academic

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Dear lazyweb: How would you visualize..?

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 03/24/2017 - 15:46

Dear lazyweb,

I am trying to get a good way to present the categorization of several cases studied with a fitting graph. I am rating several vulnerabilities / failures according to James Cebula et. al.'s paper, A taxonomy of Operational Cyber Security Risks; this is a somewhat deep taxonomy, with 57 end items, but organized in a three levels deep hierarchy. Copying a table from the cited paper (click to display it full-sized):

My categorization is binary: I care only whether it falls within a given category or not. My first stab at this was to represent each case using a star or radar graph. As an example:

As you can see, to a "bare" star graph, I added a background color for each top-level category (blue for actions of people, green for systems and technology failures), red for failed internal processes and gray for external events), and printed out only the labels for the second level categories; for an accurate reading of the graphs, you have to refer to the table and count bars. And, yes, according to the Engineering Statistics Handbook:

Star plots are helpful for small-to-moderate-sized multivariate data sets. Their primary weakness is that their effectiveness is limited to data sets with less than a few hundred points. After that, they tend to be overwhelming.

I strongly agree with the above statement — And stating that "a few hundred points" can be understood is even an overstatement. 50 points are just too much. Now, trying to increase usability for this graph, I came across the Sunburst diagram. One of the proponents for this diagram, John Stasko, has written quite a bit about it.

Now... How to create my beautiful Sunburst diagram? That's a tougher one. Even though the page I linked to in the (great!) Data visualization catalogue presents even some free-as-in-software tools to do this... They are Javascript projects that will render their beautiful plots (even including an animation)... To the browser. I need them for a static (i.e. to be printed) document. Yes, I can screenshot and all, but I want them to be automatically generated, so I can review and regenerate them all automatically. Oh, I could just write JSON and use SaaS sites such as Aculocity to do the heavy-lifting, but if you know me, you will understand why I don't want to.

So... I set out to find a Gunnar-approved way to display the information I need. Now, as the Protovis documentation says, an icicle is simply a sunburst transformed from polar to cartesian coordinates... But I came to a similar conclusion: The tools I found are not what I need. OK, but an icicle graph seems much simpler to produce — I fired up my Emacs, and started writing using Ruby, RMagick and RVG... I decided to try a different way. This is my result so far:

So... What do you think? Does this look right to you? Clearer than the previous one? Worst? Do you have any idea on how I could make this better?

Oh... You want to tell me there is something odd about it? Well, yes, of course! I still need to tweak it quite a bit. Would you believe me if I told you this is not really a left-to-right icicle graph, but rather a strangely formatted Graphviz non-directed graph using the dot formatter?

I can assure you you don't want to look at my Graphviz sources... But in case you insist... Take them and laugh. Or cry. Of course, this file comes from a hand-crafted template, but has some autogenerated bits to it. I have still to tweak it quite a bit to correct several of its usability shortcomings, but at least it looks somewhat like what I want to achieve.

Anyway, I started out by making a "dear lazyweb" question. So, here it goes: Do you think I'm using the right visualization for my data? Do you have any better suggestions, either of a graph or of a graph-generating tool?

Thanks!

[update] Thanks for the first pointer, Lazyweb! I found a beautiful solution; we will see if it is what I need or not (it is too space-greedy to be readable... But I will check it out more thoroughly). It lays out much better than anything I can spew out by myself — Writing it as a mindmap using TikZ directly from within LaTeX, I get the following result:

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Much belated book presentation, this Saturday

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 02/28/2017 - 00:21

Once again, I'm making an announcement mainly for my local circle of friends and (gasp!) followers. For those of you over 100Km away from Mexico City, please disregard this message.

Back in July 2015, and after two years of hard work, my university finished the publishing step of my second book. This is a textbook for the subject I teach at Computer Engineering: Operating Systems Fundamentals.

The book is, from its inception, fully available online under a permissive (CC-BY) license. One of the books aimed contributions is to present a text natively written in Spanish. Besides, our goal (I coordinated a team of authors, working with two colleagues from Rosario, Argentina, and one from Cauca, Colombia) was to provide a book students can easily and legally share with no legal issues.

I have got many good reviews so far, and after teaching based on it for four years (while working on it and after its publication), I can attest the material is light enough to fit in a Bachelors level degree, while it's deep enough to make our students sweat healthily ;-)

Anyway: I have been scheduled to present the book at my university's main book show, 38 Feria Internacional del Libro del Palacio de Minería this Saturday, 2017.03.04 16:00; Salón Manuel Tolsá. What's even better: This time, I won't be preparing a speech! The book will be presented by my two very good friends, José María Serralde and Rolando Cedillo. Both of them are clever, witty, fun, and a real honor to work with. Of course, having them present our book is more than a double honor.

So, everybody who can make it: FIL Minería is always great and fun. Come share the love! Come have a book! Or, at least, have a good time and a nice chat with us!

Book presentation by @arenitasoria: Hacker ethics, security and surveillance

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 11/17/2016 - 14:24

At the beginning of this year, Irene Soria invited me to start a series of talks on the topic of hacker ethics, security and surveillance. I presented a talk titled Cryptography and identity: Not everything is anonymity.

The talk itself is recorded and available in archive.org (sidenote: I find it amazing that Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana uses archive.org as their main multimedia publishing platform!)

But as part of this excercise, Irene invited me to write a chapter for a book covering the series. And, yes, she delivered!

So, finally, we will have the book presentation:

I know, not everybody following my posts (that means... Only those at or near Mexico City) will be able to join. But the good news: The book, as soon as it is presented, will be published under a CC BY-SA license. Of course, I will notify when it is ready.

Talking about the Debian keyring in Investigaciones Nucleares, UNAM

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 08/17/2016 - 13:47

For the readers of my blog that happen to be in Mexico City, I was invited to give a talk at Instituto de Ciencias Nucleares, Ciudad Universitaria, UNAM.

I will be at Auditorio Marcos Moshinsky, on August 26 starting at 13:00. Auditorio Marcos Moshinsky is where we met for the early (~1996-1997) Mexico Linux User Group meetings. And... Wow. I'm amazed to realize it's been twenty years that I arrived there, young and innocent, the newest of what looked like a sect obsessed with world domination and a penguin fetish.

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Answering to a CACM «Viewpoint»: on the patent review process

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 06/21/2016 - 23:40

I am submitting a comment to Wen Wen and Chris Forman's Viewpoint on the Communications of the ACM, titled Economic and business dimensions: Do patent commons and standards-setting organizations help navigate patent thickets?. I believe my comment is worth sharing a bit more openly, so here it goes. Nevertheless, please refer to the original article; it makes very interesting and valid points, and my comment should be taken as an extra note on a great text only!

I was very happy to see an article with this viewpoint published. This article, however, mentions some points I believe should be further stressed out as problematic and important. Namely, still at the introduction, after mentioning that patents «are intended to provide incentives for innovation by granting to inventors temporary monopoly rights», the next paragraph continues, «The presence of patent thickets may create challenges for ICT producers. When introducing a new product, a firm must identify patents its product may infringe upon.»

The authors continue explaining the needed process — But this simple statement should be enough to explain how the patent system is broken and needs repair.

A requisite for patenting an invention was originally the «inventive» and «non-obvious» characteristics. Anything worth being granted a patent should be inventive enough, it should be non-obvious to an expert in the field.

When we see huge bodies of awarded (and upheld) patents falling in the case the authors mention, it becomes clear that the patent applications were not thoroughly researched prior to their patent grant. Sadly, long gone are the days where the United States Patent and Trademarks Office employed minds such as Albert Einstein's; nowadays, the office is more a rubber-stamping bureaucracy where most patents are awarded, and this very important requisite is left open to litigation: If somebody is found in breach of a patent, they might choose to defend the issue that the patent was obvious to an expert. But, of course, that will probably cost more in legal fees than settling for an agreement with the patent holder.

The fact that in our line of work we must take care to search for patents before releasing any work speaks a lot about the process. Patents are too easily granted. They should be way stricter; the occurence of an independent developer mistakenly (and innocently!) breaching a patent should be most unlikely, as patents should only be awarded to truly non-obvious solutions.

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 ☺)

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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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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At my Specialization exam: The Jury awards me the title!

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 05/27/2015 - 21:21
At my Specialization exam: The Jury awards me the title!
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At my Specialization exam: Listening to the Jury's veredict: Approved!

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 05/27/2015 - 21:21
At my Specialization exam: Listening to the Jury's veredict: Approved!
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In preparation for my Specialization exam...

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 05/27/2015 - 21:19
In preparation for my Specialization exam...
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In preparation for my Specialization exam...

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 05/27/2015 - 21:17
In preparation for my Specialization exam...
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Feeling somewhat special

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 05/19/2015 - 18:36

Today I feel more special than I have ever felt.

Or... Well, or something like that.

Thing is, there is no clear adjective for this — But I successfully finished my Specialization degree! Yes, believe it or not, today I can formally say I am Specialist in Informatic Security and Information Technologies (Especialista en Seguridad Informática y Tecnologías de la Información), as awarded by the Higher School of Electric and Mechanic Engineering (Escuela Superior de Ingeniería Mecánica y Eléctrica) of the National Polytechnical Institute (Instituto Politécnico Nacional).

In Mexico and most Latin American countries, degrees are usually incorporated to your name as if they were a nobiliary title. Thus, when graduating from Engineering studies (pre-graduate universitary level), I became "Ingeniero Gunnar Wolf". People graduating from further postgraduate programs get to introduce themselves as "Maestro Foobar Baz" or "Doctor Quux Noox". And yes, a Specialization is a small posgraduate program (I often say, the smallest possible posgraduate). And as a Specialist... What can I brag about? Can say I am Specially Gunnar Wolf? Or Special Gunnar Wolf? Nope. The honorific title for a Specialization is a pointer to null, and when casted into a char* it might corrupt your honor-recognizing function. So I'm still Ingeniero Gunnar Wolf, for information security reasons.

So that's the reason I am now enrolled in the Masters program. I hope to write an addenda to this message soonish (where soonish ≥ 18 months) saying I'm finally a Maestro.

As a sidenote, many people asked me: Why did I take on the specialization, which is a degree too small for most kinds of real work recognition? Because it's been around twenty years since I last attended a long-term scholar program as a student. And my dish is quite full with activities and responsabilities. I decided to take a short program, designed for 12 months (I graduated in 16, minus two months that the university was on strike... Quite good, I'd say ;-) ) to see how I fared on it, and only later jumping on the full version.

Because, yes, to advance my career at the university, I finally recognized and understood that I do need postgraduate studies.

Oh, and what kind of work did I do for this? Besides the classes I took, I wrote a thesis on a model for evaluating covert channels for establishing secure communications.

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