Sunday, December 25, 2005

Casting the Net wider... harvesting eGranary ideas

Cliff Missen <> wrote from Tunis, during the recent WSIS, asking queried whether I was there. I wasn't. But he took time off to share with me some interesting information via email, about the eGranary.

What's that?

As Cliff explains: "An eGranary Digital Library at each could save millions in Internet connectivity costs, giving patrons the capacity to determine how they spend their communication funds (accessing local documents for free and then deciding which resources they are willing to spend Internet connectivity to retrieve.)"

He also wrote: "There's a lot of ways to spread eGranaries, but my personal favorite involves us training technicians who will train technicians who will build eGranaries and train librarians and students all over."

Other options can be found at:

He says he "understands" that there are some efforts underway to build information centers around India.

Cliff Missen is Director of the The WiderNet Project at the University of Iowa. Phone 319-335-2200 or

He says their eGranary Digital Library is now installed in "over 60 institutions in the developing world". He's keen to connect with those interested in using this technology "to deliver a wealth of information to scholars with little or no Internet connectivity".

For some background: The eGranary Digital Library provides over 2.5 million digital resources to institutions lacking adequate Internet access. Through a process of copying Web sites and delivering them to intranet Web servers inside partner institutions in 'developing' countries, this digital library delivers educational materials for instant access over local area networks.

Says the project proponents: "For schools that are spending enormous amounts of money for their slow and unreliable internet connections, the eGranary Digital Library slips seamlessly into the network and delivers its Web pages up to 5,000 times faster. At the same time, such schools can save tens of thousands of dollars in bandwidth costs every year. For those schools, clinics, and libraries WITHOUT an Internet connection, the eGranary Digital Library is a phenomenon!"

It is working in more than 60 institutions in Africa, Bangladesh and Haiti, and the eGranary Digital Library says it provides lightning fast access to a wide variety of educational materials including video, audio, books, journals, and Web sites, even where no Internet access exists.

Incidentally, this library represents the collective contributions of hundreds of authors, publishers, programmers, librarians, instructors and students around the globe. Some of the many authors and publishers who have granted permission to distribute their works via the eGranary Digital Library include: U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Columbia University, Cornell University, MIT's OpenCourseware, UNESCO, Wikipedia, the Virtual Hospital, World Bank and WHO.

It was founded in 2001. And the eGranary Digital Library was created by the WiderNet Project, a non-profit organization based at the University of Iowa. This project is now looking for more authors and publishers to help grow its collection to 10 million documents, volunteers to help collect and categorize new materials, and librarians and teachers to help get the library installed in thousands of schools, hospital and universities.

In brief, websites with rich educational content are identified, the author's or publishers' permission is obtained by email. Between 50-90% agree, depending on their content area. Permitted material are copied to a hard-drive. Sometimes, an entire website is copied. Copies are distributed using large hard disks. WiderNet Project has also worked on ways to deliver incremental updates using other transport mechanisms (IP, satellite digital radio, CD-Rom, etc).

Tongue to Fingers: Colonizing IT in a Postcolonial World

Sayamindu Dasgupta <> of Kolkata recently announced that he had updated a PDF version of this lecture with an unusual title -- Tongue to Fingers: Colonizing IT in a Postcolonial World.

It was a lecture given to the Refresher Course for teachers of Applied Psychology in Calcutta University by Dipankar Das

You can download it from

A quote: "Not that there is no way out. GNU/Linux is there. That gives a totally fully-armed laboratory to go on experimenting and working, and thus knowing what a computer actually is. But so few takers remain there. Because, as we said, the enemy resides within. It is a culture of dwarfs that is deliberately generated. A culutre that is pursued by the parents: that is us, dwarfing our own children. The process of dwarfing starts with the replacement of language on the Command Prompt by a picture and a mouse-click. It goes on. Take away the shell, the Operating System. And then take away all the programming languages. Just job-doing remains. It serves the postcolonial project.Closequote.


It started off with a brief email, which read: "What are the prospects of TTS in India? Which are the leading companies?"

At first, I didn't quite understand what this was all about. Prof M. A. Pai <> then shot-back another email, and pointed to [Quote: "Voice is amongst the most powerful and evident manifestations of human behavior."]

One such product, he says, was released in the Free Software CD launched by Sonia Gandhi. Says Pai: "As I see it is needed for applications like teaching Hindi, e-governance, for deaf/blind people etc."

Prof Pai says it would be nice if this issue could be mentioned on BytesForAll. It was developed jointly with IITK which is where he taught from 1963-81. Incidentally, Prof Pai ran the interesting website (it's an science and technology portal for India which, he hinted, he might be compelled to give up) and is professor emeritus at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering of the Univ of Illinois (Urbana, IIL)

Phone 217-333-6790(o) 217-344-0977(R)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Teaching programming... to the blind

Arun Mehta <arun at> has announced via the Africa Source list that he teaches programming to blind students at the National Association for the Blind in New Delhi (says he, "from this Sunday, we plan to take the workshop online, snipurl/ks65 for those interested, since we now have interest from Pakistan in this activity"). Incidentally, his current passions include village/community radio and technology for the disabled. Websites:,

Links: Africa Source

From Debian...

Debian Weekly News, an interesting compiliation, says Simon Bienlein[1], a German Debian contributor has received the BIENE award [2]. Simon contributes to the [3]Debian installer and helped to make it fit for use with a braille terminal. He received the award for his [4]website (German) on GNU/Linux for blind people. The BIENE award is given annually to websites whose accessibility is exemplary. Simon even received a special award.

1. 2. 3. 4.