Archive for December, 2007

Aabida speaks from Bijra High School

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

Aabida Jamadar is a student of Class IX at Bijra High School. Soon after the CASTLELabs deployment at the school on 14 - 15th of November, Kushal shot this interview video. To me, this video really exemplifies what we are trying to do - to reach out, both in terms of technology as well as the more controversial topic of pedagogy.

I had been wanting to work on the post-production and sub-title this interview. Today I finally found the time. Here is the finished video. Many thanks to Kushal for shooting this spot-on interview.

Much of the credits for the success, go to my friends and colleagues from the Ankur Bangla Project, especially Deepayan’s Bangla Archive Project. Kids just love it! :D is back online

Monday, December 24th, 2007

As posted yesterday, the mirror came back online around 12:15 PM IST today. I ran the rsync scripts once by hand to update the trees. Finally , the things are back online once again.

Service outage on

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

After serving up over 7+ TB of FOSS content in the month of December so far, the mirror @ WBUT, went down for the first time today. However, like the early-September outage, once again it was the supply of electricity that decided to play hookey.

There has been a major cable fault at the HT transformer on the University campus, disrupting the University’s power supply. Around 2:30 PM, the power was restored temporarily, but there were issues with the load distribution. As a result, the phase the mirror was on, was again taken off-line. Power had to be diverted towards the bio-tech labs, where the incubators needed power to prevent the microbial cultures from going into thermal shock.

The latest update is that repair work is going on emergency basis and services to the affected phase is expected to be restored by mid-day tomorrow. We hope to be back on-line by 1:30 PM tomorrow, or if possible even earlier.

On addictive behaviour

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

__someone__ admitted to me in private that his near addictive tracking of this has been replaced with a new addiction

A city kid’s reaction to OLPC XO and other stories

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

Day 2 and 3 from Bal Vividha

A small video of the reactions of a young city-based kid to the OLPC XO. The editing, subtitling and title card creation was done using Kino and Gimp. The video was shot using a Canon Powershot A610 digicam. This is my first attempt at doing something like this, so rough edges and bad technique is to be expected :P The uploaded version has loss of details, thanks to conversion and compression, it’s not *this* bad in the final edited version on my lappy.

A slightly older lad (studying in Class VII from the South Point High School) can to our stall, and played a nice game of
on one of our CASTLE Labs terminals.

Among other things, Lipika Bansal from Waag Society, Nederlands came around to the stall. She was very interested in knowing what we were doing. She wanted to visit Bijra to see what we were doing. It was a lovely exchange of ideas. She shared with me details of several projects that Waag was into at present. I particularly liked the idea of the experimental Scottie

On the last day of the exhibition, Satabdi and Debamitra from AID India came over. They too wanted to go and visit the Bijra High School project site. Probably we’ll all go for a visit on Tuesday (the 11th).

Mr. Arup Chakraborty - a member of ILUG-CAL.ORG and a key person with the Kolkata efforts of Indian Assn. for Blind Persons, came down as well, along with a colleague. They are presently using Orca screen reader and are interested in getting it to work with Bengali Unicode text. They have expressed a keen interest in closely working with ILUG-CAL in setting up a training program for the visually challenged persons in using Free and Open Source Software. We all agreed to establish a base-line reference for the program within December 2007.

Bal Vividha drew to a close on Sunday, 9th December. Chandita from Comet Media Foundation, Amit from OLPC India and myself, we all sat down for a quick review. We drew up the tentative plans have a program on ICT in Education at Mumbai during the 3rd week of February, 2008.

Day 1 of Bal Vividha

Saturday, December 8th, 2007

Today we had our visitors - the kids!!! KGeography, KHangman and the huge trove of games proved to be a _H_U_G_E_ hit. Some kids even asked how to get the net connection going on the systems and how to view movie CDs. :)

The OLPC XOs which were on the first-ever public display in these parts of the world was a major hit as well. I spent quite a bit of time with Amit from the OLPC India team discussing the project’s progress in India and possible plans for West Bengal and the east. In between we went down to WBUT and had a meeting with Prof. Thakur as well.

Also had a nice chat with Lajpat, the guy who volunteered me his Ubuntu lappy yesterday. It was a good exchange of ideas. Also got Parantapa to meet with Jitendra, the lead devel for the Physics engine for the Virtual Lab authoring software from IIIT Hyderabad.

Tomorrow promises to be a busy day. In the meanwhile here are some of the pictures from the first two days.

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Day 0 at Bal Vividha ends on a positive note

Friday, December 7th, 2007

Went in early today to setup stall… found that others (Dr. Rituparna Chaki of CSE Dept, WBUT and other WBUT volunteers and staff) were already there. We didn’t yet have an electrical connection, so Rituparna-di had poked the BITM staff for one. The connection arrived soon enough, but without a proper ground. The OLPC-India guys at the next stall managed to escalate the issue and got it fixed for all. Thanks a bunch guys! :)

Meanwhile I managed to get hold Mr. Chaudhury, the Curator. He promised me that our flex stands, additional tables that I had requested for would arrive soon. True to his words, things worked out within the next hour or so. In the meantime, I did a quick-n-dirty orientation of LTSP and BN-IN interface for the two volunteers - Ira and Suparna (both ME students). Atanu informed me that one of the 12V DC TFT monitors have gone kaput and so one of the thin-clients we had fetched from untested stock.

Therefore, leaving Rituparna-di in charge, I took Atanu and went back to WBUT for replacements as well as the LCD projector. Unlike the day before yesterday, the driver I had with me today (Rajesh) was a good one who knew the bylanes et al nicely and we were soon at office.

I had planned to be back in 1 hour as I still had my presentation to prepare for my talk in the post-lunch session - “Innovative Experiments in using Technology within Schools”. However it was double of that. All thanks to Oishila and a loose CAT6 jack at WBUT. Somehow managed to fix that and left for BITM again.

On my way back, I got a call from Parantapa (a final year engg. student from BESU). He had come down to the stall to volunteer. It was great to see at least one person responding to my call for volunteers on the LUG list. He was a big help and has promised to come back tomorrow.

Interestingly the first batch of visitors we had at the stall was a group of relatively elderly ladies from Mumbai. Wearing burkhas and speaking only Hindi (with us at least), they demanded to be explained what was on the show. The volunteers were slightly at a loss in handling the group, partly due to not being fluent in Hindi, so I stepped in to the rescue :) .Turns out the ladies were housewives from Mumbai, on vacation in Kolkata and decided to walk in on seeing an exhibition. But it has to be said that they were very keen on learning all about it.

The second session at the Auditorium, started off at around 2:45 PM. I was to speak on the Bijra Project initiative and my slides weren’t in shape yet. Met the guys from Pratham, they were really interested in the Bijra Project and want to visit Bijra. Nizam bhai who was there, promised them all the help they may need locally.

At the session, there were a total of 3 speakers. Me, Arundhati from an NGO called Pragati and Dr. Jayanthi Sivaswamy from IIIT Hyderabad. I was the first speaker, however my F7 loaded Macbook’s projector display played hookey. When I had nearly resigned to the fact of speaking extempore, a guy from the audience, came up to me and asked if I would be comfy with presenting using his Ubuntu Laptop. Whoa!!! I finished my presentation using his Compaq lappy, he also had the mpeg codecs loaded so I could also play my videos. It felt really nice! :D

Dr. Jayanthi’s presentation was really interesting, she spoke about and demoed a Virtual Lab Authoring s/w for Physics, written using VC++ and OpenGL, the project being funded by Media Labs Asia. During the Q/A session, when she mentioned that the software would be given to school for free, I quizzed her about the degree of “free”-ness she was referring to. Her answer was straight and simple - GNU GPL. So I requested her to put up the project on asap as it looked rather interesting and useful stuff. She agreed. Later I got together with her team’s lead devel who is also attending. We exchanged cards and Dr. Jayanthi asked me if she could access some of the young local FOSS talent pools to further develop the software in a collaborative fashion.

The session closed with the screening of a film by Comet Media Foundation. It was a inspirational piece. Rather nicely done in my opinion. The credits screen had one more item was interest. The film was funded by Hivos.

I came back to the stall, and finally had my lunch around 5:45, since visitors’ streams ended up by six, we decided to wrap it up and call it a day. I went back to WBUT for a briefing session with Prof. Thakur, who in return shared with me the details of his meeting at FOSS.IN. Looking back it was a rather fruitful day. Tomorrow I plan on spending some time with the OLPC India team, particularly Amit (Gogna) who has been leading the Khairat pilot in Maharashtra.

A call for help

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

There is going to be an education fair with a difference (Bal Vividha) to be held at Birla Industrial and Technological Museum (BITM) from 6 - 9 December 2007. The program has a strong pro-FOSS agenda.

FWIW, I’m helping WBUT to put up a stall at the venue where we’ll be showcasing LTSP with Bengali / Hindi Desktop and Multi-media Support; AMD Geode based Ultra-Value Clients PCs running FOSS s/w and using just a 12V DC input to power themselves.

I’m terribly short of hands to manage the displays for 4 days. So, this is a general call for help to you all. We need stall volunteers. Anyone interested will be “rewarded” with a quick-n-dirty hands-on experience on LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project) technology and cups of coffee and my boring company :P . Interested persons can get in touch with me over phone - 98300-20971 or by email off-list

And I have a bit of exciting information for the last, we (the organisers) have managed to invite OLPC (One-Laptop-Per-Child) India team to come and participate. And so you may actually get to fiddle around with the latest XOs. So, even if you are too busy to volunteer, do come down to the exhibition, it would be rather exciting :D

Media reports on the Bijra School Project

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

Anandabazar Patrika, possibly the largest Bengali daily with a print run of over 1.1 million a day, has done a fairly longish report on their Burdwan edition of Decemeber 1, 2007. Here is a PDF copy of the report. The report is also available online from the ABP archives over here

TV Reports

The coverage from ETV Bangla of the “official” inaugeration on the 15th November, 2007 was grabbed using a digicam by Kushal is below

And the coverage from Express News (same feed used by Kolkata TV) is over here

FOSS contribs from India… where are the local mirrors?

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

Debarshi “Rishi” Ray came over to my workplace today to collect the Fedora 8 x86_64 DVD iso. I set the disk to burn and went out for a quick lunch. It was all done by the time we’re back, thanks to the fact that it was readily available from the local mirror on the intranet.

Officially today is the end of the 3rd month of operation of the FOSS mirror at WBUT (for the pedantically inclined its more like 2 months and 20 days). The mirror has come a long way since Susmit & I started tweaking it in the early days of September. It started off quietly with a Fedora 7 mirror for (i386 and x86_64) and CRAN - The Comprehensive R Archive Network. The choice was driven primarily by “selfish” interests. It was to serve as resource base for the series of Amazing R Workshops by Dr. Arindam Basu, jointly organised by us and WBUT, and the first series of large-scale Linux InstallFests in this part of the country (a joint effort of WBUT-LUG and ILUG-Cal.ORG).

The mirror, which rsync updates itself at least once daily, how hosts :

b) Fedora 7 / 8 mirrors
c) Ubuntu (Feisty Fawn)
d) Debian (Etch)
e) Mozilla
f) OpenOffice.Org,
g) the Linux Documentation Project

So much for the background, here are some interesting facts that the server stats throw up. Do keep in mind that the mirror is physically located on an aging IBM x206 box, sharing a 3 MBPS pipe with around 250 desktops with about 80 - 120 simultaneous users at any given time during the peak working hours.

Stats snippets for November

Unique visitors Number of visits Pages Hits Bandwidth
Viewed traffic * 691 1526
(2.2 visits/visitor)
(14.73 Pages/Visit)
(32.16 Hits/Visit)
373.68 GB
(256768.12 KB/Visit)
Countries (Top 10)
Countries Pages Hits Bandwidth
Unknown Unknown unknown 10974 11335 26.19 GB
in India in 9145 34710 341.22 GB
at Austria at 545 547 15.21 KB
us United States us 398 486 3.57 GB
cn China cn 201 283 323.97 MB
ir Iran ir 183 280 243.99 MB
it Italy it 182 233 552.14 MB
pk Pakistan pk 100 139 161.97 MB
jp Japan jp 67 94 74.42 MB
bd Bangladesh bd 62 89 161.87 MB
Others 631 894 1.22 GB

File type (listing on the type with highest download percent)

iso 118 0.2 % 352.46 GB 94.3 %

The last stat, imho, tells the most interesting story. That 94.3% or 352.46 GB out of 373.68 GB comprised of ISOs.

During the last 12 months or so, I have had the opportunity to travel, meet and work closely with a lot of young engineering students in West Bengal. Of those I interacted with, many were interested in exploring / learning more about FOSS. This interest I consider to be the first step towards creating the users, some of whom are also potential contributors, given the proper hints and nudges to the right direction.

The primary question I faced was how / where do I get hold of updated distributions / software. Setting up of the mirror was our bit in trying to meet that challenge, that the bits that are required for contribution are available to the potential developers irrespective of the connection / bandwidth quality.

For sure, it will be *really* nice to have “Official” country (IN) mirrors of the distros and other major FOSS software in India. For example, taking up Fedora Project as a case in point, I seriously doubt how soon we are going to have one in India (Fedora requires a minimum of 100Mbit connectivity for being a official fedora public mirror).

In fact, instead of “Official Country Mirrors“, IMHO, we need several “local” (read regional / state-wise) mirrors in India. Our Indian community requires up-to-date access to new software, including access to _unstable_ developmental trees and branches. For example, I met quite a few enthusiastic FOSS users in the small town of Siliguri in North Bengal, all using Fedora Core 3 or 4 - the latest available with them.
The bottom line, ensuring distribution of Free / Open source software, include the developmental branches is the key to the Indian Contrib to FOSS. Developer attention is primarily focussed on the devel branches. So, let 100 mirrors bloom! ‘Nuf said!