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!


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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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Boogie el Aceitoso — Oily Boogie

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 03/11/2010 - 00:23

Today I took a break before my usual lunchtime to go to the movies — Boogie el Aceitoso was on at 13:00 (and not at the more usual, late screenings).

Oily Boogie is a great antihero drawn by the much beloved Roberto El Negro Fontanarrosa, a very widely known Argentinian humorist/cartoonist. I got acquinted with Boogie as during the 80s-90s my parents were asiduous readers of Proceso, a weekly political analysis magazine which included one of his cartoons at the last page.

Boogie is a pathological ex-Vietnam, ex-Laos ex-El Salvador, ex-Gulf War, ex-(whatever comes next) USA soldier, who deals with the local mafias whenever he is not active. Brutal, often seen as inhuman.

I remember reading it without really understanding its nonsensical violence at first. And, as I said, Fontanarrosa is a very loved cartoonist - In Mexico I think we were much more acquinted with Boogie than with Inodoro Pereyra, and still, Fontanarrosa's death in 2007 was very heartfelt here.

About the movie: I found it to be very good, of course, knowing what to expect. Most lines are short, screen adequations of various cartoons along Boogie's long life as a thug. I specially liked the animation technique — I know very little about the subject, but it mixed quite naturally and constantly obvious still, cartoony characters with vivid, photo-based items. It creates a completely believable atmosphere inside the absolute amoral, selfish and (fortunately!) grossly exagerated and impossible world of Boogie.

I sometimes feel somewhat stupid when writing in English for a mostly Spanish-speaking audience — Still, if you see Boogie in a movie theater, don't hesitate and go. As always, with non-top-selling, non-Hollywood movies, it is quite probable it will not be showing for long.

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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)

Authoral rights in the editorial world seminar

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

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

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

Free entrance (but limited space - so they ask interested people to confirm their presence by mail to

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

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

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


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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Computer education parallelisms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Über-redundant paperwork

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 02/03/2010 - 19:23
Über-redundant paperwork

So I finally got off my lazy butt and started the paperwork to get a formal recognition of studies equivalence for a undergraduate studies (Licenciatura en ingeniería de software) via CENEVAL's Acuerdo 286 (licenciatura).

Part of the paperwork involves filling the form I photographed and attached to this node. This is the utmost example of über-redundant paperwork... Where it requires my personal data, some of the fields are:

Clave Única de Registro Poblacional, Unique Populational Registration Key. This is a string composed by:
  • WOIG: First letter and first vowel after the first letter of my first family name, first letter of my second family name, first letter of my given name
  • 760427: birth date, yymmdd
  • H: Sex (H = male, M = female, I guess)
  • DF: State or federative entity I was born in
  • LSN: First consonant after the first letter of the first and second family name and of the given name
  • 03: Deambiguation digits

…So far, so good.

Well, cannot it be deduced from the CURP? It has my full birth date!
Well, cannot it be deduced from the CURP? It is a specific field in it
Birth date
Man, you already have it literally on top of the field!
This tramit is only for Mexicans, so... what's the point?
Birth place
The CURP states already the state or federative entity I was born... But I'll accept this one, as not all states have only one city as DF does

Quite a nice catalog of redundancies. As a cherry on top of the cake, the phone number states I should write my long distance phone code (LADA – historically, Larga Distancia Automática, Automatic Long Distance) only if I am in any of the states. I can only ask myself why...

Anyway... Lets continue filling paperwork. Grah. Hopefully I will be able to get my papers... somewhen in the next half century.

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Captchas are for humans...

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 01/28/2010 - 08:35

Nobody cares about me, I thought. Whatever I say is just like throwing a bottle to the infinite ocean.

No comments, no hopes of getting any, for several days. Weeks maybe? Not even the spammers cared about me.

Until I read this mail, by Thijs Kinkhorst commenting to my yesterday post:

(BTW, I was unable to comment on your blog - couldn't even read one letter of the CAPTCHA...)

And, yes, Drupal module «captcha» introduced in its 2.1 release (January 2) feature #571344: Mix multiple fonts.

Only... no fonts were selected. Grah.

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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 lenny misc
deb-src 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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100 years of «policletos»

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 01/18/2010 - 11:53

Among the many columns and lesser sections of my favorite national newspaper I enjoy reading the Centenaria column — Notes published one hundred years ago in Mexico City local newspapers.

A couple of decades ago, we started having policletos on the streets — "Policías bicicletos". Cops on bikes. I don't know if we had policletos as a continuous presence before that, but I do remember it being somewhat controversial in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Anyway, this snippet (and sadly I cannot capture the 1910 writing style in English) was a joy to read:

January 18, 1910

Good results of using bicycles for surveillance

As we have come to know, the service the first-class policemen are doing on bike, mainly during night time, has yielded great results, as the street policemen often fell asleep and woke up upon hearing a horse approaching, which does not happen anymore because the first-class policemen make much quicker rounds, and before the street policemen even think of it, their superior is standing in front of them.

It also seems that robberies, so frequent during the nights, have ceased because the burglars, hastily breaking the locks, are caught by the bike-riding policemen, given the machines barely make any noise, and besides, they cannot run away because they are chased with no effort.

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Engineer? Scientist?

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 01/10/2010 - 21:14

Looking over some articles in the March 2009 issue of the Communications of the ACM magazine, I found a very good piece column (Is software engineering engineering?, Denning, Peter J., and Riehle Richard D. , Communications of the ACM, 03/2009, Volume 52, Number 3, p.24-26, (2009) ). Quoting from it:

The search for an alternative to the programmer image is already a generation old. In 1989 we asked: Are we mathematicians? Scientists? Engineers? We concluded that we are all three. We adopted the term "computing", an analogue to the European "informatics", to avoid bias towards any one label or description.


Predictable outcomes (principle of least surprise)

Engineers believe that unexpected behaviors can be not only costly, but dangerous; consequently, they work hard to build systems whose behaviorthey can predict. In software engineering, we try to eliminate surprises by deriving rigurous specifications from well-researched requirements, then using tools from program verification and process management to assure that the specifications are met. The ACM Risks Forum documents a seemingly unending series of surprises from systems on which such attengion has been lavished. Writing in ACM SIGSOFT in 2005, Riehle suggested a cultural side of this: where researchers and artists have a high tolerance, if not love, for surprises, engineers do everything in their power to eliminate surprises. Many of our software developers have been raised in a research tradition, not an engineering tradition.

It would be an interesting excercise to find how people rate themselves in this regard in a large group of developers, and find the differences in their coding styles, or how varied (in developer profiles) are each of the sub-groups.

Winter in the tropics

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 01/10/2010 - 01:21

Five out of six experts agree:

Five out of six cats cannot be mistaken
It. Is. Cold.

No, we are far from this very impressive picture of a fully-snowed UK seen from the sky that everybody and their dog must have seen by now. Still, in Mexico City we are experiencing the traditional one-or-two-weeks-a-year where it is genuinely cold. And, very strange being this Winter (the rainy season is Summer around here, January should be dry!) we have rain all day long.

The Ajusco mountain is around 15Km south from my home, and it is the closest of the giants that surround our valley. Yesterday I managed to get some peeks at it behind the very thick layer of clouds we have. Ajusco looks really gorgeous all snowed, maybe down to the 3400m line (while the city's main area is at 2300m). This picture was not taken this year, we have snow in Ajusco almost every year (although very seldom as much as this time):

(last photo is not current, we have not yet had a clear day to take a picture of our Ajusco yet this year)

How does it feel? Well, I live in Coyoacán, in the flat area of the valley. Remember that houses here are not built to endure extreme temperatures (and this week is what we call extreme, of course ;-) ). According to Yahoo! Weather:

And while the difference appears to be small, what about Magdalena Contreras, ~200m higher, where many people dear to me live (and have even a window pending to be installed)?

People say this cold wave is the strongest in 120 years, since records are being taken. Every year people get excited, expecting that this time we will get snow. This has only happened once in at least a century, in 1966 AFAIR. I do not think this year to be atypical.

Still, I have a reputation for being insensible to cold weather. Everybody wears heavy jackets while I still go to work with my usual long-sleeved shirt and that's it. But the last two days, I have been using jacket and scarf...

But, of course, I don't look as gratious or cute as my cats :-}

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