Remote sensing in India

I wrote an article for The Wire on India’s remote sensing programme, that got published today.

While writing the article I discovered the orphaned Wikipedia page that was once updated with launches of Indian remote sensing satellites. The article had not been updated for a very long time. The focus now seems to be on the List of Indian satellites launched by the decade. Working on the article helped me get back into Wikipedia editing and helped me discover one of the points that I raised in the article.

Remembering Wikipedia days

Mahafreed wrote on her blog sharing her writing on Wikipedia in The Times of India in 2010 brought back memories from my good days in Wikipedia editing. In the story she shares  my quote too. The original article is here.

After the early days of Wikipedia editing, things reached a head with the Wikiconference India 2011. Things got subsumed by politics like many other things do in India, if the group is not careful. I left offline activities of Wikipedia and stick to one off editing online. I even changed user ids I used for editing.

I watched Dr. Heather Ford talking about a similar curve on a TEDx talk. She ends the talk saying that Wikipedia needs people to change it from within and with more people participating in the editing to expose it to more points of view.

Has my search for the Yakkara Desam Fort ended?

While participating in Wiki Loves Monuments 2013 in India, I had come across a feature called the Yakkara Desam Fort in Palakkad District. I came across this feature while compiling the list of monuments from the list provided by the Archaeological Survey of India. The Fort found mention in the list for Kerala as N-KL-6. Search as I might, I could not find mention of this monument anywhere else. Even Wikipedia did not have an article on the said Fort.

While searching for a place to go around in Kerala, I stumbled on the website of the Town Planning Department, Kerala. Here, I was able to see the fort mentioned again in a document notifying protected monuments in Kerala within town limits. It also contained a link to the drawing of the Fort which can only imply that it is the Yakarra Desam as there is no other fort in the list.  So, I guess that my search for what is the Yakarra Desam fort has ended with conclusive documentary evidence. Case closed?

A Federated Wikipedia?

Matt Mullenweg shared this article by Jon Udell on the ossification in Wikipedia. Being a part of the Wikimedian community from 2010 to about 2014, I have seen this crystalize on Wikipedia and in the world in general.

Things are a lot worse offline amongst the community – on phone calls, emails and mailing lists. This led to me curtailing offline contributions and contributing edits when I feel like it. Not the best outcome for a community that is trying to retain its members.

GSLV on Wikipedia

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 13, 2013 as per the permalink. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I began contributing to Wikipedia in 2007 with the idea of improving coverage of Indian space sciences on Wikipedia. I began working on the articles related to the astronomical observatories. This also fell in line with the space popularization work I was involved in at Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) India chapter. In 2009, I also began editing general interest articles on Wikipedia.

It was only yesterday, after a break of nearly a year or more, that I got back to editing on Wikipedia. I worked on the article of India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle or GSLV. The upcoming launch has me nervous and had me interested in the history of the GSLV. I looked to Wikipedia as my first port of call and was frankly, disappointed at the shape in which I found the article. So, I rolled up my sleeves and began working on the article, in true Wikipedian style.

The history of the GSLV is as interesting as the vehicle itself. It was designed specifically to carry the INSAT class of satellites which weighed in at 2 to 2.5 tons. The Project was started in 1990 as the PSLV took shape and was beginning to move towards a development flight in 1993 to reduce reliance on the US’ Delta and European Ariane launch vehicles which are expensive options. Reading up, there seems to have been confusion on how to proceed with the tricky cryogenic third stage of the vehicle. Both US and Europe refused to share the technology and India had to go to the crumbling Soviet Union for help. US and Europe refused help pointing to the fact that India had not signed the Missile Technology Control Regime. I guess they also tried to offer the technology if India became part of the regime. The Soviet Glavkosmos offered to transfer technology to India in 1991. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia could not stand up to US pressure on falling in line with the MTCR. It finally have India just 7 cryogenic stages and 1 ground mock up instead of 5 stages and transfer of technology. I am happy that India did not become part of MTCR despite immense pressure and need for cryogenic technology. Scientists at ISRO began work on India’s own cryogenic technology in 1994 called the Cryogenic Upper Stage Project.

Even the 7 cryogenic stages Russia supplied to ISRO held surprise for ISRO. The stage was heavier and there were interface problems. The engine was also not proven on any flight. It took ISRO about 6-7 years to get the stage to fly at all. Hence you see the first flight of the GSLV in 2001.

Scientists working on the Cryogenic Project were also part of what is now called the ISRO Spy Case. The scientist has alleged that the Case was put together at the behest of foreign interests that were trying to scuttle Indian efforts at building a cryogenic engine.

Although the learning curve on the GSLV has been huge, I think it will help India build a vehicle that is as versatile as the PSLV is today.

Who is Giachand Motwane?

This article originally appeared on my blog I recovered the post using Wayback Machine.

I usually link to Wikipedia articles when I mention things that many people outside of a certain region/religion/group might not know about. Yesterday, while writing the article about my listening to the radio, I tried to connect to the article on All India Radio 107.1 FM channel. However, the article was not helpful and did not make any sense connecting to.

It did not make any sense because the page was for AIR FM Rainbow which is what AIR has named its FM stations that are broadcast to 12 metros in India and did not have anything unique on the Mumbai transmission.

Being a Wikipedian, I wanted to fix this. I hence went back to the page on All India Radio and read it up. That seemed in much better shape. Most of the information seemed link to a bunch of documents that All India Radio had put up on its website – interestingly, in Hindi and English. Reading up on history, I found out that Radio Club of Bombay was credited with the broadcast of the first programme in India in June 1923. Being from Mumbai, my interest was piqued.

There is no Wikipedia page on the Radio Club, nor is there much scholarly work written about this broadcast except by one Dr. Alisdair Pinkerton from the Department of Geography of the Royal Holloway from the University of London. The paper (found here), titled, “Radio and the Raj: broadcasting in British India (1920-1940)”, credits Giachand Motwane as the first person who made a recorded radio transmission in India in June 1923. These were apparently made under the call sign, “2-KC”. Unfortunately, Pinkerton states this solely on the basis (or has referenced it so) of the website of a company that Motwane later founded.

I later looked for more information on Radio Club and wondered if it is the same as the social club in South Mumbai called Radio Club. It seems it is. Currently called the Bombay Presidency Radio Club Ltd, it seems to be the same club that did some pioneering work in broadcasting in British India. So, I am still looking for more sourced information on who was Giachand Motwane.

Liam Wyatt and the Mumbai Wikipedia GLAM Meetup

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 14, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

For the past few days, Liam Wyatt has been going around cultural institutions in Mumbai. We had a meetup yesterday at the Pinstorm offices in Santacruz. Our thanks to Netra there who offered and allowed us use of space on such short notice. We had a nice turn up today of around 20-25 people.

We started off with directly with Liam’s talk on his work with the British Museum. His work/documentation of his work here can be found here. He then talked about his idea behind doing a project with the British Museum after a controversy the year before with the British National Archives. He said that the relationship was mutually beneficial to both and did not compromise on the principles of either Wikipedia or the British Museum. He talked about the series of conferences called GLAMWIKI that have already happened in London and Paris and are planned in Washington DC and Barcelona.

He then went on to talk about five of the events that he conducted during his 5 month stint as the Wikipedian-in-Residence at the British Museum. These included the Backstage Pass, One on One Collaborations/Photos Requested, Feature Article Prize, the Hoxne Challenge and the School Translations.

Backstage Pass involves a free tour of Museum objects in display and out of display by curators of the Museum for Wikipedians working on an article. The One-on-One Collaborations was an exchange of requests between Curators and Wikipedians who needed each others help – curators to improve articles on Wikipedia and Wikipedians for expert advice on articles in Wikipedia. Photos Requested requested for photos in different parts of the museum. Feature Article Prize was an interesting if controversial experiment. The British Museum offered 100 pounds for the 5 articles in Featured Article in Wikipedia related to an item in the British Museum. This became similar to the pay-for-edit idea. However, the rationale was that since the prize money was not for an article on the British Museum and was for an object/topic related article, it was okay. The Hoxne Challenge was an effort to see how Wikipedians could improve an article on one subject given access to subject experts etc.The subject given was that of the Hoxne Hoard discovered in England in 1992. I think it goes without saying that the article reached Featured Article rating pretty quickly. The last was the School Translations project where a group of French school children that Liam knew translated the articles on certain items in the British Museum from English into French as part of their English class homework. The students later visited London (like they regularly apparently did) and visited the Museum to see the objects they had written about as part of class.

These were some of the implementations possible in the 5 week period whilst Liam was with British Museum.

Bishaka and Liam reported on their visits to The Museum (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalay) and Jnanapravaha. I accompanied Liam and Bishaka to The Museum. I am pleasantly surprised by the way they have transformed it! We’ve reported on positive responses from these cultural institutions. Liam and Bishaka will be visiting one more institution tomorrow.

In the discussion that followed, we had a discussion about GLAM applications in Indian libraries and archives. Ashwin Baindur asked about how to work with institutions like Maharashtra Archives which are facing a brunt of the budget cuts (they get the money after the song and dance shows, museums etc all get their cut) and have trouble with up-keep of their archives. Liam replied that this would mainly be in helping them digitise records. The trouble, Liam said, was on where to begin and how to priorotise work. Stating the example of the National Library, Kolkata he said that some books were not even catalogued. We agreed that Libraries and Archives also suffered because there was no good Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software for Indic languages. Liam suggested a French example of how an old French cursive text made it un-OCR-able (new word – mine!) and got help from Wikipedians to manually type in text onto WikiSource.

Bishaka raised the point that all of the GLAM activities could also be simultaneously done in various languages in-parallel. So, during a Backstage Pass event in Mumbai, we could improve the English, Hindi and Marathi (as an example) articles at once.

We then had a brief introduction to (I have written about this in detail earlier). The part that relates to Wikimedia Commons was a demo on how a plugin for Firefox developed by the same team helped in uploading files in the .ogg format to Wikimedia Commons.

We had a small reference to the Workshop for Women on Wikipedia (WWW) and we suggested the idea to two students who had come from SNDT Women’s University to the meetup. We’ve requested them to check on the possibility of using their labs to conduct the Workshop in Mumbai on or around March 8, 2011 (to re-iterate: the centenary celebrations of Women’s Day.

All-in-all it was a fun 7th meetup of Wikipedians in Mumbai.

February Observatory Improvement: Gauribidanur

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 1, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I have been working away at the Wikipedia article on Indian Astronomical Observatory. Towards the end of the month, I requested for an informal review of the article which is on-going. I will go back to it occassionally. Once I complete my GATE 2011 exam on February 13, 2011, I want to take it to the folks at Homi Bhaba Centre for Science Education where I hope to get some help on improving the article further besides the help I get from Wikipedians.

In February, the target article is the radio observatory at Gauribidanur near Bengaluru. The article is currently a stub article and getting the whole month to edit and improve it. Your help is welcome. Specially with pictures!

Wikipedia Mumbai Meetup 5

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 12, 2010 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Update: Having written this at 1 am in the morning, I missed out on some facts related to the discussion towards the end of the meeting. I have now added this along with a processed pictures from the meeting.

Today was the 5th meetup of Mumbai Wikipedians. The main idea behind the meetup was to enable Erik Möller, Danese Cooper and Alolita Sharma of the Wikimedia Foundation to meet with Mumbai Wikipedians and discuss some of the technical issues faced by Indian Wikipedians. The meetup was held at the Homi Bhaba Centre for Science Education Campus in Anushakti Nagar, Mumbai. The meeting began with a basic introduction of Wikipedia, an attempt to understand the Indic text input issues, local caches, a few Wikipedia-based projects to try and explain similar possible Indian collaborations and technical issues.  The meeting was attended by 10-20 people but was very engaging and exciting!

The meeting started at 6:30 pm and went all the way upto 9 pm at night. It began with a round of tea, coffee and biscuits. After tea, we moved in to a lecture hall on the ground floor of the campus. Erik began the talk by a brief introduction of Wikipedia and the work of the Wikimedia Foundation. We then got some insights into how the Foundation ran Wikipedia on top of just 450 servers with a low budget compared to that of giants like Google and Facebook. The trend seemed pretty counter-intuitive. Erik reiterated the points made by both Barry Newstead and Jimmy Wales on their previous visits on why they have considered India an important destination. He added that much of the traffic from India was going to the English Wikipedia.

Erik then went on to question the Mumbai Wikipedians on the various input options available to them on the Hindi Wikipedia. Kundan Amitabh being the expert in such matters was urged to demonstrate the inscript keyboard technique that he had shared in the last meetup. Erik asked about the in-built transliteration tool as well as the one provided by Google for purposes of editing. Moksh Juneja was of the opinion that while the phonetic (transliteration) tools were useful for small edits, the larger edits required the inscript keyboard method. Nagarjuna G suggested that during his workshops, he suggested the use of inscript keyboard to those who were going to learn from the beginning and the phonetic tool to those who were used to English keyboards. He too agreed, though, that in the long run, the inscript keyboards being the standard was more preferable.

Moving on, Erik suggested the Wikipedia Bookshelf as the go-to place for various resources on Wikipedia. He showed the various resources available on the page for beginners and hoped it could be printed and localized. Towards the end of the meetup, Nagarjuna G selected Moksh Juneja and Vivek Cherian to begin the localizing effort. Erik also pointed to examples such as the US Public Policy Initiative and a reference for school and college education projects based on Wikipedia that he started. The reference grew to act as a set of resources that school and college educators could use.

Danese Cooper (I incidentally tweeted her name as Denise, apologies for that) then took on the technical side of Wikipedia. I could not really catch onto some of the technical details she mentioned and hope that Vivek Cherian will catch on to this on his blog. I will link to his post here. The interesting things that I could make out from the talk was that a sum total of 4 people of her 60-member group worked on keeping Wikipedia up and running. She also mentioned a need for a sysops from Asia who could take the timeframe between her people in Europe and Australia. She said that their current data center dated back to the ones used by Jimmy Wales and that they hope to soon move datacenter to Ashburn, Virginia being a datacenter hub. She suggested that those interested in the technical aspects join up on the wikitech mailing list. A list of all Wikipedia related mailing lists is available here.

We then moved on to watching some of the videos created by Wikipedians at Wikimania 2010. These were created with the basic idea of getting people interested in Wikipedia and encouraging them to edit Wikipedia. They also pointed us to some of the screencast tutorials that would help Indian wikipedians create local content that would enable us to use this as an education tool. Again, Wikipedia Bookshelf has resources to help Wikipedians create video content.

Erik then showed us the “Create a book” tool which can be found under “Print/Export” on the sidebar. The tool allows us to select pages from around Wikipedia and add them as pages into a book. These can then be routed through PediaPress, which prints out the copy of a book from near your locality or exported to an offline open source reader such as Kiwix.

Erik then showed how the Encyclopedia of Life project worked. He also talked about some of the work that the Foundation was doing to enable some of the expert comments to be made available to the wikipedia article as a way of giving back. He suggested ideas like a tab on top of a page for pointing to reviews about the content of a page by an expert on EoL.

Moving on to the question and answer session, Shambulingayya asked the question of institutional collaboration with IIT-B and Wikimedia Foundation, India. The idea was welcomed. Kundan also suggested that this can be used to the advantage of improving articles on science and technology on Wikipedia. I also welcomed it. Danese provided a similar example of such a collaboration started by Wikipedian Liam Wyatt who used his passion for Wikipedia and Museums to bring about an interesting project with the British Museum. Erik added that a session called Backstage Pass enabled Wikipedians to visit the Museum for one day, then meet in a room and work on adding content to Wikipedia and sufficiently improved the article to best article status. The British Museum went along with the project seemingly because it received more traffic from sites like Wikipedia. This was leveraged by Wyatt to improve Wikipedia itself allowing the Museum website to get more attention.

Erik then showed off the openmoko WikiReader. This little gadget has an offline, low power utilisation, microSD card content of Wikipedia running on AAA batteries. The latest copy of wikipedia can be downloaded by removing the SD card and connecting it with internet. Erik asked for suggestions on how this could device could be useful in the Indian context. He also suggested that these could be locally produced at a lower cost since this had an open hardware architecture. In connection to small readers, Moksh asked about mobile accessibility. Danese pointed to the mobile version of wikipedia and confessed they did not know where to concentrate their efforts on for developing on mobile devices. She speculated on the growth of smart phones in India and said they were not sure whether to put in the effort to make Wikipedia readable on currently simple GPRS phones if the smart phones market would have cheaper alternatives available.

The end of the meetup quiz was won by Shambulingayya who got the copy of the book, Good Faith Collaboration. We then had a photo-op and moved out as night descended.

We had planned on the 10th anniversary celebration of Wikipedia. I, Moksh and Kundan have been requested to meet and discuss things once again and post the idea on the mailing list to take forward the idea of the Wikipedia X Celebrations in Mumbai. Vivek also jumped in with better ideas on the way back home for which Moksh gave us a ride. We hope to get some ideas and put it on the Wikipedia in Mumbai mailing list.

My photos from the event can be found at Wikimedia Commons. I will soon upload them onto Picasa and share them here.

I just missed out on sharing this as I was writing this very early this morning at 1:30 am. Nagarjuna G shared that they were currently working in HBCSE to digitize copies of Marathi Vishwakosh. He had already written to the Secretary of the digitization project to make the copies available under the Creative Commons License and in unicode text. This would enable Wikipedians to use this as a base for several articles on Wikipedia in Marathi. As an answer, Bishaka Datta shared that in speaking with the Observer Research Foundation had made some headway and a suggestion to do the same could be made with the Chief Minister of Maharashtra.