The Real Paul Jones

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Category: India and Tibetans (page 2 of 2)

Notes about my trip to India and to visit with the Tibetans in Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj

Day 2 in McLoed Ganj – Friends in High Places

In which we see more clearly, take a chora around the temple grounds, meet many ibiblio contributors, visit the Tibetan Government compound including Lhakdor – Director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives and take a trip with Phuntsok to see the Air Jaldi wireless meshnetwork and the Tibetan Children’s Village.

All that and more here.

First Day in McLoed Ganj – Do Not Feed the MONKEYS

In which we visit around town, are warned about monkeys, go to the Dalai Lama’s temple, learn of construction and of software sales, and end up having dinner with journalist Lapsang Wangyal before the monsoon soaks the town.

Pictures of all that and more here.

Mystery of the Phone

In my room, I decide to check the wireless. Wow! I can see AirJaldi3. But it requires a WEP password that I can’t guess. But now the phone. Looks like it’s fine and even gets GPRS for data. I connect. Read the index of mail as I walk out to the balcony. Connection dropped. Reboot etc. No relief. I reboot in the small kitchen area and I get data. I walk over to the bed and before I can get the first page of mail, I’m dropped. I go into the bathroom. I get data. I stay there a while and madly answer select emails as briefly as possibly. They seem to work. I go to the balcony. Dead again.

Finally I realize that the Pema is on a ridge. I’m roaming to different carriers as a roam my small room. Only the carrier furthest from the balcony provides data support. Over the course of the evening before I pass out. I find four carriers within a 40 foot square.

Despite all these choices, I can’t manage to dial out. None of the dialing to the USA mojo seems to get me beyond a bilingual message about a wrong area code. And I can’t get through to James or Phuntsok either.

This will bug me for the rest of my visit. I can almost read and reply to mail, then I can’t. Finally cybercafes, which close at 8 pm or so, are my only option for mail etc. Luckily the price per hour of use is only about 40 rupees or less than a dollar. My hosts keep me pretty much in motion so I only check in in the evenings.

At the moment (Tuesday morning), I have somehow locked in a single provider. They don’t do data.

I experience the phone mysteries on the road back and in the airport. Coming down the mountain, I switch carriers often gaining and losing data access with no warning.

In the airport, things are more mysterious. My most reliable data carrier AirTel gets the phone, but for the first time it doesn’t show GPRS aka data support.

Back on the Road to McLeod Ganj

Back on the road.

More droning ride. Until we all stop. A real tangle on a thin rural road becomes three trucks wide and as far ahead as we can see. Motor bikes are weaving through whatever space they can find. Then we get waved back. A great unorderly but efficient reversing of the line. Vikrant suddenly turns on to what is little more than a foot path to me. We’re now in a small Sheikh village in Punjab blowing the horn and missing kids as they leave school in their uniforms and turbans.

For a brief while after, Vikrant drives determinedly onto another rural route. More like a state highway. We stop for gas. Vikrant is in animated conversation with the gas station folks. It is obvious that he is completely lost and getting directions. From what I can make out, opinions about directions in India are as varied and as passionately held as religious beliefs.

We drive on and in a while we are in the hills. We cross the dam of a large lake and stop for more tea. Vikrant helpfully explains about the lake, but I am completely wiped out by this point. I smile a lot.

We do go thru a number of town gates on the way. These seem to be especially favored in Punjab and in lower Himachal Pradesh. Some are quite ornate and lifted high enough for busses topped by extra riders to easily clear.

A couple of police stops to check the driver’s papers and licenses in this area. Dharamasala is near a military base, I’ll discover later on.

We head up into McLoed Ganj. It’s a bustling and confusing, to me at first arrival, town hanging on the hills. After some navigation around the crowds, Israeli and German backpackers mostly, and livestock, mostly cattle and horses, and dogs, we get up to the Pema Thang. Even at dusk, the view is lovely. The Pema is full and we have to negotiate a bit to get my name understood. Everyone in the office is amused that my middle name on my passport is McDonald. They make hamburger jokes to each other and occasionally to me. I can’t hardly convince them that the next line on the passport, “Jones,” is my last name and that there is is more or less in their book too as “Johns” I too share fault as I can’t pronounce Phunsok’s name. The “ph” sound here is not that of an “f” but a kind of hard “p.”

The Pema also has a nice little restaurant despite the plaque that reads “A Paradise for Pizza and Salad.” They have the foods that Tibetans like. And I get a tray of 8 Tibetan treats

Colors of the Gods

I notice that there are a number of temples and shrines all along the road. They’ve been by the highway too, but here I could see them more clearly. Each was marked by a pair of flags by the road. Blue for Sheikh. Red often trimmed with shiny gold for Hindi (usually Krishna or Matha). Occasional green for Moslem. There were black flags in front of a large ornate temple. I couldn’t make out the figures. Vikrant told me that I was good luck on Saturday to give money to “this guy.” I asked again “whose temple?” He answered with what sounded like, I swear, “Sunny Day.” I suspect that god is one of the versions of Shiva with his crescent moon and trident.

The Dalai Lama’s folks paint all of their temples and monasteries yellow, the color of the Gulupa school of Tibetan Buddhism. All monks wear a dark red. The Gulupas wear a yellow vest under their shaws.

On the way back down there, everyone is orange. Every image of the monkey-god Hanuman is completely painted orange, Horses have orange splashed on them. People are dressed in orange. In Punjab, orange turbans abound. Children are wearing orange sashes and women are wearing orange saris. Some people have their hair dyed orange. It’s like an Irishman’s nightmare of a Protestant St. Pat’s with all green gone orange. Many of the orange people seem to be traveling. Some have orange flags. My driver just nods when I ask him and can’t explain or doesn’t quite get my questions or doesn’t understand why I would want to know or thinks I shouldn’t know.

Later in the airport, a guy tells me that this is the festival of Ganesh, the elephant god, who is much beloved all over India. Why no Ganesh is painted orange and why every Hanuman is, he can’t say.

From Delhi to McLeod Ganj

Up at dawn or earlier. It seemed earlier. And down the meet the car. Tom and Tim are meeting their driver for a day trip to Agra. But I’m off for a much longer trip.

Vikrant, my driver is from Dharamsala area and his family has been there for ages he tells me. He’s anxious to get out of Delhi before the traffic gets bad. Bad traffic in Delhi is taking the word “bad” to a whole new level just as hot in Delhi in August is another kind of hot.

We get out of town without much trouble – if you allow for the normal behavior of Indian drivers. Every truck and bus has painted on the back “Blow Horn” as if anyone driving in India needed to be told to do that. And the mysterious “Use Dipper at Night” which does not mean use the Big Dipper to navigate on the dark roads, but instead to flash your lights if you want to pass. This in place of blowing your horn.

Outside of Delhi the road is pretty good. A divided highway with median flanked by dhabas, combinations of tea houses and truck stops. A ways out, we stop for milk tea and whatever breakfast I might like. None. A every warning about health and eating starts flashing in my head. Nonetheless I take some hot milk tea with Vikrant. He buys some mysterious packaged food favored by Indian drivers and we’re off.

In a few hours, it’s lunch time. Seems like we’ve made very good progress. We pull over at a very sophisticated stop that has heritage gifts and a garden restaurant. Over to the edge if the parking lot a camel is tethered. The only camel I see while in India. Vikrant assures me that camels are normal here and everywhere. For his part the camel seems completely unimpressed by anything on the hightway.

The place (see pic) is clean and very nice. Vikrant noticed that I was not all that happy with the dhaba earlier. It’s already getting pretty hot. Vikrant announces that we are half way to Dharamsala. This is amazing, we’ve come far fast. This is a warning of things to come had I thought more deeply.

Food. I thought I knew Indian food but the menu is completely alien to me except for veg. Pakora and stuffed bread. Both of which I order and enjoy. I did get tricked by what looked like a green bean pakora. That turned out to be a chili! It was the only hot part of the meal.

A twelve hour drive has a lot of time in which nothing happens. We’re in that space now. Until we turn off on to a single strip of road heading into a hillier area. Good bye highway.

Of the air whilst in the Himalayas

Working in a Cybercafe isn’t condusive to blogging or spelling. I have text. I have pictures. I will post articles post-dated once I return.

Owning the Future now past – on the the Himalayas

Owning the Future was well-received in the press and by visiting government officials. Today was again long but I was back and packing by 10 pm (having left the hotel at 7:45 am). Updated pictures here.

India is not a coffee country. Tea is great. Coffee is Nescafe. Even an espresso was, I think, Nescafe. Not in the Turkish style, but thick Nescafe. Reminder to self: Don’t even ask for coffee no matter where you are in India.

Today there was a very interesting panel on Traditional Knowledge and very wonderful performances by Eben Moglen and Michael Tiemann.

After the RedHat sponsored Symposium, the Software Freedom Law Center sponsored a gathering that included several judges and the Minister for Law and Justice of the Union of India.

I left early to pack for Dharamsala. Once back in the hotel, I had a call from my driver saying that leaving at 7 am would not do. We must leave at 6 am! Yikes, but I can sleep in the car. I have no sense of time at all.

I do have some insight about how some Indians interact with their government officials. Lots to taking the blows on the officials parts and some friendly returns. An Indian official needs to be quite thickskinned and a diplomat.

Owning the Future on CNN India

This just out. I missed being on camera, but Jimbo (who was the feature), Danese (of Intel), Kim (of Red Hat), Tim (of Red Hat) and others make a good show of it. Big announcement by Minister of State at the Prime Minister’s Office Prithviraj Chavan there at the end.

Long day of Owning the Future

Was on a great panel with Jimbo Wales, Lawrence Liang (of the Alternative Law Center), Madhukar Sinha (Registrar of Copyrights for India), Subbiah Aranachalam (of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation). I was and am jetlagged out of my brain, but briefly sprung to life for the panel. Mr. Sinha took the most of the questions; people in the audience had a lot to say about copyright and in particular the policies that India should follow — much of what is not in TRIPS for starters. Dr. Aranachalam is a proponent of information sharing among scientists and is a fan of the Library of Science and like groups. Mr Liang is interested in the epistomology of intellectual property law in India.

In a more rested state , I think, I did an interview with Pragati Verma of the Financial Express.

Met or remet G. Chamu from the Cultural Informatics Laboratory at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. Chamu had visited with us in NC at SILS especially Gary Marchionini and is an ibiblio contributor. I was good to see a friendly and somewhat familiar face.

Speaking of familiar faces, Eben Moglen came in in the afternoon changing places in some ways with Danese Cooper of Intel who ran out about the same time he arrived. Both folks I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Linux Documentation Project contributors and folks who wanted to thank for existing, etc. (Thanks to Don and Ken for keeping in live and making our tranistion to MCNC go smoothly).

Completely conked and heading for bed.

Tibetan Wireless on ABC News

Phuntsok skypes to say namaste and to say that ABC News just ran a story on Wireless in Dharamsala by Xeni. Many of the same pictures and much the same story but to a different audience than Wired, Boingboing or even NPR.

Creative Future?

Driving around Delhi — okay being driven around Delhi — when I saw a large poster with a “copyright” symbol on it and the words “Creative Future.” Turns out to be an advert for a contest sponsored by the Creative Future School of the the British Council; the award is a scholarship for creative business people under 35 in the fields of : advertising, architecture, crafts, designer fashion, film and video, interactive leisure software including computer games, music, performing arts – comedy, dance, theatre and the like, photography, publishing, radio, software, television, traditional Indian art forms, and visual arts.

Twenty young people with a business idea in the creative sector will be selected to take part in the Creative Future School at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore in August. There they’ll learn how to structure their business proposition, develop their networking skills, understand what an investor is looking for and hear from successful creative entrepreneurs about how they have built their businesses. The faculty will include senior academics from IIMB, leading figures from creative businesses in India and the UK and other experts.

The contest is a sort of RockStar/Idol competition for young Indian entrepreneurs. Whilst all of the pursuits are creative, all of them are somehow restricted in their creativity by broad restrictive intellectual property laws. You will need Windows Media to appreciate part of the Creative Future site.

Remember I’m here for the “Owning the Future: Ideas and Their Role in the Digital Age” symposium.

In an additional irony, The Hindu announced that “The Government will take the lead in popularising free software, Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan said on Monday. Free software emerged as a force which could be used for growth and development” while reporting on `Free software for Kerala’s development,’ organised by the IT Mission and the Society for Promotion of Alternate Computing and Employment (SPACE) here which featured a talk by FSF’s Richard Stallman.

In India

Arrived after 15 hours of flight from Chicago. North over Canada to the north of Greenland. Then around Scandanavia and nearly over Moscow and Yekaterinburg and over the Aral Sea. The Sea is drying up and odd to see from a plane. Eco-disaster at a very large scale. Across Uzbekistan. Then down over the mountains at Lahore and into Delhi.
On arrival, we found that our hotel had been changed. The Intercontinental was underconstruction and we were rebooked in the Taj Mahal Delhi. Max Lux.
Wireless Internet (at a price but a reasonable price) in the room.
Nearly midnight here as I post.
Begin Indian and IT talks tomorrow in earnest.

Off to India

I’ll be on the plane in a couple of hours. Don’t expect blogging for at least 24 hours. Noon EDT = 9:30 pm Delhi.

Owning the Future: Ideas and Their Role in the Digital Age

The initial agenda for the Symposium just arrived. I get to be on two panels with some great folks and to hear some impressive Indian speakers. The Symposium just got a positive kick with the announcement that the Indian Electorial Commission will go to completely to Open Source (in the Financial Express of Kolkata).

Tibetan-mania from Xeni

Xeni hasn’t posted about everyone I know in the Tibetan exile community in Dharamsala, but nearly everyone. I’ve put her in touch with the Volunter Tibet folks so that may appear on her blog or in Wired News or in Boingboing or National Public Radio or whereever else Xeni publishes next.
Besides finally seeing pictures of all these folks, it’s great to see them getting great press in the tech community from Xeni and her editors. In many cases, the Tibetans have been at tech projects for a long time working hard and cleverly with not many resources but with great determination.
It’s been a blast being part of their tech growth through
Looking forward to seeing as many of them (you if you are reading this in Dharamsala) next week.

Volunteer for Tibet (and get them off visual basic!)


Brick Thorton of Volunteers for Tibet writes to ask for help from techies heading up into the Himalayas to McLeod Ganj and Dharamsala.

He says:

if you happen to know any programmers that would be interested in making a long stay in mcleod ganj, please let me know! we’re looking to upgrade our custom volunteer tracking app… (originally programmed in visual basic).

Go to their site and lettem know you can help.

Tibetans in Wired and Slashdot and more

Xeni Jardin has followed her NPR coverage of Wireless Exiled Tibetans to Wired News with an expanded story featuring Yael Ben-David and Phuntsok Dorjee.

That’s been picked up at SlashDot in the Hardware area where there is a lot of discussion of the wireless and of dealing with Bad Monkeys.

And of course she always covers her own articles over on boing boing which helps me find them.

By the time I get there they’ll be too famous to talk with me ;->

India on the horizon

Owning the Future

Taking off Monday for India for the “Owning the Future” Symposium and to visit ibiblio contributors in Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj. Xeni has managed to mention three of the folks I’ll be visiting — Phuntsok Dorjee, Lobsang Wangyal and others — on her blog. Now I have an idea what some of them look like ;->

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