I had been disappointed with myself as well as the general notification system as I have had missed 3 meetups of Wikipedia before this one. Hence had to attend this one even though I have scant knowledge fonts other than the fact that they are needed to read all and any textual messages. Also pretty fonts make for good-looking websites.
A bit of background before I delve deeper into this. I have been using Wikipedia for reference for work and editing stuff for the sheer pleasure it gives me, updating software releases and doing what little I can do. The only original article creation I did was about a year or two back about Brasero – a CD burning software. It was thrown back due to lack of notability at that time. For me, it was essential as it was the only software at that moment in time (GUI-based) which ran on my system and few friends and clients systems on Debian/Ubuntu but that’s history.I would have liked to delve into the ‘notability guidelines in wikipedia’ but perhaps another time – as in what issues I faced, what issues I see from time to time and perhaps what is the way
forward – especially in the Indian context of things.
Anyways, the venue Redhat’s office is around 10 odd kms. from my place. Took public transport – a BRTS bus after a long long time. That itself was an interesting and educative experience. It seems the bus in which I had been has been now fitted with some sensors. After Swargate , each bus stand/station was announced few minutes before the said station. It reminded me of the Delhi Metro Experiences I had while on visit to Delhi so many times in the past. It seems to be a pilot project and I hope it gets extrapolated to regular buses on all routes in due course It would be interesting if it is incorporated with an SMS service so we can query on a mobile and an ETA of a particular bus route on a particular bus stop. At the earliest, I see this happening in few years . Many people would be willing to forgo few paise – to a Rupee for a mobile app. like that. There is an urgent need to improve the state of public transport and the feedback mechanism or the city would choke in itself in the near future but this is a topic for another day.
Anyways reached the venue/main gate at 10:30 where I was stopped by security and was asked for some Photo ID proof. Luckily I had a photocopy of my PAN Card lying around in the back-pack otherwise wouldn’t have known what to do. I don’t any of the Redhat organizers phone numbers and even if I did have I wouldn’t have bothered them. I remembered reading about the meetup and it didn’t say anything about any security measures or ID proof anywhere. The security was a bit rude. This was perhaps the first time I had to show some ID proof within my own city. I didn’t think things had become so low after the 26/11 attacks and then the recent Pune German Bakery blasts. I had an affection for the Bakery and have seen how things and perceptions have also changed – for the worse in Koregaon Park but that’s a different topic for a different day as well.
Anyways reached the real venue – the Conference room or whatever name Redhat uses for it. Met Santosh , Hiran , Naveen Kumar and a whole bunch of people who work on the Redhat Indic language support team. What was really surprising to meet and discover later that we have an Wikipedia Administrator Srekit right here in Pune. He seems a bit young for the responsibilities he has taken but more power to him.From his userpage seems to be quite the cricket aficionado. The Official guests of the meet Alolita, Danese Cooper and Erik Möller but as they were running late it started well around 12ish. For once, I was glad that the session was not on time 🙂
The tone was kept informal throughout the event. Alolita and Danese started it on a very casual tone by asking the room in general about free indic fonts. Praveen , currently working with Redhat replied about Lohit fonts. The licensing was discussed (GPLv2) and Danese commented about how its good vis-a-vis v3 (something about a train wreck) . While whether they knew about the font or the licensing was not really important but it was important as it set the tone for the meetup.The emphasis was on ‘Open Source‘ rather than FOSS but then that’s natural when Redhat is one of the founders of OSI and Alolita being on board.
Pravin Satpute , working with Redhat showed off some indic language fonts on the xterm. Btw almost all the presenters were showing/using Ubuntu as their desktop while being in Redhat’s office and this seemed a bit ironical to me but anyways whatever works, right. I did spot a Debian lappy or two and was also happy to see that. Anyways back to topic, it was really cool to see indian language on the terminal.
He began with a presentation which I hope does become available in the public domain. It tells of the state of Indian language computing, the problem areas and some specifically to do with web apps like Wikipedia. He showed off an Indian On-Screen Keyboard (IOK). He talked of Inscript Keyboard, Enhanced Indic Keyboard and stuff like that. He also shared about a project they are working on called Bharati . Almost everybody from Redhat language computing group had a project or two which was either hosted on fedorahosted or were going through. There was also some talk about something called harfbuzz-ng but it’s nowhere near ready. The talk was okish as he failed to sorta emphasize where indic language computing stands. He needs to work on his presentation skills.
Feedback :- The problem which I explained during feedback is that most of the times on fedorahosted unless you have been to a seminar you don’t really get what the project is trying to communicate. For e.g. see the link above, it doesn’t really tell you anything if you are not a technical language computing expert. It doesn’t tell what value it brings to the end-user. A project page like this should be preferably populated with a problem statement, possible problem resolution/solution and how they visualize it. If there’s a working demo then perhaps a video of it. Preferably they should also provide steps for installing the said binary in different distributions. Till all that is not provided, it’s far from any community assessment or take-up.
Then Naveen Kumar took stand. I had met him few minutes before the session started when he tried to show me the stuff but I didn’t get it but during the presentation it became clear. Basically what he is working on is taking some initial data (corpus,bank) and get his software trained on that and then tries to predict what next one wants to write depending on the user’s history of writing. Its scary in a certain way but very helpful in other ways. From a person who has limited motor abilities (movement issues) it could help along with some other technical/mechanical help. It could make life easy for him. The downer is anybody could become me or vice-versa as it becomes easier to THINK like somebody else. You are not unique anymore. I’m hoping that the AI is not that great otherwise one more tool for identity takers as well. Well, that’s the cynic in me. He also showed off an older project called Anumaan. which has a good GUI to show off what he meant. He was unaware of the present status of the tool as it’s the property of CDAC-Mumbai and only they know what they are going to do with it. It is supposed to be an open-source tool but CDAC is not known to work with free software and open source communities.That has been enough known and commented upon in the FOSS communities that it really doesn’t need any further discussion.
After that there was still some time to spare before lunch broke. For a long long time there had been many questions I had in my mind as well as the funding issues that Wikipedia has to go through every year. It pains me to see that they have to do whatever they have to do. I’m talking about the Jimmy Wales appeal. It isn’t nice and they shouldn’t have to do that. They do provide an important place and service to the society.
So FWIW I took the stand and pitched about them looking into the opengameart.org project. I shared with them how a small community has sprung up, is passionate and is steady for sometime now. The site basically commissions free game art and asks donations to cover it as can be seen here. . The site owner bart also spends some from his own pocket. The thing is not many people realize that you need good content, programs are just enough. It uses Flattr and now also Bitcoin. It was a 5 minute thingy, nothing big and I really didn’t know that if somebody liked it or not but apparently it did affect one person Hiran . Erik replied they are looking into Flattr and bitcon but its not something they would do in a hurry.
Then we broke for lunch.Now don’t remember whether it was during the lunch break or just afterwards, Praveen showed off a jump-off animation. Its a nice little video and wouldn’t want to spoil the mood so please go and see the animation. It’s actually a trailer or something for an ambitious Blender project by somebody named Milan Thate and his ambitious idea of making a Blender animation film from India. I don’t see anything wrong with the project and see that already 45 people have signed up for a pledge for the movie. It seems the Free Software Group at Thiruvananthapuram are behind this idea. Its good to see the two communities converging behind atleast one idea. The only critique I can find is they have no story (as of yet) and no idea of the time they hope the story will take. From the blender experience and seeing some of the animations (which I do sometimes in spare time – for fun), anything between 4-15 mins should be good. It is easy for downloading and passing around as well. Anything bigger takes that much more efforts and time to download.If the idea, story and animation is well implemented there could be few more, who knows.
After lunch Hiran took the dias. One of the rare individuals who was not a Redhat employee, has his own startup. He started by sharing and asking about what are web-safe fonts. Then he went onto describe briefly the state of the Net and the need for website designers to express themselves more. He showed quite a few of the fonts he had made.Rufscript was a good one – has a good cartoonish feel to it.
Then Santosh took over the dias. He was a bit strong in criticizing many of the things and shared some of the probable solutions in the long to medium-term. He shared some of the tools and stuff he and his group SMC have been doing . While he was critical of some of the ways wikipedia has adopted (on technical issues) he was much more critical of Unicode consortium which from his view is not in a democratic set-up. He urged that wikipedia should try to get some stake in it if possible and then make it more open. He also shared with us an offline-wikipedia that he and his group had made. More details on that could be found here. He did commend the local govt. for helping them with funds and infrastructure to help them do that. Something like 60 odd thousand copies of the CD were given to the CD. It was a sort of ‘Best 500 articles’ which were selected from various topics. He also listed some of the other FSUG and LUG’s who were trying to emulate them. What was a relevation to me during his talk was that all the platforms have their own implementation on web fonts with EOT from MS, TTF on GNU/Linux and OTF on Mac. Somebody made a detailed table of what works and doesn’t on Wikipedia .
Finally Erik took over and in his typical European style cut through all the BS and asked what is implementable today for Wikipedia. There was notable silence. The thing is most of the projects which were show-cased were done for their own need. Methinks none of the code has been put through the QA and server load issues that Wikipedia goes through everyday. At the outset, Erik gave a scale of the operations, 60 odd people managing things,₨718.2 () million they are going to try to raise for this year, 425 server farms and counting. They are not at the scale at Red Hat but also not on the scale of a small NGO. They could do some things.He showed the google.com/transliterate tool as well as the Google Virtual Keyboard (Google On-screen keyboard). Both of these tools are not open-source till date and Wikipedia has been striving and haranguing Google about it. He then went on to share some of the offline wikipedia experiments and commended about Santosh and his teams’s work on wikipedia-CD they had bought out. He shared about Openzim and kiwix as they are the ones who are making offline-CD’s for wikipedia and who in his idea/perception are by an order more efficient at packing large wikipedia dumps for mass consumption on DVD’s than competition. He also showed off the Openmoko reader . I found it not really worth the hype as it has too little screen space, no up, down, right and left buttons to access stuff and seemed a little bulky. During discussions he commented that he feels that Openmoko may die soon. Felt sad when came to know that as I have developed a certain soft spot for the company and what it believes in even though I don’t own any of their devices. I do understand some of the issues they had, from being a non-fab, no big moneyed people behind them and still trying to make open hardware in the real sense. Giving away the specifications and logic required for other people to make their own stuff. It upsets many people. They are also not so commercially oriented hence can’t operate at the scale some of their competitors can.
One of the failures they did was not pricing it right. When you price something when your own price to make it is -40 is not good. Also if you do in mass production, they could knock off more. He showed something called humaneinfo which sits between a TV. It an 8-bit device and sells for around Rs. 890 () and seems to be an interesting thing. He ended by commenting that in the larger context of things for a developing country like India a Wikipedia offline CD may be way way down on the wish-list. Towards the end he shared about the 10th Anniversary of Wikipedia and hoped that Pune does a party on that day. He congratulated and thanked all the participants for the day and RedHat for hosting it within their premises and announced closure of the meetup.He gave small Wikipedia badges to the attendees.
Find the obligatory Group Photo here. – Courtesy Sankarshan, Redhat.