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Passover / Pesaj, a secular viewpoint, a different viewpoint... And slowly becoming history!

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 04/25/2016 - 11:51

As many of you know (where "you" is "people reading this who actually know who I am), I come from a secular Jewish family. Although we have some religious (even very religious) relatives, neither my parents nor my grandparents were religious ever. Not that spirituality wasn't important to them — My grandparents both went deep into understanding by and for themselves the different spiritual issues that came to their mind, and that's one of the traits I most remember about them while I was growing up. But formal, organized religion was never much welcome in the family; again, each of us had their own ways to concile our needs and fears with what we thought, read and understood.

This week is the Jewish celebration of Passover, or Pesaj as we call it (for which Passover is a direct translation, as Pesaj refers to the act of the angel of death passing over the houses of the sons of Israel during the tenth plague in Egypt; in Spanish, the name would be Pascua, which rather refers to the ritual sacrifice of a lamb that was done in the days of the great temple)... Anyway, I like giving context to what I write, but it always takes me off the main topic I want to share. Back to my family.

I am a third-generation member of the Hashomer Hatzair zionist socialist youth movement; my grandmother was among the early Hashomer Hatzair members in Poland in the 1920s, both my parents were active in the Mexico ken in the 1950s-1960s (in fact, they met and first interacted there), and I was a member from 1984 until 1996. It was also thanks to Hashomer that my wife and I met, and if my children get to have any kind of Jewish contact in their lifes, I hope it will be through Hashomer as well.

Hashomer is a secular, nationalist movement. A youth movement with over a century of history might seem like a contradiction. Over the years, of course, it has changed many details, but as far as I know, the essence is still there, and I hope it will continue to be so for good: Helping shape integral people, with identification with Judaism as a nation and not as a religion; keeping our cultural traits, but interpreting them liberally, and aligned with a view towards the common good — Socialism, no matter how the concept seems passé nowadays. Colectivism. Inclusion. Peaceful coexistence with our neighbours. Acceptance of the different. I could write pages on how I learnt about each of them during my years in Hashomer, how such concepts striked me as completely different as what the broader Jewish community I grew up in understood and related to them... But again, I am steering off the topic I want to pursue.

Every year, we used to have a third Seder (that is, a third Passover ceremony) at Hashomer. A third one, because as tradition mandates two ceremonies to be held outside Israel, and a movement comprised of people aged between 7 and 21, having a seder competing with the familiar one would not be too successful, we held a celebration on a following day. But it would never be the same as the "formal" Pesaj: For the Seder, the Jewish tradition mandates following the Hagada — The Seder always follows a predetermined order (literally, Seder means order), and the Hagadá (which means both legend and a story that is spoken; you can find full Hagadot online if you want to see what rites are followed; I found a seemingly well done, modern, Hebrew and English version, a more traditional one, in Hebrew and Spanish, and Wikipedia has a description including its parts and rites) is, quite understandably, full with religious words, praises for God, and... Well, many things that are not in line with Hashomer's values. How could we be a secular movement and have a big celebration full with praises for God? How could we yearn for life in the kibbutz distance from the true agricultural meaning of the celebration?

The members of Hashomer Hatzair repeatedly took on the task (or, as many would see it, the heresy) of adapting the Hagada to follow their worldview, updated it for the twentieth century, had it more palatable for our peculiarities. Yesterday, when we had our Seder, I saw my father still has –together with the other, more traditional Hagadot we use– two copies of the Hagadá he used at Hashomer Hatzair's third Seder. And they are not only beautiful works showing what they, as very young activists thought and made solemn, but over time, they are becoming historic items by themselves (one when my parents were still young janijim, in 1956, and one when they were starting to have responsabilities and were non-formal teachers or path-showers, madrijim, in 1959). He also had a copy of the Hagadá we used in the 1980s when I was at Hashomer; this last one was (sadly?) not done by us as members of Hashomer, but prepared by a larger group between Hashomer Hatzair and the Mexican friends of Israeli's associated left wing party, Mapam. This last one, I don't know which year it was prepared and published on, but I remember following it in our ceremony.

So, I asked him to borrow me the three little books, almost leaflets, and scanned them to be put online. Of course, there is no formal licensing information in them, much less explicit authorship information, but they are meant to be shared — So I took the liberty of uploading them to the Internet Archive, tagging them as CC-0 licensed. And if you are interested in them, flowing over and back between Spanish and Hebrew, with many beautiful texts adapted for them from various sources, illustrated by our own with the usual heroic, socialist-inspired style, and lovingly hand-reproduced using the adequate technology for their day... Here they are:

I really enjoyed the time I took scanning and forming them, reading some passages, imagining ourselves and my parents as youngsters, remembering the beautiful work we did at such a great organization. I hope this brings this joy to others like it did to me.

פעם שומר, תמיד שומר. Once shomer, always shomer.

Yes! I can confirm that...

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 03/25/2016 - 22:25

I am very very (very very very!) happy to confirm that...

This year, and after many years of not being able to, I will cross the Atlantic. To do this, I will take my favorite excuse: Attending DebConf!

So, yes, this image I am pasting here is as far as you can imagine from official promotional material. But, having bought my plane tickets, I have to start bragging about it ;-)

In case it is of use to others (at least, to people from my general geographic roundabouts), I searched for plane tickets straight from Mexico. I was accepting my lack of luck, facing an over-36-hour trip(!!) and at very high prices. Most routes were Mexico-{central_europe}-Arab Emirates-South Africa... Great for collecting frequent-flier miles, but terrible for anything else. Of course, requesting a more logical route (say, via Sao Paulo in Brazil) resulted in a price hike to over US$3500. Not good.

I found out that Mexico-Argentina tickets for that season were quite agreeable at US$800, so I booked our family vacation to visit the relatives, and will fly from there at US$1400. So, yes, in a 48-hr timespan I will do MEX-GRU-ROS, then (by land) Rosario to Buenos Aires, then AEP-GRU-JNB-CPT. But while I am at DebConf, Regina and the kids will be at home with the grandparents and family and friends. In the end, win-win with just an extra bit of jetlag for me ;-)

I *really* expect flights to be saner for USians, Europeans, and those coming from further far away. But we have grown to have many Latin Americans, and I hope we can all meet in CPT for the most intense weeks of the year!

See you all in South Africa!

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Busy with the worthy things...

Submitted by gwolf on Sat, 03/19/2016 - 23:53

My online activity, in most if not all of the projects I most care about, has dropped to a lifelong minimum. But that is not necessarily a bad thing — Yes, I want to be more involved again in everything. And yes, I am in a permanent crisis of lack of time (and/or sleep).

I didn't even remember to blog about this on time... but never mind...

A little over a year after the single, most important moment I have lived, we are not only enjoying, but deeply understanding the true meaning of life.

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Readying up for the second "Embedded Linux" diploma course

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 01/12/2016 - 11:28

I am happy to share here a project I was a part of during last year, that ended up being a complete success and now stands to be repeated: The diploma course on embedded Linux, taught at Facultad de Ingeniería, UNAM, where I'm teaching my regular classes as well.

Back in November, we held the graduation for our first 10 students. This photo shows only seven, as the remaining three have already relocated to Guadalajara, where they were hired by Continental, a company that promoted the creation of this specialization program.

After this first excercise, we went over the program and made some adequations; future generations will have a shorter and more focused program (240 instead of 288 hours, leaving out several topics that were not deemed related to the topic or were thoroughly understood by students to begin with); we intend to start the semester-long course in early February. I will soon update here with the full program and promotional material, as soon as I receive it. update (01-19): You can download the promotional information, or go to an (unofficial) URL with the full information. We are close to starting the program, so hurry!

I am specially glad that this course is taught by people I admire and recognize, and a very interesting mix between long-time academic and stemming from my free-software-related friends: From the academic side, Facultad de Ingeniería's professors Laura Sandoval, Karen Sáenz and Oscar Valdez, and from the free-software side, Sandino Araico, Iván Chavero, César Yáñez and Gabriel Saldaña (and myself on both camps, of course ☺)

Starting work / call for help: Debianizing Drupal 8

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 01/05/2016 - 21:39

I have helped maintain Drupal 7.x in Debian for several years (and am now the leading maintainer). During this last year, I got a small article published in the Drupal Watchdog, where I stated:

What About Drupal 8?

Now... With all the hype set in the future, it might seem striking that throughout this article I only talked about Drupal 7. This is because Debian seeks to ship only production­ ready software: as of this writing, Drupal 8 is still in beta. Not too long ago, we still saw internal reorganizations of its directory structure.

Once Drupal 8 is released, of course, we will take care to package it. And although Drupal 8 will not be a part of Debian 8, it will be offered through the Backports archive, following all of Debian's security and stability requirements.

Time passes, and I have to take care of following what I promise. Drupal 8 was released on November 18, so I must get my act together and put it in shape for Debian!

So, prompted by a mail by a fellow Debian Developer, I pushed today to Alioth the (very little) work I have so far done to this effect; every DD can now step in and help (and I guess DMs and other non-formally-affiliated contributors, but I frankly haven't really read how you can be a part of collab-maint).

So, what has been done? What needs to be done?

Although the code bases are massively different, I took the (un?)wise step to base off the Drupal7 packaging, and start solving Lintian problems and installation woes. So far, I have an install that looks sane (but has not yet been tested), but has lots of Lintian warnings and errors. The errors are mostly of missing sources, as Drupal8 inlines many unrelated projects (fortunately documented and frozen to known-good versions) in it; there are two possible courses of action:

  1. Prefered way: Find which already made Debian package provides each of them, remove from the binary package, declare dependency.
  2. Pragmatic way: As the compatibility must sometimes be to a specific version level, just provide the needed sources in debian/missing-sources

We can, of course, first go pragmatic and later start reviewing what can be safely depended upon. But for this, we need people with better PHP experience than me (which is not much to talk about). This cleanup will correspond with cleaning up the extra license file Lintian warnings, as there is one for each such project — Of course, documenting each such license in debian/copyright is also a must.

Anyway, there is quite a bit of work to do. And later, we have to check that things work reliably. And also, quite probably, adapt any bits of dh-make-drupal to work with v8 as well as v7 (and I am not sure if I already deprecated v6, quite probably I have).

So... If you are interested in working on this, please contact me directly. If we get more than a handful, building a proper packaging team might be in place, otherwise we can just go on working as part of collab-maint.

I am very short on time, so any extra hands will be most helpful!

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Scientific research and a moral stand should go hand in hand

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 12/04/2015 - 20:35

During the last few days, I found several references to a beautiful just-published paper, which I hope everybody reads: The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work, by Phillip Rogaway; Cryptology ePrint Report 2015/1162, published on December 1st this year. It is more an academic essay than most crypto-related papers, and a long one at that (46 pages, packed with references and anecdotal notes).

But it is surprisingly easy to read. I am sitting in front of my computer while my students work on their final exam, and I have got over half way through the text; earlier today I looked at the quick presentation (as this work was presented by Rogaway at the Asiacrypt 2015 as an invited talk), and just loved it.

Now, I know most of the people reading my blog have a moral stand on their work (after all, I expect most of you to be committed to Free Software just as I am, and that is a tremendous political statement). We are also more a practice community than an academic/scientific one. But many of us dwell on several projects and hold more than one hats in life through which we are defined.

This paper/essay is really clicking with me, and it deeply resonates with the justification I presented when I joined the Masters on Security Engineering and Information Technologies program which I'm halfway through. Computer security does not exist in a void, and does not exist just for itself. As professionals, we have a mission to fulfill in society, and that will then shape how society evolves.

So, I invite everybody to at least take a casual look at this paper. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and I hope it changes people's hearts and career decisions.

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WTF @omarfayad — Should *all* computer activity be illegal now? #LeyFayad

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 11/05/2015 - 14:12

Last week, Senator Omar Fayad presented one of the prime examples of a poorly redacted law that, if enacted, will make basically any way of computer use illegal. And yes, even if he states this is merely a draft, it has so many factual and conceptual errors that there is no way to trust sanity can be regained at any point. Oh, and before I continue with this rant: If the topic interests you, I suggest you to read the 10 key points about Ley Fayad, the worst Internet initiative in history, published by r3d.mx.

[update] An English equivalent of the work at r3d, at revolution-news.com: #LeyFayad: The Worst Bill in Internet History

The full text (in Spanish, of course) for the law initiative is available at the Senate webpage; the law will be called Ley Federal para Prevenir y Sancionar los Delitos Informáticos (Federal law to prevent and punish informatic felonies<) — A bad name to start with, as there are many laws already in that contested area. I started reading with the preamble (Exposición de motivos), which already shows bad signs of imprecise redaction and is plagued with factual errors (i.e. asserting that the real danger stems from the Web migrating to the Web 2.0, from which stems that this migration and not any previous one. Or by stating that (quoting+translating a full paragraph):

Activities such as electronic commerce, digital periodism, publicity and the opinions, messages or elements written in social networks can lead to patrimonial, reputation, honor or professional activity losses for people.

He continues by stating that only 16% of the countries have some kind of cybersecurity strategy (and, of course, Mexico doesn't). That... Well, is very hard to believe, as Mexico has two separate policial groups devoted to cybersecurity, and laws regulating from electronic signatures, commerce, identity, privacy, use and abuse, and a long list.

Of course, as most law proposals go, it quickly decays into a dry, boring document... And I must admit I didn't fully read it, but picked here and there. I won't copy in full the note I mentioned at the beginning at r3d.mx, but will continue with some strange points, such as:

Article 16
Every person that, without the corresponding authorization or exceeding the authorization confered, accesses, intercepts, interfers or uses an information system, will be punished by one to eight years of prision and fined by 800 to 1000 days of minimum wage

So, yes, borrowing your computer without getting explicit permission, or playing around with the options in kiosks, or tons of whatever we curious people do with systems we encounter are basis for jail. (And yes, fines in this country are expressed in "days of minimum wage", which goes at ~MX$70 per day, which is ~US$4). But it gets funkier quickly:

Article 17
Whoever fraudulently destroys, disables, damages or in any way alters the working of an informatic system or any of its components, will be punished by fice to fifteen years of jail and fined by up to a thousand minimum wage days

The same punishment will be given to whoever, without authorization, destroys, damages, modifies, divulges, transfers or disables information contained in any Informatic System or any of its components.

The punishment will be ten to twenty years in prision and a fine of up to a thousand days of minimum wage if the effects here mentioned are done by the creation, introduction or fraudulent transmission, by any means, of an informatic weapon or malicious code

This law is meant to protect against cyberfelonies, if such a thing exists. However, here we are putting at risk people even for accidental equipment destructions. I dropped your portable hard disk with my elbow off the table? Accuse me of acting fraudulently, and I'm up for a serious jail time. And yes, laws are meant to be interpreted... And I don't want to be at the receiving end of this one!

In this last article, Fayad mentions informatic weapons, which are defined in the preamble as any informatic program, informatic system, or in general, any device or material created or designed with the purpose of committing an informatic crime. So the very next article makes me, as it should make all of my fellow students and researchers, very uneasy:

Article 18
Whoever uses informatic weapons or malicious code will be imprisioned by two to six years, and fined with 200 to 500 days of minimum wage.
Article 19
Whoever builds, distributes, commerces with informatic weapons or malicious codes will be punished by three to seven years of prision and 200 to 500 days of minimum wage.

If we need to analyze malware for our classes (or for paid work, or as a hobby), we clearly fall in article 18. If we write something that can be classified as malware (without even releasing it, as an academic excercise only!), we are covered by article 19. If I give my students code that's known to be malicious (which could be as inofensive as linking to a well-known Web comic), I'm also covered by article 19.

I'll jump all the way to article 31 (reproduced only partially):

Article 31
Whoever, by any means, creates, captures, records, copies, alters, duplicates, clones or deletes the information contained in a credit or debit card (...) will be punished by 8 to 14 years of prision and 300 to 500 days of minimum wage. (...)

This clearly disincentivates any way of e-commerce. When I try to buy anything online, I have to capture+copy my (rightfully owned) credit card data. The services provider has to copy, process and then delete said information. Any e-transaction is punished by jail!

Well... But thinking about this again, maybe I shouldn't be so worried about the malware distribution issue at my classes. There are clearer and more contundent articles. Say...

Article 35
Whoever convenes, organizes, is part of, or executes a cibernetic attack, will be punished by 20 to 30 years of prision and fined with 100 to 1000 days of minimum wage

Of course we have convened, organized, been part of and executed cibernetic attacks at the computer security lab at ESIME. Why would there be such a lab otherwise?

Then, there are clear indications that the Senator didn't understand the topic his team was working on:

Article 37
Who manipulates the digital seals used by command of the public authority will be punished with 240 days of community work

Now... What is a digital seal? It's not a phisical one that does not allow opening the doors to a business found at fault, but something that just proves a document is legitimate and pristine. How can I manipulate them? Of course, if the seals are MD5-based, I can easily forge them (and SHA1-based, it seems they will be broken enough soon to be considered no longer trustable)... But that's about it!

And there is more, lots more. I'm swamped with work, and have to get back to it. But chapters the following chapters have a lot of potential for finding holes.

PS - And yes, the only use I do of Twitter is via the headlines in my blog ;-)

[update] Ley Fayad is dead, yay! \o/ The senator withdrew the proposal.

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On evolving communities and changing social practices

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 10/08/2015 - 18:25

I will join Lars and Tincho in stating this, and presenting a version contrary to what Norbert portraits.

I am very glad and very proud that the community I am most involved in, the Debian project, has kept its core identity over the years, at least for the slightly-over-a-decade I have been involved in it. And I am very glad and very proud that being less aggressive, more welcoming and in general more respectful to each other does not counter this.

When I joined Debian, part of the mantra chants we had is that in order to join a Free Software project you had to grow a thick skin, as sooner or later we'd all be exposed to flamefests. But, yes, the median age of the DD was way lower back then — I don't have the data at hand, but IIRC I have always been close to our median. Which means we are all growing old and grumpy. But old and wiser.

A very successful, important and dear subproject to many of us is the Debian Women Project. Its original aim was, as the name shows, to try to reduce the imbalance between men and women participants in Debian — IIRC back in 2004 we had 3 female DDs, and >950 male DDs. Soon, the project started morphing into pushing all of Debian to be less hostile, more open to contributions from any- and everyone (as today our diversity statement reads).

And yes, we are still a long, long, long way from reaching equality. But we have done great steps. And not just WRT women, but all of the different minorities, as well as to diverging opinions within our community. Many people don't enjoy us abiding by a code of conduct; I also find it irritating sometimes to have to abide by certain codes if we mostly know each other and know we won't be offended by a given comment... Or will we?

So, being more open and more welcoming also means being more civil. I cannot get myself to agree with Linus' quote, when he says that respect is not just given to everybody but must be earned. We should always start, and I enjoy feeling that in Debian this is becoming the norm, by granting respect to everybody — And not losing it, even if things get out of hand. Thick skins are not good for communication.

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So you want to get our book?

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 09/10/2015 - 18:39

OK, I already bragged that our book on Operating Systems is finally printed and has, thus, been formally published.

What I had not yet mentioned is how we planned its physical distribution. Yes, it is available for sale at some UNAM libraries... But coming to UNAM is sadly an option only for people who are in Mexico City.

I have been quite busy, and was unable to come up with anything earlier, but I have finally finished setting up a decent although minimal web page for the book. In it, I mention the possible ways you can get your own printed copy of Fundamentos de sistemas operativos:

  • If you are in Mexico, the advised way is to call or mail the library at Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas — (+52-55)5623-0080 or ventiiec@unam.mx.
    They will ship the book (they would ship it overseas, but it'd be too expensive!) and are able to process electronic payment opetions.
    The book printed at UNAM has substantive part of its pages printed in color, and let me tell you... It's worth it.
  • If you are not in Mexico or you prefer not to deal with a human, you can buy the book from the on-demand printing service lulu.com.
    For cost reasons, it is printed in black and white, but it is the same content (minus two typos ;-) ). Lulu.com is an international company, so they will get it shipped to you cheaper and faster — And I have requested the book to be made available to libraries such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble (and was told it should take a couple of weeks to have it ready there).

Of course, the book is and will always be free for downloading, and its sources are online so you can easily derive from it as well.

Enjoy!

(and please report me any bugs you see!)

UNAM, more open than ever before.

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 09/10/2015 - 18:12

Today I was refered to the publication of an "agreement" signed by my university's Rector: The Agreement that establishes the General Guidelines for the Open Access Policy of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

This is a document we have been waiting and pushing for throughout several years; I got involved in the Network of Digital Collections (Red de Acervos Digitales), RAD-UNAM back in 2011, and am honored to be its current coordinator, but this group has roots back in 2005. And, of course, by then several other people had been working on the topic without formal coordination.

Not only we are happy because the agreement explicitly mentions our group as one of The Venues for Open Access publishing and dissemination in UNAM. In its seventh point, it mentions:

In the matters of Open Access, academic entities and university dependencies have the following obligations:
(...)
VII. Promote and support the creation and maintenance of institutional repositories, as well as the deposit of the digital resources produced by its academic community, which should be incorporated into Red de Acervos Digitales de la UNAM
(...)

So... We have done a good job. And there will be surely more to follow!

I'm including here a copy of the agreement by itself (without the whole number of the Gaceta UNAM) because I will surely have to refer to it in the future.

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180

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 08/28/2015 - 11:09

180 degrees — people say their life has changed by 180° whenever something alters their priorities, their viewpoints, their targets in life.

In our case, it's been 180 days. 183 by today, really. The six most amazing months in my life.

We are still the same people, with similar viewpoints and targets. Our priorities have clearly shifted.

But our understanding of the world, and our sources of enjoyment, and our outlook for the future... Are worlds apart. Not 180°, think more of a quantic transposition.

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μreport @mx (that means, sadly, gwolf ∉ DebConf15)

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 08/17/2015 - 11:16

<Sigh/>

For the second time since I joined Debian, I missed DebConf. This time, mostly for two completely happy reasons (which have, of course, grown up quite significatively):

But adding to that very important factor, early-to-mid August is possibly the worst date for me to attend DebConf — As that's when we start classes at UNAM, and I really don't want to delegate introducing my class to somebody else (besides it being or not possible).

Life has been quite busy here. Besides starting my seventh semester as a teacher (finally being able to present my book on operating systems to the students!), I also took on teaching two modules for a diploma-course on embedded Linux. I'm co- teaching the "User-space Linux" module together with Gabriel Saldaña, and will teach the "Boot process" module with Sandino Araico. There are many things that should be improved about the covered program, but we are having good fun working our way on it; Gabriel and I have given two (out of six) 6hr sessions each, and have reached the point where it is actually becoming fun :)

As for Debian... I have been doing minimal maintenance work. Answering to some keyring tickets, or taking care of only high-profile important issues. I do not have time to do much. I have been wanting to do some interesting analysis on the evolution of our keyring for several months, but have not had the time to follow it up. Will do at some point, /mehopes.

Anyway... This post is probably just because I need to somehow be there at our community's highest social, technical exchange period in the year. That is, there's not much to report, it's only me waving from home!

It has landed.

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 08/12/2015 - 22:48

Basically everybody who knows me is aware that, basically for the last two years, I have been writing a book on Operating Systems for use in my class — and, of course, in any similar class. Well, long story short, as of today:

What's that in my car trunk? Lets have a closer look.

Finally, Facultad de Ingeniería finished printing the book!

So... Well, some minor data points:

  • The book is (and has been for some time already!) available online as a free download.
  • If you want to derive from it or enhance future editions in any way, just clone it!.
  • Want to get a physical copy? Great! It will soon (a week or so) be ready at both the Faculty's and the Institute's bookstores.
  • But coming to UNAM is hard for you? Stay tuned. I have uploaded it to an on-demand printing service (Bubok), but its service is so dismally slow that I'll try it somewhere else. I'll keep you posted!

Anyway... Very happy here :D

Finishing the course on "Free Software and Open Standards"

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 07/10/2015 - 08:01

A couple of months ago, I was invited to give the starting course for the Masters degree in Free Software in the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar university. UASB is a multinational university, with campuses in (at least) Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia and Colombia; I was doubtful at first regarding the seriousness of this proposal and the viability of the program, but time made my doubts disappear.

Bolivia is going through an interesting process, as they have one of the strongest worded government mandates for migration to free software for the public administration in the next couple of years; this migration has prompted the interest of many professionals in the country. In particular, we have over 40 registered people for this Masters degree. Studying a Masters degree is a long-term commitment which signifies a big time investment, and although many of the student are quite new to the idea of free software, they are willing to spend this time (and money, as the university is privately owned and charges for its enrollment).

I gave this class together with Alejandro Miranda (a.k.a. @pooka), as we have a very good pair-teaching dynamics; we had already given many conferences together, but this is the first time we had the opportunity to share a whole course — and the experience was very good. We have read the students' logs, and many of them clearly agree with this.

I had to skip two of the (ten) lessons, as I travelled from Mexico to Argentina halfway through it (of course, we brought the babies to meet my wife's family and friends!), so we had also the honor of having Esteban Lima fill in for those sessions.

I am very happy and grateful that the University took care to record our presentations and intend to record and put online all of the classes; as we were the first in the program, there were some understandable hiccups and some sessions were lost, but most are available. Here they are, in case you are interested in refering to them:

Topic Video (my server) Video (Youtube)
Introduction to free software Watch Watch
History Watch Watch
Free culture Watch Watch
The effects of free software Watch Watch
Free software and open standards related to technologic soverignity Watch (low)
Watch (high)
Watch (low)
Watch (high)
The free software ecosystem Watch Watch
Free software implementation in Bolivia Watch Watch
Introduction to intelectual property: Copyright, patents, trademarks, etc. Watch Watch
Who is "the community" and why do we speak about it? Watch (low)
Watch (high)
Watch (low)
Watch (high)
Current status and challenges for the movement Watch Watch

We have yet another video file (which I have not fully followed through) titled ADSIB - Migration plan. It can also be downloaded from my server or watched online at Youtube.

All in all: This was a great opportunity and a joy to do. I think the material we used and developed fit well what was expected from us, and we had fun giving somewhat heterodox readings on our movement.

[Update]: UASB uploaded some extra videos, with a much better quality! I added them to the table above, specifying (Low) or High whenever needed. Also, all classes are now available. Enjoy!

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«Almost free» — Some experiences with the Raspberry Pi, CI20, BananaPi, CuBox-i... And whatever will follow

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 06/12/2015 - 19:46

I know very little about hardware.

I think I have a good understanding on many aspects of what happens inside a computer, but my knowledge is clearly firmer on what happens once an operating system is already running. And even then, my understanding of the lower parts of reality is shaky at most — At least according to my self-evaluation, of course, comparing to people I'm honored to call "my peers".

During the last ~18 months, my knowledge of this part of reality, while still far from complete, has increased quite a bit — Maybe mostly showing that I'm basically very cheap: As I have come across very cheap (or even free for me!) hardware, I have tried to understand and shape what happens in levels below those where I dwell.

I have been meaning to do a writeup on the MIPS Creator CI20, which was shipped to me for free (thanks++!) by Imagination Technologies; I still want to get more familiar with the board and have better knowledge before reporting on it. Just as a small advance, as this has been keeping me somewhat busy: I got this board after their offer to Debian Developers, and prompted because I'll be teaching some modules on the Embedded Linux diploma course dictated by Facultad de Ingeniería, UNAM — Again, I'll blog about that later.

My post today follows Riku's, titled Dystopia of things, where he very clearly finds holes in the Internet of Things offering of one specific product and one specific company, but allows for generalizations on what we will surely see as the model. Riku says:

Today, the GPL sources for hub are available - at least the kernel and a patch for busybox. The proper GPL release is still only through written offer. The sources appeared online April this year while Hub has been sold for two years already. Even if I ordered the GPL CD, it's unlikely I could build a modified system with it - too many proprietary bits. The whole GPL was invented by someone who couldn't make a printer do what he wanted. The dystopian today where I have to rewrite the whole stack running on a Linux-based system if I'm not happy what's running there as provided by OEM.

This is not exactly the situation on the boards/products (it's a disservice to call the cute CuBox-i just a board!) I mention I'm using, but it's neither too far. Being used to the easy x86 world, I am used to bitching on specific hardware that does not get promptly recognized by the Linux kernel — But even with the extra work UEFI+SecureBoot introduces, getting the kernel to boot is something we just take for granted. In the MIPS and ARM worlds, this is not so much of a given; I'm still treating the whole SPL and DeviceTree world as a black box, but that's where a lot of the work happens.

The boards I am working on try to make a point they are Open Hardware. The CI20 is quite impressive in this regard, as not only it has a much more complete set of on-board peripherials than any other, but a wealth of schematics, datasheets and specifications for the different parts of its components. And, of course, the mere availability of the MIPSfpga program to universities worldwide is noteworthy — Completely outside of my skillset, but looks most interesting.

However... Despite being so much almost-Free-with-a-capital-F, all those boards fail our definitions of freedom in several ways. And yes, they lead us to a situation similar to what Riku describes, to what Stallman feared... To a situation not really better to where we stand on openly closed-source, commodity x86 hardware: Relying on binary blobs and on non-free portions of code to just use our hardware, or at least to use many of the features that would be available to us otherwise.

As an example, both the CI20 and the CuBox-i vendors provide system images able to boot what they describe as a Debian 7 system, based on a 3.0 Linux kernel (which Debian never used; IIRC the CuBox-i site said it was derived from a known-good Android kernel)... Only that it's an image resulting of somebody else installing and configuring it. Why should we trust their image to be sane? Yes, the resulting installation is quite impressive (i.e. the CI20's 3D demos are quite impressive for a system that feels otherwise sluggish, and out of my ARM experience, I'd wager it feels sluggish mostly because of a slow SSD)...

I have managed to do clean Debian installs on most of my ARM machines (the CuBox-i as described in my previous blog post; this post from Elena ``of Valhalla'' prompted me into trying the already well documented way of running the official Debian Installer, which worked like a charm and gave me a very nice and responsive Debian 8 install — Modulo yes, the Banana's non-free video interface, which AFAICT uses the non-free Mail binary driver... And which I haven't had the time to play with yet. Of course, my CuBox is in a similar situation, where it works like a charm as a personal server, but is completely worthless as a set-top box.

So, with those beautiful, small, cheap SoC systems, we are close to where we stood twenty years ago with x86 Linux: Good support for a small set of peripherials, but a far cry from having a functional system with exclusively free software. ,

Despite claims of being open source, this is not open source hardware. If you are thinking of getting this device, you should also try looking into the hardware from our Community instead.

Still... Playing with these boards has taught me a lot, and has clearly taught me I'm still standing on the first steps of the n00b level. I have a lot to learn to be able to responsibly teach my part of the diploma course, and I'm very thankful for the differences in hardware (and, of course, for the hardware manufacturers, specially for the MIPS Creator CI20 and the Lemaker Banana Pi for giving me boards to work on!)

I shall keep posting on this topic.

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