One more fatal accident in my usual environment

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 05/25/2010 - 00:34

I was about to close down a good day of hard work, a heavy but useful day... I had even decided to take some time off to listen to some good music, and was heading off to bed on a good mood...

Until I decided to read my contacts' latest rants. And I found very sad news - again.

A ten year old kid was killed while cycling in Calle Nezahualpilli, Colonia Ajusco.

I happen to know quite well that precise area - I lived very close to that street for some months in 2008. I eat in a small restaurant (what we call either a cocina económica, comida corrida or fondita) on that street. One of my usual bycicle workshops is also on that street - In fact, I wanted to go today, as both of my bikes' rear tires are flat, but had no time to make it.

Anyway... Colonia Ajusco and Colonia Santo Domingo ("colonia" is basically... a neighbourhood in es_MX) are two very popular, economically depressed areas, just North-East of the University. Probably hundreds or thousands of students live in rented rooms in the area, as UNAM with its 300,000 students does not have any dorms (due to political reasons leading all the way back to the 1960s).

Santo Domingo and Ajusco are also the part where Mexico City's main valley finishes. The hills begin, not too abruptly (we have a ~150m difference in the ~2Km spanned by both colonias). And... When I lived there, I was amazed at the amount of people moving by bike. The streets are too slow for motorized transit to properly flow, and it's often annoying to have to cross the region. It is mostly safe for cyclists.

Anyway, this kid was having a good time on the street, and was killed by a microbus driver fighting his fellow over more clients. The driver, yes, was caught (by his passengers and other bystanders, according to the note), and did not run away as they often do in cases such as this one. Still, the kid died almost instantly, so catching the driver serves very little consolation.

This Friday we will have BiciUNAMonos second monthly meeting. It is too soon, and I don't think we will end up going there. But I do feel this accident falls squarely inside UNAM user's territory. We cannot ignore it just because it happened outside our University's gates.

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e-voting seminar, Mexico City, tomorrow

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 05/11/2010 - 14:00

If anybody is interested or can attend: Tomorrow and the day after (Wednesday and Thursday 12-13/05/2010) FLACSO (a leading Social Sciences faculty spanning countries all over Latin America) and IFE (Mexico's federal electoral authority) are presenting a seminar on e-voting: Electronic vote experiences in Mexico and around the world.

Sadly, I will be unable to attend, as I will be on the road once again (Ecuador!). However, I hope those among my readers who are interested in the topic can attend — or at least follow the audio and video transmission from the IFE website.

The seminar will be held at IFE's auditorium — Viaducto Tlalpan No. 100, Col. Arenal Tepepan, Delegación Tlalpan, c.p. 14610, México, DF.

[update] If you don't know what is my stand on this topic (and can read Spanish), please read this short article. In short: I am against e-voting, and hope we are still in time (and can push at the right places) to avoid it becoming the rule in our country.

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You will not be renumbered

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 05/09/2010 - 14:21

I woke up with a loud BZZZT — It happens every couple of years. The electric transformer for the circuit where my house is located, at the Northern edge of Ciudad Universitaria, decided to die (or at least, to take a break… literally).

About one hour later, I decided it was time to wake up and start being a useful person. I gave breakfast to my cats and had breakfast myself, and called the electrical company to report this mishap. They told me the report was registered, and I hope to have electricity soon (meanwhile, I'm sitting at a nearby restaurant, as there is some job to do — Yes, besides writing blog entries). And they told me, as is often told in Mexico, a general anticorruption phrase – With a twist: «recuerde que usted no debe renumerar ningún servicio que realice el personal de la Comisión Federal de Electricidad». (You should not renumber any service done by the Federal Electrical Commission personnel). Yes, remunerado (not renumerado).

This shows once again the power of asking people to read things they don't understand.

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5000 Km

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 05/06/2010 - 07:34

In an amazing but meaningless feat of synchronicity, Toxicore's post led me to check how much distance have I done while excercising – I have mainly done this cycling, although some running also comes into play. Turns out I was just about to break the same mark he did. From my Nokia Sportstracker records:

Before breaking the 5000 Km mark, yesterday at noon:
Yesterday excercise records, at noon

After breaking the 5000 Km mark, yesterday at night:
Yesterday excercise records, at night

So, following Bubulle's style... If I have done 5000 Km since January 2008, when do you think I should reach 5500? 6000? 7000? Infinity and beyond?

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Post-apocalyptic times

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 05/05/2010 - 07:50

Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death, the mythological Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Mexico's de facto president, Felipe Calderón, once again showed his involuntary aptitude for deep political analysis: On Monday, on a State visit to Germany, he declared Mexico has faced the Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse (second source, in English). I agree: One year ago, we were facing a health emergency, the AH1N1 epidemic, hence pestilence. Since he took power in December 2006, the president's main action has been the war on drugs, hence war. The country was the worst performing Latin American country in 2009, with our economy falling 6.5%, more than any other country, and prices have been really on the rise, hence famine. Finally, death... official numbers state that there have been over 22000 deaths in the "war on drugs" — And merrily he stated that only 10% of that were civilians. Whatever that meant... But... What about the fifth? Who is he?

A plausible hypothesis is offered by cartoonist El Fisgón in today's cartoon in La Jornada:


«We don't know how he got here, but he is the most effective one»

Now... However good El Fisgón's analysis might be... Lets not get distracted with silly details. Hernández, another of La Jornada's great cartoonists, shows the hidden meaning:


— We are over the apocalypse!
— Does that mean we are facing the Final Judgement?

The coming of the five horsemen of apocalypse can only mean... It is time for the Final Judgement and the end of time!

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Probability, mindlessness and periodicity

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 04/26/2010 - 22:38

I bought my current cell phone in mid January 2008, which means I have had it for ~830 days.

I tend not to lose sight of the few things I keep on me at all times - Keys, wallet and cell phone. In this 830 day period, I doubt I have forgotten my phone for more than three days. Ok, lets just add some extra five days, for times I have travelled without the phone charger, resulting in me not having a phone available. So, eight days out of 830 gives us that the probability for me accidentally not having access to my phone for a whole day is close to 0.01, or 1% ⇒ P(stupid) ≅ 0.01.

I am not a heavy phone user. Far from it, I tend not to like using the phone. My calls are always kept to the minimum necessary, and I would not be surprised if I used my phone typically less than twice per week. However, there is a recurring event that makes my phone ring more often during certain very well defined periods of the year, with 1/365 probability. So, lets call this P(birthday) ≅ 0.00273.

Yesterday I spent the day with some good, very long time friends. We did the April Ciclotón - I biked for 42 very nice kilometers, they did 36 (as we met 8Km away from my home ;-) )... but yes, after a while, I left my phone at my friends' table.

So I guess today the phone will ring way more insistently than usual. At a table far away from home. With a probability of P(stupid ∩ birthday) ≅ 2.73 × 10⁻⁵.

So I'm facing the enjoyment of a very improbable day!

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A FLISOL critic

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 04/22/2010 - 08:28

Once again, I was invited by several different groups to be present at FLISOL, a quite interesting phenomenon: FLISOL (Latin-american Free Software Installation Festival) is s very large-scale, very loosely coordinated thing put together for five years already in over 200 cities in basically every Latin American country. Go to the FLISOL page, it is quite interesting to try to understand it!

Now, I don't like FLISOL. I managed to avoid it in 2005 and 2006; in 2007, I was present at a FLISOL, although I didn't know beforehand it was the reason for the conference I was invited to. In 2008 and 2009 I took part for reasons I should not go into right now. This year, again, I will not be part of any of its activities (regardless of rumors to the contrary – I was invited to be present at a panel on ACTA, but I have not followed the topic enough to be aware of anything besides the very basic aspects, I have no authority to speak about it; I told the organizers I would like to be there as part of the audience, but not present the topic. And I am quite work-stressed, so I doubt I'll make it). Why am I against FLISOL?

FLISOL itself, as I said, is a positive and interesting phenomenon, and I have enjoyed the conference cycles which often happen together with it. What I am against is installfests – In my opinion, in the stage we are at today, instead of promoting Free Software, an install-fest just works against it.

Free Software –Linux-based distributions at least– is widely known already, as a concept, even though most people dare not come anywhere close to it. Few people outside our already consolidated groups recognize programs such as the Mozilla and OpenOffice suites as being also Free Software, and valuable, quality alternatives for their everyday needs in the environments they currently use.

If we need to show how to install and understand the GNU/Linux ecosystem to people who have not got close, it is not IMHO to end users. Installing a GNU/Linux system is easy enough for anybody interested in doing it, or at least, for him to request a one-on-one help session, handholding and understanding the basic ideas. We need, in any case, for the computer corner shop technicians to be somewhat acquinted, at least with the basics, at least with one popular distribution (and with the fact that there are many, and that they are different).

People who have not had the curiosity and courage to try to install Linux by themselves do not need to be evangelized (a verb that should be out of our vocabularies by now, as that phase in our movement should be over by now) – End users have simple needs: Things should work, and be as surprise-free as possible. They don't want to depend on a specific time-starved person (or even on a small group of people, all of which have a sanctity delirium/aura). When they go to technical support, they expect the problem to be solved – Not even understanding what was wrong. End users are willing to pay a small fee to anybody to help them solve their problems.

The key word is anybody. If we (myself, or me and my 10 friends who were there at the gathering, or any sufficiently defined small group) are the only support point for the OS, it is no good. Online support forums are not good either, in my experience, as the end user will prefer just lugging the computer to the nearest technician and get it fixed. Even if fixed means just installing one more readily-available package (not to mention, of course, when an update breaks something).

I have witnessed, after an install fest, people walk very happy with their new system as a new toy. After a week or two, they cannot install the latest virus^Wscreen saver, or a legitimate program they need for their work. As it does not work, they take the computer to the technician... Who will end up formatting his system and installing something more usual.

On the other hand, some people prefer installing a dual-boot system – That guarantees the user will feel he is carrying some kind of moral superiority on his computer, and will often remember he has something Not Evil. This will often happen, of course, at boot time – When they see GRUB at boot time, and rush to select Windows before That Strange Thing starts up.

Anyway... Go ahead, install Free Software, enjoy the day. The conference cycles are usually interesting, and are the best part of it all — I'm not saying you should stop doing it. But I'd urge you to take the focus away from the mass-installs, which become often just lost work (even detrimental to furthering Free Software). Try to see things as a non-technically-interested user would. Try to design ways to get corner shop technicians interested. Maybe that can be useful in the long run.

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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Regarding the fatal cycling accident in Ciudad Universitaria

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 04/13/2010 - 17:41

My blog is written in English, even though I sometimes post content relevant locally. Anyway, I want this to be as widely known as possible. We are about to launch a website/community for my University's cyclists, BiciUNAMonos. Please note the site I'm linking is still very preliminary in several ways. But that's the least relevant for now.

I am translating here a message written by fellow cyclist (and researcher in the Institute of Astronomy of my University) Sergio Mendoza.

Regarding the fatal cycling accident in Ciudad Universitaria

Yesterday night I got home, and was quite surprised to open my mailbox and find a considerable amount of messages under the subject Urgent: Fallen cyclist! I immediately noticed something was very wrong, and was surprised they were contacting me. When I decided to read the first such message, I realized what happened: Dr. Jorge Villanueva was run over by the Puma [internal University service] bus number 14, route 2, which was being driven over the speed limit. This happened last Sunday, April 11. On Sundays, all of Ciudad Universitaria becomes a cycling and running circuit.

I was immediately brought back to the moment that, when I was leaving my office in the Astronomy Institute and heading towards Cerro del Agua avenue, a lady driving over the speed limit on the circuit that comes from Metro Universidad threw her car at me. I saw her at a few centimeters distance from her windshield... To the day I don't know how I pulled my bike away, as I was going to hit the windshield with my shoulder. Everything happened in slow motion, I just heard several cars honking at this imprudent lady. I didn't have a scratch, but got excessively close to getting a strong hit, and with the adrenaline raging I gave a kind caress with my closed fist to her brand new car. I had to free my adrenaline somehow... My legs were trembling when I tried to pedal. I told her, «lady, I am excessively visible in my bike, why did you do this?», she didn't answer, she just looked despectively at me.

This kind of accidents happen every day in the University and its main entries. Precisely today, a University professor threw his car at me entering the University via Cerro del Agua. When I reached him and confronted him, he told me –completely sure of his words– that I was invading the lane with my bike, and that it was my fault. Anybody would have thought a car-driving university professor is capable of reading the Metropolitant Transit Regulations that clearly states on its 1st article: The priority for using the public space, for the different transport modes will be according to the following priorization: I. Pedestrians; II. Cyclists; III. Users and providers of massive, collective or individual public transport service; IV. users of particular automotor transport; and V. users and providers of freight transport.

We are now organizing to put up the first ghost bike in Ciudad Universitaria. This happens few days before the formal inauguration of BiciUNAMonos, the universitary association of urban cyclists; we will do this remembering our university mate.

I see every day more people in the University hitting their bike pedals to get to their faculties, centers and research institutes, but what is striking is the lack of University infrastructure. The few cycleways we have are built to use a bycicle system that is open only until 16:00. It is good, but it is in no way useful for those of us who use the bike every day and at every hour, no matter the weather. The main problem lies at the communication points, when cyclists arrive from outside Ciudad Universitaria and have to take the regular circuits to reach the cycleways. The Transit Regulation, in the 1st article I quoted above, defines in an excellent way the priorities that must exist to allow human movility. In this regard we have to mention that:

  1. The pedestrians must be enormously protected with walkways and semaphores to allow them to safely walk. In Ciudad Unviersitaria there are many places that don't even have a walkway or semaphores, and drivers do not respect the pedestrian's preference. Also, now in the central area of Ciudad Universitaria we have the Pumabus system on a confined lane, providing an excellent service to the pedestrians to move within the campus.
  2. The cyclist comes next in this priorization, but there is nothing obvious for him. There are a couple of cyclist ways, usually invaded by pedestrians, and explicitly made to use the Bicipuma system. Cyclists need their own lane for circulation in the Universitary circuit; pedestrians have walkways, Pumabús has its confined lanes, but the cyclists still lack it. The third lane that remains is precisely for the IV and V entries in the Metropolitan Transport Regulations. They can perfectly share the remaining lane in the campus.

The last thing I wanted was to formally announce BiciUNAMonos reminding a fallen cyclist and dedicating a ghost bycicle to his memory in Ciudad Universtiaria, but we don't have a choice. We have to make it very clear to the University community that the bicycle is the best transport system, and that the drivers' imprudence inside Ciudad Universitaria must be strongly punished.

Sergio Mendoza
President
http://www.biciunamonos.org

Coincidentally, today I also had a freightening experience. Taking one of my usual routes to work, going up from the sporting area in the Western half of the campus (just before where the map lists the highest point in my ride), just by Investigaciones Biomédicas, I heard a car hitting the breaks behind me and passing me (on my right side) quite narrowly. I was, as always, driving towards the center of the lane, to be able to respond to unforseen events (as this one, precisely). The Universitary authorities had the great(?) idea of placing round, small bumps before the Pumabus stations to avoid drivers parking in front of them. I have seen a strong accident caused by them, and was close to suffering one myself some months ago. I know that just after Biomédicas there are some such bumps, so I never ride too much to the right – I don't know what was on this driver's head. Ciudad Universitaria has a 40 Km/h speed limit. Yes, it might seem too low - Circuits are wide and well planned. But there is a lot of cyclist and pedestrian transit, at all times, and I must recognize such a limit is well in place.

I often take a longer route to my Institute, bordering the University along Av. Delfín Madrigal. People tell me I'm crazy, as this is an avenue that's often taken at high speed - Usually, cars pass me by between 60 and 80 Km/h. However, I even feel safer going that way than going inside the University. Contrary to the popular belief, Universitary people do not have better driving habits than the bulk of the population. And it's often much easier to drive along a way where the traffic –even if it goes at three times my speed– runs only in one direction, unlike the swarming of people going in every possible direction inside the main campus.

Anyway, last Sunday we lost a University professor, we lost a cyclist. Some people lost a friend, a family member. We have to make this case well known, we have to speak with the authorities so they see the Bicipuma system is good, but not enough. Cycling is the only way to go for a city as complex as ours. A much needed first step is to allow proper vial connections linking the University and the many avenues that surround it. Another one is to make a campaign so the cyclists are not seen –as Sergio regards– as intruders in the streets — The street belongs to us all. Cyclists should never drive on walkways or among pedestrians. Drivers need to learn to share the streets with us.

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Lets all get running

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 04/11/2010 - 16:26

There is no clear reason, but for many months already, I have almost given up running – Which is a shame, as I enjoy it so much. And yes, I can talk a lot about why not, but –outside of one seemingly stupid point– there is really no reason.

And yes, I have taken on cycling, although on a very different fashion: Cycling is by far not as good as an exercise as running – Yes, cycling for ~1h on average 3 times a week has kept my body from becoming sedentary again, but I do feel some increased clumsiness and a undeniable weight gain that I don't want to allow.

I said there is one seemingly stupid point: Shoes. My running shoes are around two year old, and they are an important factor on me not running. Why? Because they started giving me blisters at ~5Km. And my shoe size is beyond what is considered as normal by Mexican standards – European 44-45 (US 10½-11). Shoe-shopping is always frustrating and very off-putting for me, as instead of what most people do (go to one store, ask for their favorite n pairs on their size, test them on, pay, be happy), I follow almost the opposite process (go to n stores, ask for whatever they have on my size, test it on, pray, pay). Of course, for some people, entering many stores and checking what's offered at each is a thrill by itself. For me, that sounds as thrilling as visiting the dentist for an endodontic treatment.

Oh, and to make things even better, I am quite low on cash. Scarcity economics explain that if a given good is hard to find, it will probably be more expensive. So, while many people in Mexico buy ~US$30 shoes, I often get to pay ~US$90. Fun, hah?

Anyway, I had a short semi-vacation to Argentina. I decided to kill this excuse, and went shoe-shopping. Fearsome memories sprang in my mind when the first store said they didn't have anything right for me. But they pointed to a second store, one block away, where I found (I was even able to choose between several models!) a nice pair of Olimpikus.

In 2008, I was routinely running slightly over 10Km. Today I went out to get back the feeling, and made a not-so-great-but-still-satisfying 4Km. And upon arriving back home, I read Christian's chronicle on his Paris Marathon run — Well, only 10% of what my fellow DD achieved – But I am definitively back on track. I expect to make some time to get a run, at least three times a week, trying to push my limit at least back to the nice spot I was at two years ago.

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Snails flying by

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 04/11/2010 - 13:54
Snails flying by

Snail mail has become a despised media. While I still held long conversations at a distance written with ink on paper, with latency measured in weeks and not in milliseconds, that's basically history now. Snail mail is where invoices are received. Ocassionally, a joyous invitation finds its way into my mailbox… But its regular use has been almost completely abandoned.

Which probably makes it more striking and more of a surprise to receive a very short note of a good friend living far away just stating a very warm greeting.

(of course, the paper was not GPG-signed, but I'll have to believe it was sent by him ;-) )

(Oh, about the title: The card is a print of Don Nisbett's «Fly By», which recreates Ilwaco, Washington's panorama)

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Caffeinated cats

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 04/08/2010 - 11:47

After being away from home for almost two weeks (and, due to unforseen circumstances, having the longest time away from my mailbox I can recall in almost 15 years), last Monday I met with Pooka and Caro, originally just for lunch, but it evolved into an evening-long work session on the SECO3 project (which I continued long into the night — But I'm drifting into offtopicness).

Caro is now living again in Costa Rica, and to prove it, she brought us two delicious-smelling bags of coffee. Now, I know my cats like the smell of coffee, I know specially Santa loves to completely put her head inside my coffee cup and lick what's left of my espresso's foam

But this was really surprising. It was not until today, three days later, I had the heart of bringing my coffee to the office where I'll enjoy it.

It is so aromatic that Chupchic and Santa seemed to be taking turns to keep me from claiming the bag — At all times, either (or both!) of them layed on top of my precious. It was not until today, when I gave them their breakfast, I was able to take the (still warm) bag of coffee and bring it to work.

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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,

Baroque spam, repetition ad nauseam

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 03/21/2010 - 02:13

Sitting at my hotel room in Tijuana, about to hit the bed, quite tired because of a nice, long walk I will write more about tomorrow, I have been listening for at least five minutes to a long, stupid infomerciative spam in the History Channel: A fountain pen, a five-point pen, and three other pen-like implements (plus extra and extra and extra things... They are listing a case with 63 implements now!)

Now, what is the hook into getting somebody to call for a classy pen? Elegance, of course! Just for the sake of this exercise, the spam continues to be played. And yes, it's only been two short paragraphs. But believe me, I am very tired, and trying to get some coherent English out of my brain is not as easy as it could.

Elegance, I said, right? Good. How do you convey elegance to TV spam/infomercials? Well, what's more classy and refined than a 30 second sample of Haydn? Man, Haydn is *so* classy that the viewer will not even notice the snippets of blabber have incoherent redaction.

Anyway... Spam goes on. I cannot stand any more repetitions of this 30 Haydn seconds. They are stronger than me. And that old lady says that anybody is writing in their computer now… I will only write with my fountain pen from now on! — I will surely follow her wise advise!

(STOP IT WITH THE STUPID HORN!)

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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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