December 30, 2004

Bulk view

January in review

1/1: I kept one resolution: to chat with friends often.
1/4: Dominique had a run-in with Neko. He was amused by how I kept him anonymous in the anecdote.
1/11: Helped my dad with the computer, learning more about him in the process
1/12: More about people around me
1/15: Photo shoot with Mobile Philippines. Videoke with my sister. Candy during midterms = good thing.
1/16: Went for the Cosmo VTR. Nothing happened.
– 1/18: Ran into Sean at the scifi convention. It’s odd meeting someone after a long time.
1/19: Reflected on the second sem.
1/23: Reflected on moving into Ching’s room. Also, reflected on difficulties students were having with my exercises.
1/24: First piece of flash fiction.
1/28: Students found stepwise decomposition easier than nested loops.
1/30: “A Stone’s Throw” – first piece of flash fiction that impressed my friends.

Open Source Speaks Your Language

(title needs tweaking)

English is the language of education, business and government in the
Philippines, but many people are not as fluent in English as they are
in Tagalog and other dialects. As a result, they find it difficult to
use English-only software, learning how to use programs through rote
memorization and relying on icons and positions to find commands. This
discourages them from exploring the computer or improving their skills
on their own, and increases resistance to change.

With the rapid progress of volunteer efforts like the Debian Tagalog
project, it would not be surprising if a full open source desktop in
Tagalog and other dialects would be available in a few years’ time.
Because these programs are free to download and use, computer shops,
cybercafes, schools, and offices would include them in standard
installations. People would be free to explore computers and learn how
to use them, not hampered by the dual barriers of language and

The Philippine software market is too small for multinational
companies like Microsoft to consider localization as economically
viable. Piracy reduces the attractiveness of the market even further.
Unlike other Asian countries, we do not require special alphabets or
fonts in order to produce documents required by government and
industry. Localization does not offer a competitive advantage that can
be exploited by closed-source software.

On the other hand, open source is uniquely suited for localization
efforts. Communities do not have to wait for companies to decide to
produce localized versions. They can make the changes themselves. More
importantly, they can use and distribute the modified software so that
other people can benefit from their work, narrowing the digital divide
and making technology available even for people who are not
comfortable with English.

In this scenario, a number of issues present themselves. Would
employers discriminate against experience in localized open source
software on the grounds that those skills may not translate to English
closed source software? Would the popularity of translated software
result in the deterioration of functional English skills, making us
less globally competitive? Would dialects further fragment our IT
industry along regional boundaries while making it difficult for
people to take advantage of worldwide resources?

Skill transference is an important consideration. Job advertisements
specify “Microsoft Office experience.” Employers may be hesitant to
hire someone who doesn’t have all the buzzwords listed. Schools train
people in popular software so that new graduates can work right away.
Business-minded students and professionals worry that their experience
in open source alternatives like will not be recognized
by employers. As open source software grows in features and
compatibility, not only will transitioning to equivalent closed source
software become easier, but using open source alternatives
side-by-side with or even in lieu of closed source software will
become more feasible.

What about the English language? Wouldn’t promoting localized
computing negatively affect English language skills and reduce one of
our competitive advantages over other Asian nations? We promote the
use of English in classrooms and offices. Wouldn’t localization be a
step back? Wouldn’t people find it difficult to use non-localized
software? On the contrary, localized software can help strengthen
people’s communication skills. With confidence based on their
experience with native-language applications, people can then explore
English applications with the benefit of having solid mental
constructs to which they can then assign English terms.

With the wealth of regional dialects in the Philippines, wouldn’t
localization further divide our fledgling IT industry along regional
boundaries? On the contrary, developing regional centers of excellence
in computing will help the industry grow, and bring the benefits of IT
to people previously excluded by their unfamiliarity with technical
English. If the applications people use were available not only in
English but also in regional dialects, then more people would be
encouraged to explore how they can be more productive with computers.
Knowledge is not trapped within a single community, but shared with
other regions and the world through community members who are
comfortable with English or multiple dialects.

Localization is one of the most powerful advantages offered by open
source software. Open source is about freedom and choice, and
translation efforts springing up around the country are a shining
example of how the ability to modify software allows people to add
value to it for their community. Volunteers working on translation and
localization of open source software are not doing it for themselves,
but rather to make it easier for their family, friends and townmates
to learn more about computing and use computers to improve their
lives. Through open source, Filipinos open doors.

Other interesting resources:

Debian Tagalog Translation Team

Filipino Linux Documentation Project

Ramil Sagum, aspell-tl

Jan Alonzo, packaging aspell-tl for Debian

Open source’s local heroes

Web browser speaks Xhosa

Surrounding myself with ideas

If I had my own house, I’d scribble on its walls. Perhaps the walls
will be made of glass backed by white paper so that I can paint and
draw on it, washing off old work and doodling on new work. Perhaps
they will be enormous whiteboards or blackboards set into the walls,
with colored markers or chalk everywhere. I want to surround myself
with ideas, mindmaps, little sketches, notes. I want a house that
changes every day, a house that lets me be creative.

(Got that insight after reading about the real use of white ceilings
as set out in

Interview: Chris G. Haravata

Asia Pacific College is one of the best
examples of Linux education in the Philippines and a favorite venue
for Linux- and tech-related events. I e-mailed a few questions to
Chris Haravata, who started the Open Source Lab.

1. Why did you start the Open Source Laboratory, and how would you
describe your progress so far?

When I was still the system/network administrator of APC
2 years ago, I’d already wanted to put up something that would let me
work (read as research) on Linux alone. After I took a month-long
leave back in July 2001, I embarked on setting up the Open Source
Research and Development Group (OSRDG) as it was formerly known.
Finally, on January of 2002, I was given a couple of workstations, a
couple of servers, and some pats on the back for thinking about this.
The only consideration was that I rename it to something else, as the
management abhorred anything named Research and Development. So, the
Open Source Laboratories was born, with the main objective being R&D,
but seconded by teaching these researched materials to
students… much like a transferance of knowledge.

The progress? I would say it has been a great 2 years for the OSL. One of
the good things that came out of the OSL is the addition in the Curriculum
of a 4-term course named OSS, a full-Linux study, of and about Linux
(device driver development, GUI programming, creating your own Linux via
LinuxFromScratch, etc). Students at APC now have confidence in using
Linux in their everyday lives. Whereas before…

2. What was the biggest problem you faced setting up the Open Source Lab
and how did you deal with it?

Logistics! Just like in any new venture, this would be
the biggest problem to hurdle. But with the use of about 26 Pentium
100s, a couple of 16-port unknown switches, and one roll of UTP
cables, I’ve managed to set up the laboratory, with the use of [Linux
Terminal Server Project]. My initial installation of LTSP two years
ago is still the same installation up until now, with just a few
additions and alterations.

3. How did you get students interested in Linux?

That’s easy! We integrated Linux into their studies… parang we force them
into it. I’ve found out over the past couple of years that if you give
students choices on what to use, they will readily turn to the Dark Side,
since that would be the easiest way out. But if they find out that they
HAVE to learn it or fail the subject, then you will be surprised at the
outcome. Students, later on, come to me and say “Sir, thank you nga pala.
Kung hindi dahil sa course nyo, hindi ako matatanggap sa trabaho ko ngayon.”
The feeling of hearing those words will really make wonders to your heart.

4. What are some of the coolest projects that have come out of the Open
Source Lab?

I can’t say they’re the coolest ever, but since they came out of the
OSL without any help from outside forces, I’d say [one project] would
be the Student Login/Logout Facility using a Smart Card and a Reader,
being used in tandem with Linux. I’ve seen so many products using the
card and the reader, but none of them ran entirely on Linux. It is now
being used. Parents and guardians can simply call the OSL and find out
if their child is in school or not. Cool, no?

There are others, like the IPv6 research we have been doing. Now, THAT
is making a headway! We can now do several servers all running on
IPv6. Though still not pure, as they still need to piggyback over
IPv4, but at least, we are the only school in the country (that I’ve
heard of) doing such a thing.

5. What are you planning to do next?

[…] I believe that that office can do wonders, with the right person
at the helm (ehem, ehem.. hahaha) and with the backing of the
management. There is a limitless potential to Linux. As I always
tell my students, biases aside, Linux will be the computing platform
of tomorrow, if not today!

E-Mail to Chris G. Haravata