Archive for the ‘Wikimedia Commons’ category

Outreach in Itanagar!

3 April 2012

I was lucky enough to get to go to Arunachal Pradesh. One of my friends, Nearly headless Nick, could not go to the Northeast Regional Institute of Science and Technology (NERIST) so he recommended me instead. The NERIST wanted a speaker on Wikipedia and he recommended me for which I am deeply grateful. They sent me an air ticket and off I went.

At Guwahati, I met up with User:Planemad (Arun Ganesh), a young expert on Geographical Information Systems and OpenStreetMap and we travelled all evening in an Innova reaching late at night at Itanagar. NERIST is a 25 year old institute with very good reputation. The institution has been the bedrock of technical education in the Northeast.

NERIST Academic block, Nirjuli.
(Image credit:Renzut)

We had two days of sessions at NERIST. On Day One, we had the Wikipedia session where we met the local students who were quite interested in what we had to say. Arun Ganesh helped me & vice versa. The Wikipedia session went off very well. We introduced the students to Wikipedia, how to edit, the Five Pillars, etc. The power kept going so we had problems with the presentations. Finally, we chucked the ppts/odps and moved to Wikipedia proper on the internet. A very strong argument can be made for quitting presentations altogether and relying only on the internet. A number of students created their accounts.

The students lapped up knowledge like a sponge! (Image credit:Planemad)

We found that the Wikipedia article on NERIST was quite okay because a student’s from last year’s session – User:Renzut (358 edits) – had built it up. We added a few facts, references and an image. We also created a stub on Ita Fort by moving some material out from Itanagar article. One of my Pune friends, User:Wasimmogal2007, moved to Itanagar very recently. He came over to the workshop and met some students. Hopefully Itanagar Wikipedians will get together now!

The next day’s session was on things geographical. Arun Ganesh dazzled the audience with OpenStreetMap and Quantum GIS. Though the stuff was a bit difficult to cotton on to, the students did really well. At least six sets of students got the Java OpenStreetMap editor going, (quite a feat)  and added road after road, building after building. To see the effects visit NERIST at Nirjuli on OpenStreetMap, just 20 kilometers east of Itanagar. The kids pretty much mapped up their whole campus that day. It was amazing to see the student’s lap up the tech stuff. Reminds us how much their inquisitive minds are deprived of genuine stimulation. They were truly awesome.

Planemad weaves his OpenStreetMagic

After our two days of sessions, we went on the third day sightseeing to Itanagar. Two of the NERIST students were very kind to guide us around. There we saw the Ita (brick) fort – a very few but good looking walls of brick. We took images to add to Commons everywhere we went. We had a rickshaw driver who spoke in Nyishi and whose message we recorded for posterity.

Southern gate of Ita Fort. Very few artefacts remain.

We also visited a very beautiful Museum – the Jawaharlal Nehru Museum which outside is not impressive but inside has fabulous dioramas, modern lighting and display systems. I spent an hour photographing the objects for Commons.The Museum is on two storeys and despite the scarcity of informative charts (there were a few but just not enough), the getup is quite good. The Victoria Memorial, Kolkata has been collaborating jointly with them to improve the Museum’s exhibits and the results are very evident.

Entrance to Jawaharlal Nehru Museum.

A diorama of the Tangsa tribe at the Jawaharlal Nehru Museum. There is a display for each of the tribes.

A display of handicrafts in the Nehru Museum.

Later we went to the Government Emporium where lots of beautiful necklaces, shawls and other artefacts were available but at prices suited for generous pockets than mine, though I bought my daughter a beautiful necklace worn by young girls of the Nyishi tribe. We returned to NERIST that day in time to experience a rainstorm – Northeast style!

Hornbill sculpture at the Government Emporium. The Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis) is the state symbol for Arunachal Pradesh!

The next day was also supposed to be sight-seeing but we instead were asked by a new institution – NIT Arunachal Pradesh, in its temporary campaign at Yupia – to come and speak there. We went there in a Scorpio which travelled at breakneck speed through the country mud tracks, across the Dikrong river, through mud patches and a large deep pool to reach it – a real roller coaster of a ride. See this adventurous cross-country route marked as a dashed line in Open Street Map between the red coloured Nirjuli-Doimukh road and the peach-coloured Yupia road (mapped By Arun Ganesh with his Datalogger).

The temporary location of NIT Arunachal Pradesh at Yupia.

NIT Arunachal Pradesh is very new and operating from a temporary campus at Yupia. The students go forth bravely despite many infrastructural problems including water and electricity. The students were very interested in what we had to tell. We got a very hospitable and friendly reception from both the teachers and the staff. The students really wanted to do more but in a couple of hours each, we were only able to showcase the most basics.

Editing Wikipedia at NIT Arunachal. (Image credit:Planemad).

The Wikipedia article on NIT Arunachal Pradesh was already existing and we showed the students how their article was targetted for deletion by a P*@#%$&&i editor and then saved by the intervention of a non-Indian editor of WikiProject India – an example of how globalisation had already begun to affect their lives though they did not know it. We then improved the article, added the first image, cleaned it up and added a reference. After our sessions, we were taken specially to meet the Director NIT, Dr CT Bhuniya, who presented each of us with a book.

Prof CT Bhuniya, Director NIT AP, presented books to the participants. (Image credit:Unknown but with my camera.)

We returned to Guwahati on 28th by the same Scorpio who averaged 80 and often 100 kmph and did a 400 km journey in six hours! We stayed at Guwahati that night and flew out the next day. All in all, it had been an awesome experience for us, and we like to think, for the students of the two institutions also.

I am grateful to the organisers of NERIST Techfest, specially Biswajit Saha, for inviting me and Dr Rattan Chowdhary for inviting us to NIT Arunachal Pradesh. Thanks are also due to User:Sir Nicholas de-Mimsy Porpington for recommending me to NERIST, User:Planemad for great company and opening new horizons of learning to me, and to User:Nitika.t of India Programs for sending me her latest copy of outreach presentation for use in Itanagar.

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The most important Indian ornithology paper recently written!

2 February 2011

“Which is the most important Indian ornithology paper recently written?”

I was asked this by a young M.Sc. guy recently. I was taken aback because I had never encountered such an intelligent question from a young post-graduate before. But there he was – and they all looked at me for an answer. So, after a little thought, without going through hundreds of articles on Indian natural history that I should have before answering, anyway answered “In my opinion, Taking Indian Ornithology into the Information Age By L. Shyamal.”

 

An image from "Opinion: Taking Indian ornithology into the Information Age"

Now, Shyamal, no matter how militant he may be in his opinions, shuns the limelight and will undoubtedly disagree with me and be displeased by my actions.

At this stage, I will also disclose to you that he is a close friend of some years, a collaborator with me on Wikipedia and that I have met him a number of times.

But that is besides the point. Shyamal, putting it plainly and simply, is both a theorist and practitioner of open science. Read Shyamal’s views on Open science here on this very blog. And the article I have named above.

As far as practicing Open Science is concerned,  he is the single most prolific editor to Wikipedia on Indian natural history and biodiversity. He has an edit count of 34,176 edits to Wikipedia which is quite fantastic. His edit contributions can be found here.   Besides this, to date, Shyamal has donated, improved and uploaded 5200 free images to Wikimedia Commons which can be seen here 250 images at a time..

Shyamal is creative. He uses Inkscape and makes small, simple, easily printed scalable drawings of birds : cheap to print & places them under a free license on Wikimedia Commons. Find svg birds by Shyamal and many others over here. Use them as you wish – even commercially.

 

Free bird svg images by Shyamal

Shyamal spends a lot of time finding obscure details about Indian natural history and adding them to Wikipedia. He finds old material and loads them to http://www.archive.org. He has uploaded a large number of the iconic Newsletter of Birdwatchers of Dodda Gubbi post days on that site.

Shyamal created BirdSpot and provided that data and that dataset under a free license. This was the first common man’s implementation of a GIS in India.

But none of that matters. No matter how good or bad he is, it still wouldn’t matter.

Because, in this paper Shyamal has objectively analysed for us where we are, what needs to be done and what is the way to go ahead. The quality of science displayed in articles and actions of our birding community increases in bits and spurts and then takes a step back in time before returning to its jerky progress. We need to face the demon and berate it soundly. Then alone can we make it cower. And this we can do only if we are brutally honest with ourselves. Shyamal’s paper is honest in this manner. I’m deliberately not commenting more on the paper. It is for you to read and see where both Shyamal and I am coming from.

Now, doling paeans of praise on a friend is no longer politically correct. But faujis are not politicians. We call a spade a spade.

So, don’t believe me, abhor my parochial actions, disdain the personal depths I have probed but read for yourself and see!

 

The Onlooker

Images: All freely licensed. Click image to reach source.

What is Wikimedia Commons all about?

18 January 2011

Most of us do not know enough about the free resources of the digital world available to us,  such as Wikimedia Commons!  This article, originally written to expound the philosophy of WikiPuneri, a Facebook group of people wanting to make a difference, has been added here for the greater public to read.

…starts…

Before I explain what WikiPuneri group does, I would like to explain in short about Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons is not an encyclopaedia, it is a media repository. Wikipedia, as you all know, is the free online encyclopaedia which anyone can edit. There are a total of 278 Wikipedias in the world, each in a different language. The English Wikipedia is the largest with 3,528,428 articles. As of now there are twenty wikipedias in Indian languages – including in Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, blah, blah and blah. Of these Marathi Wikipedia is the third in size with over 30,000 articles. In addition there are twenty more wikipedias in other Indian languages in the process of being developed.

Now why I have mentioned this is because all of these use photographs, video clips and sound files. Now, it is a waste of space for each Wikipedia to load its images exclusively for itself. Hence the Wikimedia Foundation has created another project called as Wikimedia Commons or in short just Commons. Commons is the media repository. All photos, video clips and sound files are uploaded here just once and they immediately become available to all wikipedias.

The number of images on Wikimedia Commons about an important subject say Pune city is important. That is because all the images on Commons are free. When I say free, I mean free as in free speech as well as in free beer. You are free to use them as you wish, even commercially, as long as you attribute whose image you have used and as long as you make the material available under a free license. These images on Commons are placed under one of a variety of licenses that give you these rights and permissions – this kind of license is called a free license, which allows you to use the images as you wish, as long as you attribute and give free license to people to use your work in turn. The most common free license used around the world is the Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike license.

The full text of Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License is given here.

But to explain it here is a more easily understood diagrammatic version of the same below :

 

The crux of the Creative Commons 3.0 Unported License

Why? Why this talk about free licenses?

Because images are usually copyrighted with all rights reserved by the creator. Because a person who is going to break the law and steal or illegally use your image will not bother about whether image is copyrighted or free to use. But the law abiding person can neither use a copyrighted image whose creator has kept all rights for himself without breaking the law nor can he afford it.

Usually you have to pay a fee ranging from a hundred to tens of thousands of rupees to use a photograph commercially per image. Poor people cant afford that, even if the cause is noble or good for society. Many people agree to permit use of their photos free for a good cause, but it is difficult or sometimes impossible to contact people who have good images on Flickr, Picassa or web ste. So a repository of free images is required. Wikimedia Commons is exactly that – it not only stores images for Wikipedias but also makes them available for everyone in society to use, even commercially.

Imagine a person, Mr Patil, who has knowledge which he wants to share with the world. Suppose he wants to write a very economically priced book on Butterflies Of Maharashtra in Marathi for all the children of Maharashtra to read. To illustrate it he will need over three hundred images. If he buys the images, the book will be extremely costly and not free or cheap. But he can take the images from Commons and use them to illustrate his book. He will have to do only two things – acknowledge the person whose photos he has used and publish it not under copyright with all rights reserved but with free Creative Commons license I mentioned to you. Mr Patil can use these images, print the book cheaply and even make a small honest profit.

The free license allows people to use Mr Patil’s book in a constructive manner. They can make derivatives. A biology teacher takes material from his book and makes a chart of common butterflies for display in class rooms. He acknowledges at the bottom of the chart that the information is taken from Patil’s book, mentions the authors of images used and publishes the chart under a free lisense. Another person thinks that the book and chart are valuable educational resources and translates it into English, Hindi, and other Indian Languages. The free license permits them to do so. And so on. The information and images get re-used freely, the contributions of all people are acknowledged and same freedoms are passed on by means of the license.

In such a context, it is important that enough free images are available on Commons to empower our people. If you check Wikimedia Commons today, you will find very few images of Pune. For example, there are more than 500 historial places such as temples, wadas, buidings etc in Pune city alone but only five such places are covered in Commons. There are images of front gate of Shaniwarwada but none of the many wonders inside.

So some photographers of Pune have decided to remedy this by starting a programme to add images of historical monuments of our city onto Commons. We have formed a group of like-minded people on Facebook and Flickr who are keen to further this noble cause to help society. We call this group “WikiPuneri”. We have already started with our first focus being Shaniwarwada the landmark symbol of Pune city which we photographed last Sunday. In coming weeks we will add many more images of Pune and Maharashtra so that hopefully by the time Wikipedia becomes 11 years of age, all of Pune’s monuments are photographed.

 

One of the images uploaded. - the Shaniwarwada gate - (Image:Ashok Bagade)

The other thing we will do is that we will ensure that both Marathi and English Wikipedias have articles on all these monuments and landmarks. In this way, our exposure of our beloved Pune will increase. People can get all the important information about Pune that they need from Wikipedia and images from Wikimedia Commons.

On the function on 15th January 2011, as a symbolic gesture, we will be have uploadinged in front of everyone for the first time an image which we have taken and contributed to Wikimedia Commons. Hopefully that will be followed by many, many more!

…ends…

THIS TEXT LICENSED UNDER CREATIVE COMMONS 3.0 UNPORTED (See link in main article)