[GKD] Wireless-for-Development Portal Launched (Venezuela)

2005-08-12 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
Campaigners in Venezuela have launched a wireless-for-development
portal, and the English-language details are below. See
http://www.apc.org/english/news/index.shtml?x=582985 and also
http://www.apc.org/english/news/index.shtml?x=526407 for EsLaRed's
eighth Latin American workshop on networking technology... which looks
like a rather interesting gathering of people and topics, when viewed
from half way around the globe ;-) FN

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Wireless talks development, that too in Spanish: www.wilac.net

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay -- The Latin American School of Networks Foundation
(ESLARED) and the Institute for Connectivity in the Americas (ICA) has
launched a portal. WiLAC is the new information portal about Wireless
Technologies for Development, designed to support individuals,
organisations, municipalities and businesses currently implementing
community wireless connectivity projects, or those about to launch on
this road.

The launch took place during the 'Experiences from Wireless Project
Implementation event, on July 27, 2005, in Merida (Venezuela), during
the WALC 2005, an event about networking and content.

WiLAC's portal was launched during a Panel of experiences in
implementation of wireless technologies, that was showcased during
workshops underway at the event. This panel began at 7 p.m. in the
Faculty of Engineering Auditorium of Los Andes University (ULA).

In a crowded auditorium, Edmundo Vitale moderated the panel. It was
kicked off with initial interventions from Jorge Phillips and Ermanno
Pietrosemoli. Both emphasized the importance of having a reference point
in the region, to address information needs about wireless technologies,
specially in Spanish, the third most-widely spoken language in the

Jaime Torres and Amˆ©rico Sanchez, experts of the Area of Engineering at
CEPES (Peru), presented their experience with the Agrarian Information
System of Huaral Valley. They not only shared what they encountered in
the implementation of the wireless network, but also about the community
development, costs estimates and the impact in the community.

CVG Telecom (Venezuela) president Julio Durˆ°n presented the National
Network of Social Connectivity plan, which includes the deployment of
technologies that go from fibre across the country to experimentation
with WiMAX technologies. But the starting point will be communities that
are otherwise much more isolated.

[WiMAX is an acronym that stands for Worldwide Interoperability for
Microwave Access. The WiMAX protocol is a way of networking computing
devices together; for example to provide internet access, in a similar
way to Wi-Fi. WiMAX is both faster and has a longer range than Wi-Fi.
However, WiMAX does not necessarily conflict with Wi-Fi, but is designed
to interoperate with it and may indeed complement it.]

Sylvia Cadena presented the model used by the Institute for the
Connectivity in Amˆ©ricas (ICA), to support the implementation of
projects pilot about fixed and itinerant Wi-Fi technologies through all
the region.

Finally, the WiLAC portal structure was briefly explored to check its
performance as well as the possibilities it could offer.

Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, the WiLAC portal will
promote information about design, implementation, development,
replication, and the use of necessary components for a successful
community wireless project that serves the community.

More specifically, the information, available in Spanish, has been
structured to offer the user relevant information regarding: research
(case studies, impact analysis); implementation (articles and reports
about current projects); technical reviews and news about technical
standards development; regulatory frameworks (links and descriptions of
the conditions in each country to develop community wireless networks);
training resources (materials, courses and workshops); regional
expertise; support funds available; news about wireless projects in
other parts of the world; and related events.

WiLAC promotes direct cooperation and exchange among community
initiatives using wireless technologies under development in the region
(and also in other regions). It also promotes the building up of
relationships and support from those initiatives with more experience to
those just starting up.

This portal was fully developed using free and open source software

ESLARED is a non-profit institution dedicated to promoting information
technologies in Latin America and the Caribbean, working since 1992, and
legally constituted in Venezuela. It has worked to promote the building
of human resources and research in telecommunications, computer networks
and information technologies in Latin America and the Caribbean. Its
focus also includes research and development on technology transfer and
appropriate technology, to foster scientific, technical and social
progress in the region. It is a member of the Association 

[GKD] The $100 Computer is Key to India's Technology Fortunes

2005-07-18 Thread Frederick Noronha
GKD members may be interested in the following article detailing recent
progress towards the design of a $100 computer in India.




India's Tech Renaissance

The $100 computer is key to India's tech fortunes

By Michael Kanellos
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
June 29, 2005

MUMBAI, India--One of the critical ingredients for the $100 computer is
probably in your garage.

In about three months, a little-known company called Novatium plans to
offer a stripped-down home computer for about $70 or $75. That is about
half the price of the standard thin clients of this kind now sold in
India, made possible in part by some novel engineering choices. Adding a
monitor doubles the price to $150, but the company will offer used
displays to keep the cost down.

If you want to reach the $100 to $120 price point, you need to use old
monitors, said Novatium founder and board member Rajesh Jain, a local
entrepreneur who sold the IndiaWorld portal for $115 million in cash in
2000 and has started a host of companies since. Monitors have a
lifetime of seven to eight years.

It is this kind of entrepreneurial thinking that has made Jain the
latest visionary to seek out today's Holy Grail of home computing: a
desktop that will start to bring the Internet to the more than 5 billion
people around the world who aren't on it yet.

The first $100 computer is a fitting icon for a country undergoing major
changes in the development of its technology, economy and society. As
Indian companies increasingly break away from the limitations of
handling outsourced services for Western corporations, innovations are
likely to multiply and inspire the rising number of independently minded
engineers and executives who are leading the country's technology
industry to new frontiers.

Because of thriving exports and low PC penetration, India has become the
epicenter for projects on the cutting edge of computing hardware.
Advanced Micro Devices has started to sell its Personal Internet
Communicator for $235, including monitor, through a broadband partner
here. It says a fully equipped $100 personal computer in three years
isn't out of the question.

The innovative spirit that pervades the industry is producing a variety
of new approaches toward affordable computing. Tata Consultancy Services
is tinkering with domain computers that reduce costs by just handling
fixed functions such as bill payment or word processing, said Nagaraj
Ijari, a senior executive in the company's operations in Bangalore.

About 200 miles away in high-tech center Chennai, formerly known as
Madras, Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala of the Indian Institute of
Technology has developed a $1,000 automatic teller machine that can also
serve as an Internet kiosk for villages. He has also built a wireless
data system that has been exported to Brazil, Iran, Fiji and Nigeria.

Creating a product that cuts costs without reducing functions isn't
easy, as exemplified by the Simputer, a handheld computer designed for
the masses. And many products face formidable logistical and
infrastructural obstacles.

Professor Jitendra Shah, from the Centre for the Development of Advanced
Computing, is examining ways to reduce electricity usage by setting up
solar-powered computing terminals that tap into battery-powered PCs
acting as servers.

We are looking at ways to take advantage of unconventional sources of
power. Practically in every village you will find a truck or car battery
that you can use when the regular power grid fails you, said Ketan
Sampat, president of Intel India. You also want to design something
that is more tolerant of dust.

Living in a material world

The key to success for the $100 computer lies in the sum of its parts.
Even though the industry has seen continuous price declines for
components--including metal, plastic and other raw materials--many
executives believe that manufacturing a full-fledged PC for even less
than $200 is probably still impractical.

We are not able to fix the monitor and hard-drive problem, said P.R.
Lakshamanan, senior vice president of Zenith Computers, one of India's
largest local PC makers.

With these realities in mind, some companies are adjusting their price
goals. Xenitis, for example, has come out with PCs that cost just under
$250, equipped with an older 1GHz processor from Via Technologies, 128MB
of memory, a 40GB hard drive, Linux software and a 15-inch screen.

Via will join in with its own Terra PC in the fall. The Terra comes with
the same basic configuration as its Xenitis competitor, but the
operating system and the basic applications are loaded on a flash memory
chip, not the drive--making the computer less susceptible to viruses and
other problems.

Via, however, admits that it will need to select battle-hardened
software. There is no way I am going to take care of all of the
problems, said Ravi 

[GKD] Free and Open Source Software Tools for NGOs

2005-01-18 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
community could be connected they could act as a review and
recommendation group, sharing experiences and knowledge on using and
developing the boxes and providing each other with relevant NGO case

The key to achieving this would be in developing and maintaining a well
established network of locally based partners. Some questions which
remain are, would the draw for this community be enough for sustained
involvement? And how could the box develop in the future to become more
NGO specific, providing solutions for activities such as security
monitoring, advocacy, organising and campaigning.

For more information or in order to obtain a copy of NGO-in-a-box,
please contact us at [EMAIL PROTECTED]

Tactical Technology Collective © 2004 | Site by Floatleft

Frederick Noronha (FN)Nr Convent Saligao 403511 GoaIndia
Freelance Journalist  P: 832-2409490 M: 9822122436
http://fn.swiki.net   http://fn-floss.notlong.com

http://goabooks.swiki.net * Reviews of books on Goa... and more

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[GKD] NGOs and Free Software

2004-12-21 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
Volunteering and Free Software

Below is a list of ten reasons why volunteering organisations -- called
non-government organisations (NGOs) in some countries -- need to take a
close look and deploy Free Software:

* If NGOs don't subscribe to the principles of sharing freely, reuse and
waste-minimisation, then who will?

* If NGOs take the easy way out and end up on the side of a global
monopoly, then words and deeds don't match.

* 'Freedom' is something NGOs always talk about, in whatever form. In
the software world, this is already a reality. The possibility exists;
are we ready to take a little extra trouble (the initial learning curve)
in opting for it?

* Because NGOs need quality, stable software.

* Because NGOs are even more talent-rich, resource-poor than most in the
Third World.

* Because Free Software works out reasonably priced both in the short
and long term.

* Because Free Software creates local jobs and multiplies local skills.

* Because Free Software is transparent enough for you to (i) learn it,
if you have the technical background (ii) make custom changes in the
manner you wish to, or pay others to do this for you (iii) enable both
you and your staff to learn at a much more deeper, rather than
superficial level.

* Because Free Software is an ethical choice -- not one of convenience.

* NGOs receive and disseminate much information. It helps to be able to
access info (in digital format) without having to (i) break the law (ii)
spend money to purchase applications to 'read' the information. Use of
swatantra software enables that, as South India-based lawyer Mahesh Pai
[EMAIL PROTECTED] points out.

* Because free software empowers computer users and encourages them to
cooperate, as Richard M Stallman notes.

Copyleft 2004, Frederick Noronha
Frederick Noronha (FN)  Nr Convent Saligao 403511 Goa India
Freelance JournalistP: 832-2409490 M: 9822122436
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attachments See

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[GKD] India's March Towards Open Access

2004-12-01 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
publishers in other countries, suggests that the government should have
an interest in ensuring its success.  India's University Grants
Commission, for example, should insist that major universities with a
large output of science and technology papers set up institutional

Other funding agencies -- such as the Department of Science 
Technology, Department of Scientific  Industrial Research, Department
of Biotechnology, Department of Atomic Energy, Department of Space,
Indian Council of Agricultural Research and Indian Council of Medical
Research -- should also insist that research papers resulting from work
supported by their funds be made available through open-access archives
and toll-free journals.

India is not the only country being drawn towards open access.

In China - for example, among officials of the National Natural Science
Foundation and the Institute of Scientific and Technical Information in
China, as well as researchers with the Chinese Academy of Sciences --
there is already significant interest in its benefits to the country's

Reflecting this interest, in mid-June 2004 China will hold a major
national conference on open access in cooperation with the US National
Academy of Sciences. And in the last week of June, the Eighth
International Conference on Electronic Publishing will take place in

The first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society, held
last December, has given a considerable boost to these efforts: the WSIS
Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action include strong statements
in favour of open access to scientific literature. UN secretary-general
Kofi Annan has also offered his support.


International action is one thing, but genuine free access is another.

It will need a champion (or champions) in every institution to promote
the creation of institutional archives, and persuade scientists to place
their papers in them.

Free access also requires adequate hardware and connectivity. Many
universities and research institutions in the developing world lack both
computers and high bandwidth Internet connectivity, so part of the
strategy of open-access proponents must include campaigning for improved
ICT facilities. Luckily, costs of both hardware and Internet bandwidth
are coming down all over the world.

Another important hurdle to overcome is the fact that many scientists
labour under the impression that journal editors may not accept archived
papers, claiming that this represents an unacceptable form of

These scientists worry that it will be difficult to assess the impact of
their research if it isn't published in conventional journals. After
all, they argue, promotions and awards are often determined by the
impact factor of the journals in which one's work is published. Many are
also unaware of the advantages of gaining greater visibility and are
reluctant to make the effort to post their articles on archives.

Just over a year ago, for example, the National Centre for Science
Information (NCSI) at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), the
country's best-known higher education institution in science and
technology, set up an institutional archive. The institute publishes
about 1,800 papers a year, of which about 900 are indexed in the Web of
Science, which gives access to the world's most prestigious, high impact
research journals.

Yet so far, the archive has attracted less than 70 papers. This
experience emphasises an important point: it is not enough just to
create an open-access archive. Filling it is far more important (and
difficult). After all, an empty archive is worse than having no archive
at all.

But attitudes of the journals are changing, making institutional
archiving a more attractive proposition. It is important for champions
of open access to let scientists know that many journals, including
high-impact titles such as Nature and the British Medical Journal,
already permit authors to archive both preprints and postprints. The
emphasis should therefore be on setting up open archives rather than on
persuading journal publishers to make their journals open access.

If scientists and scientific establishments in China, India and Brazil
can be persuaded to adopt open access quickly, then it is likely that
the rest of the developing world will follow.

This article is courtesy Scidev.net. Check out the new South Asia
section of this website, focussing on science and development issues.


Frederick Noronha (FN)Nr Convent Saligao 403511 GoaIndia
Freelance Journalist  P: 832-2409490 M: 9822122436
http://www.livejournal.com/users/goalinks http://fn.swiki.net
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[GKD] India's PM Launches Village Resource Centre

2004-10-19 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
Manmohan Singh launches village resource centre

By Indo-Asian News Service

New Delhi, Oct 18 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday launched
the Village Resource Centre (VRC) that aims at providing a host of
intelligent services to make India's 600,000 villages prosperous.

Conceived by the Chennai-based M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation 
and shaped by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the
satellite-based VRC is more than just bridging the urban-rural divide
through information technology.

The centre will be used to provide information about agricultural,
health, education and also government services to the villagers.

Launching the centre here, Manmohan Singh said: Unless we take 
the benefits of modern science and technology to our villages, we cannot
get rid of mass poverty which has afflicted millions and millions of our

He described the mission as yet another saga of adventure and 
enterprise to bring the benefit of modern technology for the development
of India's villages.

A satellite link provided by ISRO would provide villages with 
local specific information. The VRCs would use communication and remote
sensing satellites to provide information on a range of subjects like
natural resources, sites for drinking water and ground water recharging,
water harvesting and wasteland reclaiming.

Initially, the VRC will be set up in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands 
and Wayanad and Palakkad areas of Kerala and in some parts of the

ISRO and the Department of Space plan to set up more such VRCs in
regions such as islands, mountainous terrains and tribal-dominated
areas, before extending the service to all 600,000 villages.

Frederick Noronha (FN)Nr Convent Saligao 403511 GoaIndia
Freelance Journalist  P: 832-2409490 M: 9822122436
http://www.livejournal.com/users/goalinks http://fn.swiki.net
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[GKD] BytesForAll: South Asian ICT4D Newsletter

2004-06-01 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)

_/  B y t e s   F o r   A l l ---  http://www.bytesforall.org
_/  Making  Computing  Relevant to the  People of  South Asia
_/  http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bytesforall_readers 062004

Open Access Workshop 

MSSRF ( http://www.mssrf.org ), the MS Swaminathan Research Fundation,
held an interesting event in early May. Sunil Abraham [EMAIL PROTECTED]
reports that the focus of this workshop is GNU EPrints, a 'Mukt' and
'Muft' software. The GNU EPrints has been developed at the Electronics
and Computer Science Department of the University of Southampton. See
http://software.eprints.org/. Today there are 132 known archives running
EPrints software worldwide. And the total number of records in these
archives is 45894.

Dr Leslie Carr demonstrated the installation of E-Prints software on Red
Hat 7.3. E-Prints requires Apache Web Server, MySQL Relational Database
Server and Perl Programming Language. After that Prof. Leslie Chan
demonstrated OAIster [http://www.oaister.org This is a meta-crawler for
Open Archives. Today it has 3,163,129 records from 282 institutions.
Says Abraham: This is really a *must see* for all researchers,
documentalists, archivists and information scientists.

OAIster is based on an Open Archives Initiative - Protocol for Metadata
Harvesting. See more at http://www.openarchives.org/

In short OAI provides standards, technologies and tools to Open Archive
projects that wish to publish data in a uniform manner and thus leverage
the collective strength of the network. This is similar to the Dublin
Core http://dublincore.org/ initiative.

Other presentations included one by Dr D K Sahu on Open File Formats and
design of Meta Data. He is making a detailed comparison of PDF, HTML,

Low or no Net access

Jude Griffin [EMAIL PROTECTED] of the Electronic Products Group
Management Sciences for Health Boston http://www.msh.org has been
visiting India to look at the state of innovation for those with low or
no Internet access, and who is doing innovative work in ICTs in India.
Says he: I work for Management Sciences for Health -- an international
health nonprofit whose audience is health professionals in the
developing world. This audience spans health workers in Bangladesh to
ministry officials in Latin America.

Their products and courses use a mix of delivery methodologies including
Web, email, CD rom, print and face-to-face. Says Griffin: We are
looking for possible collaboration partners for a variety of ICT
initiatives from courses to communities of practice which would utilize
a range of ICTs.

Open publishing

The Journal of Orthopaedics is applying the principles of Free Software
and Open Source to the publishing world.

Open Access has already become the buzzword in scholarly discussions and
publishing circles. The scholar community, which was denied barrier-free
access to vital research, has already begun dreaming of the free world
where exchange of vital research is seamless. The Open Access Movements
are gaining momentum and public acceptance worldwide.

Open Access can change the scenario by a multi-pronged approach. Firstly
by releasing the content in an open access license, which inherently
includes reuse permissions, will make it available in different forms
and different avenues free of cost. This significantly improves access.

For example, a recent editorial published in Calicut Medical Journal[
www.calicutmedicaljournal.org] was translated to vernacular language and
republished in a popular health magazine, which made the article
accessible to a community which had no access to the primary literature.

Dr.P.V Ramachandran Professor of Radiodiagnosis Medical College Aleppey
E-Mail: [EMAIL PROTECTED] Web: www.pvramachandran.com and Dr.Vinod Scaria
of Kozhikode in Kerala E-Mail: [EMAIL PROTECTED] Web:
www.drvinod.com made this point very aptly recently.


Check out the mailing list for digital libraries, Digilib_India.  To
subscribe from this group, send an email to:

It brings across useful informational nuggets, like the recent one about
USEMARCON Plus v1.41. USEMARCON is a software application that allows
users to convert bibliographic records from one MAchine-Readable
Cataloguing (MARC) format to another.

To download the software please visit the the British Library web site

Database globally

A recent advert pointed to the work of Nexus Information Services
Company Private Limited (affiliated to National Information Services
Corporation, Baltimore, Maryland, USA). It is one of the foremost
database access, production and publishing companies in the world.

Nexus Information Services Co. Pvt. Ltd is located at Hyderabad, and can
be contacted via 

[GKD] First Community Radio in South Africa Celebrates 10th

2004-05-27 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
Precedence: bulk

Success Rewards Bush Courage

By Michello Cho   [Radio World * July 2003]

CAPE TOWN, South Africa: The Bush Radio story exemplifies the power of
positive thinking.

The first community radio initiative in South Africa -- dubbled the
Little Radio Station That Could ... and Did -- proudly celebrated its
10th anniversary in May (2003).

The celebrations kicked off on 1 May with a 10 Years/10 Days/10 Bucks
campaign. The award-winning station asked listeners and newcomers to
support its decade of low-budget, high-quality programming with a
donation of 10 rand or more during 10 days of festivities in which Bush
Radio re-aired broadcasts from 1993 to the present.

Since its humble beginnings during the Apartheid era, Bush Radio has
always striven to serve as the voice of the people.

It was started by the Cassette Education Trust (CASET), a small group
interested in developing an alternative audio communications system.
They recorded information in radio format to cassettes, made duplicates
and distributed them in townships in and around Cape Town.

Aiming to inform and educate the poor, the tapes covered literacy,
hygiene, health and, of course, political issues.

CASET had one underlying philosophy, Information is Power, and the
initiators knew that the airwaves would be integral to its long-term
educational and empowerment objectives.

CASET eventually proposed establishing a community radio facility at the
University of the Western Cape (UWC), just outside Cape Town. Because
the university was located far from the city and surrounded by dense
bush, it was known as Bush College.

After much deliberation, it became clear that the UWC campus would not
be a suitably accessible location and operations moved to Salt River,
Cape Town.

In 1992, CASET dissolved as an organisation and relaunched as a
community radio initiative. Keeping the original campus name, Bush Radio
was born. For the first time in South African history, black people
would have the opportunity to be broadcasters.

Money was needed and Bush Radio approached numerous international donors
for support. Fredrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), a German nongovernmental
organisation with a keen interest in training potential broadcasters,
provided crucial help.

Once Bush Radio secured the support of FES, it never looked back and
word spread quickly. Job applications started to flood in and Bush Radio
soon established itself as a key trainer and lobbyist for community
radio in South Africa.

Pressuring the government to grant it a broadcast license, training
fledging stations across the country, and building a strong reputation
internationally, Bush Radio slowly rooted itself and the concept of
community radio.

After having a number of its license applications denied, Bush Radio
decided to broadcast illegally.

In May 1993, a group of about 20 volunteer activists took a 16-channel
mixing desk, CDs, tapes and an illegally obtained transmitter to a room,
set up and prepared to switch it on.

They circulated a press release, designed a short program schedule and
composed a song. After a few test runs, Bush Radio went on the air.

The first broadcast lasted four hours and, just as quickly as Bush Radio
went on air, the authorities raided the premises, shut it down and
seized all the equipment. Two key members were charged with illegal
broadcasting, illegal possession of broadcast apparatus and obstructing
the course of justice.

The case dragged on but, following tremendous pressure from individuals
and organisations worldwide, the state dropped the charges eight months

Today the station operates from a three-story building and boasts
digital studio tools, sharing its facilities and resources with the
Broadcast Training Institute -- a center for the training of producers,
journalists and media-makers.

The award-winning Bush Radio program YAA 2000 (Youth Against AIDS)
earned a silver medal for Best Radio Program at the New York Radio
Festival in 2001.

The previous year, the station won the prestigious Prince Claus Award
for development and, most recently, station director Zane Ibrahim
received a honourable token of appreciation from the eight Association
Mondiale des Radiodiffuseurs Communautaires (AMARC) conference in
Kathmandu, Nepal.

These achievements, together with the quality programming, convinced the
Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to grant
the station a four-year broadcast license in June 2002 -- just reward
for an extraordinary example of bravery and determination.

* * * 

Michelle Cho is a producer/coordinator at Bush Radio in Cape Town, South

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Re: [GKD] RFI: Low-Bandwidth Long Distance Wireless E-mail

2004-05-25 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
Roberto Verzola wrote:

 Speaking of low-cost access (to the Web, via email), the www4mail
 services have been one of the most appreciated. I considered it my
 lifeline when I stayed offline (but kept email) for more than a year,
 and would still use it for most of my Web access if it remained
 Unfortunately, the www4mail services I know have become flaky and
 unreliable, sometimes responding sometimes not.
 A pity. We keep talking of low-cost access, yet when one becomes
 available that is truly useful and appreciated, few want to maintain it.

Roberto Verzola is right. I just can't seem to get through to the
www4mail services these days. The services were very helpful for us in
the bandwidth poor parts of the globe. FN
Frederick Noronha * Freelance Journalist * Goa, India
f r e d @ b y t e s f o r a l l . o r g 
Ph 832.2409490 / 832.2409783 Cell 9822 122436
Phone calls: preferably from 1300 to 0500 (IST)
Try landlines if mobile is temporarily unavailable
JUST OUT: Goa photos http://www.goa-world.com/fotofolio

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[GKD] Sustainable Agriculture Magazine on CD

2004-04-21 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
A world of agri info... on a CD 

LEISA arrived today with a bit of a bulge, and my guess was not wrong...
it was a CD. One of the mags which I find rather interesting in the
field of agriculture gave me a pleasant surprise. It included the entire
archives of its articles, covering a period of virtually two decades --
from 1984 to 2003.

What's more, I found the note on the back of the CD encouraging: ILEIA
encourages readers to copy and circulate articles. Please acknowledge
LEISA Magazine and send us a copy of your publication. Just goes to
show what an attitude favouring the free-sharing of knowledge and
information can achieve.

But let's get to basics first. LEISA isn't just *any* magazine on
agriculture. It's focus is specifically on *low external input and
sustainable agriculture*. Hence its name.

Whatever funding organisations and the Western development mind-set
might be critiqued for, this magazine's approach seems relevant to large
parts of the planet. So, naturally, one waits for it whenever it shows
up in the post. Inspite of the fact that this writer has no specialist
knowledge in agriculture

The CD itself covers vast ground. In an easy-to-browse format, which can
be accessed by (m)any web-browsers, this CD includes a volume index,
author index and topic index. Clicking on the 'topic index' takes you to
scores of articles related to themes like agro-biodiversity,
agroforestry, animal husbandry, biotechnology, communication and
learning, crop management, farming systems, food security, gender,
indigenous knowledge, pest management, policy and advocacy, resources,
soil-fertility, sustainability, trade and marketing and water

Interesting stuff.

The next question: how does one replicate copies of this CD and share it
among those who could benefit from the knowledge it contains? If you
have any ideas, do get in touch...

TO GET TO KNOW more about LEISA, visit its website at
http://www.ileia.org Email ileia at ileia.nl  LEISA India: amebang at
giasbg01.vsnl.net.in (AME, Bangalore). Local organisations and
individuals in the South (Third World) can receive the magazine free of
charge on request. Write to subscriptions at ileia.nl

  April 2004 | Frederick Noronha, Freelance Journalist
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[GKD] Video Volunteers: Using Video to Fight Poverty (India)

2004-04-13 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
I would like to appeal to those on this list to join-in a debate
currently underway for the legalisation of community-radio in India.
This campaign has been on since the mid-nineties, when the Supreme Court
of India gave its landmark judgement saying that the airwaves are public
property and should be listening to a diversity of voices. If interested
in knowing more, kindly check up the archives below, or join the mailing
list at the URL alongside:
cr-india mailing list

| Frederick Noronha, Freelance Journalist
| Goa India 0091.832.2409490 or 2409783
| Email fred at bytesforall.org
| Writing with a difference   
| ... on what makes *the* difference
| http://www.bytesforall.org
CHECK OUT USENET http://www.algebra.com/~scig/approved/threads.html

Regards from Goa, 


Video Volunteers 
Putting video into the hands of grassroots activists who are leading the
fight against poverty.

VIDEO VOLUNTEERS is a new program dedicated to spreading the use of
video as a tool to alleviate poverty in the developing world.  Volunteer
filmmakers join non-governmental organizations (NGOs), initially in
India, for two months to write, shoot and edit one short film for the
NGO.  They also train the NGO staff to make their own small videos and
to use video to give a voice to the poor. Through the Video Volunteers
Program, NGOs have a powerful tool for promoting their work and
spreading their messages.


In the 1990's, a World Bank survey asked thousands of the poorest of the
poor to identify the biggest hurdle to their advancement. Above even
food and shelter, the number one problem cited was access to a voice.
The Video Volunteers project is about giving a voice to the voiceless,
and to the people who fight for them.

Thanks to inexpensive video cameras and computer editing, the cost of
producing videos is finally within the reach of the grassroots.  For
NGOs, videos can be a great addition to an education program and are an
effective tool for policy action and awareness raising in the media.

NGOs can also now start incorporating the video camera into their daily
work. We teach them to use video for effective long-term project
documentation. In addition to our documentary training, we will also
teach them to edit simple sequences together quickly for promotional
material, for example, or to stream personal testimonials from the
community on the web.


Thanks to new digital technologies, anyone can make a film--you may not
be able to write, but you can see and you can talk, and that means you
can make your own video.

In group brainstorming sessions, members of the community decide what
messages the film will deliver, who the main characters should be and
how the film will develop.  Participants in the program are encouraged
to get involved in all aspects of the filmmaking process, from the
shooting to the interviewing to the editing. Why?  Because if it's a
film to educate the community in health issues, the community knows best
what will resonate with its own people. If the intended audience is TV
viewers a world away, the poor have a right to tell their own stories,
and not be spoken for.


The goal of Video Volunteers is to help NGOs communicate better, and
also to share vital information both within and beyond their local
communities. The videos will be streamed on One World TV, the leading
internet television station, which will become a hub for those using
video in poverty alleviation.

If the NGO desires, we will help distribute VHS copies of the videos to
other organizations along with educational or other support materials.


In autumn 2003, Video Volunteers successfully piloted the program at the
NGOs of two Indian Ashoka Fellows (see www.ashoka.org .) VV made one
promotional film for Akanksha, the Bombay slum children's supplementary
education program.  They also made an advocacy film for I-CARD, an
Assamese NGO working to strengthen the cultural identity of the Mising
tribe who live along the banks of the Brahmaputra. I-CARD was given
video training and is now working on its own productions.


Jessica Mayberry (Program Coordinator) - Jessica Mayberry was awarded a
Fellowship by the American India Foundation in 2002 and spent nine
months making films and conducting video trainings at the Self Employed
Women's Association (SEWA) in Ahmedabad.  She completed a 30-minute film
on women-led initiatives to combat drought, and shot and wrote a second
film about

[GKD] Community Radio Gives India's Villagers a Voice

2004-03-25 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
INTERESTING STORY from South India. Sorry for the delay in posting it.
As someone involved with the community-radio debate, I'd urge anyone who
sees potential in this form of communication to add their voice to the
demand for freeing India's airwaves. The world's largest democracy
needs to prove its commitment to free speech.

Interestingly, while Deputy PM L K Advani was recently praising the
potential of community radio (while launching the educational radio
station at Anna University in Chennai) officials of the government are
quoted below as expressing their reservations. Fear is the key! The
potential is lost.

If you would like to join a mailing-list devoted to spreading awareness
about community radio and its potential, sign on below... FN
 cr-india mailing list

Community Radio Gives India's Villagers a Voice 
Officials Worry Local Stations May Foment Unrest 
By Rama Lakshmi

Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, September 17, 2003; 

BOODIKOTE, India -- Crushed under the weight of three years of drought,
the villagers lost their patience when the public water pipes dried up
last June. For eight days, there was no water for cooking, cleaning or

There were murmurs of protest everywhere. Women came out of their homes
with empty pots demanding that the old pipes be fixed and new wells dug.
Men stood at street corners and debated angrily. The village chief made
promises, but nothing happened.

Then, a young man ran over to the village radio station and picked up a

Women complained and shouted into the mike and vented their anger at
the village chief's indifference. There was chaos everywhere. But I
recorded everything, said Nagaraj Govindappa, 22, a jobless villager.
He played the tape that evening on the small community radio station
called Namma Dhwani, or Our Voices. The embarrassed village chief
ordered the pipes repaired. Within days, water was gushing again.

India's first independent community radio initiative is in this millet-
and tomato-growing village in the southern state of Karnataka. It is a
cable radio service because India forbids communities to use the
airwaves. A media advocacy group, with the help of U.N. funds, laid
cables, sold subsidized radios with cable jacks to villagers and trained
young people to run the station.

The power of community radio as a tool of social change is enormous in
a country that is poor, illiterate and has a daunting diversity of
languages and cultures, said Ashish Sen, director of Voices, the
advocacy group.

Emboldened by a Supreme Court ruling in 1995 declaring airwaves to be
public property, citizens groups and activists began pushing for
legislation that would free the airwaves from government control. Two
years ago, India auctioned its FM stations to private businesses to air
entertainment programs. And late last year, India allowed some elite
colleges to set up and run campus radio stations.

By keeping the airwaves restricted, activists complain, the Indian
government lags behind such South Asian neighbors as Nepal and Sri
Lanka. Nepal launched South Asia's first community radio station in 1995
and today has at least five independent stations across the country that
address people's complaints and act as hubs of information in times of
strife. In Sri Lanka, Kothmale Radio has been an integral part of the
Kothmale community for 14 years.

Last December, Sri Lanka issued a broadcasting license to the formerly
clandestine radio station run by the Tamil Tiger rebels, Voice of
Tigers. The decision was made to strengthen the peace process underway
after nearly two decades of war and to bring the radio transmissions
under Sri Lankan law.

Radiophony, an Indian lobby group for community radio, claims that
villagers can set up a low-powered, do-it-yourself radio station -- with
a half-watt transmitter, a microphone, antenna and a cassette player --
for approximately $25. The group says such a station can reach about a
third of a mile and cover a small village.

Last year, the group supplied a low-wattage transmitter to a World
Bank-supported women's group in Oravakal, a village in the southern
state of Andhra Pradesh. Mana Radio, or Our Radio, ran for five months
before officials from the communications ministry seized the equipment
and shut down the broadcast in February.

We have to tread very cautiously when it comes to community radio,
said Pavan Chopra, secretary of India's ministry of information and
broadcasting. As of today we don't think that villagers are equipped to
run radio stations. People are unprepared, and it could become a
platform to air provocative, political content that doesn't serve any
purpose except to divide people. It is fraught with danger.

The ministry runs the All India Radio service that covers the country
and has more than 200 stations. 

[GKD] Tackling India's Literacy Problem

2004-01-12 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
This reply was sent out to one specific query. Guess it applies for
others interested too. FN


It is always good to be sharing information with like minded individuals
and organisations.

As you may have learned from my friend, Fred Noronha, and perhaps a
perusal of the website, www.tataliteracy.com, Tata Consultancy Services
has been working in this field since May 2000.  As of now our computer
based functional literacy programme has offerings in Hindi, Marathi,
Bengali, Tamil and Telugu.

More than 30,000 persons have become functionally literate in Andhra,
Tamil Nadu and other smaller locations in Maharashtra and Madhya
Pradesh.  It requires the use of a sound enabled computer, Pentium 1
will suffice and we encourage the use of primers of the State Resource
Centres of NLM which are inexpensive to procure.

We provide the software on free-for-non-commercial-use basis on a

I am sending a few items of interest.

In case you would like to have a CD, do let us know something of your
initiatives for literacy by radio, and send your postal address and
telephone number.

Best wishes,

Anthony Lobo

Tata Consultancy Services
Air India Building  10th Flr  # 71
Nariman Point   Mumbai 400 021
Tel 56689378 (d)  5668 (bd)

corp soc responsibility : adult literacy prog


* * * 


From Frederick Noronha

WHAT DO you do with a population of close to 300 million iliterates, who
can speak their native languages, but cannot read or write in them? Do
we see them merely as empty stomachs, and a burden on the nation? Or, is
this an untapped potential, which can be converted into 600 million
useful hands?

If a project by premier Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) can find the
right partners, and hit critical mass, then this large section could be
converted into productive individuals who can read signboards. Maybe
even the simple text of a newspaper in under 40 hours of learning-time.

Retired Major General B G Shively's recent mission to the Goa port town
of Vasco da Gama saw him take on an unusual enemy -- illiteracy. It also
took to India's smallest state an innovative campaign that brings
enticingly near the dream of making India literate.

Says Pune-based Shively: Every adult has inborn qualities (and
intelligence). You only have to activate it.

This military-man now consulting advisor to the Tata Consultancy
Services' literacy plan suggests that the computer can turn into a magic
wand of sorts, to spread reading skills without the need for a huge army
of teachers.

Quite some work has already been done by TCS in Andhra Pradesh, with
Telugu. Hindi, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil and Bengali are the other
languages worked on. Gujarati is shaping up.

What's more, there's an added bonus: India could become functionally
literate in just three to four years time, if -- and this is a big if --
this method is vigorously implemented.

How does it work? Simple. The software giant TCS is using low-end
computers to take out the monotony from teaching, piggy-backing on the
initiatives already undertaken by the National Literacy Mission, and
treating adults very differently from children when it comes to teaching

Some rules: don't make an adult sit for tests. Don't get caught up with
writing, as the difficulties involved acts as a major disincentive.
Reading skills are most important. Adults can't be made to study
alphabets the same way children unquestioningly take to it.

One-third of our population -- old, young and adults -- are illiterate.
Some 150-200 million are adult illiterates between 15-50 years.
Illiteracy is a major social concern, says Shively.

Growing at 1.3% per annum roughly, literacy is creeping in just too
slowly to make a difference for India's efficiency. That's where, says
TCS, computers come in.

Software generated by TCS, which is given to volunteer groups
free-of-cost, tries to teach adults to learn to read a language by
words, rather than the traditional method of learning by alphabets.

In the Goa Shipyard Limited, one of India's military-run building
centres, the concept recently drew interest. Sixty workers signed-up to
learn the most important of the 3 Rs. Andhra is however the state where
this project has made the most progress.

There's almost nothing the teacher has to speak. Everything is in the
software. So teachers can run 5-6 classes (one-hour) classes in a day,
without getting tired. You don't need a trained teacher (because of the
software), says Shively.

In 40-hours flat, an illiterate could be turned into a 'functional
literate', claims the major-general. This would enable one to read
simple newspaper headlines, check out bus directions, read signboards
and the like. Hopefully, such skills could be deepened over time.

Their ideas are put out on the site www.tataliteracy.com, and the TCS is
claiming a good response even from a few

[GKD] Will Computers Help Goa's Children?

2003-12-16 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
Will computers help Goa's children?

By Daryl Martyris 
dmartyris at hotmail.com

For the last five years a silent revolution has been happening in Goa's
village schools. Overseas Goans have been sending money and used
computers to village schools. The government has been distributing PCs
(personal computers) to schools. These are merely symptoms of a wider
trend -- the growing awareness of the need to be computer literate,
and to meet the demand computer training classes are mushrooming.

But why this strongly felt need? Ask parents and teachers and they'll
tell you that their kids need to know computers to get a good job. No
doubt the Indian software and BPO boom have something to do with this
calculation. Ask school-kids and you get the same response. But, with
few exceptions, kids also say that they don't want to be computer

I know this because in my five years of being involved with the Goa
Schools Computers Projects (GSCP), I have asked dozens of kids the same
question. The question then, is whether getting a computer diploma from
NIIT or learning computer skills in school will help, say, 14 year old
Geeta be a fashion designer, or 15 year old Elroy be mechanic... or help
any of the other thousands of kids in one of Goa's approximately 450
secondary and higher secondary schools which have PCs become what they
want to be?

One would hope so. The crores of rupees being poured into computers for
schools by the government are seen by the authorities as an investment
in the future of Goa's children -- an admirable goal indeed, and one
pursued with much greater efficiency by the Goa Department of Education
than perhaps any other state in India.

The reality, however, just might be different.

In May this year, Gaspar D'Souza wrote a series of well-researched
articles in the Navhind Times on how basic computer skills or even an
intermediate diploma from the private companies no longer commands a
wage premium in Goa. In short, for the handful of students who get into
the post higher-secondary institutions offering computer programming
skills, the future beckons brightly in Bangalore or Mumbai -- but for
the B.As, B.Coms and BScs, acquiring a basic computer skills diploma is
just another line their Curriculum Vitae's that is rapidly becoming

Now, this doesn't mean that kids don't need to acquire computer skills
in school. It means that they don't need three years to learn how to use
a word-processing and spreadsheet application, as the present syllabus
prescribed. They can learn the same thing in a month's time by
themselves, without any help from a teacher. I've seen it with my own
eyes -- barely literate slum kids teaching themselves how to use the

Computers in schools can be use in a much more effective manner to
improve cognitive skills in students, giving them a boost in learning
math and other subjects, thereby increasing the probability that
students from humble village schools can compete for admission to
professional colleges on par with elite city schools.

The Internet can also compensate (though not fully) or the lack of good
libraries in schools. Internet can give children from village schools a
window on the world that normally only city schools have. For example,
kids from the little village school of St. Bartholomeu's, Chorao, under
the strict supervision of their computer teacher, email their
cyber-buddies in a Boston school and learn about each other's lives.
They use the Internet to make learning more interesting. Without
computers in their school, few of them would have these opportunities.

Personally, I'm not so sure that computers are the most important thing
for school kids. For example, I'd rate a clean latrine in the school
much higher, or good ventilation, or a well trained teacher who doesn't
spend his entire class making kids mindlessly copy from the blackboard
into their notebooks.

Ten years after the Clinton administration's The Internet in every
classroom became a reality in the US, there is no still firm link
between computer usage and improved academic performance. Recent studies
in Israeli schools and closer home, in municipal schools in Mumbai, have
shown that unstructured learning exercises with educational software do
not help children perform better in language studies and math.

In fact, at lower standards, using computers on a regular basis actually
caused them to regress. Conversely, a study by Michigan State University
shows that low-income children who spent more than 30 minutes a day on
the Internet saw improvements in their grade point average and their
scores in standardized reading tests.

There is a lesson to be learnt here. Firstly, unlike the US where every
student has his or her own computer to use in schools, few schools in
Goa have more than four computers and often barely enough room to fit a
whole class into a lab. So kids are divided into batches and called
after school for computer subject practicals.

However a 

[GKD] Using ICT to Improve Education (India)

2003-12-09 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)

by Frederick Noronha

CAN IT AND THE INTERNET help teacher's teach better, design courses
better, build improved learning environments, and support the learner
more adequately? Yes, say the experiences of technologists working in
various parts of India on issues such as these.

Online content is leading to flexible learning, web-based course-ware is
being worked on, as are novel authoring tools for course-ware design.
There's even attempts to design a digitally-enabled self-learning course
for adults.

These are other initiatives came up in a little-noticed international
conference on online learning, held some months back at Mumbai, called
Vidyakash. Let's look at some of them:

Mumbai-based Tata Consultancy Services points to it's authoring tool
called eVOLv, as a possible means of promoting e-learning. Madhuri
Sawant of TCS says this is a world with a learn, unlearn and re-learn
mantra, and the need for updating knowledge is very strongly felt in a
changing world.

eVOLVe has a video window which displays a movie. It gives audio too.
Synchronised information appears in an adjacent window. Thumb-nails
allow the learner to navigate through the course. There's an inbuilt
quiz tool -- to test the learner's knowledge. Streaming video technology
shortens download time, and helps cope with bandwidth constraint. You
get the transcript of the script, in sync with the video. There are also
other functionalities that you can avail of while learning -- links,
email, help and note-pad.

IIM-Bangalore, the Indian Institute of Management from the garden city,
has also been working on its own model of e-learning.

Say T R Madanmohan and Jai Ganesh of IIMB: The Internet has enormous
power to improve the educational process. By using the Internet,
education can be personalised to each user, so that each student is
given a targeted set of materials based on his or her specific
educational goals and previous achievements. At the same time, the
Internet allows material to be updated dynamically, which creates an
up-to-the minute resource for students.

IIMB, a 30-year-old institution considered to be one of India's best
business schools, keeps in touch with its alumni through e-mail and
other forms of feedback. They've been trying to address concerns of
alumni for the need for upgradation of skills.

So, their customised model offers tailor-made material, study guides,
activities and discussions formed around existing material -- textbooks,
CD-ROM resources, or tutorials. Online interactions and discussions
occupy about half the students' time, with predetermined content filling
the other half.

There are other solutions, like eCollege (an e-learning software and
services provider). Suggests the IIMB team: Technology has created a
powerful set of tools for us to use in the educational world...  Based
on the experience, technology is not the limiting factor, but making
inroads into the habit of learning (is). Most of us are habituated to
lecture-based and other direct methods, and most of the assignments are

IIMB's researchers also point out that some academics and educators
are, and will, continue to be opposed to e-learning in principle.
Academics and educators have expressed concerns regarding the perceived
loss of control over the education process that can result from the
out-sourcing of e-learning campuses and courses, and the possibility for
lower-quality learning outcomes. Some of the concerns may be genuine and
need to be addressed at an institutional level.

Meanwhile, Acharya is an intelligent tutoring system for teaching SQL.
Acharya provides an intelligent problem-solving environment where
students can try out solutions to SQL problems posed by the system, and
get qualitative feedback. This has been focussed on by Sandhya Bhagat,
Latesh Bhagat, Jojumon Kavalan and M Sasikumar of NCST at Navi Mumbai.

Says this team: The essential differences of an intelligent-tutoring
system and a computer-based tutoring system are in the level and detail
with which the subject is represented and the use of a student model.
Intelligent-tutoring systems were a dormant subject during the last
decade, after a long period of significant interest among the artificial
intelligence community.

In their paper, they describe the architecture of Acharya -- using Java
servlet technology and a web-based front-end and POSTgreSQL at the
back-end. They argue: Acharya is based on guided discovery. A student
should be given opportunities to discover things themselves, rather than
being told about them.

From Rajasthan, we are told of Prabodh, a distributed online Hindi
grammar teaching-learning system. Prabodh is an intelligent tutoring
system, which tries to teach elementary level Hindi grammar following
the principles of pedagogy. It allows geographically-scattered expert
tutors to create lessons and exercises, based on Hindi grammar concepts,
through GUIs (graphical-user

[GKD] Using Computers to Battle Illiteracy (India)

2003-10-23 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
On Thursday, I finally met with Anthony Lobo and Maj Gen B G Shively
(Retd) of the Tata Consultancy Services. I've been following their work
in the field of using computers to battle illiteracy for some time now,
actually since June 2000 when the story first emerged in the technical

In brief, they use a software product of theirs to help just about
anyone teach adult illiterates to get access to 'functional literacy'.
The focus is on reading skills (so that anyone can read a few basic
words, maybe even simple newspaper headlines and signboards... rather
than just being able to sign one's name).

What is interesting is that TCS claims this program is 90% successful,
and can convert an adult into 'functionally literate' in just about 40
hours of teach. What's more, anyone can teach -- since the computer does
most of the work, one doesn't need to be a skilled teacher. Each teacher
can take a number of classes without getting tired.

TCS is a commercial firm. But this is a free-of-cost software, which is
available to anyone without charge willing to implement it for community
benefit. There are no hidden costs. The lessons tie up with the programs
and books of the National Literacy Mission, and Indian attempt to fight
illiteracy nationwide. NLM's books are inexpensively priced, each
costing around five rupees or so...

As far as Goa goes, this is a 'high-literacy' state.

But, we really cannot afford to be complacent. Goa is ranked fourth
highest nationwide in terms of its literacy achievements. But even
regions like Lakshadweep and parts of the North East, and of course,
Kerala too, have done better than Goa. We here have not been able to
touch the target of 100% literacy, despite trying for some time. When
one checked the National Literacy Mission website (http://nlm.nic.in) it
was surprising to see that Goa has no 'state resource centre' listed
against its name.

Goa also needs to fight illiteracy. Every individual in the state has
the right to be able to live life more fully. It only helps Goa if
everyone here is a productive individual, rather than an underperforming
person condemned to a life of poverty and lack of opportunity. We also
owe a responsibility to migrant workers drawn into the state, and
regardless of origins, they deserve a chance to function at higher
efficiency. This helps them; and, of course, this helps Goa too.

In the context of the TCS software, we here have a number of tasks which
deserve to be undertaken. Goa Shipyard Ltd at Vasco is undertaking a
program on this front, thanks to a push from Sumita Pillai
[EMAIL PROTECTED]. Of tangential interest, the GSL had also
undertaken a campaign to fight alcoholism, when it was released that
workers from that unit were dying at alarming rates of upto one worker a
week from alcohol-related complications!

But apart from GSL, few others in Goa seem to be aware of the potential
of this software.

In addition, because of obvious constraints over resources, TCS
currently has only the software program in five languages -- Hindi,
Marathi, Telugu, Tamil and Bengali. Gujarati is being worked on. Kannada
remains a huge gap. Konkani, along with other uncovered languages,  too
deserves a program of its own. The many protagonists of this language
could surely come forward to undertake some initiative (as also, another
initiative for making computing in Konkani a reality). Could
institutions like TSKK get involved to make this a reality? Does anyone
know where the Konkani primers brought out by the National Literacy
Mission are available?

Can we call ourselves really independent till we have fought and
conquered illiteracy, poverty, malnutrition, bigotry and similar

If you know of anyone with an interest in education, please pass this on
to her/him. If you want a copy of the software, check out the contacts
below, or contact me.

Some links you might find useful:

 Anthony Lobo, TCS, Air India Bldg, 10th Floor,
 Nariman Point, Mumbai 400021 Tel 56689378

 Maj Gen B G Shively, AVSM (Retd)
 Consulting Advisor, Tata Consultancy Services, Pune

 National Literacy Mission (India) site

 Site explaining the TCS idea of promoting
 functional literacy through low-end computers.

If you have any ideas or suggestions on how such initiatives could be
further spread, do get back. FN

Frederick Noronha (FN)| http://www.fredericknoronha.net
Freelance Journalist  | http://www.bytesforall.org
http://goalinks.pitas.com | http://joingoanet.shorturl.com
http://linuxinindia.pitas.com | http://www.livejournal.com/users/goalinks
T: 0091.832.2409490 or 2409783 M: 0 9822 122436

[GKD] Information Societies and the Gender Divide (India)

2003-10-21 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
Building Information Societies: Grappling with Gendered fault-lines

Reshmi Sarkar, IT for Change, Bangalore

Information technology (IT) is viewed as a potent force in transforming
social, economic, and political life across the globe. Today, without
being plugged into the information age, there is little chance for
countries or regions to develop. Of course all is not hunky dory about
the IT revolution; the celebrated potential of IT is remote from the
realities of many.  And, even among information have-nots, a significant
majority are women from developing countries.

Says Swasti Mitter, Deputy Director of the United Nations University
Institute for New Technologies, Technological innovations become
commercially successful if and when the creator of the innovation could
make use of political, economic and legal networks. Thus the dominant
group in a society determines the shape and direction of a society's
techno-economic order - and the image of an inventor has almost always
been male. Lack of access to relevant networks in the public domain
explains the historical marginalization of women's contribution to
technological innovations.

Gender concerns in the diffusion of IT have assumed global significance
today.  A valuable addition to the body of work on gender and
information technology is a document by Nancy Hafkin and Nancy Taggart,
titled 'Gender, Information Technology, and Developing Countries: An
Analytic Study'.

The authors remark, Most women within developing countries are in the
deepest part of the divide - further removed from the information age
than the men whose poverty they share. If access to and use of these
technologies is directly linked to social and economic development, then
it is imperative to ensure that women in developing countries understand
the significance of these technologies and use them. If not, they will
become further marginalized from the mainstream of their countries and
of the world.

So what prevents women from having a share in the pie? While poverty is
a gender neutral attribute affecting the access of men and women equally
to the gains from technology, several gender-specific antecedents impede
women's access of IT: apart from literacy and education, social and
cultural norms that constrain women's mobility and access to resources
as well as women's are huge obstacles.

Science and technology education is necessary for women to work in IT at
the level of computer programmers, engineers, systems analysts, and
designers. Women's low enrolment in science impedes this globally. In
developing countries, there is a great deal of variation in the
percentages of women in natural sciences, computer science, and

For example, women comprise between 30 and 50 percent of students in
computer science and other natural sciences in a number of developing
countries. Africa remains the area of greatest concern, however, as
African women have the lowest participation rates in the world in
science and technology education at all levels. The masculine image
attributed to science and technology in curriculum and media is a
universal phenomenon. Few women are producers of information technology,
whether as Internet content providers, programmers, designers,
inventors, or fixers of computers. In addition, women are also
conspicuously absent from decision-making structures in information
technology in developing countries.

That women Internet users in developing countries are not representative
of women in the country as a whole, but are restricted to part of a
small, urban educated elite, is illustrative of the layered character of
the digital divide -- in this sense there are many divides and poor
women are at the lowest rung of the technology ladder. According to UN
statistics, in many developing countries, less than one percent of the
population, male or female, has Internet access.

By regions, women are 22 percent of all Internet users in Asia, 38
percent of those in Latin America, and 6 percent of Middle Eastern
users. No regional figures by sex are available for Africa.

Women in the New Economy

The new economy offers many possibilities for IT-enabled businesses that
women can establish or in which they can work. Most numerous are the
service jobs outsourced by major corporations in the U.S. and Europe.

At the low end of the skill level and largest in number are jobs in data
entry and data capture. Software programming, GIS, and systems analysis
jobs require much higher skills and education, but women are moving into
these jobs in several developing countries. Research by women scholars
like Nancy Hafkin, cited earlier, suggest that while the
business-to-consumer e-commerce area has generated a great deal of
excitement, it can be a difficult field to enter. Women's handicrafts
can find niche markets, but marketing and management skills are needed,
and supply and delivery problems must be addressed. Some successful
developing country e-businesses have targeted 

[GKD] Flaws in India's Model e-Governance Project

2003-09-29 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
Flaws in Bhoomi, India's model e-governance project

By Keya Acharya

Karnataka's Bhoomi project, which computerised 20 million rural land
records, was designed as an instrument of equity. But is IT also
reinforcing inequality, with men benefiting more than women and the rich
benefiting more than the poor?

India has rushed headlong into a romance with electronic governance but,
in a country struggling to emerge from centuries of entrenched
inequalities and poverty, its outcome is baffling observers.

Electronic governance, or e-governance, is pushing buttons around the
world. It's the latest buzzword for governments trying to cut poverty,
address corruption in their bureaucracies and make themselves more
responsive to their citizens.

It is part of a whole swathe of so-called 'digital solutions' that many
hold can help developing countries leapfrog, or bypass, certain stages
in their development processes. And the Indian experiment is being
keenly watched as experts try to gauge the efficacy of the budding
relationship between the government, the computer and the citizen.

So far only a handful of state governments have tried to go on-line with
any seriousness. The southern states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and
Kerala pioneered the move to digitise the vast and complex workings of
government. Now, with no standardised format to follow, some of India's
other 29 states and 6 union territories are having a go.

We are the best, Karnataka's Information Technology Secretary Vivek
Kulkarni told Panos Features proudly, revealing an underlying rivalry.
Karnataka's capital Bangalore was chosen by the World Bank to be the
first developing country host for its annual Conference on Development
Economics held in May, in recognition of its IT achievements.

The task is huge: less than 1% of the mammoth administration in India is
computerised, and most has been done in a piecemeal fashion. The results
are mixed, as a visit to various rural areas of Karnataka revealed.

Karnataka is home to one of India's most prominent e-governance
projects, launched in 2001. The Bhoomi (or 'land') project has seen the
revenue department computerise the state's 20 million rural land
records, involving some 6.7 million farmers.

It's a project the federal government now wants all states to emulate,
as strong data on land holdings is needed to implement development

I have no complaints [about Bhoomi], says farmer Basavenappa Angadi,
president of about 40 farmer self-help groups in the cotton-growing
Dharwad district of Karnataka, 440 kilometres from Bangalore.

Central to the Bhoomi project is the computerised system of producing a
farmer's Record of Rights Tenancy  Crops (RTC) - an all-important
identity paper needed by the farmer to obtain bank loans (for diverse
activities ranging from children's education to buying seeds), settle
land disputes and even use as collateral for bail. It is no less than a
social ID.

In Kengeri, a satellite town near Bangalore, farmer Byregowda too likes
his new RTC: This is now pukka [genuine]. The Village Accountant cannot
change names anymore.

Under the old system, some 9,000 Village Accountants (VA) were employed
by the state revenue department. They lived in the village, had three or
four villages under their jurisdiction and were responsible for
maintaining land records, including 'mutations' which recorded changes
in ownership.

It was mainly through these 'mutations' that the poor suffered.
Mutations became an instrument for rural corruption, exploitation and
oppression. Landowners simply bribed the VA to change the titles of poor
farmer's lands to their own name. Small farmers, mostly illiterate,
could do little to change this state of affairs, either because they did
not know of it or because they could not afford the VA's bribes.

Now mutations can only be approved by the head of a taluka (a
sub-district-level administrative unit) in the revenue department, and
the farmer has to be present for their record to be changed - only the
taluka head or computer clerk's thumbprint can open the file.

The system is simple - at least in theory. The main town in each taluka
has an 'e-kiosk' with two computers, a printer and a modem. The
software, designed by the National Informatics Centre, stores all kinds
of information for each villager, including the name of the landowner,
history of previous ownership, and minute details of the land, including
what other lands it borders, and how many trees and what type of soil it

In order to access either an RTC or a mutation record, a farmer only has
to turn up at the kiosk and hand in an application to the clerk, who
keys in the request and gives the print-out to the farmer after checking
their identity.

The problems that arise have to do with the vast inequities that cut
across the social, economic and cultural spectrum of India - although
e-governance has gone some way to addressing corruption.

Mallaiah Prabhakar, director of Karnataka's 

[GKD] Results of a Survey of Computers in a School in Goa, India

2003-07-30 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
URL:  http://gscp.org/components/survey3.htm

Results of survey conducted at Vasant Vidyalaya HS

Respondents Profile 30 students 9 males, 21 females from grade 9

9 were 16-18 year range, 21 were 13-15 years range

Background - Vasant Vidyalaya is a secondary school with a total
enrollment of about 200 students from middle and lower class located in
Siolim, a town of about 10,000 people. The school has a computer lab of
7 PCs, 2 (Windows) provided by Government and 4 (Linux) provided by GSCP
in 2002, and 1 PC (Windows) additionally provided by the government in
2003. In the last semester of 2002-2003 academic year, 2 subject
teachers were trained, and the social sciences teacher taught 3
Geography lesson in the computer lab using prepared lesson plans. In the
same semester, children were permitted to use the computer lab after
school hours on payment of a Rs. 10 per month fee. Internet use was
demonstrated but not permitted on a regular basis because of phone cost

Results -

Respondents indicated that

* English is their favorite subject (50%), followed by Art, Math and
Science (30% each)

(100% of students responded to this question)

* They had been using PCs for less than a year (7%), 1-2 years (63%),
2-4 years (30%). This is consistent with Vasant Vidyalaya aquiring PCs 2
years ago

Students who have used PCs for more than 2 years mostly have one at home
or at a relative/friends home

(100% of students responded)

* Only 16% of students claim to have taught themselves to use computers,
the rest said that their computer Teacher taught them

(100% of students responded)

* Software used by students at school other than spreadsheets,
word-processor and paint tool

Games (60%) and educational software (only 50%)

(85% of students responded)

* Favorite activity

By far, Games (70%) and Paint (90%) were students favorite activites

(85% of students responded)

* Major challenges

Using keyboard and mouse

Technical problems

Too many students, not enough time

(74 % of students responded)

* Accessibility of computers after school hours

30% of students said the computers were always accessible, 10% said they
were sometimes accessible, 55% said they were never accessible

43% said they use computers after school hours

(97% responded)

This implies that the benefits of After hours school access were not
reaching all students (did this mean the Rs. 10 per student was too

* Students opinion on the importance of computers

Computers very Important for

Learning computer skills

For Job in future

To learn new things

Help with schoolwork

Computers somewhat important for

To  find or access information

To communicate with others

(97% responded)

This indicates that students are aware of the relationship between
computer skills and future employment. The lower perceived importance
for accessing information and communication reflects the fact that
internet is not used appreciably yet.

* How useful are the following to help you learn

Teachers 70%

Textbooks 40%

Your parents 60%

Your friends 60%

Computers 73%

CD-Rom 30%

(100% responded)

This would seem to suggest that teachers and computers are the most
helpful for students learning experience. However, given that only 30%
thought educational CD-ROMs were useful, the concept of learning
experience was probably not clear enough.

The interpretation of the following section on student opinions should
be treated with care as students had difficulty understanding the
question format. Neutral implies that the student did not have an

* 12% think that do not like school (20% neutral)

(83% of students responded)

* 50% think that computers have made them like school more (33% neutral)

(80% of students responded)

* 33% think that they know more about computers than my teachers

(70% of students responded)

* 71% think that computers have made them better students (14% neutral)

(70% of students responded)

* 42% think that most teachers seem afraid to use computers in the
classroom (33% neutral)

(70% of students responded)

* 57% say that  their parents have never used computers

(63% of students responded)

* 57% think that their parents are very interested in their use of

(63% of students responded)

* 52 % would prefer to use computers alone when using computers in
school (11% neutral)

(60% of students responded)

* Based on their experience with computers so far  50% want to use
computers in your future profession (% neutral)

(66 % of students responded)

What did we learn from this survey

* Identifying students least favorite subject opens the possibility of
targeting the  use of computer assisted teaching to make that subject
more interesting

* Students indicating that Paint and Games as favorite activities
combined with the fact that they do not have frequent access to
educational software raises the possibility that computers are becoming
purely an entertainment tool


[GKD] BytesForAll--South Asian IT for Dev. Newsletter

2003-07-29 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
so enthusiastic about ICT? What's the vision behind it all? What will it
cost, what will it give, how will it make people happier in RL? Where is
the vision that can make move the millions, both people and dollars?
Where are the roads, the bridges, the transport of information that will
make a change? Thought-provoking questions. Feedback to

Daknet, for rural needs

This initiative led by First Mile Solutions (FMS), a venture managed by
a team of MIT graduates, developing and testing innovative connectivity
approaches aiming at rural needs in developing countries. A pilot
demonstration took place in Tikawali, a village near Faridabad in March
2002. The pilot solution enabled villagers to file complaints via email
and send video messages from one village to another. The solution
combines WiFi (IEEE 802.11b) equipment at 2.4Ghz with Mobile Access
Points (MAPs) mounted on and powered by a public bus. The pilot proved
able to wirelessly and automatically collect, transport and deliver data
at high speeds to and from kiosk-based computers enabled with WiFi
cards. http://www.daknet.net/

Urdu solution

The Center for Research in Urdu Language Processing at National
University of Computer and Emerging Sciences (www.nu.edu.pk) has
announced the beta release of character-based Nafees Naskh Open Type
Font for writing Urdu in Naskh script with full aerab support based on
Unicode standard. This font is developed according to calligraphic
rules, following the Lahori style of one of the finest calligraphers of
the language. Nafees Naskh allows Urdu computing on Microsoft 2000, NT,
XP, Java (JDK1.4), Unix and Linux platforms. This font enables desktop
and internet publishing, and electronic communication in Urdu using
existing software (without any plug-ins) supporting OTF specifications.
Nafees Naskh is freely downloadable from www.crulp.org or www.nu.edu.pk.
Comments welcome at [EMAIL PROTECTED]


Check a new rainwaterharvesting group at Yahoo! Groups.

For dating too...

A new attempt at building an online dating and socializing forum, that
comes from Goa's active-on-the-Net diaspora. http://www.goanconnect.org

It explains itself: Most people meet others through friends or through
some form of community interaction. Ours is an interactive forum that
allows you to interact with the other person. You can invite your own
friends to join you and form your own online community .. and they can
invite their friends. Perhaps one of them might be that special somone.
What better way to meet such a person through someone you trust, while
still maintaining your anonymity?


bYtES For aLL is a voluntary, unfunded venture. CopyLeft, 2003. bYtES
For aLL e-zine volunteers team includes: Frederick Noronha in Goa,
Partha Sarkar in Dhaka, Zunaira Durrani in Karachi, Zubair Abbasi in
Islamabad, Archana Nagvenkar in Goa, Arun-Kumar Tripathi in Darmstatd,
Shivkumar in Mumbai, Sangeeta Pandey in Nepal, Rajkumar Buyya in
Melbourne, Mahrukh Mohiuddin in Dhaka and Deepa Rai in Kathmandu, among
others. If you'd like to volunteer in any way, please get in touch.

BytesForAll's website www.bytesforall.org is maintained by Partha
Sarkar, with inputs from other members of the volunteers' team and
supporters. To subscribe to our main mailing list, send a blank email to
[EMAIL PROTECTED] If you've missed out
recent debates, visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bytesforall_readers


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[GKD] i4d ezine - Can ICTs Change Rural Lives?

2003-06-28 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
 venture from
South Asia, that looks at how IT and the Internet can be used for
development in the region. Frederick Noronha, the cofounder of the
initiative, shares his experiences about the project.

What's on
Events, conferences and exhibitions related to the field.


...putting legal software on a million odd Indian computers will result
in the total value of software imports far exceeding software exports.
Or put more bluntly, India's software business is profitable only
because it pirates software. The net effect of the global intellectual
property regime is that it impoverishes developing countries like

These articles and more can be read for free by logging in to the i4d
website http://www.i4donline.net/. Registration is free and easy.


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[GKD] Patent Vote Fails Europe's Software Programmers

2003-06-21 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
Thanks to Lawrence Liang [EMAIL PROTECTED] for routing this. FN


Bruxelles/Brussel, 17 June 2003,

Patent vote fails Europe's software programmers

Unlimited patents will be disastrous for the European software industry
and SMEs

The Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament today adopted a
report that allows for the unlimited patenting of software which will,
in one swoop, entrench the market dominance of multinational companies,
force small software firms out of business and bring to an end the
European free software movement.

With precise briefing from the Commission - where the bureaucrat
responsible is a former employee of the UK patents office, and by the
European Patent Office (EPO) - which pockets money on every patent it
grants, the rapporteur, British socialist Arlene McCarthy, has defended
a confused report that is full of contradictions. In doing this she has
a strong backing from Conservatives but fierce criticism from her own
political group.

UK and German MEPs, in rejecting amendments to the report, have ignored
the opinions of the Economic and Social Council, the Industry committee,
the Culture committee, 140,000 people and 30 leading software scientists
who signed two petitions to the Parliament, as well as the 95% of the
European citizens who took part in a European Commission public

The EPO has been illegally granting patents for computer programs for
two decades. This practise completely contradicts the Munich convention,
which in 1973 established the EPO and decided that computer programs and
other rules of organisation and calculation were not patentable
inventions under European law.

Dany Cohn-Bendit MEP (Greens - Fr) Co-president of the Greens/EFA group
and chairman of a conference earlier this year on software patents and
SMEs, said: This patent report is an insult even to the principle of
free trade. Pretending to protect inventors and their inventions, it
instead allows multinationals to lock up the market.

Mercedes Echerer MEP (Greens - A), member of the Culture Committee,
said: It is truly regrettable that some of my colleagues are so
confused about the nature of information technology. Ideas and
algorithms are already protected under copyright. A computer program, on
the other hand, is like a kitchen recipe - all that is needed is a
pencil and paper to write it down. Patents already protect technical
inventions - there is no reason to extended them to cover software.

This legalisation, as it stands, represents the death of the European
software industry, and the death of the free and open-source software
industry which, by more than a coincidence, is primarily a European
sector. If implemented, it would conclude the transfer of our
data-processing control to the US. You can be sure that the report will
have a very bumpy ride when it goes to plenary in September with one
third of committee members in opposition.

Neil McCormick MEP (EFA - Scotland), member of the Legal Affairs and
Internal Market Committee, said: This is a matter of great public
concern. It is important to give incentives to inventions, but this does
not and should not cover the essentially logical and mathematical work
of software development. There is a real danger that legal development
of the kind favoured by the majority in the Legal Affairs Committee will
hinder innovative development by small firms, not protect it.

For further press information:
Helmut Weixler
Head of Press Office
The Greens in the European Parliament
Tel: (Bxl) +32 2 2844683
phone: 0032 475 671 340
fax: 0032 2 2844944
mobile phone: 0032-475-67 13 40

THE GREENS/EFA in the European Parliament
Frederick Noronha (FN)| http://www.fredericknoronha.net
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[GKD] Public Interest Ligitation Wants Gov't toUse Linux (India)

2003-06-19 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
The Financial Express, June 12, 2003  

Sudarshan Kumar | New Delhi | June 11

EVEN AS Microsoft wages war against rival open source operating system
Linux around the world, a public interest ligitgation (PIL) filed in the
Jharkhand High Court could add fuel to the open source versus
proprietary software debate, particularly in the e-governance space.

The Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft is ubiquitous through its
popular Windows operating system which runs most of the world's desktop

The petition filed by a high court lawyer in Ranchi pleads for a
directive to the Indian government and the state of Jharkhand to
implement cheaper open source (read, Linux) software instead of
expensive proprietary products.

There has been a renewed thrust within governments, both in the states
and at the Centre, to evaluate alternatives on Linux.

Linux is an open source code operating system developed by software
programmer Linus Torvalds to offer an alternative to the Unix system,
variants of which are offered by leading vendors in their proprietary

The Linux source code is free to everyone under a general public
licence. The term 'Linux' was developed from 'Unix' and 'Linus'. The
petitioner-lawyer, Manish Kumar, did not wish to go on the record to
share details of the petition. However, sources familiar with the
process said point of admission hearing has been fixed for June 12.

The petition says the proprietary software is available at a high price
and its source code cannot be modified except with the approval of its
owner. The code for open source software is, however, freely available
and can be modified according to the user's requirements.

A Microsoft spokesperson said the company could not comment on the PIL
as it is sub-judice. However, sources close to the company said Linux
was often used by government officials as an arm-twisting tool during

On the open source debate, Microsoft India head of marketing Sanjiv
Mathur said: Both commercial and open source software play important
roles in the broader IT ecosystem -- and in supporting IT-related
development. The commercial software model has effectively demonstrated
development-related advantages, including cost-effectiveness,
opportunities for growth, long-term sustainability and affordable
access. These advantages will largely be lost if developing nations,
like India, adopt biases against commercial software or enact policies
that inhibit the growth of a domestic commercial software industry.

Microsoft has recently invited Jharkhand chief minister Ajun Munda to a
'government leadership summit' in Redmond. Mr Munda, however, did not
attend the mid-May meet.

The company has been persistent in its evangelising effort to woo
governments and corporates alike across the world to implement its
proprietary products and solutions.

Critics say these licensing deals lock customers into heavy initial
investments and regular payments for 'upgrades' to improved versions
that are launched periodically.

The software maker last month lost a key battle against Linux in Munich,
Germany, where the city council decided to switch its 14,000-computer
network to the open source operating system.

Linux itself came under attack recently, albeit indirectly, with Unix
code owner SCO Group (formerly Santa Cruz Operations) suing IBM
(International Business Machines) for an alleged breach of contract. SCO
says IBM handed over pieces of its proprietary Unix code to Linux
developers. While IBM has denied any wrongdoing, Microsoft expressed
tacit support for SCO by licensing its Unix technology.
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[GKD] Is Linux Really Happening in India, or Is ItJust Hype?

2003-06-13 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
Is Linux really happening in India, or is it just hype?


SUNDAY, JUNE 01, 2003


It's being billed as the solution that will deliver the masses from
computer illiteracy. And so it was hardly surprising when a recent
MAIT-organised seminar on Open Source Software: A New Direction for
India? drew a larger-than-expected audience that stayed on till the
very end.

The seminar did throw up some very pertinent questions on open source
software (OSS) and helped quite a bit in clearing the myth that the
immediate adoption of Linux may be the solution to India's problems. As
V Chandrashekhar, global head of s-governance practice, TCS, explains:
Linux use has increased as a result of the economic downturn and the
decrease in perceived difficulty in using it. Linux is the de facto
standard in embedded systems and in areas of high-end computing -- but
it will be some time before it gets popular at the desktop level. 

The low cost Linux advantage is what may make it acceptable to small and
medium size businesses (SMEs) for accessing web servers, mail servers,
and other technologies. Open source code, besides makes it more
acceptable in high-end computing areas such as software development,
genome unravelling, etc, and in areas where security is paramount --
say, the IT operations of the defence forces.

But the common view that anyone who hasn't been exposed to any operating
system, for instance Windows, may be a potential user of Linux may not
be true as of now. D S Pandit, who heads the information systems at the
Municipal Corporation of Delhi is an example. I got a free CD at a
conference in Goa on Linux software for desktops. It took my IT
department 10 days to download it and even after that I didn't find it
easy to use. For instance, the fact that files created on Star Office
sometimes cannot be read on Windows is a disadvantage.

This is an issue that only Microsoft can deal with, says Sandeep
Menon, Linux Business Manager, IBM Asean/SA. And it's unlikely that
Microsoft will deal with it in a hurry. Sanjeev Mathur, who heads
marketing at Microsoft India, explains that the eco-system that
Microsoft had created around its products include pre- and post-sales
services and academic institutions to develop skills around Microsoft
products. It's an eco-system that Linux can't match, Mathur says. And
there's no reason why Microsoft  should include competing Linux software
in that eco-system.

A Nasscom report too which talks about the silent Linux movement in
India admits that while Linux is gaining stature, it is a fact that
currently, the OS is an add-on to existing platforms within user
organisations. Analysts also point out that Linux is still largely at
the departmental and file or print server stage rather than at the
mission critical database server level. The report also points out that
Linux deployments are confined predominantly to the server end with less
action at the desktop level and that this factor too will impede
Linux's rapid fire expansion in the Indian market.

However, speaker after speaker at the conference spoke about a
revolution of sorts. It's like the flower power movement of the
Seventies, said Menon, who exhorted the government to define open
standards in public sector procurement as a matter of policy. Menon
would also like government departments to encourage their staff to
experiment with Linux, and evaluate Linux as part of the national IT,
RD and economic development strategies.

But it might be some time before that happens. The Nasscom report talks
about e-governance projects on the anvil in many states such as Andhra
Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Maharashtra. But the fact is
that most of these are just pilot projects. According to Chandrashekhar,
TCS has about 10 e-governance projects in various states, but he says
only 20 per cent of the solutions used would be Linux-based. Linux has
its drawbacks, he says. There is a lack of accountability because there
are many bunches of developers with all kinds of offers. Also there is a
reduced set of supporting hardware and business applications, a lack of
guidelines, limitations regarding some high end operations, and
limitations of user competence.

The common refrain at the seminar was that Linux gave one the
opportunity to work with open source code, until one government official
piped up: Why would I need open source code? What do I do with it when
I don't have the skills to modify it? Open source code does have its
uses -- in high security environments where you can customise security
requirements. For software developers and in areas of high-end computing
too, there's a lot of  advantage in having open source software because
it ensures flexibility in using the software.

So doesn't Linux have much prospects in India? It sure does, but only if
its introduced at the school level so that future generations can grow

[GKD] Computers to Africa Scheme Criticised

2003-06-09 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
IT MIGHT HELP if we had to look at what made computers obsolete so
speedily, rather than just concentrating on shifting the older computers
from the First to the Third World. I think bloatware-producing
proprietorial software companies are part of the problem, not part of
the solution. Free Software distros also need to ensure that their
software doesn't turn into 'bloatware', requiring higher-power computers
and forgetting that many of us still use old generation PCs. FN


URL:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/2989567.stm

Computers to Africa scheme criticised

Warehouse of computers 
Thousands of computers head for Africa each year

The practice of supplying second-hand computers to Africa can prove to
be an expensive mistake, according to a UK report.

The UK Centre of International Education has said that Western
organisations trying to bridge the digital divide are having some
unfortunate consequences for teaching.

It says that software compatibility problems are leading to chaos in
some classrooms as teachers battle to make the machines work - claims
backed up by some organisations in Africa themselves

It has been a very very costly mistake, Bildad Kagai from the Open
Source Foundation for Africa told the BBC World Service's Outlook

The issue is that we did not consider the consequent costs that come
with the donation of computers.

Software problems

Mr Kagai added that the main problem was the inconsistency of the
software supplied which could often frustrate teaching plans.

The computers that are donated vary. They come with different
applications, he said.

It's difficult for a teacher to tell where he's going to start teaching
computer lessons.

The digital divide is too important not to get bogged down in the debate
over software.

Garry Hodgkinson, Microsoft

Indeed, teachers in Africa are well aware that not all donations are

You have maintenance problems, you have to constantly upgrade your
systems, Theo d'Souza, of the Dar es Salaam headteacher's conference,
told Outlook.

You might be donated a system in 2003 that might not be very helpful in

Teacher training

To solve such problems some organisations that supply second-hand
computers have begun teacher training schemes.

We work very closely with beneficiary organisations in Africa, said
Sonja Sinanan, operations director for Computer Aid International.

She highlighted the example of the Computer Education Trust in
Swaziland, which takes delivery of computers and makes sure the
technicians who install them can network and ensures they are used

Computer being recycled Checking computers before they are sent out is
becoming more important

Garry Hodgkinson, Microsoft's Regional Director for Community Affairs
for Africa and the Middle East, said his company was also doing
everything it could to tackle the problems.

We've been working with organisations similar to Computer Aid, Mr
Hodgkinson said.

We're currently sitting on a situation where we have commitments from
UK companies to provide 25 PCs to every single school in South Africa
with electricity over the next three years.

That's quite a tremendous donation.

Useless dumping

And he insisted that regardless of the supplier, the important thing was
to ensure computer access for schools in Africa.

The digital divide is too important not to get bogged down in the
debate over software, Mr Hodgkinson stated.

One of the deputy generals of teacher training in South Africa went
into a classroom and saw a teacher standing on a PC to reach the

That sort of dumping is really useless to anybody.

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[GKD] BytesForAll Clippings

2003-06-05 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
Telecom celebration

The Center for Knowledge Societies in Bangalore thought of an
interesting way to celebrate World Telecom Day. It was an exhibition of
photographs by Sridala Sawmi. The theme: voice and data in India. CKS is
led by research scholar Aditya Dev Sood [EMAIL PROTECTED] and is based at
B-014, Natasha GolfView, Bangalore 71. Phone: +91.80.535.3455

The Center for Knowledge Societies affords insight into the use of
Information and Communications Technologies in non-traditional and
emerging market environments. It also offers research, design and
strategy consultancy services to technology houses, international
agencies, and governments.

Through usability research, sectoral intelligence and quantitative
analysis, it drives the development and deployment of emerging
technologies for the benefit of rural, non-elite and mass users, says
the Centre.

Given the spread and reach that telecom has achieved over the past
decade or two, India does have something to celebrate... the price hikes

TEK project

US-based Bill Thies is one of the lead developers on the TEK project at

The goal of the TEK project is to build a low-connectivity search engine
for use by people at the far side of a bad telephone connection. See

Says he: In fact, we just released a new version of the software...  If
you're currently using www4mail (a means of downloading webpages via
simple email), I think TEK will provide some advantages -- e.g., a
browser interface with full color and formatting, an intelligent server
that remembers what you've downloaded, and a local search engine that
indexes downloaded pages.

This may not *come* from India, but it could sure have a lot of utility
here. Despite the advances in telecom, the reality is that hundreds of
millions still know terrible a bad telephone connection can be.

Back in India

That well-informed friend of India, Prof Kenneth (Ken) Keniston, the
Andrew Mellon Professor of Human Development and the director of MIT's
India Program, will be back touring various ICT4D projects sometime
around June.

If you have an interesting project to point him to, send in your mail at
[EMAIL PROTECTED] (more links on www.kken.net). Don't forget to send in a
copy also to [EMAIL PROTECTED]

Simputer plans

From Bangalore, reports in early May say the Simputer, India's most
innovative technological product in recent times, is poised for mass use
in the country and abroad with one of the license holders set to sign a
100,000-units deal with an Indian company.

Encore Software, the reports said, which is one of the two license
holders for the Simputer launched two years ago, is also in talks with
two firms from Japan and one from Singapore for the supply of a similar
number of the cost-effective handheld devices that promises to bridge
the digital divide.

See their mailing list at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/simputer

People's notebook

Thailand is to get it, but India will have to wait. HP is offering that
country a 'people's notebook' that runs on Linux.

Reports from the Far East say HP's budget laptop will retail for 19,500
Baht (UKP 285). It features an 800 MHz Intel Celeron processor, 128MB of
RAM and a 20GB harddisk. There is no CD-ROM or floppy drive.

Meanwhile, a desktop, made by local computer makers Belta, SVOA and
Computec, costs 10,900 Baht (UKP 159). It sports an Intel Celeron 1GHz
processor, 128MB of RAM, a 52x CD-ROM drive, 20GB of hard disk space and
comes with a 15-inch monitor, speakers and a keyboard.

Said one friend: Fantastic rates for the desktop and the sub-notebook
man... when do such comps come to India?

Any chance of replication in India? A senior executive at HP said in an
off-the-record comment: I asked the same question to my colleagues.
Will keep you posted.

Using Wi-fi

From The Hindu we learn that Wi-fi, the technology that wirelessly
connects to the Internet, is being used by many rural centres across
India to access important information and facilities

In the Loni-Shirdi area of western Maharashtra, over 200 villages have
formed a cooperative and raised Rs 2 crore to leverage information
technology for their benefit. They have set up nearly 50 wireless
'hotspots' to harness the latest wi-fi systems so that villagers can get
agricultural access systems right at their doorsteps. The technology to
wirelessly connect to the Internet has recently been legalised by the
government, said the report.

It's hard to sift the claims from the reality sometimes...

Frederick Noronha (FN)| http://www.fredericknoronha.net
Freelance Journalist  | http://www.bytesforall.org
http://goalinks.pitas.com | http://joingoanet.shorturl.com
http://linuxinindia.pitas.com | http

[GKD] Taking Communities Online (India)

2003-04-03 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)
Taking communities online... Bangalore offers cyber tools to manage

By Frederick Noronha

Everybody on the Net seems to be focussing on technology and tools to
get their job done, but an Indian-incubated initiative is focussing on
how people can make the real difference in tapping the potential of

Pantoto, launched by the US-educated but Bangalore-based Dr. T. B.
Dinesh and expat Dr. Suzan Uskudarli, who worked out of Bangalore till
recently, sees itself as a simple but effective 'community building'
tool that just about anybody can use.

This 'online community builder' aims to support existing 'real world'
communities, by giving them the cyber tools that could make their
networking and knowledge-sharing more effective and meaningful.

It uses information architecture tools to allow communities to manage
and nurture a repository of community knowledge, explains Dinesh.

It's goals are clear: providing an 'online' (Internet-based) platform
where people who are part of any 'community' (or extended network
sharing similar interests) can interact and come together for their
common cause.

Pantoto seeks to promote 'information-centric communication', as its
developers call it, between members of a 'community'. To keep the
software simple, it is small and 'light' in size, and works in any
browser -- the software widely used to trawl the Internet.

To make the knowledge-sharing among any 'community' more effective, this
tool offers a well-organized information repository.

It says the communication of the group can be customised to suit the
needs of any community and this also helps the group to build a
cost-effective presence on the Net.

This makes people -- rather than technology -- the key towards
leveraging the pwoer of the Net.

Pantoto says it can help groups build an 'online community', and also
put up their treasure-chest of useful and relevant knowledge out there
for everyone to share.

With these three basic outputs (a community, knowledge-repository and
web-presence) a community can create any out-put. The out-put would
depend on the information needs of the community and how they choose to
structure and manage information, says Dinesh.

But managing information and sharing it effectively out there on the
Internet might not be as simple as it sounds.

To make it easier, the Pantoto solution depends on providing apt online
tools, creating multiple 'personas' for oneself which help a person
'manage relationships' within a community, and encourage people to
contribute to an info repository through Pagelets.

Pagelets are structured web-pages that can be published as easily as
filling out a form.

Pantoto also tries to help collaboration to enhance creation and
dissemination of community knowledge.

To be able to run this, anyone would need just the technical skills of
knowing how to use a web-browser, claim its promoters. Web-browsers
are very simple tools, used sometimes without even being aware of it, by
anyone browsing the Internet.

Dinesh, who did his PhD in computer science from the University of Iowa
and post-doctoral research at Amsterdam, says: Shri Shakti Alternative
Energies has been our beta users for a while. They use it for intranet
and dealer network needs.

Pantoto might soon be used for project listing by indic-computing
community and CharityFocus India chapters. But our main work lateley has
been to work with local NGOs to help them build information management
solutions, themselves, for their varied needs, says he.

There are many tools out there for web-communities to grab and use. But
many are either expensive or need IT/Computer-programming help to tune
it for an specific information-community need.

Pantoto is an attempt to first bring information architecturing to the
end-user, where by we hope that organizations (like a typical NGO) can
be empowered to be independent of IT consultants for much of their
everyday needs and next to provide flexibility with look and feel, says

Dr Susan stresses the importance of structuring information to make
information accessible and usable in the long term. Structuring
provides meaning to the information. Thus, intelligent searching,
filtering, and other processing such as analysis becomes possible, she

She says 'pagelets' are the information pieces that are meaningful to
the community. The big deal about this is to distinguish the concept of
pagelets from common web pages. A typical web page has no structure. It
is free in form and free in content.

On the contrary, with a pile of 'pagelets', from a series of surveys of
slums, these structured pages can answer questions like -- show me the
incidence of AIDS and the number of 'arak' (traditional liquor) shops in
April 1999 in Mysore district, she says.

Over the past three months, some NGOs (non-government organisations)
have begun using Pantoto with a little bit of hand-holding and initial

These include Sakti, a Bangalore-based NGO that has

[GKD] BytesForAll - South Asian IT for Dev. Newsletter

2003-04-02 Thread Frederick Noronha
 input (also referred to as dictionary mode) for mobile
phones in Hindi. The Devnagari script is complex unlike the English
alphabet. Hindi alone has 33 consonants and 11 vowels. Add ligature -
combinations of letters to form new letters of new shape, to these 44
characters and you have a horrid experience of creating text; even with
a keyboard equipped with more than one hundred keys.

See also http://www.zicorp.com 
Thanks to Ashish Kotamkar (ashish at mithi.com) for this piece of
information. Communicate in your own language. Log onto

English-Bangla translator source

Hasin Hayder [EMAIL PROTECTED] has announced the uploading of
English to Bangla translator source code to a Bangla Open Source
Community Site at : www.banglaosc.tk Check out the mirror :
www.banglaosc.cjb.net Download. The translator is easy for simple
sentence conversion, says Hasin Hayder, the administrator of
www.evelindev.tk and www.banglaosc.tk. You can send in comments at

National Workshop on Library Automation in Hindi

[EMAIL PROTECTED] announces plans by INFLIBNET Centre, Ahmedabad
to hold such a workshop from April 7-11, 2003. Information and Library
network (INFLIBNET) Centre, is an IUC of the Indian University Grants
Commission (UGC), in Ahmedabad. This workshop will provide an
opportunity to the working Library professional to understand and learn
different aspects of Library Automation in Hindi medium. The workshop
will cover topics related to library automation, networking, standards
related to library automation, software for library automation etc.
Special focus will be given on hands on practice. The entire lecture as
well as practical sessions will be in Hindi.
http://web.inflibnet.ac.in/info/NWLAH.pdf or contact Dr TAV Murthy,
Director [EMAIL PROTECTED], Shivpal Singh Kushwah, Sci/Tech
Officer-I [EMAIL PROTECTED] or H G Hosamani Scientist-B
[EMAIL PROTECTED]  http://web.inflibnet.ac.in

Info via PDAs

Allsoft Technologies [EMAIL PROTECTED] is into into handheld PDA
applications for storing and sending information and monitoring remote
data. They say they've been one of the few companies who have been into
applications for pocket-based handhelds wherein one can carry, capture
and transfer data from remote places with the help of just a telephone
line with or without access to the Internet. They offer expertise to
government departments such as education, healthcare, agriculture,
tourism, rural development, power, social welfare, rural/tribal
development, watershed, police, healthcare, taxes, panchayati raj, etc.
Besides to private segments such as pharma, insurance and logistics.

More details from Rajeeb Ghosh Vice President Allsoft Technologies T-3,
Priya Apartments, Somajiguda, Hyderabad 50008 India. Phone
91-40-5566-6868/6869 Fax 91-40-5566-6870 Email [EMAIL PROTECTED]


bYtES For aLL is a voluntary, unfunded venture. CopyLeft, 2003. bYtES
For aLL e-zine volunteers team includes: Frederick Noronha in Goa,
Partha Sarkar in Dhaka, Zunaira Durrani in Karachi, Zubair Abbasi in
Islamabad, Archana Nagvenkar in Goa, Arun-Kumar Tripathi in Darmstatd,
Shivkumar in Mumbai, Sangeeta Pandey in Nepal, Rajkumar Buyya in
Melbourne, Mahrukh Mohiuddin in Dhaka and Deepa Rai in Kathmandu, among
others. If you'd like to volunteer in any way, please get in touch.

BytesForAll's website www.bytesforall.org is maintained by Partha
Sarkar, with inputs from other members of the volunteers' team and
supporters. To subscribe to our main mailing list, send a blank email to
[EMAIL PROTECTED] If you've missed out
recent debates, visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bytesforall_readers


Frederick Noronha: http://www.fredericknoronha.net : When we speak of
Freelance Journalist : http://www.bytesforall.org  : free software we
Ph 0091.832.2409490  : Cell 0 9822 122436  : refer to freedom,
   : not price.

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[GKD] Free Software's Importance to India

2003-03-31 Thread Frederick Noronha

By Venkatesh (Venky) Hariharan
venky1 at vsnl dot com

Today, I am going to talk about why GNU/Linux is god's gift to India. To
my mind, GNU/Linux represents one of the finest opportunities for taking
the benefits of this wonderful technology to the masses. From the
standpoint of cultural, political and economic freedom, there are
enormous reasons why the GNU/Linux operating system is relevant to
India's future in the digital age. That's the reason why my friend
Prakash Advani and I started IndLinux.org to localize GNU/Linux to
Indian languages. I am therefore happy to announce that we are launching
the first release of IndLinux Hindi, called Milan at this event. Milan
represents the culmination of three years of work and we plan to
localize GNU/Linux in Marathi, Gujarathi and other Indian languages soon
to spark off a revolution in computing in Indian languages.

This talk is divided into two parts. In the first part, I aim to
visualize the future of computing in India and in the second part, I
talk about what free software can do for the future of India.

From a research standpoint, my interest is in the history of technology
and in the impact of technology on society. Based on past history of
technology, I predict that there will be a hundred million computers in
India. To work backwords from this number, let me draw an analogy with a
technology that is fairly recent so that you can relate to what I am

The domestic software industry today reminds me of the TV industry
around 6-7 years ago. Around six years ago, most of the TV channels were
either in English or in Hindi.

How does that compare to the domestic IT scenario in India?

Today, almost all applications and operating systems are in English, a
language spoken by a mere five percent of India. Even if you run Indian
langauge software, it is usually within an environment that is
predominanatly in English. Compare this with the situation around six
years ago when regional languages were broadcast in two-hour slots on
channels that were mostly in English or Hindi.

How things have changed! In the last six years, the explosion of
regional channels has been absolutely incredible. Today, each of India's
regional languages has at least two TV channels. At one point in time
one could never have imagined an elitist channel like Star TV
broadcasting in Hindi. Now, they are looking beyond Hindi to other
Indian languages. Who had heard of channels like Zee or Asianet or
Lashkara six-ten years ago? Who could have vizualised 60 million TV sets
in India?

This reminds me of an old saying in the technology industry. Old hands
in this industry say that in the near term we always overestimate its
impact and in the long term, we always underestimate it.

The reason for the explosion in TV channels is simply because that's
where the markets lay and a similar thing is going to happen to the
computing industry in India.

Many countries for example, do not have populations that add up to a
single language in India. A few years ago, when I was in Hungary, I saw
that most operating systems were in the Magyar script.

Think about it! A mere 14 million people speak the Magyar language, yet
they have an operating system of their own. Yet the third largest spoken
language in the world-Hindi, which is spoken by 402 million people-has
no operating system! How can we call India an IT superpower when we do
not even have an operating system in our largest language?

When Prakash and I looked at the situation, we thought it was absolutely
crazy. If you look deep into the computer, the only language it
understands is the binary language that consists of zeroes and ones. It
is India that developed the concept of the zero and gave it to the
world. And we cannot even develop an operating system of our own!

We wanted to create an operating system for India and when we looked
around, there was only one choice-GNU/Linux because we could not modify
proprietary operating systems. If I wanted to translate file into the
Hindi equivalent, I had no freedom to do that. The GNU/Linux operating
system was a natural choice because it gave us the freedom to add
interfaces in any language we chose. Now, take a look at the top twelve
Indian languages

Language Spoken by
Hindi 402
Bengali 83
Telugu 78.7
Marathi 74.5
Tamil 63.2
Urdu 51.8
Gujarati 48.5
Kannada 39
Malayalam 36.2
Oriya 33.5
Punjabi 27.9
Assamese 15.6

Each of these languages are spoken by populations larger than the
population of Hungary!

The first freedom I mentioned was cultural freedom. From a cultural
standpoint, GNU/Linux was an attractive alternative because when
lingusitic groups come together to localize GNU/Linux in a transparent
manner, localization can be done in a manner that is far more culturally
sensitive than any centrally controlled process. For example, should
file be called a file in Hindi because the word is now part of the

[GKD] Can ICT Be India's Growth Engine?

2003-03-22 Thread Frederick Noronha (FN)

Value For Money : Subir Roy
Can ICT be India's growth engine?
Business Standard, March 12, 2003

ICT has already started improving infrastructure and there is enormous
potential for future development

Can information and communication technology (ICT), or more specifically
software, deliver for India when all other models have failed?

Is India witnessing, or about to witness, ICT or IT or software led
growth the same way as the Asian Tigers rode on export led growth? This
was the subject of an Indo-US workshop organised by the department of
management studies of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Of all the papers, one of the most esoteric was one by Govindan Parayil
(National University of Singapore) who saw two contradictions of ICT-led
development, digital divide and increasing returns. The digital divide
is not an accessibility issue but an equity issue.

There is an asymmetric relation between traditional modes of production
(manufacturing, etc) and innovation and knowledge-based production.
There is now a dual economy, primary and industrial on one side and
information-based on the other. It is constant/decreasing returns versus
increasing returns.

The divide between these two modes is the digital divide. Under
informational or digital capitalism increasing returns are not an
anomaly. But they create an instability. They have been marked by the
most unequal distributions of income and wealth in human history. His
conclusion: development theories of the industrial age are inadequate to
explain the ground realities of the information age.

K J Joseph (Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum) feels there is
an adverse impact of the strategy of excessive export orientation. The
contribution of the ICT sector can be viewed at two levels, direct and
indirect effect. The direct effect is in employment, income and export
earnings from ICT.

The indirect effect is in enhanced productivity, competitiveness and
growth of other sectors on account of IT diffusion, emergence of
altogether new services enabled by ICT and spillovers. He argues that
the direct benefits are laudable. The ICT sector itself has shown
remarkable vibrancy in terms of output and export growth as well as
technological dynamism. These are often cited as the outcome of the
export oriented growth strategy that was followed.

But the economy as a whole seems not to have benefited because of high
regional concentration of ICT activity and low diffusion of ICT to other
sectors of the economy. Because of the ICT boom, other sectors of the
economy which compete with it for skilled manpower would have been
adversely affected.

There are also adverse implications on other services like teaching,
training, research and development. These are bound to have long-term
implications on the overall growth of the economy and as well as in
sustaining the current competitive advantage of ICT. Joseph calls for a
national policy on ICT diffusion which could mitigate the adverse effect
of excessive export orientation.

Tojo Thatchenkery et al (George Mason University) address some very
basic questions. Does ICT lead to economic development?

Has it led to investment in infrastructure, institutions and
individuals? What are some of the shortcomings of ICT as a development
tool and what policy implication does this have? ICT reduces barriers to
knowledge and information asymmetry. It has a large potential for
infrastructure, institutional and human development. It increases
transparency in institutions, promotes efficient market outcomes and can
create jobs and generate incomes.

The paper notes several examples of developmental use of ICT. Eye care
is delivered in Mettur district in Tamil Nadu through web cameras and
the Net. The National Dairy Development Board in Gujarat is digitising
milk collection and thereby helping farmers.

Under the Gyandoot scheme in Madhya Pradesh, 20 villages have been wired
to the central database for access to both government and agricultural
information. SEWA provides women in Gujarat with basic computer
education to help them manage micro enterprises.

What are the problems? Uneven regional development leading to greater
inequality between states and also greater rich-poor, urban-rural
inequalities; and lack of absorptive capacity standing in the way of
knowledge filtering to other sectors of the economy.

Importantly, there is poor domestic demand for ICT as it remains outward
looking. The paper concludes that ICT can be the answer to unmet demands
and needs of Indians. It has already started to improve infrastructure,
education, health, gender, private enterprise, governance, rural
development and public services. And there is enormous potential for
future development.

W e can turn to T T Srikumaran (Hong Kong University of Science and
Technology) for some hard evidence on the ground. He examines the
Gyandoot in Madhya Pradesh, village 

[GKD] India's Telephone Man Bridges Digital Divide

2003-03-20 Thread Frederick Noronha

WHEN ASHOK Jhunjhunwala speaks of a telephone, there's fire in his eyes
and commitment in his voice. Over the years, this one man has not just
built a stream of idealistic young engineers out of IIT Madras, but has
significantly contributed to making telephones more affordable to the

In the past few weeks, one of the firms he helped incubate, Midas
Communication, picked up a $12 million (around Rs 60 crore) order from
Egypt. India's business press was quick to hail this as the country's
biggest export order in the telecom sector, and seemed surprised that it
came from the seven-year-old RD company focussing on rural telephony.

Another business publication called the IIT-Madras professors --
Jhunjhunwala, Bhaskar Ramamoorthy and Timothy Gonsalves -- the angels
from academia who had incubated some of the hottest startups in telecom
and networking, now valued over Rs 400 crore.

In Egypt, Midas is to install 200,000 telephone lines based on the
corDect wireless in local loop (WLL) technology that it has developed in
partnership with the Tenet group, spearheaded by Jhunjhunwala. corDect
WLL is just one of the fruits of Jhunjhunwala's dream to provide
affordable telephone lines to the rural poor.

His vision is a mix of technological excellence, lower costs to make
communications affordable even to the poor, and a fierce pride that
believes Indian has the brains to come out top in technology. Such being
the goals, is it an accident that this man is producing world-class


Q: What is the response to your technology abroad? 

We have started deploying corDECT in 15 countries. The initial response
is very good. It takes a year or two to enter the telecom market in any

Q:  What inspires you to strive towards this goal?

I am doing what IITs were meant to do -- make India technologically
strong. As far as I am concerened, this is the only justification for
the society to spend the money that they do on IITs.

Q: After all these years, is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Very much. We have orders worth Rs 1000 Crore ($ 200 million) in India.

Q: What do you think telecom is so important for the commonman?

Internet is power. It enables people. It is changing the way we live...
those without Internet will have a tremendous disadvantage as we go on.

People with confidence and enabled people can make all the difference.

We would like to see that all villages get reasonable speed Internet
connection at the earliest..

Q: The question you must have heard a thousand times -- does it make
business sense providing access to the poor?

Yes, it does. Just that the business has to be done in a different way.

In 1987, we (i.e. India) opened STD PCOs in India. We aggregated demand
of middle and lower middle classes of urban people and provided them
shared telephony.

Today there are 950,000 STD PCOs contributing to approximately 25% of
total telecom revenue in the country and serming 300 million people who
do not otherwise use telephones. The whole thing makes great business

We just have to do a similar thing in rural areas.

Q: Besides Midas, what are the other start-ups you'll have generated out
of IIT Madras?

Banyan Networks, NMSWorks, Chennai Kavigal, n-Logue Communications, and

Q: To someone who doesn't know your work, how would you introduce its

India needs products at a cost three-times lower than that prevalent in
the West. The simple reason is that affordability in India is much
lower. A product can reach large number of people in India only if the
cost reduces.

We are doing this in telecom sector. Working on new disruptive
technologies, new business models and new applications.

Q: What are the visions you have ahead of you?

To connect 650,000 villages of India (with Internet) and use that to aim
to double rural GDP of India.

To get to 200 million telephone and Internet connections in India at the

To make India a design house of technologies.

Q: Over the years, which are the goals you feel you've achieved?

Telcom in India today is booming -- with prices coming down and service
improving. We have contributed towards this. And showed that successful
product companies can be built in India and that IITs can contribute
towards it.

Q: Is the Indian government supportive enough? What more would you like
to see them doing wrt to technologies like yours?

Yes, supportive. But on and off. Our policies are still not aimed
towards making India strong. This is unlike most other countries,
especially developed countries.

Q: What do you see as the three best strongpoints and three worst
shortcomings of technology innovators in India.

Venture Finance in India is very weak. We do not have recent experience
of making successful global product. We often go for short term goals
and objectives. Our organisational

[GKD] Opening Up of Educational Radio in India

2003-03-04 Thread Frederick Noronha
Dear friends:

The Indian government is opening up campus radio (which it calls
'community radio' though it's not quite the same thing).

The crying need at the moment is for greater awareness to be built up
about how to go about setting up micro-powered radio stations. It
appears that most people simply don't have the know-how -- and
naturally, how would they? Radio has been such a closed medium all these

There are legitimate questions about costs, technology and techniques.

Organisations like Arun Mehta and Vickram Crishna's www.radiophony.com
have the technology. There surely must be others too. But this probably
won't reach the people who need it unless there is some mechanism to
deliver it.

Do you know of any international organisations -- UNDP, Unesco or other
suitable supporters -- who could help build structures that would make
the dissemination of training possible?

Let's not give the government a chance to say that they offered but very
few came forward.

PS: In Goa itself, some educational institutions I broached the issue
with are eager to go in for this. But getting started in a situation
where so little information/training is available is a tough task
indeed. Maybe even a training session could be thought off for a start,
open to all interested in applying for an educational broadcast license.

Frederick Noronha: http://www.bytesforall.org : When we speak of free
Freelance Journalist : Goa India 403511   : software we refer to
Ph 0091.832.409490   : Cell 0 9822 122436 : freedom, not price.

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[GKD] Community Radio Fights for Widows' Rights (Nepal)

2003-02-25 Thread Frederick Noronha
Radio broadcasters raise voices for a better world

By Sudeshna Sarkar, Indo-Asian News Service

Kathmandu, Feb 20 (IANS) When her husband died in an accident Amala
Pradhan's in-laws made sure that her life ended as well by dictating
what she could wear or eat and where she could go.

There are reportedly hundreds of women like Amala (name changed) across
South Asia who are deprived of the right to lead normal lives once their
spouses die.

To raise a voice against widows' oppression and other inequalities,
community radio broadcasters will convene in Kathmandu from February 21
to March 2.

Radio Sagarmatha Nepal, partnered by the Montreal-based AMARC
International (the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters),
will host the conference.

Five participants from Kerala will attend the eighth world conference of
community broadcasters that will also focus on media portrayals of

Broadcasters from the Arab countries, Asia, Africa, Latin America and
the Caribbean, Europe and North America are also expected for the event.

In Nepal, community radio has played an important role in helping widows
like Amala come out of their shells and fight for their rights to lead
normal lives.

Amala lost her husband at 24, after which she said: I had no freedom. I
was forced to undergo all kinds of deprivations in the name of rituals
by my in-laws. They stopped me from attending family ceremonies under
the logic that I had brought bad luck to them by killing my husband and
would bring bad luck to others too.

The harsh treatment of widows is a social phenomenon in both India and
Nepal, said Raghu Mainali, coordinator of the Community Radio Support
Centre set up in Nepal in 2000 to promote community radio in rural areas
across the country.

To dispel the prevailing superstitions about widowhood, Radio
Sagarmatha started a battery of programmes, including talks and debates.

We invited community leaders to our studio who emphasised that the
taboos inflicted on the women were not dictated by the epics or
scriptures, which govern so much of traditional ways in Nepal, but
erroneous interpretations. We feel the broadcasts helped improve the
condition of widows in Nepal.

Radio Sagarmatha, brainchild of veteran journalist Bharat Dutta Koirala
that started broadcasting in 1999, last year fetched him the Magsaysay
award for  his involvement in development journalism.

It was Nepal's first private radio channel. Nepal today has five other
community broadcasting channels.

The inaccessible terrain of Nepal, the rampant illiteracy and the lack
of electricity in rural areas makes it difficult for the print media and
television to generate awareness, said Koirala. Community radio is the
only answer.

Mainali adds that even during the height of insurgency, when Maoist
guerrillas attacked infrastructure, the community radio stations were
never harmed.

The Maoists recognise that we are a non-political body and they
themselves are a part of community. In fact, at times when our
programmes are disrupted due to technical reasons, we've had them
calling up to ask what happened.

AMARC, a network of over 2,000 community radios, feels citizens, women
and migrants should have access to communications technologies.

So the conference in Kathmandu will highlight the need to place human
rights and social justice at the heart of the global communications
policy agenda for the World Summit on the Information Society, to build
a grassroot South-centred platform for participation in global
strategies for the information society and to reinforce community radio
development in Nepal as a model for South Asia.

--Indo-Asian News Service

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[GKD] Making Computers, Software, Bandwidth Affordable (India)

2003-02-21 Thread Frederick Noronha
Low cost computers, affordable software, bandwidth = India 3.0?

By Frederick Noronha

Rajesh Jain hit the headlines when he sold his IndiaWorld site for a few
thousand million rupees. Today, his focus has shifted -- to taking
computing to the commonman.

Most technology has been priced in dollars, putting it beyond the reach
of a large number of businesses and consumers in emerging markets like
India. The computer, which is the lynch-pin of an economy, is still seen
as a luxury by many, he argues.

But, Jain believes his lateral thinking and innovative solutions could
battle the stumbling blocks. We're working on something that could
really make a difference, Jain told this correspondent.

Currently, he argues that India needs computers for Rs 5,000 (rpt five
thousand) so that there can be one in every home and office; ubiquitous
and cheap high-speed wireless communication; and software as a service
for Rs 250 per month so that it is affordable.

This, says Jain, would create a mass-market for the adoption of
technology in India.

No, these are not pipe-dreams for the managing director of Netcore
Solutions who earlier founded IndiaWorld Communications, that grew into
one of the largest collection of India-centric websites (comprising
Samachar.com, Khel.com, Khoj.com and Bawarchi.com -- portals dealing
with news, sports, Indian search-engines and food).

Jain, who made history in Indian cyberspace when his earlier firm was
acquired by Satyam Infoway in November 1999, says his goals are entirely

Fulfilling the list (of what Indian needs) may seem like a tall order.
But the interesting thing is that the building blocks to put the
solutions together already exist, argues Jain.

Netcore, his current firm, is working to lower the cost to make
computing affordable. To reduce computer prices, Jain suggests we go
away from the treadmill of enforced obsolence.

New software is driving hardware upgrades every 3-4 years, he says.

Thin Client-Thick Server Computing. That's Jain's new mantra.

The solution, he believes, lies in making the computers discarded by the
developed markets into thin clients. These clients don't need a hard
disk or CD-ROM drive, they just need the bare minimum processing power
and memory to run a windowing server (like the X Server).

Essentially, the recycled PCs become graphical terminals, which connect
to thick servers. All computing and storage happens on these servers.
The 'thick server' can actually be the latest desktop system, with
enhanced memory and processing power.

While the Indian market is pushing out slightly older models of
computers, Jain suggests the large-scale use of recycled computers from
developed markets. The US itself is disposing -- read, upgrading --
computers at the rate of more than 25 million each year.

Netcore is working on a thin client-thick server solution. This means
older, lower-configuration PCs would work off more powerful new

The Rs 5000 computer can provide all the functionalities that users are
accustomed to seeing on a computer in the corporate environment The
next 500 million users across the digital divde are just as hungry as we
(in universities) were a decade ago, he argues.

Says Jain: Technology is essential to bridge the digital divide. Yet,
most technology has been priced in dollars, putting it beyond the reach
of a large number of businesses and consumers in emerging markets like

The computer which is the lynch-pin of an economy, is still seen as a
luxury by many. What can be done to create mass-market adoption of
technology? What can be done to ensure that there is affordable and
ubiquitous access to Internet-connected computers in developing
countries like India?

The first India, argues Jain, built on its Independence to become
agriculturally self-sufficient and feed its own people. The second India
produces more software engineers than any other country and is a force
to reckon with in the world of outsourced technology services. And yet,
the technology revolution has touched but a handful.

Yet much of India still remains frozen in time. For India to progress,
Indians have to progress. For Indians to progress, technology has to
become a utility for the masses.

Jain points to some interesting figures: The installed base of computers
is 7 million for a population of 1 billion. Annual computer sales are
stagnating at between 1.5-2 million since 2000. New computers still cost
more than Rs 25,000, with the basic additional software (MS-Windows,
MS-Office and anti-virus) costing an additional Rs 25,000. There are
only about 6 million Internet connections in India, even as an hour of
connectivity  could still cost more than Rs 30.

In a word: India is a great concept, but with poor execution.

Interestingly, Jain is suggesting a switch-over to the Free/Libre and
Open Source Software (FLOSS) solutions based on GNU/Linux.

Says he: The total cost of these applications: zero. At a conservative

[GKD] Need URLs of Useful Free Software to Download

2003-02-07 Thread Frederick Noronha
My friends have fat pipes to the Internet. They have offered to download
useful distributions / collections of Free Software. My own plan is to
encourage the building up of 'CD Repositories' in Indian cities and
towns, that can then help to efficiently share such CDs among those who
don't have speedy connections to the Internet.

What I badly need from you is: a set of URLs from where my friends could
download the distributions / software collections. Do send in a brief,
one-paragraph description of what the site contains, why it is a good
distribution, etc.

We are also looking out specifically for educational software, Free
Software for kids, tools for professionals (e.g. doctors, scientists),
Free Software for the Windows platform (to convince those more reluctant
to shift over), and also user-friendly distributions.

Thank you very much in advance. Let's make Free Software into what it
really should be -- an effective mechanism for the transfer of knowledge
to the Third World! Your help is needed... FN

Frederick Noronha: http://www.bytesforall.org : When we speak of free
Freelance Journalist : Goa India 403511   : software we refer to
Ph 0091.832.409490   : Cell 0 9822 122436 : freedom, not price.

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[GKD] E-learning for Rural Teachers

2003-01-30 Thread Frederick Noronha
Express Computer (Jan 13, 2003)


ITP News Network/ New Delhi

LEARNINGMATE, a division of Delhi-based Educomp Datamatics, Blackboard
Inc and World Links, a leading international non-profit organisation,
have recently announced a strategic partnership to introduce e-Learning
as a solution for professional development of teachers in rural and
under-served schools throughout India, parts of Asia, Africa, Latin
America, and the Middle East.

Under the partnership, World Links will offer teachers training in the
use of technology and the Internet to improve teaching and learning via
the Blackboard Learning System MLT, the multi-language edition of the
company's market-leading course management system.

World Links has created an innovative e-Learning version of its
award-winning, face-to-face training programme. The new e-Learning
course utilises interactive content, realistic scenarios and
collaborative activities to enable participants to immediately apply the
learning to their own environment.

The 12-week course uses a distributed learning approach, integrating the
Internet, CD-ROM and a one-day face-to-face seminar.

To overcome challenges with unreliable and often costly Internet
connectivity in most of the developing world including India,
LearningMate has taken advantage of the Blackboard Building Blocks
technology to develop a tool that provides offline access to the
Blackboard-enabled course content.

Also, through Building Blocks, LearningMate has integrated its
discussion board solution with the Blackboard Learning System ML to
support online peer learing and collaboration between learners in the
World Links programme. Commenting on the new partnership, Andrew H
Rosen, general manager of Blackboard Inc said, After seeing verious
ministreis of education and schools districts around the world invest in
computing and connectivity infrastructure over the last few years, we
now have identified a demand for proven technology and methodologes that
make large-scale teacher professional development a reality.

It is understood that the partnership will initially pilot a 12-week
course in early 2003 on curriculum and technology integration in schools
throughout India, Ghana, Uganda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana and
Zambia. And later on, it plans to expand the offering to Latin America,
the Middle East, and Southeast Asia with localisations in Spanish,
Portuguese, French, Chinese, Japanese and German. (ENDS)

Frederick Noronha  Freelance Journalist 
Goa India 0091.832.2409490/2409783
Writing with a difference ... on what makes *the* difference

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[GKD] Online Publishing for Developing Countries

2002-12-31 Thread Frederick Noronha
Thanks to Daryl D'Monte, former editor, for sending this to the India-EJ
mailing list for environmental journalists. Of course, one is not
particularly enamoured by the term 'developing countries' (it suggests
that these countries are actually catching up... the gap is widening and
things get worse with every devaluation of Southern currencies; it also
implies that we all have to aspire to be like the North, but is that the
desirable or sustainable goal?). Maybe the unnecessarily-critiqued and
deliberately-misunderstood term of Third World (the left-out like the
Tiers Etat) is more apt. Anyway, some of the points below are
interesting. -FN

PS: Copyright-versus-copyleft too could be a crucial debate, if the bulk
of the planet is to get access to the information they so badly need! To
liken those copying books illegally with men who attacked ships for loot
in high seas and killed innocents centuries ago means skewing the debate
with our terms ('piracy').

-- Forwarded message --


Online newspapers, publications and books... are the developing
countries in a position to get anything out of the digital revolution?
Will the drop in production and distribution costs afforded by the new
technology allow them to catch up with the developed-country firms that
are monopolizing the market? The E-commerce and Development Report
2002, released today by UNCTAD, surveys current trends and suggests
future strategies.

On the plus side, digital publishing technology offers fresh
opportunities for developing countries, many of which produce little in
the way of artistic and literary output due to lack of resources. New
technology could transform the situation. Online publishing gives small
businesses the opportunity to establish a presence in a market dominated
by the developed-country giants of the culture industry. By lowering
production costs and cutting out middlemen, it generates new markets and
enables authors who would not otherwise be well known to expand their
readerships. A Jamaican company, Overdrive, has set up a virtual
publishing centre allowing over 200 publishers to produce and distribute
their books electronically.

In press and university publishing, a quick glance at websites listing
online libraries and media shows that even the poorest -- the least
developed -- countries have been won over to electronic distribution,
which radically alters relations between publishers, the media and
consumers. And although the volume and quality of content, the level of
sophistication and  the functions available through search tools vary
considerably from one newspaper to the next, an online presence now
appears essential.

For the time being, the important thing is to stake out a claim and
respond to growing user demand, as it is far from certain whether online
newspapers will prove profitable.

Growing awareness of the potential of online publishing is driving a
number of new initiatives, both national and international. They range
from the promotion of African publications in the United States to the
establishment of a digital scientific library in Brazil, which is now a
beacon for the whole of Latin America. UNCTAD believes that
developing-country governments should make more use of this form of
distributing information, encourage educational institutions to provide
education online and support libraries financially so that they can
computerize their publications and enable the entire world to benefit.

On the down side, the same inequalities to be found in the publishing
world between developed and developing countries are reflected in online
publishing. Then there are technical and practical obstacles, such as
the paucity and high cost of Internet connections and the lack of
training among potential users.

Since the new technology allows virtually anything to be copied to
perfection, copyright is threatened by digital piracy. Such piracy is
becoming exorbitantly expensive, both for the developed countries that
produce most intellectual property and for developing countries as well.
Commercial losses in the United States in 2001 due to book piracy are
estimated by the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) at
over $650 million. Profits from the informal book industry in Peru are
higher than those from publishing.

The international agreements governing intellectual property rights were
extended in 1995 and 1996 to encompass digital technology. In order to
comply with them, developing countries have to pass legislation and find
the means to enforce it. But they have a lot to gain from the process,
as developing and protecting their creations is very much in their
interest. Thanks to copyright, publishing in the United States was a $4
billion industry in 2001. In Brazil, one of the world's largest markets
for intellectual property, 70% of pirated music is locally produced -

[GKD] Free Linux for Education CD Available (India)

2002-12-26 Thread Frederick Noronha
Thanks to Ajith Kumar of Delhi for sharing his work so generously, not
just in India, but also elsewhere in the globe. We need such solutions!


On Fri, 20 Dec 2002, Ajith Kumar wrote:

 I am happy to inform you  that  the GNU Linux Utilities for Education
 CD is now hosted at ftp.seul.org, thanks to the SEUL people.
 It  is a bootable CD that will install a GNU/Linux system with
 OpenOffice, several educational software packages and
 the Terminal Server Software within 10 minutes.  Any help in testing is
 You can download the ISO image from ftp://ftp.seul.org/pub/glue/
 Bowse the contents of it  at

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[GKD] The OpenCD: Free/Libre and Open Source Software for Windows

2002-12-11 Thread Frederick Noronha
GKD members may be interested in the following project to promote Open
Source Software.

-- Forwarded message --

From [EMAIL PROTECTED] Wed Dec 11 22:40:25 2002


My name is Henrik Nilsen Omma, and I am one of the project leaders of a
new Open Source Project called TheOpenCD. Our aim is to create a simple
to use CD distribution of Open Source software for Windows, and in that
way spread the OSS message. I'm writing to various LUGs to announce the
launch of our first edition, and hope that you might find it a useful
tool in promoting Linux and OSS to a wider public.

The disc allows new users can try out Open Source software (OSS) in the
comfort of their own, familiar operating system, rather than having to
take the drastic step of reformatting their hard drive to install Linux
or BSD. The collection, which includes OpenOffice.org, AbiWord and
Beonex is primarily intended for non-technical computer users. However,
we expect that the disc will appeal first to experienced OSS users, who
will hopefully find it a useful vehicle by which to introduce OSS to
their less computer-savvy friends.

We invite all OSS enthusiasts to download the ISO, burn CDs and
distribute them widely to friends, local schools, universities, and
companies. We further encourage you all to stop by our website to
comment, discuss and contribute!


Best wishes,

 Henrik Nilsen Omma
  TheOpenCD Team

Henrik Nilsen Omma Theoretical Physics, Oxford
35 Frenchay Road   1 Keble Road
Oxford OX2 6TG Oxford OX1 3NP

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[GKD] BytesForAll: SE Asian ICT for Dev. Journal

2002-12-10 Thread Frederick Noronha
###BytesForAll Ezine Nov2002##


Should Indian languages be left behind in the world of computing? No,
argues the NCST, whose team in Bangalore recently came out with its
localization solutions for Open Office (the free/libre and open source
software option to proprietorial office tools).

NCST's team has been working to localize and internationalize
OpenOffice.org in Indian Languages. They have localized OpenOffice.org
in Hindi on Windows and Linux, and in Tamil on Windows.

This team has also enabled Complex Text Layout support for all main
Indian languages as well as other Internationalization features like
Indian currency and calendar translations in Hindi and Tamil, on

Localization work in Tamil on Linux, as well as Complex Text Layout
support and other Internationalization aspects on Linux OO.o is going

Their work has been recognised by OpenOffice.org and has been copyright
approved. On their site, some screenshots of the localized applications
have been uploaded, and there are also localized binaries for Hindi and
Tamil for free download.

Bhupesh Koli [EMAIL PROTECTED], Shikha G Pillai
team who worked on this -- say they need open type fonts in Tamil and
other languages for localization work in GNU/Linux. Would anyone help
us in this direction? they ask.

Ravikant [EMAIL PROTECTED], a Delhi-based former academic and
historian, has some critical feedback. Says he: I did download the
Hindi version on my Windows desktop. It seems somebody has translated
from the German version. And it is still partial, only a beginning. A
lot of work is yet to be done.

Ravikant add that he has himself been trying to work on translation of
OO (Open Office). Why is the translation team following a Sanskritized
vocabulary? It sounds more difficult than the original English. Let us
put our heads together and come up with more creative translations. This
is after having conceded that it is by no means easy, says he.

See http://www.ncb.ernet.in/bharateeyaoo

Simputer maker

From Picopeta Simputers and Nagarjun K [EMAIL PROTECTED] comes
news that Bharat Electronics Limited and PicoPeta Simputers Private
Limited have forged an alliance to manufacture and market a new range of

These devices will be marketed as BEL-PicoPeta Simputers and will cover
a spectrum of applications and price points. Please see below or
http://www.picopeta.com/press/bel-picopeta.php for the full details,
said Nagarjun.

As an enthusiastic supporter of the Simputer platform, I am sure you are
pleased with this significant new development. Consequently, we at
PicoPeta Simputers hope you will report this with the importance it

More information at:
PicoPeta website: http://www.picopeta.com
Simputer: http://www.picopeta.com/simputer http://www.simputer.org

BEL, in its facility in its Bangalore Complex, has manufactured more
than 400 Simputers for PicoPeta in a pilot production phase.

The BEL-PicoPeta Simputers are a radical improvement over the earlier
Simputer prototypes along several fronts. The production of the first
batch of 1,000 BEL-PicoPeta Simputers will be completed in November
2002, said Picopeta, who are one of the groups fighting a valiant
battle -- against economics and unhelpful policies -- to put out this
commonman's computing device.

The current price of the BEL-PicoPeta Simputer will be Rs. 13,000, with
duties and taxes as applicable. BEL and PicoPeta are determined to
reduce the  price closer to Rs. 10,000 in the next six months, promised
the firm.

The BEL-PicoPeta Simputers are powered by Linux and Malacca. Malacca,
described as a revolutionary new interface for the Simputer developed
by PicoPeta, makes the combination a powerful, customer-friendly and
full-featured machine.

Ironically while the Government of India seems quick to claim credit --
if any -- for the work on the Simputer, it has not even put in a rupee
into the project. The IT minister had promised to remove Excise duty on
the under-10,000 rupee priced Simputers. But nothing has happened on
this front yet.

Incidentally, the Karnataka IT secretary had also made public
announcements last year that sales tax exemption will be given to
Simputers. But this is a chicken and egg situation. The duty waiver can
happen only after the Simputers get into production. But to get into
production, and catch public imagination, they need to be priced
attractively. Duty sops would help.

Inspite of all the praise it has earned, nobody has dared to invest
significantly in the Simputer venture. Both PicoPet and Encore -- the
firms incubated out of the teams that initially conceived and worked on
this -- are striving to stay alive and get the Simputers somehow

Volume production 

[GKD] IIT Bombay Develops New Multilingual Search Engine

2002-12-07 Thread Frederick Noronha
from deccan herald/ Nov 27
Breaking the language barrier in IT:

IIT Bombay develop new multilingual search engine

From Devika Sequeira
vicki at goatelecom dot com

DH News Service

PANAJI, Nov 26

Move over Google. A team of researchers from the Indian Insititute of
Technology Bombay, says it has developed a search engine for the
internet that is both multi-lingual as well as meaning specific, giving
it a broader applicability and greater accuracy than existing models.

Our search engine eliminates the language barrier and its results are
much more accurate than any other techniques used, says Dr Pushpak
Bhattacharya, Prof Computer Sciences and Engineering Department, IIT
Bombay. Using Universal Networking Language (UNL), the model has
integrated the user's language requirement with the knowledge the user
seeks, he points out.

In a paper to be presented at the ongoing International Conference on
Universal Knowledge and Language here, Dr Bhattacharya and his team of
students, Sarvjeet Singh, Tushar Chandra, Upmanyu Misra and Ushhan D
Gundevia argue that their search engine retrieves only the knowledge
that is relevant and attempts to bridge the language gap by using an
underlying, structured language as a backhand translator. As far as we
know, we are the first to employ this technique, they say.

Google, widely believed to be the best search engine, is restricted only
to English. According to an estimate by the World Wide Web, English
language content makes for about 80 per cent of the trillion and
trillion bytes of textual information on the internet. Though other
language content is also catching up rapidly -- specially Chinese and
South Asian languages -- the digital divide between nations and people
is still huge.

It is in the backdrop of this that the United Nations began the UNL
project in 1996. The universal networking language is simply put, an
electronic language. It uses an EnConverter software to automatically
convert natural language text into UNL. Thirteen languages so far,
including Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, English, Hindi,
Marathi, Arabic, Italian, Russian, French, Spanish and Portuguese have
deconverters in place that automatically translates them to other
languages. With a lakh concepts in place, English boasts of the largest
wordnet, so far.

IIT Bombay which is in the process of developing translation software
for Hindi, Marathi and Konkani has developed 15,000 concepts so far for
Hindi, says Bhattarcharya. He points to the immense extension of the
reach of the internet, once computer translations of languages become
availbale at the click of the button.

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Re: [GKD] World Computer Exchange Article

2002-12-04 Thread Frederick Noronha
Well, I received half a dozen copies of Tim Anderson's posting on the
World Computer Exchange. [***Moderator's Note: Due to a server problem,
multiple copies of this message were posted to the List. We apologize
for any inconvenience this may have caused.***] I have nothing against
Timothy in person, and have in the past written positively about this

But maybe it's time for some critical questions to be asked.

This approach kind of encourages us to think along business-as-usual
lines. The West can go on 'consuming' computers in an irresponsible
manner, at unsustainable levels, and one man's junk is going to become
another man's treasure. A nice thought

What is really needed is a radical review not just of how we compute,
but how we consume the world's resources, and what solutions are offered
to whom.

Some questions:

1. Has any study been done as to the impact of how long such computers
actually serve in Third World locations? Are these being used
effectively? Given the way hardware is made incompatible with that
produced just two to three years back, aren't we fighting an uphill
battle? How do we ensure computers are kept in a state of fair

2. What is the impact of software going the bloatware way, which makes
perfectly usable computers turn to junk due to the market-driven
planned-obsolence model? This is surely true of  Windows, and this is
also getting to be increasingly true of the major distros of GNU/Linux
(Red Hat/Mandrake), where we are getting big and bigger packages, in the
name of keeping up in the race. Is someone thinking about this? Apart
from the RULE project in Italy, one has not heard of building, say a
KDE-Lite, for us poor cousins out here. (For that matter, it would serve
everyone, and make fewer computers turn to 'junk' in the first place.)

3. What is the impact on recipients in the Third World? Is there no
better and more sustainable way of getting access to PCs? Are such
gift-horses appreciated well, or simply abused and misused by
recipients, who feel they've got the PCs in an easy way anyway?

4. Is this only a question of hardware, or are other issues like
software and syllabi equally important? In India, quite some schools
have Microsoft-only syllabi. What are the long-term implications of

5. Finally, are we willing to ask inconvenient questions, or just take
the easy way out and swim with the tide?

No offence meant... Just that we could go ahead if we asked the tough
questions. FN

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[GKD] African Civil Society Building an Inclusive Information Society

2002-11-15 Thread Frederick Noronha

13 November 2002

Viva African Civil Society Building an Inclusive Information Society!

JOHANNESBURG - These were the words that began one of the most vibrant
and challenging discussions about civil society's engagement in ICT
policy-making in Africa to date. Organised by the Association for
Progressive Communications (APC), and hosted by the UN Economic
Commission for Africa (ECA) with the support of Article 19, the workshop
on ICT Policy and Civil Society sparked the formation of a network of
ICT policy mobilizers dedicated to building an inclusive information
society in Africa.

The workshop took place over three days starting November 6 at the UNECA
headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Over 80 representatives from
non-governmental organizations, human rights organisations, media
groups, women's organizations, development groups and researchers from
24 countries throughout Africa gathered to discuss the role of African
civil society in ICT policy-making and to outline a plan of action to
move forward in mobilizing other organisations on these issues.

Karima Bounemra Ben Soltane of the ECA opened the workshop by expressing
the need for civil society organizations to become more engaged in ICT
policy processes on the continent. She challenged the organisations
present to organise and unite so that civil society can have a greater
voice in the formation of policy.  APC Communications and Information
Policy Coordinator Peter Benjamin outlined the plan for the week,
impressing on participants the need to take action on the issues and
tasks that had to be completed by the end of the three days. The aims of
the workshop were, firstly, for civil society actors to share their
experience and build on the knowledge that already existed, secondly, to
identify the needs of those organisations in developing ICT policy at
both national and international levels, and lastly, to identify the
strategies required to meet those needs.

Participants at the workshop came from diverse fields in the civil
society sector and from countries throughout Africa. The debates,
especially those around issues such as the New Partnership for Africa's
Development (NEPAD), were intense and challenging, as participants
critically analysed the role of civil society in governance and policy
development. This workshop is one of the milestone events in ICT
policy-making in Africa from a civil society perspective, said
participant, Ewan McPhie, Policy Director at Bridges.org. It is
difficult to estimate the value of providing a venue where civil society
organisations from Africa could meet, share views and experiences and
get to know each other better.

Smaller working groups formed around four main areas of ICT
policy-making including the right to communicate, freedom of expression
and information exchange, diversity of content, language, ownership and
control and global, regional and national governance of the information
society. These discussions led to the formulation of action plans and a
statement on African civil society's engagement in ICT policy
development from participants. The statement begins with the recognition
of the importance of civil society in ICT policy-making: Given the
centrality of civil society to the development of an inclusive
information society, and the proximity of civil society organizations
(CSOs) to the needs of people and society at large, CSOs need to play a
central role in developing and implementing ICT policy. The statement
goes on to assert recommendations on the themes of 'freedom of
expression', 'policy and enabling environment', 'governance', 'content
creation and overcoming barriers', 'open source' and 'brain drain'.

The Action Plan sets out a clear course of action for participants to
engage in information sharing, lobbying at national and international
levels (especially at the World Summit on the Information Society), a
free/open source software task force, and the development of a
cross-regional information exchange for community radio organisations.

The Civil Society and ICT Policy Workshop was funded by Open Society
Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA), the Open Society Initiative of
West Africa (OSIWA) and the International Institute for Communication
and Development (IICD).  This workshop was organised as part of the
APC's Africa ICT Policy Monitor project, supported by HIVOS and the
International Development Research Centre.


The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international
network of civil society organisations dedicated to empowering and
supporting groups and individuals through the strategic use of
information and communication technologies (ICTs), especially
Internet-related technologies. APC and its members pioneer practical and
relevant uses of ICTs for civil society, especially in developing
countries. APC is an international facilitator of civil society's
engagement with ICTs and related concerns, in both policy and 

[GKD] Educational Radio in India

2002-10-15 Thread Frederick Noronha

Educational radio opening up in India... but only slowly

From Frederick Noronha

Indian universities and deemed-universities have come up with proposals
to launch 'educational radio' stations from their campus. But the
current government policy is to allow only India's national open
university to transmit such broadcasts.

For the present, the Government of India has allowed the Indira Gandhi
National Open University (IGNOU) to run FM radio stations for
educational programmes, India's federal minister for information and
broadcasting Sushma Swaraj said in parliament.

IGNOU stations have been commissioned at Allahabad, Bangalore,
Visakhapatnam, Coimbatore, Lucknow and Mumbai (formerly called Bombay).

IGNOU is the country's most important national-level open university,
that conducts distance education programmes, mostly via post. It has
recently been expanding into using the radio as a medium for education.

Its seventh station at Bhopal is likely to be commissioned shortly.

Besides, another 23 more IGNOU-run stations are expected to be
commissioned before March-end 2003, the minister added. Rs 151 million
has been kept aside during the year 2001-02 for this purpose.

For over five decades, radio has been internationally seen as a powerful
tool for communication and development. Proponents of radio in India
have long argued that its potential has been unfairly eclipsed by the
advent of television.

Over the past few years, India has gone about 'liberalising' its
air-waves, allowing commercial FM radio stations to be set up, on
payment of multi-millioin rupee licence fees.

So far, ten commercial FM radio stations have been commissioned in six
Indian cities -- Bangalore, Indore, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Pune and Mumbai
(five stations).

Three more companies have paid licence fees for broadcasting in six
cities -- Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Jabalpur, Coimbatore, Tirunelvi,
Visakhapatnam -- but are yet to launch operations.

Earlier, nine more broadcasting companies were given time till August
29, 2002 to launch their operations.

But campaigners for 'community radio' -- non-profit low-powered radio
stations run primarily for development purposes -- have argued that the
airwaves should be freed also for the commonman, since this medium could
be a powerful means of getting across developmental or educational

RETHINK POSSIBLE? In mid-August, some official statements coming out
from the Indian government also indicated a possible re-think on opening
up of radio, to the non-state and non-commercial sector.

There were hints that the educational sector could be opened up first.

Indian Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj was quoted in
the mainstream 'The Times of India' newspaper that she is giving final
touches to a proposal permitting schools, colleges and other
educational institutions to set up their own radio stations to cater to
a variety of activities.

Some higher-educational institutions, including deemed universities, are
known to have applied for permission to launch educational radio
networks. But it is not clear what exactly the minister meant by talk
about permitting schools to launch the same.

The proposal will be placed before the Union Cabinet next month. We
will target IIMs, IITs and residential schools to start off with. But my
dream is that every school in India should eventually have its own
radio, the minister was quoted saying.

(The IIMs and IITs are prestigious, top-level management and
technological training institutions. Elite Indian students gain
admission to these centres via competitive exams.)

Swaraj added that the idea behind the proposal came from the concept of
community radio, popular in many foreign countries.

But in our proposal, we want schools to start off with this, because
there is a lot of scope, and we want to improve the quality of
education. Class lessons, lectures, extra information, educative
programmes and programmes created by students can all be aired within a
limited radius of access. There is immense potential for interactive
radio with phone-ins, she was quoted saying.

It was not immediately clear whether schools would be given slots on
existing stations, or allowed to explore options of setting up their

Soon after the Cabinet approval, the Department of Telecommunications
would be approached to allot frequencies to interested institutions, the
minister said, sounding optimistic. The radius will be limited to about
5 km, she said.

Swaraj said she was encouraged by the enthusiastic response to the idea.
Whenever I broached this subject with the IIMs (Indian Institutes of
Management) or IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology), the idea was
welcomed, and they told me to do it quickly. So it is not a pipe dream,
she said.

The ministry will have some amount of control, especially where content
is concerned, but it will be very minimal. But these will be decided
only later, she added, giving hints of a persistent concern

[GKD] Using TV to Improve Literacy (India)

2002-08-08 Thread Frederick Noronha

Independence from Illiteracy through TV: Putting an old ICT to new ends

On the eve on India's Independence Day, 2002, an experiment is being
launched by Doordarshan and the Indian Institute of Management,
Ahmedabad to contribute to making every Indian independently literate. 
This most ambitious of goals is being approached with the simplest of
ideas, under a grant won in Development Marketplace 2002 (World Bank's
global innovation competition).*

What is this all about?

Watch DD-1's Chitrahaar**
Wednesday, August 14, 2002 (or later episodes on Wed)
7:30pm to 8:00pm

The longest running film-based programme in the history of television,
especially popular in the villages, is being transformed from staple
entertainment to edutainment that is 'more' entertaining.  The
potentially major by-product is improvement in the literacy skill levels
of millions of people.

Same Language Subtitling (SLS)

Can music-videos on TV herald a revolution in literacy?  Yes, if you
simply subtitled the lyrics of the existing songs-based programming on
TV in the same language as the audio! In SLS the lyrics of Hindi songs
appear in Hindi, Tamil songs in Tamil, and so on in any language.  The
synchronisation of audio and text is created through colour changes in
the subtitles, identifying every word as it is being sung.  Thus, SLS
strengthens grapheme-phoneme associations which are weak in early
literate people.

Research with SLS

The use of SLS for literacy was first proposed six years ago and
on-going research since then, conducted in three separate experiments at
the level of the classroom, village (on local cable) and state (in
Gujarat on DDK Ahmedabad) have been consistent in finding that reading
ability improves steadily as a result of viewing film and folk song
based content with the addition of SLS.  What is perhaps more relevant
to network acceptance of the idea is that surveys have found that over
99% of viewers, semi-literate and literate alike, actually prefer song
programming with SLS than without.

Why people like SLS?

Viewers have been video-taped in villages and slums trying to sing along
through lip-synching.  SLS enables viewers to know the song lyrics,
'hear' the words better (useful not just for the hearing but also the
hearing challenged or deaf), and write down the lyrics.

The cost of SLS?

SLS integrates everyday reading/writing transactions into the lives of
500 million TV viewers in India at a cost of 3 paise (US$0.0065) per
person per year.

See SLS in action at:

SLS was awarded the Best Social Innovation for the year 2000 in the
Education category for the project, 'Subtitling TV Songs for Mass
Literacy', awarded by The Institute for Social Inventions, London

* For information on Development Marketplace:

**Chitrahaar's production team:
Research  Script: Manav Kaushik
Creative Consultant: Sandhya
Anchor: Tarana
Editor: Nishikant Sathe
Cameraman: Narsing Pothkanti
Technical Expert: R. Sekhar
Producer/Director: Mohan Middha [EMAIL PROTECTED]
CONTACTS (SLS project)

Brij Kothari
Associate Professor
Wing 14, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad
Ravi J. Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation
Vastrapur, Ahmedabad-380015
Gujarat, India
Tel: 91-79-632 4938
Fax: 91-79-630 6896
Mukesh Sharma
Director, DDK, Mumbai
91-22-493 8444; 493 8788

Sudhir Tandon
Controller of Films, Doordarshan, New Delhi
Telefax: 91-11-338 2981
  Shankar Narayanan,
  Social Development Specialist
  South Asia Sector for Environment  Social Development
  The World Bank,
  70, Lodi Estate,
  New Delhi- 110 003
  Phone: +91 11 461 7241-4 Extn. 128
  Fax: +91 11 461 9393

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[GKD] Digital Partners' Social Enterprise Laboratory

2002-07-31 Thread Frederick Noronha

Digital Partners' Social Enterprise Laboratory (SEL) Call for

Please forward the following opportunity to anyone that you think may be
interested in applying or any appropriate listserves you may be aware
of. We have attached a copy of the announcement as well.

Digital Partners, a United States-based non-profit organization, invites
for-profit and non-profit social entrepreneurs and organizations serving
disenfranchised communities in developing countries to submit a proposal
for entry into this year's Social Enterprise Laboratory (SEL).  Entries
are due by midnight, September 1, 2002.

SEL is a new model of collaborative social-problem solving. The entries
selected as the ìMost Promising Social Enterprisesî will be matched with
a team of Digital Partners Brain Trust members and graduate students to
help the social entrepreneurs maximize the potential of the idea.  The
Brain Trust is composed of IT professionals, business leaders, venture
capitalists, and other professionals in their fields.  The students are
selected from prestigious graduate schools in business, public policy,
and IT.

After an assessment of the projectís needs for success, the team works
with the leadership to identify funding sources, make strategic
introductions, effectively incorporate information and communication
technologies and market mechanisms into the enterprise, develop
implementation strategies, and transform proposals into sustainable
business plans.  The most promising projects are eligible for up to
$100,000 in grants, loans, or equity investments from Digital Partners.

SEL is a year-long collaboration to support the design, development, and
deployment of projects or businesses that incorporate the use of
information and communication technologies (ICT) to address the needs of
disenfranchised communities. Supported projects can be undertaken by
any combination of businesses, non-profits, governments, or individuals
seeking to develop sustainable, ICT-enhanced mechanisms to serve markets
at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

Preference is given to projects that are grass-roots/bottom-up,
market-based forsustainability, collaborative for community building,
scalable, replicable, and catalytic in terms of systemic social and/or
market change.

If you intend to apply for SEL, please send an email message to
[EMAIL PROTECTED] with Applying for SEL as the subject.  You
need not include anything in the body of the email. This will allow us
to keep you updated on new developments. For more details please refer
to http://www.digitalpartners.org/sel.html. Applications are available
on the website.

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[GKD] India Learns from South Africa (Community Radio)

2002-07-24 Thread Frederick Noronha


By Frederick Noronha
fred at bytesforall dot org

UDUPI, South India: This country which prides itself as the 'second
largest democracy in the world' is learning a lesson or two on deploying
radio from the young nation of South Africa.

This distant nation, that emerged from Apartheid barely a decade back,
has useful lessons on how community radio could be a powerful tool in
countries where poverty and illiteracy are still un-vanquished enemies.

Community radio is definitely more accessible than public or commercial
radio. People at the grassroots can go to the station and say, 'This is
what we want', says Johannesburg-based Institute for the Advancement of
Journalism radio department head Jacob Ntshangase.

Ntshangase was visiting India, where he helped in a camp meant to
promote community radio, in this small educational town on the country's
west coast. Campaigners in this country have been campaigning, so far
unsucessfully, for the past half-decade and more to legalize community

Ntshangase's IAJ works to partner the University of the Witwatersrand,
primarily to enhance journalists skills. They also support training in
neighbouring countries like Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Lesotho.

Ntshangase believes that if South Africa could make community radio work
in a decade, so could India. Possibly more easily.

Community radio came out of efforts of media activists, and part of the
gust of the liberalisation of the airwaves, around 1994, with the
installation of a democratically-elected government, says he.

There were prophets of doom who said 'Give them a month and they
(community-run radio stations) are going to collapse.' But they were
made to eat their hat, says he.

Ntshangase offers insights into how community radio manages to retain
its independence while still being critical of the powers that be, and
about the functioning of the broadcasting authority.

Citing case studies of successful and not-so-successful community
stations in his part of the globe, he passes on a message -- during a
Ford Foundation-supported workshop -- that the same is possible here

Radio Maritzburg in Kwazulu-Natal, the first licensed station in 1995,
is fading away, he believes. Bush radio, started illegally, has proven
to be very successful, he says. Others like Radio 786 in Cape Town are
religous stations.

(Bush Radio's logo shows a broadcaster carrying a transmitter and
literally running -- a hint of its not-so-legal origins, which later
compelled the reluctant authorities to issue it a licence!)

Ntshangase told a surprised audience, in this country of 1000+ million,
that South Africa itself -- which has less than one-twentieth the
population -- itself has about 120+ radio stations.

India itself has long been fairly closed over radio broadcasting, and
only in the past couple of years has been opening up to commercial FM,
while there are plans for building up educational radio in this country.

Hoping for an eventual opening-up, campaigners like Ntshangase and local
lobbyists discussed issues like frequency plans, regulation of licences,
allotting limited frequencies to different claimants, and the like.

What is making community radio powerful in South Africa is that it is
accessible to the people. It's closeness to the people is making it more
strong, says Ntshangase.

Ntshangase had a few tips for campaigners here.

Community radio had to take into account the dialects of the local
communities. South Africa has 11 official languages... it's a crazy
country, he pointed out.

If that's so, India might rate higher, having 18 officially-recognised
national languages and some 1652 mother tongues (of which 33 are spoken
by over a 100,000 people).

He suggested that campaigners need to be united and speak with one
voice before they could get governments to realise the relevance and
importance of legalizing community radio. And he spent time focussing on
the economics, and need for sound-management training, for community

Some radio stations in South Africa have been studied internationally
for different reasons. These include Soul City focussing on health and
women's rights, Radio Zibonele run out of an old container truck, Bush
Radio which is sometimes called the mother of community radio in
Africa, the Rural Women's Movement-founded Moutse Community Radio,
among others.

All these were recently featured in 'Making Waves', a report to the
Rockefeller Foundation, on using communication for social change
(published 2001).

Recent reports from South Africa point out that for decades, during the
apartheid era, South African radio stations were divided along racial
lines and the media industry was used as a tool of propaganda.

But now, the airwaves are undergoing a dramatic transformation. Racial
divisions are fading as wealth changes hands in South Africa. (ENDS)

NOTE: Jacob Ntshangase can be contacted via email [EMAIL PROTECTED

[GKD] Simputer Handheld Expands Its Options

2002-07-23 Thread Frederick Noronha

From the website of PC World (US edition)

Simputer Handheld Expands Its Options

Linux-based device, designed to tackle the digital divide, soon will be
available in higher-end configurations.

John Ribeiro, IDG News Service
Friday, July 19, 2002

BANGALORE, INDIA -- Sales of the Simputer, a Linux-based handheld
computer designed by Indian engineers, have languished at about 150
units since the prototype of the product was ready in April last year.
But Encore Software of Bangalore aims to change that with upgraded
versions of the product to be launched next month.

Encore is introducing at least four versions of the Simputer, according
to its chairman, Vinay Deshpande.

It has become clear that one-size-fits-all does not work even with the
Simputer, Deshpande says. We need different versions of the Simputer
at different price points with different features.

With a target price of $200, the Simputer was initially positioned as a
low-cost Internet device for rural applications that would help narrow
the digital divide.

New Uses

Encore is now targeting new markets such as electronic government,
utilities, health care, education, banking, financial services, and the
manufacturing sector. It has tied up with about 10 independent software
vendors who have developed applications around the Simputer for these
market segments.

We still see bridging the digital divide as an opportunity for us, but
we are also looking at new market opportunities where the sales cycles
are typically shorter, Deshpande says.

Encore is shipping 200 Simputers this month, with another 1000 units
scheduled for next month. Some of these shipments are against trial

We were naive to expect orders just on the description of the device,
says Deshpande. We realize now that customers both in India and abroad
want to get their hands on the product, and try it out in a limited way
in their organizations before placing large orders.

Besides getting the devices to customers, Encore will also take them to
about 400 ISVs who have downloaded the software development kit from
Encore's web site, but have not had an opportunity yet to test their
software on the hardware. The products are being manufactured by
Bangalore contract manufacturer Peninsula Electronics, though Encore is
close to signing up a contract manufacturer in Singapore and another in
India, in order to handle large orders.

Simputer's Story

The Simputer, for SIMple comPUTER, was designed by engineers at Encore
and students and academics from the Indian Institute of Science in
Bangalore. The intellectual property of the device was transferred to a
nonprofit organization, The Simputer Trust, and both the hardware and
software were put under the open-source General Public License.

Both Encore and Bangalore startup PicoPeta Simputers have licensed the
design from The Simputer Trust, and have added new features and
enhancements to the product. Under the licensing agreement, the
licensees have to turn in their innovation to the Simputer Trust for
open-source distribution only after one year of commercial production.

Built around a StrongArm processor from Intel in Santa Clara, the first
version of the Simputer had 16MB of flash memory; 32MB of dynamic RAM; a
monochrome LCD with a touch-panel overlay; and text-to-speech support.
The Simputer also included a modem, and IrDA, or Infrared Data
Association, and USB interfaces.

The feedback we got from some customers is that they would be paying
for features they would never use for their applications, says
Deshpande. On the other hand, there were those who wanted new features
such as more memory, color display, and other connectivity options.

Additional Options

The new Simputer range from Encore thus attempts to meet the
requirements of various market segments. The entry-level Simputer will,
at production volumes, be priced at about $210, and has a monochrome
LCD, 16MB of DRAM and 8MB of flash memory, IrDA and USB interfaces and
audio connectors, but no modem. Some of the enhancements include a
built-in battery charger, a real-time clock, and support for J2ME.

The top-end Simputer, priced at about $480, has a color display, 32MB of
flash memory and 64MB of DRAM, a built-in modem, and a pocket-sized
cradle with a CompactFlash expansion slot for memory cards and wireless

In addition to the cradle which ships with the high-end model, Encore is
also designing specialized cradles with built-in functions such as a
micro printer, keyboard, and support for GSM and 802.11 wireless
connectivity. The company is opening up to designers the interface
between the Simputer and the cradle to encourage others to design their
own specialty cradles.

In the deployment of the Simputer, getting orders was a greater issue
than funding, according to Deshpande.

Our focus was more on ensuring customer expectations were met, before
trying to get into volume production, he says.

Behind the Scenes

Encore is a listed 

[GKD] On-line Learning in India

2002-07-08 Thread Frederick Noronha


What is India's share of the potentially huge on-line learning pie?
Still just crumbs compared to what is obviously possible in this
resource-hungry but imagination-rich country of 1000-million plus.

India's National Centre for Software Technology (NCST), an autonomous
centre working in research and development, has announced plans to host
a global conference on online learning called 'Vidyakash-2002' (loosely,
Horizons of Knowledge). It will be held from December 15-17 at Mumbai,
the Indian commercial capital formerly known as Bombay.

Says NCST: Vidyakash-2002 is being conceived of as a forum to bring
together the various groups interested in online learning. In the past
few weeks, it issued a call for papers dealing with learning
environments, on-line teaching methodology, learner support, instruction
delivery, learner modelling, faculty development for on-line learning,
virtual universities, course-ware engineering and other related issues.

Organisers hope this event will be the first of many. Papers are being
invited from across the globe. One goal is to set up a national resource
centre -- possibly at the NCST -- for online learning.

This project was founded in late 2000, and has been doing considerable
work behind the scenes since then.  Apart from several development
projects, there have also been some collaborative efforts to bring
together people working in this field from across the country.

Last June, a workshop was held on online learning, and they've also been
working with India's prestigious engineering-education centres called
the IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) on a distance education

M Sasikumar [EMAIL PROTECTED], head of the Educational Technology
Unit at NCST, explains to journalist Frederick Noronha
[EMAIL PROTECTED] of BytesForAll.org, some of the issues and plans
that could flow out of this meet. Excerpts:

How many participants are expected for this meet?

About 200-300. The potential audience would include companies into
e-learning (software developers, distributors, service providers, etc),
educational institutions interested in e-learning, content developers,
faculty, and others.

What's the level of online-education in India currently?

India's non-formal sector, particularly in the IT discipline, have
ventured in offering e-learning. But the response, as far as I know, has
been low.

Other institutions are also making available a lot of content on the
Web; but not enough for online learning. These are largely notes and
slides. Use of discussion board, e-mail, and chat are picking up for
technical communication -- but we have a long way to go.

Much of the work in e-learning is focused on superficial content hosting
-- largely textbook and slides online. A student in an online learning
environment is in a very different frame of mind compared to a classroom
environment. He lacks eye contact with the instructor, the peer pressure
and interaction, or the campus environment.

There is very little effort to provide a comfortable and practical
learning environment, or to exploit the capabilities provided by a
Web-based environment (use of interactive simulations, animations, etc)
in the approach most people take to e-learning.

This is true, not only in India, but across the globe.

It is necessary to view e-learning in its entirety as a educational
problem (and not as as software technology or communication technology
problem), for e-learning to make a significant impact on the educational

What are the exciting experiments you'll hope to share with  others?

This is a forum where a number of researchers and practitioners from a
number of institutions will be sharing their ideas and experiences. It
is not an NCST show.

Topics of interest spans from communication and collaboration in online
learning context, to content development and delivery. One can look
forward to developments in effective content design models, delivery
methodologies, software tools and environments, learning models, etc.

Are any other international organisations involved in the event?

There is no direct involvement of any other specific organization. But
authors and delegates will be representing work from a number of
organizations across the world including India

[GKD] Microfinance to Get the IT Edge (India)

2002-07-02 Thread Frederick Noronha


By Frederick Noronha

He's a young researcher still in his twenties of Indian origin. Parikh
has been spending time in India even as we start seeing signs of a
reverse brain-drain with skills and talent showing up from among
expatriates keen not just to understand their roots, and work to improve
things here.

Micro-finance, one attempt to get the poor to help themselves by
collecting small sums of money and loaning it between themselves, is to
get a leg-up from IT if Parikh and his team have their way.

Their new software is getting finalised to make it easy for simple
villagers to undertake more complex financial transactions. It's called
Hisaab (meaning, 'accounts').

Interestingly, what it does is not just to make the account-keeping
process simpler, but also to make sure that people with low-literacy
skills can use this new package.

This software has a different kind of user-interface. It has been
designed with low-literacy groups in mind, explains Parikh. Instead of
names and text, it has more numbers involved. It's obvious, but we often
forget that it's easier for the poor to read numbers.

Users could replace someone's name with a code-number. Numbers are also
easier to remember, says Parikh. It's easier to type in a number too.

Behind micro-credit, the idea is to ensure that money goes round the
village, and that it gets productively used. This simple idea could help
the poor, if given that vital IT-edge, feels Parikh.

How the software works seems simple enough, at least in theory: Each
month, the group of women meets and puts together Rs 50, 70 or 100 or
some other predetermined figure.

Over time, this generates into a collection of money that can be used
for income generation, tackling sickness, or the loss of a job. Because
the group works collectively in saving and loaning out their resources,
repayments tend to be high due to peer pressure against defaulting.

Money is put back, and over time, it grows. This allows larger loans to
be taken. The core-goal is to rotate money as much as possible, so it
supports productive activity. So, a one rupee (a little over two cents,
but not pittance in a rural Indian setting) put in gets used not two or
three times in a year, but revolves around 10-11 times if possible,
says Parikh.

He says such groups expect to link up with banks, NGOs who are working
on micro-finance, and NABARD (the Indian bank for agriculture and rural
development) also offers loans to such self-help groups.

Due to their collective liability, they have shown better repayment
rates. Because if one person doesn't pay, everyone would be less likely
to get a loan. Peer pressure being high, repayment rates are as high as
90-95% while individual repayments elsewhere could be 40%, argues

This is not just theory. It works in practise too. It depends on how
strong the groups are, and how well managed. You need to build capacity
in accounting, management and discipline, says he.

To make the software user-friendly to the poor, it's being built up
textually-light, with a greater number of images and graphics.
Currently, it is being built up by teams of the Media Lab Asia and the
Human Factors International. HFI is a Fairfield-Iowa headquartered group
which says we make software usable. It has its India office in Andheri
in the Indian commercial capital of Mumbai.

Recently, the team putting together this software went and gave a demo
to potential users in Tamil Nadu. Feedback was positive. Its demo
version has been done in Flash, while actual development would be done
in Java -- meaning that the software could be run on either the popular
Windows platform, or the stable GNU/Linux operating system.

We want this to be an empowering tool (for the villager and
micro-credit groups). By being able to manage their own finances in a
more sophisticated way, they will now be able to undertake more complex
transactions, says Parikh.

For instance, withdrawals and deposits could be more 'arbitrary' and
need-based than would otherwise be possible in a more traditional form
of account-keeping. You don't have to save fixed sums of money just
because it makes account-keeping easier.  More complex financial
transactions are possible without accounting hassles, says Parikh.

We want it to become part of a very local system: locally managed,
locally mobilised and locally distributed. We want to minimise external
interventions, and plan to have a lot of partnerships with NGOs, says

Bangladesh's Grameen Bank is about the best known model of micro-finance
in the Third World. That has come in for some criticism though. Perhaps
over time it has got centralised and institutionalised. But we want to
ensure that contact remains with the local people, and to focus on
minimum external intervention, says Parikh.

This demo interface design is primarily the work of Kaushik Ghosh, an
Interface Designer from the prestigious National Institute

[GKD] Website to Help Farmers Bargain Better (India)

2002-06-03 Thread Frederick Noronha

Thanks to Ashish Kotamkar for sending this across from Pune. FN

-- Forwarded message --

From:   Ashish Kotamkar [EMAIL PROTECTED]
Subject:Website to help farmers bargain better 
Date:   Fri, 31 May 2002 12:11:24 +0530

Website to help farmers bargain better


TIMES NEWS NETWORK [ FRIDAY, MAY 31, 2002  3:39:44 AM ]

IT'S a well-known fact that Indian farmers rarely know the actual price
and stock level of his produce at the mandis where they come to sell it.

A long chain, vested interests and sheer spread of the markets not only
makes it difficult for them to take decisions regarding produce mix, but
also deprives them of whatever little bargaining power they may have

In a recent initiative to correct this anomaly, various state
agricultural marketing boards (APMCs) have come together to form an
Agricultural marketing information network (Agmarknet), hosting a portal
called agmarknet.nic.in. This project has a budget of Rs 10 crore.

The website has links to various APMCs and mandis across the country, as
well as a few live links to major mandis like the Navi Mumbai APMC.

Itís possible to check out at this site the delivery positions and
prices of various commodities and vegetables at practically every mandi
in India.

Commodities are divided into seven groups here ó cereals, pulses,
fibres, spices, fruits, vegetables and oilseeds. Surfers can search
mandi-wise for commodity, or commodity-wise in each mandi. Presently,
Agmarknet reports information from 73 markets across India.

The Agmarknet venture is a heartening initiative from the much
criticised and slow-to-react government, especially on the issue of
easing the infrastructural constraints on agriculture.

Till now, the government has only been regular in its support price
policy for farmersí benefit (that too, only a small section), while any
form of meaningful support in the shape of credit, research, extension
or capital formation has been absent.

Seen in this light, the Agmarknetís proposed aim to create a ënationwide
network for speedy collection and dissemination of market informationí,
could potentially reduce prices paid to intermediaries and bring
benefits to a wide cross section of farmers and consumers.

Secondly, Agmarknet also aims to computerise data about market fees and
charges, arrivals, dispatches, sales transport, losses and wastage and
various issues like APMC infrastructure and taxes.

It envisages connecting, eventually, 670 mandis and 40 agricultural
boards across India. At 75, Maharashtra has the maximum number of
wholesale markets, or nodes connected, followed by Andhra Pradesh (65)
and Uttar Pradesh (64).

Perhaps a bee in the bonnet that has to be dealt with is the
connectivity problem -- all attempts to log on to Mumbai APMC's website
called falbazar.com, proved futile for three consecutive days.

It is obvious then, that for such an ambitious and urgently needed
network to really work, the project has to be backed up by back end
systems and training.

The National Informatics Centre of the Government of India said that it
will procure, maintain  and install the hardware and software for the
sites and train the operators to upload and  uplink. Each wholesale
market or node that is connected to Agmarknet will pay Rs 2,750 per year
as internet access charges.

On first look, Agmarknet appears to be filling a huge gap by providing
access to information at reasonable cost. The challenge, if the full
potential of such ventures have utilised, is to take IT to rural India
in a big way. [EMAIL PROTECTED]

- Ashish  

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[GKD] Simputer's Commercial Rollout Pushed to July

2002-05-23 Thread Frederick Noronha

Simputer's commercial rollout pushed to July

By Imran Qureshi, Indo-Asian News Service

Bangalore, May 22 (IANS) The commercial rollout of India's most
promising IT product, the common man's low-cost PC called simputer, is
now expected in the second week of July.

The simputer was originally planned to hit the markets in August last
year. Its release was rescheduled for November and then May this year.

The postponement of the commercial rollout after successful field trials
has not dampened the interest of prospective buyers, with requests
coming in from North America, Africa, South America and the Far East.

It is taking long because it is a typical chicken and egg situation.
But we have received orders for a couple of thousand units already and
we have tied up for its manufacture abroad as well because the volume
from abroad will explode soon, Vinay Deshpande, CEO of Encore Software,
told IANS.

We had to entirely depend on internal resources to fund the pilots for
field trials. That roughly comes to Rs.15 million. But the good news is
that we have begun commercial production of the new version that is more

Deshpande, three of his colleagues from privately held Encore and four
scientists from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) joined hands to
produce the simputer in 1998.

The scientists have set up a separate company, PicoPeta Simputers, whose
products are being tested in Chhattisgarh for an education project in
association with World Space Radio. PicoPeta's simputers are
manufactured at the state-owned Bharat Electronics while Encore's
products are produced at its sister company, Peninsula.

Producing 500 units for, say, 10 or 15 parties would cost Rs.10,000 a
unit. And we had already invested quite a lot in developing the
product, says Deshpande.

But the delay has been, to a large extent, fruitful. Encore's improved
version is now aimed at all sections of society.

Apart from the common man's version, it has other versions priced at
Rs.15,000 and a high-end version that costs Rs.24,000. The low-end
product has a black and white LCD screen and 16 MB RAM with MB flash
while the high-end one has a colour screen with 64MB RAM and 32 MB
Flash. The high-end version can be attached to a GSM, GPRS cell network,
wired LAN, a micro printer or even a bar code reader.

The Rs.15,000 product is inclusive of all taxes. Taxes alone account
for Rs.4,500. But the original target of reaching the common man is
still achievable. If the government exempts taxes for the simputer, then
the cost would fall to Rs.6,500 from Rs.9,000 for the low-end product,
says Deshpande.

Encore has received orders and enquiries from countries like Kenya,
Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Cambodia, Indonesia,
Malaysia, Singapore, Nepal, Canada, Mexico and Argentina.

We would have two high volume manufacturing units to meet the demand
from abroad and within India. Both would be capable of scaling up
operations, says Deshpande.

--Indo-Asian News Service

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[GKD] Free/Open-Source Software for Engineering Students (India)

2002-05-15 Thread Frederick Noronha


By Frederick Noronha

IT MAY BE taking its time to get done, but this is one simple idea that
could have a wide-ranging impact for thousand of young
engineers-in-the-making across India.

Put briefly, the idea is simply to compile a whole range of useful and
'free' software that engineering students from this 'talent-rich,
resource-poor' country of a thousand million-plus can effectively use in
their studies and work.

It calls for quite a bit of scouring around -- and matching the needs of
students with what's available out there, in the wide world of
cyberspace. But since the software to be used is from the Free
Software/Open Source world of GNU/Linux, it means that once compiled,
this useful collection could be freely distributed without copyright or
unreasonably-high cost restrictions.

(GNU/Linux is a computer operating system that runs on many different
computers. It has been built up largely by volunteers worldwide, and
comes with along with its freely-copyable 'source-code' and thus offers
you the freedom to its users and programmers in many more senses than
just coming across at affordable costs.)

First to initiate this Nagarjuna G, a scientist and keen Free Software
proponent at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education. This centre
is located at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in the Indian
commercial capital of Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Incidentally Nagarjuna
is also the founder of the Linux-in-Education (LIFE) mailing list. See
details at http://mm.hbcse.tifr.res.in/mailman/listinfo/life

Prof Nagarjuna irst broached the subject thus, via one of the many
GNU/Linux-related mailing lists active in India: I am presently
planning a single CD distribution containing the applications and
goodies required for a regular engineering college student.  I would
like to keep in mind the syllabus and projects students do.  Can some of
you tell us what kind of applications are used/needed by students?

He argues that volunteers can build the list and sit on one Sunday and
put together the 'distro' (or distribution, referring to the collection
of software required).

It sounds easy. But this is a task which calls for considerable thought,
coordination and planning.

Nagarjuna admits that this project has been on the cards for some time
now. Inspite of being such an interesting idea -- a whole generation of
engineering students could get access to the power of GNU/Linux software
-- it has not been easy to push through. Not surprising in the world of
volunteer work, where real-life jobs and earning a living mean one can't
always do what one wanted to.

But the efforts are on.

(This is) another thing which needs to be done but could not do it
because no volunteers.  But this is also on the agendas of the FSF-India
(the Indian-branch of the Free Software Foundation).  We will soon
identify a team for this and get it going, says he, determinedly.

Mumbai-based Trevor Warren agrees. He recently noted that working to
build up such a forum would be suitable for like-minded GNUers like us
to spread and nurture the idea of Free Software. This is increasingly
seen as an important job in a country like India, rich in software
talent but poor in terms of the code it actually has access to when it
comes to meeting its own requirements.

There has been a lot of debate over what software would be best squeezed
into the space available on the CD.

Electronic students, for instance, would have their own requirements.
For instance Spice, the analog circuit simulation software or Varkon
(which plays the role of a computer-aided design software). BruseY20 is
a VHDL generator. VGUI is a block-diagram to VHDL. SAVANT is a VHDL
simulator while Alliance offers a complete set of VLSI tools. (VLSI
stands for very large scale integration, and relates to the important
field of chip design.)

Other suggestions that have come up include something for CAM/gerber
post-processing, a FPGA design package and a VLSI design package.
Besides, GNU/Linux also offers such suitable tools like RDBMS with its
front-ends and admin tools; PostGreSQL; MySQL; PgAccess; Tcl/Tk; Perl5;
PHP; PHP MyAdmin and PHPPgAdmin (administrative interfaces for MySQL and
Postgres in PHP).

For chemical engineers-in-the-making, GNULinux also offers a chance of
finding suitable molecular manipulation software.

There were many other names of free software products that could be

GNULinux is a great operating system for the Net, since it was itself
born in an Internet generation, though collaborative cooperation among
thousands of volunteers worldwide. This means it has a number of useful
web tools -- including Apache, PHP, Perl5, Webmin and CGI scripting.
Zope and Python, Tomcat and jservers are the other useful tools.

For civil engineers, Free Software offers a whole list of useful tools
to engineers-in-the-making. These include Varkon (CAD), Grass5 (GIS),
and some

Re: [GKD] Open-Source Software for Development

2002-04-22 Thread Frederick Noronha

Don Cameron [EMAIL PROTECTED] wrote:

 Paul Swider wrote:
  neither I in Washington, DC, nor someone in a village in Africa has to
  merely take what is given in terms of software function, we can make
  what we need. This not only translates into better IT, it can also
  translate into real jobs
 This would be wonderful, but I do wonder how the person located in this
 African village, with everything involved in terms of literacy, economy
 etc., would determine exactly what is needed from the latest version of
 Red Hat or Debian, let alone build it? - To begin with, who is compiling
 these systems into African village dialects? Also, it's perhaps a sad
 reality, but reality nonetheless that commercial software is that which
 creates jobs - business culture drives commercial purchases, which in

Dear Don, Where are you writing this from? I myself live in a village,
Saligao, which I welcome you to visit anytime to see what is possible
from there.

Please also check out http://linuxinindia.pitas.com to see what others
are doing from a country like India. It's not implausible to think that,
if India can do it today, other areas of the Third World can do it

Anyway, I feel we should not get too much caught up in the villages or
urban areas debate. The question is whether at all software can play a
role in a way that makes it accessible and affordable to the Third World
(or the Two-Thirds World), call it what you choose. GNU/Linux, Open
Source and Free Software definitely has immense potential.

Lastly, should we be unduly concerned if companies and corporations show
a disinclination to enter the GNU/Linux-FreeSoftware-OpenSource world?
Is it our assumption that all change, development and growth will flow
from what corporations do? In any case, the whole of GNU/Linux was built
almost wholly with volunteer support and involvement.

It would appear that we who are talking of development have a useful
lesson to learn from this approach.

In fact, our bytesforall.org project has been inspired in large measure
by the GNU/Linux approach. Two years old, 15 volunteers from six South
Asian countries, an ezine sent out via listservs that reaches
decisionmakers/IT professionals and the commonman,  a whole lot of
enthusiasm generated about the potential of IT-for-development
(including a monthly column in one of India's most prestigious and
mainstream IT magazines)... all done without a single rupee or taka or
dollar spent, but through volunteer work.

A lot is possible... if only there's an open mind. FN
Frederick Noronha * Freelance Journalist * Goa * India 832.409490 / 409783
BYTESFORALL www.bytesforall.org  * GNU-LINUX http://linuxinindia.pitas.com

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[GKD] Cisco Establishes 'Networking Academies' in India

2002-04-19 Thread Frederick Noronha

Cisco for faster roll-out of networking academies in India

By Frederick Noronha

A networked world would be a far happier place for the student. So
believes global networking giant Cisco Systems, as it pushes on with the
ambitious roll out its 'networking academies' which it hopes could make
a big difference to IT education in an 'Internet age'.

But, in India, bureaucratic delays are affecting the plan, says Cisco
International Partnership Programme Manager for Worldwide Education Elli
Takagaki. The pace of setting up these crucial training centres could be
speeded up, she suggested while speaking to this correspondent.

Ms Takagaki noted that Cisco CEO John Chamber had offered to establish
academies in some 34 states and union territories across in India,
during his visit to the country in January 2000.

We reached about the half-way stage. But we're still in Phase I. We
plan to work with universities (and local training centres too). Even
NGOs (non-governmental and volunteer organisations) can set up centres
if they have a 56 kbps dedicated line to the Internet and 20 computers,
she said.

Cisco, a giant in the global computer networking industry, says its
programme -- a highly successful alliance between the corporation,
education, business, government and community -- offers a practical
solution to promoting greater IT literacy and advanced skills.

The 'networking academy' teaching students to design, build and maintain
computer networks. The academy curriculum covers a broad range of
topics, from basic networking skills such as pulling cable to more
complex concepts such as applying advanced troubleshooting tools. It is
a highly successful alliance between Cisco Systems, education, business,
government and community organisations around the world. It offers a
practical solution to address the need for greater IT literacy and
advanced skills, adds Cisco.

Over the past year, Cisco says it has already implemented the programme
across 66 institutions in 14 states in India.

This includes, says Cisco Education Project Manager for the SAARC region
Lokesh Mehra, even remote locations like Andaman and Nicobar (Port
Blair) and Himachal Pradesh (Hamirpur).

Delhi-based Mehra, who looks after the SAARC region, says that academies
have also been started in Bhutan (1), Bangladesh (1) , Nepal (5) and Sri
Lanka (1). This resource-poor, talent-rich centre of computing skills
hopes to see some 100 academies by the end of August 2002, Mehra told
this correspondent.

For administrative purposes of the Cisco network academy project,
Pakistan comes under Europe and Middle East region and not under Asia
Pacific. It comes under my counterpart based in Dubai. We have 22
academies there, comprising three regional and 19 local academies, says
Mr Mehra.

He informed that the UNDP, particularly its Asia Pacific Development
Information Programme (APDIP) lead in Asia by a South Asian, Shahid
Akhtar, has been working with Cisco to ensure that other LDC countries
in SAARC (Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka) benefit from the
implementation of the Cisco Networking Academy Program. This program is
being expanded, and UN Volunteers are being provided in some areas, to
support the same.

Besides this Cisco says it is also focussing specially on
gender-focussed academies so that girl students too can avail the
benefit of networking education, which is otherwise considered to be
mainly a male dominated area.

Some of Cisco's exclusive women academies include Banasthali Vidyapeeth
(Rajasthan), SNDT (Mumbai), and PMC Tech (Tamil Nadu).

In Karnataka, the Bangalore-based IIIT(B) is the Regional Academy under
the aegis of Dr.Sadagopan. Local Cisco Academies have been set up or are
build put in place out of engineering colleges such as BVB Hubli, KVGCE
Sulia, MP Birla Institute (Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan) of Bangalore,
M.S.Ramaiah Institute (Bangalore), Sir MVIT (Bangalore), NIE of Mysore
and the Vijaynagar Engineering College.

Another four to five colleges will be added soon (in Karnataka),
informed Mehra.

Yes, there are loads of bureaucratic hassles (in setting up these
centres in India). Inspite of Cisco providing the curriculum and
administrative tools free of cost, the respective state governments feel
that there is some hidden agenda that Cisco has, Mehra said.

It seems quite odd that 136 countries world wide have seen value in
this non-profit program but Indian bureaucracy loves to create hurdles
in such ventures, he added.

Citing one example, he said, in the small western coastal state of Goa,
despite repeated talk about promoting the IT industry, the state
government at Panaji has been working at a snail's pace. Said Mehra:
The Goa University wants Cisco to donate even the equipment free of
cost though one does provide that at a 50% subsidized cost.

Globally, some 136 countries are participating in this project, with
8615 networking academies set up catering for some 246,000 students.
There are some 26,350 instructors

[GKD] Simputer Team Wins Award for IT Innovation

2002-04-15 Thread Frederick Noronha

Simputer project bags Dewang Mehta award for innovation in IT

from Indo-Asian News Service

New Delhi, Apr 12 (IANS) The team that developed the Simputer, a
hand-held device aimed at taking the Internet to the rural masses in
India, has been conferred the first Dewang Mehta award for innovation in
IT, it was announced Friday.

The award carries a cash prize of Rs. 500,000.

The award, instituted by the department of IT in memory of India's tech
evangelist Dewang Mehta who died April 12 last year, recognises
innovations that have the potential to make a significant impact on
national development.

The Simputer as a concept has the potential to put computing power in
the hands of the masses in the true sense of the word.

The Simputer is one innovation that can break barriers that prevent the
common man from using computing devices which are not only high priced
but also exotic, a statement from the department said.

The Simputer -- short for Simple, Inexpensive, Multilingual Computer --
was designed by the not for profit Simputer Trust. It uses the free
Linux software operating system. The trust licenses the design to

Seven trustees drawn from the faculty of computer science and automation
of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and Encore Software Ltd.
conceived the project.

The Simputer is expected to help farmers access commodity prices and
other information and will also provide speech recognition in regional
languages to help the unlettered use the device.

Priced at a little over Rs. 12,000, the Simputer will be three times
cheaper than a personal computer and cost about the same as a colour
television set - a price level which is expected to help improve
computer penetration in India.

Ninety-two nominations were received for the first Dewang Mehta award.
A committee of eminent persons was constituted to evaluate the
nominations and give its recommendations, the statement added.

Mehta, who was president of the National Association of Software and
Service Companies (Nasscom) for the last 10 years, died of a massive
heart attack in Sydney in April last year. He was attending an IT meet
in the city.

The dynamic 38-year-old Mehta's name was synonymous with India's booming
software industry.

He led the industry's global push as the country's software exports
zoomed to $6.2 billion in 2000-01 from $734 million in 1995-96. The
Geneva-based World Economic Forum identified Mehta as one of the 100
Global Leaders of Tomorrow.

The basic thrust (of the award) was to identify a concept that was not
only innovative but whose application would have had an impact on the
lives of the common man.

The committee observed that the development of Simputer stands out
significantly higher than others and meets the criteria set out, the
statement said.

--Indo-Asian News Service

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[GKD] Pakistan's Virtual University

2002-04-01 Thread Frederick Noronha


Pakistan places its hopes for speeding up IT education in a new 'Virtual
University'. Advisor to Islamabad's Ministry of Science and Technology
Salman Ansari, who met Frederick Noronha [EMAIL PROTECTED] at a
UNDP/Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme, explains what the
concept involves.

IT SIMPLY MEANS this: about two-and-half years ago, we assessed that we
were producing about 10,000 graduates in IT (each year). If we were to
distil from this, I don't think more than 1000 or 1500 were of very high
quality, explains Ansari.

Other calculations were revealing too.

For Pakistan's own internal needs and software exports, particularly if
the latter wanted to touch the ambitious billion-dollar target, the
country needed about  40,000 top-of-the-line people. Each could generate
export earnings of around 35-40,000 dolalrs, says Ansari.

This served as an impetus for revamping higher education, specially that
related to IT.

Pakistan put in about three billion rupees into existing government-run
universities. This money went for building faculty and labs and was
primarily focussed on the IT front.

The more we put in, the more we discovered that the weakest link there
is the faculty. So we tried to get a number of people. We advertised
heavily in (international publications like) the Economist, New York
Times and anything would get across the message to (overseas)
Pakistanis, says the IT advisor to the Pakistan government.

Ansari believes that after 9/11 -- and the response of the US to
religious minorities after the World Trade Centre attacks -- expats in
the West have started returning home in a flood, and want to
re-invest in Pakistan as they feel very insecure in the US.

But this, still, hardly suffices to cope with current needs.

One way to do so would be to create a very strong distance-learning
programme, where we could use common resources -- basically the faculty.
We went through the whole exercise of analysis, of meeting people,
visiting institutions like the Open University in the UK, and centres of
excellence in New Jersey, the University of Illinois (UIUC), says he.

But there were stumbling blocks to implementing this concent.

Number One was cost. Our students would have to pay Rs 70-80,000 per
month. This defeats the very purpose. Besides, the course material would
not be adequate. It assumes pre-requisites which students in Pakistan
simply don't have. For instance, it raises issues of language,
pronounciation, the quality of production (most were classroom
recordings), and the like, adds Ansari.

But one of the most important issues was copyright.

We wanted to use the material in classrooms, host it on the web,
broadcast through TV. So the only way we found we could get around this
was to generate content ourselves, says Ansari.

Thus came the Virtual University.

It will involve an initial cost of Rs 200 million (US$1=60 Pakistani
rupees). Later, several add-on features will come about. This will
include an education Intranet, and a TV educational channel... all
costing as much as Rs 1.5 billion.

Also planned are studios in different cities, plans to convert content
into digital format, creating indexes to allow for asynchornous learning
(students can opt for any time when they wish to study), and even
digital post-processing to improving the presentation of the material to
suitable standards.

Today as we talk (March-end), the first Bachelor of Computer Science
programme is being conducted, said Ansari.

Initially, only 1000 students are being formally enrolled as part of the
pilot project. Once it goes on-line fully, anyone in any part of
Pakistan will be able to sign-up for classes.

There will be some 28 tutoring centres, all being physical
brick-and-motar classes. Teachers will be physically present -- even if
not of the same caliber as those working at the apex -- to guide
students personally.

Students would also be able to 'talk back' to the lecturers via the
Internet, possibly getting an instant response too.

By September this year, the target is to have some 5000 students. By
end 2003, we should have 25,000 students enrolled in exactly the same
format, says Ansari.

Behind this plan, there are also other initiatives to open up the
Internet in Pakistan. So far, it has reached some 570 locations, and the
country has reduced the price of Internet bandwidth, by as much as 75%
recently, says Ansari.

Multi-metering of phone-calls to the Internet will also be a thing of
the past, he is hopeful. So, theoretically, one could sit 500 miles
from the main city and pay Rs 2 for a phone call, and Rs 5 per hour of
Internet time. For five hours of lectures, one would pay just Rs 27 (in
Internet and connectivity charges), says Ansari.

By December this year, Pakistan hopes that Internet access could reach
as many as a thousand sites in the country. Some are of very small
capacity, some are larger Class I areas with 2000+ lines, says Ansari.


[GKD] BYTESFORALL: South Asian ICT Newsletter

2002-03-26 Thread Frederick Noronha
 Systems and Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals.
IAS is running on its own steam now and is probably the only effort
which generates Dailies(Hindi and Englis), Weeklies and Monthly for ther
farm sector. http://www.agriwatch.com


bYtES For aLL is a voluntary, unfunded venture. CopyLeft, 2001. bYtES
For aLL e-zine volunteers team includes: Frederick Noronha in Goa,
Partha Sarkar in Dhaka, Zunaira Durrani in Karachi, Zubair Abbasi in
Islamabad, Archana Nagvenkar in Goa, Arun-Kumar Tripathi in Darmstatd,
Shivkumar in Mumbai, Sangeeta Pandey in Nepal, Daryl Martyis in Chicago,
Gihan Fernando in Sri Lanka, Rajkumar Buyya in Melbourne, Mahrukh
Mohiuddin in Dhaka and Deepa Rai in Kathmandu. To contact them mail

Two years on, BytesForAll thanks all those who have volunteered their
time, energy and motivation in taking this experiment forward, since its
launch in July 1999. If you'd like to volunteer too, contact the above

BytesForAll's website www.bytesforall.org is maintained by Partha
Sarkar, with inputs from other members of the volunteers' team and
supporters.  To join or leave this mailing-list simply send a message to
[EMAIL PROTECTED] with SUB B4ALL or UNSUB B4ALL as the subject.


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[GKD] Free Software Movement Grows in India

2002-03-19 Thread Frederick Noronha


Free software Guru -- Richard Stallman -- on India mission 

Bangalore, India

March 14, 2002

While the concept of using free software for back-end requirements is
catching on, the desktop is yet to be liberated from the hold of the
largest proprietary operating system (OS) corporations.

So, as the free software movement guru Richard M Stallman sets out to
spread the wings of the Free Software Foundation in India, helping
build applications for the desktop that will reach the common man a
daunting agenda lies ahead. Besides gearing up to popularise free
software, both at the back end and especially the desktop, empowering
developers to make applications ubiquitous, working with state
governments to promote free software use in e-governance and using it
as an effective tool to work towards bridging the digital divide is
the core of Stallman's India agenda. 'Apprenticeship by tinkering' is
clearly set to be the name of the game.

Richard Stallman is the man behind GNU/Linux (GNU developed by
Stallman and a Linux kernel developed by Linus Torwalds) open source
operating system, which is believed to have more than 17 million
installations worldwide. Interestingly, Stallman says, 'free' software
is not about the price (and says companies are free to charge a sum to
offer the operating system and services to users), but is all about
the freedom and openness of use. The Free Software Foundation itself
makes most of its revenues by selling copies of the software and
training manuals while some funds come in by way of donations. The
foundation is also looking at a business model where it will function
as the certifying agency and will certify compliance of free software
users with the licensing rules.

Countries can avoid paying gigantic amounts of money towards
licensing of proprietary software. Specific to India, free software
can be used to support computer science education at all levels. This
also allows for anyone to use and learn, he said.

Interestingly, the free software movement with GNU/Linux has already
made inroads in India. To cite examples the Andhra Pradesh government
is already set to execute projects on the free OS, while the
well-known Simputer Trust has showcased this OS in its low-cost
computing appliance - Simputer and some of the new technology
start-ups like CDC Linux are already developing high-end clustering
and parallel supercomputing solutions on the GNU/Linux operating

Source: The Financial Express

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[GKD] Query on Simputer (India)

2002-03-08 Thread Frederick Noronha

Dear GKD Members:

I am working on an article on the Simputer, and would be very grateful
if you could spare a few moments to give me your views on the same.

Could you kindly let me know:

1. What is your view of the utility of the Simputer?

2. Is its potential getting eroded by falling palmtop prices? Or is the
comparison with a low-cost palmtop unfair to the Simputer?

3. Should a country like India go in for greater hardware innovation?

4. What would you view to the be the main contribution of the Simputer?
(i) Low cost (ii) Open-design (iii) Fact that it comes from a Third
World country? (iv) Attempt to be friendly to the rural villager? (v)
Anything else?

5. We in India have been falling short of the promise of a number of
IT-for-development projects? Why do you feel this is so?

6. If you had a say in designing the Simputer differently, what would it

7. Simputer has received a whole lot of favourable press coverage. Do
you feel this was (i) deserved (ii) undeserved (iii) lesser than

8. How do projects like the Simputer rate on scalability, software,
interface, userability? What is your understanding of the problems and
obstacles in taking this from the lab to manufacturing? Why haven't
computer companies or other industrialists coming forward to support

9. Will the Simputer be able to sell at the sub-$200 price?

10. Any other comments.

Thanks a lot. If you could send in the comments by March 12, I'd be very
grateful. Frederick.

PS: Please visit the http://linuxinindia.pitas.com site below...
Frederick Noronha * Freelance Journalist * Goa * India 832.409490 / 409783
BYTESFORALL www.bytesforall.org  * GNU-LINUX http://linuxinindia.pitas.com
Writing with a difference... on what makes *the* difference

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[GKD] Donated Computers to be Distributed in Goa (India)

2002-03-01 Thread Frederick Noronha
 for virtually anyone. If only they got a chance

There has been debate over whether sending in once-used computer
hardware to the Third World is the best way of doing the job. One could
have mixed feelings about this. But, in the bargain, it seems to have
planted a crucial idea: that the computer can, and is, well within
reach. Not just for those who have the money for it. 
Frederick Noronha * Freelance Journalist * Goa * India 832.409490 / 409783
BYTESFORALL www.bytesforall.org  * GNU-LINUX http://linuxinindia.pitas.com
India Writing with a difference... on what makes *the* difference

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[GKD] Linux to Debut in Goa Classrooms (India)

2002-01-14 Thread Frederick Noronha


By Frederick Noronha

GOA, India. Jan 10 -- After struggling for years to get access to
non-pirated software to run their computer labs, schools in the western
coastal state of Goa have hit a bonanza that seems too good to be true.

Red Hat India, part of a prominent global corporation dealing in 'open
source' or 'free' software, has come up with an innovative plan, which
was promptly seized by volunteers pushing for the speedy computerisation
of schools here. Under this, schools will get access to not just all the
software they need, but also to free training for teachers and

What makes this project innovatively different is that it's based on
Linux, or GNU/Linux, an operating system (OS) which seeks to make the
software industry 'open'.

'Free software' means it is freely distributable and free of
restrictions on seeing, using, copying, modifying and re-distributing
the original source code or software based on it. This, in turn, makes
the software moderately or affordably priced, even in countries like
India, and legally copyable.

In a few weeks time, volunteers are to get training in a project that
could sustainably meet schools' software needs.

Young Linux enthusiasts and volunteers -- including some engineering
college students -- will be trained in installing the software. Later,
Red Hat and their training partners are to train teachers in using this
decade-old operating system which is now making a dent across the globe.

Red Hat Indian training manager Shankar Iyer told this correspondent
that his firm would provide Linux as a standard operating system (OS)
for schools in Goa. In this process, Red Hat and an NGO (Goa Computers
in Schools Project) have come together for a social cause, said Iyer.

The Goa Computers in Schools Project is a coalition of educationists,
concerned citizens and expat Goans who feel the need to speeding up the
pace of computer education in this small state. It was launched in the
mid-nineties, and has been both inspiring and helping schools to get
computer infrastructure faster. It has also raised funds among expat
communities towards this goal.

By this understanding, the Goa Computers in Schools Project will work to
implement the project here, while Red Hat India will provide training to
teachers and volunteers at its own cost.

Red Hat's approach is to 'catch them young', and agrees that introducing
students to 'free' computer operating systems like its own at the school
level itself could help build an edge over proprietorial software like
Windows which currently dominates the desktop segment worldwide.

Currently, a project of this type is unique for India, where schools
have been struggling with un-affordable software prices. Red Hat is
willing to extend it across the country (without any financial
implications for the schools), said Iyer.

The concept of open source and its advantages of having the source code
in hand, will be of great advantage for children. Schools and parents
will not be burdened with high investments, on regular intervals. School
also need not keep spending on upgrading its machines on a regular
basis, Red Hat's Iyer contended.

Daryl Martyris, a US-based expat management consultant with
PriceWaterHouseCoopers and key GCSP campaigner, told this correspondent:
We have been trying very hard over the last two years to persuade
Microsoft to donate OS software and MS Office or sell it at concessional

But this didn't work. Since the (once-used US) computers we ship are
wiped of their OS by the donors for liability reasons, and do not want
to encourage piracy of MS products, we have started to ship Linux OS
installation kits with the computers, said Martyris.

So, the Red Hat India offer to provide free training came as a bonanza.
Training for our volunteers and support to the schools is very
tempting, since it complements our efforts in this direction, said

Red Hat India told this correspondent that it has drawn up a complete
schedule to train the volunteers, starting from January 2002. The cost
of the training would be estimated to about Rs 150,000, according to Red
Hat India's Shankar Iyer.

But this figure hides another reality -- non-pirated proprietorial
software needed to run on just the 360 computers that are being shipped
into Goa would cost millions.

This is a very good initiative, commented Dr Gurunandan Bhat, till
recently head of Goa University's computer science department. The
spread of (useful open source technologies like) Linux depends on how
quickly we take it across to schools, he added.

But Bhat cautioned that the effort's project would hinge on building up
a stable group of volunteers and this is where NGOs could play an
important role in making things possible. ~

Red Hat India suggested that if this project took off well in Goa, it
could be replicated in other places across India, considered by some as
a software-superpower

[GKD] Directory of Rural Technologies

2002-01-04 Thread Frederick Noronha


By Frederick Noronha

This is a story of the ingenuity of the common man and woman. From
across the fields and villages of the India, and scientific labs, a
whole range of technologies have emerged to make rural life a little
less difficult. But can this vital information reach out to those who
actually need it?

NIRD, the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Rural Development, has
recently released a 'Directory of Rural Technologies'.

It offers dozens of useful solutions -- from technologies for the
blacksmith, to brick-making ideas, ferro cement roofing channels,
pollution control systems for lime kilns, indigo dye extraction methods,
bio-fertilisers and vermicomposting, crop improvement schemes,
energy-harnessing ideas, farm machinery and many others.

There are ideas aplenty. It's part of NIRD's task, and the institute has
the job of training, research, action research and consultancy for rural
development. If such information reaches the right quarters -- and with
communication roadblocks of all sorts, this is a big 'if' -- then the
NIRD could come closer to its goal of improving the economic and social
well-being of people in rural areas on a sustainable basis.

This directory's editors say it was a herculean task to collect data
on available technologies in a limited period of time. Its pages
contain information relevant to artisans (a technology package for
blacksmiths), for those in building and construction (brick-skeletons,
flooring tiles from waste gypsum, improved storage systems for onions),
ceramic products, chemicals, compost and fertiliser, crop improvement,
mushroom cultivation, energy, food products, machinery, pesticides,
tissue culture and even what is called knowledge technology.

For rural artisans, there's a 'technology package' for blacksmiths. It
seeks to help a rural artisan to produce standard raw material of the
desired carbon level, and to standards. To do so, he has to follow apt
forging and heat treatment schedules. This technology has flow out of
the work of the National Metallurgical Laboratory in Jamshedpur, the
Science and Society Division of the Department of Science and Technology
in New Delhi, and the Centre for Technology and Development, from that

For those into building and construction, there are construction
techniques in brick masonry. No special equipment is required, and the
technology is being done free of cost.  This is suitable for building
single-storey low-cost buildings in rural areas.

There are other solutions too. Black soils have an inherent 'expansive
nature, which leads to poor quality building bricks. But such clay can
be processed to yield good quality common bricks. Nodules are wet-seived
from the clay mass, and fine-grained siliceous material is added in
optimum proportions, to tackle the situation. This technology comes from
the Central Building Research Institute, at Roorkee in Uttar Pradesh.

For an investment of Rs 200,000, it is possible to set up a unit to make
1200 compressed-earth blocks a day. Likewise, there is also technology
available for a 'concrete block maker'. This costs a million rupees for
someone wanting to go into production of these block-makers, while the
cost of each block-maker would be around Rs 75,000. It uses a stationary
block-maker, working on the pressure vibration technique for the
consolidation of concrete.

Ferro cement roofing channels, flooring tiles made from waste gypsum,
grouted reinforced brick masonry, gravitational settling-chamber for
pollution control in fixed chimney brick kilns, improved ventilated
storage structure for onions, and construction techniques for 'instant
shelters' in case of natural disasters are some other solutions. For
instance, instant shelters can be put up in 5-20 minutes, and are
constructed of triangular frames of pipes, joined with special joints
for   a component that can be folded as one triangular bundle.

Low-cost latrines from India have been commercialised, and are being
adopted by the United Nations Development Programme. To contact the
Roorkee institute, check out its website at www.cbri.org or write to the
Central Building Research Institute via [EMAIL PROTECTED]

Micro-concrete roofing tiles come in a variety of designs for farm and
country houses, bungalows, verandas and pavillions. These are durable,
low-cost and cooler than asbestos-cement sheets in a tropical country
like India.

Rural technologies worked on in India also offer solutions for ceramic
products -- low-cost stoneware and glazed terracotta products, for

Chemical solutions range from carboxy methyl starch (used as domestic
laundry starch, thickener in textile printing pasters, etc), cold-water
soluble starch, low-cost disposable diapers and sanitary napkins (from
waste industrial fibres and flexible polythelene sheets), eco-friendly
handmade paper, faster indigo dye extraction, processes to clean silver

[GKD] An Indian Language Enters the Cyberage

2001-12-17 Thread Frederick Noronha

By Frederick Noronha [EMAIL PROTECTED]

For Dr U.B. Pavanaja, an unlucky 1993 scooter accident turned out to be
the proverbial blessing in disguise. For nine months as he lay
immobilised in bed, the scientist learnt Visual Basic.

Laying prostrate on his bed, with a computer alongside, he then went on
to write the first versions of what is now his 'Kannada Kali' software
programme. This is a game that helps a child or new learner of the
Kannada language of the Southern Indian state of Karnataka to shape his
alphabets properly.

I did it lying on the bed with a computer by my side, he recalls with
a smile. Over the years, as he stepped up work on the issue of Indian
regional language computing, the one-time scientist at India's
prestigious atomic research centre finds his output increasingly
relevant to the commonman.

Currently he's at the helm of the Kannada Ganaka Parishat (or, Kannada
Computer Association). This is a voluntary organisation formed by
computer professionals, literary persons and others to promote the
standardisation and usage of the Kannada language on computers.

It's probably important not to underestimate the size of this task.

Kannada is the language of some 47 million people worldwide -- more than
the number of Polish speakers in the globe, and just below the number of
Ukrainian speakers. Besides, the lessons learnt with Kannada could have
important implications for other prominent Indian languages whose
speakers number in millions. For instance, Hindi (496 million), Bengali
(215 million), Urdu (106 million), Punjabi (96 million), Telugu and
Tamil (75 million each), and Marathi (72 million).

There is so much talk about computing for the commonman. But the main
problem that everyone seems to overlook is that the commonman (specially
in countries like India) speaks in languages other than English, as Dr
Ubaradka Bellippady Pavanaja reminds us. (Both his first names are
village-names, and in the South Indian style, are generally not spelt
out in full.)

So, for the past many years, he's been working sweating over this front.
Some solutions are simple, why-didn't-we-think-of-it-earlier ways out.
Others are attempts to do the groundwork and undertake standardisation
that could have far-reaching implications for the future.

So far, the standardisation has already been done, both on a uniform
keyboard for Kannada, and also for the glyphs and glyph-codes. (The
latter refer to the component parts that, when joined together in
varying combinations, make up each alphabet.)

There's a big difference between English and Indian-languages over the
display and storage of information in computers. In the case of English,
there is a one-to-one correspondence between the display codes and the
storage codes. But in the case of an Indian language, say Kannada, the
letters are made up of combinations of consonants and vowels. Using, for
example, a consonant-plus-consonant-plus-consonant-plus-vowel

These characters have a unique storage code in ISCII, or the Indian
Standards Code for Information Interchange. Display of these characters
are accomplished by joining pieces of characters known as 'glyphs'.
Codes for the storage characters and the display pieces (glyphs) are

In addition, the number of characters which make the make the character
(used for storage) and the number of display pieces which are used for
the display of the letter simply don't have a one-to-one correspondence.

An example: the Kannada language uses some 142 pieces to obtain all the
possible combinations that can be obtained from the based 49 Kannada

In the past, Indian groups working on language-solutions -- like the
Pune-based government backed C-DAC and Mithi, which specialises in local
language computing, also from Pune -- have worked on similar work. But
in earlier cases, everyone followed their own glyph sets.

This meant data lacked 'portability'. Text composed on one computer
could not be carried over, or understood by, another computer which did
not share the same software. This was a great handicap in a world where
the ability of computers to 'talk to one another' has made them into the
powerful tool they currently are.

We feel the best solution is to have the storage in ISCII. Other
solutions have attempted to tie up the user in their own software
solutions, says Dr Pavanaja.

He says that the Government of India's stand is that ISCII should have
standardised glyph sets. In our region, the Government of Karnataka has
standardised glyph sets already. We have benchmark software too... to
ensure that the software would work with any standard computer. Admits
Dr Pavanaja: Standardisation is something that has to be imposed (for
the sake of moving ahead together).

At another level

[GKD]: Centuries-old Poetry Gets A Leg-up From IT

2001-10-15 Thread Frederick Noronha


by Frederick Noronha

MUMBAI, Aug 23: Modern-day powers of IT is teaming up with the age-old
charm of the 'ghazal' to breathe new life and interest in these
captivating poems set to music, that are widely popular in the South
Asian language of Urdu.

A new website just launched from the central Indian city of Nagpur
called aaina-e-ghazal.com offers a trilingual dictionary of commonly
used words in 'ghazals'. It is also accessible via the nagpurcity.net

To enhance the popularity of this site and help the 'ghazals' get a
wider reach, the Urdu text is written in Devnagri, the widely-used
script of Hindi and other North Indian languages.

Urdu is spoken by an estimated 104 million worldwide, and like Hindi
have proceeded from the same Khariboli speech source from the areas
sorrounding Delhi.

Ghazals -- like other Indian hymns called 'Thumris' or 'Bhajans' are
also -- addressed to God in terms of human love.  Some trace their
origins to 10th century Iran.

The meanings of the words used in the Ghazals are given in English,
Hindi and the regional language Marathi. Together with this, the site
offers an illustrative Urdu couplet or two-lined poem (which is known as
'Sher'), according to Dr Tarique Sani.

Dr Sani, a pediatrician by training who shifted over to the world of
software and runs a firm called Sanisoft, is the founder of the site.

Sani told IANS in an interview: The book (of ghazals) was authored by
my late parents and Dr Vinay Waikar and was in the fourth print edition
when my father passed away. I designed this site as a tribute to the
memory of my parents.

This site is an online version of the same book but, he said, includes
a lots of enhancements, like dynamic cross-referenceing, site
personalization, an ability to Romanize the Devnagri-script part and
vice versa, etc.

Incidentally, while undertaking this work, Dr Sani also build up a
English-to-Hindi transliterator, that could give a further push to
Indian language computing solutions.

To render the 'ghazals' into Hindi, he was looking around for suitable
software. Says he: I was quoted Rs 250,000 for the software. I strongly
felt such a basic-necessity software in a country like India should be
free. So I just went ahead and designed my own and saved myself a
quarter million rupees. Today, he freely distributes this software.

This software Dr Sani wrote -- egged on by the peculiar needs of the
site -- is a Roman-script to Devnagri transliterator. It allows you to
type using English alphabets and they are converted to Devnagri
equivalent. In a country like India where local-language computing is a
pressing need, such products could act as a useful bridge to a solution.

This product is available at the site for free download from

Other Indian sites -- like rediffmail.com, webduniya.com and mailjol.com
-- also offer similar products. But unlike these products, Dr Sani's
software follows the new and innovative trend of putting out 'free'
software. So, he offers his own 'source-code' to anyone wanting to adapt
or improve the product, encouraging a cycle of further improvements.

I am soliciting developers to modify the software for other Indian
languages. Particularly Urdu, as this is the most challenging task,
said Dr Sani. He says the framework is fairly modular and for someone
who knows other language mapping it will be an easy job.

More needs to be done (to promote Indian-language computing), says Dr
Sani. He believes that the low-cost computing device, the Simputer being
put together by scientists in Bangalore, could be an ideal device on
this front.

More websites are also required in Indian languages, with greater
co-operation among them, rather than an urge to
grab-my-share-of-the-pie, as he puts it. India is a vast country the
market is big enough for everyone but to exploit this market we need
co-operation, he says.

This software is available for free download from
http://www.sanisoft.com/rtod/index.php3 . It is provided under LGPL, or
the Lesser GNU Public License. A user is free to use the software even
in his commercial products. But if any modifications are made to the
original code, then the new code also has to be made public under LGPL.

Sani says it took two months for him to create this software from
conceptualization to end-product.

This is one in a small-but-growing trend of 'Open Source' and 'free'
software products now beginning to come up in a country like India which
is known to have vast software skills, but is only now beginning to see
more collaborative working thanks to a recent spurt in growth of the

LINK: Contact Dr Sani at [EMAIL PROTECTED]

Frederick Noronha | Freelance Journalist | 784 Saligao 403511 Goa India
Ph [0091] 832.409490 or 832.409783 Cell 9822 12.24.36 [EMAIL PROTECTED

[GKD]: Kerala To Protect Tribal Intellectual Property Rights

2001-10-04 Thread Frederick Noronha

Kerala to protect tribal intellectual property rights

by Liz Mathew, Indo Asian News Service

New Delhi, Sep 22 (IANS) The Kerala government has decided to introduce
legislation to protect the intellectual property rights of its
tribespeople who have been practising traditional nature-based medicine
for centuries.

The Kerala government will soon pass legislation to protect tribal
intellectual property rights. With the new legislation, the government
would be able to get patent rights for the traditional tribal
medicines, M.A. Kuttappan, the Minister for Welfare of Backward and
Scheduled Communities and Youth Affairs, told IANS.

The bill, according to its preamble, is to provide for the
determination, preservation, protection and improvement of the tribal
traditional system related to medicine, agricultural practices and
knowledge of wild flora and fauna used for food as well as shelter.

The Kerala government has identified 35 scheduled tribal communities
and 13 other tribal communities with a number of traditional medicines
and other agricultural practices. Many more are to identified, said M.
Viswanathan Nair of the Kerala Institute for Research, Training and
Development Studies of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (KIRTADS).

KIRTADS is setting up a new Web site with details of the varieties of
tribal medicine practised in the state. The institute has also been
documenting the unique medicinal practices on the state government's Web

The new Web site would be a landmark as tribal medicine, or
ethnomedicine, has become a treasure hunting ground for other medical
systems and multinational drug firms, Kuttappan said, adding that
registering it on the Web site would prevent others from wresting the
patent rights.

The bill is also meant to safeguard the tribals' right over their
knowledge on medicinal herbs, he said.

The new bill would provide economic and social benefits to the state in
general and tribal communities in particular as well as protecting the
intellectual properties from piracy. With the bill, there would be
adequate legal mechanism to plough back the revenue earned from such
ventures, Nair told IANS.

Kuttappan said the federal government had agreed to establish an
institute for tribal medicine education and research in a joint venture
with the state.

On other projects for tribal welfare, Kuttappan said the federal
government has agreed in principle to set up an archery academy to train
tribal boys and girls in the modern variation of the sport.

The academy will be set up to honour the memory of Talakkal Chandu, a
tribal chieftain of Kerala. The project, funded by the sports and youth
affairs ministry, will be implemented at the cost of Rs. 63.5 million.
This will be a residential school to train in modern archery, he said.

The federal government has also sanctioned three more projects for
tribespeople in Kerala. The first, costing Rs. 700 million, would
rehabilitate tribal families while the second, costing Rs. 100 million,
would improve sanitation and drinking water facilities in Kerala's
northern tribal-populated districts of Wayanad and Attappadi. The third,
a Rs. 100 million project, would build English-medium residential
schools for tribal children.

--Indo-Asian News Service

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[GKD] Making Access Affordable (India)

2001-10-03 Thread Frederick Noronha


By Frederick Noronha

India's hundreds of millions of rural dwellers are given a cold-shoulder
by businessmen, and lack the access to goods, services and information
they so badly require. From Chennai in Southern India comes a unique
technological solution -- a Internet kiosk that will sell for just Rs
40,000 (around US$830) and could link up hundreds of thousands of

What's best is that no subsidies or handouts are involved in this
ambitious project. It will be run on business lines, and early
field-implementations are already showing this to be both scaleable and
practical for implementation across rural India.

To every man (and woman) a Net connection. And a phoneline to everyone
wanting it. These goals are what electrical engineering prof Dr Ashok
Jhunjhunwala dreams about consistently. They're not just dreams; he's
also getting there, as recent experience shows.

Could this professor and head of the Indian Institute of Technology's
electrical engineering department in Chennai, do to the Internet what
Satyen 'Sam' Pitroda did to Indian telephones in the 1980s? Vastly open
up access, to make it a tool for the commonman?

US-based Indian expat Pitroda was a keen observer of the
telecommunication problems in the Third World. Telecom technology came
from the West, and didn't suit the dusty, humid and unreliable
electrical connections in Asia, Africa and Latin America. He was
convinced that India must develop an indigenous telecommunications
industry. In 1981, he launched plans to set up India's Centre for the
Development of Telematics (C-DoT). Not only did this design indigenous
telecom switching systems, to make rural exchanges that could work under
tougher conditions, but equipped ordinary telephones with small meters.
This equipment was sold to local entrepreneurs, who set up manned public
call offices (PCOs) on makeshift tables in bazaars, at streetcorners, or
in shops. They did work! By the year 2000, some 650,000 of these PCOs
were set up across India, instantly making a world of a difference to
the potential of the average Indian to access a telephone. (See 'India's
Communication Revolution - From Bullock Carts to Cyber Marts', Singhal
and Rogers, 2001, p194-198).

But India, with its 1000+ million population, still badly needs some 200
million more Internet and telephone connections. This is essential if
the commonman is to get access to the wonders of new information and
communication technologies, and if his productive potential is to be
developed better, instead of getting wasted.

But at current costs of the technology, India simply can't reach
anywhere near that figure. So, how does one go about making the Internet
and telephones simply a little more affordable? Ask Prof

His arguments are simple. We've learnt important lessons from the whole
experiment of expanding STD (subscriber trunk-dialling) access within
India. What has made a world of a difference was the policy of sharing
revenue with the small operator. Instead of one per cent of the Indian
population today getting access to STD phones, now nearly 30% of the
population has it, he adds.

Sitting in his unostentatious and spartan office, Prof Jhunjhunwala says
India also has lessons to learn from the growth of cable-TV in the
country. Today, millions of Indians across the country get low-cost
access to cable-TV, provided through local networks run mostly by the
unorganised sector. At a very affordable rate of about Rs 100 per month,
a family gets connected to three dozen or more cable channels.

This affordable package evolved simply because the informal sector and
the small-entrepreneur has been involved in giving out this service.
So, there is a tremendous amount of accountability. Even a difficult
technology can be handled. Its costs can be lowered, by involvement of
the informal sector, and the benefits thus passed on to the consumer,
says Dr Jhunjhunwala.

So what do we learn from this, if we are to spread telecom at affordable
rates to the hundreds of millions of India? Costs must be pushed down;
and local microbusinessmen must be involved in the mammoth task of
expanding the service.

It currently costs (an investment of) Rs 30,000 to install a single
telephone line. To cover this investment, you need a revenue of at least
Rs 1000 per phone line per month. These rates are affordable to just
2-3% of the Indian population. But if you bring down the investment
needed for a phone line to Rs 10,000, then affordability of telephones
could immediately go up to 30 per cent or more of our population,
points out Dr Jhunjhunwala.

For much of the 'nineties, Dr Jhunjhunwala has been working with
missionary zeal towards this goal. His focus has been to 'incubate'
companies of his former students and entrepreneurs -- often those
inspired by his infectious optimism -- to work to lowering the cost of a

[GKD]: UN's first 'country pilot' for Health InterNetwork (India)

2001-10-02 Thread Frederick Noronha

India home to UN's first 'country pilot' for Health InterNetwork

by Frederick Noronha

CHENNAI, Sept 26 -- India is being built up as the first 'country pilot'
for an ambitious United Nations-led international project, seeking to
strengthen public health services by making use of the powerful
potential of the Internet.

The Health InterNetwork (HIN) seeks to bridge the digital divide, as it
affects health. Initially we're planning some pilots, and the first
pilot is to be done in India, Health InterNetwork India project manager
Ranjan Dwivedi told IANS here.

This ambitious project is an initiative of the United Nations'
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who announced it as part of his Millennium
Initiative. It is one of the four initiatives that the UN is to take up
over the next 15 years.

Its goal is to build existing capabilities using the power of the
Internet and new ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) to
empower those working in the field of health, and make their initiatives
more effective.

Once in place, the Health InterNetwork would seek to disseminate
authentic and relevant information in the Third World, where access to
information can still be costly or difficult.

It aims to build up a web-based portal for facilitation of the
dissemination of information. In addition, it will create access points
by providing hardware, software and connectivity in some 130 countries.
Currently, the plan is for creating 13,000 access points over a seven
year period.

Apart from this, one major task will be creating and garnering authentic
health-related information. We'll do so not by necessarily creating
content ourselves, but locating and facilitating the creation of content
in a digitised form which can be easily shared and facilitated over the
web, Dwivedi told this correspondent.

In addition, there will also be an initiative in capacity-building and
training. This will help the target segment -- health service providers,
policy-makers and researchers -- to access biomedical databases.

The WHO is just the lead agency to bring everybody together. This
Health InterNetwork is seen as a big partnership -- between governments,
civil society, corporate sector, NGOs and so on, Dwivedi said.

Three-four pilot projects are currently being planned globally. But the
first country-pilot is the one in India, says Dwivedi.

There are other research pilots, where four countries in Africa, and
four in Eastern Europe have combined. The endeavour there would be to
provide international journals at equity-pricing to researchers in these
eight countries.

If this ambitious plan could be effectively implemented, its impact
could be felt all over. Because once you put it on the web, it's
web-based facilitation, and it's accessible from anywhere in the whole
world, says Dwivedi.

Initially, in terms of creating access points to the Health InterNetwork
however, work is to be done in two parts of India -- Orissa and rural
Bangalore district.

There's a whole lot beyond there because we're also networking medical
libraries, and creating a research network through the ICMR (Indian
Council of Medical Research). But all these initiatives are basically
based and housed in institutions, to ensure the sustainability after the
pilot is over, Dwivedi informed.

In keeping with attempts to relate this work to an ongoing programme
which is important priority in the country, early attempts will be
linked to existing efforts in battling tuberculosis in India.

TB is the largest killer disease in the country. We've got the
second-largest TB population in the world. It's a high-priority
programme for the government. And it's 100% curable. So there are
tremendous gains to be obtained in TB. TB is also a global priority for
the WHO too, said Dwivedi, who is based at WHO's Delhi office.

He explained that the pilot would be undertaken in India for a year, and
results measured. On the basis of the learning gained from the pilot,
it's scaled up here and replicated in other countries.

One key aspect is that the perceived importance of this initiative will
dictate its growth. The money has to be raised. The money will come
only if people see its relevance, he added. (ENDS)

Contact details:

Ranjan Dwivedi
Project Manager
Health InterNetwork -India Project
WHO, Room No 530 A Wing
Nirman Bhawan
New Delhi 110011
Mobile 98105 05068

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[GKD] Indian Company Develops Cheap Technology for Communication

2001-09-10 Thread Frederick Noronha


BANGALORE (UNI): A technology company incubated by the Indian Institute
of Technology, Chennai, has come out with a cheap Internet and telecom
network which could revolutionise communication penetration in rural

Based on the Cordect Wireless in Local Loop (WLL) developed by the
Institute, an Internet and telephone kiosk could be set up in a village
with a meagre investment of Rs 35,000 to Rs 40,000 and the cost per line
could be brought down further from the current Rs 18,000.

The infrastructure for the network was being provided by N-Logue, the
company incubated by the Institute.

Prof Ashok Jhunjunwala, the man behind the development of the technology
and head of the Tenet Group of IIT Chennai told newmen here that the
pilot project taken up at Kuppam, the constitutency of Andhra Pradesh
chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, had been successful.

It was being set up in other parts of the country with the Bharat
Sanchar Nigam Limited and other private operators showing the

The project was also taken up in Nellikuppam and Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu
and Sikar and Dhar in Rajasthan.

In Sikar, as many as 1500 villages would be provided with kiosks with
the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development providing the
necessary loan to local service providers and the entire network had
been franchised to Shyam Telelink, the private operator...

Prof Jhunjunwala said negotiations were also on to set up 1600 links in
schools in Durg district of Chattisgarh. Negotiations were on with the
local service providers with telephone franchisees being either BSNL or

Prof Jhunjunwala said the access network would be provided to all parts
of the country, other than the top 150 cities, where connectivity was
already available.

CONTACTS: Prof Ashok Jhunjunwala [EMAIL PROTECTED]

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[GKD] Does the computer have a heart?

2001-07-31 Thread Frederick Noronha

Programs that put people and development before profits...

By Frederick Noronha

Here comes the big surprise: IT and computers are showing their other
face. No longer are these potent forces merely tools for profit, but in
varying experiments across India they're proving to be useful allies in
seeking to give the commonman a better life.

Work in the city of Pune is showing how computers can effectively be used
for Indian language computing. Plans are in an advanced stage to make
computing devices (like the Simputer) which cost below $200. These could
make computing accessible to the rural millions. From the eastern city of
Hyderabad, machine-translation systems will help Indian languages
translate into each other.

Wireless-in-Local-Loop is a technology from Chennai city's IIT-Madras that
can take telephones across to the distant, rural millions at a cheaper
rate. In the former French colony of Pondicherry, initiatives show how the
commonman can really benefit from accessing relevant information.
Fishermen get weather details from a de-commissioned US spy satellite,
over loudspeakers.

Digging up all these details is an idealistic, Bangalore-based research
scholar who traces his roots to North India but has studied in the
University of Chicago.

Without building unnecessary hype, Aditya Dev Sood points to the rich
potential of such efforts. In the long term, social investment in rural
ICT (information and communications technology) could prove to be one of
th most effective means of driving change, believes this author of a
recent 'Guide to ICTs for Development'.

Sood points to the potential of these technologies to ensure equal access
to dispriviledged groups. They could also have a strong economic impact,
by creating new kinds of work and financial transactions, he argues. In
addition, politically too, such technologies could improve the quality,
speed and sensitivity of the state apparatus to the needs of local

Over the past year-and-half, Sood has carefully documented such
initiatives across the country. By pointing to their potential, he has
helped build snowballing interest in this field. The computer, as he
points out, can indeed play a key contributing role in development.

Sood studied architecture at his graduate level and sociology for his
post-graduation. My work currently lies in between sociology and design.
I'm doing it by looking at the impact IT is having on society, says he,
with a smile.

It was only in early 2000 -- roughly a year-and-half ago -- that he began
his work on this front seriously. Bangalore's environment has stimulated
me to work in this area. Looking at things from a predominantly IT and ICT
(information and communication technology) environment is the effect of
being in Bangalore, he says. So, he's going ahead in marrying the
priorities of this Silicon Valley of India, with those of a city also
known as the NGO-capital of the country.

Computing and developmental-concerns can mix. Over the past months, Sood
has been closely studying the successful and inspiring projects from
across India on the ICT front.

iStation is another tool that could take e-mail access to the masses who
otherwise couldn't afford it. The Warana Wired Village Project in
Maharashtra, and the Gyandoot Project in Dhar are creating new levels of
service to the rural citizen-consumer.

SARI in Madurai hopes to wire up all 1000 villages in the district using
low-cost WiLL technology, developed in India. Meanwhile, Tarahaat.com is a
company seeking to build branded computer kiosks in relatively prosperous
rural areas.

Recently making it to the headlines, experiments undertaken by computer
training institute NIIT's Dr Sugata Mitra from Delhi have shown how simple
slum-children can learn basic computing themselves, if given the

Computing can also enter micro-finance. In this field, computer-based
records could save time and effort, and offer better account-keeping. The
Swayam Krishi Sangam records information on optical ID cards for
micro-finance. Nearby in South Asia, Dr Mohammed Yunus of the Grameen
Bank in Bangladesh has launched the Gremeen Telecom, to provide mobile
telephones to rural consumers.

In Karnataka, the Asian Centre for Entrepreneurial Initiatives is trying
to introduce CAD/CAM technologies to rural artisans making leather
footwear near the city of Belgaum. In Tamil Nadu, the George Foundation is
experimenting with an expert diagnostic software. Other efforts aim at
promoting education through IT.

What is amazing is the diversity of the projects being reported from
across India. In his own way, Sood is helping to put the magic of IT
together, by giving a comprehensive picture of the developments happening
on various fronts. And the big-picture is indeed heart-warming.

Sood is pleasantly surprised with the results of his work. Originally, my
interest was far more academic. But then one got

[GKD] From software to microcomputers - new tools for teaching

2001-07-26 Thread Frederick Noronha


By Frederick Noronha

INNOVATION is helping educators from across the globe to try out
new solutions to old problems. ICTs (information and
communication technologies) are helping to make classrooms more
interesting, and concepts easier to convey.

 From the UK to India, from software to microcomputers... many
experiments are underway in the classroom. This was reported in a
recent international conference held in Goa, called ICSTME 2001.
It focussed on harnessing science, technology and mathematics
education for human development.

Science Across the World is one innovative example. It is being
called an 'international education programme' that encourages
communication and 'shared learning'. It links up different
societies to look at crucial environmental and social science

In this project, students use a unique series of resource topics
-- like Keeping Healthy, Drinking Water, biodiversity, and
Chemistry in Our Lives -- in upto 18 languages. Students collect
data, facts and opinions locally.

Some 6000 schools have been registered with Science Across the
World over the past three years. It can be contacted via
www.scienceacross.org On average, 1500 schools with over 2000
teachers and 74000 students aged 12 to 16 in some 45 countries
work with its material at any given time, according to Marianne
Cutler of the Hatfield-UK based Association for Science Education.

On the other hand, computer-based lessons, or CBL, can help to
centre education on learner-activity, argues S.S.Kalbag of the
Pune-based Vigyan Ashram. Kalbag says other advantages of
computer-based lessons include savings in time and money,
eliminating differences between formal and non-formal, rich and
poor, and urban and rural in matters of quality of education.

India needs to rapidly expand our education network to cover
nearly 25% of the population. We shall need a minimum of 1.5
million computers. And these will have to be financed by the
community, on the basis of minimum results assured. The drop-out
rate must reduce. The consequent savings will make the scheme
self-propelled, argues Kalbag.

Researchers Shakila Thakurpersad and Reshma Sookrajh from South
African's University of Durban-Westville, point to the role of
education in learning. They quote scholars who note that the
World Wide Web is one of the most effective information and
communication technology (ICT) to provide an integrated open
system of learning. There is a growing trend to use WWW
technologies in education.

Mumbai-based Sangeeta Deokattey, of the Indian Women Scientists'
Association, has undertaken an effort to select Internet sites
and find out their potential usefulness in an Indian context.
She points to her findings for searches on three subject areas --
primary health, primary education and appropriate technology.

As Deokattey points out: Educational resources -- in the form of
textbooks, tool kits, posters, audio-visual presentations, etc --
are in constant demand by adult education and health workers.
Tapping the web potential to supplement existing resources will
be a viable alternative.

Of all the subjects taught at schools and college level,
mathematics offers probably the most scope for using technology,
says Douglas Butler of the ICT Training Centre in Peterborough,
UK. He explains how new software and hardware can combine to
give teachers a wonderful new medium with which to visualise the
basic principles and to improve their personal productivity.

Butler says there is a rich source of software types in
mathematics -- including spreadsheets, symbolic algebra and
dynamic geometry packages. Autograph is a new dynamic coordinate
geometry and statistics package.

Butler also points out that teachers can use the Internet at two
levels. Firstly, using the Net to provide high quality teaching
resources, graphics, text and data which can be copied off the
Net. But take care: doing this well can be tricky sometimes!
Then, using Web sites in the classroom... there are a growing
number of web resources that provide good interactive

Technology is also entering the Indian classroom, even if only at
the elite level. For several years, first year Mathematics
students of the IIT B.Tech course in Mumbai were taught using
traditional chalk-board methods. Each class had 80 students in a
division. But, now larger divisions take in about 250 students.

This means, the chalkboard is no longer useful. Instead,
instructional material is being created beforehand, converted
into HTML (webpage) format, and put out on the Web, explains
Sudhir Ghorpade of IIT-Mumbai.

In class, the instructor uses projections onto a large screen
from the relevant webpage. He teaches with a remote mouse in his
hand instead of chalk. This brings up the question: should modern
technology alter the approach and content in teaching 'classical'
subjects like Algebra and Calculus?


[GKD] BytesForAll completes two years

2001-07-25 Thread Frederick Noronha


DATED IN CYBERSPACE, July 23: Despite all the hostilities in the
political border, South Asia can indeed work together, as a small,
unusual experiment undertaken by some 14+ volunteers from across five
countries in the region has shown that successfully.

Bytes for All (http://www.bytesforall.org) is an online initiative
that tries to focus on people oriented IT practices in South Asia
and links up to share useful ideas in the field of `IT for
Development  Social Changes' issue among the countries of
Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

As a purely voluntary and non-funded initiative Bytes for All
completes its second year of operation in July, 2001.

Bytes for All maintains a web site (www.bytesforall.org), a monthly
electronic-magazine ([EMAIL PROTECTED]) and a popular e-mail
based mailing list ([EMAIL PROTECTED]), and hopes to update
interested readers about new and interesting ventures from this part
of the world.

It works as an one stop information center where people
involved into these initiatives can find their collaborators, can
discuss issues pertaining to their interests, can know more about the
developments and can be aware of other initiatives. It also organizes
different campaigns with regard to ICT developments in the third world

Bytes for All brought out online issues on Public Health,
Disaster Mitigation, Non-English Computing, Mass Education etc. and
has managed to highlight countless success stories from a region where
access to computers is still a class privilege. Few examples of such
initiatives are: Slum kids experiment with computers,  development of
SIMPUTER for the Masses, IIT to introduce Linux in different regional
languages, Learn Foundation's experience in laying knowledge pipeline
in rural Bangladesh, PraDeshta's idea of deploying Broadband
Communication Network in Bangladesh, SDNP Pakistan's success in
developing knowledge network within the country, Kothmale's successful
implementation of community radio services in rural Sri Lanka etc.

In the last two years, Bytes for All's efforts have also met with
a fair degree of recognition in the international prestigious media
like International Hereald Tribune (8th of June, 2000), SUNDAY AGE
Newspaper Australia (7  November 1999), Yahoo Internet Life (May,
2001), Volunteering Worldwide Publication of Netherlands Institute of
Care and Welfare (2001), ANAIS Network in Geneva CD ROM etc.

Spider Magazine, a sister concern of Dawn Newspaper in Pakistan regularly
reprints articles from Bytes for All as a part of an agreement. Bytes
for All experiment has been showcased in different major global IT
and  network conferences like BAMAKO 2000 (held in BAMAKO, Mali),
International Conference on Affordable Telecom and IT Solutions for
Developing Countries (held in Chennai, India), World Cultural
Summit(held in Versailles, France), Global Dialogue Sessions at
Hanover Expo 2000 (held in Germany) etc. Bytes for All has been
Recognized as one of the Leading Websites for Social Entrepreneurs by
Changemakers.net (www.changemakers.net ) and has been rewarded an
`Honorary Mention' by Prix Ars Electronica (http://prixars.orf.at )

More significantly, the Bytes for All initiative has been run by
volunteers of diverse backgrounds and nationalities, yet without
spending anything, and based entirely on the support of committed

Apart from the co-founders, Partha Pratim Sarker (Bangladesh) and
Frederick Noronha (India), current contributors to
this initiative are, Zunaira Durrani in Karachi, Zubair Faisal Abbasi
in Islamabad, Archana Nagvekar in Goa, Arun-Kumar Tripathi in
Darmstatd, Shivkumar in Mumbai, Sangeeta Pandey in Nepal, Mahrukh
Mohiuddin in Dhaka, Daryl in Chicago, Gihan Fernando in Sri Lanka,
Rajkumar Buyya in Melbourne, Farhad Nizam in Dhaka and Deepa Rai in
Kathmundu. And the circle is still growing.  Recently, we are also
inviting participation from prominent individuals directly involved
in the South Asian IT, Development  Media paradigm and are requesting
their contribution as Key Initiative Advisors (KIA) to our initiative.
A list of KIAs will soon be published at Bytes for All website.

For further details please visit our website at:

Or our mailing list postings at:

To get regular updates via email, and our ezine, write to
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[GKD] Community Radio and South Asia

2001-07-24 Thread Frederick Noronha


By Frederick Noronha

Nepal has moved far ahead of its other South Asian neighbours in its
attempts to open-up its air-waves, and Sri Lanka has the longest history
of promoting 'community radio' initiatives. So what's the fate of this
powerful medium in this populous part of the planet? Ask Ian Pringle...

Bangladesh may soon see some interesting developments on this front.
India could be a most interesting place in many respects...  Once the
reluctance of the government (to open up community radio stations) is
overcome (much could happen here), says Pringle. In his early thirties,
this Canadian volunteer has been closely connected with attempts to
promote community radio in South Asia.

Pringle fell in love with alternative radio broadcasting even while
still a college student back in Canada. Later on, he spent months in
Kathmandu, helping to prop up the first community radio station in South
Asia -- a unique experiment called Radio Sagarmatha.

Currently, he is an 'international cooperant' with the Canadian Centre
for International Studies and Cooperation, one of the largest Canadian
networks in humanitarian development.

Recently in Bangalore, Pringle points to Nepal's opening up of its
airwaves. There are three community radio stations in Nepal, and a
license has been given for the fourth. Besides, there are (other)
stations airing more community radio-style programmes. There is also a
station put up by the municipal government of Kathmandu, he says.

After overcoming reluctance over granting licenses to radio stations in
the mid-nineties, Nepal has come a long way.  In the Kathmandu Valley,
there are five commercial broadcasters, and six more outside the Valley.
Some 15 more parties have applied for licenses, according to Pringle.

In contrast, India has made little headway. In the mid-1990s, there was
much expectation that this country would give its citizens a voice on
the air-waves. The Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that the air-waves cannot
be monopolised by the government, and belonged to the public. The
National Front governments at the Centre went ahead with almost
approving plans to allow community radio stations.

But then all this drastically came to a halt. So abrupt was the change,
that UNESCO-funded radio station facilities have even come up in places
like Medak, Andhra Pradesh. These centres are left high and dry with all
the technology and skills, but no permission to broadcast their

Perhaps the basic question is: why radio?

For over 50 years, radio has been seen as a key tool globally for
participatory communication and development.  Radio clearly has its
advantages. It is cost-efficient, both for the station and for
listeners. Secondly, it is ideal for a population that includes many
illiterates and poor, as in South Asia. Thirdly, it is relevant to local
practices, traditions and culture. Fourth, once initial investment is
made in equipment, sustainability is feasible. Fifth, in terms of
geographical coverage too, radio scores. Lastly, the convergence between
radio and Internet is providing new strengths to community radio.

But in South Asia, things have been different.

India, for instance, shifted from having government-dominated air-waves
to a commercialised scenario where licenses to broadcast cost millions
of rupees. Besides, the satellite TV boom has led elites here to believe
that radio is a dead medium which hardly deserves much attention.

Pringle also points to the long community radio tradition of countries
like Canada. Quebec has a very strong tradition of this, he says.
AMARC, the world association of community radio broadcasters, also has
its international secretariat in Canada, as Pringle points out.

Canada's first community radio stations came up in the 1970s, after a
broad based movement on this. Earlier too, in the 1950s, Canada had a
very well known programme in farm radio broadcasting. Other experiments
were done in interactive two-way communication, and the use of radio to
mobilise people.

Over the years, he says, community radio stations have done well in
Canada. There have been very few closures of stations. On the other
hand, a lot of innovation has gone into making such stations
sustainable, he points out.

One way is by linking up such radio stations with higher education
institutions, thus giving them a strong financial base and a sustainable
number of eager volunteers. Currently, Canada has about a couple of
hundred community radio stations, Pringle estimates.

Even if Nepal has gone ahead, he suggests that there is some reluctance
in promoting radio stations there. For instance, a license feel to set
up a small 100watt transmitter costs about Nepali Rs 50-55,000 (about
Indian Rs 30,000) per year.

In Nepal, sanctioning community-radio licenses is a funding source for
the government. This is perhaps the greatest impediment to sustainable
community radio stations. Upto one-third

[GKD] Does the computer have a heart... (case studies from India)

2001-07-20 Thread Frederick Noronha

Programs that put people and development before profits...

By Frederick Noronha

Here comes the big surprise: IT and computers are showing their other face.
No longer are these potent forces merely tools for profit, but in varying
experiments across India they're proving to be useful allies in seeking to
give the commonman a better life.

Work in the city of Pune is showing how computers can effectively be used
for Indian language computing. Plans are in an advanced stage to make
computing devices (like the Simputer) which cost below $200. These could
make computing accessible to the rural millions. From the eastern city of
Hyderabad, machine-translation systems will help Indian languages translate
into each other.

Wireless-in-Local-Loop is a technology from Chennai city's IIT-Madras that
can take telephones across to the distant, rural millions at a cheaper rate.
In the former French colony of Pondicherry, initiatives show how the
commonman can really benefit from accessing relevant information. Fishermen
get weather details from a de-commissioned US spy satellite, over

Digging up all these details is an idealistic, Bangalore-based research
scholar who traces his roots to North India but has studied in the
University of Chicago.

Without building unnecessary hype, Aditya Dev Sood points to the rich
potential of such efforts. In the long term, social investment in rural ICT
(information and communications technology) could prove to be one of th
most effective means of driving change, believes this author of a recent
'Guide to ICTs for Development'.

Sood points to the potential of these technologies to ensure equal access to
dispriviledged groups. They could also have a strong economic impact, by
creating new kinds of work and financial transactions, he argues. In
addition, politically too, such technologies could improve the quality,
speed and sensitivity of the state apparatus to the needs of local

Over the past year-and-half, Sood has carefully documented such initiatives
across the country. By pointing to their potential, he has helped build
snowballing interest in this field. The computer, as he points out, can
indeed play a key contributing role in development.

Sood studied architecture at his graduate level and sociology for his
post-graduation. My work currently lies in between sociology and design.
I'm doing it by looking at the impact IT is having on society, says he,
with a smile.

It was only in early 2000 -- roughly a year-and-half ago -- that he began
his work on this front seriously. Bangalore's environment has stimulated me
to work in this area. Looking at things from a predominantly IT and ICT
(information and communication technology) environment is the effect of
being in Bangalore, he says. So, he's going ahead in marrying the
priorities of this Silicon Valley of India, with those of a city also known
as the NGO-capital of the country.

Computing and developmental-concerns can mix. Over the past months,
Sood has been closely studying the successful and inspiring projects from
across India on the ICT front.

iStation is another tool that could take e-mail access to the masses who
otherwise couldn't afford it. The Warana Wired Village Project in
Maharashtra, and the Gyandoot Project in Dhar are creating new levels of
service to the rural citizen-consumer.

SARI in Madurai hopes to wire up all 1000 villages in the district using
low-cost WiLL technology, developed in India. Meanwhile, Tarahaat.com is a
company seeking to build branded computer kiosks in relatively prosperous
rural areas.

Recently making it to the headlines, experiments undertaken by computer
training institute NIIT's Dr Sugata Mitra from Delhi have shown how simple
slum-children can learn basic computing themselves, if given the

Computing can also enter micro-finance. In this field, computer-based records
could save time and effort, and offer better account-keeping. The Swayam
Krishi Sangam records information on optical ID cards for micro-finance.
Nearby in South Asia, Dr Mohammed Yunus of the Grameen Bank in
Bangladesh has launched the Gremeen Telecom, to provide mobile
telephones to rural consumers.

In Karnataka, the Asian Centre for Entrepreneurial Initiatives is trying to
introduce CAD/CAM technologies to rural artisans making leather footwear
near the city of Belgaum. In Tamil Nadu, the George Foundation is
experimenting with an expert diagnostic software. Other efforts aim at
promoting education through IT.

What is amazing is the diversity of the projects being reported from across
India. In his own way, Sood is helping to put the magic of IT together, by
giving a comprehensive picture of the developments happening on various
fronts. And the big-picture is indeed heart-warming.

Sood is pleasantly surprised with the results of his work. Originally, my
~interest was far more academic. But then one got opportunities to study how

[GKD] In a software 'super-power', rural kids lack the code to learn

2001-07-17 Thread Frederick Noronha


By Frederick Noronha

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

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-centered or
child-centered content); TV-based content; setting up Community Learning
Centres; and facilitate the donation of used PCs from companies to

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

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.

Prof Nagarjuna G [EMAIL PROTECTED] of the Tata Institute of
Fundamental Research in Mumbai has set up a Internet based mailing-list to
study the potential in school education of GNU-Linux, the Open Source and
'free' software. Life can be contacted via [EMAIL PROTECTED]
while the website is at http://hbcse.tifr.res.in/mailman/listinfo/life

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

[GKD] Bytes For All - July 2001

2001-07-13 Thread Frederick Noronha
submit their spare ideas or help themselves.

*   This Prix Arts Electronica is based in Germany. 
*   (http://prixars.orf.at/) It has chosen BytesForAll for a *honorary
*   additional faith in the work we do... which, we are proud to say, 
*   is done entirely by an unpaid, voluntary team scattered across
*   South Asia.

Bytesforall.org has been designated by the Changemakers.net Library as
one of the top Web sites for social entrepreneurs. Changemakers focuses
on the rapidly growing world of social entrepreneurship, and is an
initiative of Ashoka - Innovators for the Public. Its mission is to
provide inspiration, resources, and opportunities for those interested
in social change throughout the world. Thank you Changemakers for the


bYtES For aLL is a voluntary, unfunded venture. CopyLeft, 2001. bYtES
For aLL e-zine volunteers team includes: Frederick Noronha in Goa,
Partha Sarkar in Dhaka, Zunaira Durrani in Karachi, Zubair Abbasi in
Islamabad, Archana Nagvenkar in Goa, Arun-Kumar Tripathi in Darmstatd,
Shivkumar in Mumbai, Sangeeta Pandey in Nepal, Daryl Martyis in Chicago,
Gihan Fernando in Sri Lanka, Rajkumar Buyya in Melbourne, Mahrukh
Mohiuddin in Dhaka and Deepa Rai in Kathmandu. To contact them mail

Two years on, BytesForAll thanks all those who have volunteered their
time, energy and motivation in taking this experiment forward, since its
launch in July 1999.

BytesForAll's website www.bytesforall.org is maintained by Partha
Sarkar, with inputs from other members of the volunteers' team and
supporters.  To join or leave this mailing-list simply send a message to
[EMAIL PROTECTED] with s u b s b4all or u n s u b b4all as the


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[GKD]: India's Bank of Ideas

2001-07-09 Thread Frederick Noronha

Thanks to Irfan Khan for drawing this to our attention... FN

From [EMAIL PROTECTED] Fri Jul  6 01:40:49 2001

[Sristi's website address: http://www.sristi.org/ ]

13 May, 2001

India's bank of ideas

By Peter Day in Ahmedabad 


I go to Ahmedabad to have lunch with a tableful of some of the most
ingenious people I have ever met - inventors and gadgeteers from the
fields and villages of rural India where 700 million of its one billion
people still live. Over rice and dhal and vegetables eaten with the
hand, they talk excitedly about their inventions and ideas.


Thakershibhai is a farmer who had only a primary school education. A
small man, his body tenses as he tells the story of how after one of the
region's frequent droughts, his son spotted a rogue variety of groundnut
flourishing while other breeds failed.

Thakershibhai nursed the seed - and bred a new variety of tastier,
hardier nut which he now sells to his fellow farmers, who have honoured
him by naming it Thakershi.

From another village in Gujarat has come Amrutbhai Agrewat, a stocky
serial inventor who has taken the traditional bullock cart and rebuilt
it with a tilting device so that composting need no longer be done by
hand - arduous work traditionally reserved for women.

Another boon for village women is the simple device Mr Agrewat devised
for the well. By adding a locking mechanism to the rope and pulley
mechanism used for centuries, women can rest their load while hauling up
the bucket, making the job much less strenuous than it has ever been

A bespectacled retired schoolteacher Khimjibhai Kanadia has come up with
a stream of inventions in recent years.

Simplest of all is the device for filling plastic bags with soil in
which to plant seedlings.

Mr Kanadia took a plastic drainpipe seven or eight inches long, and cut
it off at an angle at the bottom. Placed in the plastic bag, the women
on piecework can fill one sack in one scoop, increasing their
productivity - and their pay - fourfold. This is pure joy, a simple
invention of genius.

And there are hundreds, if not thousands more of them, all gathered
together under the auspices of an organisation called the Society for
Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Innovation;
Sristi for short, the Sanskrit for creation.

Ideas database

Sristi is the brainchild of the man who brought together all these
village inventors to meet me.

Anil Gupta is a professor from the Institute of Management with an
engaging manner and a bushy beard who 10 years ago was troubled by the
fact that the people he wrote about in his published papers could not
read them because they were only in English.

To communicate the excellence of the ideas he was encountering in
village India, he started something called the Honey Bee Network, based
around a magazine describing these sort of innovations in eight
different languages.

The organisation now has 10,000 ideas on a computer database - local
lore and the inventions of dozens of village boffins available to
inquirers, and to companies who want to licence the ideas and pay for

Why should intellectual property merely benefit big corporations? asks
Professor Gupta, as he encourages businesses to pay the equivalent of
hundreds of pounds to make things such as the tilting bullock cart.

There is a new venture capital fund to back good ideas. The Sristi
organisation also has a laboratory to test thousands of village remedies
culled from plants such as the fragrant neam tree. Three phials hold
herbal extracts used by villagers to treat foot-and-mouth disease.

We don't slaughter our animals, we treat them, observes the professor,
referring to the mass culling of cattle in the UK.

Unlike the rest of the Indian Institute of Management, the Honey Bee
Network will create few billionaires. But its flood of ideas (and the
money they generate) have the potential to help millions of people all
over the globe who remain little touched by what we call the modern

Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad


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[GKD] Congested cities? Computer code comes to the rescue

2001-07-06 Thread Frederick Noronha

Congested cities? Computer code comes to the rescue...
by Frederick Noronha, Indo-Asian News Service

PANAJI (Goa), July 4 -- Can computer code make your ride less smoother
as you traverse the congested roads of urban India? Goa-based Anupam
Saraph is currently working on a tool he hopes would make traffic
management smoother in 300+ of the country's larger cities (called Class
I cities).

Nobody really is looking at traffic as a whole. Police look after law
and order. RTOs (regional transport offices) licences people and
vehicles. Municipalities see to constructing and widening of roads. Town
planners decide where to put up 'attractors' of traffic like markets.
But no one is ensuring what the traffic scenario will look like for you
and me, says he.

To overcome this disjointed approach with an IT approach, Saraph (39) is
working on a traffic simulator -- a software program written in the
programming language Python -- that would give urban planners an idea
beforehand of the likely impact of any traffic-management changes they

On the computer screen, road maps of specific city roads come-up. Using
this, urban planners can 'simulate' what impact planned changes in
road-design would have for a specific area.

We've got ready some initial algorithms for stimulating traffic. We
have also created prototypes for demonstration, says this former
molecular biologist. He stresses that complex problems like traffic
management need to be looked at from the 'holistic' perspective.

So far, simulations have been worked on for some road networks in Pune,
for the purpose of demonstrations.  These include exercises on Pune's
Mahatma Gandhi Road, East Street (in the Cantonment area), J.M.Road,
Apte Road, and Ferguesson College Road.

What this software plans to do is to study the impact of any planned
change, before it is actually carried out. You study the impact of
changes on a computer, rather than on the road itself. So people can
take a rational choice on what would be the best option, says Saraph.

Data needed would be a road-map for each city being studied. Each change
in the road-map would then simulate its impacts. You would get an idea
of under what conditions it works, or which of the different traffic
improvement options works best, says Saraph.

Dr Saraph notes that fly-overs -- even though these have become an
attractive option for decision-makers in a number of Indian cities of
late -- hardly solve the problem. Fly-overs simply expand the carrying
capacity of the roads (temporarily), so push the entire city to have
more and more traffic flowing through it, he says.

India's population grew 3.5 times from 1901 to 1991. But, in the same
period, the urban population has grown a phenomenal nine times. In 1951,
for instance, there were only 51 urban agglomeration with a population
of 100,000 or more. Today the figure has crossed 301.

Yet, urban areas remain critical to the economy. Urban areas in India
contribute an estimated 55 per cent of the country GDP (gross domestic

Saraph, who has set up the Institute for Change Research in Panaji's
Alto Porvorim suburb, says his aim is to get his tool across to the
over-300 Class I cities in India.

This software will be free for use by the commonman. For the
authorities, a slightly different version costing a nominal Rs 1000 to
5000 will be charged, based on the funding we receive, says Saraph.

He says the MOIT (Ministry of Information Technology) has responded
favourably, but the project got bogged down due to lack of recognition
as a scientific and industrial research organisation.

By traffic simulators, people understand software which gives you an
idea of how the scene looks as you drive past. The goal of this one is
to study, in advance, how to improve traffic flows in any city, says
he. (ENDS)

Contact Dr Anupam Saraph by email: [EMAIL PROTECTED]
Contact the writer: [EMAIL PROTECTED]
   |  Frederick Noronha, Freelance Journalist |
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[GKD] Technological Innovation in Rural India

2001-07-02 Thread Frederick Noronha


From Frederick Noronha

IN A COUNTRY of over a thousand million, there surely must be tens of
thousands of bright minds churning out innovative ideas by the dozen.
This is just the case, as is clear from the first national-level
exercise for scouting 'grassroots technological innovations'.

Some 96 persons were awarded a total of just over Rs 1.4 million (rpt Rs
14 lakh). The first three prizes given were of Rs 100,000, Rs 50,000 and
Rs 25,000 and nearly one thousand entries poured in from across the
country. Organisers of this event said there were a total of 1637
innovations and outstanding examples of traditional knowledge which they

This exercise was adjudged in June 2001.

New cardamon plant varieties, arecanut de-husking machines, power-saving
pumps, energy-conserving kerosene stoves, highly efficient low-wattage
electric water heaters... these and an amazing number of ideas came
forth in this competition.

It was organised by the National Foundation of India.

The mission of the NIF is to recognise, respect and reward unsung
heroes of our society. NIF will not rest with only giving prizes. It
will also protect their intellectual property, help in upgrading their
technology, develop business plans and eventually help them (the
innovators) to either license their technologies or become entrepreneurs
themselves, said NIF executive vice chairperson Prof Anil K. Gupta of
the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad.

The NIF was set up in March 2000 by the Indian government. Its
chairperson is India's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research
director general Dr Raghunath A. Mashelkar.

But the efforts also come out from the campaigning over long of people
like Dr Gupta, who has been promoting the idea that even the humble
villager can be very innovative. Dr Gupta has been coming out with a
journal called 'HoneyBee' that looks at innovation from the village.

In this contest, some 998 entries were received from 24 states and union
territories. These, in all, comprised 1637 innovations and outstanding
examples of traditional knowledge.

The western Indian state of Gujarat topped with 496 entries. This is not
surprising perhaps since this region has been at the forefront of trying
to dig-up innovative among the common-man (and woman) through
initiatives of various individuals and institutions based at the Indian
Institute of Management-Ahmedabad.

Many of the ideas that came up could have a lasting impact on the lives
of rural dwellers. One was to create an arecanut dehusking machine.
Arecanut currently requires labourous work in its dehusking process. A
North Indian farmer, Ram Naresh Yadav, came up with a power-saving
technical pump. Yet another rural dweller had a pulley with a stopper --
thus making it easier for millions of women drawing water from their
local wells.

Other prizes went to a 'rain gun' called the Chandraprabah Water Gun by
Annasaheb Udgavi.

Sudarshana from South India emerged as the first 'Idea Man'. He had over
two-and-half dozen ideas or innovations to his credit. These included a
small computer keyboard, hot-and-cold engine, transparent letter box,
and even an idea for chopping onions without tears!

Sudarshana's other ideas comprised an automatic gear for a bicycle,
distilling water from the sea, and ideas to reduce the cost of gobar gas
plants. He had a new design for a bullock-cart, and an easy-to-fill
bucket. Steam can also be used as a weedicide, and Sudarshana's ideas
demonstrate how.

A.I. Nadakattan had ten innovations to his credit. Among these was
tamarind cultivation under dry-land cultivation. Likewise, he also had
special ideas on water harvesting techniques, energy-saving irrigation,
a tamarind harvestor, tamarind slicer, seed-cum-fertilizer drill and a
range of other innovations in the pre-harvest and post-harvest fields.

To locate such innovation in a vast country such as India, the
competition made use of 'scouters'. These persons or institutions
scoured the country to find out bright ideas that could make a
difference in the years ahead... specially for the commonman.

Others who won consolation awards included a tamper-proof locking
device. In the field of farm-implements, one Indian farmer came out with
a special cart. Another found ways to create an edible perennial brinjal
variety. On the front of crop-protection, something called the Mukkadaka
decoction -- which is used to control hopper pests in paddy crop -- was
among those gaining notice. So did another farmer's methods of
controlling brown plant hopper in paddy and cotton crops.

The Innovation Foundation says it is working on a 'national register' of
grassroots green technological innovation. It also wants to build
linkages among those excelling in the 'formal' and 'informal' science
and technological systems.

Ultimately, it hopes its efforts would help India become a global
leader in sustainable

[GKD] Water management software (India)

2001-05-28 Thread Frederick Noronha


Just think of the potential of a software that allows users to create an
interactive water-map of the village. This means, villagers would be better
equipped to cope with drought. Thanks to IT (information technology).

Called Jal-Chitra, this software has been developed by Jaipur's Ajit
Foundation, in close collaboration with the Barefoot College of Tilonia. Says
Ajit Foundation's Vikram Vyas: The advent of Personal Computer together with
the development and expansion of Internet has provided us with a unique
opportunity to bring the tools of scientific modelling and computation to
rural development.

One immediate area where such tools can make a tangible contribution, he
argues, is in the process of draught-proofing the villages lying in the arid
and semi-arid regions of the developing world.

How is this done? An estimate of the monthly water demand and the monthly
water availability from various sources is the starting point. Then comes the
question of allocation of available water.

Likewise, a water-budget can be created. Solutions can range from water
conservation, to the development of new water sources or water storage
systems, where possible. Or even getting in water from external sources.
Villagers need to balance between underground water and rainwater harvesting

Once done, Jal-Chitra software aims at helping villagers to take advantage of
information and communication technologies to exercise their right to manage
their own water sources.

Jal-Chitra basically creates an interactive water-map of the village, enables
the community to keep records of the amount of water available from each
water source,can record water quality testing, lists maintenance work done
and required, estimates water demand, generates future monthly water budgets
(based on past records), and shows the amount of community need met through
rainwater harvesting systems.

FREDERICK NORONHA [EMAIL PROTECTED] recently interviewed Vikram Vyas of
The Ajit Foundation, who created the software. Excerpts from the interview:

QUESTION: What has been the response to the software so far?

The response form the organisation which are familiar with ICT (information
and communication technologies) has been very positive. Particular heartening
was the number of inquires and messages of encouragement that I have received
from the voluntary organisations working in Pakistan.

QUESTION: Has it been implemented in the field? If so, where?

Hopefully Jal-Chitra will be implemented in number of villages where the
Barefoot College of Tilonia in North India works. We are in the process of
translating the users manual into Hindi. That is the bottleneck right now.

QUESTION: What about regionalising the software, in other Indian (or other)

I think that is a very important and urgent need. I am trying to at least have
a Hindi version based on Susha fonts (one of the popular fonts used for the
Hindi language).

QUESTION: What potential do you see for it? Could it be applicable to other
regions of the globe?

I think Jal-Chitra can be used in any village which is in the arid or semi
arid region of developing world. The greatest potential is that it will
enable local democratic institutions, like panchyats (local village councils
in India), to make more informed decisions regarding their own water sources.

I think of it as a small tool helping realise Mahatma Gandhi's dream of Swaraj
(independence or self-rule at the rural level).

QUESTION: What are the further areas of development you plan?

Jal-Chitra  has potentialities of many further developments including use of
satellite photographs and more sophisticated in-build models, perhaps based
on neural-nets.

I am looking for other people, software developers, to help me with this. I
have been away from physics for too long and would like to return to it and
spend most of my professional time teaching and doing research in physics. So
further development of Jal-Chitra has to become a collaborative effort. Also

[GKD] The Simputer... from India

2001-04-24 Thread Frederick Noronha


by Frederick Noronha,

BANGALORE, March 8: If this works as planned, the Simputer could go a long
way in taking computing within the reach of the reach of the commonman...
not just in India but across the Third World. Slated to cost below $200,
this device is now weeks away from its prototypes being made.

Response has been phenomenal so far. We've got some 30 to 40 mega-bytes of
e-mail just discussing this project, says Professor Vijay Chandru, an
MIT-educated computer scientist who is one of those slaving away at this
project in the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science.

 From the Philippines to Cuba and beyond, this device has drawn attention,
from surprised specialists, who watch India's efforts at gingerly putting
together a computing device that could create a revolution for the commonman.

It's not only its below-US$200 (approx Rs 9000) price that's interesting,
but what the Simputer will be able to do.

This Internet device will have the potential to help even non-literate users
to check the Web, and get access to useful information that can make a
difference to their lives. It was put together by several academics and
engineers, in their spare time.

Once commercialised and put into the market -- its designs will be freely
released to companies that go into producing it -- the Simputer could be
used not just as a device for individuals to access the Net, but also by
communities through kiosks. A smart-card interface is being worked on to
facilitate micro-banking.

Its text-to-speech capabilities mean that it could also be used by the
hundreds of millions of illiterates in the country and beyond.

Proving skeptics wrong so far, the Simputer team put together a working
model of the device, which was showcased this week at the Banglinux
conference, held in this software capital of India in early-March.

This could change the way how IT proliferates in a country like India.

The Simputer -- or Simple Inexpensive Multilingual People's Computer -- is
built around Intel's StrongARM CPU, and is based on the Linux operating
system, with 16MB of flash memory, a monochrome liquid crystal display
(LCD), and a touch-panel for pen-based computing.

You needn't know English to access the Simputer, and it will give you both
Internet access and e-mail.

What's more interesting is the manner in which the product is being
released, through what is called Open Hardware Licensing.

To promote hardware innovation in India -- a country which doesn't have a
reputation in this field, unlike in software -- its design will be provided
at a nominal license fee to manufacturers.

Manufacturers can modify and extend the Simputer specifications.

Companies can go ahead and create an improved Simputer. But, after a
one-year 'window of opportunity', the hardware they create will then come
back into the public domain. This will avoid the creation of monopolies, but
will also give people an incentive to innovate, said Prof Swami Manohar,
another key person involved with this project based at the IISc.

Our model tries to complete the circle of innovation. What we are saying
is, 'Take this product, innovate on it, and then pass it on back'. We don't
want to create monopolies for anyone, said Manohar, who is part of the
newly-set up Simputer Trust.

For what would this keyboardless computing device be used? We don't expect
someone to browse the Net with this for two hours. But a villager could
quickly log onto the Net, get the information he wants -- like the latest
prices being offered for commodities in nearby markets -- and switch off,
says Prof Manohar.

He also clarified that it would be simple to operate so that people wouldn't
need two hundred rupees per week training to use it. Since Open Source
software based on Linux was being used, a whole host of people would be able
to create suitable software for it, he said.

One problem still remaining was that nobody was prepared to give them the
technology to create Smart Card readers, which would be openly available to
future developers.

We cater to four languages as of now. If this device could speak to you in
your own language, it would be really nice, says Manohar, who says that
further information is available on the site www.simputer.org

Prof Chandru told IANS in an exclusive interview that in some four weeks
time about 400 to 500 prototypes would be developed and then employed for
field trials. There would be a need for developing large number of
applications that work on the Simputer's specifications, he said.

Partly, the cost of it was kept low simply because the development team was
just not claiming any recompense, he said. Devices with somewhat similar
potential were being sold at prices of US$400+. Then, you have to keep in
mind that there's nothing really comparable, he said.

He disagreed with the suggestion that the Simputer would be difficult to
maintain in rural India