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August 15, 2018

RaspberryPi for ZPHS

Filed under: computers — neosurya @ 20:48

At ZPHS Nareguda, we have been taking classes by using desktop PCs. We are now exploring Raspberry PI as a more viable option. Students at the school primarily use Libre office, and Scratch. Our syllabus also requires them to use the internet, but our needs certainly do not justify a PC. I settled down on piBox, which costs about 4200. It has a Raspberry PI 3+, which has a 64 bit cortex quad core CPU with 1 GB RAM and on board graphics. I have an 8 GB SD card with Raspian OS. Installation was a breeze. The following album illustrates the process.
https://photos.app.goo.gl/HNaPvjh4LfqiotXz8

The webcam, mouse, keyboard worked without a hitch. The board was working at a higher resolution than our monitor could support. I had to run the raspi-config utility to change resolution. Bootup time is a few seconds.

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Agri experiment

Filed under: agriculture — neosurya @ 20:45

Shabbar and Tirupati Reddy had suggested that cassiopia is a hardy plant which could do nitrogen fixation. In Kishores farm, it was planted all over about 4 acres. Once it grew to a few feet, they were planning on cutting it down and allowing it to mix with the soil. It would make the soil stronger to grow rice. In a two acre adjoining property, Kishore had planted turmeric. I had planted the cassiopia at a couple of locations on the farm.

On 30th July, we transplanted a few branches of cassiopia. In just about a fortnight, they have lost all leaves. I have instructed Pentiaah to pour water everyday till it gets chiguru.Few images are here: Cassiopia leaves added as mulch, Cassiopia being transplanted.

On 13th Aug, I planted a few more trees – 3 branches of Cassiopia transplanted. 2 Malabar neem, 1 Gulmohar, 3 Drumstick, 1 cassiopia, 1 Indian Palm. Among all trees, Guava was growing the best. It had small buds and fruit. The lemon was surviving and trying hard. But there was a lot of pest of a specific type. Image of pest on lemon is here.


August 11, 2018

Bhajan at Nareguda

Filed under: agriculture, India — neosurya @ 19:59

It was a Monday night. Like most software engineers, I was coding with my colleague, Naresh. Around midnight, we decided to take a break from Django, and stepped out to rest our tired eyeballs.

Naresh heard the sound of Bhajan. He said – “Sir, there seems to be bhajan playing nearby. Let us go there”. I disagreed, and suggested that we should finish our work and then go to bed.

Naresh persisted and said “Let us go sir, it will be fun. We may get prasad”. I hopped onto the car. We drove for a about a kilometer and then switched off the car engine. The Bhajans were quite some distance and over the din of the massive 3 liter diesel engine, we could hardly hear anything. We did not want to miss out the location.

In the dead of the night, the direction of the loudspeakers was very clear. We reached the site of the bhajans in no time. In the dim street lights near the Poolapalle village temple we could see two farmers standing beside an empty tractor trolley. Naresh had  hoped for a much larger congregation. The two standing farmers lazily looked at our car, wondering where this SUV with a Indian flag came from. They were curious with the very Govt-looking flag, but did not look surprised. Maybe they have experienced all kinds of happenings in their long lives, or maybe they did not want to expend the energy required to change expressions. Disinterest is a useful facial expression in villages – it works for all conditions.

Inside the temple, there were six elderly farmers, all draped in lungis and banians. Their musical equipment was substantial: a dozen or more metal castanets, two harmoniums, a tabla, a microphone. The arrangements indicated that the temple had seen much larger congregations in the past. The rich prasadam that Naresh had hoped for was not to be. This was a very modest outfit, and we could probably not even expect tea.

Like most temples in India, this one also had an open layout, otherwise the passionate singing would reverberate off the stone walls, at least doing some damage to the hearing systems.  When we entered the temple and bowed down to  the lord, one of the farmers gave out theerth, put kumkum on our forehead. He then folded his right hand in the form of a mudda, brought it to his mouth, indicating the gesture of eating food. He asked – “Did you eat?”.

I was struck by the simple question: “Did you eat?”. Myself and Naresh had just arrived in an SUV just a few minutes after midnight. We looked well fed and alert from our bearing. It was evident that apart from these six people singing the bhajan and their two colleagues outside, most of the village was already in the dream world. If I had answered in the negative to his question, he may have been obliged to provide for food.  Providing food for us at that ungodly hour may have been a lot of trouble for the Bhajan singers.

After a few more minutes, we introduced ourselves as the people who teach computers at Nareguda. The farmer then told us – “We are praying for rain.”. Later we also learnt from them that none of the younger generation was interested in farming, much less the prayers. The men lamented that in earlier years, more people would be part of the congregation.

We left around 1:30. A few photos from the gathering:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/AnmSaagmPh1cgpMP6

 

July 21, 2018

Something plastic

Filed under: environment — neosurya @ 07:57

A few experienced individuals wanted to discuss social responsibility. At the meeting, they served pepsi and water in plastic cups. The irony :(.

http://www.bollant.com

 

 

Does not mean I am without fault. I live in a house made of cement, and these days I drive around in an SUV. Even more irony :((

July 13, 2018

Agri Experiment 2

Filed under: agriculture, social change — neosurya @ 11:23

On 27th June, I purchased around 250 Kgs of Neem cake, 15 Kgs of trichoderma and transported it to the village.Thankfully, it fitted in my car and we did not need separate transport to carry to the farm. This will be added to a tractor load of goat manure, allowed to process for 15 days. This mix will be added to the tree saplings that I had planted earlier. Hopefully, it will lead to the growth predicted by SVS in the previous blog post.

One of the steps in farming is to run a dozer and flatten the land. On 30th June, I and Santosh were visiting the farm. I noticed that a fully grown neem tree was lying flat on its side. The Dozer driver had been careless and felled the tree. I asked Kiran to give the dozer driver a piece of my mind. While visiting Shabbar’s farm, I noticed that a JCB was just finishing up. I immediately took the JCB to Serenity and setup the plant straight again. Santosh is a close friend from Engg college, and was visiting after 18 years on 29th of June. And what do I do? Take him straight to the farm :).  Full album is here. A few photos of Santosh and me:


On 8th July, we did our first real planting on the farm. We used an automatic plough + seeder machine that connects to a tractor. You can see Jyostna riding the tractor in this video:

We first planted Kandulu on our 1.67 acre plot. I had planted small trees about a year ago. Kandulu were planted in the rows in between. We planted Jonnalu and Kandulu in Kalyan’s 2 acre plot. More pictures are in this album. All costs will be sumarized in this google docs.

The dozer and plough are not necessary steps, and some of my friends in the vicinity are experimenting with complete do-nothing or natural farming.

Came across this you tube channel that discusses diseases of tropical plants: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbHHfYfegnUAujJ3ACYVR3Q

July 7, 2018

Poverty vs sustainable society

Filed under: social change — neosurya @ 00:53

During a discussion with a friend about sustainability, he pointed out that a few decades ago, our society ate hand pounded rice. The rice was separated from husks and pounded to get the grains out. This rice was then washed to remove the hard barn. Everything was boiled and then passed through a wicker basket. Then, we spoke about the need for modern technologies (white polished rice), plastics, medicine, vehicles and briefly pondered over the uselessness of many knick-knacks.

My friend spoke about how one should not flaunt wealth if they are asking someone to be sustainable. We should be conscious of what someone thinks of our behavior. This, I am unable to agree completely.

Ancient society was sustainable. But someone or the other flaunted. Yes, flaunting is bad. Flaunting is an assertion of self worth, a very bad (and often futile) attempt at domination. Humans always tried to exhibit some form of domination: strength, knowledge, religion, beauty, wealth to name a few. Heck, even animals select spouses based on some form of flaunting/domination/control.

If we somehow become a society of true saints, we may have a chance of completely giving up the urge to flaunt, or to dominate.

I would stand for:

  1. A society with few rules that can be enforced effectively.
  2. Truly free access to the worlds knowledge.
  3. Environment for a person to decide their own limits of wants/desires, be at peace with oneself and others.
  4. Access to quality food, air, and water for most species.

Anything that offers more will most likely create an -ism that will fail, or in the worst case the -ism will become a demon. (communism, fascism, nazism etc).

And to the original question of flaunting – it is common knowledge that Gandhi preferred to travel in third class to understand the plight of the ordinary man. A few more questions:

  1. Did all great leaders do it? No.
  2. Are all leaders who travel by third class Mahatmas and are all first class travelers thieves? No.
  3. Will society ever get to a stage where every ordinary man can afford better class of care? I dont know.
  4. Should we create a society where everyone has an opportunity to move up from third class to first class & vice versa? Yes.
  5. Should we ensure minimum standards for every type of common good provided to citizen? Yes. (Like the second sleeper, or the current standard toilets in general compartment)
  6. Should we create a society where many people out of their own free will are not judgmental about whether someone arrived in third class or first class? Yes.

Someone said: There is enough in the world for ones’ needs, but there is never enough for greed. But what is greed? Let us say I have a shirt, and a woolen jacket. My neighbor does not have it. Am I greedy?

Is it greed if I am wearing an Armani jacket and my neighbor has no clothes? When does using an expensive clothing become flaunting? Does it cross the threshold the moment I buy it, or does it happen when: (a) I wear it to a party, (b) I wear it to a non profit event, (c) Openly make fun of those who do not have it, (d) Make judgments in my mind about those who have it.

Then again – what is greed? A rich man can afford the best treatment for his child in the best hospital. A villager has to rest with whoever is available in the vicinity. Should the rich man give up the facility to take his children to the hospital. Should the rich man take responsibility of all children?

June 23, 2018

Negotiations with grown ups.

Filed under: travel — neosurya @ 07:47

At ~1800 on Thu 21st June, I got information that a close relative had passed away in our native village. At that time, I was driving back home from RP road, Secunderabad. All my aunts and uncles were living in Hyderabad, and we needed to reach our village by the next morning. And I was the only person in my age group left in Hyderabad. All my cousins are outside India. My relatives naturally started calling me to arrange for transport. Thankfully, my parents grasped logic and immediately agreed to travel by car. They suggested, correctly, that one should take whatever transport was nearest and reach the village. I communicated the same to my other relatives but they insisted they could not sit inside a car for the ~8 hours drive.

Mausi and mamaji stated that everyone should travel by train. I had to prove to them that all tickets were wait-listed. My mamaji continued to insist that I check specific train numbers. Even those tickets were not available. He asked me for specific wait list numbers, and asked me to check if tatkal was available. They then moved to Volvo buses. When I started checking Volvo bus at around 1900, it was quoting Rs 800. My relatives refused to agree, saying that travel by bus would be tiresome. Some even suggested that they should fly by air to an airport that was half way between Hyd and our village. They would then reach the village by car. I had to explain that the air travel itself would take about 4 hours (Going to airport, checking in, 1 hour of actual flight etc). And when they reach, they would have to take a taxi for 4 hours.

By the time all of this was explained to them, it was ~2000 and I had reached home. They finally agreed to take volvo. But by then all Govt buses had left or had reached MGBS, and my relatives would not be able to make it there. The private ones remaining had jacked up their prices to ~Rs 1800. In exasperation, my uncle decided that he wanted to book an Innova taxi. The price was ~Rs 20K. I then suggested that they could take my driver and my car. It was accepted. The entire extended family set out to our native place at 2300 and were at my village by 0700 the next day.

I had to start the return journey on very same evening due to office commitments. During the onward journey, my mausi had categorically stated that she could not take a car. She had a heart surgery in May and could not take the drive. She also could not stay in the village for long. She asked me to book a train to return after a day’s rest. I had accordingly booked a train ticket for her on Sat morning. When she found out that I had to return on Thu,  she wanted to take the car back. She now claimed that it was difficult to climb stairs in the railway station. I just put my foot down and insisted that she needed to rest for a day and take the train.

Adults and their many thoughts. Kids are so much more easier 🙂

 

 

June 22, 2018

Agri experiment 1

Filed under: agriculture — neosurya @ 15:08

On 20th June 2018, SVS visited my farm and explained how to train trees to grow better. So far, I had experienced only how to train a machine learning algorithm. SVS explained that plants should be modified as they grow, and this process is called training a plant. Key aspects to note:

  1. Ensure enough nutrients reach the unicellular roots during the young stages of growth. This is accomplished by digging a hole: depth of 1 ft, diameter of 1 ft. The hole should be about 6 inches away from the modalu, or main trunk.
  2. Ensure the trees grow properly. Trees have a tendency to grow straight up and try to optimize for sunlight. This tendency gets aggravated when there is a lot of grass around the tree. In this process the main trunk may not achieve sufficient girth.  To prevent this phenomena, the tree could be cut at specific places, generally at the top of the main stem. Growth of the tree at the top gets arrested and the branches grow out. This process is called training. Training may or may not be needed based on the variety of the seed and soil strength.

A tree going straight up with no strength in the main trunk is considered as “lanky” growth or “vine-like” growth. We will be documenting more detailed progress in this presentation. In the following videos, SVS describes the process and remedies:

June 10, 2018

Improving villages through knowledge

Filed under: education, social change, Uncategorized — neosurya @ 13:26

Read a report about how laptops distributed in Rajasthan to school-kids were lying unused. The Govt must encourage experts to engage more thoroughly with students. Giving laptops is great, but empowering teachers, and asking industry experts to work closely with students is more necessary.

On Sept 29, 2016 I donated 2 laptops to the Nareguda ZPHS in Vikarabad Dst. Photos from that are here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/Gd1m7U3PSfvVvgFR8.

Since that time, I have been trying out a few ideas on technology based education at this school:

  1. Skill labs where experts can interact with children in ZPHS. Document that describes some of the details is here. I and  Dr Konda Kishore have started a lab at the Nareguda ZPHS. A few videos are here. 
    1. Photos from different events: (a) Certificate distribution for the first set of students who finished our course on computer science. (b) First written exam on computer science. (c) Class on binary numbers.
  2. Automatic vending machine to give nutrition based food. Design is here.
  3. Continuous assessment of students and teachers. A part of this was tried out during my stint at CMU Africa, and I will be trying that more seriously a the ZPHS. Maybe by end of 2018, I should have more definite progress on this.

March 17, 2018

Different rooms for men and women

Filed under: politics, religion, social change, Uncategorized — neosurya @ 23:26

A few months back, I and my wife were invited to the 1st birthday of our friends son. The family was in India on a visit from the United States to renew their H1B visas. As part of the trip, my friend was celebrating his sons’ first birthday. As I reached the venue, I called my friend for directions; he told me over the phone: “Yaar tu pehle aajaa. Phir gaadi park karke famliy ko laana” (You come first, we will go to the car; I will show you where to park and drop the family).

I hugged him and said “Yaar, bhaabhi kahaan hai? Beta kahaan hai?” (Where is your wife? Where is your son?).  My friend pointed out: “Yaar, unka entrance is taraf hai. Woh hamaare me ladies alag baithte hai naa.” (Friend, the entrance for ladies and children is elsewhere. In our custom, women sit away from men). I was surprised. I was further dismayed to see that the location had well-lit promenade entrance for men. Women had to go through a dimly lit narrow lane, and take an even more narrow side door. A set of stairs took them through a narrow corridor up into a hall for the ladies. Outside the separate hall, all ladies had to wear burqa. The ladies also could not come into the enclosure where the men were dining. I protested and said: “Yaar, you never do this in the US. Why here?” He had no answer for me.

My driver later asked me: “Sir, why were there only men at the event? And why did madam go to a different location? That entrance was not good sir. Is this a Muslim event?”. I had no answer for him.

In parts of Hyderabad, several marriage/party halls have separate sections for men and women. They advertise this feature openly. Everyone in Hyderabad knows that in Muslim events, women rarely come out. Even if they do, they sit in a different place.  In some cases, there is also a possibility to have a different level of service offered in these two sections.

In an article written by Mr Harsh Mander,  he says: “…speakers lament the political consensus across the spectrum that Muslims are a political liability”. Mr Mander says that all Muslims are abandoned. But are they? Indian society is one of the most pluralistic. It has the third largest Muslim population in the world [Source]. The number of Muslims in India is close to the Muslim population of all the Middle East countries added together. India is the only secular democracy with such a wide variety of religions in significant numbers. True, countries like the US and France have secular constitutions, but their individual minorities are less than 1% of the population.

Modern society has identified many ways of grouping people: religious, ethnic, economic etc. Society MUST create secular framework to accommodate a common interest. But each group also MUST accommodate the requirements of secular society.

Mr Mander, the real sad part is this:

A entire community is not allowed to celebrate cultural events with both sexes in a single room. Leaders of that community openly support many other glaring discriminations in plain sight. And no political party has the courage to suggest that this needs to change. Every religion will try its best to interfere in the public life of an individual. And every Govt must deny that to every religion. It is dangerous for political parties to be partial and allow one or the other religion to take over public life. Till this partiality continues, we will have a Surya and a Sayyed who cannot share a common space. Till this partiality continues, we will have vote banks governing in the name of democracy.

No religious group is perfect. Hindu society is trying very hard to remove its own share of drawbacks. (I am not going to discuss the definition of Hindu). We are fighting female infanticide, dowry, discriminatory religious practices, and Inshaallah we will win against these ills. We need many like you to point out ills in the religious community and also point out possible solutions.

But in the name of Ram, Rahim, or maybe the Indian constitution,  will the Muslims accept reform? Will they say that we do not need to marry four women, we do not need a separate MPLB (Muslim Personal Law Board), or at the very least do not need different entrances to our marriage halls? Often times, burqa is defended saying that it empowers/protects women from unruly elements in the public space. I wonder what empowerment or protection is obtained by having separate areas in an event like birthday, marriage, engagement, eid, or for that matter in a mosque?

No group will leave its familiar customs and practices easily. They will use every rule and ruse to ensure that status quo continues to be maintained. Every group has to be coerced into following the common minimum. The Congress is completely complicit in ensuring that Muslims were never asked to introspect. Ergo, Muslims were never able to reform. In doing so, the Congress has ensured that these Minorities always stand out as a different group.

I dont know if the BJP will be any better. The BJP will cause more harm if it pushes the appeasement pendulum to the other side. Sections of the BJP are showing signs of rabble rousing. Secularism is a process of ensuring everyone reaches a common ground, while retaining their independent thought. It is a complex phenomena. Political parties have to raise to the occasion and be bi-partisan.

The full comment by Harsh Mander:

Over the past months, I have been urged to join a series of meetings called by Muslim leaders and youth. The mood is always sombre, submerged in despair. In these meetings, speakers lament the political consensus across the spectrum that Muslims are a political liability. Political parties are unwilling to field Muslim candidates, to speak of issues of violence and discrimination that afflict large Muslim populations, even to openly seek Muslim votes. In one of these meetings, a prominent Dalit leader said, “By all means come in large numbers to our rallies. But don’t come with your skullcaps and burkas.”

This article says that Darul Uloom Deoband has instructed Madrassas to not accept Govt grants because they do not want to follow Govt regulations. The Darul calls this “Govt interference”. Is this a right step for the unity and secularism of our country? To quote the article:

We have our own disciplinary codes, uniforms as well as syllabus to follow and don’t want the government interfering in these matters. We don’t want the government to ask us for details of daily attendance of students and teachers and other such things.

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