Wednesday, November 9, 2011

CGNet Swara is a Finalist at Ashoka Changemakers...We need VOTES!

It's my pleasure to announce that we have made it to the finals at the Ashoka Changemakers CItizen Media Competition. We now need votes to win the final stage.
Voting is really easy:
  1. Go to and click the CGNet Swara photo on the top right corner (its the one with a citizen journalist interviewing two children)
  2. On the CGNet Swara page, click the white link that says "Vote"
  3. Provide your email address and location
  4. Go to your email and confirm your vote (THIS IS IMPORTANT)
  5. Since you're now back at your email, take a minute and forward this email far and wide.
For people who would like to know more about our work and about the competition, a few links:
For the audio-visually inclined, a short film (1 min) describing what we do: CGNet Swara Elevator Pitch Video (Low Res), CGNet Swara Elevator Pitch Video (Hi Res)
For those who prefer to read: The CGNet Swara Site , Our News Page
For the powerpoint types: Voices Across the Digital Divide (a.k.a. there's plenty of room at the bottom)

Our Ashoka Competition Entry
About the competition

We are counting on your support as usual :)

Monday, July 4, 2011

What we learned from managing a distributed democratic organization

Our challenges have been primarily in the area of community building and management. We have found that while urban members of the community typically have better resources, they usually also have limitations on flexibility and implementation. On the flip side, while rural members have more flexibility and appetite for effort, they are usually short resources.
We have learnt to overcome this challenge by systematically improving our communication processes. By working through the paradigm that communication enables flow of resources, we have been able to connect rural grassroots activists to their counterparts in cities, enabling the urban resource availability to compliment the rural implementation skill.
The next area of challenges has been sustaining the costs of running the project.
For example, the cost of providing free callbacks as a means to improve adoption rates.
Rather than incur the cost of capital involved in raising a large monolithic investment, we have learnt to distribute our financial needs into granular components and obtained individual/independent funding for each. This has allowed us to distribute the risks of the project across many stakeholders and enabled more people to contribute with their existing resources, once again following the overall paradigm of inclusion.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Making a stopped Maruti 800 '94 start Part 3

So, here we go again...
After the last set of fixes, I take the car back to the mech, so that he can look inside and make sure there's nothing else lurking under the hood. He looks. He assures me all is well. I ask him if I need to consider replacing the wiring. He says no. I ask him again. He says no again. I ask him if he is sure. He gives me a withering look that seems to say "Yes! I'm sure. Now go AWAY!"
I comply and leave.

2 kilometers away from the mech's shop, 50 feet before I make a right turn onto NH-24 the car stops

  1. Car makes several sickening, scrunching noises
  2. Car stops
  3. Car won't start...not even when I say please
Action Log:
  1. I step out of car, curse twice
  2. I look at the long line of cars behind me also trying to turn right onto NH-24 and suggest with wave of the hand that they may want to treat my car as a rather large pothole and go around it. They honk. I grin sheepishly. They honk some more. I turn away.
  3. I open the hood
  4. Everything looks ok. The makeshift connections seem to be holding. I consider the odds of something having gone wrong under the insulation tape and discard that as too remote a possibility
  5. I wonder if the "gap" that the mech created (see part 1) has disappeared again. Too much proximity is clearly a bad thing, when the context is the insides of a distributor (a.k.a. dreadlock capped thingie)
  6. I open up the distributor and peer inside it like I know what I am doing.
  7. It looks no different from the last time I looked inside it
  8. I curse some more
  9. Then i realize that since I opened the hood up, the expressions of people passing by have changed from irritation to mild respect and sympathy. They are also not honking any more.  Clearly someone trying to fix a problem is better than someone not trying to fix a problem. Note to self: if you want to stand idly in the middle of the road, it's a good idea to have the hood open and peer knowledgeably inside...good tactic while waiting for the mech, if you're sensitive to loud noises.
  10. I call the mech. 
  11. I tell him the car wont start
  12. He tells me to try again
  13. I tell him I already tried thrice
  14. He tells me to check the connections and makeshift fixes
  15. I tell him I already did that
  16. He tells me to try again
  17. I hold the phone right over the engine and give the ignition 5 long twists.
  18. I hope the guy bust an eardrum
  19. Clearly he didnt, because when I ask him if he heard that he says yes.
  20. He tells me he is on his way.
  21. I remember note to self and keep peering inside the hood while I wait for him.
  22. He shows up 15 mins later
  23. He opens up the distributor (like I did)
  24. He pokes around inside it (like I did)
  25. He concludes that the "gap" is gone (like I did)
  26. I ask him where the gap should be
  27. He shows me two points between which there should be a gap
  28. Then he pulls the assembly out and peers at it
  29. Apparently its burnt, melted and shrunk as a result (See pic)
  30. I wonder if this is a good time to ask him why he didnt catch that when I asked him to check the car over...then I decide against's not the time to piss this guy off
  31. He creates a makeshift "gap" by hammering one side of the two point assembly so that it goes back a little. Welcome to the land of "jugaad"
  32. Then he tells me that the reliable way to make this work is to replace the part
  33. I jump up and down in joy at the word "reliable"
  34. Then he tells me that the parts shops are closed on Tuesday. I stop jumping up and down and put on my scowly face
  35. We drive back to his shop, where he thinks he may have a spare 
  36. He doesn't have a spare
  37. I leave the car at his shop and ask him to call me when its fixed.
  38. I take the metro to my original destination and arrive 2 hours late. The woman I'm meeting isn't amused. 
  39. Cut to next day...mech calls me and says that the car is ready. I ask him to drop it off.
  40. He shows up with the car 4 hours after he said he would. The car seems to be running.
  41. I ask him what he changed. He shows me the same part that he hammered out of shape and claims that a new version of it is at this very moment alive and well inside the hood of my car. 
  42. He also shows me two other components, which were apparently also burnt out. These apparently come from inside the silver canister on the top right (See pic in part 2)
  43. The current hypothesis (I say hypothesis because it aint proven till the fat lady sings and keeps singing for a while) is that all these three parts had outlived their natural lifespan and their degeneration was causing uneven current flow to the different parts of the car's electrical system, leading to the the stalls (See pics below)

    1. The car still seems to be running. I will conclude that it is fixed when it's run for a week without an electrical issue. 

    Sunday, November 28, 2010

    Backing up BSNL's pathetic Internet service with Tata Photon Plus

    So finally after putting up with BSNL's crap internet service that conks out at a drop of rain or gust of wind, I finally bought myself a Tata Photon.
    The claim is that it can provide "up to" 3.1 Mbps for a limited amount of data (15GB). After the limit is exceeded it drops to 128 Kbps for an unlimited amount.

    Apparently the reason for the limit is a TRAI "advisory" (sounds similar to the one that bans VoiP to PSTN switching unless the gateway is outside India). More about the "advisory" soon if I can find it.
    The Tata Photon experience was pretty good. Ms Pratibha @ Excellent Communications in Mayur Vihar was able to answer all my questions without treating me like a retard, which was a rather rare treat from "IT wallahs" in Delhi.
    The rest of the gang, callers from Janakpuri, Malviya Nagar et al sounded like they couldn't care less about the sale, nor did they have their facts straight.

    The folks at excellent communications even sent over someone to collect my documentation. The guy who showed up was able to install the product (points deducted for not being willing to essay a Mac, but he did pretty well with the Acer EEEPc I handed him).
    Photon Plus is apparently the only version thats available to us lower mortals in NCR. Photon Pro (the Verizon MiFi equivalent) will apparently not be launched anywhere except Mumbai initially (comments welcome)
    So far Photon seems to work pretty well, even though the modem is a Huawei (not happy about that, they have a bad rep in my book after their "alleged" industrial espionage stories, but clearly Tata is happy to do business with them, so I suppose I can too)
    At last test from, the speed I got was about a meg (1 Mbps) to Palo Alto. Beats BSNL at any rate. AND they have a "Customer Care Number"...W00t!

    Pricing for Tata Photon Plus:
    INR 1600 for the device (apparently Excellent Communications @ Mayur Vihar is offering a discount)
    INR 1500 p.m. post paid for 15 GB @ "upto" 3.1 Mbps and 128 Kbps thereafter, with an INR 200 discount per month for a year. Not too bad at all, assuming the service stays reliable.

    This in contrast with apprx INR 750-900 for BSNL, which uses a Nokia wireless modem that needs frequent stroking to work, gives me under 1Mbps (sometimes around 512 Kbps) with absolutely no reliability, no customer service and when it conks out you have to call the SDO (Govt official) and grovel.
    To BSNL's credit though, they did fix the "broken cable" that blew out my connectivity and prompted the Photon purchase, on a weekend.

    Making a stopped Maruti 800 '94 start Part 2

    Insides of the Maruti 800

    Making a stopped Maruti 800 '94 start

    Note: The pictures are all annotated, zoom in to see annotation

    Maruti 800
    1994 Model
    Bad Condition

    1. Replaced Tyres Nov 27
    2. Had a wiring short circuit two centimeters from the left battery pole, fixed by removing connectors and shorting the wires directly. Prior to this fix, the car would suddenly lose power in mid drive and only pick up again on holding down the clutch and repeatedly pumping the accelerator.
    1. Stopped after running fine for ~28 KMs after fix (2) above
    2. Would not start
    3. Car moves forward when ignition is turned in first gear without holding the clutch down
    4. Left car overnight
    Fix Log
    1. Opened bonnet
    2. Looked around in confusion
    3. Saw silver cylinder on top right hand side near the bonnet hinge
    4. Remembered that the mech had fiddled with it
    5. Pulled off the wire in the center (see pic)
    6. Noticed that the wire was connected to the holder by a thin strand. AHA!
    7. Tried putting the wire back and turned effect
    8. Pulled connector off the end of the wire, put the wire back on without the connector after ripping off the end of the insulation with my teeth (yes teeth! That's what the mech did)
    9. Turned ignition, no effect
    10. Asked neighboring Maruti Service station mechs to help push the car to one side so they could continue to fleece other customers (my mech is not a Maruti Service center type)
    11. Mechs offered to help, I accepted
    12. Mech looks at the same connector and replaces it with a spare one (not really a spare, just a bit of wire with a connector at the end of it
    1. Turn ignition, no effect
    2. Mech opens up one of the whatchamacallits (see pic, the one with the cap and multiple wires coming out of it like dreadlocks. I think its called a self, the mechs here dont like to reveal what they're doing. Clearly shamanism has not died away).
    1. Mech claims that it needs a "gap". There is no "gap". Self is "stuck"
    2. He tries loosening a screw (see pic). The screw does not cooperate
    3. Mech sticks the screwdriver at an angle into the screw head and tries to chisel it open using a pair of pliers for a hammer. The pliers aren't heavy enough, so the screw only gets chipped and stays stubbornly in place
    4. Mech gets a heavier pair of pliers. This time the screw seems to feel something and moves
    5. Mech opens the screw and pulls a bit of the plate (see pic) counter clockwise. Then he tightens the screw back
    1. Mech closes the cap with the dreadlocks
    2. Turn ignition, car starts
    3. I thank Mech profusely and leave...he doesn't ask for payment, so I assume I owe him a favor
    4. I bring car home
    5. Open bonnet
    6. Disconnect the makeshift wire and make sure car wont start
    7. Open dreadlock cap thingie and see inside, cant make sense, but resolve to read up
    8. Close car and wait for next failure