The media maketh and the media breaketh

Anyone who has been reading the Anandabazaar Patrika (it is a pity that their website does not work on GNU/Linux – crufty technology has its pitfalls) will sort of make an impression that nothing is right in the nation. First, there are dire warning articles about the Indian National Cricket Team Coach. The hapless (and as the paper says ‘hopeless’) Mr Chappel has been identified by the numerous experts as the root of all evil and only his scalp can bring victory to the team. However, the pithy comment from the INCTC about ‘whether removing him is the solution’ does go unanswered.

Then, there was the article about Ashim Dasgupta’s patrolling at RG Kar and the ridiculous exercise of breaking down the meter box for the access to the control panel – the paper had a rhetorical question : how many things will the hospitals change to provide stellar service ? The state of affairs in terms of medical services in the state has been brought about by the ruling party itself. In the 30 years it has been in service, the initial years were spent in appeasement of some of the unions the after effects of which are being felt now. However much reforms and reform-like steps are put place, nothing is going to happen till there’s a change in attitude and a realisation that the service provided is for the consumer. Look at the stage of a large number of the state government run businesses – and ask why should the government be involved in business ?

The point however is the short attention span of the media – anyone recall the newspapers covering the Karnataka schools which came under fire for not having Kannada as the language in the primary sections ? What about covering what happened later ? The same is what is going to happen with cricket, with medical services, with Nitish Katara and with perhaps a large number of relevant items … What however, will hog headlines are articles like this

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The tradition continues…

The grand tradition of posting the announcement continues as does the tradition of putting up questions for the candidates. This year, putting up the questions was a bit of a grand itch – there were so many nice questions to ask to the candidates and yet one has to do with only 10 or 15 odd number.

One of the hotly debated items theme around the question of whether the Board is a technical one ie is it supposed to handle technical issues that hover around and make up GNOME. From where I come from, I don’t see a reason why the Board should get involved in handling technical issues. The aim of the Board is to provide strategic direction. In a project like GNOME, calls on strategy would include and involve getting into the technical nitty gritty, but it should not mandate that the Board actually sits down to thrash the issues across. A delegation of the same to the appropriate members who form the committees would lead to a better informed and much more complete decision. In my mind, what I would expect from the Board is increased visibility and activity. Over the years, the function of the Board has to the external world diluted to be a mere meeting maker and not a direction provider. This involves addressing the oft heard people issues. The current crop of action items revolve around how to rejuvenate the people momentum in the project. Lowering the barrriers for entry and contribution but at the same time ensuring that there is no lowering of the standards and the quality of the code/documentation/project ideas being put across.

If one browses through the archives of the GNOME Marketing mailing list it would be obvious that a long hard introspective look is being taken into the project (and the sub projects). But, marketing is not only where the action happens. The idea is to get people issues resolved in GNOME, to get the greater holistic picture of co-existence and collaboration sorted in the perspective of the Free Software community. Additionally, the business development activities that form a charter of the Board need to be ironed out. Without mincing words, one can actually state that they are in a really sorry state. Someone has to be put in place to address the issues of Business Development directly and in a dedicated manner and thus chase opportunities for funding. While the project has a good number of hacker-extraordinaire, what is needed is to mentor a second, a third and then perhaps a fourth rung of active contributors. And not through (or at least only through) easily achievable stuff like contributions to documentations (though GNOME needs them) but utilising all sorts of low-touch methods to get the message across.

Most of the questions that have been asked of the candidates can be related to the Board Member Mini HowTo. These are questions (and thankfully no one yet has blasted me for the questions/the semantics/the choices/) that are more related to management of the Board’s time, the funds, the resources and putting in place what is so coyly termed Job Fit. Plus of course the ever alive issue of parcelling out GNOME into various need based platforms viz. Technical Workstation, Client Devices etc. The responses are interesting enough – do take time to read the thread here.

A letter to the editor of Linux For You

I wrote the mail below to the editor on the 8th. Have not received a response till date so I guess it does not matter much to them.

Dear Editor,

Please try and get the magazine to get its act together. The consistency
of quality of the magazine moves through a sine curve with un-erring
frequency, articles are printed giving a distinct impression that they
are half-done and half researched and most importantly the jarring use
of colors seem to bother the reader more than earlier.

I would urge you to take a look at Mango Parfait’s column on Linux
question and answers in The TUX Magazine and then honestly assess the
responses and the quality of them published under the name of Vipin
Sharma. In simple words, the latter leaves too much to be desired. Half
hearted responses and vague discussions under the name of Q&A don’t
provide too much interest to the reader.

Providing news to the avid readers of news in the magazine should form
one of the aims. Sometime back I had suggested that summarising Linux
Kernel Mailing List traffic (lkml) and publishing them might be a nice
way to introduce younger and fresher faces to the world of FOSS. I see
that you don’t see much reason in doing that – could I ask why ? Since
the monthly digest is anyway available, all it would require is for
someone to read through it and summarise the important points.
Additionally, you might like to create a spot for O’Reilly’s monthly
book updates – they are fairly regular these days and some nice books
are out there in the O’Reilly catalog.

The regular columns need to get a life. They are going
round-and-round-the-bush talking about the same things over and over
again without showing much innovation in ideas, opinions or insights.

The feature articles need to have some research into them. For example,
the ones of GNOME and KDE (in the current issue) while providing details
about the legacy and history does little to provide a roadmap for the
future and the GNOME/KDE goals or even tie it in with Portland Project
(which is happening in a large way). Additionally getting folks who have
hands-on knowledge and experience to write eg getting someone who *has*
SELinux deployments to write on it rather than getting someone to cull
information from websites and books to compile and collate an article.
In case studies of deployments (especially strategic ones) do please try
and highlight the challenges and the solutions as this is what
influences others to become adopters. If you look at the Bombay High
Court story this month it falls short on those grounds. Additionally,
inputs from the SIs, Hardware Vendors would make the story complete.

Getting bits of the magazine online would be a great way to get bloggers
to provide links. These online bits can be source code snippets which
takes up space in the article content to LUG details and some special
features from the magazine. This would also require you to update the
LUG database (it is old in large bits)

Regards
Sankarshan

Brands and their values

Remember Nilkamal – till now normally associated with shoddy or plain-vanilla plastic chairs ? Well we knew the same till this Sunday too. When runab and myself visited the @home we were pleasantly surprised to learn that it was from the same group. The finish and the presentation was so unlike what you expect from the group that it was deliciously surprising. As you might have guessed, the two of us were shopping for household stuff and were mildly surprised at the range and the nice floor executives/assistants.

Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of #linux-india

On #linux-india on another of those lazy days the conversation turned to jobs, first job preferences (start-up vs known brand) and passion. More to the point it boiled down to the fact that 2006 has seen the largest quantum of my acquaintances switching jobs sometimes with unexpected turns in terms of the choices made.

How am I qualified to opine on this ? I am not. I was part of a start-up, consider myself to be still part of it in some remote way, did my usual quota of consulting before joining a company and have stuck around at the same place since. It might sound cliched but in a curious bit I have been associated with roles of adequate challenges to keep me interested enough. So the question morphs into what (re)kindles the interest and motivates folks ? Is it passion ? Is it appreciation ? Is it challenges ? I guess it is a fair broth of all the above. You need to have your work appreciated and so done in public. The passion drives you with enough fire to keep going and do better and surpass all nature of challenges that are part of the daily rote.

So the next question would be whether to join a startup or a known brand – and this is immaterial of the sector/business segment. From whatever little interaction I keep on having with students in their various years of academic study, joining a known brand seems to be the current aim rather than joining a start-up. Or even forming one. This is something that baffles me. In most of the IIT-MBA combination students the knowledge and analytical skills are not lacking. Thanks to their exposure to sources of knowledge they are expected to be much ahead on the knowledge curve. So why does innovation suffer ? In this context I equate innovation with creation of start-ups with concepts, models and business processes that challenge the usual and more often than not succeed. Does the education system in some way seed in a risk-aversion paradigm ? It is paradoxical that those who will analyse threadbare the model of PicSquare (say) will hesitate ten times before starting up a company along a new idea. There should not be a lack in the business ideas – these folks are supposed to be looking forward to having one good idea. The thing that is in short supply is the will to indulge in one. One such student told me that infrastructure for business is not good in India. The “climate” in the US is more suited to startups. Sort of a throwback to the Paul Graham article that Silicon Valley like environs create an adrenaline rush that allows innovations and startups to flourish. How true is that ? I don’t know and taking Silicon Valley as the single example of the axiom seems kind of lazy reasoning. So why don’t the young ones join/create a startup. There are some really interesting ones out there who are doing really nice stuff and have sufficient funds to recruit (and are doing so). Frankly I have no clue. Perhaps once you are through your studies and spent a bucket load of money, getting a hefty package from a known brand is more of an attraction. Perhaps truly there’s not much infrastructure to support startups in terms of financing, bandwidth, sales and marketing. Perhaps it is just the way we are…