Stuff I have written/presented
Reading revolutions: Online digital text and implications for reading in academe — A (very informal) review
Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 06/10/2011 - 16:50
It's been a long time since I last took some time to read First Monday — A great online publication, if you are not familiar with it, that I would categorize (and no, I'm not probably well-informed in it to be authoritative) as dealing with social, psychological aspects of the cultural shifts the online world has brought upon us (often dealing with topics related to Free Software communities, the reason I first met the publication). Firstmonday is an Open Access champion from early on. It follows an approachable but academic format (this means, it is peer-reviewed, its articles give extensive lists of references, and the articles are not the short reads we have got used to finding on the net, but, quoting from their audience profile, English is not the first language of many First Monday readers; A large percentage of First Monday readers are not a part of academia; Cultures, educational backgrounds, and fields of study vary greatly among First Monday readers.) This means, it's at least a great publication for me to follow :)
Anyway — After a long time not following it, I have just read Reading revolutions: Online digital text and implications for reading in academe, by Barry W. Cull; First Monday, Volume 16, Number 6 - 6 June 2011 Nice, interesting read. As I was planning on telling about the article to a couple of friends more into the subjects than myself, I'll comment+quote some bits on it. Before going any further: The article makes several references to Maryanne Wolf. No relation to her — I'm not lulling my (two? are you both still reading?) readers towards her work ;-)
The article talks about the differences –social, even dips into some physiological aspects– that the activity of reading is sustaining due to the shift from an activity done mainly from books (or other similar printed material) to the computer screen. Of course, we all know from our own experience many of the basic traits — Shorter attention spans, a different reading pattern (skimming instead of reading; browsing through several related items instead of in-depth reading a single text as a knowledge unit).
The article begins with an overview of reading and humankind. Cull quotes Maryanne Wolf's phrase, «despite the fact that it took our ancestors about 2,000 years to develop an alphabetic code, children are regularly expected to crack this code in about 2,000 days». An interesting point I never thaught of is the start of reading as a purely mental activity, detaching reason from verbalization, ~1200 years ago:
One last important point in this older history, that I'm quoting because I know I'll need the reference later on for one of my texts is about reading as a social activity — Yes, also related to the quietness I just mentioned:
After this introduction (obviously one of the most interesting parts to me), Cull gives numbers showing how reading is evolving (in the USA and Canada), and quotes some prediction on how the future will end up adapting. Of course, I live in a place with a very different society, so I cannot comment much. Then he confronts some studies regarding specifically leisure reading, as it is a much more trustable factor than just literacy (in a world as highly literate as ours is, many people only read when they have to — and have never or very seldom experienced the pleasure of reading just for the sake of it), bringing into the discussion the Internet (and computers in general) usage patterns.
I found also very interesting the next section, regarding the pattern changes many libraries are facing now, specially academic/research-oriented libraries:
And yes, doing some work with our Institute's library, I can confirm this trend.
About e-books: I have got quite into that topic since the Kindle won my heart (and my money!) half a year ago. The little device completly changed my reading habits, I have read lots more since I carry it. And yes, I have never considered a full tablet-like device — The article talks long about the difference, about the disadvantage that multitasking means to the human brain (oh, do I suffer from it!) I liked this snippet, quoting Steve Jobs a couple of years ago, regarding an Apple e-book reader question:
The issue for me is, I do enjoy reading, but I am an information addict. I know that if I have parallel information flows, my attention will surely dilute between them. Of course, as I read this article on-screen, it was hard for me to take the needed discipline not to be distracted by IMs or IRC highlights during the whole reading (which was also as an excercise for myself ;-) ). I am surprised to see this on student preferences (and even more surprised to see this data comes from my university):
As we approach the end, it talks about another important topics I have often tried (and often failed) to communicate to my users: That of paratext, the meaning of the different texts, covers, items, layouts, etc. that are not part of the text itself but do shape the way we face it. To some of us, this seems obvious. To others, it is so hard to understand…
It closes with two more topics I will refer to. One is the permanent connectivity. All the time, more people are connected virtually all of their waking time. This affects not only learning habits but priorities. Will this near–constant access to information interfere with students’ desire to comprehend and remember information, necessary to the educational process of turning it into knowledge? Author and university business school lecturer Don Tapscott recently suggested that students “might not have to stress about the details — those you can check”
Finally, regarding the continuity and ellaboration found in texts that are each time more common — He quotes Maryanne Wolf:
As you can see, not only this post is meant to tell my couple-of-interested-friends to read the article, but it's mainly meant as a mental placeholder for myself. I will be surely refering to some of these items.
Submitted by admin on Tue, 05/31/2011 - 12:49
I was invited to be part of one of the panels to be present this Thursday (June 2) in a forum that promises to be interesting. The forum is organized by the Science and Technology comission of the Senate of the Republic (of Mexico ;-) ), Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana and Mozilla México. The day will be opened by Sen. Francisco Javier Castellón Fonseca and Richard Stallman; starting at 10:00, we will have thematic panels on:
The full program (as well as details of interest of those that can physically attend) is attached to this post.
I am looking forward to this forum. Not only it is a good opportunity to get our work known in one of those places where it matters, but it's also being organized by several interesting people I'm sure will have something interesting to contribute. And of course, we lacked time to build a better, more complete and more coherent proposal — but there is a good probability we will have further such contacts.
You might find interesting to read on the list we have been discussing; subscription seems to be open (although access to the archives is not — Maybe it will be later on? In any case, I'm saving a mbox ;-) )
Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 05/13/2011 - 13:46
While swearing at my bank's automated phone attention system, I was thinking that –taking advantage in the fact they already usually say that "the call will be recorded to improve service quality"– call center operators/programmers should record all user activity and, just for laughs, play back the grumbles angry users shout at the system. Of course, at random intervals, on loudspeakers, over the crowded call centers.
Oh, they do it already?
Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 05/08/2011 - 23:04
Today we had a very interesting demonstration. People who know me for some time know I like to be a part of demonstrations, adding my voice to the people. And even though I know most demonstrations, as massive as they might be, have no real and tangible effect... Well, I try to be there.
Today we had a large demonstration in Mexico City of people angry with the government's tactics on the war on drugs — Have you been to Mexico before 2007? You will remember we have always had our problems, but violence was basically limited to keeping an eye open, not flashing your money/jewels, and not looking too touristy. We were, all in all, a quiet country — Known even as "the country where nothing happens, even if it happens".
Five years later, a good portion of the country lives really in war-like conditions, and close to 45,000 people have been killed. At some point about a year ago (where the body count was at ~22,000), our oh-so-bright de-facto president said that "only" 10% of them were civilians. If that is still the case, and if proportions are held, we can now talk about ~4,500 people killed just because they were there — Oh, but remember the country is not at war, and death penalty has very long been abolished, so we cannot give the other 90% a different status. We have had over 45,000 killed people. That means at least ~200,000 torn lifes.
About six weeks ago, the cry from a father who lost his son started getting heard. And no, I do not want to talk about specific names or anything like that — It is just the voice-bearer of many people who are fed up. Four days ago, he and a group of people left Cuernavaca city on a caravan and walked to Mexico city. Yesterday evening they arrived to the National University (UNAM), and were greeted by an amazing open-air concert: Mozart's Requiem.
Today, our day started very early. My mother wanted to help, as many more anonymous citizens did, so we started making and packing sandwiches and apples at ~5:30AM, delivered them to the camp where they were staying and grouping with other people, and came back home for our breakfast. Later, at around 9AM, as the demonstration started going by our house (we live a block from UNAM), my girlfriend, father and me started walking with them.
Why do I say this was a different demonstration than others I have been to?
Will this change anything? I doubt it. I am happy that for the first time, the de-facto president (remember a large percentage of Mexicans still believe he lost the presidential election, and it was only due to his lack of legitimacy that he pushed the army to the streets to start this war on drugs) is recognizing that this might not be the best strategy but it is the only one he has... People are still, despite what I saw many felt, very far from organized. And, yes, no short-term concrete proposals are made on how to stop the killing — I feel the population agrees that drugs should be legalized and regulated, that would at least shift the problem, reduce the direct violence (and money) related to it... But, of course, it is plainly not feasible with our current reality.
Anyway, after a 5hr walk today (and even after a nice nap and shower), I don't want to dig into hypotheses anymore. I just wanted to share about a very interesting and different experience I had the opportunity to be part of.
Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 05/05/2011 - 12:02
As others have started posting in Planet Debian, I'll do my part: Yesterday I finished booking our flights, so if everything goes as planned, Reg and me will be arriving to Zagreb (Croatia) at 21:30, Monday July 18, to take part of the 12th Debian development conference, DebConf11, in Banja Luka, Bosnia & Herzegovina!
Of course, reiterating this will never hurt: Do you want to support a global-scale, well-recognized, community-based Free Software project development? Be a sponsor for DebConf11!"
Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 04/05/2011 - 11:13
I took part in a occupational-health-related thread recently, and wrote a bit of my experience which might be helpful for my readers, many of them avid keyboard users, with usually ≥8hr of typing per day.
(…) I suffered not from RSI but from painful back aches. I started using standard keyboards in a different fashion, not putting so much stress on my wrists (and on the muscles connecting them to the rest of the body, of course): I exclusively use US keymaps (with some modifications to allow for proper Spanish input and ﬀŭₙṅý characters), but instead of making the middle row my fingers' home row, I type with the base position of my fingers in a V shape — Fingers resting on (approx.) w-e-f-v-spacebar and spacebar-m-l-;-]; the fingers doing most of the travelling are the index and middle, and with no straining for the little fingers to reach ` or backspace. On the other side, the most straining keys become Control and Shift, which requires closing the hands a bit too much, but are not that bad. My way does induce some new kind of stress, as my arms also have to move to reach 6 and 7, but it... Works for me™.
It looks weird and is somewhat strange to get used to, but I must say it has worked great for me. I work this way on regular and laptop keyboards, even on my netbook's noticeably smaller one.
Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 03/22/2011 - 17:55
Ok, so finally it is official!
If you are curious on the decision process: We held it over two IRC channels — The moderated #debconf-team channel, where only the five members of the decision committee (Marga Manterola, Andrew McMillan, Jeremiah Foster, Holger Levsen, Moray Allan) and two members from each of the bids (Marco Túlio Gontijo e Silva and Rafael Cunha de Almeida from Brazil; Leonardo Gómez and Eduardo Rosales from Nicaragua) had voices, and the open #dc12-discuss channel where we had an open discussion. Of course, you can get the full conversation logs in those links.
I have to thank and congratulate the Brazilian team as they did a great work... The decision was very tight. It was so tight, in fact, that towards the end of the winning all of the committee members were too shy to state the results - so I kidnapped the process by announcing the winner ;-) (I hope that does not cast a shadow of illegitimacy over it)
And, very much worth noting, both teams were also very professional: In previous years, we have seen such decisions degenerate into personal attacks and very ugly situations. That has always been painful and unfortunate. And although the Brazilians will not be able to go celebrate tonight, the decision was received with civility, knowing it was a decision among equals, and a decision well carried out.
Well, that's it — I am very much looking forward for that peculiar two weeks when the whole Debian family meets, this year to be held in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and I am very eager towards meeting in 2012 in Managua, Nicaragua!
Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 03/21/2011 - 20:26
Some years ago, I faced a 900 word limit for the first time. My question to the editor: Can I write the column in German?
Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 03/21/2011 - 20:24
People enjoy writing with Twitter's arbitrary 140 character limit. I suffer when I have to write a column with a 900 word limit. Limits suck.
Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 02/15/2011 - 21:03
As you know, I very often advocate using the bycicle as the main means of transportation in Mexico City. The city is very apt for biking through it, and contrary to the fears of mostly everybody, the city is neither aggressive nor as dangerous as people say.
However, I have seen cyclists which seem to be looking for the best ways to be hit by a car, or to hit a pedestrian.
Many cyclists assume they are a special case of pedestrians, and zig-zag as they please between the road and the walkway, or just stay in the walkway. That is dangerous, both to pedestrians and to themselves. You might find children, elderly or motion-challenged people on your way. Also, not only will pedestrians only expect other people in the walkway, moving at their pace or slightly more, but cars will also not expect somebody moving at 10-20Km/h. A car driver pulling out of his garage, or crossing a street, will not have enough warning when he sees you, and you are very likely to end up in an accident.
Since ~5 years ago, Mexico City is growing a grid of Metrobús and confined trolebús cero emisiones (trolleybus) lanes. Many cyclists use those lanes — That is VERY dangerous. Public transport vehicles are large, have a lot of inertia, and will take longer to react to finding you ahead of them. Besides, they can go way faster than a regular bike (~60Km/h for metrobús, ~40Km/h for trolebús), and have to stop every couple of blocks. So, you will be uncomfortable if trailing them, and you will be a liability to ~100 people if you go ahead of them. Besides, it is illegal to drive in the confined lanes if you are not a public, semimassive transport vehicle!
Surprisingly many people have argued they prefer riding their bicycles against the traffic — I think they prefer staring at Death into its blue, glowing eyes (or into its long, thin whiskers)... By far, most cars that hit a bicycle do so from the side, when crossing a road. And if you arrive at a crossing from the wrong way, the way a driver does not expect you, don't expect the driver to be aware of you. Also, in the much less likely event of a car running into you, would it be better to be hit at 80Km/h (60Km/h of the car plus 20Km/h of your own speed on a full frontal crash), or at 40Km/h (substracting instead of adding)? Yes, some people say that looking at the car will allow you to maneuver – How far in advance would you know a car coming from the front will hit you? One second? That's 22 meters at 80Km/h (again, if you realize the 60Km/h car is heading straight to you, at 20Km/h). Too short notice for you to do anything — Any maneuver will most likely end in an accident. And the driver would not be so much to blame, as he would not be anticipating you riding against the traffic.
Make sure you get seen. By night, always use proper lights (red on the back, white on the front, and reflective material to the sides). Day or night, wear bright, reflective clothes (or over-clothes material). Act in a predictable fashion. Remember you are riding a vehicle and are subject to the same rules any driver is — A cyclist is not exempt from driving correctly! Do not jump red lights. Never ride on the walkway. Do your best to enjoy the ride.
And ride. Yes, ride, take the streets, enjoy the streets. But don't attempt to drive the traffic out of it — The streets belong to us all, and we can all share them.
PS — I also saw this note in the same paper: Sunday Rides in "Campo Militar Número Uno". The main military field was open as a park this weekend! I have to make sure it is regularly open — I am definitively going there!
Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 02/14/2011 - 17:35
Hrmh... I am listening to a local news radio station. Of course, what I am about to write lacks information and insight — but it follows a conversation I have had with several groups of friends.
Our de-facto president has decreed that the tuition for private schools will be deducted from the Impuesto sobre la renta (revenue/profit tax) up to a given tuition level (IIRC up to MX$2000 a month per child per school). The interviewed subsecretary said they expect this deduction will reach MX$13,000 million, around US$1,000 million. This is, about a third of what is assigned to the National University (UNAM).
At a first sight, this sounds good. However, I just thought about a discussion I have had with many friends. This money the government will hand back to the taxpayers has to be cut from somewhere (after all, we are not in a country with huge superavit or anything like that).
Why does this sound unfair ot me? Because it benefits the few in perjudice of the many. I did a quick search, and found this work based on numbers published by INEGI ten years ago: According to the last table, the money spent on private education was between 5% and 10% of that spent on public education — Of course, it is almost impossible to infer the number of students from this alone. I know I could find authoritative data on this regard by searching a bit more, but after all I don't want to spend all (work!) evening on a blog post unless it creates some discussion. Lets say, just for the sake of the exercise, that this means that ~3% of the country's students learn in a private school.
In Mexico, the quality of the basic public education (primary/secondary, ages 6 to 18) has fallen hugely in the last decades. Even when I was to school (but not when my parents), the first subjective sign that a family had broken the low-income barrier is that they were finally able to send their children to private schools. Because, no matter how bad they are, public schools are perceived to be worse. Of course, I was among the "lucky" ones to be in a private school. Higher education (universitary level) is still way better ranged.
Anyway... I want to get this post over with. Why do I oppose this subsidies/tax devolution? Because it will lead to widen the difference between private and public education. And because it will be benefical only for medium-high and high classes — People who are formaly employed (as I am) do not present a tax declaration, so we won't get any deductions. Between ⅓ and ½ of the country's economically active population work informally (from selling in the street to covering up huge transactions in large locals). Most of the population don't (directly) pay "impuesto sobre la renta", and will not get the benefit of this subsidy.
This money has to be taken from other sources in order to be given to private education. If the government wants to improve the education for everybody, why not assign it to the public sector? To specific areas in the public sector, if they don't want to hand it over to the (yes, very, incredibly) corrupt SNTE (National Union of Education Workers)?
Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 01/28/2011 - 01:16
For those of you who follow me through anything other than Planet Debian (who will surely tolerate this repetition):
Interesting but frightful things are happening in North African countries. We saw what happened in Tunisia some days ago. Now, Egypt is a way larger, way more populous... And, dare I say, way more important country. Also, it is a country which borders Israel, where I lived in for ~18 months, and to which –although I am today unaffiliated– is very important for me. And what happens in Egypt will surely shape the whole mid-East.
So, here goes a copy of Mohammed Sameer's post — Not just a link to it, as he might have to take it down. Of course, Mohammed, if you in any way think I should delete this, please please tell me, and I will comply immediately.
...From what I read from Israeli sources, what worries them –and many people around the world– is that, although Egypt is formally a democratic country, the ruling party has seen towards having basically no oposition — Besides the stubborn Islamic Brotherhood (very akin to Hamas). Now, the Islamic Brotherhood (as well as Hamas, and as well as most other Islamic regimes I know off, although I might be way mistaken) have got huge popular support because... They are true to their beliefs. In short, they are not corrupt — Something that cannot be said about many political organizations around the globe. They are true to their word. And although many of us shiver at thinking of their word getting more power... It is only the Egyptians who should have a say on who rules Egypt.
I honestly hope the Egyptian people get their long-owed self-determination. Of course, I hope Tunisians also get it, and not just a mirage of it. And every people, including us poor Mexicans who have neither had a chance to rule our destiny. And I hope it is a change for good, for tolerance, for peaceful coexistance with the neighbours, even if they are in many ways the rivals.
[Update] I just found out that, as expected, the news have reached Slashdot: Egypt shuts off all Internet access. I'm sure you will find lots of more information there.
Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 01/19/2011 - 12:15
I lived in Israel between 1994 and 1996 — This was just after the signature of the Oslo agreements, the Rabin-Arafat signature. 1994-95 was a beautiful time to be in Israel; there was the excitement of a prospect of real peace with the Palestinians, something that had been just seen as unattainable for the past 50 years.
But we also saw the buildup of a huge tension, of real hatred. And the dream of the end of the conflict, of two people living in peace side by side was heavily shattered on November 4 1995, when prime minister Rabin was assassinated. But for the sake of where I'm trying to get to (this post is meant to be about current Mexico, not of Israel 15 years ago), lets go a couple of months back.
The Israeli society is a deeply democratic one (although I understand many people feel it is losing that trait). Lots of political propaganda of all sorts, many of it very creative, are posted on the streets — And not by the government or by political parties, but by citizen movements. I tried to follow it... I remember a particular sticker that I started seeing very often: «Rabin has no mandate over the Golan». At first, I understod that the Golan residents rejected Rabin's authority (but, why was it posted all over the country? And what specifically was it about?), until a friend explained to me that it meant that it rather meant that the right wing all over the country felt that Rabin had no right to push for negotiations involving in any way the Golan heights return to Syria because that was not his electoral platform.
So, fast-forward in time, and 12500Km to the west.
If you have followed my ramblings for the past ~five years, you are aware of what I think about Mexico's government — It is an illegitimate government, which got the power thanks to a dirty and illegal (as per Mexico's legal system) campaign and to voting fraud. And, according to what I have read, around 30% of the population still believe firmly the elections were stolen.
But even if they were legal, valid and legitimate — What has happened since 2006 should not be seen as valid.
In Mexico, we don't have such a democratic culture. The society is not used to demanding anything from the politicians. We often see, as an example, that when talking about political organs, there is a divide everybody understands although makes no sense: We talk about citizens as people unaffiliated to political parties (v.gr. the 1996 Federal Electoral Institute was very well regarded as it was "el IFE ciudadano", and has since then been overtaken by the parties). Why are the parties' members not seen as citizens? Well, maybe because of the same distortion field that makes us believe our de-facto president when he stated that, from the (then) over 28000 people killed in the
But again, I'm straying off the topic. Let us assume for a minute that the 2006 elections were clean legal, and that the campaigns were not diffamatory, and all that. And tha we had a modern government, with the stated separation between the three powers and all that. By today, the Legislative power would have surely called for the government's disolution. Why? Again, we Mexicans are not used to what a democratic system means. We can see over and over examples of people who have been voted to power and forgot/betrayed everything they campaigned for. And we are used to that being... Normal. But, who did we vote for? Given the suposition of this last paragraphs (clean elections led to our current government), did the majority of the population vote for Felipe Calderón, the person? Or did it vote for Partido Acción Nacional, the abstract entity organized as a party? No. The vote was (should have been) for the political campaign, for the things he promised he would work for, the priorities in the direction he would give the nation.
Not too long ago, we took pride of living in a peaceful country. Yes, everybody feared the crime rate in the streets, everybody knew big cities such as the one I live in (and love living in) have deep problems. But the country had good relations and good respect from the international players, and it was mostly safe. And, I don't think any of the few readers that have read this far (regardless of where they live or how much they know me) has that opinion of Mexico anymore. What is now heard inside and outside is that we have a huge organized crime (mostly due to drug traffic), and that it's taking over the country. Why did this happen?
The fact is, Calderón lacked legitimacy when he reached the presidency in December 2006. And although his campaign was centered on pushing work generation (his slogan was El presidente del empleo, The president of the jobs), lifting restrictions to entreprises, opening borders, getting more money in our economy... He knew he had to please the people that would protect him from any (then, probable) insurrection: Military and police. Our army has always been more a joke than an army... But they still have their guns.
So, contrary to everything he promised, the first things he signed was a salary increase to all order-keeping forces in the country, and an all-out attack against drug traffic cartels. He had to make the order-keeping forces protagonist, useful — and loyal.
Now, fast-forward again to 2011. The country is living the worst violence since the end of the 1910-1920 revolution. Over 30,000 people have been killed. Economy has fallen as it had not for many years (this was the worst-performing country in America in 2009). Work generation was said to be high, but then corrected to indicate it was mediocre (just about the baseline of population growth).
So, the balance so far of four years of... Government? Economic disaster. Social disaster. Promises unachieved. Starting actions he had no mandate to do.
Felipe Calderón has no mandate to get us in this war.
Even if he had been democratically elected, he would have to step down.
Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 01/06/2011 - 09:38
Once again, a polemic regarding how to properly integrate the Ruby language and libraries with the Debian distribution has been ignited. Similar arguments were presented in November and December 2008 and September 2010 — And excuse me for just refering to my own blog, but there are links to some other posts from there... and there will surely be many others I just missed. There were even nice collaboration attempts (such as DebGem, announced in January 2009... But which apparently never stuck on, as it is still listed as in its public Beta period and lists only support for Debian 4.0 and Ubuntu 8.04 and 8.10).
Some days ago, while I was on vacation, I received a mail from Lucas Nussbaum expressing the burnout he had been suffering from this situation. Some days after that, he posted a corresponding blog post - Giving up on Ruby packaging. The comments following his post are most interesting — The one comment I'd like to highlight (noting I skimmed a whole deal of them) is by Paul Brannan, one of the original RubyGems authors. Yes, possibly the design criteria for Gems included some mutually-conflicting goals, and they cover some of Debian's goals. Unfortunately, this conflicting criteria... Was resolved to the opposite way we would have wanted (specifically, that a sysadmin should be able to install software with the same tools he was already familiar with). And of course, there are deeper disagreements, which are rightly stemmed from different priorities: Debian (+derivatives) is meant to make user's and sysadmin's lifes simpler. Gems are meant to make developers' lifes simpler. And while all developers are some sort of users, and sysadminsthe reverse is (obviously) not so.
A developer maintaining several different codebases will surely suffer (well, this particular developer has surely suffered) if he has to maintain them all using coherent versions of system libraries. When a system is programmed, its developers want to use the greatest, latest tools to offer the best experience and functionality. And it's natural for libraries to evolve over time. However, any sysadmin will grind their teeth at the prospect of having many different versions of libraries, as the Gem model proposes. Why? Well, I was bitten by a minor example of it — Bug fixes do not get backported. Of course, if simple bugs are not backported, security and stability of the system as a whole suffers. Often, new software versions will not only add functionality, but improve on how things are done. Not only bugs get corrected, but we get better response times, better memory handling, etc.
It might sound harsh to say this, and even more, as a developer it feels I am talking against myself — But while development time should be minimized during the system design/implementation, once systems are in production, it should be used to allow for friendlier sysadmin relations.
I have to wear both hats at my real-life job. So, what is my take on this? Of course, blaming myself for choosing the wrong version is a no-go. When evaluating a library before using it in my projects, I try to look at its history and API-stability. APIs that change often speak about immature libraries which are still trying to get the right way to implement their functionality; just-started projects might be great and revolutionary, but they do not yet show any kind of long-term committment... And can lead (and have often led me) to painful rewrites when the Next Big Thing is reached.
As for the users: Even if your favorite language has the best and friendliest distribution method, users just do not care about what language was a particular piece of software implemented in. Users want to be able to install and uninstall with their system's usual tools. Directly using Gems, CPAN, PEAR and whatnot is just unnatural for users, however convenient they are for developers. Distributions offer a non-technical advantage in this regard as well: A human filter. As an example, as I write this there are 19392 Ruby Gems and 19092 Perl modules in CPAN (note that CPAN stores some older versions but discourages authors from keeping too many - So no, they are still very different in size). Debian has around 30,000 packages. Why is that? Because all Debian packages _must_ be human-generated, human-reviewed, human-submitted. This means, a person must think each packaged piece of code is worth packaging, is stable enough and provides value to users as it is, and is fit for being part of a stable release. I am not saying with this that 90% of CPAN and Gems are crap — I am saying that they are probably early implementations, to be installed, tested and improved by developers, and still not apt for general public use. Or maybe not interesting enough to be packaged as a service for the non-techie public at large.
Oh, and one last point: Ruby is not a new language anymore. It is a mature, powerful language with different implementations, every time more stable... But it is a language deeply affected by the (not so new anymore either) the appearance of Rails. Why do I say this? Because although the language is in no way tied to Web development, many of its strongest uses are Web-oriented. How does this affect the current discussion? Well, because many people argue that users are no longer needed to install the software. Web systems are installed by sysadmins and used via a Web browser, and sysadmins are expected be more skilled than casual users. Still, in Debian (and in other distributions, surely) we try to make sysadmin's lives simpler — I have (again, talking out of personal experience) installed several webapps (and system tools, and whatnot) for which I never followed any instructions besides aptitude install foo — Using different languages, frameworks, and so on. Can I troubleshoot their installs? Probably, as there is a common logic for how the distribution I have chosen and specialized in works. Can I find causes for bugs in them? Possibly, although there are some languages and frameworks I dare not touch. Can I get help on getting them out of a tight spot? Surely, as there is a central bug tracking system for my distribution — And one of the maintainer's tasks is to separate the problems related to the distribution (packaging, installing, simple user questions and misconceptions) to those derived from real bugs upstream.
Anyway — I am not saying that our way is the best way. No, by a long shot. Again, developers should have an easy, convenient way for installing whatever they want to play with. And to publish it without jumping through hoops. With this post, I'm only trying to express –again– why Debian works the way it does. And hope for better cooperation in the future.
And as for several comments of what I read in Lucas' post, I think that there is interest for this synergy among some of the most committed Ruby people.
Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 12/14/2010 - 13:58
As I'm not currently working on any suitable paper, I'll just post this to my blog so it does not completely slip off my radar ;-) Also, it might be interesting to my reader. Readers? Oh, there are two of you now? Good!
Yesterday, I learnt thanks to Beatriz Busaniche that a group of South American Free Culture activists launched number zero of a magazine that promises to be very interesting: Cultura RWX, cultura en modo lectura, escritura y acción (culture in reading, writing and action mode). Guys, best luck with this new project!
Anyway, reading it, I found this asseveration I want to keep at hand:
Yes, yes, translating to English:
I have argued (i.e. in here) in this same line regarding the birth of copyright itself — It was an arrangement that had to be made between writers and printers, back in the XVI/XVII centuries. Simple individuals were just unable to get anything of value out of the copying technology they had at hand.
Copyright was born in a time where reproduction required specialized equipment. Today, massive reproduction technology is a given for a good portion of the planet's population. Copyright now only defends big corporations — And will inevitably fade away as anachronic. Of course, it refuses to go without a fight... But it cannot win long-term. We cannot afford to allow it!
Random Acidfree items
Talks, papers and documents by category
Blog posts by category