Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Weekend with Eben Moglan

On the last weekend, I got a chance to interact with two eminent personalities who compete with each other in leaving their legacy in the minds of people whom they meet. While RMS is admired by thousands of people around the world including me for creating the GNU movement and for his uncompromising stand, Eben Moglan leaves his mark for his oratory skills, humbleness and humility. As I have already written about RMS in my previous blog, I believe I won't be doing justice to Eben and the few precious moments I spent with him if I didn't write about him.

There may not be many people who know Eben Moglen. Professor Eben Moglen is the professor of law and legal history at Columbia University and is the founder, Director-Counsel and Chairman of Software Freedom Law Center.He is a programmer turned lawyer.

I and a few friends got a chance to meet and interact with Eben Moglen. Eben Moglen's speech is a spontaneous overflow of words where each sentence is elaborated by real time examples that delights a listener. He listen to each and every word from a listener and involves in direct communication with the listener.He uses the dialectic approach while answering questions. Eben uses the content from the audience, elaborate it and finally contradict it to convince the audience. While doing so Eben never directly contradicts the statement of the listener, but raise his arguments one by one to make his point.

When I was a listening to one of his speeches one person in the audience asked a question that making profit is a natural human tendency and then why should someone gives their software as free. Eben answered this question by going back to the human history and how human beings emerged as a society by collaboration and co-operation. He emphasized that humanbeings also has the natural tendency to help each other. In everyday life we help each other in someway or the other and it is also a natural tendency. The answer not only convinced the audience but also carried their minds to the historical context of the emergence of human society.

I also got a chance to had my dinner with Eben and once someone remarked that human life is short and why we should live a life of sacrifices and try to improve our society. Eben said that efforts of the great visionaries in the past and our forefathers was not only for themselves, but also for the future generations. Our efforts to improve and better the human society may not yield results in our life time, but may be our future generations after 100 or 200 years may get the results. That will be the only thing that help us human beings to move forward.

Finally in the slum computing center we all sit and discussed together about the future plans and his suggestions to improve the center. Everyone was amazed by his simplicity, his vision and knowledge. A two hour long discussion was a session of open communication and we got many suggestions to improve the center. He inspired each one of us to carry forward what we were doing for the rest of our life.

Even after leaving the center and almost a week was passed, he lives in our hearts through his words and it is something that all of us will cherish in our lifetime. Of course I have disagreements with him, but that doesn't stop me from admiring Eben Moglen one of the great personalities I have ever met.
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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stallman visits slum computing center

Ambedkar Community Computer center is situated in a slum area in the New Gurupanplaya in Bannerghata road Bangalore. In the IT city of multinationals, it is only one of the slums in interiors of Banaglore that is not well known outside. Yesterday (13th December 2008), the slum had a unique visitor who is not only famous but also considered to be well known in every part of the world as the founder of the free software foundation. Richard M Stallman's visit turned the attention of IT professionals and media persons to the otherwise not well known slum.

Ambedkar Community Computing Center (AC3) is a centre set up in the slum area of Gurupan Palya by members of Stree Jagruthi Samithi, volunteers from AID (Association of India's Development) and by some Free Software Volunteers working in IT industry.

The idea of setting up the centre was to equip the poor children in the nearby area with the basic computer skills using quality software which is available free of cost and shareable. The center uses free software tools on GNU/Linux to teach and impart computer knowledge to children. The effort is now showing results and the children have shown enormous improvement. One of the children, Mani, a 9th standard student, has created beautiful pictures using the Free Software tool "GIMP". His pictures got a huge response from the exhibition conducted during the Free Software National Conference held in Cochin, this November. Amazed by Mani's picture art, Stallman agreed to visit AC3 and interact with the children for a few minutes.

During his visit, Richard Stallman inaugurated Mani's painting exhibition and released a book written by children on the basis of their experience in the slum computing center.
Sarasu, who is from the slum area, teaching kids in the slum computing center presented about the center and the work it is doing for the poor. There were also cultural events from the inhabitants of the slum. After the events, Stallman interacted with the audience and addressed their questions.

Here is an extract from his speech:

I am honoured to be here in the community computer center that is in the name of Dr BR Ambedkar. I have read about Ambedkar and I was inspired by the work he has done for the dalit people in India. There are many issues among the poor and marginalized in India that are more important than using free software. But, free software is one of the tool that helps the poor and dalit to resolve some of the issues they are facing. Poor can't afford proprietary softwares and free software helps them to accees computers. While proprietary software companies are like the colonial rulers who exploited the masses, free software is freedom and liberation. Ambedkar Community Computer center is a model for the other parts of the india in such a way that it gives access to computers for the poor without compromising the freedom. The Ambedkar Community Center is doing a great job by empowering the poor with knowledge of free software.

It was a memorable experience for the people in slum area, the people who are part of the Ambedkar Community Computer Center and the children who are the students of the center. They were all inspired by the visit of the Richard M Stallman to spread the free software message and also taking the center to next level.
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Monday, October 13, 2008

An Unforgettable Lesson from a Kid

I was attending a FOSS training camp by free software movement activists in Bangalore last weekend. The sessions were followed by a demonstration from a 9th standard kid Mani from a slum area in Bannarghatta road, Bangalore. When he demonstrated the usage of GIMP by drawing pictures, I and every one among the audience were amazed. In fact he is a physically disabled kid who seems to have a natural talent for drawing.

I had tried out GIMP a few years back, but I lost interest when I felt that it is too complex and I have no inclination for drawing. When some of the volunteers were teaching computers to students in a slum area Mani expressed his eagerness to learn GIMP an image manipulation tool in GNU/Linux. One of the volunteer Hareesh provided a video on GIMP and he taught GIMP by himself using that video with the help of Balaji(A volunteer of free software movement and an employee of Sun). He became so proficient in the tool that he was able to draw a beautiful picture in a short span of time. GIMP is an equivalent tool for Photoshop, but considered less user friendly and not that much popular compared to other image manipulation tools.

We are living in a knowledge era and access to knowledge is more easier through collaboration and social networking tools. But a huge population of India is outside the reach of this vast knowledge. India has a huge talent pool with rich human resources that is unexploited. It is our duty as socially responsible citizens to reach this knowledge to masses who are poor or ignorant. This incident was an example of the use of free software as a tool to empower the masses through knowledge. Kudos to the team who are successfully running the computer center for underprivileged in the slum area. Contrary to popular assumption, people has the ability to come out successful irrespective of their background if they are provided help and access to knowledge. We need to be patient and give them the right tools to bring out their talent.

Read a report about the slum computer center in:

Here is a video about mani in the GNU website: How GIMP changed Mani's life

Here is an article I wrote for Bangalore citizen matters about Richard Stallman's visit to Ambedkar Community Computer Center:

Stallman's visit to Ambedkar Community Computer Center

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