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So ZTE it is

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 02/22/2013 - 09:03

Some weeks ago I posted about the long-expected demise of my old phone. And even given I don't usually don't pay much attention to phones (and could care less about the smartphone fad), I asked for a recommendation here on what to change to.

The only thing that made me look for something other than a ~US$15 phone is that I enjoy having a GPS-enabled device. So, with that in mind, I went to my carrier's offices, with a top budget of MX$2,000 (~US$150), and asked for help. After being a Telcel subscriber for ~10 years (and ~6 with the same device), even though I use prepaid cards only (and seldom pay over MX$100 a month), I expected some advice. So, when the employee told me to go to the phone exhibit they have and pick my favorite, I declined, by telling I just want the cheapest unit with a GPS. He almost immediately offered me the ZTE V791, an Android 2.3-based unit, for MX$990 (~US$75), just around half of what I expected to pay. So I got two - One for myself, one for Regina, as her previous "nice" phone died under the Bosnian rain and had one of the sturdy, reliable but utterly boring US$15 phones for over a year ;-) As a new Mexican resident, she can surely use a GPS as well! (and some other tools in it). So, two nice phones, and still (squarely!) in my projected budget!

I *did* give some thought to the comments posted in my original post, but given I don't want to bite in to the tendency too much, I let price determine what we get. And after all, I do not plan to ever enable data over the phone network (if at all, I use it on wifi). A recommendation for people with similar profiles/interest than me: Maps with me allows for downloading OpenStreetMap data on a country basis (so I get all of Mexico with me). I also got Vespucci OSM Editor, to be able to do OpenStreetMap updates from the phone, but given it has some stability issues I have not used it much (and it's understandably not so disconnected-mode-friendly)

Not much more to add to this. I am writing this prompted by Russell's "iPhone vs. Android" post. My point after getting these two cheap phones? Having a wide range of devices under this same OS (even if it still has long ways to go freedom-wise) makes it a choice for people like me, who don't want to save money for a couple of months in order to get the newest gadget. I hope this phone lasts with me several years as well, without changing my usage pattern!

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Too cool not to repost

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 02/20/2013 - 21:54

[ post made mainly for those poor souls who don't yet follow Planet Debian, but do follow me ]

Earlier today, Roland Mas threw an idea towards whoever had too much free time: Implement a valid QR code construction that would become an interesting pattern when interpreted in Conway's Game of Life.

But, as Jurij Smakov promptly showed, there is only one flaw in Roland's request: The need for too much free time. Jurij replied within ~4hr with a arbitrary string to QR code converter that allows said code to be seeded into a Game of Life interpreter.

Jurij: You get all the geek points I had in store for this month.

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The phone is dead. How to stay reasonably unbound?

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 23:31

So, today an endurance test can be declared as finished.

In early 2008, for the first time, I paid for a cellular phone (as my previous ones were all 100% subsidized by the operator in a fixed plan). I got a Nokia N95. And, although at the beginnning I was quite thrilled with my smartphone (when such things were still a novelty), it didn't take much to me to start dumbing it down to what is really useful to me: A phone with a GPS. And the GPS only because it is the only toy I want in such a form factor.

Anyway, despite the operator repeatedly offering me newer and more capable models, I kept this one, and as soon as I was free of the forced 18 month rental period, switched to a not-data-enabled, pay-as-you-go plan. I don't want to be connected to the intertubes when I'm away from a usable computer!

But yes, five years are over what a modern phone wants to endure. Over time, I first started getting SIM card errors whenever the phone was dropped or slightly twisted - As I'm a non-frequent phone user, I didn't care much. Charging it also became a skill of patience, as getting the Nokia micro-connector to make contact has been less and less reliable. Over one year ago, the volume control (two sensors on the side) died after a phone drop (and some time later I found the switches broken from the mainboard loose) - A nuisance, yes, but nothing too bad. I don't know how, but some time ago the volume went down when using the radio, and as I can't raise it again, my phone became radio-disabled. And today, the screen died (it gets power, but stays black). I can blind-operate the phone, but of course, it is really not meant for that.

So, I expect this Saturday to go get a new phone. Between now and then, I'll be cellphone-deprived (in case you wonder why I'm not answering to your messages or whatever). I would love to get a phone with a real keyboard (as I prefer not to look at the screen when writing messages, just to check if everything came out right and fix what's needed). I understand Android phones are more likely to keep me happy as a free software geek, and I'd be delighted to use Cyanogen if it is usable and stable — But my phone is *not* my smart computer and it should not attempt to be, so it's not such a big deal. I will look for something with FM radio capability, and GPS.

Of course, I want something cheap. It would be great to get it at no cost, but I don't expect I'll find such a bargain. Oh, and I want something I can find at the first Telcel office I come to, am I asking for too much? :)

Anyway - I'll enjoy some days of being really disconnected from any wireless bugs (that I am aware off).

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The joys of Internet The Bolivarian dream

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 23:54

Oh, the joys of the Internet.

A Mexican and an Argentinian listening to a Spanish cantaor singing Mexican music for an Argentinian audience, remembering a Costa Rican woman.

What?

Regina and me are finally back home in Mexico, after a month (me) and six weeks (her) of vacations in Argentina. And this week, in the city of Cosquín (Córdoba, Argentina), they celebrate most important Argentinian folkloric festival. The Cosquín Festival can be followed live on the TV Pública website.

Right now, while I finish writing a short article and Regina fights her way to learn some of the GNOME 3 tricks, we are following Cosquín. Among many great Argentinian folklorists, they invited a Spanish cantaor, David Palomar, who is remembering Chabela Vargas, a great singer, born in Costa Rica, but who became famous in Mexico, singing very heartfelt Mexican music, and deceased earlier this year.

Trivia: Q: What do Mexico, Argentina and Spain have in common (besides a language that can be almost-understood)? A: They all have a city called Córdoba.

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Brazilian electronic booths hacked in a real election — Surprised, anyone?

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 12/26/2012 - 14:44

Doing my regular news scan, I stumbled across this: Hacker reveals in Rio how he rigged an election (in Portuguese; you can try the Google-translated version).

Why am I reposting this? Because, even after the reported studies by Diego Aranha and the information disclosure exploited by Sergio Freitas, Brazil is still portrayed as the biggest example on how electronic voting can be 100% secure and tamper-proof. Well, in this case, Rangel (his full name ahs not yet been disclosed), a 19 year old hacker, not only demonstrated how elections could be rigged, but admitted on doing so together with a small group, and even pointed at who was benefitted from this.

Rangel's attack was done during the transmission phase — After ~50% of the electoral results had been sent over the Oi network. And yes, the provider will most likely close the hole that was pointed at, but this basically shows (again!) that no system can be 100% tamperproof, and that the more electronic devices are trusted for fundamental democratic processes, the more we as a society will be open to such attacks. The security-minded among us will not doubt even for a second that, as this attack was crafted, new attacks will continue to be developed. And while up to some years ago the attack surface was quite smaller (i.e. booths didn't have a communications phase, just stored the votes, and communication was done by personal means), earlier booths have been breached as well. And so will future booths be breached.

So, the news of this attack are indeed very relevant for the field. The presentation I am quoting was held around two weeks ago — And December will surely dillute attention from this topic. Anyway, I will look for further details on the mechanism that was used, as well as to the process that follows in the TSE (Supreme Electoral Tribunal). I hope we have news to talk about soon!

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Goodbye, LastFM - Again

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 12/14/2012 - 08:15

I started using LastFM probably around 6 years ago, and loved its offering. I discovered a huge amount of music I would have never found otherwise.

Then, some time later, it changed its terms of use, and those of us not in some selected countries lost the ability to stream them for free. Bummer.

About one year ago, I decided to purchase a subscription. After all, getting to know new music is always good — And listening to recommendations for friends with interesting music tastes is fun as well!

Of my last music purchases, both in CD and as MP3 downloads (not a spectacular volume, probably some 15 albums in the last year), I can only point to two that I knew the interpreter beforehand. So, we could say I have bought approx. 1 album per month completely thanks to LastFM.

But, as of January 15, they are changing their licensing terms, and LastFM streaming service will no longer be available in Mexico. All it will continue to give me is recommendations based on my listening habits, given I continue "scrobbling" - Much less useful, not to say completely useless given my usual patterns.

So, I'm sadly cancelling my subscription, and quite probably will stop using the service altogether. And yes, this will make me reevaluate freely licensed music services. But while I know of several free music distribution sites such as Jamendo, I will long for this LastFM abililty to deliver me music that is aligned to my current tastes (instead of looking them up by myself)

Any suggestions on where to look for a similar service?

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Becoming a teacher!

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 11/30/2012 - 17:29

For many years, I have aspired being a university teacher. I remember asking at different universities as early as ten years ago — But I didn't have the needed papers. And yes, I have been a "Licenciado en Ingeniería en Software" for one year already.

Anyway, I won't go into the details on why I didn't do this earlier on. But this time, I did get my act together in time, and by mid October, I contacted Juan Carreón, an enthusiastic teacher I met a long time ago as he helped a lot for the formation and cohesion of the (now defunct?) LIDSOL group (Laboratorio de Investigación en Software Libre, Free Software Research Laboratory), a group of very worthy students, mostly from the Engineering careers.

Juan Carreón had long offered me help in getting to the right people in Facultad de Ingeniería as soon as I had my formal requirements ready. I just didn't expect it to be so swift! Within two days of my initial mail, he contacted me back asking me to look at the subjects in Computing Engineering and choosing some I would be willing to teach — Yes, understanding that due to my time (as I'm already full-time employed in UNAM) would allow me to take only one group.

Rush of excitement, of course. I promptly looked at the program, and answered with a list of 12 subjects I would be confident to teach. Next day I was contacted by the Chief of Computing Engineering Department, offering me to dictate the Operating Systems course. A subject that has always motivated me, and towards which I feel confident. A fifth semester course (from 9 semesters in the career), with around 30 students in the classroom.

And I'm very happy with this! Yes, this will be my first formal university course experience (either as a student or a teacher), and I'm quite nervous on how this will turn out. But I'm already reading again my books on the subject, starting to structure a set of teaching notes, and... Lets see what comes next!

So, I will be teaching this course starting January 28, three times a week for 1.5hr, for a formal theric total of 72 hours. We shall see how this results six months from today! :-D

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Update on my e-voting-related work — @e_voto

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 11/12/2012 - 11:15

For the last couple of years, one of the topics I have tackled with several columns and a couple of articles published, several presentations on conferences and many comments wherever I can is raising awareness on why security experts around the world oppose electronic voting.

Slightly over a year ago, I started gathering all the published news (in Spanish, with some notes in English if I feel them relevant enough) that came to my greedy hands and archiving them, categorized as well as I could, into what I came to call an Electronic voting observatory. I don't feed it with the frequency I'd like, but overall I do feel there is an interesting amount of information in there.

About a month and a half ago, via Twitterfeed, I set up a Twitter account where my bot echoes everything I get on that regard.

So, while you can follow the observatory via RSS (as probably most readers of my blog will do), I know there are many Twitter users among you — @e_voto might be interesting to you if you speak Spanish and are interested in the topic.

I try not to be partisan on the information I copy there; of course I am subjective (I try not to refer to news which don't provide new insight or data points, or to obvious repeats), but I am doing this effort to follow the development as it unfolds, not to push my viewpoints.

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Cycling: Atzcapozalco's cycle path; @p00k4 sends me rail-riding!

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 10/17/2012 - 18:16

Yesterday I went to FES Iztacala, the faculty where I worked between 1999 and 2003. It's nice to go visit some good friends (even if to talk for work issues). It is somewhat far from my usual roaming area (~25Km straight to the North), so I cannot do it as often as I'd like. But anyway - I had to be at work early in the morning, but leaving from here a bit early for lunchtime, and leaving home at ~14:30, I managed to arrive to Iztacala in ~75 minutes. Sustained cycling for 20 Km/h, even counting stops at traffic lights on the way, yay!

Anyway, had a productive and fun evening there, but around 18:00 I decided to head back before night got me — Specially for the first part of the way, as I'm not familiar with Atzcapozalco. Alejandro suggested me to go by the recently (some months ago) opened cycle path that covers 4Km and almost exactly crosses the delegation (each of the 16 constitutive parts of Distrito Federal, where an important part of Mexico City is located).

The cycle path is a good initiative... But I must say, I'm very very glad I took it still with good daylight. As well as the Recreative cyclepath that goes to the South, until the border of Morelos state, this one was built over abandoned rail tracks. Good use for a vacant and useless public space — Rail tracks which lay unclaimed in the city are uncomfortable to walk, and useless for anything else, so they basically mean a useless 2m-wide strip of common grounds. So, I welcome any initiatives that make it into a useful space again! And two meters are just enough for a comfortable cycling path - Yes, which will surely be shared with pedestrians, and sometimes becomes uncomfortable. But lets try it!

However... When rail tracks are decomissioned and cycle paths built over them... the metal should be dismounted! Not only because of economic concerns (good metal used for rail tracks is much more expensive and useful than asphalt), but because if it stays there, it just becomes a danger. Specially, as is the case, if the asphalt is just deep enough to sometimes cover the tracks — And sometimes not.

Had I known, I would have taken several photographs of important mistakes in the rail layout. I know I was very close to having an accident at least once (this means, I lost balance and miraclously managed to slow down from ~15Km/h by running with the bike between my legs!), and got in uncomfortable situations several more times. For a good portion of the track, there is a train track running at about ⅔ of its width, so I had to constantly ring the bell or shout whenever I saw pedestrians — As changing from side to side to route around them would put both them and me in danger. Towards the Southern part of the cycle path, as it is a much more active industrial area, there are many places where multiple tracks cross each other — under the thin asphalt, sometimes completely unpaved. In one of those points I even decided to step down of the bike and make ~20m walking.

This cycle path seems like it was done in a great hurry to present a successful project to the Politicians in Charge, without much thought on what it requires to be really a good project. It provides, yes, a very useful and good mobility solution for cyclists in the North-West. But it is too dangerous... And I am not sure whether I'd take it again. Probably not.

So, all in all...

  • Thanks to the Atzcapozalco authorities who thought of the cyclists and claimed back unused public space for us all to enjoy!
  • The job done was too hasty. Valuable money (selling the tracks) was lost by burying it under asphalt. But it was not enough asphalt — It needs attention before somebody gets hurt (or, before more people — I'd be surprised if nobody had yet felt adrenaline over there)
  • I hope the entrant city government takes the self-powered vehicle promotion more seriously than the outgoing one — Which has done great advances (such as the Ecobici program), but is still far from reaching its promises... As always, I know.
  • I managed to get back home alive and complete, yay!
  • Of course, the cycle path has been mapped into OpenStreetMap. My SportsTracker tracks are also there, but they require Flash (ugh): the way to Iztacala and the way back.

Oh, and lastly: Some might be surprised I'm using bits of Twitterspeak here. But well, I now have presence a bot repeating my posts over there, so I'd better get Alejandro to read this using the proper channels ;-)

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Joaquín López Dóriga interviews Rogerio Azcárraga

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 10/04/2012 - 10:24

On October 3, 2011, Joaquín López Dóriga interviewed Rogerio Azcárraga in his Radio Fórmula radio show:

http://www.radioformula.com.mx/notas.asp?Idn=200211

Rogerio Azcárraga, president of Radio Fórmula and of Orfeón, talked about the great careeer he has had on the music business. While doing so, he clearly shows (and Alejandro Miranda did a very nice job selecting ~10 minute highlighting it) how "successful industrial culture" in Mexico is equivalent to living off the works of third people — For the ridiculous period of lifetime plus 100 years.

The interview is in Spanish. But if you understand Spanish... Don't miss it!

(Yes, I'm not pushing this entry to my blog page, as it's not my work or anything like that — It's more of a convenient place for me to find this recording later on)

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Rethinking copyright in the digital era: Dialogs on arts, regulation and culture availability — Museo del Chopo, Mexico City

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 09/28/2012 - 11:49

I was invited as a panelist for the Laboratorio «Repensar el derecho de autor y el derecho de copia en la era digital:
diálogo sobre artes, regulaciones y disponibilidad de la cultura»
at the beautiful Foro del Dinosaurio in the Museo del Chopo, located very centrally in Mexico City. The list of speakers is quite interesting, and makes me very interested and happy to be there.

The laboratory will be next week, Wednesday through Friday. I am scheduled to be part of the 17:00 table, Knowledge availability and regulation in Internet, coordinated by Pedro Mendizábal (Creative Commons Perú), and together with Juan Voutsás (Biblotecologic Research Institute, UNAM), Armida Aponte (Creative Commons México). The other topics that will be covered are:

  • Rights, technologies and commons
  • The culture and its industries in the digital age: What are the interests at stake?
  • Intelectual, cultural and scientific works: Open access or availability?
  • New business models around copyright-protected works
  • nowledge availability and regulation in Internet
  • Visual arts and copyright in the digital media
  • Open governments and citizenship: Information, data and intelectual works

Sadly, it does not seem they have planned for remote people to follow along. I will ask and update here if there is any way for people outside Mexico City to tune in — For people able to attend, it's free entrance (and certificates will be given to people pre-registered, if you are interested, call 5535-2288 ext. 123)

For further details on the participants, go to the laboratory's web page.

Update: The talks will be streamed! http://www.chopo.unam.mx/chopoenvivo.html, via UStream.

Update About one year after this activity (which was very interesting!) I was contacted by the organizers. They will be publishing proceedings — Transcriptions of our participation! Yes, a transcription is never as easy to read as a text created as such, but I am very happy of this. I was sent a first version of my transcription, which I'm attaching here. It has several corrections to be made (which I asked them to do), but it's surely worth sharing!

Married!

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 09/27/2012 - 11:47

So, yay! Title says it all!

On Saturday September 22, Regina and I got married in my parents' house, in Cuernavaca, Morelos.

We had a very very nice little party with our family and a small group of friends — Of course, due to the nature of our life, we could not forego inviting our family and friends in Argentina, as well as those in other parts of the world, so we set up a simple video stream so that our friends could follow along — And they did, with much greater success than what I expected!

So, besides those people present with us in Cuernavaca, we had people tuning in (at least to the degree I could get from the log files) from Argentina (Buenos Aires, Paraná, Formosa), Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the United States.

This next Saturday (September 29) we will have a second party, to which our friends in Mexico are invited, at home. And for the people from far away,, the stream will be available again — Expect at least one interesting surprise :)

PS- Visit also our wedding page, with some photos, video, and general information (Warning! Part of it is outdated by now)

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Great online course available: «Securing Digital Democracy», by J. Alex Halderman

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 09/13/2012 - 13:22

I was pointed at a great online course — If you are into e-voting analysis (or, more broadly, into democratic processes' history, evolution and future), I strongly suggest you to take a look at «Securing Digital Democracy». Just the name of the teacher should be enough to make it interesting: University of Michigan professor J. Alex Halderman, the guy who has analized/hacked several electronic booths, and one of the clearest, smartest voices to explain what should we require of a voting system and how electronic booths are the worst fit for any purpose.

The course is delivered through Coursera; I have found Coursera to be an effective, usable, unobtrusive platform — So much I even signed up for another course. I am not so happy with online courses requiring to wait so much between lessons, but after all, it tries to mimic what we see at "regular" (i.e. classroom) teaching settings. And, after all, we autodidacts are still a minority.

The course in question started ten days ago, but you can still perfectly join. Each week has two lessons, worth of approximately 40 minutes of video each, and are "graded" through a quiz. Lets see how this evolves.

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Electronic voting in Panama: Slower, more expensive, more uncertainty... Goodbye!

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 09/04/2012 - 16:56

Panama just underwent a nasty e-voting exercise: Electronic-mediated elections were held for the committee of the PRD party. It sounds simple - Even trivial! There were only 4100 authorized voters, it was geographically trivial (all set inside a stadium)... But it blew up in smoke. I won't reiterate all what happened, I'll rather direct you to our project's (the e-voting observatorium) page: News regarding Panama (for those coming from the future, search starting at 2012-08-27 — and yes, it's all in Spanish, but there are free-as-in-beer translation services.

Many e-vote proponents/sellers/pushers were very eagerly waiting for this election to brag about one more success... So much that they could not just ignore it, and started rationalizing it away. Anyway, while feeding the observatorium, I came across this opinion-article in the Voto Digital website, which makes quite a bit of pro-e-voting noise. I replied to it, and I think my analysis is worth sharing also with you:

So, lets make some simple numbers, rounding the numbers: The PRD vote in Panama was done for a universe of 4100 voters.

It took 10 hours (instead of the planned 4), so 410 people were processed every hour. There were 40 voting (electronic) booths, so each processed 10 people per hour. This means, each person spent 6 minutes by the booth.

A manual vote in this fashion is highly parallelizable: Each of the voters can be given ballots with anticipation, or many of them cna be allowed in to be given the ballots in situ (depending on the electoral scheme employed). The contention time is the time it takes to each voter to get near the booth and deposit his ballot (either folded or in an envelope) - And it will very rarely be more than a couple of seconds.

So, given that using electronic booths parallelism cannot grow (there is a fixed number of machines) and the queues grew wildly, with traditional voting it would have surely fitted in the expected four hours (they were expected, also, based on their past experiences).

As for counting, that's the slowest part of manual voting, it's also highly parallelizable: If each of the 40 booths has slightly over 100 ballots, the party personnel can easily count them in under 30 minutes. Capture and aggregation for the 40 partial results would take an extra 10 minutes, even being generous.

Manual voting would have saved them around five hours, without demanding additional resources (and being thus much more economical than having to buy 40 specific-purpose computers). And as an additional advantage, the physical and tangible vote proofs would remain, in case they were ever again needed.

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WikiLovesMonuments wants *you* (and me!)

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 09/03/2012 - 17:35

What, haven't you heard about the WikiLovesMonuments photo contest around cultural heritage? Copying from its web page,

Wiki Loves Monuments is an international photo contest around cultural heritage monuments in September. Starting from the Netherlands in 2010 and organized on a European level in 2011, we go global in 2012!

I heard about this initiative in Iván Martínez's Wikimedia talk at COSIT 2012, held last week in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz (I intend to write a bit more regarding COSIT later on). I loved the idea, and intend to participate — Not because I take great pictures (I don't, and I usually take them using my aging phone, which gives decent results but nothing beyond that), but because I love to move by bike in the city, and it's one of the best ways to roll in front of some of them. But more on me later… Back to the topic!

WikiLovesMonuments aims to improve on Wikimedia's (the organization behind Wikipedia and several other Free Culture reference projects) coverage of important landmarks all over the world. To do so, they are offering a trip to attend WikiMania 2013 in Hong Kong to the first place winner, and other "photography-related" prizes to the other winners.

So, back to me: My motivation to enter the contest is to help Wikimedia. I know my shots won't be top-notch (although they will be the best I can do). I enjoy biking in my city, and often go not too far from many of the listed monuments. I am amazed at the number of monuments still pending in my area (of course, it's not by mistake this is called "La ciudad de los palacios", The city of the palaces) — Surely some of the readers of this post will have (or will find easy to take) some photos to add. Of course, I'll try to focus on the missing monuments, but if you are a good photographer, you might want to submit a better version for a monument that's already there.

So, some pointers, from what's closest to what's farthest from me:

At least for Mexico, the listings are taken from the National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH)'s Public registry of archaeological zones and monuments. So, I cannot wait to start my biking session today to get some good end-of-summer evening sun and get some pictures taken! :-D

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