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2008 August 7 [Thursday]

The chix-IN-Linux

Controversial ...absolutely!! The name LinuxChix evokes mixed feelings amongst women on mailing lists and one can be sure to be asked (usually by men) "Isnt it derogatory". Not really. In India, English is not the lingua-franca used to harass women...rather,  the local languages are more colorful, if you must. On the streets you will have heard atleast some of these "indian words" commonly used to de-humanise women in daily life, which can make your grandma turn beet red. Its something any woman would encounter on Indian streets across any Indian city and its hard to escape it and here context matters a lot, but I digress.

IIRC, the "chix" terminology is all about taking a term with negative connotations and giving it a spin, psychological empowering if you must. It is also a p(h)un twist on UnIX. But most of all, I love the attitude, the zing and pizzaz that the women (and men) bring to the LinuxChix lists, beyond the work they do locally. I just like the aspect of LinuxChix being for women who use, support Gnu/Linux and men who want to support women in computing. Its that simple.

For the most part, we as women get and give respect in the technology space via the work we do. That power is within us, via our actions. It definitely does not come from having the appropriate cultural name or a perfect name. The latter does not exist and IMHO "culture" is a vague and arbitrary term (mis)used in India to control people in the absence of rationality and logical argument.

Having seen Christian "bubulle" Perrier wearing a Debian Women tee, I was curious. He said that was his way of showing support and I thought 'hah, most men would wear a man's tee even if it had the logo of a women's group'. To my surprise NO, Debian-Women had NOT printed men's tee's, so Christian was wearing a women's Tee, albeit one his size. That stuck in my head for a long time and he even posed for snaps wearing the DW tee. C00L :-). I had given him some IndiChix tee's last year and he wanted to know if we printed men's T's and when I replied in the negative he nodded happily and promised to wear them as is.

At mukt.in, not a single female student questioned the name, the only questions were from men. That says a lot to me. So I had a precondition for giving away tee's to the men - Wear it right now. Nope, its not a present for your girlfriend/wife/friend. If you support women, show it off!!

Talking of Indichix, the situation is peculiar, we have volunteers for the Indichix Labs in cities where we need sponsors (Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai, Mangalore, etc.. and no volunteers  where we have sponsors (Mumbai and Pune).  Strange...I always thought space would be a premium in Mumbai. My talk/presentation slides on "women in Libre software communities" is available here.

2008 August 5 [Tuesday]

An idea grows

Besides the pleasant weather another way to recognise I am in Bangalore is when there is a powercut. And what timing, precisely when i am working on the machine or need to fix dinner. Nice try BESCOM. </end infrastructure rant>

So far the responses to yesterday's request have been good, got some mails and an interesting comment. There was a request for Indichix labs in Mangalore and Bangalore BUT I never knew it would be so tough to get space in Bangalore. That is a surprise for sure.

I also got an office space for Pune and found a mentor in Chennai, Sudarsan Santiappan, who's comment had pertinent questions which may help us evaluate things. My reply to his comment was so long that I think its best converted into another blog post as I was repeating most of the following in each individual mails. Am I lazy or wot ^_^ ?

So here goes...

SSudarsan: If I understand correctly, this is typically equivalent to setting up a company which would target to deliver OSS. In the process of delivery, the team gets matured as OSS contributors.

Yes, in a sense its comparable, but the differentiator is none would earn a salary as we are non-profit project :-)  Jokes apart, for example, the goal is NOT to learn/create an "Indian" or a "pink" distro. Instead mentors can teach about the dependency cycle, package management, packaging across platform, and help to improve/develop/maintain the existing distro's, bug squashing/patching, and so on... Since LinuxChix is distro-agnostic, any experienced volunteer from the Debian, Ubuntu, Kde, Gnome, Python, Suse, etc ... communities can conduct talks, demos, take live sessions to encourage IndiChix. Most importantly sharing and learning in a group is fun and we develop new skills besides the knowledge gained during the learning process, plus the peer recognition and meeting nice people. So coolness factor is high !!

SSudarsan: The best places to start such an endeavor are the following;
1. Houses that can accommodate few computers and people with Internet support.
2. Computer centers of Schools and Colleges, which can hired at subsidized cost.
3. Tie-ups with Software Learning centers.

Cafe Coffee Day is not exactly the best venue for meetings nor conducive to learning packaging. So if we can provide an environment where they can come during weekends to learn for a few hours it would be a worthwhile experiment. In a nutshell the challenges and pressures are different and yet similar across different Indian cities; Also we are not-for-profit and have no inflow of revenue so hiring is a long shot at the moment, unless we find a generous sponsor :)

SSudarsan: One needs to have the following but not limited to; to sustain such an endeavor are the following:
0. Understanding the Vision

Contribute upstream. To add and expand, the moot idea is to reduce the challenges, as the knowledge divide for women is higher. With this experiment we can try to bridge this with help from like-minded people. Unlike other developed nations, in India, we have a number of women working in the proprietary software industry, which may be equivalent to men, but yet we have few (maybe around 100+) giving back to the Libre community. I met many newbies who are confused about:

+ where to start contributing, how to start, etc...

+ self-doubts about being good enough,

+ lack of knowledge about existing projects, or

+ Even wonder what to do at projectA, does my skill set match, do i have enough experience, etc... 

SSudarsan: 0a. Are you going to do service ?

Service ---> "upstream"  projects.

SSudarsan: 0b. Are you going to develop free s/w for the community ?

Absolutely, YES. Creating islands of excellence seems counter-productive.

SSudarsan: 0c. Are you going to commercialize the s/w developed ?

Not sure I understand what you mean but ...; I am no lawyer but I suppose; the existing license of the upstream project will prevail. This may change depending on the project too. :-8

SSudarsan: 0d. Are you having enough money flow to sustain this operation ?

As mentioned earlier, we are not-for-profit and generating revenue is not exactly on the top of the list right now. Besides the legal implications there are enough challenges, as is, to solve :)

SSudarsan: 0e. Who are the beneficiaries ?

Any (wo)man interested in helping and contributing to IndiChix, upstream projects, sponsors (you get to evaluate potential dedicated, hardworking technically adept women).

SSudarsan: 1. A Business model to sustain software development. Preferably a revenue model for sustained operation covering inflow and outflow.
2. A team of mentors/managers to train contributors and execute projects.
3. A detailed plan for people, projects, revenue in terms of growth and prospects.

and more...

If such a system is setup in Chennai, I would be willing offer mentorship.

The revenue model is too early imho, as
We (are a not-for-profit org and it has legal implications. Currently we will have to find a way to survive on sponsors aka charity.  Thanks for offering to mentor in Chennai.

To subscribe to IndiChix list, visit the list http://mailman.linuxchix.org/mailman/listinfo/indichix

2008 July 25 [Friday]

Butterflies are free

The look of surprise on Goldie's face as she discovers Edward is blind (*) has remained etched in my memory since I saw the movie at 10. The the impact Edwards character had on me was so much larger that as soon as the movie ended I rushed to my shelf, tidied it up, rearranged my books, prompting my Mom to wonder why the sudden need for tidiness at midnight.

Closing my eyes I tried to find books/stuff with poor success. Training my reflexes took time and slowly with practice I could distinguish between sizes, shapes, textures, and lernt to listen to the sixth sense so to speak. I was amazed how the blind even lived their life - its hard for me to take a step with my eyes closed, without crashing into stuff. As a sighted person i could never gain the sixth sense the visually impaired have but it has helped me in many ways at the very least it has taught me to be observant. I have still not succeeded in counting steps, remembering distances between objects and if blind-folded would still struggle to make my way around the house without bumping into objects. That is not the point.

Moot point of writing this is to highlight how we ignore a part of society that is differently abled from us. They are mostly kept away from mainstream society. I dont remember seeing a single blind kid studying with me in school, forget the higher levels or even at the workplace. Its almost like they dont exist, but they do, and last year a friend had told me about rakum.org and i decided to check it out. It being the middle of an academic year, I waited for the next year and planned to teach computers, libre software precisely.

(*) Gross as the word "blind" is, people dont intend meanness or nastiness when they use the word 'blind'. Reality is few folks in that school (or even across India) would understand the term "visually impaired". I doubt if the kids themselves are taught the difference, probably because such subtlity and awareness has yet to reach the roots.

2008 July 15 [Tuesday]


Some days ago the indichix list got a mail on mukt.in. Here is the excerpt....

Mukt.in, a Libre Software event is being held at Osmania University, Hyderabad on 1-3rd August 2008. The 'Call For Participation' for 2008 is now online and speakers can register here. Attendees are requested to register on the site.

The feature list for 2008 includes :
* Student talks
* Student project Exhibitions
* Birds Of Feather Discussions
* Stalls exhibiting different open source technologies
* Prizes for local Open source contributors

You can volunteer for the event by adding your contact details and  skillsets at http://mukt.in/wiki/index.php?title=Volunteers or chat over #mukt.in at irc.freenode.net

They are looking for generous support/contributions from companies/organisations to make mukt.in 2008 a roaring success. Please do pass on this information to any companies  / organisations that might be interested in sponsoring the event.

2008 June 7 [Saturday]

Libre software in Indian schools

Do you know if Karnataka state has any Libre software curriculum in its schools ? If yes, are any books published? Email me, if you know anything about the Karnataka school scenario.

I need this information since I had volunteered to teach computers at a local special needs school and it goes without saying that I was pushing for Libre software but now I am having second thoughts about teaching them skills which will not prove useful (read, in getting a job). I know Kerala and Delhi have gone the Libre software way but what about Karnataka schools ?

In the final analysis, my personal choice does not matter, especially if the Org i am volunteering with aims to make them self-reliant with skills to match and ultimately independent. I have to remember these are people with physical challenges and we all know how easy it is in India for such people. Heck, normal people have a tough time finding jobs so I dont view the world with rosy linux-tinted glasses. And then there is the Indian penchant for certificates, degrees and other assorted pieces of paper, to prove your skills so to speak.... bleh, do i need to rant about that.

The last few weeks i asked around, the situation was dismal... each school has its own idea of how to promote computer education in schools, each has its own text-books all teaching proprietary software :(

The worst part, ALL the schools are only interested in making money - parents are charged extra money per month as part of "computer education", lab fees, etc... When i heard that students in grade1, grade2 were being taught computers, out of sheer curiosity, I caught hold of those kids and lo and behold, their notebooks had nice colored pictures of a monitor, printer, laptop, with the teacher's red-ink-tick-mark with a "good" sign for the color not going out of the lines. How interesting!!

Next, a talk with the teacher's teaching the subject -- i wanted to know at what age or grade the kids actually touched the computer -- ahem, *cough* not before grade-8, i was told.

Apparently, this is the case with almost every school so i am not shocked, just disappointed that parents pay fees but dont really get the value for their buck. Sad state of affairs this.

2008 February 13 [Wednesday]

Accessible software at OSI week

On Monday I had attended the star speaker Klaus Knopper's talk at OSI week and came away impressed. Besides the Knoppix project he touched upon the synergy between Free software, OpenSource and propreitary software. I found his approach very balanced and it was interesting to see the way he tackled the Q&A sessions. He had a good grasp of the licensing issues and spoke at length on that during the Q&A, which leapt into overtime by almost 35 minutes so I had to wait until he finished attending another talk to get a chance to meet him.
I was quite surprised when Klaus was gracious enough to allow me to paste an Indichix sticker on his laptop... am touched by his lack of airs.... and to think I wandered into the wrong hall and almost missed meeting him :-) Later I also met Krishnakant Mane and if nothing else we practiced our Marathi and Deutsche and mine is definitely rusty as hell. In the last few months I have even forgotten my Marathi and Hindi....*sigh*. Amidst the six degree friends and chattering, we almost missed another entrepreneurs workshop but walked in towards the end for the Q&A so although I dont know who were the panelists, i did take aways some nuggets of wisdom from there.
On the second day Adriane (Klaus's wife) was to conduct a workshop on accessibility software which she works on with Klaus but that morning she was not feeling well and Klaus conducted it. When he spoke about the technological drawbacks and other social problem areas related to barrier-free websites, I realised the extent to which sighted people like us take such things for granted. The lack of standards is another grouse. Although technology is gaining momentum we are leaving behind a section of the population when we dont build humane and inclusive technology. That gets stronger for hardware, especially the portable kind which manufacturers dont care much about. So whether its a camera, phone, laptop or any other other portable device we, as a paying customer have a right to ask for free software based technology. It was interesting and also sad to note that the Indian government has not made it a mandatory for sites to be accessibility-friendly unlike the EU where its a law. Hmpf... we hardly even have government websites that are Firefox-friendly so accessibility is such a loooong way off. As far as our government is considered such things are miniscule, hence not worthy of attention.

2005 October 2 [Sunday]

Sanskrit locale sponsored into Debian

Just finished a last minute correction on the SA (Sanskrit) locale. Too many long nights this past week reading about Unicode and Devanagari support, keymaps and key-bindings, on Linux. And as I write this, its past 2 am yet again.... Volunteering can cause insomnia and sleep deprivation.

UPDATE: My Sanskrit (SA) language locale package was sponsored into Debian by Christian Perrier on 03-Oct-2005, available as a Debian package “belocs-locales-data” and in package “locales (version: 2.3.5-6)”. It feels great to see my first technical contribution to Debian become a part of the larger FOSS ecosystem.

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