Around two years ago, the OECD presented a study on residential bandwitdth available per country that triggered quite a bit of debate all over the world — I have seen at least criticism to it in Mexico, in the USA and in Australia. It's very easy to take a simplified view of a statistic and bitch on how sorry the state of our country is. In our case, the outcry was that Mexico was the lowest of all of the OECD countries, and I have seen this repeated on so many topics that it what surprises me is that people keep getting surprised at it! OECD does not represent the ≥200 countries in this world (only the top 30, and the meaning of "top" is not unambiguous).
I found this graph that helps me illustrate this point:
While that graphic is part of a report illustrating how sorry the USA should be for their low position, it shows the OECD member countries. And yes, the only country Mexico could be compared in general terms from those in the list is Turkey. Coherently, they are located at positions 28 and 30.
But what prompted me into writing this post? That some weeks ago I was reading a viewpoint article at the Communications of the ACM magazine: What gets measured gets done: Stop focusing on irrelevant broadband metrics, by Scott Wallsten (might be behind a paywall for you — If you are interested, I can share a copy with you, just ask me by email). Wallsten's article contains the following graph:
I found it pretty telling that, although Mexico sits at the extreme of the graph (and the height of our bar makes it very hard to get a real value out of this particular rendering), our ISPs join a very select group of countries (Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Ireland, in my very subjective measure) by delivering what they promise.
In 2010, the dominant broadband offering was 1Mbps, although higher options have long existed. I always got basically the 100% of what my ISP (Telmex) has promised, even though I have always had the cheapest package available. Some months ago, I got a call announcing we were being pushed 5x into the future, and starting right then, I had a 5Mbps connection. And although I didn't really expect it to be true, I have had a clean 6Mbps (yes, 6 instead of 5) connection.
So, that's it. This post contains no hidden truths, but just what grabbed my attention from a series of data points :-)
After the strong and unexpected cold and wet weather that has lasted around two weeks, my cats decided on the best startegy to maximize the sun reception on the first sunny afternoon
I got my current phone (a Nokia N95) back in January 2008. It was the first phone I ever paid for, and I don't expect that to change - The feature set I need from a phone is extremely basic, but I wanted to have a GPS unit on me, without needing to plan for it beforehand. As I recently blogged, I just got over the 5000Km mark (5269 as of last Friday), with almost daily usage since I registered.
A couple of days ago (although please note I don't log in often to the web page, I just upload my , I was greeted by this gem:
Thank you Nokia Sports Tracker beta users!
After two and a half years of operation, the Nokia Sports Tracker beta service will close as of June 30, 2010. Thanks to all of you exercise enthusiasts who used the service and contributed valuable feedback to its improvement.
We want you to stay active. You can keep tracking workouts through a new, non-Nokia service provided by Sports Tracking Technologies available for free in the Ovi Store. The new service is open for registrations at sports-tracker.com, and you'll even be able import your workout history from Nokia Sports Tracker until August 31, 2010.
In my case, instead of Thank you they could have just said Fuck off. They are directing me to a new application available in Nokia's Ovi store. Of course, this application is linked to a new 100% Flash-powered website. That would be a big turnoff for me, yes, although there are many ways around it (after all, I don't need the website functionality every day). However, I find the list of supported phones does not include the N95 (any version). This means, my two year old phone (which I bought as soon as the model arrived in Mexico) is obsolete now and they want me to (spend more money and) switch to a new one. Am I going to do that? Hell no!
The N95 phone is quite good. The only gripes I have is with the (slow, buggy and memory leak and phone crash prone) Symbian S60 operating system. I will probably keep using the SportsTracker application, although I won't be able to link my tracks as easily as I do today.
So... Dear lazyweb, do you know of any similar program? The feature set I use in Sports Tracker is:
- Have different activity profiles. I use Running and Cycling, and very ocassionaly Walking.
- Of course, GPS tracking, getting average and top speeds, altitude profile, etc.
- Aggregation into something website-friendly
- The ability to do my uploads post-factum (i.e. do not rely on a data plan, allow me to upload my excercising when I get home)
There are probably more things I'd want. But I am a geek, and I basically enjoy tracking myself, and sharing my tracks with $world.
Thanks, dear lazyweb. I am confident you won't let me down.
I was pointed to this Toast to Turing, by Matt Harvey. Very much worth sharing.
Here’s a toast to Alan Turing
born in harsher, darker times
who thought outside the container
and loved outside the lines
and so the code-breaker was broken
and we’re sorry
yes now the s-word has been spoken
the official conscience woken
– very carefully scripted but at least it’s not encrypted –
and the story does suggest
a part 2 to the Turing Test:
1. can machines behave like humans?
2. can we?
What, don't you know who Alan Turing was? Read a bit on him then, one of the core seminal minds for Computer Science. And a scientist vilified for being different from what is regarded as normal.
[update] And answering to some people's doubts: Why this toast? Because the UK Government, in the voice of the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, after over 50 years of leading Alan Turing to commit suicide due to criminally accusing him for gross indecency for being a homosexual and forcing him into a deep body-altering hormonal therapy to cure him, has finally posthumously apologized. Brown said, So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better.
This blog post is not strictly speaking news anymore - But for those who don't know it yet, three days ago Debian 5.0 «Lenny» was released, after 22 months of work (plus fun, plus flamewars, plus everything that makes a Free Software lover tick). And, of course, that makes us all very happy and proud. As always, upgrading is a breeze. Hats off specially to Wolfgang and everybody who worked towards the great release notes - No, it is not a simple task, by far. And I _do_ feel ashamed I didn't even beep that way :-(
So, many of us are in the middle of planning/executing our servers' migrations. So far, I'm amazed for good. Even hairy issues such as firmware removal are magically and beautifully taken care of - i.e. my firewall kindly informed me during update that I would need to install the non-free firmware for my BNX2 (Broadcom) network interfaces, and I was just a package away from absolute happiness. Lets see what happens next Friday, as I will be upgrading our storage+application server (which is _way_ more complex than the servers I've dealt with so far).
Anyway... But what good is a blog post if you are not ranting?
Many people recognize me as one of the most Debian-connected people in Mexico, and that's very good. And yes, besides being a Debian Developer, I am a co-sysadmin for the main Debian mirror in Mexico. Some people have already asked me for CD-ROMs and DVDs. Of course, if I had a BluRay drive, I'm sure I'd also get requests for it.
People: Do you really want such media? Think again... Do you really want 31 CDs or five DVDs for your favorite architecture? Ok, maybe many will say "nah, just give me the first one" - Then, do you want to limit your Debian experience to just the software that lives on the first 1/31th (or 1/5th) of it all?
Of course there are many situations where it is desirable. Low bandwidth users, or people with no regular connectivity, will be much better served by suitable media from which to install. However, most of us (computer geeks living in Mexico City - Yes, that's the people contacting me) have at least a 1Mbps connection at home. People, just get the Netinst or Businesscard (180 or 40MB) images and download whatever is left via the network. Debian is extremely network-friendly. And, believe me, even if packages are sorted by popularity (and that's why most people will be happy with the first DVD if needed), you never know if you will want precisely a package that sits towards the lonely tail of popularity.
And, yes, I did have my CD images handy for the Potato, Woody and Sarge cycles - but increasingly, it became easier for me just to ask apt-get to fetch stuff from the web (which is done without me moving from my comfy chair while I do anything else) than asking apt-get to ask me to go search for the f.*ing CD which I left dont-remember-where.
Anyway... I'm not saying I won't burn your CDs - If you want them, please tell me in advance and come to my office, I'll be glad to give you some Debian disks. But spare the environment. We don't need to burn more and more disks. Use the network, be a better human being!
I love it when a lack-of-humor and lack-of-appropriateness-originated flamewar causes somebody to point me towards a very nice display of intelligent humor. Specially when it is so close to me, to my roots, to my family and my personal history. FWIW, for several years, while I was a BBS user, I used WereWolf as my nickname. Great thanks to Frank Küster - and, of course, to Christian Morgenstern.
The Werewolf - English translation by Alexander Gross
A Werewolf, troubled by his name,
Left wife and brood one night and came
To a hidden graveyard to enlist
The aid of a long-dead philologist.
"Oh sage, wake up, please don't berate me,"
He howled sadly, "Just conjugate me."
The seer arose a bit unsteady
Yawned twice, wheezed once, and then was ready.
"Well, 'Werewolf' is your plural past,
While 'Waswolf' is singularly cast:
There's 'Amwolf' too, the present tense,
And 'Iswolf,' 'Arewolf' in this same sense."
"I know that--I'm no mental cripple--
The future form and participle
Are what I crave," the beast replied.
The scholar paused--again he tried:
"A 'Will-be-wolf?' It's just too long:
'Shall-be-wolf?' 'Has-been-wolf?' Utterly wrong!
Such words are wounds beyond all suture--
I'm sorry, but you have no future."
The Werewolf knew better--his sons still slept
At home, and homewards now he crept,
Happy, humble, without apology
For such folly of philology.
I just sent a letter to the very well-known national newspaper El Universal. At least I think I did, as their contact form is a sad excuse of unusability.
The reason I contacted them is the publication, over a week ago, of a note where they invite children to take part in a contest by IMPI towards fighting piracy. But not only they engage in doublespeak and prior judgement by further pushing the term piracy for an action that has nothing to do with it, they also expect children to denounce their parents and teachers if they engage in such a destructive activity. Think Josef Stalin for a while, and you will get the picture.
Anyway - This will not be the first letter sent on this topic, and I know most of my readers know and share my arguments. I am not translating it into English. But if you are a Spanish-speaker (or a Spanish-reader), you might find it interesting.
Please read my open letter to El Universal and to Jorge Amigo Castañeda, Director General del Instituto Mexicano de Propiedad Intelectual, and help me get it through to as much media as possible.
A common trait of virtually all of the media in Mexico -and, as far as I have been able to see, in Latin America- is the push for society to be afraid. The government and the media (which go hand-in-hand, mainly due to a series of favors owed to each other - currently stemming from the government's illegitimacy and lack of trust from the general population) wants us all to think the country is as violent and as dangerous as it has never been before.
And yes, I cannot and won't try to deny that there are many critical points that need attention - But the answer cannot be militarization, cannot be further restraining the civil liberties, cannot be criminalization.
The only way to prevent crime is to reduce poverty. And poverty is not reduced by giving foreign "investors" (bah, ask people living on cities that border the USA if the maquilas have brought any kind of investment or somehow bettered the living conditions of the population!) access to segments of the economy so far limited to the government - Poverty will only be reduced when the government starts reviewing the tax systems to remove the legal loopholes that make it possible for a large enterprise to get tax exemptions on most of their income, and make the lower income people pay zero taxes, even get social aid.
But back to the topic: Since the 1994 crisis (the "decembrine errors"), we are being constantly bombed about the raging insecurity in Mexico. Maybe we have been bombed with that same ideas for more time, but I was not very politically conscious before that. When things go a bit smoother on the political side, the media relaxes the "we are so fucked" mantram.
de facto president current ruler took power, on December 2006, he had so much opposition he could not for months attend a single public event. So far, he is still avoiding them; everywhere he goes, the place must be cleared and sanitized of anybody who might show he just does not agree with the imposition we had. What was his first government action? To decree that every branch of the government would get a 10% budget cut on the salaries - but the security forces (the army, the different police corporations) would have a 46% raise.
After almost two years of ineptitude, they keep chanting the old "oh, we are living such dangerous times" mantra. The security forces recently got yet another raise, and everybody in the media says this country cannot be lived in anymore.
And people buy that crap.
Up to a month or two ago, the general outcry is that the drug lords had taken over the country - And, yes, in several areas of Mexico, their presence is bigger than the official security, or the security agencies are completely coopted by them. But not even His Majesty Felipe Calderón I "El Ilegítimo" can say with a straight face that "we are winning the war against the drug lords" (a war brought by himself, of course - Think of it as Mexico's Irak. Think of Calderón as Mexico's Bush.) - A new attention sink was needed.
Of course, this country is not safer than Finland. But crimes do happen there as they happen here. Here, we have got a tremendous movement because of one brutal kidnapping in August, and everybody now thinks that everybody is at risk of dying kidnapped.
So today, after over a month of bombarding us with fear about kidnaps, I am sick of reading stupid reactions. What made me post this was a request for ideas at a local Free Software-related portal about monitoring known potential criminals. Of course, such a proposal would violate the right to anonimity and to lead a personal life even a convicted criminal has. And, of course, the cries of people that think the society should castrate rapists and kill kidnappers, basically going back 4000 years in history. People, let me hand you a stone and a stick so you can club the whole society to death.
The first step towards getting out of this security nightmare perception we have is to be critical towards what the media tells us - and to understand (and _really_ understand. I won't buy your argument that "it's easier to rob somebody for MX$4000 than to work a full day for MX$100", as it's only easier on one level, but it is a tremendous cost on many others) what makes good people act against the society.
Several weeks ago, the people in charge of maintaining the Windows machines in my institute were desperate because of a series of virus outbreaks - Specially, as expected, in the public lab - but the whole network smell virulent. After seeing their desperation, I asked Rolman to help me come up with a solution. He suggested me to try replacing the Windows workstations by substituting local installations by a server having several virtual machines, all regenerated from a clean image every day, and exporting rdesktop sessions. He suggested using Xen for this, as it is the virtualization/paravirtualization solution until now best offered and supported by most Linux distributions (including, of course, RedHat, towards which he is biased, and Debian, towards I am... more than biased, even bent). So far, no hassle, right?
Of course, I could just stay clear of this mess, as everything related to Windows is off my hands... But in October, we will be renewing ~150 antivirus licences. I want to save that money by giving a better solution, even if part of that money gets translated to a big server.
Get the hardware
But problems soon arose. The first issue was hardware. Xen can act in its paravirtualization mode on basically any x86 machine - but it requires a patched guest kernel. That means, I can paravitualize many several different free OSs on just any computer I lay my hands on here, but Windows requires full- or hardware-assisted- virtualization. And, of course, only one of the over 300 computers we have (around 100 of which are recent enough for me to expect to be usable as a proof-of-concept for this) has a CPU with VT extensions - And I'm not going to de-comission my firewall to become a test server! ;-)
When software gets confused for hardware
So, I requested a Intel® Core™2 Quad Q9300 CPU, which I could just drop in any box with a fitting motherboard. But, of course, I'm not the only person requiring computer-related stuff. So, after pestering the people in charge for buying stuff on a daily basis for three weeks, the head of acquisitions came smiling to my office with a little box in his hands.
But no, it was not my Core 2 Quad CPU.
It was a box containing... Microsoft Visio. Yes, they spent their effort looking for the wrong computer-related thingy :-/ And meanwhile, Debconf 8 is getting nearer and nearer. Why does that matter? Because I have a deadline: By October, I want the institute to decide not to buy 150 antivirus licenses! Debconf will take some time off that target from me.
Anyway... The university vacations started on July 5. The first week of vacations I went to sweat my ass off at Monterrey, by Monday 14 I came back to my office, and that same day I finally got the box, together with two 2GB DIMMs.
Experiences with a nice looking potential disaster
Anyway, by Tuesday I got the CPU running, and a regular Debian install in place. A very nice workhorse: 5GB RAM, quad core CPU at 2.5GHz, 6MB cache (which seems to be split in two 3MB banks, each for two cores - but that's pure speculation from me). I installed Lenny (Debian testing), which is very soon going to freeze and by the time this becomes a production server will be very close to being a stable release, and I wanted to take advantage of the newest Xen administration tools. Of course, the installation was for AMD64 - Because 64 bitness is a terrible thing to waste.
But I started playing with Xen - And all kind of disasters stroke. First, although there is a Xen-enabled 2.6.25 Linux kernel, it is -686 only (i.e. no 64 bit support). Ok, install a second system on a second partition. Oh, but this kernel is only domU-able (this is, it will correctly run in a Xen paravirtualized host), but not dom0-able (it cannot act as a root domain). Grmbl.
So, get Etch's 2.6.18 AMD64 Xen-enabled kernel, and hope for the best. After all, up to this point, I was basically aware of many of the facts I mentioned (i.e. up to this point I did reinstall once, but not three times)... And I hoped the kernel team would have good news regarding a forward-port of the Xen dom0 patches to 2.6.25 - because losing dom0 support was IMO a big regression.
But quite on time, this revealing thread came up on the debian-devel mailing list. In short: Xen is a disaster. The Xen developers have done their work quite far away from the kernel developers, and the last decent synchronization that was made was in 2.6.18, over two years ago. Not surprisingly, enterprise-editions of other Linux distributions also ship that kernel version. There are some forward-patches, but current support in Xen is... Lacking, to say the least. From my POV, Xen's future in the Linux kernel looks bleakish.
Now, on the lightweight side...
Xen is also a bit too complicated - Of course, its role is also complicated as well, and it has a great deal of tunability. But I decided to keep a clean Lenny AMD64 install, and give KVM, the Kernel Virtual Machine a go. My first gripe? What a bad choice of name. Not only Google searches for KVM gives completely unrelated answers (to a name that's already well known, even in the same context, even in the same community).
KVM takes a much, much simpler approach to virtualization (both para- and full-): We don't need no stinkin' hypervisors. The kernel can just do that task. And then, kvm becomes just another almost-regular process. How nice!
In fact, KVM borrows so very much from qemu that it even refers to qemu's manpage for everything but two command-line switches.
Qemu is a completely different project, which gets to a very similar place but from the other extreme - Qemu started off as Bochs, a very slow but very useful multi-architecture emulator. Qemu started adding all kinds of optimizations, and it is nearly useful (i.e. I use it in my desktop whenever I need a W2K machine).
Instead of a heavyweight framework... KVM is just a modprobe away - Just ask Linux to modprobe kvm, and kvm -hda /path/to/your/hd/image gets you a working machine.
Anyway - I was immediatly happy with KVM. It took me a week to get a whole "lab" of 15 virtual computers (256MB RAM works surprisingly well for a regular XP install!) configured to start at boot time off a single master image over qcow images.
Xen has already been a long time in the enterprise, and has a nice suite of administrative tools. While Xen depends on having a configuration file for each host, KVM expects them to be passed at the command line. To get a bird-eye view of the system, xen has a load of utilities - KVM does not. And although RedHat's virt-manager is said to support KVM and qemu virtualization (besides its native Xen, of course), it falls short of what I need (i.e. it relies on a configuration file... which lacks expresivity to specify a snapshot-based HD image).
To my surprise, KVM has attained much of Xen's most amazing capabilities, such as the live migration. And although it's easier to just use fully virtualized devices (i.e. to use an emulation of the RTL8139 network card), as they require no drivers extraneous to the operating system, performance can be greatly enhanced by using the VirtIO devices. KVM is quickly evolving, and I predict it will largely overtake Xen's (and of course, vmware and others) places.
Where I am now
So... Well, those of us that adopt KVM and want to get it into production now will have some work of building the tools to gracefully manage and report it, it seems. I won't be touching much my setup until after Debconf, but so far I've done some work over Freddie Cash's kvmctl script. I'm submitting him some patches to make his script (IMHO) more reliable and automatizable (if you are interested, you can get my current version of the script as well). And... Starting September, I expect to start working on a control interface able to cover my other needs (such as distributing configuration to the terminals-to-be, or centrally managing the configurations).
Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.
I could not resist it. I even went to a computer with a Java runtime installed.
The application is very nice and usable, although its startup time is frankly irritating (specially as there is no feedback on why it's not loading). Anyway, the results are quite beautiful!
I have to agree with Wouter regarding
Firefox Iceweasel 3's suckyness. It might be a superior product in many fronts (I prefer it overall to its predecesor), but were it not for the usefulness of its many available extensions (most notably Web Developer, which has become an integral part of my everyday life), I'd have jumped ship for basically any other browser.
I'm just... adding an <AOL>ME TOO!</AOL> on Wouter's comments... WTF, just go to about:config...
So... Are you telling me that Firefox (even if it were the original, Mozilla-blessed version) has a warranty? No? Didn't think so... Go to about:license. You will see the very familiar and expected:
7. Disclaimer of warranty
Covered code is provided under this license on an "as is" basis, without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied, including, without limitation, warranties that the covered code is free of defects (...)
Other than this downright stupid issue (which by and large goes against the regular Free Software culture), my main gripe is the number of active regions in the location-entry boxes - Yes, I can jump straight to the search box with Ctrl-K and to the location bar with Ctrl-L, but if I happen to try to move between them with good ol' Tab, why must it be inconsistent?
What do I mean? Go to the search field, press Tab. As expected, you are in the Location entry. Now, press Shift-Tab. For 5 points, where are you now? Bzzzt, no, you are not back where you began - You are in a stupid button which looks like your favicon giving you the identity information about the page you are looking at.
Having this button is a great idea - but why does it have to sit in the way of my tabulation? Were it because, in an inspired moment, the Firefox interface designers decided that buttons should be keyboard-accessible, I'd be most happy (it is by far my most mouse-intensive application, and I hate that... But it's just a button embedded in what should be a clean text-entry box.
And for that matter, it is not even a consistent button - Shift-tabbing from the search field will not get you to the search engine selector. And no key combination will lead you to the noisy (and also, mutually inconsistent) iconic buttons at the far right of both fields... Which, again, have no reason to be inside a text entry field!
Oh, and I found another pretty little jewel: Go to any site which has a self-signed SSL certificate. Of course, Firefox will go to great lengths to make sure you understand how unsafe is it for you to trust anybody who didn't pay big bucks to Verisign... But this is enough reason for me to send a bug report:
I am connecting through a crypted HTTPS connection. The site is providing identity information - not certified, right, but it does provide something. And the connection is crypted. Firefox/Iceweasel 2 showed me the URL in a light-yellow background showing the connection was secure - Now it just denies penta.debconf.org the right to call itself secure.
(Yes, I am not an interface designer... But it seems neither are they)
[update]Bug filed. Any comments will be welcome in Bugzilla. The bug with the Debconf site (and I do regard it as a bug) is that Iceweasel displays that Your connection to this web site is not encrypted because some of the elements (i.e. the CSS, images..) are sent in the clear - Even though the real information is crypted. Ever heard of data/visualization decoupling?
After thinking it over a couple of times, I did it. I told you here about the World Naked Bike Ride. Thousands of bikers, in over 130 cities around the world, voiced their concerns about the lack of caution drivers have towards us, about the abuse of fossil fuels for urban transportation, about the easy we are not to be seen. Many among us have been run over by careless drivers (in my case, no consequences except a broken helmet - And yes, MJ: although the impact was on the flat surface of the road and not on the kerb, the strength of the impact still amazes me). We feel naked against the motorized traffic. So, the WNBR decides to show it by taking the streets of our many cities - Naked.
It was a completely different experience of the massive naked Spencer Tunick photo, as we were there not just to show our freedom and enjoy, but to get the people to look at us. There were some of the same elements of comradeship and trust we had there (and, of course, that many of us learnt in Finland when we became GNUdists at DebConf 5's unforgettable saunas).
Anyway... I did not make the full route (I rode Chapultepec-Zócalo-Diana, ~15Km, but missed the Diana-Gandhi-Cibeles part, maybe some 5Km) as I had an appointment I was already late for. But it was a unique, great experience. If you are interested, we got a fair share of press coverage. Oh, and I must say: I am famous now. And in my favorite newspaper, nothing less :).