Debian

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Thanks, Debian!

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 08/18/2010 - 08:00

This Monday, Debian celebrated its 17th birthday. Yay!

I was invited to celebrate the birthday at HacklabZAM, but could not make it due to the time (17:00-19:00, and I was just leaving work by 19:00), but still, had some beers with long-time geekish friends Iván Chavero, Rolando Cedillo, Manuel Rabade and Odín Mojica. Nice hanging around, good beer+pizza time, and explicit congratulations to Debian.

On the Debian front, Margarita Manterola, Maximiliano Curia, Valessio Brito and Raphael Geissert came up with a very fun Debian appreciation day page. It even included a (slight) hijacking of the bug tracking system's Web interface, showing happy fun balloons! Guys, thanks for a good laugh, and thanks for providing a vehicle for getting the users' thanks to the project!

All in all, that was a great reminder to what we have been repeating as a mantram throughout the last years: Lets keep Debian fun!

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Back home, back from DebConf – And, hopefully, cleaner than ever!

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 08/10/2010 - 00:44

So, DebConf time is over once again. The two weeks worth of fifty weeks waiting are left behind once again, and it's back to get back to normal. DebConf was great — Yes, it always is, and that's what we are all saying, but hey - Seriously! Being in the same building than 300 crazed developers is always fun, and it's always better than last year's fun. A good highlight this year is that, given the number of Free Software and Free Culture groups that exist in USA's north-eastern coast, we had the opportunity to join a large crowd which has never been part of DebConf. Also, I must agree that the USA bid for DebConf was aiming to attract as many Debian people (developers, maintainers, or just happy users) which had not yet been to a DebConf before as possible. And it was a great success! I finally met several people I have long read in the mailing lists, in blogs or in IRC. A much higher proportion than usual, I'd venture to say. Another interesting phenomenon /methinks is that this year's DebCamp started much more staffed than usual: I arrived on the first day, Sunday 25, and there were ~40 people there already; I don't have the actual numbers, but we quickly grew, and the number started to stabilize past mid-week, only to (sharply) rise in the weekend, in time for DebianDay and DebConf start. Great time!

But, they say, nobody can go to the USA without buying some sweet toys, right?

Well, being the proud owner of six very hairy cats, I have thought into entering the looming and weaving industry... But cat hair, while abundant, I have heard is untreadable... Maybe due to the indisciplined, natural and independent personality of the cats (catonality should I say?)...

So I had two choices: Clean up my home quite often, or live in a –literally– hairy mess.

Enter choice #3: The Roomba!

I had been waiting to buy this thing for several years, as they refuse to send to Mexico or charge Mexican cards. So, I walked across Manhattan and got my very own robot cleaner!

For my further surprise, although I have not yet tried it (I don't even have a suitable cable yet), I found this:

Yay, the Roomba is actually hackable (via a 7 pin miniDIN serial port)! Wikipedia says that:

Roomba comes with a Mini-DIN TTL serial interface, which is incompatible with standard PC/Mac serial ports and cables, both electrically and physically. However, third-party adapters are available to access the Roomba's computer via Bluetooth, USB, or RS-232 (PC/Mac serial). New, 500-series, and 410/420 series Roombas upgraded with the OSMO hacker device allow the user to monitor Roomba's many sensors and modify its behavior. The Roomba Open Interface (formerly "Roomba Serial Command Interface") API allows programmers and roboticists to create their own enhancements to Roomba. (…)

My first impressions? Well, the Roomba lazily charged its battery throughout the day today, and was hungry and ready when I arrived home. It is a but louder than what I expected, and –of course– my cats were not thrilled by the presence of a eighth animated and apparently sentient being at home. Their initial reaction was –of course– to be verrry alert of the thing. Twelve eyes were constantly pointing at the Roomba while mine alternated between them. As they measured the thing's speed and (I guess) inferred its movement patterns, they started escaping upstairs – A flat, round thing with no legs to be seen will not likely be able to climb the stairs. And they were completely right. At first, only Chupchic remained downstairs. After a bit, I went up to show them the Roomba didn't jump on us to eat our brains, and after a bit, Santa and Macusa joined. The Roomba roombed for maybe 90 minutes (this space is large, and decided it was enough... And slowly, the rest of them started coming down.

I would not say Roomba's cleaning is perfect, of course. Its room discovery algorithm is funny, and it even seems it's based on the mere chance of covering most (never all) of the space it has to clean. I had, of course, not fully studied it (after a single run, how could I?). It does make a honestly good attempt at cleaning under coaches, chairs and tables. It collected a fair amount of dust (on a house that seemed quite clean to me, I cannot imagine what would happen on a messy one). I have not yet played with the virtual walls (infrared transmitters which limit rooms as if a door was closed), but given the size of this house (and that I don't want it to clean around the cats' designated bathroom area), I guess I will end up using them regularly.

During DebConf, I heard one bad (stupid useless noisy thing) and two very good (it has radically changed my life) comments on the Roomba. I hope to shift the balance towards 3/4 and not towards 2/2!

Anyways... Thanks to each and every one of you. DebConf is great. Always great. Always a success. I cannot even thank specific teams. Debian Rules, and DebConf Rocks!

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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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Running around

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 07/27/2010 - 19:53

If Tim can report his movements around New York, so can I! ;-) Sadly, due to Nokia deprecating my still-quite-new N95 phone by not allowing me to use their service anymore, I won't be able to share my routes with you – But anyway…

This morning I decided to take a quick run to start off the day on Riverside Park (the park where we had dinner yesterday). I went South for about 3Km and headed back (for, you guessed right, a grand total of 6Km), and decided that 45 minutes of exercising are enough to declare my day started - As I started at ~8:15, it was getting warm (specially when running under the sun). I am quite heath-intolerant; it's not unpleasant at all, but I will try to run earlier on future days.

Riverside is a long and narrow park. I ran Southwards by the lower trail, in the park itself, but ran Northwards by the upper trail, in the wide sidewalk between the street and the park. The way South was also way flatter, while the way back goes up and down repeatedly.

I don't think I will run on a daily basis, but that will be determined by my mood when I open my eyes in the morning ;-) Anyway, riverside is a very nice run, and I expect to head North. I still am not back to running ~10Km, so I won't do the Central Park trail Tim did - But I'll surely go run there as well a bit. And rent a bike one of this days for a ~2hr morning ride, of course!

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New York at last!

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 07/26/2010 - 13:36

I spent the past three weeks away from basically any kind of usual contact. I took a three week vacation in Argentina (Buenos Aires, Entre Ríos, Tucumán, Salta, Jujuy, Córdoba), got my first snow experience and enjoyed a real lot... But got completely disconnected from all of my usual activities... and responsabilities :-}

Anyway, yesterday afternoon I landed in New York. Arrived to Columbia around 2PM, and spent most of the day zombying around with the Debian crew. And today it starts feeling like the real job is starting.

As always, there is a lot of excitement when DebConf starts. I have many items I want to work on, and most are even Debian related ;-) So, lets get work flowing!

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Debian by its numbers, as seen by keyring-maint

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 07/02/2010 - 14:24

At keyring-maint, we got a request by our DPL, querying for the evolution of the number of keys per keyring – This can be almost-mapped to the number of Debian Developers, Debian Maintainers, retired and deleted accounts over time since the keyrings are maintained over version control.

Stefano insisted this was more out of curiosity than anything else, but given the task seemed easy enough, I came up with the following dirty thingy. I'm sure there are better ways than cruising through the whole Bazaar history, but anyway - In case you want to play, you can clone an almost-up-to-date copy of the tree: bzr clone http://bzr.debian.org/keyring/debian-keyring/

  1. #!/bin/perl
  2. use strict;
  3. my ($lastrev, @keyrings, %revs, $fh);
  4. open $fh, '>growth_stats.txt' or die $!;
  5.  
  6. @keyrings = sort qw(debian-keyring-gpg debian-keyring-pgp
  7. debian-maintainers-gpg
  8. emeritus-keyring-gpg emeritus-keyring-pgp
  9. removed-keys-gpg removed-keys-pgp);
  10.  
  11. system('bzr unbind'); # Huge speed difference :-P
  12. $lastrev = `bzr revno`;
  13.  
  14. for my $entry (split /^---+$/m, `bzr log`) {
  15. my ($rev, $stamp);
  16. for my $line (split(/\n/, $entry)) {
  17. next unless $line =~ /^(revno|timestamp): (.*)/;
  18. $rev = $2 if $1 eq 'revno';
  19. $stamp = $2 if $1 eq 'timestamp';
  20. }
  21. $revs{$rev} = { stamp => $stamp };
  22. }
  23.  
  24. spew('Revision', 'Date', @keyrings);
  25. system('bzr bind')
  26.  
  27. for my $rev (sort {$a<=>$b} keys %revs) {
  28. system("bzr update -r $rev");
  29. spew($rev, $revs{$rev}{stamp},
  30. map {my @keys=<$_/*>;scalar(@keys)} @keyrings);
  31. }
  32.  
  33. sub spew {
  34. print $fh join('|', @_),"\n"
  35. }

And as a result... Yes, I fired up OpenOffice instead of graphing from within Perl, which could even have been less painful ;-) I had intended to leave graphing the data raw (also attached here) as an excercise to the [rl]eader... But anyway, the result is here (click to view it in full resolution, I don't want to mess your reading experience with a >1000px wide image):

A couple of notes:

  • Debian Developers are close to the sum of debian-keyrings-pgp and debian-keyrings-gpg
  • After a long time pestering developers (and you can see how far down the tail we were!), as of today, debian-keyrings-pgp will cease to exist. That means, no more old, v3, vulnerable keys. Yay! All the credit goes to Jonathan. Some last DDs using it are still migrating, but we will get them hopefully soon.
  • To be fair... No, the correct number is not the sum. Some people had more than one key (i.e. when we had ~200 keys in debian-keyring-pgp). The trend is stabilizing.
  • Of course, the {removed-keys,emeritus-keyring}-{pgp,gpg} will continue to grow. Most removed keys are a result of tons of people migrating over from 1024D to stronger 4096R keys
  • You can easily see the points where we have removed inactive developers (i.e. the main WAT lack-of-response, as seen at about ¾ of the graph)
  • keyring-maint handles the Debian Maintainers keyring since late 2009. There is a sensible increase (~10% in six months), although I expected to see that line grow more. I think it's safe to say the rate of influx of DMs is similar to the rate of influx of DDs - Of course, many DMs become DDs, so the amount of new blood might be (almost) the sum of the two positive slopes?

Anyway, have fun with this. Graphics are always fun!

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I, for one, welcome our new Italian overlord

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 04/16/2010 - 08:36

The 2010 Debian Project Leader election is over! (but the page is not yet updated – Try here

Thanks to Steve McIntyre for two long years of good work

And, of course, congratulations to Stefano Zacchirioli! I, for one, welcome our new Italian overlord.

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Getting away from Panamá

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 03/17/2010 - 13:40

Several months ago, around the Central American Free Software Encounter (ECSL) in Estelí, Nicaragua, I started stirring the waters — The Central American regions have vibrant, beautiful Free Software communities, but have mostly (with some very notable examples, of course) shied away from being active participants in major development projects. What was I to do about it? Of course, try to get them to become Debian contributors!

During the following weeks, I talked about it with several friends from the region, and the result was an announcement and lots of arguments that followed it. Panamá was decided as the host country, and many people have put a lot of work into making the MiniDebConf happen.

Mauro Rosero and Anto Recio came up with what appears to be a wonderful local venue and a set of sponsored amenities, and the Debian project is sponsoring what is needed in terms of transportation for people from the whole region (spanning from Mexico to Ecuador and Venezuela IIRC).

I am very sorry, however, that I cannot attend this meeting. This very same weekend, I will fly three hours, but in the opposite direction: I will go to Tijuana, where fate decided I will present my first round of CENEVAL equivalence exams (Acuerdo 286 Licenciatura). I expect that to be the topic of another post, to come soon.

So, while my friends will be having a good time and talking about Debian and group work, I will sit through three periods of four hours, answering an exam for the first time in a very long time. Fun, hah? Anyway, I will meet Guillermo Amaral (thanks for hosting me! ;-) ), which ensures I will not miss all of the fun ;-)

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OpenSSH 5.4 and netcat mode

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 03/08/2010 - 12:32

The release of OpenSSH 5.4 was announced today. Its announced features include many small improvements, in usability and in crypto strength.

One of my favorite tricks using ssh is what Ganneff named ssh jumphosts – Many (most?) of my machines are not directly accessible from across the firewall, so the ability to specify in the configuration files where to jump through is most welcome. Well, with this "netcat mode" it will be much clearer to read and less of a hack… Of course, it loses a bit of the hackish æsthetic value, but becomes easier!

(yes, this post is basically a marker so I remember about it — But others might find it interesting)

I am going to DebConf 10!

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 03/05/2010 - 19:17

Yay!

I'm going to DebConf10, the 2010 edition of the annual Debian developers meeting

The ticket is ready, and the long trip is getting closer.

Long trip? Won't most Debianers have a longer trip than me this time? Nope, not by far – My University will be on vacations starting July 3, and it is three weeks before DebConf... So I will be travelling Southwards before :-)

Details will follow later. Suffice to say that I am more than happy to announce that... I am definitively going to DebConf10!

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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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Internationalizing into your local customs

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 12/30/2009 - 14:08

It seems strange to me. I don't think I know people as aware of internationalization issues as Bubulle, a.k.a. Christian PERRIER, and I have the feeling his last post regarding how he shall address himself is somewhat short-sighted. That might just mean I am in an even worse position.

First, I recognize Christian's concern, but not only when dealing with people from around the globe – It happens in my everyday life. When you show an ID stating Gunnar Eyal Wolf Iszaevich, the first reaction is a blank stare of disbelief, only to be followed by a question: So, what is your name?

So I understand Christian wants to make it easier for people to guess what his name is in the least obtrusive way possible. I have seen the convention he suggests (uppercasing the family name) AFAICT used by French and Japanese people. But for me, it is intuitively backwards. If I were to emphasize a part of my name, it would be the part by which I expect people to address me with – I would write GUNNAR Wolf. And yes, I usually leave out my second given name and my mother's family name, as it is customary here.

Well, anyway... Reading my name, few people would guess I live in Mexico. Even fewer will believe I was born here. And if somebody calls me by the wrong part of my name, I won't feel at all offended. I strongly prefer my name to be used, as I like to be addressed casually, but quite often I am introduced as Dr. Wolf, in what at most would be an ex-profeso honoris causas doctorate, or at least an ignoratis causas one.

Source format 3.0 (quilt) for teh win!

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 11/25/2009 - 14:26

My Debian QA page shows what I consider to be a huge amount of packages — I am currently uploader for 207 packages. Why so many? There are many factors — The main one is group maintenance (I'm directly responsible only for 19; of course, this should not mean I disregard the rest of them), the second one is regularity. By far, most of my source packages (177) match lib.*perl, followed by lib.*ruby with 20.

Anyway — A strong factor that allows the pkg-perl group to be successful in maintaining 1411 packages is the regularity of the task: Packaging Perl modules is usually as easy as running dh-make-perl on them (of course, not taking away the merit of packaging the few strange corner cases…

In Ruby-land, the landscape is quite different. The developer community is quite anchored in agile worldviews, which go beyond coding practices and all the way over to confronting the way most Free Software projects distribute their work. I have previously ranted presented informed and opinionated blog posts on this topic — Ruby culture dictates the distribution via Ruby Gems, which are for many reasons not Debian friendly. Besides Gems, most projects have adopted Git for development tracking and are hosted under Github — That's why I came up with Githubredir, which basically presents an uscan-friendly listing of tags for a given project.

But if you develop in Git, you might want to split a project in its constituent parts for easier organization, without meaning that each subproject should be an independent project by itself, right? After all, that's what Git submodules are for. That's what happened with a great PDF generating library for Ruby, Prawn. Thing is, the three parts of the main project are required for the project to be built.

Anyway, that was a great reason to move the package over to the new dpkg 3.0 (quilt) source format. And, yes, it is a straightforward move! If you have not yet done so, take a look at Raphael Hertzog' explanation+FAQ wiki page. It just works, and makes many things way easier.

There are still some wrinkles in my packaging, like where I'm getting the orig tarballs from — As the submodules are not presently tagged in any way, I was only able to download a snapshot of their respective current master branches. This is suboptimal, I know, but I have talked to the upstream author, and he confirms that for the next major version (which should not be long in coming) the tags will be synchronized, and things will be even cleaner.

PS- I love Hpricot. To get the numbers for my QA page, I just had to get three dirty but useful arrays:

  1. require 'hpricot'
  2. require 'open-uri'
  3. url = 'http://qa.debian.org/developer.php?login=gwolf&comaint=yes'
  4. doc = Hpricot(open(url))
  5. tot = ( (doc / 'table' )[1]/'tr').map { |row|
  6. (row%'td' % 'a').inner_html rescue nil}.select {|i| i}
  7. team = ( (doc / 'table' )[1]/'tr').map { |row|
  8. (row%'td' % 'span.uploader' % 'a').inner_html rescue nil}.
  9. select {|i| i}
  10. mine = ( (doc / 'table' )[1]/'tr').map { |row|
  11. (row%'td' % 'span:not(.uploader)' % 'a').inner_html rescue nil}.
  12. select {|i| i}

And work from the three very simple lists there — i.e. tot.select {|pkg| pkg =~ /lib.*perl/}.size gives me 177.

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Personal assessment about myself: Being slow everywhere…

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 11/16/2009 - 10:40

Sigh…

I am starting to fill up my annual report for my real-life work. You know, that chore you must do every year where you score little bullets next to each completed project and talk well about yourself. For my workplace, fortunately, I do not have to lie and convince people I am worth rehiring - As this year I achieved definitividad as a Técnico Académico Asociado C de Tiempo Completo at my University, I can say for sure I have long-term job safety. UNAM is the best place for me to work, and I am most grateful — Even if I do want to advance for the future, even though I would strongly like at some point to start working in a real academic position — My job is mostly operative, limited to keeping things running smoothly in our network and servers. I work in a social sciences (Economics) research institute, and even though I have taken on an interesting project that is viewed from the social sciences I do expect to finish with a very interesting product in the near future, my interest lies in computing as a science.

Anyway, back on track… This is the time of year to start evaluating many things, many factors, from many different sides. And yes, for me that involves measuring how am I faring in my involvement in the projects I most care about — Specifically, Debian, but also several other Free Software projects, even if my involvement in them is mostly organizational.

I am once again going through a tough period in my personal life, and the impact it carries is obviously deep. However, I am not fond of finding excuses for my underachievement or underperformance. And that's what I feel now. Even more when I see posts such as Zack's and Tim's status updates, and when I see that we continue to be on a history-high streak of RC bugs.

Regarding the several teams I am (at least formally) involved with in Debian, I have been away from the pkg-perl group for far too long... It is still my first group when it comes to identifying myself with - Both as on a personal level, as I consider them as good friends and great people to work with, and I do feel the responsability to share the load with them, as maintaining >1300 packages (even if they are so highly regular) is just not an easy task. But for over a year, my involvement has been basically zero. I have been a bit more active on pkg-ruby-extras, maybe paradoxically as it is a smaller team and with less packages (as I know it is much less probable for somebody to keep my packages in adequate shape if I don't do it)... and also because I am working more with Ruby than Perl nowadays. And finally, about Cherokee, I decided during DebConf9 to redo the packaging to fully use DH7 instead of our old-style quasimanual style. I have had several bursts of activity, and am almost-almost-ready to do the first newstyle upload... But so far, have been unable to do so.

Of course, keyring-maint: With Jonathan's help, I have come to terms with most of the processes. Both Jonathan and I have been swamped lately, but at least I think I am finally helping speed up the process instead of holding it down. We do, yes, have several pending updates - but are working our way up the queue, and I hope not to leave people waiting for too long. And yes, we have discussed several ways of documenting and automating several of the tasks we currently sustain, and that should come soon

I have been also leaving maybe a bit too much responsability aside on EDUSOL, for which today we are entering the second week of activity, and I'm very sorry to see our server is just too overloaded to even reply to even answer to me — And even lacking admin powers myself, I should have worked earlier on setting up redundancy on a more automatic way (as we have an off-site backup we can promote to live and redirect to, but I am unable to do this... Given that I am the techie person on board/the only "professional" sysadmin).

This year I also –quietly– finished the bulk of the Comas rewrite. What? Comas? Still alive? Yes, and you can expect me to show it off to more people soon, and get it used for more conferences. I will talk more about it (and its motivation, and its current status) later on — But basically, the only two things that Comas shares in common with the mod_perl-based system most of you got to know (mainly at CONSOL 2004-2008 or at Debconf 5 and 6, although I know of several other conferences which used it) and the current incarnation are… The (most) basic database structure and the name. The project underwent a full rewrite, and is now a far more flexible, far easier to install, Ruby-on-Rails based application. And most important, it does no longer involve your name being Gunnar Wolf as a prerequisite for successfully setting it up ;-)

Regarding DebConf, I have promoted a Central American MiniDebConf, and we are right on track for holding it in late March in Panamá City. Everybody's invited, and we will have (surprise, surprise!) the very professional involvement of Mr. Anto Recio as local team, as it seems he didn't have enough with last year's DebConf9 and wants to suffer further. What am I lacking here? Motivation. I have been quite pessimistic, possibly turning some people away, even though we have a good first sampling of interested people's profiles and expectations. If you want to get involved, tomorrow (Tuesday 17-nov) we will have a meeting at Freenode's #sl-centroamerica, 17:00 GMT-6. Please note we do need involvement from the Central American communities, it is more than just a motivational issue. Last meeting it seemed Anto and I were the only people pushing the MiniDebConf - and frankly, that would be a basis for not even holding it. We need motivation from the very people involved in it!

Anyway… You can see I have (and it seems to be a constant in my life) a series of contradictions going on. However, the excercise of putting it all into writing helps me understand better where I am standing. When I started writing this post I felt much heavier, much more at a loss… Right now I feel I want to refocus my energy on the same projects and teams I have been involved with, yes, but feel it at least more plausible. Hope so.

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PieSpy: Modelling IRC interactions

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 11/10/2009 - 18:41

As some of you know, yesterday we started the two weeks of activities for the Fifth On-line Encounter of Free Education, Culture and Software. This year, the main topic for the conference is social networks, but not in the twitter-facebook sense — Social networks as ways of understanding and modelling human-to-human interactions. Of course, there is interest from many attendees in using and taking advantage of said social network systems (and others), but the topic is far broader.

One of the core tools of EDUSOL, and the only tool that is constantly active through our two weeks of activity, is IRC — Which is somewhat of a challenge, as we receive some not-tech-savvy users from all over the world. The first year or two we asked everybody to connect via an IRC client (and we had even decided that it would be a technological filter — We thought we would not cater for people without the technical skills to install and use IRC). Life proved us wrong, and we ended up using two web-to-IRC gateways: One of them, via an instance of CGI:IRC, and the other one via a third-party service, Mibbit.

Now, the core mind behind EDUSOL is Alejandro Miranda, Pooka; I am not really into education (it is a very interesting topic but far from what I am good at). Pooka has been invovled in on-line communities analysis for several years already, since we worked together at FES Iztacala. For a long time he wanted to graph the interactions at EDUSOL, which was obviously possible given it was all centered on three tools (IRC for live chat, Drupal for generic information and Moodle for the talks and workshops' material — This has changed this year, as we are giving much more weight to Drupal and taking it off Moodle), and so last year he was finally able to generate a «EDUSOL 2008 conference photo (warning: 2MB image, 4311x3352px), where each person's avatar appears where most of his interactions were. This photo was (unfortunately) achieved using non-free software, but is very much looking at!

Now, this year Pooka stumbled upon a great tool, PieSpy (available in Debian — package piespy). Piespy generates very interesting interaction graph for IRC channels, as you can see here:

Piespy is a bot that sits in the IRC channel logging everything that any given user "says" directly to another one, and graphs it. Not much to say here, only that it generates a very good (and practically real-time) view of what happens on the channel. For this particular channel, and during EDUSOL, you can see here the latest IRC snapshots.

Very fun to see - and somewhat addictive how it morphs across time :)

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