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Volunteer-crafted Bengali Wikipedia crosses landmark 10,000 articles mark September 28, 2006

Posted by fredericknoronha in Connectivity.

The Bengali Wikipedia, a Web-based free-content multilingual encyclopedia project, has cross the landmark of 10,000 articles. It became the 50th language to do so, and only the second from South Asia.

The Telugu wikipedia now has over 15,000 articles.

Wikipedia — now among the top 20 most-visted sites worldwide — is an unusual venture that harnesses the work of worldwide volunteers to build a sharable, and copyright-unencumbered field of knowledge. It tries to do so in diverse languages.

Wikipedia exists as a wiki, a website that allows any visitor to freely edit its content, which can be accessed via its wikipedia.org cyberhome.

“Bengali is spoken by almost 220-250 million people, making it the seventh largest language in terms of total speakers. Bengali Wikipedia — http://bn.wikipedia.org — has seen a growth from 500 articles in March 2006 to 10,000 as of now,” announced Ragib Hasan, a PhD student at the Dept of Computer Science in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Ragib says there are now 20-25 active volunteer-editors who edit Bengali wikipedia on a regular basis.

“These editors are mainly from Bangladesh, and also from West Bengal (India). The main thrust has been the Bangladesh Open Source Network (BDOsn), and the Bangla Wiki project, which has raised awareness, involved the media, and recruited more editors to work on Bengali Wikipedia,” he commented in a internal discussion within the Wikipedia networks.

He said they also have an article improvement projects, aiming at having at least 1000 or so good articles (similar to English wikipedia) by May 2007.

For reasons ranging from poor connectivity to a lack of volunteers, and earlier technical problems in writing non-Roman script languages online, to a simple lack of awareness, the participation has been far lower from Asia,
particular South Asia.

In late August, Wikipedia founder Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales had said during an Indian tour that some Indian languages like Kannada and Bengali were seeing “fairly high” growth rates, over a small base.

He had then said: “It’s (participation by Indian languages) not as bad as it was a year ago. Gee we have almost nothing, then…. Hindi, which is a very large language (in terms of numbers of speakers) has only 1500 entries. That’s a little surprising,” he said.

Wikipedia, meaning wiki and encyclopedia, is written collaboratively by volunteers. It allows most articles to be changed by almost anyone with access to the website.

The English wikipedia has 1.4 million entries.

Japanese — with a quarter million entries — has been the only non-European language among the ‘big ten’ language of the Wikipedia.

But Farsi, Arabic, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Bahasa Indonesia,have been among those with 10,000+ articles. In the 1000+ articles category are Urdu, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, among others.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is expected for his second visit in India, in two months, shortly.

Meanwhile, an 18-month old ‘Wikipedia for India’ network on the social networking site Orkut has some 215 members and says it wants to build this into “the place where u can find info on anything from Hindu mythology to Besant Nagar beach…or Connaught Place.”


Global info and communication technology imbalance causing “new inequalities” September 24, 2006

Posted by fredericknoronha in Connectivity.
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Imbalanced access to communication technologies has generated new inequalities, according to Social Watch — a coalition of 400 non-governmental organisation in 60 countries.

Social Watch monitors government compliance with international commitments to development and gender equity. Its annual report, widely recognized as an independent study on social development, has just been released.

It says in its latest report:

“More than four fifths of the people in the world do not have access to Internet and are therefore disadvantaged when it comes to making progress in production, education, and constructing full citizenship.”

Social Watch points out that in the most backwards regions, “investment in new technologies is not geared to spreading them on a large scale.”

It’s study on this issue is titled ‘Information, Science and Technology: Digital gap, people gap’. This is a reference to the widely debated ‘digital divide’, but a hint that the divide is reflected among people too and also affects them.

It judged different countries on a range of select indicators — internet users per thousand people, personal computers, telephone mainlines, scientists and engineers in R&D (per million people), expenditure on information and communication technology (as a percentage of the gross domestic product, and expenditure on R&D as a percentage of GDP.

Says the report:

“For some years now, the experts have been talking about the new ‘information society’ (and more recently about the ‘knowledge society’), and the challenges and dangers it involves.”

But it suggests that the “capability to manage information” is increasingly important.

It notes that, currently, 40% of Canada and the US have access to the Internet, but in Latin America and the Caribbean, the figure is only 2% or 3%. Narrowing this gap is a major challenge, it adds.

There are currently not “one digital gap”, but several, it suggests. This is because people’s access to current information systems “is conditional upon a series of factors”.

People simply get “left out” from using the new technology because of factors like economic resources, geography, age, gender, language, education, cultural background, employment and physical well-being.

“Access to personal computers is a pre-requisite for access to the new sources of information,” it cautions.

One billion internet users on the planet is a “great success story”. But the 80% still left out can’t be ignored too. UNESCO says 90% of internet users are from the ‘industrialised’ world.

Social Watch’s report says praises China for jumping from “almost no broadband subscribers” to 23 million in just three years. It says technological scientific development in a country “depends to a large extent” on government decisions.

It says,

“It is clear that State investment is a key factor…. This is what is happenign in China, where the current surge in ICT has been underpinned by a big increase in State investment in R&D, which jumped from 0.83% of GDP in 1999 to 1.23% in 2002.”

This was giving China an edge not only in ICT but also in fields like bio-technology.

Also stressed was the amount of human capital that each country has, in the form of researchers and scientists.

It says,

“Put simply, a country’s ability to take advantage of the new information systems is connected to its capacity to revalue its culture, traditions and values, and this revaluation should involve full integration into the modern world.”

Social Watch cautions that if a poor country cannot manage this, “It will remain as a receiver of information and it will be limited to a passive role in the information society”.

Giving figures to measure the ‘size of the digital gap’, the study says, “In the most developed countries, there are 563 computers per 1000 people; but in the most backward there are only around 25 per 1000 people, which is to say there are 20 times more in the developed world. That is just one measure of the size of the digital gap.”

An open letter to B&MGF … of scientific publications, software and $$$ September 21, 2006

Posted by fredericknoronha in India.

Dear Rebecca, Thanks for letting me know about this. As you might be aware, I consider myself part of the Free Software movement. As such, I find it unacceptable to work with a fund that made its millions on the premise of the questionable practices of proprietary software.

While INASP (the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications) is a great idea and approach, can we afford to forget the need for an International Network for the Availability of Access to Software Products? Would this be acceptable to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which you might argue is separate from Microsoft Corp, but nonetheless made its billions on just the opposite approach?

Or do you consider scientific publications to be sharable, but not software?

In addition, I really don’t believe our planet merely needs a million dollars (or many million dollars) to spur intiiatives forward. Specially when this money was earned at the cost of placing unacceptable blocks on the sharing of software, curbing software freedom, and turning nine out ten computer users into “pirates”.

In my view too, what we need is talent and skill that looks at the problems and the needs of the many rather than at the luxury and greed of the few. While the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been claiming to do exactly this, history tells us differently. Is it possible to take the clock back to the pre-Open Letter to Hobbyist days? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Letter_to_Hobbyists or http://www.blinkenlights.com/classiccmp/gateswhine.html Or, alternatively can your initiative think of joining the campaigns of the Free Software movement, and its emphasis on the freedom to run, study, copy and improve software? If not, why not? Is it merely because it threatens a business model that helps to concentrate wealth in a phenomenal manner?

Am sharing this note with our BytesForAll list. If anyone is interested in taking up your offer, it’s upto them. I wouldn’t. Thank you anyway for taking the trouble to write though; nothing personal here, but I feel such issues and assumptions need to be debated. FN

On 20/09/06, Rebecca Priestley wrote:

Frederick Noronha
Bytes For All

Dear Mr Noronha,

Firstly, let me introduce myself. I work for INASP (the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications) and one of my responsibilities is to assist in the coordination of the 2007 Access to Learning Award, an award given by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It recognises excellence in providing access to information through computers, at no cost to the user. The recipient will receive an award of up to US $1 million. It must be stressed that this is an award for work already completed or in progress, it is not a grant.

We are currently contacting our large international network with information to encourage applications. I am sure many of your contacts may be eligible. We should be grateful if you could use means at your disposal, e.g. news item in your bulletin or journal, or links from your website to inform your community and contacts.

Please find attached a copy of the ATLA brochure in English and the application form. Full information (including brochures in relevant languages, and application form) is also available on our website at http://www.inasp.info/ldp/awards. I would like to send you a few hard copies of the brochure too so could you please let me know you postal address?

If you think I can help in any other way, please do get in touch with me.

Best wishes,
Rebecca Priestley, Programme & Events Officer, International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications, (INASP), 58 St Aldates, Oxford OX1 1ST, UK Tel: +44(0)1865 249909 Fax: +44(0)1865 251060 Email: rpriestley@inasp.info Skype: rebeccapriestley Web: http://www.inasp.info
INASP is a registered UK charity: number 1106349

Delhi, IP-Watch, and altperspectives… September 14, 2006

Posted by fredericknoronha in India.
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Here are a couple of stories that emerged from my recent Delhi trip and are at the IP-Watch site. First, is India: Influential Voices Back “IP-unencumbered” Software; Copyright Debate Heats Up and the second is India At The Forefront Of Knowledge Commons Debate. It was fun grappling with these issues, and trying to get to the big picture….

EVMs, voting, India and Europe…. September 14, 2006

Posted by fredericknoronha in India.
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My friend Patrice Riemens, from the Netherlands, draws attention to a campaign against there against the dependence of computers in polling stations. Says the site, explaining the issue: “In The Netherlands almost 100% of the population casts their ballot on computers that are not protected against manipulation. The voting process is completely closed and election results cannot be independently verified.”

Patrice goes on to query: “I guess in India plans are also afoot to introduce them (modernity, blablabla). Any controversy or opposition? Please advice!

Here’s a 2004 article from Slate.com. And this is the Associated Press story written from Bangalore.

Here’s something sent to Goanet in April 2004, and a mystery about untailled votes from my part of India, that is Goa.

It’s strange how a few forwarded messages can actually spur off some interesting debate. As S.N.Rao commented:

Yikes! There does seem to be a reset button in the EVM specification. Apparently this is used to clear the results of the mock-poll before the actual voting begins – a process designed to assure the polling agents of all parties that the machine is indeed functional and with no previous votes registered. My mind boggles at the thought that such a fundamental process flaw was allowed to remain in the live system! Allowing the polling officer to RESET the system, thereby erasing all the votes polled is tantamount to criminal negligence. The equivalent in the old system would be to give the polling officer the key to the box and a means of restoring the seals so that there is NO evidence of the box having been opened, cleaned out and closed!! Not casting aspersions on the integrity of the polling officers, but assuming that one of them were to be compromised, its a simple matter, at the end of polling, to RESET and allow electronic ballot stuffing to the correct total of votes polled – viola – booth capturing in the electronic era. No safeguards in the EVM against that – the EVM is programmed to act on the RESET signal, the process authorises the polling officer to hit the button….is this merely oversight in the process design? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

An interesting post on hacking electronic voting machines.

Something I’m trying to find in cyberspace — but can’t — is a very probably scenario that someone painted about an easy way to program an EVM into fraud… very sophisticated but very simple. It involved, say, getting all your supporters out to vote in the first hour of polling, and programming the machine in such a way that the candidate with the largest number of votes in the first sixty minutes is shown as winning by a landslide! So one wouldn’t even have to worry about where your symbol is placed on the EVM. You’d just need to be privy to one tiny secret: get all your supporters out to vote in the first hour (when there are few persons voting in any case). Not saying this happens; but it could!

PS: The relevant archives pertaining to this debate could be located around here

An internet magazine… SPIDER September 14, 2006

Posted by fredericknoronha in Digital content, India, Pakistan, Uncategorized.
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SPIDERHere’s a small link that I put up to the SPIDER internet magazine from Pakistan. Any volunteers to update and flesh it out? That’s the Wikipedia and anyone can simply go an edit it… for the better.
And BTW, this issue of SPIDER has an interesting article on Open Source (I’d prefer to call it “Free Software”, rather than the dominant-media defined term). Fouad Bajwa has written it…. and it has interesting links and details.
PS: What would it take for India to get its own internet magazine? We’re clearly behind here….

Pakistan’s web ban September 6, 2006

Posted by R.S in Internet Censorship, Pakistan.
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The government of Pakistan set up a committee, on 2nd September 2006 to streamline mechanism for screening and blocking websites offering objectionable contents.

Constituted by the Ministry of Information Technology, its Secretary Farrukh Qayyum would preside over the body to examine contents of websites reported or found to be offensive or containing anti-state material.

Representatives of ministries of interior, cabinet, information and broadcasting and security agencies would be part of the body that would operate within the parameters set out in the Amended Telecom Act 2006.

It would evaluate and examine web material besides entertaining public requests for blocking websites and decide cases on merit and advise the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to take appropriate action.

The decision to constitute the committee to oversee obnoxious websites had been taken following a growing number of public grievances regarding objectionable and hateful material being displayed at various websites.  

Lately Pakistani cyberspace/netizens have been on the receiving end of the governments’ web censorship policies.

On July 26, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) added 34 new Web addresses to the list of sites to which it blocks access. For the most part they were Balouch nationalist sites, online radio stations and sites relating to the Sindhi minority.

Most of the newly-blocked sites are linked to the Baloch nationalist movement, which wants independence for the southwestern province of Balochistan. There has been sporadic fighting between the movement’s armed supporters and government forces in the province for years.

Two Sindhi sites were also added to the blacklist, including one operated by the Washington-based World Sindhi Institute, which defends human rights in the southeastern province of Sindh., while some of the Web addresses on the list do not in fact correspond to any existing website.

The PTA previously ordered the blocking of five websites on April 25, on the grounds that they were posting “misleading information”. Four were Baloch nationalist sites and the fifth was a Hindu extremist site.

Prior to this , the PTA blocked 12 websites on February 28, for posting the controversial cartoons of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) that were first published in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten. They included the blog platform Blogspot, which hosted one of the websites that posted the cartoons. Access to the entire platform was blocked within Pakistan, with the result that millions of blogs disappeared from the Pakistani internet.

Pakistani Hackers target Kevin Mitnick September 3, 2006

Posted by R.S in hacking, Pakistan.
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It seems that Kevin Mitnick, the legendary hacker who was sentenced to serve a five year sentence for his suspicious social engineering based hacking activities,is still a viable target for script kiddies and cyber vandals.

On August 21. ’06, FBH a group of hackers operating out of Pakistan, defaced four websites associated with Mitnick’s various ventures. The sites defensivethinking.com, mitsec.com, kevinmitnick.com and mitnicksecurity.com (which all run on Linux, incidentally) were sprayed with digital graffiti in an apparently personal attack.

Mored details about the attack are available here