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Just Shoot Me

Bala, 28, Gordon Gekko in the making, pseudo-intellectual, cynic, bibliophile, obsessive compulsive ranter...

World Classical Tamil Conference - Day 3

June 27, 2010

Day 3 at the wikipedia stall in the Tamil internet conference went pretty much like Day 1. It was less tiresome as the student volunteers had shaped up well and took over much of the actual work from us. I wasn't able to attend Day 2 because Day 1's lunch gave me a moderate case of diarrhea. The pattern of visitors was similar to that in the first day a)mere sightseers looking for freebies b)people with computers and internet connections, who want to use Tamil in computers c) Some advanced users with specific doubts.

There was another class of people who were very curious about Tamil and computers - Govt employees. With the govt pushing e-governance (and usage of Tamil) hard, most of the govt offices have been computerised and use Tamil for official work. From what i can understand, they have not been given enough training in computers and using Tamil. There were employees from the collectorate, govt school teachers, health department officials, policemen, fire fighters who wanted to learn how to use Tamil in computers. A clerk/typist from the collectorate wanted to know if there were any speech recognition software in Tamil - something similar to Dragonspeech. Unfortunately nothing of that sort is commercially available (there are some research projects but nothing advanced beyond beta version). Another thing people found surprising was the Tamil support available in Nokia mobiles. Most of the handsets dont ship with Tamil enabled. We had to disappoint interested people by asking them to approach their nearest Nokia care centre and install Tamil in their handsets. So everything i saw reinforced my earlier opinion - People want to use Tamil both offline and online as they are more comfortable with it.

There were few "surprise visitors" to our stall. A couple of professors of linguistics dropped in to see what Wikipedia was all about. Just an hour before i had finished writing the article on Francil Whyte Ellis and was able to explain how we can make subjects like those accessible to the laymen. The Professors were happy to see we are writing articles on their subjects and promised to contribute to Wikipedia in the future. They left after gifting us a couple of their books. A pair of marketers from Google, Hyderabad showed up to see the Tamil internet conference. Google did not have a stall of their own, so Paul and his colleague (sorry i forgot her name) were there out of their own initiative to see the conference. They were disappointed with not being able to attend the actual paper presentations (entry only for those with ID cards), but I got an opportunity to lament about the woes of Google translation project in Tamil wiki to them.(The Google Tamil translation toolkit is a crappy software and Google India doesnt have a clue about how volunteer run, consensus driven projects like wikipedia work). They listened very patiently to my pulambal and promised to send the feedback to the relevant team.

I am extremely happy that i was part of such an event. This has made me realise when offered a chance to use Tamil and English in computers a lot of Tamils would chose the former. And it was a chance to meet Tamil wikipedians who have slogged it out to get Tamil wikipedia to where it is now. The things i did not like? First there was the food - Vasantha Bhavan's shitty lunch knocked me out a whole day which i spent mostly in the Kakkoos. The whole ID card situation - none of us volunteers were given IDs, which pretty much restricted us to the Internet conference section. I wasnt able to see anything else - no paper presentations, no panels, no speeches, none. Once i was inside the internet conference dome there was no coming out. Even for peeing, someone with a ID card had to escort us out through the back way and vouch for us to the police guards posted there. I had planned to take photos of politicians/bureaucrats for Wikimedia commons and that didnt happen at all. And there was the lousy internet connection. There were enough jacks available in the stall, but the connection was fickle. The wifi network was feeble and completely useless. The LAN was better but would go off every ten minutes or so. This is supposed to be a "internet conference" and internet did not work properly. Sigh! thats govt for you.

The Hindu's Karthick Madhavan (who has been doing good work covering the conference) has a nice write up on us here (the photo is posed though :-))

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posted by Bala, 9:02 AM | link | 3 comments |

Tamil Internet Conference - Day 1

June 24, 2010

I just got back from the Tamil Internet conference (part of the Classical Tamil Conference 2010). Man what an experience. I had a blast of a time there.

I was part of the Tamil Wikipedia / Free Open Source Software team manning a big stall there. Thanks to good lobbying/awareness creation by the Tamil Wikipedians and Tamil blogging community, we had been allocated one of the biggest stalls in the venue (bigger than those given for CTS, TCS, HCL, Dina thanthi etc). Ours was the only volunteer run stall and it was a great experience. I am a relatively new entrant to Tamil Wikipedia (though more experienced in English Wikipedia). But living in Coimbatore and working out of home is an advantage while volunteering at an event in Coimbatore. Thus when Ta.Wiki asked for volunteers i signed up. We had a few basic goals - a) Make people aware that they can use Tamil in the web 2) Teach them how to obtain and use Tamil typing software 3) Introduce Tamil Wikipedia and teach them how to use/contribute to it. The FOSS (Free and open source software) group was there to introduce open source software like Ubuntu.

There were a lot of hiccups like they forgot to give us our IDs, the internet going on and off, the inauguration getting delayed etc. But the crowd response made it all worthwhile. To be short : Tamils want to use Tamil in the internet. All the matriculation school/english education mania hasnt reduced people's need for Tamil language content and tools. You should see their faces light up when you mention Tamil can be used in the web. All sorts of people - vernacular media professionals, retirees who chat with their children, college students who want to SMS in Tamil, Govt school teachers who are about to be given computers, Policemen who want to write in Tamil - everyone wants to know how they can use Tamil in the web. A large part of the crowd was the sight seeing, freebee seeking type who was just in for the spectacle. But a large part also seemed genuinely interested to learn how to use Tamil software. The Govt is giving away one lakh CDs full of Tamil software free and there was a long queue for getting that CD (probably a lot of them will get trashed, but even if half of them get used, you can say this conference was a success).

Another thing i noticed is the relief on people's faces when they realise we are not selling something. When they hear i was there to teach them to use some software, most of them ask what the cost is. When they hear we are volunteers doing this for free, there is momentary disbelief followed by congratulations. I had a old man pump my hand saying i appreciate what you are doing. Another point i noticed is - many of the people who already are aware of online transliteration tools like Google and Quillpad, complain that it is very painful to use them. Dont know why. By four we were all worn out and had hoarse throats from all the shouting/explaining. The evening crowd was more of a sightseeing one just there to see what was going on. We wound up the stall an hour before official closing time and left - not much energy left in us to continue.

Today's experience has opened my eyes about the necessity of increasing vernacular content in the web. English remains an alien and uncomfortable language for many of us. I have a thousand qualms about wasting lots of tax payer money in what is essentially a sycophancy show for Karunanidhi. But good things do happen out of political grandstandings like these. While the CM does the whole Bread and Circuses routine, Tamil might actually gain something.

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posted by Bala, 9:42 PM | link | 2 comments |

test

testing from chemmozhi maanadu
செம்மொழிப் பயிலரங்கம்
posted by Bala, 4:29 PM | link | 0 comments |