Monday, April 26, 2010

Free Software Asuncion 2010

I was invited to the Free Software Conference at Asuncion, Paraguay, to talk about the IT at School project. Being almost on the other side of the planet, the journey was rather tough. I have written about it in my blog Free as in Freedom. Here I will try to write about the conference as such.

I reached the conference venue only at night on the first day of the conference, and so missed half the presentations. The second day morning, I was initially told that my talk would be at 1 pm. But then, the person in charge of organising, Nicolas Cabellera, came and told me that a person who was supposed to do a workshop on Python had withdrawn at the last minute. He thought this was a kind of attempt to sabotage the conference. He asked me whether I would use that time. I said that I could do a workshop on LaTeX, something that Juan Carlos had told me I would have to do here. And he was extremely happy that I saved the day for them!

I finished just a simple introduction to LaTeX in the given time, and I found that it was helpful to a few people -- in fact they came and said so to me. I had little time to have my lunch and get my presentation ready. But when I was ready, I was told that there were a couple of presentations before mine. A young person (forgot his name) spoke about some work they are doing with discarded hardware. There was one more presentation before I was told that next will be mine. But before that, about twenty chairs were arranged in front of the audience, and people like Charles Escobar, Diego Saravia, Nicolas Cabellero, Juan Carlos, Marco Cuircina, and others, including me, were asked to sit there. Then Diego Saravia spoke about the confusion of several distributions and sometimes code getting written for specific distributions (which is not what Free Software is about). Since all talks were in Spanish, and most people followed only Spanish, I was provided with an interpreter who helped me understand the gist of the speeches, and also interpreted my talk. He turned out to be a n interesting guy and we got along very well. Being a professional interpreter, he had come to me in the morning, and we had sat together and gone through my presentation so that he won't be surprised by some words.

I started my presentation with two videos, one of Kathakali and another of Thrissur Pooram. This was followed by about a dozen pictures of Kerala. I then presented some statistics about Kerala, comparing it with Paraguay, such as area, population, density of population and literacy. I then went through a brief introduction to the geography and history of Kerala, focussing on social and political reforms. Only after this did I start talking about IT@School. After explaining how it started and IT was introduced as part of the curriculum, I explained how they were pressured into migrating to Free Software, and now were moving to IT Enabled Education.

I ended my presentation with questions about why many of these things happened in Kerala, and not in any other state. I pointed out that it has no easy answer, but probably was due to its geographical isolation and so many historical reasons. I tried to explain that it is not possible to simply copy a process that was successful in one part of the world and expect it to be equally successful in another part. There were just a few questions at the end, but nothing really interesting. Overall, I thought I could have spoken better. I think I was hampered by the fact that I was still under the influence of the tiring journey that lasted about 28 hours and also under jet lag. Moreover, I think, the fact that the people could not follow English well, and therefore their responses came only after the interpreter explained in Spanish what I had said, also might have affected my speech. Anyway, I am happy that several people appreciated my presentation.

Here are some photographs from the event:

Inauguration of the conference
Charles Escobar, Juan, Luis Gonzalez, myself, Zero from Bolivia (who gave me these photographs), Marco and a hacker from Bolivia (sorry, I forget his name)
That is me speaking, with the interpreter beside me
Serious discussion on how the Asuncion declaration should be worded, where Juan Carlos was the star

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