Archive for the ‘Free Software’ Category
In case you were wondering, Celliax.Org is about:
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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.
After a flurry of emails across the continents (and within Goa), it’s finally getting done. Giovanni Maruzzelli of Celliax.org is due to talk in Goa (BITS-Pilani Goa campus, Oct 22, 2008 at 6 pm, at the lecture theatre).
The focus of his talks are this:
Topic: chan_celliax and chan_skypiax, how to add gsm and skype capabilities to Asterisk
- Asterisk overview
- Asterisk’s Channel Drivers overview
- Hardcore Asterisk development challenges
- How chan_celliax works: audio, signaling, dsp
- chan_celliax hardware: audiocables, datacables, cellphones
- how chan_skypiax works: audio, signaling
- celliax and skypiax dialplan usage
- celliax and skypiax AMI manager usage
- directoriax, app_directory on steroids
- putting all together in a simple example
- Q&A Session
Thanks to Hitesh Mantrala for working out things at the BITS Pilani Goa centre end. Vickram Crishna, a techie-journalist and IITian alumni of Mumbai said: “A terrific opportunity for lucky people in those cities to meet him.” Alberto Escudero-Pascual wrote in an earlier email: “The last week I have been working with Giovanni Maruzzelli, the hacker behind the celliax.org project, a channel for Asterisk that allows to connect a standard phone to a PBX using a sound card and a data cable. Giovanni, is going to travel to India (Chennai area) and he has asked for FOSS-type of contacts in the country….”
A member of the worldwide open source community for over twelve years, Giovanni is the proud owner of the Mysql license n.1, and as a speaker, trainer and magazines writer he was instrumental to the introduction of Internet, Unix, Linux and open source to the Italian technical public.
In the beginning of the Internet era, Giovanni was one of the founders of Italia Online, the most popular Italian portal and consumer ISP, and architect of its Internet technologies – http://www.iol.it Then supervisor of Internet operations and architect of the first engine for paid access to www.ilsole24ore.com, the most read financial newspaper in Italy and to its databases (migrated from mainframe).
After that, he was CEO of venture capital funded Matrice, developing Telemail unified messaging and multi language phone access to email (Text To Speech), and CTO of incubator funded Open4, an open source managed applications provider. As a partner In3 fund Giovanni has often evaluated the technical and financial soundness of submitted business plans. Then he was for two years in Serbia as Internet and Telecommunication Investment Expert for World Bank – IFC. Giovanni is now consulting and is based in Milan, Italy. His email address: gmaruzz at celliax.org
We, in Goa, were lucky to lure him over. Some quick emails helped. The image of Goa did the rest. After all, who doesn’t like to visit here? (I think the government pundits should just give up on their dreams of competing with Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune or even Thiruvananthapuram, Hubli and Pondicherry) and just make Goa a destination for IT events, happenings, fairs and conferences. The people here are smart enough to pick up things and take it further on from there
The case for Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FOSS) in schools … this is a paper I put together for IOSN (International Open Source Network, South Asia) in Chennai.
It was a learning experience working on it. You can read or download the whole paper from here: http://www.divshare.com/download/3321637-94c
In the text above, one is presented with more than just hints of the
varied and many possibilities that FOSS opens up for schools in South Asia.
There is clearly a profusion of tools available, which needs to be
adequately exploited. As of now, however, the lack of easy-to-access FOSS skills could cause a setback in the spread of Free/Libre and Open Source Software in South Asia. The lack of widespread awareness of these tools among educators, and importantly even those drafting the curricula, remains a matter for concern. Steps taken in this regard could go a long way in building a firm basis for the spread of FOSS, in schools and beyond.
By Frederick Noronha
There are plans afoot to computerise thousands of rural schools across India, attended mainly by poor children. But where is the software that is suitable for use in these schools?
WHY IS it easier for Indian school students to use the computer to study the geography of the United States, rather than know the states of their own country better? What is the fate of students in non-English schools who want to learn how to use computers optimally? In a word, are we producing suitable software to cope with the needs of our own schools?
These issues come up regularly to haunt educationists keen to give school-children better access to computers. More so, when the students come from underprivileged or poor backgrounds, are familiar only with regional languages, and study in resource-poor government schools.
“Availability of suitable (educational software) material in the Kannada language is next to nil,” complains engineer S Jayaraman. He is a consultant to the Azim Premji Foundation (APF), a philanthropic network started by Bangalore’s prominent IT house.
The APF has plans to computerise around a thousand rural schools, attended mainly by children of the poor. So far it has managed around three dozen. This too has not been problem-free. Plans to set up these ‘community learning centres’ which could be used in the evenings by general villagers have, among other things, been hit by a lack of relevant software.
“Some of the (commercial software producers) are offering syllabus-based learning,” says Jayaram. Much of the ‘educational software’ available is in English, and better suited to foreign students rather than Indian needs. Others firms have simply taken textbooks and dumped it onto a CD.
Some of the other problems the Azim Premji Foundation has to struggle with include finding sufficiently motivated teachers close-by, difficult infrastructure (high and ultra low-voltage power), reluctance of school authorities to open access to villagers outside school hours, and the like.
But the Foundation is already reporting that putting computers in rural schools has boosted attendance, and that admissions to otherwise-ignored government schools has also improved.
APF has been able to make use of two specific software — one a Karnataka-based treasure hunt, giving information on the state’s various districts; and the other called ‘Brainstorm’ that helps students practise simple Arithmetic concepts.
C V Madhukar of the APF stresses that the foundation has taken up “primary education as our target, not so much as philanthropy but more as problem-solving”. He said the possible agenda on this front could revolve around computer-based content creation (either teacher-centred or child-centred content); TV-based content; setting up Community Learning Centres; and facilitate the donation of used PCs from companies to schools.
Tia Sircar of the Bangalore-based TeLC (The e-Learning Consortium) also stresses the need to look at the ‘content needs’ of the Indian rural masses. She points to the success of some experiments like the Pratham initiative of computer training in Mumbai, which Sircar says has been a “vast success”.
Sircar concedes that students across the country feel the need to study English. But without regional language software, the aim of making India a computer-literate nation would simply not happen, as educationists agree.
Others wanting to promote computers in schools have also faced similar problems. From the west coast, the Goa Computers-in-Schools Project (GCSP) is an Internet-based alliance between overseas Goans and those here to help spur on attempts to give schools in the state access to more computers.
Recently, the GCSP managed to finally get the Central government to allow Customs-free import of once-used computers from abroad to non-elitist, non-commercial privately run schools. This is particularly relevant in Goa, a state where much of school education is privately managed.
Such measures could allow overseas expats to send in donated and once-used computers by the containerful, on just paying the freight charges. But software questions remain. In the past too, some linked to this network have raised questions about the ethics of using pirated proprietorial software in schools, where students are supposed to be taught to follow a principled approach to life.
Other approaches are being tried out. Aware of this acute lack of educational software, the small but active network across India that promotes Open Source and ‘free’ software is also beginning to pay some attention to the issue.
There are other global websites like linuxforkids.com which offer megabytes for education software on a CD for prices ranges between three to six dollars. Programs offered include First_math (a maths quiz game), Anton (a challenging maths game), Cindrella (commercial interactive geometry software), Linux Letters (learning game for children from 2-up for letters and numbers), TuxType (typing tutor), Gnerudite (a Scrabble-clone), Across (to generate your own crossword puzzles), Qvocab (to increase your foreign language vocabulary), Lingoteach (to learn foreign languages), Atomix (a molecule-creation game), LOGO (tool for children to learn programming).
This might be helpful, but doesn’t quite solve the main problem at hand.
Linux is still, unfortunately, seen as a “geeks’ operating system”. So, support available is relatively limited, specially in remote rural areas. In addition, again the problem of having relevant, local-language educational software remains.
On the positive side, there are some signs of hope. Local GNU-Linux enthusiasts are showing signs of growing interest to build India-relevant software applications, and the educational sector could benefit too.
Committed supporters of Linux do appreciate that for their Operating System to grow in popularity, it should have something specifically relevant to Indian needs. Bangalore incidentally could be called one of the Linux capitals of India, with its active network of supporters and enthusiasts who showcase their work through events like the IT.com in November and the Banglinux held in early summer each year.
Others are also trying out their own initiatives.
Dr Pavanaja, a scientist who was earlier with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai and now devotes his time to promoting computer usage in Kannada through the Kannada Ganaka Parishad (see vishwakannada.com), agrees that relevant software is sorely lacking in regional languages.
“The only field IT has failed to change dramatically is education. Computers can remake education. It is indeed time to begin,” says he.
He points to his own initiatives. ‘Kannada-Kali’ is a software that generates a jig-saw puzzle from Kannada alphabets. One has to fit the pieces in the right place, thus enabling youngsters or those not knowing the Kannada language to practise on its alphabet. “I don’t claim you can learn Kannada using this. But it is an entry point,” says Dr Pavanaja.
He has also put together a Kannada version of LOGO, the logic-oriented, graphic-oriented software that is used as a tool to teach young children the basic concepts needed for programming. It is still under development. So far, only a few keywords required for the LOGO program have been completed. Some 300 more keywords are yet to be done.
Dr Pavanaja is more than open to the idea of freely sharing his ‘intellectual property’. In fact, the Kannada-Kali program has a prominently distributed message: “Feel free to distribute this among your Kannada friends.” In such a situation of scarcity, it is indeed laudable to see some of those working on such themes to be more than willing to share the fruit of their labour generously, without thinking about monetary gain.
Of course, at the end of the day, much of the Indian educational software scarcity simply boils down to a question of economics. In spite of their millions-strong numbers, the rural dweller simply doesn’t have the purchasing power. So why should anyone bother with writing software specifically for him? Even if this is a country that is increasingly claiming the status of being the world’s software superpower.
(Frederick Noronha is a freelance journalist based in Goa-India interested in developmental issues)