Wednesday, September 11, 2013

My takeaways from FUEL GILT Conference 2013

This is going to be a long post and I am going to think aloud while typing it out. So before you lose interest, first of all, let me thank both Red Hat and CDAC for jointly hosting the FUEL-GILT Conference 2013. The 2 days conference at Pune not just helped the default objective of advancing on the Fuel project but also revived the Indic computing community. It is after a long time that the stalwarts of Indian Language technology all got together on the same platform and worked on ideas and tasks that have been waiting for a long time. The significant highlight of the event has to be the growing harmony and collaboration between the technologists, linguists, Government bodies and Open Source community.

So what is FUEL? Going by the words on the brochure and what I understand over the years, FUEL started with a simple idea of standardizing the most commonly used entries in the menus and submenus of a desktop and hence the name FUEL (Frequently Used Entries for Localization). Today the concept has gone on to cover the web and mobile platforms as well.  It may look like a simple idea, but considering the impact that it has on the use of ICT on various platforms in various languages, it actually addresses a very important issue. Its absence can very well deteriorate the effective elimination of linguistic barrier in technology. No wonder it has grown on to cover more than 40 languages and eGovernance standards in India are taking it seriously in their guidelines. For more on FUEL project see this and this.

The conference started with the special address from Mr. Satish Mohan of Red Hat and Mr. M. D. Kulkarni of CDAC. Both of them highlighted the progress and achievement so far in the field of Indian Language Computing and also gave some crucial directions on way forward and thing yet undone. Although organized under the banner of FUEL, the stage was set for contemplating on problems and ideas related to language computing which were left aside for a long time at least in the open source community.

Talking about the ideas and initiatives, the ones worth noting had to be Zanata translation management tool, hadoop based auto-translation framework, UTRRS testing system for text rendering, matrix based translation assessment system, standardization or guidelines for indic fonts, issues and ideas on indic typing on mobile, automatic language detection for input methods and last but not least my own appeal to extend FUEL efforts for vertical specific localization.

In my humble opinion, there exist a lot of translation management tools, but what is necessary is to make them more user-friendly, improve their capability in suggesting translations and ensuring consistency of terminology. In this respect I think Zanata does have the features and capabilities to smoothen the process of accurate translations and I am really hopeful that it will grow towards these goals. What I would like to see though in near future is a public portal of something like Zanata that will help both the upstream and downstream localization. Such a portal can become a very prominent starting point for any localization project and help new projects benefit from the translation memories created by the work done in previous ones.

We have been looking at the google translations for a long time now. It does have a good support for European languages, but so far the performance with Indian languages has not been very impressive. Now making an auto-translation work seamlessly is not an easy task. It requires mammoth efforts, not just the backend technology but also the not so technical training of the algorithms and linguistic resources that these backend frameworks can make use of. It won’t be a sane thought if we expect one organization or team to achieve all of it. It certainly needs efforts from hundreds of dedicated developers and linguists. From this perspective, the hadoop based framework discussed by Mr. Rajat Gupta may provide a strong technical framework. But to switch the plug on and make the machine translation giant work, it’s going to need enormous amount of data corpus fed to it. I am neither an expert on the quality of translation framework nor do I know of the plans to feed the machine, but it would be really great if they indeed succeed in their efforts on collecting the unorganized data. I would love to see the development of this get into the public domain and get help from crowd-sourcing at least on the data side.

For those who do not know about UTRRS, it’s the testing reference system for rendering of local language scripts. Satyabrata Maitra gave nice introduction of the system that was long awaited in the open source community, especially the ones concerned about the consistent rendering of Indic fonts. Hope this gives a headstart to the efforts of developing more Indic fonts that are bug-free across applications and platforms. There is a discussion going on renaming this system and my vote goes for SUTRA which not just appears to be a sensible Indic word but also reflects the meaning of the system i.e. equation, in a sense this framework provides us the equations to verify against for testing local fonts’ rendering.

Right since 2004 when I and my team started working on developing Samyak fonts, one of our major focuses was to ensure standard multilingual text usage. We not only tried to standardize styles and sizes of the fonts among the Indic scripts that we developed the font for but also with the Latin text that can co-exist with Indic text. On day 2 of the conference, Guntupalli Karunakar presented ideas and need for standardizing the font features and giving various levels of compatibility to the Indic fonts based on the complex set of rules they support. The discussions went on to cover the problems of intermixing the text from various scripts and ensuring similar look and feel, especially the size and line widths, the same issue we have been trying to resolve for so long. I think there needs to be a general guideline on the em-sizes and alignments for font developers to ensure compatibility with at least few of the most commonly used Latin fonts. In the offline, I discussed the issue along with few of my suggestions with Peiying Mo of Mozilla and one of my friends, the Indic font designer Ravi Pande. I am planning to look closer on this issue and come up with few guidelines that I will try to implement with Samyak fonts and if possible on Lohit as well.

Coming to the mobile platform, it seems with the progress in smartphone developments and android, the language computing on mobile platform is gaining pace. When Anivar Arvind presented the developments and problems in mobile Indic computing, I was reminded of the same major hurdle, an efficient input method. Considering the complexities of the Indic scripts and large character sets, no matter how big the phones get in size, they are still small for efficient input. Considering that users are yet to get acquainted with the typing on desktop, its actually a far-stretched hope that same input mechanisms will thrive on the mobile platform. Let’s assume that the screen size is also not an issue and we can have sufficiently large tablet displays, still typing on a touch-screen is a lot different than a physical keyboard, especially the need to hold ‘shift’ key so frequently while typing in Indian languages using some of the traditional keyboard layout. I personally use Ashoka map on my android phone but it’s not even complete let alone efficient.  At GnowTantra, we have been researching about the various accessibility solutions including the ones that not only bridge linguistic barriers but also help blind users in their daily activities using handheld devices. I think we got a new topic and direction to think over now.

Pravin Satpute from Red Hat’s i18n team presented an innovative idea for seamless multi-lingual typing. He discussed the possibility of detecting the language being typed without the user having to switch between layouts every time the language changes.  I surely get irritated when I am talking via text and have to switch the language whenever there is a word from English that comes inevitable. It would be good to get something like this actually implemented although I am not sure how effectively such system can handle the ambiguities of language detection, I hope it becomes possible to some extent at least for non-phonetic layouts such as inscript.

Talking about my own contributions to the conference, I made an appeal to extend FUEL to various verticals apart from ICT. This comes from our recent experience at GnowTantra when we worked on globalization of an application in the Accounting domain. We realized that the difficulties in working on a particular vertical are not covered during the general ICT localization. It needs a more focused approach and contributions from specialists of the vertical from various linguistic backgrounds. And even if we do it for one application, we do not solve the problem for other applications in the same vertical since there is no standard guideline. Hence FUEL.  Thanks to Rajesh for accepting this request in the panel discussion. I myself and GnowTantra would like to  contribute in whichever way possible towards these efforts. Verticals ensure specific solutions for specific problems, and hence unless we work on consistent solutions to increase the reach of these specific solutions, technology will not become accessible and useful to the masses.

Apart from all these technicalities and difficulties, one of the issues highlighted through various talks including the ones by Mr. Ravikant, Mr. Ravishankar Shrivastava and few others, was the usefulness of the translated terms in conveying the meaning. This gives us a direction that the language is supposed to convey meaning and not just an alternative word. A lot of interesting discussions went on about Hinglish, Minglish, Malinglish and so on.

So these are my takeaways from the conference. But the most important and fortunate thing that happened and in my opinion benefited both the community and the FUEL project was the keynote from Mr. Sam Pitroda. He joined over video conference, and shared his ideas, concerns and assurance to help the development of Indic computing solutions. I think this is one area of computing that needs collaboration than anything else. Mr. Pitroda highlighted the importance of language computing and assured the government’s sustained collaborative efforts in the field. I hope he takes closer look into opening up huge wealth of linguistic resources such as literature, language corpus, research material etc. that is available with the government institutes but not yet into the public domain. He talked about convincing the academic institutes to publish their PhD research works over internet for people and also governments preference to Open Soruce. In spite of the cultural barriers he mentioned about non-sharing of knowledge resources in the country, this has to be very encouraging for the community, future of Indic computing and reach of the technology in general.

I would once again like to thank the organizers and especially Mr. Rajesh Ranjan, "the man behind FUEL" and my ex-colleague from Red Hat for making it a successful project and an event. We hope to see even more significant achievements and more such events in the future. 

[P.S. : Everything written here is my personal thought process and it may not be accurate. Hope we have only healthy discussions. J]

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Scientific interpretation of Ganapati's story!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What is so wrong with Bhagwad Geeta?

Here's a discussion I had with someone over Bhagwad Geeta on TOI forum (Stop reading now if you don't want to go to the end, it may mislead):

mukunda (Bengaluru) replies to Siddharth

21 Jul, 2011 02:50 PM

Ok,lets read ch 4 verse 13. catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah tasya kartaram api mam viddhy akartaram avyayam "According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable." 1st line"catur-varnyam maya srstam" 4 varnas are created by Me(Paramatma),2nd line "guna-karma-vibhagasah" where the vabhajan\categorization is based on one's guna composition and karma composition. 3rd and 4th line states how He is the non doer and unchangable. Sri Krishna says that each living entity is categorized into one of the 4 varnas based ONLY on their previous records of Gunas and their Karma. NOWHERE He mentions about janana\birth as the basis of categorization (example: a son of a brahmana is not a brahmana(by birth), but he becomes a brahmana by his gunas and karma), where as caste system is a system which is categorized purely based on birth(example: a son of a brahmana is automatically placed in the general merit(due to birth in a brahmana family) and a son of a scheduled caste is placed as a scheduled caste(due to birth in a scheduled caste family)). now can you please explain your statement "Gita encourages caste system. How can we allow a book that doesn't consider all humans as equal and believes that the humans are divided in 4 castes." Gita states that you earn your varna due to your previous deeds and guna records. this system is present everywhere. you dont ask a school dropout person to become an IAS officer. he has to earn this position by doing required action(passing IAS exam) and also including his guna composition. NOTE: its very easy to read anti hindu articles on the internet and comment by taking bits and pieces. but Satyameva Jayate, Truth alone triumphs. regards, mukunda

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Siddharth replies to mukunda

11 hrs ago (02:36 PM)

If Varna is NOT determined by birth then tell me how many people were there in our entire history that were the born in the house of shudras but became Brahmins by their deeds? You just can't name it. Because a son of brahmin is always considered a brahmin and it is assumed that he did good deeds in his past life. and same goes for the shudras. Hence, encouragement of caste system.

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Rahul Bhalerao (bglr) replies to mukunda

21 Jul, 2011 10:41 PM

Why doesn't Geeta clearly say that it is not the birth that determines varna? why make ambiguous statements? Previous deeds/karma means what? The deeds/education/skills acquired in this birth or the popular interpretation of previous birth's karma? If deeds decide varna then just like deeds can keep changing why can't a varna change? If it is only the deeds that determine varna, why are the atrocities based on varna justified? Let the incompetent be poor, why do we need to torture them? Why doesn't it acknowledge the scientific and philosophical truth that all human beings are equal? Are all these confusions left like that so that it can be interpreted to justify the injustice in the name of varna and dharma? We don't know of practical goodness of the bright interpretations of Geeta but we certainly know the dark side of it, that varna is birth based and has caused injustice for thousands of years.

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mukunda replies to Rahul Bhalerao

11 hrs ago (02:48 PM)

Namaste Rahul,answers to your queries are below 1:"Why doesnt Geeta clearly say that it is not the birth that determines varna? why make ambiguous statements?" ans: its not ambiguous, in fact Sri Krishna clearly states the definition of varna as based ONLY on guna and karma.example: definition of sphere is : a sphere is a perfectly round geometrical object in three-dimensional space, such as the shape of a round ball(wikipedia).here the sphere is defined by categorically placing it in the shape of round and in 3D space. now i would definitely look foolish if i state that its ambigious since it doesnt state anything about squares or rectangle shapes(apart from circular/round). it doesnt include any other shapes since it does not categorically fall in any other shapes. likewise, when Sri Krishna is clearly telling varna is based ONLY on guna and karma, asking the question of janma is irrelevent since this definition is not proof by negation/proof by shortlisting. in ch 18 verse 41, Sri Krishna reaffirms about the varnas "brahmana-kshatriya-visam "O Arjuna, the karma/acitivities of the brahmanas,ksatriyas,vaisyas and sudras are clearly divided according to the gunas/qualities born of their own nature" 2: "previous deeds/karma means what? " again Sri Krishna defines karma as sanchita karma prarabdha karma aagama karma. 1. sanchita karma (karma in storage, karma already done) 2. prArabdha karma (karma that has begun to bear fruit,karma being done) 3. AgAmi karma (karma resulting from future activities). this is a very huge topic to cover here. 3:"If deeds decide varna then just like deeds can keep changing why can't a varna change? " ans:varna does change; a brahmana can become a shudra and vice versa. example: Brahmarishi Vishwamitra was a kshatriya Raja/king and his original name was Kaushika. He was a Kshatriya who became a Brahmana due to his deeds(becoming a Brahmarishi). since nobody is born to any varna, they can change varna depending on their karma and guna. regards,

Rahul Bhalerao:

Mukunda, it is good that you brought the point of altering Varna! I suggest you take a look at the research paper 'who were shudras' by Dr. Ambedkar. There are number of cases where you see varna being changed in mythological history. But the question remains the same, first of all why divide the society in general, and second how did this division became so robust, rigid and remained based on birth for all the practical reality of 3 thousand years? What was it in the religion that caused an apparently mere labor hierarchy into a rigid system of varna and caste that is present in all its glory? Start reading all these mythological scriptures in more un-religious manner and you find the answers. Just like any other society in world, the priest class of brahmins secured unequivocal powers in the times of darkness through religion. Your own Upanishads are the story of competition between kshatriyas and brahmins. Off-course it is not just the Gita that made the varna/caste system the way it is, there has been a steady and well thought process behind it with all the conflict of interests doing their part of the job. Brahmins corrupted Vedas to gain religious sanction for their authority. Kshatriyas in competition with brahmins to control the society made their own versions by posing themselves as the incarnation of Gods. And again brahmins proved their superiority by reciting the brahmin authority through God's own mouth. In order to make sure that the powers of one generation remain reserved for rest of the coming generations of the same class, Varna had to be made rigid. If only Karma was the determinant of one's destiny, then what is the explanation for all the rigidity over thousands of year? Why didn't these apparently great thoughts resulted in a great society? Varna/Caste system as we know and as has existed for thousands of years, is the greatest poison in our society. Now please don't make the futile claims of how great system it used to be and how it must have benefited people. Buddha has already condemned this system very strongly even 2500 years ago. No matter how hard you try to sugar coat a poison, it will still have its effect. The effect is what we have witnessed but the poison is still we deny.

By the way, we don't have problem with round shape being defined specifically and interpreted in one single way without any ambiguity, because there is no way it could be interpreted differently, neither there has been any proof to any interpretation of it being a square. That is mathematical conformance. Coming back to your Varna and Karma and geeta etc., we do know for sure that Varna is indeed practiced based on birth, we all know about the interpretation that the karma of past birth causes one to be born in particular Varna, and the belief that a particular Varna person has particular qualities suitable for that Varna only. All these are well propagated interpretations supporting the rigid system (not flexible as claimed by you) and accepted throughout the Indian society (irrespective of the caste they belonged to or religious practices they had). We don't say Brahmins or Kshatriyas established and manipulated the Varna system for their benefit because they are inherently a cunning race, no, but they did do it certainly and cunningly because they happened to have powers in their hands which made them corrupt. Now that we know the truth of this evident corruption, at least now we can stay away from everything that has caused this corruption in first place. This is the precise reason why no anti-caste movement has ever called for a crusade against brahmins or upper castes but have condemned and burnt all these scriptures that have given opportunity for corruption and caused all the misery.

Out of my 7 questions, only first three were attempted to be answered to some extent, which are appearing non-satisfactory from the above reply. The core of the matter lies in later 4 questions which are not answered by Geeta admirers but better answered through the theory of religion based caste formation for power politics which is well explained by Dr. Ambedkar.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Kreate logo is done!

It's been several months now that we have been brainstorming about the logo and caption. We all were thinking on lines of both creativity and value offerings. Gautam was continuously thinking on lines of how to communicate imagination and implementation parts simultaneously, the left and right of the brain. Many tag-lines popped up, but always there was something missing.

Finally, me and joy took up these two words from Gautam and simply put a dot between them. It sounded so crisp! 'Imagination.Implementation'!

Meanwhile, many of us were trying to come up with the design ideas. For me, playing with various shapes of 'K' and using whatever minuscule knowledge of calligraphy/typography I had, became my regular pass-time to keep myself awake in gaseous classrooms. In later stages, I got stuck on the idea of creating a character out of K that can personify the values we worked on so long. Finally emerged the k-man that is so carefree, cheerful, and aesthetic.

Joy took this design for digitization to Suvarna studio. My color vision not being so good, I left the coloring part to Joy's discretion with minimal theoretical inputs. All three of us were too amused by the head of the k-man. Some called it a cute leaf, some called it a droplet or dewdrop, whatever they could see out of it. It somehow became the logo of the logo and we wanted to put it everywhere we could! For me it was the source of creativity, nurturing and vision. I leave rest of the details of interpretation, including colors, shapes and caption to the viewers.

In final touch, the dot in the tag got replaced by this droplet, and following is what the logo of Kreate Media is now:

We decided to keep it transparent, and played with back-ground to get the nice looks..

Thanks to the entire team of Kreate for all the efforts right from conceptualization and brainstorming to the final implementation. Cheers!!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Are products more important than philosophies?

[Continuing from previous post]..

Open source and free software community has been growing and preaching its philosophy for over decades. This preaching has also been supported by solid product lines that are freely available, better in performance and are more addictive than any other proprietary software around. Yet the ground realities of the software world are still largely favorable for proprietary model. Comparing market shares, or user base would be futile since open source hardly follows any market mechanism. It is very difficult to keep track of number of open source users. Hence the only method to understand the popularity and usage patterns is to call hundreds of common software users and ask them what software do they have on their home computers.

I have been a part of a marketing campaign and fortunate enough to be present in the actual execution at various places, which gave an opportunity of understanding thousands of common computer users. With no exception, all of the people involved had some version of windows installed on their machines. That is not to say that there isn't anyone who uses anything other than windows. In fact, I myself have not used windows in past 6 years and am very well aware of the circles where Linux-based systems are used as a principle and Mac OS is of course there among niche markets. But for a common man, a personal computer means windows, he doesn't care what operating system means, he only knows there is something called windows on his machine and there is some version of it which is latest. Coming back to open source in general, there are indeed a few open source softwares that have made successful penetration. The most important software on a home computer in today's world, when a computer is almost useless without internet, is the web browser. And the only open source software that people mentioned widely was, Mozilla Firefox. The major reason for its success was that it was freely downloadable, worked on windows, and performed better than the default browser IE. Many people in fact defended Firefox against IE on performance and features front. But I cannot imagine these people saying that they used it because its offering them some kind of a freedom. I have to admit that it was very unlikely that they knew that it falls under something called 'open source', same is the story with vlc, dc etc. They use it, because it works for them.

These observations may have a few variations depending upon various demographics and geographies, but overall I don't think it would be very objectionable if I try to generalize them.

Thus we see that, on one hand, few important products such as linux-based open source operating systems (fedora, ubuntu, debian etc.) are being successful on philosophical terms, they aren't yet successful as products themselves in terms of usage by common people, while there are products like firefox, that are successful in terms of common usage but not contributing much for the philosophical front.

I won't say one success is more important than other, but probably there is something to be learned from both of these cases. Every open source enthusiast would like to see success on both the fronts. The question is how to market the philosophy and the products simultaneously?