history

19 years of Debian

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 08/16/2012 - 12:19

Happy 19th birthday, Debian!

The Debian project is 19 years old now. Following Francesca's invitation (and Raphaël's lead, and using Leandro's image, collaboratively as it always happens here), I will tell a bit of my memories: How I got to Debian.

I am a Debian user since ~2000, and a Debian Developer since April 2003. But, just as Raphaël's, my history must go somewhat further back in time.

In 1992, I got my first 1200bps modem, and almost immediately became an avid BBS user (what's that? Javier Matuk talks [in Spanish] about BBSes in his newspaper column back in 1994). By mid 1993 I started operating my own BBS, CatarSYS. One of the key points that defined CatarSYS is that my focus was large-scale communication. I started connecting to several BBS networks, allowing messages to be relayed to distant people, mainly in the USA and Spain, and getting some feeds that could be seen as the poor man's Usenet.

At some point during the year I kept CatarSYS going, I got connected through a strange set of gateways to pure gold: A UUCP feed! This means, during some months, I operated the first (free, hobbyist) service that offered its users a free Internet mail address in Mexico. Yes, it was completely different to what we are used to today. I tried to connect to my provider at least three times a week, but this meant less than one week turnover time for messages sent to people anywhere in the world! But, back to Debian: Via this UUCP feed, I also got some real Usenet newsgroups — Including several on the comp.os category. I remember reading about Linux back then, and learning some commands, but didn't really get hooked into it.

I was in Israel from July 1994 to June 1995, doing completely non-computer-related tasks. Came back in 1995, and due to my father being an academic, got dialup internet access at home. WOW, *real* Internet!

It didn't take me long to start downloading Linux information and floppy images. One failed after another. But before the end of the year, I found in a bookshop a book (that included a CD-ROM) called "Build your own web server with Linux". WOW again — Remember this was still 1995! I bought it, and shortly afterwards, I had a Slackware system (Linux kernel 1.0.9) running. That meant many sleepless nights full of joy and frustration (as getting hardware to work was cloe to impossible).

By 1996, I got (within one week) my two first real jobs: A systems administrator at a small ISP and a highschool teacher. At the ISP, I got a spare computer to play with Linux, as –of course– the Big Server was running with Windows NT 3.51. Poor little machine... By then I was already a part of the Mexican Linux User Group. This group had just printed a batch of Linux CDs — RedHat 4.0. This was the first release that really made me happy and allowed me to do good work. Together with a friend I took to work with us, Juan Pablo Romero, we installed over a weekend a full replacement for our buggy NT machine, in much cheaper hardware. Of course, Linux was nowhere near corporate-recognition, and our project remained a project, not touching the Windows machine.

Anyway... Several years passed, and I was happy with my RedHat choice. I won't mention the milestones and job changes, as it would get boring and leave the point completely aside. By the year 2000, I was quite more involved with the LUG, as well as with the computer security group in DGSCA-UNAM. I became also an OpenBSD user, and had got so hooked up in free software that I felt the need to collaborate: To be a little part of one of those Big Projects that had given me so much. But which one?

I have never been much of a programmer — Yes, I can solve my everyday needs and have fun with it, and sometimes a bit beyond that. I enjoy programming. But all of my projects have begun little… and stayed little. I wanted to join OpenBSD, as it was a community I really believed in, but given my skillset (and given a flame-prone, aggressive developer community), I lost motivation to do so.

By 2000, I had also lost faith in RedHat. I don't have the exact dates, so I might be some months off — But after RedHat's IPO, I felt a sharp change. Version 7.0 was really demotivating — It tried to offer a polished desktop experience, but was really buggy, unstable, and full of bad decisions. In Mexico, Pepe Neif had taken up the job of making a derivative distribution of RedHat (called LinuxPPP), pressing hundreds of CDs and making a teaching program I was part of several times. Talking with Pepe (who continued to release based on RedHat 6), he told me he was interested in switching over to become a Debian-based distribution, but the job of migrating his installed base made the project stall — LinuxPPP reached only version 6.4.

But I installed Debian in early 2000, and loved it. I started getting familiar with its social philosophy and foundation documents at the same time I started migrating my servers from RedHat to Debian — This must have been by Spring 2000, as I installed Potato while it was frozen but not yet stable.

By January 2002 I applied for NM. My process took a long time, as my AM got MIA when he had already approved me (but before sending the AM report), so basically I had to go through AM twice — And by April 16, 2003, I got accepted as a DD. Contrary to what is acceptable today, I requested the full process to be done before starting to maintain any packages, as I didn't want to bother people with package sponsorship requests, so my whole process was done evaluating packages I would eventually upload.

Since becoming a DD, my main involvement in the project has been in packaging groups (I was a pkg-perl founder and member for many years, and am currently working in the pkg-ruby-extras group). But, as I said, my main strength is not programming — So my main involvement in Debian has been more social than technical: I have been a DebConf organizer since 2005, a very interesting, stressing, rewarding and (for some months) time-demanding role, and since 2009 I am part of the keyring maintainence team, which is much easier workload, although carries important ramifications.

So, after 19 years of Debian, and after nine years of me being part of it, Debian is clearly my strongest link to the Free Software community, a project I have grown to love and whose way of being I share and enjoy studying and explaining. And it is a technically excellent product, and a great place to start and keep learning both about how every aspect and layer of an operating system works, and how human-to-human interaction works in such a diverse, almost impossible environment happens.

Congratulations, Debian!

On enjoying history, opposed to what happens around me

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 09/15/2010 - 18:24
Portadas de los discos de Diana Uribe I have always liked learning and understanding history. Since I discovered him, for a couple of years already I always try to catch Javier Garciadiego's program Conversaciones sobre historia, Saturday 9AM in the Horizonte 108 radio station (can be listened to online). This program started by going over the events just before the beginning of the 1910 revolution in Mexico - and along slightly over five years, one hour per week and following different threads, the program has reached the end of the Cristiada, in the early 1930s. Garciadiego has a very nice, followable, amenable way of telling history, and I have recommended his program to many friends.

This last June, I spent some days in Guatemala City, for DrupalCamp Centroamérica. I stayed with my good Colombian friend, Dilson, and at his house he had framed a poster of the History of the Civilizations. Of course, I got my nose close to it, guessing as many faces as possible in the lot. And he showed me his last Christmas present: Two books, each of them with 6 CDs. One is Historia de las Civilizaciones, the second one is Historia de las independencias. They are made by Colombia's very well known and well regarded historian Diana Uribe.

I copied the CDs in order to listen to them later – And wow, was I impressed! Diana Uribe makes a great narrative about topics that to some people would seem boring and dry. As I said, I have always found passion in understanding the human processes that have shaped civilization and brought us all the way to where we stand now. Well, Diana Uribe manages to bring more "normal" people to this passion. While looking for information on her to share in this blog post, I found so many places offering download of her disks, with apparently young people talking about how she has got them all so excited and interested in history... That's, I think, the best "thank you" any academician can get: having non-specialists say how her work has opened up the passion of one of the world's least sexy professions to them. And yes – there are so many "thank you" and "I want" commentaries, so much of what I would call "fan mail", that it took me a bit to find an online library carrying both works. And yes, at ~US$50 each, I do intend to buy them.

Now, why am I writing this today? Well, yes, because I finished listening to the series today, but besides – During this year, most of Latin American countries conmemorate their 200 years of existence. Most of the independentist struggles in the continent started in 1809-1810. And today is the "partying" day in Mexico – Says the legend that in the night between September 15 and 16, 1810, a priest who is always painted as old and charismatic called on his small town urging the people to rise and fight for independence, and as a result of that, only 11 years later Mexico was a fully independent country, spanning from Costa Rica to California, and... well, a nice and very idealized myth.

A century later, in 1910, after a very long stability and growth period (attained mostly through repression, the same abstract thing named as "the people" rose against the dictator Porfirio Díaz, who had been Mexico's president for 30 years. The revolution deeply changed the social face of the country, but politically... After ~15 years of fighting, the result was that a 30 year long dictatorship was replaced by a 70 year long one... And our political system still has not evolved beyond that model.

Now, comparing what has not improved nor even stayed the same but went backwards... A century ago, the festivities of the hundred years of independence were a time for showing pride, for showing to the guests from more "civilized" countries how ours was by then a modern, thriving country worth believing in, worth investing in: Besides the important, majestic and well built monuments that were erected and still stand today (i.e. the Column of the Independence or Hemiciclo a Juárez, many institutions that would socially shape the next century –even after Díaz's death, even after he had been declared not the role model we wanted after all– were born: The National University (nowadays the most important university in Latin America), the National School for Professors, the Railroad Technical School and many others (see Javier Aranda's note for some more details)... The celebration was well-thought and planned. Of course, it didn't go into some darker corners, the country was as uneven and unfair as it can be for the poorer indigenous population (which back then was a majority), and what not.

But this year? Well, we are expecting an impressive show tonight (which I won't see, even though I'd like to, as I no longer have a TV and even if I had wanted to go downtown for the celebration, different government branches are insisting we should just sit and watch it by TV at home as it can be too crowded... so not even that was well thought out – Of course not every Mexican can go to the same square and see the same de-facto president do the ritual, but some more redundancy could be thought, spreading acts through all of the city instead of concentrating the festivities all along Reforma.

But anyway – Leaving aside our current de-facto ruler's inabilities to do anything worthy, which are already well known and documented... I took this opportunity to listen to a great work, and am most happy to do it, and to be able to share it with you.

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