Monday, August 31, 2009

Computing in Vernacular Language

I enjoy coding and creating business software. When I was in XIMB, I created an accounting system called PAMIS. It was a novel system very useful when you need to do project based accounting. The Panchyati Raj department in Orissa Government found this useful and adopted it for block level accounting. It was the biggest e-governance initiative. Thanks to the keenness of the secretary and the department, it was a very successful project. Subsequently, the department was planning to implement this in Panchayats.

PAMIS was developed with an English Language interface. At the block level it is fine as we have english educated people available. However, in a panchayat English language interface will not work. We now faced the challenge of modifying the software to make it Oriya enabled.

Oriya is available as a part of the Unicode. However, there are not many fonts available. When I researched, I found though Windows XP was multi-lingual, it did not have a Oriya language interface. I found someone in Hyderabad had developed a roundabout way to do data entry in Indian Languages including Oriya. We did a lot lot of experiment with the javascript code to adopt it for Pamis. However, the proposal for GP automation got shelved and my interest in multilingual software also waned.

Recently, S. N. Tripathy who returned to the Panchyati Raj department revived the idea of GP automation. I have again started taking interest in multilingual software. Now, both Windows and Linux have a multilingual language interface. Both systems have an identical way to change the keyboard. Developing software in a Indian Languages is a lot easier. The challenge is to translate business and technical jargon in Oriya. For example, what is the Oriya equivalent of Debit? ଆପଣ ଡେବିଟକୂ ଓଡିଆରେ କଣ କହିଵେ. I used Gnome in Ubuntu to write the above Oriya sentence.

Microsoft was prodded by the Government of Orissa to develop Oriya input for windows. Linux have done it with no prodding. I feel very happy that one can today develop software in Vernacular Language with some ease. The digital divide will reduce considerably because of this reason.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Internetting in IIIT

I had my got my email account in IIT Kharagpur in 1991. One had to go to the electronics dept to send or receive an email. When I visited Antwerp in 1995, I had my exposure to Internet i.e. access the web using Netscape Navigator. It just struck me in the web possibilities were mind blowing.

When I came back, I explored if we could have access to Internet in XIMB. In those days, Internet was provided through STPI, ERNET and NIC. We were desperate to get Internet. But, Institute of Physics was even more desperate. After pleading with STPI, OCAC which dealt with ernet, we had a breakthrough. STPI agreed to provide Internet access to educational Institutes. Institute of Physics got it first and XIMB was the second one to get it. In 1997, we had 64kbps bandwidth.

Over the years, we have got used to highspeed internet. In XIMB, we virtually doubled out our bandwidth every year.

When I joined IIIT and we started functioning out of OCAC, OCAC was kind enough to let us use their bandwidth. Subsequently, when we started our Masters programme, we get 1 Mbps bandwidth from STPI.

As we are moving to our new campus, the issue of Internet hit us again. Our campus is a little remote for most of the ISPs. As luck would have it, BSNL was laying its fibre optic cable in Gothapatna and saw IIIT as a client. They extended their fibre to IIIT. Then, they came out with an offer we just could not refuse. They offered 10 Mbps at a very attractive price. We just fell for it.

So in the gothapatna campus, we will start with a 10 Mbps Internet Link. BTW, IIITs have requested Govt of India to include them in the Konwledge Net which with give Gigabit access for free.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Prince Dance group wins IGT

A bunch of labourers from Berhampur, Orissa won India has got Talent. The event has caused a mild hysteria in Orissa. I watched the finals for 3 hours. I watched their other performances on Youtube.

Most of our classical dance forms which are very refined are solo performances. The folk dance forms are group performances. They are not very refined though very entertaining. When I watch similar shows from India and abroad, the finesse of shows from abroad stand out. What was surprising about the performance of the Prince group was the absolute finesse. Their dance was more about formations, coordination and finesse. It was not about footwork or facials.

There was a huge campaign in Orissa for voting the group. I sent at least 10 messages for the first time in my life. There were hoardings on streets of Orissa cajoling the public to vote. There was a campaign on a TV channel and a FM radio channel. I have not seen such coordinated media campaign in Orissa before.

The Prince groups win reiterates the point again: the days of the under dogs have arrived. There is such dearth of talent in urban centers that it has to surface from semiurban and rural areas.

As we are about to start our 1st year of the B.Tech. programme, there is a lot to learn from the Prince Group: Be inspired, be innovative and imaginative. Did I repeat the IIIT byline. No, I saw these traits the every movement of the Prince groups dance. As Sekhar Kapur said ours must be to be a world beating act and to that one needs a combination of talent and inspiration.