academic

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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:

Interestingly, these early scribes first did their work by reading out loud to themselves. Not until the ninth century did monastic regulations begin requiring silent reading. By the thirteenth century the practice of men reading silently and alone became commonplace. This shift to silent reading was a profound change, one that Darnton suggested “involved a greater mental adjustment than the shift to printed text”

.

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:

Interestingly, with the democratization of the printed text, there was a return to reading aloud. Reading was a solitary silent process only for the educated elite who could afford to buy books. For the rest of the population, as Darnton pointed out, reading was a social activity which “took place in workshops, barns, and taverns” … [and] “while children played, women sewed, and men repaired tools.”

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:

For several millennia, right up until just two decades ago, the central role of a library was to collect and house physical texts: from clay tablets, to scrolls, to printed books (Battles, 2003; Manguel, 2006). While printed text remains essential to most academic libraries, today’s libraries have also become a core conduit via which researchers access scholarly texts online. Just within the last few years, Canadian academic libraries, in a situation similar to libraries throughout the Western world, have reached an interesting tipping point — librarians now spend the majority of their collections budgets on electronic instead of printed texts.
(…)
Libraries are convinced that digital text, now in its infancy, is likely to have a long future. Not only do they purchase electronic texts, but most academic libraries have also become publishers of electronic texts, whether they are digitizing large portions of their book holdings, or focusing on scanning a relatively small number of archival documents from their unique special collections.

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:

When Apple was rumoured to be working on an e–book reader a few years ago, CEO Steve Jobs expressed his lack of interest: “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he reportedly said, continuing by stating that “40 percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore” (Markoff, 2008). Nicholas Carr (2010) has summed up Apple’s involvement in the tablet phenomenon this way: “Jobs is no dummy. As a text delivery system, the iPad is perfectly suited to readers who don’t read anymore”.

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):

In a study of students at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), the majority of students preferred print, and 63 percent reported that they could bear reading a document on a computer screen for no more than one hour (Ramírez Leyva, 2003). When it comes to course textbooks, a marked student preference for paper over e–books has recently been found (Woody, 2010).

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:

I am worried about kids who are immersed in digital culture. They will get to college and they will have been Twittering so much that they won’t have the patience to read those really long cognitively convoluted and complex sentences. They may not have developed those rich networks which are required in order to read at a high level of sophistication. … The effort is what we are going to lose. They are becoming not so much a lazy reader, but an atrophied reader

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.

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At the panel in the Mexican Senate

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 06/08/2011 - 17:08
At the panel in the Mexican Senate

The discussion panel on Free Software and Society; «Free Software in Mexico: Reflections and Opportunities» forum; June 2, 2011

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At the panel in the Mexican Senate

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 06/08/2011 - 17:08
At the panel in the Mexican Senate

The discussion panel on Free Software and Society; «Free Software in Mexico: Reflections and Opportunities» forum; June 2, 2011

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At the panel in the Mexican Senate

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 06/08/2011 - 17:08
At the panel in the Mexican Senate

The discussion panel on Free Software and Society; «Free Software in Mexico: Reflections and Opportunities» forum; June 2, 2011

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At the panel in the Mexican Senate

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 06/08/2011 - 17:08
At the panel in the Mexican Senate

The discussion panel on Free Software and Society; «Free Software in Mexico: Reflections and Opportunities» forum; June 2, 2011

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Writing limits blues v2

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?

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Writing limits blues

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.

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Thinking about how human-machine interaction is categorized

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 08/23/2010 - 20:54

During DebConf, I managed to squeeze out of the middle of everything for long enough to write a column, a short article for a participation I have every three months, for Mexican Software Gurú magazine. All in all, I liked the resulting text — The current number's main topic is alternative user interfaces.

I find it sometimes hard to define what Software Gurú's audience is — Probably, project leaders in software development; not the actual developers, but people who actually understand about coding... but care more about The Big Picture, Processes, Architecture Engineering and Buzzword Compliance. It is an interesting magazine, all in all, but with a focus and viewpoint I often feel myself not precisely comfortable with.

So, if this trimester's topic was alternative user interfaces, I decided to write on the history and future of the man-machine interface (Spanish only) (version in the magazine's site). My viewpoint comes from the fact that I do not believe we are in a state of so great, innovative changes that everybody is trumpeting, and I'd rather get others to really think on whether user interfaces have gone different in the last decades. Yes, there are many changes, but in form rather than essence.

Anyway, I shared this text with some friends. Some days later, when I was back in Mexico, Pooka/Alejandro Miranda lent me a very interesting book: Hacer clic: Hacia Una Sociosemiotica De Las Interacciones Digitales (Do click: Towards a Socio-semiotics of Digital Interaction (Cibercultura)), by Carlos Scolari. I am not yet even halfway through it, but I am enjoying it — This book speaks, so far, about the meanings of interfaces, and of the history of interfaces themselves, even forgetting that nowadays we (mostly) refer to interfaces as what we have between the man and the machine.

Hacer click (book cover)

Sadly, I cannot find this book in English, as it is very well worth a read. But if the topic sounds interesting and you can understand the language, don't hesitate and pick up the book. It gives an interesting insight on the topic, for a group of people (us techies) used to looking at things in a much more human-cognitive-process-oriented way.

[update] I found this nice overview of the "Hacer clic" book, written as a presentation for the book. It explains precisely the part I am currently reading - The four metafora for interaction: Conversational, instrumental, superficial and spatial.

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We have released!

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 08/02/2010 - 14:25

If you have seen me anywhere near my computer at DebConf, you probably have seen the face of a hurried, worried developer. Still, if you monitor my Debian-related activity, you will notice it is still quite low, even given my (much needed and very much enjoyed) vacations pre-DebConf. Yes, orga-team work is very time consuming, even if my role is far from central this year. And yes, DebCamp+DebConf are known for sucking time into social interaction, which is great but not so (formally) productive. And yes, I even took 1.5 days off to visit my family and a friend who live in the area...

Still, I managed to release! \☺/

Release what?

I have been working with Pooka for the last ~2 years on the Seminary on Collaborative Knowledge Construction. We assembled a group of ~10 speakers/authors, each of whom prepared a chapter for a book meant for publication. Pooka and me coordinated the work, which took a long time because it was also an interaction experiment (and because we both did it only in our free time).

After the coordination work started fading, I took up the task of coming up with a way to translate it all into LaTeX (and fix a host of conversion bugs, and play with the available packages, and... Hey, I'm after all just a LaTeX newbie, and had to learn to tame the beast!), I stumbled upon that precious fact that makes so many projects release.

I stumbled upon a deadline.

We want to publish the book under the seal of IIEc-UNAM. Besides my workplace, it is a very well regarded university, and having its seal in our work is definitively a big plus. And the Publications Committee of my Institute is meeting this week - So I had to send our final manuscript by today.

Having a deadline overlapping with DebConf sucks. But somehow, I managed to do the needed work to my complete satisfaction. The work is now in the Committee's hands, and I expect to have more news soon(ish).

Oh, and where can you get our work? Well, if you register in our site, you will be able to read the whole contents. And once the book is approved and published, the whole work will be published online under a free (CC-BY-SA) license.

BTW, that probably means I will have more time to fix my Debian bugs and pending stuff! \☻/

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Plead for help: Transcriptors for videoconferences (Spanish)

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 03/23/2010 - 17:53

Help! Help! Help wanted! Please help!

Dear world,

As many among you know, I have spent a good portion of the last year (together, of course, with a great and interesting group of people) working on Seminario de Construcción Colaborativa del Conocimiento (Collaborative Construction of Knowledge Seminar, or SECO3), derived from the Encuentro en Línea de Educación y Software Libre (On-line Encounter of Education and Free Software, EDUSOL). We have been working on producing a book that illustrates several different aspects of knowledge-building communities – Among them, of course, the Free Software movement.

Now, we need some help: Although we do have the chapters from most of the authors, some did not manage to produce them. And we are very interested in having them as part of the book as well, even if only as an appendix (as, of course, the kind of work of a transcription is completely different than the ellaboration for a well-rounded and written chapter).

As the little academic I am, I have to request for your help: I have no students assigned to me. But I would love to have interested people on board.

We need to transcribe two of the videoconferences that were given as part of the seminar. Please, if you are interested, contact me so we can arrange (and have no work duplication!)

Thanks a lot,

Authoral rights in the editorial world seminar

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 03/07/2010 - 17:58

I must confess I don't remember who I got this invitation from. Anyway, if you are in the right geographic area, you might be interested. I will try to participate:

This is a year-long seminar that will be held the second Thursday every month at Fonoteca Nacional (a place I have wanted to visit for a long time!), in Barrio de Santa Catarina, Coyoacán. Among the organizers they have Creative Commons Mexico.

Free entrance (but limited space - so they ask interested people to confirm their presence by mail to bvallarta@conaculta.gob.mx).

[update] I went with Pooka to the first session. We arrived almost 1hr late (due to me mistaking the schedule :-/ ) but it was interesting. Of course, quite biased towards the Google viewpoints, but interesting. We got the program for the next sessions — So, mostly for myself to keep handy, here it goes:

Date Title Speakers
2010-03-11 Google and copyright Manuel Tamez, Hugo Contreras, María Fernanda Mendoza
2010-04-08 Generalities about rights on intelectual property Jesús Parets, Guillermo Solórzano, Jorge Mier y Concha
2010-05-13 Copyright's nature and competent authorites Carmen Arteaga, Luis Schmidt, César Callejas
2010-06-10 Moral and patrimonial rights Guillermo Pous, Eduardo de la Parra, Ramón Obón
2010-07-08 Reproduction rights for audible material Álvaro Hegewisch, Óscar Javier Solorio, Marco Antonio Morales, José Ramón Cárdeno
2010-08-12 Licenses and patrimonial right transmission. Works for hire, works done under laboral relationship, or carried out in official service Dolores Franco, Jesús Mejía, Raúl Pastor
2010-09-09 Limits to explotation rights and literary plagiarism Carmen Arteaga, Juan Ramón Obón, Jorge Mier y Concha, César Callejas
2010-10-14 Copyright in a digital setting Jesús Parets, Gastón Esquivel
2010-11-11 Law-regulated intelectual property rights Rosalba Elizalde, Salvador Ortega, Gastón Esquivel, Manrique Moheno
2010-12-09 International protection and collective gestive societies Horacio Rangel, Luis Schmidt, Jesús Mejía
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Computer education parallelisms

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 02/18/2010 - 20:09

I opened Slashdot's «Looking back from the 1980s at computers in education» article because I am quite convinced of the point some of the commenters argued before me, (and it's good to know others think as you do ;-) ) — When I got close to computers, learning computing for children basically meant learning programming in a fun way.

For years, my hobbies included Logo and BASIC. At age 7 (by 1983), typing TeX and using Emacs at the computer of the institute where my father worked, I started walking the path I took for my professional life. When I taught computing to high school students as my first paid job (which didn't last long, only a semester, as for an untrained 20 year old it is very hard to control a group of kids nearly his age), I tried to teach some basic BASIC programming (which was the best I knew then)... But no, both students and the school wanted me to focus on teaching MS Office applications. It seemed stupid for me 14 years ago, and it still seems stupid for me today.

Anyway, on Slashdot, I came across this beautiful way to explain what computer education should mean:

"computing is no longer taught in schools (parents look quizzical), they are simply 'trained' (parents look like they vaguely get it). if this was sex instead of computing that was taught in schools, would you prefer that your kids have sex _education_ or sex _training_? (parents finally get it)".

By the way, if you are interested in reading a bit of paleofuturism, to feel the joy and excitement with which computer-aided education was seen 30 years ago, be sure to get the Classroom Computer News issue for September-October 1980, linked from the Slashdot article (and copied over here for your convenience, of course!)

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Packaging PKP OJS (Open Journals System)

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 01/27/2010 - 15:23

New guidelines for periodic publications' websites at my University favor the different journals we have to use a standardized system — And it makes quite a bit of sense. It is quite hard to explain to the people I work with that the content is not only meant to be consumed by humans, but also by other systems; the reasons behind rich content tagging and deep hierarchies for what they would just see as a list of words (think list of authors for an article, list of keywords, and so on). After all, aggregator databases such as Latindex and SciELO have achieved getting this understanding through.

And I must be quite grateful, as the University's guidelines point to what appears to be a very well-thought and thorough system, the Open Journal Systems by the Public Knowledge Project, co-funded by several well-regarded universities. OJS is a GPL-2-covered PHP bundle.

Anyway… I am very glad at least one of my Institute's journal accepted the challenge and decided to go OJS. I know I will quite probably be administering this system long-term. And, being as snobbish as I am, I know I loathe anything installed in my machines that is not either developed by myself or comes in a Debian package. So, as it was not packaged, I made the package ☺

Note that I am still not filing an ITP (which means, I have not yet decided whether I will upload this to Debian) because I want first to make sure I do have the needed long-term commitment — Besides, I am by far not a PHP person, and being responsible for a package… Carries a nontrivial weight. Still, you might be interested in getting it. If you are interested, you can either download the .deb package or add it to your apt repositories (and stay updated with any new releases), by adding this to your /etc/apt/sources.list:

deb http://www.iiec.unam.mx/apt/ lenny misc
deb-src http://www.iiec.unam.mx/apt/ lenny misc

Note: My packaging has still a small bug: The installer fails to create the PostgreSQL database. The MySQL database works fine. I will look into it soon

So far, I am quite impressed with this program's functionality and the depth/quality of its (online) documentation. Besides, its usage statistics speak for themselves:

So, it is quite possible I will be uploading this into Debian in a couple of weeks (hopefully in time to be considered for Squeeze). The reasons I am making it available in my personal repository now is:

  • I want to make it available for other Debian- and Ubuntu- users in my University, as I am sure several people will be installing it soon. And after apt-getting it, it is just ready to be used right away.
  • As I said, I am no PHP guy. So if you want to criticize my packaging (and even my minor patch, fixing a silly detail that comes from upstream's bundling of several PHP and Javascript libraries, and those libraries' authors not sticking to a published API in a well-distributed version), please go ahead!
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EDUSOL almost over - Some highlights

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 11/19/2009 - 22:16

Whew!

Is it karma or what? What makes me get involved in two horribly complex, two-week-long conferences, year after year? Of course, both (DebConf and EDUSOL) are great fun to be part of, and both have greatly influenced both my skills and interests.

Anyway, this is the fifth year we hold EDUSOL. Tomorrow we will bring the two weeks of activities to an end, hold the last two videoconferences, and —finally— declare it a done deal. I must anticipate the facts and call it a success, as it clearly will be recognized as such.

One of the most visible —although we insist, not the core— activities of the Encounter are the videoconferences. They are certainly among the most complex. And the videoconferences' value is greatly enhanced because, even if they are naturally a synchronous activity (it takes place at a given point in time), they live on after they are held: I do my best effort to publish them as soon as possible (less than one day off), and they are posted to their node, from where comments can continue. This was the reason, i.e., why we decided to move at the last minute tomorrow's conference: Due to a misunderstanding, Beatriz Busaniche (a good friend of ours and a very reknown Argentinian Free Software promotor, from Via Libre) thought her talk would be held today, and we had programmed her for tomorrow. No worries - We held it today, and it is already online for whoever wants to take part :-)

So, I don't want to hold this any longer (I will link to the two conferences that I'm still missing from this same entry). Here is the list of (and links to) videoconferences we have held.

Tuesday 2009-11-17
Wednesday 2009-11-18
Thursday 2009-11-19
Friday 2009-11-20

As two last notes:

Regarding the IRC interaction photos I recently talked about, we did a very kewl thing: Take over 2000 consecutive photos and put them together on a stack. Flip them one at a time. What do you get? But of course — A very fun to view and interesting interaction video! We have to hand-update it and it is a bit old right now, but nevertheless, it is very interesting as it is.

Finally... I must publicly say I can be quite an asshole. And yes, I know I talked this over privately with the affected people and they hold no grudge against me... But still - yesterday we had an IRC talk about NING Latin American Moodlers, by Lucía Osuna (Venezuela) and Maryel Mendiola (Mexico). One of the points they raised was they were working towards (and promoting) a Moodle certification. And... Yes, I recognize I cannot hear the mention of the certification word without jumping and saying certifications are overrated. Well, but being tired, and not being really thoughtful... I should have known where to stop, where it was enough of a point made. I ended up making Maryel and Lucía feel attacked during their own presentation, and that should have never happened. A public and heartfelt apology to them :-(

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Among the reasons that brought me to Debian...

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 10/19/2009 - 23:42

Every now and then, people ask me why Debian? Why, among so many projects to choose from, I first liked, then got into, and finally I got committed into Debian, and not anything else?

Of course, one of the main points —back in 2000-2001 when I started using it, and still to this very day— is a strong identification with the ideological side. Yes, I am a strong Free Software believer, and Debian is what best suites my ideology.

Still, I did not only get into Debian because of this — And I was reminded about this by an article in this month's Usenix ;login: magazine: An anecdotal piece by Thomas A. Limoncelli titled Hey! I have to install and maintain this crap too, ya know! (article requires ;login: subscription, but I'll be glad to share it with whoever requests it to me — I have of course no permission to openly put it here in whole online. Yes, I am expressly sending a copy of this text to the author, I will update this if/when I hear from him) [update] The author has kindly allowed me to redistribute his article's PDF — Download it here.

Before anything else… I'll go on a short digression: I am writing a bit regarding the Free Software participants' culture, and this is a trait I love about it: The lack of formality. Even though ;login: (and Usenix as a whole) is not exactly Free Software, it runs quite close to it), it is a well regarded magazine (and association) with an academic format and good (not deep or highly theoretical, but good) contents. Still, it is quite usual to see titles as informal and inviting as this one. And it happens not only here — I have been fearing having to explain at work, over and over, why I have requesting permissions to go to Yet Another Perl Conference, Festival de Software Libre or DebCamp, tagging them as academic settings. Or why I am wasting our library's resources on buying cookbooks, recipes and similar material on the most strange-sounding subjects.

Anyway, back on track… This article I found refers to the lack of value given to the system administrator's time when selling or purchasing (or more in general, as it happens also in Free Software, when offering or adopting) a product. Quoting Thomas:

A person purchasing a product is focused on the features and benefits and the salesperson is focused on closing the deal. If the topic of installation does come up, a user thinks, “Who cares! My sysadmin will install it for me!” as if such services are free. Ironically, it is the same non-technical executive who dismisses installation and upkeep as if they are “free” who might complain that IT costs are too high and go on a quest to kill IT spending. But I digress.

I can understand why a product might be difficult to install. It is hard enough to write software, and with the shortage of software developers it seems perfectly reasonable that the installation script becomes an afterthought, possibly given to a low-ranking developer. The person purchasing the product usually requires certain features, and ease of installation is not a consideration during the procurement process. However, my ability to install a product affects my willingness to purchase more of the product.

Thomas goes on to explain his experience with Silicon Graphics, how Irix was so great regarding install automation and how they blew it when switching to Windows NT; talks very briefly about IBM AIX's smit, a very nifty sysadmin aid which is basically a point-and-click interface to system administration with the very nice extra that allows you to view the commands smit executes to perform a given action (and then you can copy into a script and send over to your hundreds of AIX machines)… Incidentally, by the time I started digging out of what became the RedHat mess of the late 1990s and passed briefly through OpenBSD on my way to Debian enlightenment, I was temporarily the sysadmin for an AIX machine — And I too loved this Smit approach, having it as the ultimate pedagogical tool you could ever find.

Anyway, I won't comment and paraphrase the full article. I'll just point out to the fact that… this was what ultimately sold me into Debian. The fact that I could just install anything and (by far) most of the times it will be configured and ready to use. Debian made my life so much easier! As a sysadmin, I didn't have to download, browse documentation, scratch head, redo from start until I got a package working — Just apt-get into it, and I'd be set. Of course, one of the bits I learnt back then was that Debian was for lazy people — Everything works in a certain way. Policy is enforced throughout.

So as a sysadmin, I should better get well acquinted with the Debian policy and know it by heart. In order to be able to enjoy my laziness, I should read it and study it. And so I did, and fell in love. And that is where my journey into becoming a Debian Developer started.

Why am I talking so nostalgic here? Because I got this magazine on the mail just last weekend… And coincidentally, I also got bug report #551258 — I packaged and uploaded the Haml Ruby library (Gem, as the Rubyists would call it). Haml is a great, succint markup language which makes HTML generation less of a mess. It is even fun and amazing to write Haml, and the result is always nicely formatted, valid HTML! And well, one of Haml's components is haml-elisp, the Emacs Lisp major mode to do proper syntax highlighting in Haml files.

Of course, I am an Emacs guy (and have been for over 25 years), so I had to package it. But I don't do Emacs Lisp! So I just stuffed the file in its (supposed) place, copying some stuff over from other Emacs packages. During DebConf, I got the very valuable help of Axel Beckert to fix a simple bug which prevented my package from properly being installed, and thought I was basically done with it. I was happy just to add this to my ~/.emacs and get over with it:

  1. (require 'haml-mode)
  2. (add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.haml$" . haml-mode))
  3. (require 'sass-mode)
  4. (add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.sass$" . sass-mode))

However… As Mike Castleman points out: This requires manual intervention. So it is not the Debian Way!

Reading Mike's bug report, and reading Thomas' article, made me realize I was dilluting something I held so dearly as to commit myself to the best Free Software-based distribution out there. And the solution, of course, was very simple: Debian allows us to be very lazy, not only as sysadmins, but as Debian packagers. Just drop this (simplified version) as $pkgroot/debian/haml-elisp.emacsen.startup and you are set!

  1. (let ((package-dir (concat "/usr/share/"
  2. (symbol-name flavor)
  3. "/site-lisp/haml-elisp")))
  4. ;; If package-dir does not exist, the haml-mode package must have
  5. ;; removed but not purged, and we should skip the setup.
  6. (when (file-directory-p package-dir)
  7. ;; Use debian-pkg-add-load-path-item per §9 of debian emacs subpolicy
  8. (debian-pkg-add-load-path-item package-dir )
  9. (autoload 'haml-mode "haml-mode"
  10. "Major mode for editing haml-mode files." t)
  11. (add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.haml\\'" . haml-mode))
  12. ;; The same package provides HAML and SASS modes in the same
  13. ;; directory - So repeat only the last two instructions for sass
  14. (autoload 'sass-mode "sass-mode"
  15. "Major mode for editing sass-mode files." t)
  16. (add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.sass\\'" . sass-mode))
  17. ))

This will make the package just work as soon as it is installed, with no manual intervention required from the user. And it does not, contrary to what I feared, bloat up Emacs — Adding it to the auto-mode-alist leaves it as known to Emacs, but is not loaded or compiled unless it is required.

Deepest thanks to both of you! (and of course, thanks also to Manoj, for pointing out at the right spells in emacs-land)

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