Sunday, August 31, 2014

growing awareness of digital freedom

Hello all,
I know you all might be wondering why such a big lul?
I have not been blogging for quite some time now and you can easily guess that it was due to the fact that there was not much to blog.
So it is equally obvious that some thing has made me take up the laptop in my hand again to break the lul.
Well, of late I have been doing a few free software workshops, including some technical seminars on Python, Django and struts.
Nothing new in that, basically I have been doing it for quite some years, both as a second profession and also to spread as much awareness about digital freedom as possible.
I almost came very near to blog a week before, I had a wonderful workshop at Vartak college Vasai.
Infact I will speak about that experience as well, but some thing or the other kept me busy.
Yesterday, on 30th August 2014, I went to deliver a talk on free software and migration to FOSS at Sarvajanic College of Engineering, Surat.  Praveen, the great free software and privacy activist and Ishan our budding GNUKhata contributer was along with me.
We had a nice journey and although could not eat Bhuging, a delicacy around virar, we had a very nice time.
Overall the response was great, enough for us to realise at the very outset that here is some place where people have basic sence and they value their digital freedom.
We reach Surat late night on 29th and had to take rest.
On the way the food was great although not outstanding from our standards.
We are proud, pure non veg freeks so had some good chicken and mutton dishes.
As I said, the sad part was that we could not have Bhuging, a conbination of poha and chicken.
So in the morning, we were escorted by Prof. Bintu and his colligue to the college.
From here on the real surprises started.
The moment we met Principle, Dr. Vaishali and the chairman representative Yagnik bhai, we knew that they have taken the free software "movement " very seriously.
I quoted the word movement because that's what they used during the talk.
It is very rare that people at the top level talk about FOSS in such a way.
Prof. Dipali Kasat, who had actually coordinated the workshop was very happy to see us there and we had a cup of tea and headed streight to the seminar hall.
We did our regular free software talk with presentation from your's truely, followed by the demo of Ubuntu based GNU/Linux desktop.
I started off by explaning them the need for digital freedom, explaining them the freedom to use, study, modify and redistribute Free Software.
Open source as they call it mostly, had already taken some roots in that college.  It was very obvious when people asked questions like "I tryed getting my printer work with Linux but there was some problem", or "I wish to know how I can configure ldab in a more secured way ".  Infact prof. Dipali wished to know if she could configure Koha, the library management free software in a more better way.
We told her that there would be more simpler and easy FOSS alternatives.
Overall participants were very happy that their queries were getting solved and we wer happy that people had value for all that they were learning.
For those who take such workshops, one thing to remember is to understand not just the kind of participants they are going to adress, but also what their institute's overall mindset is about free software.
This includes understanding how management thinks and what level of openness exists amongst faculties.
For example the Vasai workshop we did last week was totally different.
The college does not even give basic facilities like Internet to the students.
They off late seem to be realizing the need for free softwaer, although not so seriously into it.
Students in that college however, realize this and came out openly when they spoke with me and Praveen at the Varadh banglo where we both stayed during that last week's workshop.
So during my inogural talk in Vartak college, I had harshly critisized overall system and had refered to universities as mafia gangs, just to loot students.
I know some faculties got hert but students know it well that I was speaking the bitter truth.
They got so amused and impressed with my comment that a group of students started their own mailing list called and we have already started discussion on that list.
Really a wonderful experience that was with students like Shikha, Romali, Swarali, Reevs and many others including Bhargav who have become pretty active.

Back to my Surat experience, Well the workshop went very well with Ishan disccussing in great details about his case against HP, where they forced him to buy windows 8.1 license for one laptop he liked.
People were sensitized by him that such a thing is illegal.  Me and Praveen really liked when he said "my loyers will get them to change the terms in their agreement".
Here though I was rather on a soft tone and knew that harsher words are not needed, given the already understanding and knowledgable faculties and management.
However one has to talk firmly and in such places should make it a point to strongly back what we say.
The reason for me to blog about this though really came at the end of the seminar.
The principle Dr. Vaishali, in her closing speech said a fundamentally remarkable thing.
her statement was "India has gone freedom 68 years before, but we are still not free digitally, our knowledge and data is still in the hands of few big companies and most of them not Indian".
Praveen immediately and rightly commented to me saying, "here is one faculty who very well knows and understands the issue and not talking some formal closing crap".
We now plan to intensify the campain and get their technical problems solved as early as we can.
The library softwaer, LDAP support and setting up the center for excelence in that college is right on our agenda.
Overall the last 2 experiences of workshop have proven one thing.
In one place the students were fast becoming digital freedom activists and in the other, the entire management is well aware of the value of digital freedom.
Infact I must bring to the notice of thoes pessimist's,  that colleges like Sarvajanic college of engineering have streight way refused to buy new licenses or upgrade old once from Microsoft and other companies.
This goes to show that the awareness is fast growing and we are winning.