Linux User Group of Mauritius Promoting open source software in our beautiful island

4Jul/170

Innovative Mauritius

Posted by Avinash Meetoo

Since the beginning of June, I am an Adviser of the Minister of Technology, Communication and Innovation, Yogida Sawmynaden. Those who know me well know that I am not attached to any political party and I like to think that I am now an Adviser because of my expertise, my experience and my easy way of dealing with people. The reason why I have accepted this 1-year contract (and put Knowledge Seven on hold) is precisely because I want to contribute more to the development of Mauritius (however modest be the contribution) instead of always complaining on the sidelines. “La critique est aisée, l’art est difficile”.

In my contract, it is stipulated that I should contribute to “promote a culture of innovation in the country” and “assist in the identification of strategic growth areas […] and innovative projects” (among other tasks) and I find these two things particularly cool and interesting.

So, for the past few weeks, I have been working hard (harder than at Knowledge Seven, that’s for sure!) to understand where Mauritius is, where the Government wants the country to be in 2020, the challenges we are facing and the solutions we need to work on. This is what I found and summarised on the whiteboard found in my office (I can’t function without a whiteboard!) :

Ultimately, we want a smarter Mauritius. One of the things I have realised over the years is that hardware and software are not important. What is crucial for the development of a country is peopleware. Having smart citizens is the only way to obtain a smart country. And, of course, this starts with smart education (for young people) and smart training (for adults and professionals). This is, according to me, the biggest challenge the country is going to face in the coming years : how to transform 1.3 million Mauritians into smarter Mauritians.

Only then will we have a smart government (consisting of smart citizens) which will then make sure that we can all benefit from a smart environment, smart mobility, smart utilities and smart infrastructures.

It is in this context that we will then be able to engage into smart (and meaningful) living while businesses will also become smart.

On 24 August 2015, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, the then Prime Minister, introduced Vision 2030 to the population. The vision is that, by 2030 (which is just in 13 years), Mauritius will move from a higher middle-income country (which it is now) to a high-income country (like European countries, Singapore, etc.) while making sure that every Mauritian benefits (i.e. that the country becomes more inclusive). This is a very ambitious vision.

During the last budget speech, Pravind Jugnauth, the current Prime Minister introduced a very important document on how to move towards Vision 2030. This three year strategic plan (2017 – 2020) explains how Mauritius needs to either get into new sectors of activity (e.g. ocean economy, high-tech manufacturing) or develop further what we have been doing up to now (e.g. exporting our ICT products to Africa, entering new markets for our tourism industry, finding ways to have food security) in order to achieve our grander aims. In other words, we have to grow:

Our agriculture needs to become eco-friendly, sustainable and capable of providing the population with food security for some of our fruits and vegetables. Our financial services sector need to become stronger but in keeping with international rules & regulations. Our ICT sector, which has become the 3rd pillar of our economy, needs to address the major issue of skills development (as young people coming out of local government-funded universities generally lack, well, everything and this has been the case for a number of years now) and find ways to export to Africa (which means that, we, Mauritians will have to know more about our continent, Africa). Our factories will have to move towards high-tech manufacturing (which is more profitable) which means that we will have to train our workers in new technology and find new markets. As for the ocean economy, we will have to attract investors and make sure that we have plentiful fish in the islands while developing new eco-friendly entertainment activities in the sea. Finally, concerning tourism, we will have to expand to new markets by developing new products and exploiting new airline routes.

In order to achieve these objectives, the following enablers will need to become central in our strategy:

First and foremost, Innovation. We have to transform Mauritius into Innovative Mauritius (while at the same time focusing on good governance, investing in the development of fixed- and human-capital and making sure that everything is done in an inclusive manner).

This is easier said than done. In the strategic vision documents, the following important challenges have been identified for Mauritius:

In a number of industries (ICT, manufacturing, financial services), over the years, we have reduced our competitiveness compared to other countries. This is a consequence of salaries being relatively high in Mauritius (compared to, say, India, China or Madagascar), the fact that the population is ageing (and, consequently, the proportion of young people is lower than expected), the fact that our education system fails to create a productive adult after 20 years of free education and that we generally poorly use investors’ money.

It is clear that bureaucracy tends to decrease the effectiveness of the civil sector. This sector needs to become agile and responsive to the needs of the population. The public sector needs to become a service provider. It is also clear that the gap between the rich and the poor has been increasing a lot lately. This is true in all capitalist countries but we need to make sure that the ideals of socialism remain central in our minds while transforming the country.

But, crucially, Mauritius needs to become Innovative Mauritius.

How can we create a culture of innovation in Mauritius? It all starts by inspiring people (and this is what Vision 2030 is supposed to be — a source of inspiration). Naturally, we will have to streamline the communication process as I am sure that most Mauritians are still unaware of this important vision. Then we need to always focus on outcomes instead of features. What we want is that the country becomes a high-income country (i.e. we want Mauritius to become a rich country) while making sure that everyone benefits (the development should be inclusive — this is important as history shows that, while it is relatively easy to have a rich country, it is much more difficult to make sure that this wealth is not concentrated in the hands of only a few). In order to achieve this level of development, we will have to work together (and this is something that we, Mauritians, have a lot of difficulties to do as we do not trust each other — remember, we generally loved hiding our notebooks from our “friends” when we were in CPE…). We need to trust each other in order to be able to work together. And, very importantly, if we need to challenge the status quo then so be it. It is only through disruptions that important changes happen. Of course, we will have to find ways not to penalise risk-takers compared to those who do not innovate and this is where trust, once again, is important.

So there is a very big challenge ahead of us to transform Mauritius into Innovative Mauritius. At the Ministry of Technology, Communication and Innovation, a lot of work has already started and important projects are being implemented by the Mauritius Research and Innovation Council which falls under the Ministry. But a major portion of the work still needs to be done and this starts by inspiring people (and, especially, young people).

Let’s build Innovative Mauritius together.

31Mar/170

The real size of Africa

Posted by Avinash Meetoo

Africa is huge!

As seen in the Winkel tripel (Winkel III) projection above,  Africa is much much bigger than Europe and North America. Projecting the world’s surface (which is on a sphere) on a flat sheet of paper is impossible without introducing some distortions but the Winkel III projection has been proved to be the most accurate (preserving area, direction and distance).

It is high time for our schools and institutions to stop using the Mercator projection introduced in 1569 which distorts the size of objects as the latitude increases from the Equator to the poles, thus making Europe and North America appear much bigger than they really are.

Interestingly and obviously, Mauritius is bigger on the Winkel tripel (Winkel III) projection compared to the Mercator projection and this can only be a good thing for us 🙂

15Mar/170

Open and not extract .docx, .xlsx and .pptx files in the latest Gnome 3

Posted by Avinash Meetoo

In the latest version of Gnome 3, a subtle change was brought to Nautilus, the file manager, to automatically extract the content of a ZIP file in a new folder when it is double-clicked on instead of open an application to do so. The problem is that Microsoft Office files (.docx, .xlsx, .pptx, etc.) are ZIP files. This means that double-clicking on a .pptx file extracts its content instead of opening the file in, say, LibreOffice Impress!

This makes life miserable for all those who need to open Microsoft Office files on a regular basis and, of course, this is a bug (as acknowledged by the Gnome people  and the Red Hat / Fedora people).

Fortunately, it is quite easy to make Nautilus become sane again. Open Preferences and in the Behavior tab, unselect “Extract the files on open” in the Compressed Files section.

Phew!

15Mar/170

Open and not extract .docx, .xlsx and .pptx files in the latest Gnome 3

Posted by Avinash Meetoo

In the latest version of Gnome 3, a subtle change was brought to Nautilus, the file manager, to automatically extract the content of a ZIP file in a new folder when it is double-clicked on instead of open an application to do so. The problem is that Microsoft Office files (.docx, .xlsx, .pptx, etc.) are ZIP files. This means that double-clicking on a .pptx file extracts its content instead of opening the file in, say, LibreOffice Impress!

This makes life miserable for all those who need to open Microsoft Office files on a regular basis and, of course, this is a bug (as acknowledged by the Gnome people  and the Red Hat / Fedora people).

Fortunately, it is quite easy to make Nautilus become sane again. Open Preferences and in the Behavior tab, unselect “Extract the files on open” in the Compressed Files section.

Phew!

31Aug/160

Software Engineering needs to be taught by Software Engineers

Posted by Avinash Meetoo

complexity_small

Software is eating the world.

Quoting ACM:

The availability of qualified software engineers has not kept pace with the demand from industry, so that systems are designed and built by people with insufficient educational background or experience.

In other words, Software Engineering is Hard and we do not have enough Software Engineers to create and maintain all the software which is eating the world. The fundamental reason is that software is unlike all other kinds of engineering artifacts (such as a bridge, a house or a computer):

  • Software is abstract and invisible.
  • Software has both static and dynamic properties.
  • Software is intrinsically complex in terms of its organization.
  • No universal measures of quality exist for assessing a software product.

Furthermore,

  • The manufacturing cycle for software products is not a significant element in software development, and it mainly involves the needs of distribution mechanisms.
  • Software does not wear out.

Quoting ACM again,

  • Software engineering practices are therefore largely concerned with managing relevant processes and with design activities.
  • A high-quality faculty and staff is perhaps the single most critical element in the success of a Software Engieering program.

And they conclude,

  • Faculty members who have a primarily theoretical computer science background might not adequately convey to students the engineering-oriented aspects of software engineering.
  • Faculty members from related branches of engineering might deliver a software engineering program or course without a full appreciation of the computer science fundamentals that underlie so much of what software engineers do.
  • Faculty members who have not experienced the development of large systems might not appreciate the importance of process, quality, and security.
  • Faculty members who have made a research career out of pushing the frontiers of software development might not appreciate that students first need to be taught what they can use in practice.

In other words, faculty members who teach Software Engineering need to be Software Engineers themselves. And this is là où le bât blesse (the main problem) in most universities: those teaching cannot do! This is true abroad but also true in most (all?) universities in Mauritius.

Mauritius needs universities with teachers who are doers and who know how to make students become doers.

And this needs to happen now!

15Jun/160

Automatically raise windows in Gnome

Posted by Avinash Meetoo

20160615-automatically-raise-windows

I love Gnome 3… except when I am using a terminal, decide to launch Chrome by clicking on its icon in the Dash and not realising that the terminal still have focus despite Chrome being shown on screen. Consequently, typing, say, www.noulakaz.net and pressing enter only sends these keystrokes to the terminal (despite Chrome being shown) with potentially serious consequences.

But lo and behold, I have just found a solution. Just launch the Gnome Tweak Tool as shown above and put “Automatically Raise Windows” to ON.

I have regained my sanity!

15Jun/160

Automatically raise windows in Gnome

Posted by Avinash Meetoo

20160615-automatically-raise-windows

I love Gnome 3… except when I am using a terminal, decide to launch Chrome by clicking on its icon in the Dash and not realising that the terminal still have focus despite Chrome being shown on screen. Consequently, typing, say, www.noulakaz.net and pressing enter only sends these keystrokes to the terminal (despite Chrome being shown) with potentially serious consequences.

But lo and behold, I have just found a solution. Just launch the Gnome Tweak Tool as shown above and put “Automatically Raise Windows” to ON.

I have regained my sanity!

21Apr/160

World Creativity and Innovation Day

Posted by Avinash Meetoo

20160421-panelists

Every 21 April, we celebrate the World Creativity and Innovation Day in Mauritius.

This year, the Mauritius Research Council organised a workshop on Creativity and Innovation and the the ICT Advisory Council, which I preside, was given a slot of 30 minutes. I quickly prepared a few slides like I like them to be (beautiful, memorable and witty) and I asked Logan Velvindron and Ish Sookun, both members of the ICT Advisory Council, to join me in a panel on Creativity and Innovation among Youth.

20160421-albert-einstein

The first topic was about having fun when learning and creating. I mentioned that school and teachers can be boring, especially in our age of having Wikipedia and YouTube in our pockets. I said that it was time for our education system to become fun again, where young people can enjoy creating and learning a lot of new things in the process. Both Ish and Logan explained how fun they have everyday at work and how important this is for them.

20160421-steve-jobs

The second topic was about not to be afraid to be different. In Mauritius, we have a culture of conformism. Women have specific roles to play. Kids also. And, of course, everyone should remain at his place. This is bullshit! Our world is created by people who think differently and who are not afraid to take risks and disrupt existing establishments… Logan and Ish told the audience how they discovered computers, decided to become geeks and do things differently from others. They were very thankful to have supportive parents who didn’t try to impose anything on them.

20160421-linus-torvalds

The third topic was about being a geek and the value of open source software for a country like Mauritius. I explained that open source software is free and this is very important for Mauritius which is not a very rich country. But I also explained how having access to the source code of software is essential for Computer Science teachers like me to create the new generation of top programmers which Mauritius will need in the future. Young people cannot learn complex programming just by reading a book or listening to a teacher: they need to see real source code of real complex software. Logan and Ish explained how they got involved in open source software and how we all now form part of organisations such the Linux User Group of Mauritius and Hackers.mu and the value those organisations have.

20160421-sheryl-sandberg

The last topic was about being a doer rather than a talker and that aiming for perfection, while sometimes a good thing, can sometimes prevent us from achieving. This is something I have noticed over the years in Mauritius: we love our committees. Doers are not revered though. This mentality has to change. I told the audience that we are as good as anyone from anywhere, whether it is the USA or France or India. But we should stop focusing on doing speeches. We should identify small but important problems and find feasible solutions for them.

After the panel, I got a question from Anibal Martinez who is collaborating with the Government to set up an incubator. He asked me how we can solve the Computer Science education issue in Mauritius.

I told him that in the short term, a lot can be done with ad-hoc training courses, such as the ones that I provide at Knowledge Seven. But this is not a viable model for the country. In the medium to long term, state-funded universities should find a way to revamp their Computer Science departments, which are absolutely substandard at this moment, to produce an adequate number of very competent computer scientists every year. The industry is ready to move up a level but there are not enough competencies.

Thanks to Ish and Logan for participating in the panel.

21Apr/160

World Creativity and Innovation Day

Posted by Avinash Meetoo

20160421-panelists

Every 21 April, we celebrate the World Creativity and Innovation Day in Mauritius.

This year, the Mauritius Research Council organised a workshop on Creativity and Innovation and the the ICT Advisory Council, which I preside, was given a slot of 30 minutes. I quickly prepared a few slides like I like them to be (beautiful, memorable and witty) and I asked Logan Velvindron and Ish Sookun, both members of the ICT Advisory Council, to join me in a panel on Creativity and Innovation among Youth.

20160421-albert-einstein

The first topic was about having fun when learning and creating. I mentioned that school and teachers can be boring, especially in our age of having Wikipedia and YouTube in our pockets. I said that it was time for our education system to become fun again, where young people can enjoy creating and learning a lot of new things in the process. Both Ish and Logan explained how fun they have everyday at work and how important this is for them.

20160421-steve-jobs

The second topic was about not to be afraid to be different. In Mauritius, we have a culture of conformism. Women have specific roles to play. Kids also. And, of course, everyone should remain at his place. This is bullshit! Our world is created by people who think differently and who are not afraid to take risks and disrupt existing establishments… Logan and Ish told the audience how they discovered computers, decided to become geeks and do things differently from others. They were very thankful to have supportive parents who didn’t try to impose anything on them.

20160421-linus-torvalds

The third topic was about being a geek and the value of open source software for a country like Mauritius. I explained that open source software is free and this is very important for Mauritius which is not a very rich country. But I also explained how having access to the source code of software is essential for Computer Science teachers like me to create the new generation of top programmers which Mauritius will need in the future. Young people cannot learn complex programming just by reading a book or listening to a teacher: they need to see real source code of real complex software. Logan and Ish explained how they got involved in open source software and how we all now form part of organisations such the Linux User Group of Mauritius and Hackers.mu and the value those organisations have.

20160421-sheryl-sandberg

The last topic was about being a doer rather than a talker and that aiming for perfection, while sometimes a good thing, can sometimes prevent us from achieving. This is something I have noticed over the years in Mauritius: we love our committees. Doers are not revered though. This mentality has to change. I told the audience that we are as good as anyone from anywhere, whether it is the USA or France or India. But we should stop focusing on doing speeches. We should identify small but important problems and find feasible solutions for them.

After the panel, I got a question from Anibal Martinez who is collaborating with the Government to set up an incubator. He asked me how we can solve the Computer Science education issue in Mauritius.

I told him that in the short term, a lot can be done with ad-hoc training courses, such as the ones that I provide at Knowledge Seven. But this is not a viable model for the country. In the medium to long term, state-funded universities should find a way to revamp their Computer Science departments, which are absolutely substandard at this moment, to produce an adequate number of very competent computer scientists every year. The industry is ready to move up a level but there are not enough competencies.

Thanks to Ish and Logan for participating in the panel.

20Nov/140

Creating an RPM file for XMind

Posted by Avinash Meetoo

20141120-xmind-on-rpm

I am a big fan of mind-mapping software and, for years, I’ve been using Freemind.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people are moving towards XMind which, for some peculiar reason, is only available as a Debian (.deb) package. This is a bit problematic as I run Fedora and CentOS which are both based on RPM (Redhat Package Manager). Here is how I managed to convert the .deb package into an .rpm which can then be easily installed with a yum localinstall:

(1) Download the Debian package

(2) alien -r –scripts package.deb

This command (alien) converts the Debian package into an RPM and makes sure that any scripts (pre- and post- installation) will run when the RPM file is installed. See this for more info.

(3) The issue is that the RPM will fail to install as there is a conflict with three directories: /, /usr/bin and /usr/lib. The solution is to install rpmrebuild and use it as follows:

rpmrebuild -pe xmind.rpm

Remove all lines for /, /usr/bin and /usr/lib in the %files section and you should then get an RPM. See this for more info.

Have fun with XMind ;-)