Giovanni Maruzzelli: India is a very big country, with a thriving fast growing economy, and a large and diverse population with various languages, instruction level, and grade of access to communication technologies.
It also has wide differences between countryside and the big cities. In such a context, organizations, communities, companies and public administration have to evaluate and use each tools that allows them to interconnect with and between people.
Voice communication, when it is managed by advanced technologies like Asterisk and VoIP, allows for a large public to tap the same benefits of information access and interactivity that the internet allows to the technical advanced part of the population.
Voice menus, the phone interrogation of databases, speech synthesis and recognition, automatc attendants — these are technologies ready right now to be implemented.
Also, there is a fast growing market for any technology that can save money in telecommunication.
VoIP, Asterisk, FreeSwitch, and the other open source technologies allow for bigger savings, and for extreme flexibility. Both at the level of big telco and at the small office or tiny community level.
I’ve had experiences as founder of the first mass consumer ISP and portal in Italy, as partner in an incubator and venture capital private fund and as an Internet and Telecommunication Investment Expert for the World Bank-IFC in Serbia (ex Yugoslavia). So I know very well that if you start from technologies that have a high degree of usefulness and a great potential for penetration, you can build a viable and successful business.
So, all the pieces are there, and I see a very bright future in India for all the opensource technologies related to VoIP.
FN: How do you see the skills of techies in India?
Giovanni Maruzzelli: The Indian elite technologists are the best in the world; but this is not news.
With such a big population, India will however have to grow a much bigger number of medium and advanced techies, that can bring about innovations in all parts of the country.
FN: Finally, tell a little about Celliax.org and its focus.
The website http://www.celliax.org is the gathering point for the development of celliax, skypiax and directoriax technologies, that allows for a cheap interconnection between fixed lines, Skype, GSM, and VoIP.
Being an open source project, any person in the world is encouraged to contribute — at least by way of a comment, or a suggestion. We also receive help, code, and fixes from people living in many different countries.
Celliax uses second-hand, recycled and cheap cellphones as interfaces between VoIP and the GSM networks.
Sophia Kamaruddin pointed me to the page where I could download the ebook titled Maps for Advocacy: An Introduction to Geographical Mapping Techniques
An interesting book:
Maps for Advocacy, a booklet published by Tactical Technology Collective, is an introduction to geographical mapping techniques and shows advocates how best to utilise mapping techniques in their campaigns. The booklet introduces rights advocates to mapping tools and also lists inspiring examples where maps have been effective in creating an impact.
This is a rather applied and useful title. For instance: “Maps provide a fabulous medium for telling stories and documenting changes in a given place over a period of time. They give readers an additional perspective that taps into our ability to process visual information and relate to spatiality. Very often maps are also useful in understanding complex issues such as the conflict in Darfur (http://www.
The rationale for the book is here: “Advocacy organisations worldwide face great challenges. One of these is how best to communicate and disseminate information to communities, staff, funders, governments and other organisations in a world saturated with information,
media and advertising. They may also need to keep track of complex and diverse information in their own work. Using maps is one strategy to overcome these challenges. Mapping provides a powerful, clear, and intuitive medium for communicating and sharing information, statistics and data.”
For some reason, Mormugao, the port town of Goa, seems to be among the top 20 “most described cities” in the world! See http://wikimapia.org/#lat=15.42&lon=73.78&z=11&l=0&m=a&v=2
For a vast country which lacks adequately detailed and available maps for many of its areas, India is now finding an unexpected solution come up in the form of Google Map Maker.
Google recently extended its ‘map maker’ service to India, and within three weeks of its launch, has already drawn quite some attention to it in cyberspace.
Supporters of the project started sending messages out via the Net, urging each friends and colleagues to create their own detailed maps — by adding details of features in the villages or urban areas where they live.
Google Map Maker is a new service, from the Mountain View, California-based internet search giant. It is an attempt to expand the service currently offered by Google Maps.
In countries where mapping data is hard to come by, Google Maps is being opened up to a collaborative community effort.
This project’s goal is to obtain high-quality mapping data to be published and used on the existing Google Maps service.
“Mark your favourite spots in your city or hometown. Add features such as roads, parks, and buildings for unmapped rural areas. Tag small businesses and help users find them. Collaborate with others to map neighbourhoods that interest you,” says Google, urging participation in its India collaboration mapping project.
Located at maps.google.com/help/mapmaker/india/ the project was conceived and developed by Google’s Indian engineering team.
One needs to sign-into a free Google email account, and zoom in to the area you want to map. You can add features, names of the place, and save it. The map changes and additions are later edited by those trusted, to make sure that entries have a higher level of accuracy.
Once you ‘add a neighbourhood’, showing your interest in the area, you can be kept informed with changes made by others in that area of the map.
“Map your area of the world, right from your desktop,” Google urges Indian users in a promotional video on their product.
“Mark the well-loved family-run store where you grew up. Highlight hidden gems where you live. Tag popular hangouts where you went to school,” says Google.
It’s logic is to urge wider community participation, a strategy that usually works in an online world where thousands participate, and each one of ‘the crowd’ contributes a small piece of information.
Google Map Maker was launched in India in end-August 2008.
Commented ContentSutra.com, an Indian digital news monitor: “Considering the success of Wiki-Mapia in India, it isn’t surprising Map Maker was a product developed by Google’s Indian engineering team.”
In late 2006, news-reports said Mumbai had become the most-mapped city on the planet, via the Wikimapia volunteer-driven network.
Infact, among the Top 20 “most described cities” in the Wikimapia world are Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Mangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Thiruvananthapuram, Mormugao (Goa), Vizag and Indore. Bombay or Mumbai is rated the highest.
Critics of Google Map Maker, such as the collaboratively-crafted Wikipedia, however have raised issues about the fact that unlike OpenStreetMap, which provides its map data under a sharable Creative Commons license, any maps created by users of Google Map Maker are the intellectual property of Google.
Some issues of security and mapping have also been raised, in a country where the official approach towards maps has a legacy which gets traced to the colonial British attitude over the same.
More about this group: http://groups.to/camerasforacause
Cameras for a Cause (C-FAC) is a volunteer network, meant to share photography (and sometimes videography) skills with campaigners, citizens, not-for-profits and anyone undertaking work for positive social change on the planet.
1. By “positive social change”, we refer to those working on issues of environment, labour, conservation, education, development, IT-for-change any other such issues. We leave it open to each volunteer to define what they see as a “good cause”, and to offer their support to the same.
2. Anyone, anywhere on the planet with access to a camera and a suitable level of photography skills, can volunteer to sign-up here. The network was however started out of Goa, India in September 2008.
3. Each volunteer needs to give out sufficient details of their offer for volunteer help (form below), their skill level, time and travel-hours willing to commit to each project, and restrictions on their ability to help, if any.
4. As an organisation we neither seek nor solicit funds. Work is based purely on voluntarism. Rules may be changed in future, depending on the needs of the group, while ensuring to be fair to all concerned. Entry is open to all, and members are free to leave the group if they so choose. Members are encouraged to invite other socially committed lensmen (and women) to join this network.
5. Cameras for a Cause believes in, and supports, sharable licensing for their work. We are influenced by the power of sharable knowledge and creative work (as seen from the Free Software movement, the Creative Commons, the Wikipedia, etc). We encourage associated photographers to share their work with a Creative Commons or other suitable license.
6. Our volunteers do not expect to be paid for their work. Under some circumstances, travel cost and modest refreshments (if applicable) may be appreciated. In case the work involves
a project spanning many days, or travel beyond home base, and the organisation concerned has funds to cover photography, you could consider offering a honorarium to our volunteers.
This may be worked out directly with the photographer concerned. Keep in mind that some of our volunteers are freelancers, and revenues earned might help make their overall photography operations viable to help to cross-subsidise the photography of other good causes.
7. This network has two levels of membership: photographer-volunteer and general-volunteer. The latter are those who may not currently have the photography skills, but are willing to help this venture in other ways (spreading the word, administrative functions, publicity, etc).
DETAILS FOR PHOTOGRAPHER-VOLUNTEER:
Contact details (phone, mobile, address):
Type of work: Still / Moving / Photo Story / Audio / Multiple
Offering services to (specify types of causes you prefer to
Area within which willing to work:
Notice period needed:
Time-slots available for volunteer work:
May decline to undertake project if (specific circumstances):
Examples of volunteer (or NGO) work undertaken:
Expect to be paid/reimbursed (Yes or No, with details):
More about this group: http://groups.to/camerasforacause
Tania Pérez Bustos is a PhD student from Colombia doing fieldwork in India. Her research is on the educational and gender dimension of experiences like FLOSS (Free/Libre and Open Source Software) that aim to popularize technology. She says, “I really liked the statement in the (BytesForAll) website in which you assume a critical position towards ICT and the political context it is immersed in … unfortunately not very common.” Here, she talks about her work, and her encounter with India, Colombia, and the need for links between these disparate and distant regions.
telecentre.org, a global community of people committed for improving the capacity and sustainability of community
telecentres around the world, announced the telecentre.org academy Curriculum Commons Grant of Rs 50 lakh (USD 125,000) for improving the quality and standard of grassroots knowledge workers, commonly referred to as telecentre
telecentre.org is a collaborative social investment program initiated by Canada’s International Development Research
Centre (IDRC), Microsoft Corporation Pvt Ltd and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Continue reading
Sukumar Anikar <firstname.lastname@example.org>  and Prasad <email@example.com> managed to get across to me a copy of a DVD … and what a DVD at that! It contained a whole lot of fascinating educational software for school children.
A couple of nights ago, I ended up ‘playing’ some educational games with Aren, 5, and told him that my friends had sent the same across free. “Did you say ‘thank you’?” he asked me in turn. In fact, he kept ‘playing’ on these games, though it was almost midnight, and even though he’s too small to obviously understand many of the concepts being taught here (decimal fractions, and what not … but big enough to be interested in the wild animals of the jungle and to try and comprehend how fruits and a balanced diet gives us the energy we need to do work). The ‘games’ sent across in this DVD work excellently and without flaw (so far) on my Ubuntu laptop. They have been adjusted to work with the GNU/Linux operating system.
It drew my interest enough to dash across another email to Sukumar and Prasad, requesting more programmes.Given the medium of instructions being used (and subjects taught) in Goa, I am particularly interested in software dealing with:
- English language
- Hindi language
- Environmental Science
- General Science
- Social Science
- Co-curricular subjects
Check out the long list of what’s available. http://www.azimpremjifoundation.org/html/E_Learn_Mat_table1.htm
The Azim Premji Foundation is actually keen to work with educational institutions (rather than with individuals, if I understood right) for obvious reasons.
Said the APF in a mail to me: “We always support the state governments by providing them the Digital Learning Resource (DLR) for deployment in Government schools. Generally, the support is by providing the right to replicate our content to the state, without any costs. Our Digital Learning Resource is not provided if the intended use is for commercial purposes. We also share content with NGOs and other institutions who manage schools where there is no barrier on admissions and where no fee is being charged.”
And Mr Anikar added, “Almost all our titles or Digital Learning Resource are trilingual i.e. in English, Hindi and in any one of the regional languages. While we have just 10 titles in Marathi the same is not available for immediate release as they have to be validated by a state government. However, we will share other titles that are in English and Hindi. Further, we are also in the process of making our content compatible with [GNU]Linux platform and hence for the present we will be sharing only such titles which are compatible with both windows and Linux and those that have been tested. The remaining titles would be shared on a future date and on completion of testing. We will be clustering our titles in a couple of DVD’s and send it across to you in the next week…. We also wish to state that there is a process that needs to be followed in implementing the Digital Learning Resource in schools which we will share the same with you once you confirm the receipt of Digital Learning Resource .”
And: ” Digital Learning Resource are not meant to help in computer literacy. The target group is children in the age group of 6-14 years and the Digital Learning Resource primarily presents concepts related to Maths, Science and Language related to the curriculum for classes Standard I to Standard VIII.”
By way of background, from their website: ” Azim Premji Foundation has commenced the digital content creation effort in the year 2002. So far, Foundation has created over 100+ master CD titles for the classes 1 to 8 and the same have been translated into various regional languages in India including few tribal languages. The content is created with the pedagogical focus to enable the children to directly use and learn where the teacher will act as facilitator. The attributes of the content are; curriculum oriented, child-centered, self paced, interactive and multimedia based content.”
You probably know that Azim Premji is the Chairman and CEO of one of India’s largest software companies, Wipro. Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azim_Premji] says he was rated the richest man in India between 1999 to 2005 (and is probably among the top five now). This impressed me: “Premji is known for his modesty and frugality in spite of his wealth. He drives a Toyota Corolla and flies economy class, prefers to stay in company guest houses rather than luxury hotels and even served food on paper plates at a lunch honouring his son’s wedding.”
Check it out. Really useful stuff. The educational content on the DVDs, I mean!
 Head – Technology for Education, Azim Premji Foundation, #134, Doddakannelli, Next to Wipro Corporate Office, Sarjapur Road, Bangalore – 560 035 Tel: 91-80-66144900/901/902 (Board) 91-80-66144922 (Direct) Fax: 91-80-66144903 Mobile: 09449820054 www.azimpremjifoundation.org
Photo from an earlier LUG activity (ECAP 2006).
A GNU/Linux user group (LUG) meeting tomorrow, Saturday, July 26, 2008 from 3-5 pm at the Goa Science Centre.Dhaval Giani <firstname.lastname@example.org> volunteered:
“Am in goa for the next week. Can do a short talk on becoming a “Becoming a Fedora Package Maintainer, no rocket science”. Can also talk about building a community around an open source project.” Wish I could make it, but have to be in Quepem at the same time.
10 Jul, 2008, 1030 hrs IST, IANS
BANGALORE: With a name like LinuxChix-India, you might think its mission is trivial, but their goal is serious: creating equal access for women to enter the world of technology.
Archana Raghupathy of Chennai started LinuxChix-India in 2005. It is the Indian chapter of the global women techies’ network Linuxchix.org, and “tries to empower Indian women to use, develop and contribute to the world of free and open source software (FOSS).”
Globally, LinuxChix is a community for women who “like Linux and Free Software” and for women and men who want to support women in computing. Its members range from novices to experienced users and include professional and amateur programmers, system administrators and technical writers.
It also works to bring together women around India involved in various FOSS projects, foster participation and share knowledge in a geeky world where males usually dominate.
“Back when I started (being active) online, revealing one’s gender meant the usual picture requests or maybe personal questions after a few mails under the guise of volunteering. But I doubt if it will happen to a woman today,” Vidya Ayer, one of those involved in the LinuxChix-India project, said.
Using the online identity of VidAyer, she currently volunteers for a number of global free software projects.
These include the popular GNU/Linux groups like Ubuntu, Ubuntu-Women, Linuxchix, Debian-Women, KDE-Women and the open directory project DMOZ. Some projects like Debian-Women and KDE-Women acknowledge the low participation rates of women in FOSS initiatives and attempt to encourage more of them to join in.
LinuxChix-India takes up geeky topics like “Introduction to Linux Kernel: Basics”, showing that women can do anything in this often male-dominated field – if given the chance. Its members show their abilities and encourage one another. For instance, Aneesha Govil and Barkha Khatri are into “FOSS evangelism” – spreading the word about it.
Ani Peter works on localising software to Indian languages, Ankita Garg is into Linux kernel hacking, Archana is into scripting, Kadambari Devarajan is into theoretical computer science, Priti Patil works on education, and Runa Bhattarjee is into mentoring, apart from other things.
Ayer explained why women find it tough to enter computing, including free software.
“It’s the lack of infrastructure, while the lack of computer access also plays some role. Most men who don’t own computers would use a friend’s machine; women in India would not have the freedom to stay late at a friend’s place to hack away,” she explained.
Mentoring can help a lot, members of LinuxChix India feel. FOSS volunteers need to introduce and teach them packaging, translation, bug squashing (correcting errors in software code) and the like.
“At the entry level, volunteering is easy if you know what you want to do. Also most men I’ve met so far appreciate the extra efforts put to cross that GNU/Linux-learning-curve,” Ayer said. “However, today it’s a lot more difficult to be sexist and the existence of FOSS women’s groups makes it tough to get away with negative behaviour,” she added.
About herself, Ayer said: “It’s been a self-taught learning experience, thanks to all the online manuals, tutorials and (mailing) lists. I started off volunteering with dmoz.org and Wikipedia communities, then LinuxChix.”
Kadambari Devarajan, a Chennai student doing her masters in software engineering and who aims to enter a graduate school in the US and focus on theoretical computer science, feels women have it tough and equal access is still some time away.
“There are few women in technology and fewer still in FOSS. Women still have to straddle other responsibilities especially if they are employed. Women (at least in India) still haven’t broken free completely,” she said.
“Knowing a lot of women from rural India, I have had a number of discussions with them. Their parents and later in-laws are the ones who decide for them,” Devarajan added.
She feels other factors come in – a lack of awareness and the lack of suitable rewards.
“The reasons for fewer women in FOSS seems comparable to the reasons for fewer women in research. I personally can quote a number of problems faced.
“The problem is not with the guys using FOSS, it’s with the men outside of it. Bureaucracy and a condescending attitude are a few problems that come to mind,” Devarajan added.
My friend in the Carribean, Deirdre Williams <williams.deirdre at gmail.com> told me about the work of Gabriel from Argentina and Jamil from Pakistan. She wrote: “We were discussing the new multi-lingual tlds (ICANN meeting in Paris) and I offered you as someone interested in the use of non-Roman scripts on the Internet. Jamil is a software engineer, Gabriel a lawyer….” Interesting …
(Apologies for this somewhat lengthy missive)
I am a teacher educator based in Bangalore (see the link to my personal blog below for a better idea of who I am) and have been involved in an effort educatorslog.in – to create a free online space for people involved in India to CONNECT . SHARE . GROW — connect with other educators and those interested in education in India (pre-K through higher and adult education), share resources that are contextually relevant to educators and teaching in India, and grow through learning about exemplary practices and professional development programs that cater to the needs of Indian educators.
The idea is to serve the cause of education in India – to someday have a comprehensive repository of resources relevant to teaching in India, and a host of ideas from showcasing best practices in education in India, in addition to having a space that a teacher or anyone passionate about education in India can come to raise an issue, discuss, debate, voice, or perhaps even just announce a conference, a new book or product related to education.
This initiative was launched among a small user community in Feb. 07, and since March it has been opened up for general membership. You can catch some of the most engaging discussions (thus far) in the following threads -
* Grey areas of school admission policy, a search for new assessment ideas
* Indian school education: good or bad, why this dichotomy?
* The 100 laptop
* Sex education in our schools, how to deal with the taboo
* Should Indian languages wither away?
* Learning diabilities-1
The site is built on drupal, and uses web 2.0 features such as those for group blogging (comments, forward as email, no. of hits), tagging (each post can be tagged, and there is a tag cloud view available as well as the 20 most popular tags on the landing page), organization by themes and tags for easy searching and access.
In the interest of education in our country, it would be great if you could check out educatorslog.in and profile it on your blog or provide a link to it, or simply pass this email on to those you know who are involved in education and would benefit from being a part of this free community space.
We could certainly use some help to get the word out!
I know it’s too much to ask regular bloggers like yourself to post to other blogs, but it would be great if you could also contribute your thoughts/ideas/resources on educatorslog.in.
I will be happy to answer any questions you may have about this.
Blogged with Flock
Sometimes we moan about how unfair life has been to us….
A while ago, I set up a mailing list dealing with autism in India at: http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/autism-india/
I think it came about because I was at a seminar, and feeling helpless about all the suffering people touched by this (and, more so, their families) go through. This list today connects some 75 persons across India (a tiny number, relatively speaking, in a country of 1.1 billion)… but when I read what these people are going through, it reminds me how lucky we are … even if we don’t realise it most of the times.
Blogged with Flock
And btw, Jen is also behind the impressive VascokarsUnited mailing list, meant to keep in touch people from Goa’s largest urban area and port-town. Beneath her name, I also saw a link to the esoterically-named IEIGLC That stands for the Goa branch of “The Institution of Engineers (India) Incorporated by Royal Charter 1935″. Guess the GLC stands for the “Goa local chapter” and it includes members with engineering degrees such as the AIE, AMIE, MIE and FIE. Oh fie, don’t ask what that all stands for!
Interesting story, which came up via Digg.com: Delhi Government Phases Out MS Office, Adopts Free ODF-Based Office Suites To Save Licence Fee.
Digg.com’s posts adds,”LIC (HUGE insurance co that moved to RHL from Windows), Delhi HC & Nirvachan Sadan (Election Commission Office) Set To Follow. It was costing Rs 24 Lac pa (US$ 52k, equal to 10x ave of annual salary of engg. Bachelors recruited by any top IT co. in India).”
Check the original story from the Times of India epaper.
Only regret: there could be better reasons for opting for Free Software!
In case you missed it, here’s the blog tha tReba Shahid set up. Meant to be a group blog for journos writing on ICT4D (information and communication technologies for development) in South Asia. Now the challenge is to get it going.