[review] Packt's «Instant Haml»

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 01/08/2014 - 14:34

Packt Publishing sent me Krzysztof Nikiński's «Instant Haml» to do a short blog review... Thing is, and those who read me know, I cannot write short reviews ;-) So lets see how this goes.

Packt's Instant series

First, as for the format this book follows and the series it fits in: They are very short books. I was the tech reviewer for their «Instant Debian – Build a Web Server», and when I opened it for the first time, I thought I had received only the first chapter. This series' motto is Short | Fast | Focused — so, yes, the books are ~50 pages long, with ample margins and many big screenshots. I told the editors I was quite unsure about the value this kind of publications add, as they are very similar to online tutorials, but given they have so many books in this series (printed and electronic), there must be a market for them. They surely know their business better than me!

There is one other detail regarding the publisher I'll stick in this section, although it is not specific to their Instant series: I do most of my reading in my Kindle. Packt seems to have chosen to specify a very small font for their texts. Besides the two books mentioned, I also have their Object Oriented JavaScript book. For all of the other books I read, I use the smallest font setting. Packt books in mobi format (what they present as Amazon format in their web site) are basically illegible without bumping up the font size through the roof. As I understand it, publishers should use industry-wide default sizes, and let the reader adjust their reading experience. Yes, books of technical nature (such as Packt's) often benefit from having more displayed information than what an ebook reader normally shows... But that's for me to decide! And no, this is not a Kindle-specific glitch: I also get a similar experience when opening it from Calibre.

And as for the book...

I am a long-time Haml convert/fan; I packaged its Ruby implementation for Debian (and should update it soon :-/ as new versions have appeared), the corresponding Emacs Lisp mode, and I use it for basically all of my static HTML sites and Ruby-based Web systems.

Haml is a great templating language, meant to make dynamic HTML generation leaner and easier. It is a clean and elegant technology, and can clearly sell itself. And the project webpage has very good documentation, ranging from a short tutorial and a full API documentation for people to contribute to the project.

The first part of this book, of course, covers the "why is Haml so great?" part, presenting the basic equivalences with HTML. In my opinion, the book could be structured a bit differently and would generate a stronger following. Why? Because, even given that Haml is greatly benefited from its Ruby integration and has many hooks to be tightly integrated in a Rails workflow, it can also be used by people who don't want to do Ruby.

I have some static websites that are just a bunch of Haml files, compiled by a very simple Makefile and calling the haml command from the shell. I think there would be some value in presenting this invocation before learning how to call it from the Gems environment (i.e. bundle install).

Using Haml as a standalone tool is only presented almost as an appendix ("Using HAML outside of Rails" section). Even more so if the author presents four different static-site solutions (probably more non-programmer-friendly than my trusty Makefile).

Oh, and this little section uses the (old? obsolete?) uppercase HAML notation for the project's name instead of the now-standard Haml.

Dirty screenshots

About the screenshots presented in this first section (and I refer mainly to the scaffolding examples), they are meant to show how easy things are, but have an important stylistic mistake: Terminals with transparency might look cool (I hate using them, but then again I'm a very boring person when it comes to my computer habits ;-) ), but transparencies have no place in a book (be it printed or e-book), as the images appear very uncrisp. In the Kindle, they just seemed dirty — Now that I'm browsing the PDF from my desktop, I see that the screenshot in "Step 1" has a photo of Earth from space behind the terminal, and even worse, in "Step 2" it is shown over a Web page detailing the installation! These elements are just distracting, and the text would be much cleaerer if it were presented typeset just as a regular code fragment. Opening many of those screenshots in the Kindle was plain useless.

Editor integration

It is perfectly clear from this text that the author strongly prefers Sublime Text, sometimes uses TextMate, and has just heard reports that Haml has some support in Vim, Rubymine, Emacs and Coda. Of course, devoting a full page (as it is for the first case) for each editor would be out of proportion for this size of book... I just felt the imbalance too big, specially given that most editors will sport approximately the same feature set.

Text redundancy

If the Instant series is about making short books, I would expect them to be loaded with easy to follow content (as they are), but free of repetition. I felt, however, a large chunk of step 1 of the "Quick start" chapter to be repeated with the the first section of the "Top 6 features" chapter. Yes, the second one adds some depth, but very little. Still, in the later parts of this "Top 6 features" chapter, a more thorough explanation could be used for the Filters, Multiline attributes/code/strings and helpers and extensions sections. It seems the author was on a hurry trying to get it finished, as it is barely explained — Explaining a bit more deeply would surely benefit readers.

Wrapping up

Reading my review, I'm mostly talking about negative issues. IMO, the book is not excellent, but it is clearly not bad. Specially given it fits very well the format for which it was designed. There are many items that could be fixed, and I hope some of them can be fixed (i.e. the screenshots) before the book goes to print — If I understand Packt's page correctly, it is currently only available as ebook, contrary to most of the Instant series' titles.

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Meeting with Chilean sysadmins

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 01/08/2014 - 12:33
Meeting with Chilean sysadmins

Ok, so I'm back in Mexico!

This year, the best fare I found for travelling to spend the Winter^WSummer season with Regina's family had an oddity: I usually have a layover at either Santiago de Chile or Lima (Perú) of between 45 minutes and 2 hours, clearly less than enough to do anything. But this time, I had a massive 10 hours layover in Santiago. And spending 10 hours in an airport is far from fun. Specially when you have a good group of friends in town!

I visited Chile in 2004 for Encuentro Linux (still before the time I had a digital camera: Those photos are all taken by Martin Michlmayr), and I have stayed in touch with a group of systems administrators since then. So, I mailed the list, and we managed to get eight people to have lunch together. In the order we appear in the photo:

  • Victor Hugo dos Santos
  • Mauricio Troncoso
  • Álvaro Herrera
  • Ricardo Lemus
  • Marcelo Riquelme
  • Carlos Sepúlveda
  • Gunnar Wolf
  • Pablo Silva

Some of them, even living in the same city, had never met in person before — So, of course, we had a table reserved at the restaurant to the name of Dennis Ritchie. And having had nice, fun, sometimes-technical talks... Well, a tiny bit of his spirit was there. Of course, we can only trust he was there, as no Ouija boards were used and no null pointers were dereferenced (just to make sure not to disturb him).

Victor Hugo and Álvaro took me for a short Santiago city trip before lunch, we had a very nice time. Thanks! :-)

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Pan Latin American Hashomer, 18 years later

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 01/06/2014 - 10:06
Pan Latin American Hashomer, 18 years later

In 1994/1995, I spent probably the most unique and memorable year of my life with the people of several Zionist youth movements in Israel, working in a kibutz, learning in Jerusalem...

In 1995, after most of my group returned to Mexico, I stuck with the newly arrived South American group of Hashomer Hatzair (plus some affiliates).

We were 18-19. And 18-19 years later, here we are: Fabián (from Buenos Aires) and Fabiana (from Montevideo), living in Buenos Aires, with two kids. Regina (from Paraná) and me (from Mexico), living in Mexico, no kids yet.

Two couples. Three countries. Four cities. And a lovely evening. And the hopes to stay in touch, to meet every year when we come to visit Argentina.

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For people in Mexico: Workshop next Wednesday! Video editing from the command line (by Chema Serralde, @joseserralde)

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 12/05/2013 - 20:56

(Yes, yes... Maybe I should post in Spanish.. But hey, gotta keep consistecy in my blog!)

General, public, open invitation

Are you in Mexico City, or do you plan to be next Wednesday (December 11)?

Are you interested in video edition? In Free Software?

I will have the pleasure to host at home the great Chema Serralde, a good friend, and a multifacetic guru both in the technical and musical areas. He will present a workshop: Video editing from the command line.

I asked Chema for an outline of his talk, but given he is a busy guy, I will basically translate the introduction he prepared for this same material in FSL Vallarta, held two weeks ago.

With the help of the commandline, you can become a multimedia guru. We will edit a video using just a terminal. This skill will surprise your friends — and your couple.

But the most important is that this knowledge is just an excuse to understand step by step what does a video CODEC mean, what is a FORMAT, and how video and audio editors work; by using this knowledge, you will be able to set the basis for multimedia editing, without the promises and secrets of propietary editors.

How much does my file weigh and why? How to improve a video file's quality? Why cannot I read my camera's information from GNU/Linux?

By the end of this workshop, we well see how some libraries help you develop your first audio and video application, what are their main APIs and uses.

Logistics

Everybody is welcome to come for free, no questions asked, no fees collected. I can offer coffee for all, but if you want anything else to eat/drink, you are welcome to bring it.

We do require you to reserve and confirm your place (mail me to my usual mail address). We have limited space, and I must set an absolute quota of 10 participants.

Some people hide their address... Mine is quite publicly known: Av. Copilco 233, just by Parque Hugo Margain, on the Northern edge of UNAM (Metro Copilco).

The course starts at 16:00, and lasts... As long as we make it last ;-)

So, that said... See you there! :-D

[update]: Chema sent me the list of topics he plans to cover. Copy/pasting from his mail, in Spanish:

TALLER RELÁMPAGO DE EDICIÓN AUDIOVISUAL EN LÍNEA DE COMANDO
José María Serralde Ruiz, facilitador

  1. Editando como cavernícola.
    1. Manipulación básica de archivos multimedia en entornos POSIX.
    2. Sé un Bash VJ (videojockey)
    3. Vaciando y entubando
  2. Editando como científico.
    1. Encabezados y fourcc
    2. 3 familias de CODECS de vídeo y sus patentes
    3. 3 famlias de CODECS de audio y sus patentes
    4. Muxers, demuxers y muxes.
  3. Editando como artista.
    1. Cajas de herramientas en software libre para procesamiento de vídeo.
    2. Procesamiento en tiempo real de vídeo (el que se crea artista pierde)
    3. Derritiendo vídeo, audio con calcetines MELT + SOX

Software necesario

(sistemas operativos POSIX, windouseros acercarse con el afán de repensar sus vidas): mplayer, avconv/ffmpeg (libavcodec), melt, sox, imagemagick

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On errors in exams - Short rant

Submitted by gwolf on Sat, 11/30/2013 - 13:08

Blogging from a phone... first time ever. I don't want to forget some specifics for this :)

I have just completed an exam to try to enter a postgraduate program (I'll talk more about it once it becomes real ). The exam is administered by CENEVAL, the same evaluation agency Where I presented my graduation equivalency exam some years ago - Only this exam is for all of the postgraduate studies on many national universities and is thus basically just a psychometric test.

The exam had 162 questions, all to be filled in a optical reader sheet, on five subjects: mathematical reasoning, Spanish grammar and comprehension, Project management, Computers and technology, And English reading and understanding.

It was all in all a fun exam to take, mostly due to the math reasoning part. But... on the Subject I Know I am an expert, I have to complain (and intend to find a easy to do so formally). First, I spotted two absolute mistakes (and answered based on What I knew others would, but knowing the answer is wrong technically). One was a subtlety, on how and why have hard drives should be defragmented (and part of my quip is that it's an obsolete habit, but besides, the answers were all erroneous), but a second one was... just wrong. It asked on what should not be part of an "Internet link" (can only guess they meant An URL). The 4 options were valid parts of a URL - including one very seldom used by most people, but very often by many of us: the @ sign.

Anyway, answered it, but my other main gripe is that most of the section was in specific use of Office software. Not only In Office-like, which would be bad enough to begin with, but on specific ways of using Mainly Excel And PowerPoint. Syntax issues, or the name of the menu under which to look for specific functions.
Anyway, I will wait the stipulated 10 days for the exam to be rated, but will anyway look die a way to contact the very opaque and secretive CENEVAL. Not to demand to be better treated, but to try to correct those known mistakes and errors.

Back aches...

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 11/21/2013 - 11:04

This year, I had slowly taken again running. It's an activity I enjoy, even though I'm far from the condition I had when I did it every day — My maximum was running about 8Km four days a week (ocassionally up to 15Km, say, on weekends)... But I slowly drifted out of it over the last three years. Yes, I have taken it up now and then, but dropped out again after a few weeks.

Well, this year it felt I was getting back in the routine. Not without some gaps, but I had ran most weeks since July at least once, but usually two times. I started slowly, doing about 3Km close to home, but didn't take much to go back to my usual routes inside UNAM, doing a modest average of 4.5-5Km per run, and averaging somewhat over 8Km/h (6.5 min/Km).

But... Well, I cannot relate precisely what happened on this — Exactly a month ago, after a very average run (even a short one, 3.6Km), I had a lower back ache. Didn't pay too much attention to it, but it was strange since the first day, as I often have upper back aches — Never lower.

The pain came and went slowly several times. I kept cycling to work, although not every day. On October 27th, I even took the time to do the Ciclotón, a nice 38Km (including the ~5Km distance from home) around central Mexico City. I enjoyed the ride, even though every stop and re-start of the bike was a bit painful — what hurts is to get off and on the bike: The posture change. But the pain has been almost constantly there. When I stand up, or when I sit down, it's about five minutes until the body gets used to the new position and stops hurting.

Another strange data point: This last weekend (together with a national holiday) we went to a small conference in Guadalajara, and then to visit our friends in Guanajuato. So, we spent 12 hours on the bus there (12‽ Yes, there was an accident on the road, and we could not pass... So many hours were wasted there, and going back to a junction to take an alternative, longer road), then one night in a hotel bed, and two nights in our friends' guest mattresses — which are not precisely luxury-grade. And Sunday night... I had no pain at all!

Came back home, and after only one night back in our bed... I just could not move. I had the strongest pain so far. Could not even walk without some help. We went to the orthopedist a friend recommended, and I was seriously bending my posture: While that part of my posture is usually stable, my right hip was about 2cm higher than the left one, and my shoulders were almost 7cm displaced from my hips!

So... Well, I'm having a cocktail of painkillers and antiinflamatories. The doctor says next week he wants me to have a tomography taken to better understand the causes for this.

And, of course, tomorrow I'm leaving for Festival de Software Libre in Puerto Vallarta. I'm going there by plane, so no big hassle. But the way back, it will be 12 more hours on a bus. I'm... not precisely looking forward to this bus ride :(

Anyway... I sorely miss my bike+running :(

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Talking in Paraná: Free Software philosophy / the Debian project. PS: Want to contribute?

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 11/10/2013 - 20:46

I'm very happy: I was finally able to present a talk at a Free Software conference in Paraná, Argentina — Regina's hometown. Not only in Paraná, but at the Vieja Usina culture center, half a block away from her parents' house. So, I must doubly thank Laura: First, for letting us know there would be a Free Software conference there, and second, for taking some pictures :-}

What was this conference? Conferencia Regional de Software Libre, organized by Grupo de Usuarios de GNU/Linux de Entre Ríos (GUGLER). Of course, flying to Argentina (and more specifically, to Paraná, which is ~500Km away from the international airport) just for a one day conference was out of the question — So I gave the talk by videoconference. Of course, given we will be travelling for the December vacations to Argentina, I expect to meet in person the GUGLER guys soon.

I gave a single talk, mixing together two different topics: (my very personal take on) the Free Software philosophy and Debian's place in the Free Software universe. I had a very good time giving the talk, and while I was unable to look at my audience, I got reports saying they were happy and interested. I even got some mails from them, which makes me quite happy ;-)

Now, one of the recurring points whenever I talk about Debian: I often tell people that I cannot tell them why they should use Debian instead of other distributions. My years testing every distribution I come across are long gone, and I nowadays am familiar with Debian only. But I also tell them that personally I gain nothing by having more Debian users in the world — What I want to achieve is the next logical step: To have more people contributing to Debian. So, here is a great opportunity for interested people, specifically a group that often has a hard time finding a way to collaborate with Free Software projects.

Today, Paul Tagliamonte published a call for proposals for Debian 8 (Jessie)'s artwork. So, given many people always want to find a way to contribute to Free Software without being a coder, here's a golden opportunity. You can look at the themes sent for Debian 7 as a reference; look also at the technical requirements for your artwork, and... Well, you have until early February to work on it!

Another guest in the classroom! Sandino Araico ( @KBrown ): Memory management and security

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 11/03/2013 - 12:16

This last Thursday I was able again to lure a good friend of mine into presenting an interesting topic to my students at my Operating Systems class: Sandino Araico, a very well known and very well regarded local security guru, presented several issues regarding memory management. I asked him to present the issues on buffer overflows, as well as possible mitigaion strategies, but of course, to present that topic, he had to walk all over the map of memory management.

A good and interesting class. I was able to film it again, and here it is — Sadly, as I explain to some students who suggested me to put the computer in a different place, the angle and the audio quality are not as good as they could — If I were to move the computer to have a better angle of Sandino, I would lose audio quality.

Being it the eve of Día de Muertos, and having a beutiful mega-altars festival just outside the faculty, the outside noise level was quite high, and... Well, I know Sandino rarely raises his voice, so it was better to locate the computer close to him. Of course, add to it that my hardware is by a long shot far from professional-grade. I just used a very cheapish laptop.

I was a bit skeptical to begin with — I have to recognize I have given this topic quite hastily, as we are getting near the end of semester and there's still a lot of topics to cover. But the students seemed interested in Sandino's presentation, and –once again– I am fully satisfied with my guest's performance.

As always. All of my six guests' presentations (over two semesters) have been great. If I were able to get a guest for each of my classes... I'd even save a lot of class-preparation time! :-}

Oh, but you came here looking for the video, right? Here it is: Memory management and security, by Sandino Araico. October 31, 2013.

César Yáñez (@caesarcomptus) in the classroom: Process scheduling

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 10/13/2013 - 21:34

I try to have some guests every now and then to my Operating Systems class. The class is not as practical/interactive as I'd like, and having some people show the students how the subjects I teach are reflected in the real world is, I feel, very useful for them to understand the topics' importance.

The past semester (the first one for me) I had three guests: Chema Serralde, talking about process scheduling and in particular on the importance of real time, from his perspective as a musician, Rolando Cedillo, talking about the early stages of the boot process, and César Yáñez, giving a review of file systems. This semester, there have been two guests so far: Felipe Esquivel, who spoke about parallelism, and used renders with Blender to illustrate the speed gains and limitations (i.e. Amdahl's law), and this last Thursday, I invited again César Yáñez. César spoke about process scheduling, first giving a quite thorough review of what had taken me at least three sessions to go through, and second, giving some in-depth review based on his experience with Haiku OS.

What else was different this time? I told our coordinator in the faculty, and she invited the other teachers of the subject (and attended herself). So, instead of the usual ~25 students, we have ~40 people in the classroom. And one of them, Adolfo, recorded most of César's explanation. Yay!

Of course, I asked Adolfo for a copy of his recording, and recoded it in a format more suitable for Web viewing. Here it is (almost 300MB, Ogg Video, ~95 minutes). I still have the original video file given to me, in an Apple-generated badly-compressed .mov, but at over 1.5GB, it's too much for a Web download. I will try to record future sessions, as they will surely be useful!

Piracy and culture circulation: #encirc13

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 10/01/2013 - 15:15

This week's lesson on the «Arte y cultura en circulación: crear y compartir en tiempos digitales» course talks about piracy and the circulation of culture, a topic that over time has been debated over and over. And a topic, yes, that can always lead to interesting discussions.

This time, we are requested to choose one among ten ideas among the media groups' discourse on what piracy is and means for the "cultural industry". There are tons of material written already on several of those ten lines (i.e. piracy disincentivates creativity, or two that can be seen as two faces of the same argument, If a consumer can have free access to cultural products, he will stop spending his money on them and Every time a consumer has access to an illegal copy, the industry loses a sale), and some are quite obvious (i.e. Piracy makes job positions be lost... Just look at the amount of people the unauthorized distribution industry feeds! Or possibly, Piracy is a prosper industry that gives money to people distributing illegal products — Of course, that is true. The problem is, what causes said products to be illegal to begin with? Should they be so?). Some other ideas talk about harsher penalties and ways to punish illegal copying in order to drive actors out of that sector (and into the... void?)

So, I chose item #4: Cultural products have a high cost because their production is complex (and a tag could be made, linking complex with expensive). I think this item can lead to a long discussion as to what does this complexity and cost mean.

Some cultural products do require quite a bit of investment, yes. Others don't. How do content producers make the jump to produce expensive works?

If I am a new programmer/artist/writer/screenplayer/whatever, most likely, my products will be not very complex or expensive. I will start small. And if I excel at my work, somebody will look at me and, in some way, become my patron, my sponsor. Being a sponsor might mean that, based on the results of my good work, I could get hired as a software developer at a large company, or an editorial company would buy the patrimonial rights of my book/music (be it for a fixed fee or for a percentage of sales), or whatever. But the leap is not made quantically — A newcomer to the cultural scene will at first, most likely, have a hard time selling his products.

At first, it takes convincing just getting people to take a shot at looking at your work («Hey, please take a look at my program and tell me what you think about it!», «Would you be interested in listening to my latest song?» — And those two are by far ahead of the first attempts where the interactions would more likely be «Turn off that $#^#!^ computer, it's well past bedtime» or «stop murdering that guitar, I'm having a headache»). Maybe the toughest part is to get people to agree to read/hear your work. And there, you start into a continuum — Selling your CDs while performing on the street, then getting to play to a bar, then getting somebody to want to produce (maybe even "discover"!) you. Publish some short stories in your school magazine, then in a "From our audience" section in a larger magazine, then a collective book, your self-published book, yet-unwritten books by contract... The same story over and over again, in each different field.

Ok, yes, but... This logic succession still leaves space for the Important Producers with the Mighty Big Pockets for the most wanted/largest productions, right? And were unauthorized distribution (piracy) to be the norm (as it currently is, dare I say), wouldn't they stop producing an important portion of cultural works?

I'd be tempted to say so. However, a different actor comes into play. When Mighty Big Pockets comes into play, they no longer worry only about getting money from each cultural creation, but from all derived uses of it. And the cultural creation industry (when seen as an industry) goes very much hand in hand with the advertising, marketing industries — They end up blending with each other.

So, the biggest best sellers will most likely have a hit from illegal copiers. Books are still a great business, but hey — An even better business is (usually) movie making. And when you make a movie out of a great story, you will surely link some advertising into it (or at the very least, push advertising/product pushing campaigns to go after it). And there, illegal distribution actually helps the money circle to grow stronger. In the early 1990s, the link between dinosaurs and carbonated drinks was a top seller (because Pepsi™ was a Jurassic Park® sponsor). Although I have always loathed the madness around the World Cups (and basically anything that involves football of any kind), I can perfectly remember several of the theme songs for most of the world cups played during my lifetime.

So, in short... No. Illegal distribution does marginally little harm to the money income to the cultural business, at any level. And where it does get some direct harm, it increases the money flux given the auxiliary channels.

Is there some old-school programmer available around here?

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 09/25/2013 - 17:04
Is there some old-school programmer available around here?

Just saw this ad today at my Institute's door. Rough translation:

Interim programmer sought

Requisites:

  • High school
  • One year of experience
  • Theorical and practical exams on the area
  • Familiarity handling electronic equipment, such as computers, perforators/punchers, terminals and similar.

[Yes, this is a joke post. I don't know how anybody is using such an obsolete job description. A job description at least three decades out of date]

[Well, yes, I understand it, because I knowhow that particular union works. But I cannot accept it is for real]

[...And no, please don't apply for the job. You will be miserable in the unlikely event you are chosen]

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This week it was an easy one: On picking free licensing schemes #encirc13

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 09/22/2013 - 22:07

The third lesson of the «Arte y cultura en circulación: crear y compartir en tiempos digitales» course was quite easy, at least for me, as it's one of the topics I've been involved with for a long time: Authors' rights and ways to exercise them.

This lesson starts by talking about the paradoxes created in the reality beneath copyright mostly due to the zero-cost-for-perfect-copy reality we live in today, and then goes on to introduce the most widely spread licensing schemes for cultural works nowadays: The Creative Commons licensing schemes.

What I felt very interesting is that the lesson tackles the most common issues raised by authors choosing CC licensing: The Non-Commercial and Non-Derivatives restrictions. While authors are usually not very hard to convince about the virtues (and their personal benefit) in CC licensing, it's usually hard for authors to accept and relinquish the "locks" on non-derivability and non-commercial-use.

Now, as to the homework: This time, I have to admit it was a no-brainer to me. The homework was to take part of a "Licenciatón": Publish some work under a open or free license (a work of any kind; it can be text, photo, video, etc.; it can be a new or a pre-existing work) and argue as to why did you choose said license.

Even the act of writing this blog post means I'm releasing some work. The bottom of my blog reads, «All the material found at this site is freely available, and you can use it as you wish, except when the document mentions explicitly different conditions.» Yes, this is not a widely known, preexisting licensing scheme, and more or less goes along the lines of CC0 — There are some good things I have posted in this blog, some things I am proud about. This post goes more towards the average quality: Not adding anything of great value to the world, just reiterating/reposting what is already said. But I know this blog is syndicated over several different places, and its content might be copied over to other places. I don't need to know or be notified about it. I just care for people to be able to reach back if they want to do it.

But, of course, if I'm asked to do a homework, I prefer not to have it so self-referential. What else to license?

We are over halfway across the Wiki Loves Monuments contest for 2013. This year I am clearly not as active on it as I was last year, but yesterday I uploaded about 60 photos from our recent trips, from historical monuments in some towns/cities within ~150Km of Mexico City: Puebla, Tlaxcala, Cacaxtla, Toluca, Santiago Tianguistenco. I intend to upload more. Those photos are licensed CC-BY-SA. Why? Mainly, because it is the defaul for the contest. One of the lessons learned working on Debian is that the less the license I choose deviates from what the upstream authors of a larger project prefer, the more useful my work will be. And being Wikimedia a host of many related projects, I prefer to completely abide by their recommendations unless there is a real, strong reason not to do so.

Also, I know that at least most the photos I am uploading are not of contest quality (although some are quite nice, but we don't take that long to take a shot, and our camera is probably too basic to get a quality shot, if not by mere chance). I am using the WLM contest as an excuse to categorize and upload my pictures — Of course, I'm not including personal photos, but... If I found a building, place or landscape interesting enough to take a photo of, why not make said photo available for whoever needs it, in a canonical, easy to reach media repository (as Wikimedia Commons) is)?

And finally, I think it's time to start getting more open and forward-going with a project that I have been giving a lot of work during the past year, a project that has been even eating quite a bit of my Debian time: My upcoming book. While this book is not yet freely licensed (it is freely distributed online, but does not yet have an explicit license, and I mention it on my teaching/project page. Why? Because it still has some figures and data which are not mine, and which I have to re-elaborate to be able to legally license it.

But anyway — I am writing a book on the subject of Operating Systems, and am basing my teaching on it. The first semester was basically hell for me, as I was working almost full time on it, and needed to allocate some time as well to the rest of my formal work. This second semester has been quite smoother. And there is a very important (to me) initiative to which I (or should I now start saying, we) submitted this work: The LATIn Project: An initiative to collaboratively create quality, freely redistributable text books for the university level, natively in Spanish, for their use in Latin American countries.

I was not able to propose this book due to some formalities — Projects have to be proposed by professors in participant universities, and UNAM is not one of them. However, I offered this work to people in the Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Argentina, and they managed to push the project forward. Together with people from Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes (México) and Universidad del Cauca (Colombia), the project was approved by LATIn.

And this LATIn project can also be seen as a why do you agree to license your work this way? candidate: I have already written most of what I'd be happy to call a full book. Of course, I do expect my colleagues to chime in with more content, and I expect us to produce a true collaborative project. But as I am not part of the member universities, they will get paid for their contribution — And not me. What do I have to gain from this?

More than anything else, the circulation of my work. I'm sure that, were I to publish from UNAM, I would have a good projection. I was (am!) thinking of looking for opportunities to present the book to teachers on the subject, as well as to computing engineering/science students, but the most attractive part (for me) for LATIn is that part of the prize will be that the book will be used to base work on for teaching at least during 2014 in the three said universities — And of course, my/our work will only start then, as we will have to further circulate the work.

Anyway... I expected this post to be small. But as you can see, I am happy with important work perspectives :-)

My favorite (or rather, one among my favorite) non-original work — Leo Masliah #encirc13

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 09/16/2013 - 14:52

It seems I'm catching up with the pace of this course I'm following and that is compelling me to go back to posting on my blog, «Arte y cultura en circulación: crear y compartir en tiempos digitales».

This week's lesson is (again, in Spanish) «Las fronteras del remix» (the boundaries of remixes). An interesting text, open to everybody (regardless of whether you are signed up for the course or, I hope, whether time has passed since the course took place).

And this week's homework is to find "our favorite" non-original work (I picked one among my favorite works — And, yes, this is partly because I am part of the "club" of deniers of true originality: We cannot create anything without being part of a surrounding culture, without a common heritage and language with which we speak to our audience) and to find something about it, anything considered important or significative as to its antecedents. What do I like about this work, what grabs my attention. Do I consider it to be a true new creative work? Why?

I am taking as an example Leo Masliah, an Uruguayan writer and musician (writer and interpreter). I have followed and enjoyed Masliah's work since 1996, and although by far I'm most familiar with his musical works, I have two books (a novel and a series of short stories). Among his facets, I most enjoy the acid, nihilistic/dadaistic streaks. I chose three of his songs to talk about — I am linking to anonline resource where possible, but uploading the three songs to this blog to make his work better known, so that people understand what I talk about, and with my best intentions. Of course, if there is any request to remove the material, I will do it right away. I hope this can be seen as fair/academic use, although this blog is somewhat widely read.

La recuperación del unicornio
This song was in the first Masliah cassette I came across, Although musically it is an original work, the lyrics are a clear, almost line-by-line reply to the ever-repeated Unicornio song, by Silvio Rodríguez. This song (which I'm sure that every Spanish speaker reading this lines knows, like it or not — It defines for me a good deal of Rodríguez hyper-sweetness and clicheness) has been analyzed over and over looking for a meaning. Silvio recorded this song in 1981, and by 1987 Masliah published this answer, mocking each of the lines.
So, this song can be seen as an original creation, as it contains no literal copy neither of the music nor of the lyrics of the original, but it cannot be understood without being familiar with Silvio's lost unicornio. It would just be an almost-dadaistic rant. But every person that has tasted Silvio Rodríguez cloying song will surely laugh with this one.
No necesitamos otro héroe – Balderrama
I find this to be a very unique piece. It bonds together Argentinian folklore and USA pop.
Masliah sings the famous Argentinian song Zamba de Balderrama, (Castilla / Leguizamón), a song lamenting that the very popular bar and artist stage Balderrama, in Salta (North-Western corner of Argentina), seemed to be on the brink of closing. Of course, when Martín, Constanza, Regina and me went to Balderrama in July 2010, the danger of closing this place had long been averted. And basically every Argentinian knows this song by heart.
The interesting part is that Masliah sings this song (as he presents it as the closing piece for one of his concerts) being short on time, and decides to present two acts together: Zamba de Balderrama and We don't need another hero, by Tina Turner, from the Mad Max soundtrack. So, of course, even if it's obvious that Masliah had to stretch bits to make them fit together, he achieved a very funny, interesting and unique blend of two completely unrelated works. He derives from one as well as from the other, but creates something unique and new.
Donna Lee
I was thinking what to write for this assignment , and had already chosen the two other songs. Yesterday, we were visiting our friends Octavio and Claudia, in Guanajuato, and I heard for the first time the original(?) version of Donna Lee, by Miles Davis (although often credited to Charlie Parker). That led me to remember Masliah's interpretation, in his Clásicos album. This album is basically made up with similar excercises: Taking an instrumental piece, with Masliah singing over it. Some of the lyrics follow the story (i.e. the children stories), others just talk nonsense to illustrate a point (i.e. "La voz del medio", "the middle voice") follows the non-protagonist score trying not to grab much attention to the lyrics but to highlight the often ignored melody)... Donna Lee is just a fun excercise on following the melody asking what was in the head of the author that led him to invent such a strange, hard music.

Masliah is a great music performer, although often it seems he tries to hide it (i.e. by abusing the dissonances, ex-profeso singing off-key, etc), and a very funny and crazy author. Most of his works have a deep satirical tone, and it's common to find either simple winks or complete "borrowings" in a clear remix fashion, but nobody will doubt on the originality of his works.

What is to be an author? How much code does grant you authorship? #encirc13

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 09/12/2013 - 17:39

I signed up to take part of an online, massive course — «Arte y cultura en circulación: crear y compartir en tiempos digitales» (The circulation of arts and culture: Creating and sharing in digital times). As the activities of us the attendees are to be published by each on their personal blog/space, I will be publishing them here. I hope they are interesting to some of my other regular readers.

I am late in joining, and I should already be posting the second activity. Anyway, this text goes towards the first week's lesson: Qué es un autor: la (de)construcción histórica del concepto de autoría (What is an author? Historic (de)construction of the concept of authorship). Our homework is to find an example of a current discussion where the notion of authorship is discussed, and share it this way.

And I'm somewhat in a hurry right now, so this will be hasty. But I didn't want to delay my (late) submission anymore!

In the Debian Ruby mailing list, Hleb Valoshka asks basically how deep should copyright recognition be. Because, yes, while copyright attribution is simple (simpler, at least) in literary / artistic works, computer programs (and even more those developed following the Free Software distributed fashion) are harder to properly attribute.

Is a two-line patch to a tens-of-thousands-of-lines project enough to warrant mention in the copyright file? Most of us would agree it is not. Few would contend this were the amount of changes to make up, say, even 1% of that scale of project.

In the coding projects where I am the main author (which, yes, are usually very small — I cannot recognize myself as a good programmer, and the size of my successful works proves me), I try to take care to mention explicitly each of the contributors, even if their contribution is quite small. But were I to lead a larger development work, with enough following to generate on the order of one submitted patch a day, would it make sense for me to follow up with such detail the authorship information?

And as a minor side note: How much does the law require me? A very small patch can fix important functionality issues (think security or performance). If somebody sends a very small patch fixing an intellectually hard to grasp problem... I am sure it should be properly acknowledged!

Anyway, I have to flee now. I am just dropping some ideas on the table. Of course, if anybody is willing to discuss them further, I'm interested in any debate that springs off it!

(Meanwhile... I expect to spam you with this topic a couple of times. But it should not bug you much, as it's one of my usual blog topics!)

After Debian's 20th birthday, everybody's life gets back to normality...

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 08/18/2013 - 21:37

As I slowly read my good friends wishing each other a good trip, telling they got home safely, and the IRC channels form thick drops of a bitter-sweet etheral substance, I cannot help feeling DebConf13 is over — For me as well, from the distance. Many friends gave me warm greetings, and without being there, gave me that beautiful feeling of real community that Debian has given me for ten years already, since I met in real-life many of its developers at DebConf3 in Oslo. And –yes, I have stated this far too many times– I have attended every DebConf since (and worked organizing most of them). This year, over 300 people were gathered in Switzerland to enjoy the always most intense weeks of the year.

This year, I was unable to attend due to calendar clashes. Even so, without the stress that organizers have, and thanks to the great work of the always-loved Video Team, I think I was able to be present at more sessions than at in any of the last few years. Oh, and for the readers of this blog who were not there — Do you want to follow what was presented? You can download already the videos for all of the recorded presentations (that were, due to the planned coverage and the manageable size of the Video Team, about ⅔ of the total scheduled sessions). And, as always, I was able to follow many very interesting talks and take part of a couple interesting meetings/BoF sessions. I still have a bit of catchup, partly due to the timezone difference (I was only at one of the sessions during the Swiss morning, at 02:30 local time, the pkg-ruby-extras team BoF).

Anyway... Not being there, I surely was an avid consumer of the photos posted in the DebConf13 gallery, and will surely follow it for some more time as some of you upload your pending material. It was clear from the beginning that, no matter what your definition of consensus is, the chosen venue was beautiful. A beautiful place between the lake and the mountains where our sportiest guys had a very good share of morning runs, cycling sessions, competition sports of different types, outright plain fun for attendees of all sizes and all species...

But, hey, wait! During a chat in the course of DebConf, a friend told me a bit worried that all this beauty and fun might make our dear and very important sponsors they are paying for a geek vacation, is it so? No, not at all. Not by a long stretch. And just looking at those same galleries makes it clear and obvious. After all, it's widely known that Debian is the operating system for the gurus. Simple: It's impossible to have all those geeks without getting amazing work done, in ways that even seem clichés (this last photo had Joey Hess explaining dpkg format version 3.0 (git) ideas, sketched after waking up at 3AM on the first sketching surface available to him). After all, Debian people are famous for their inclination to use any excuse to open their computers and hack away. We can find Debianers hacking in small spaces and also hacking out in the fields. But this time, people were able to hack indoors while enjoying the nature and hack outdoors under a tree. And, yes, one of the things that makes organizing DebConf worth it is, after ≈eleven months having low-bandwidth meetings over IRC, having the opportunity to plan for the next days face to face, in a relaxed but work-full environment.

Anyway, here at home I didn't sit idly just longing over them. How could I? We are just celebrating the Debian Project's 20th anniversary!

http://gwolf.org/content/jonathan-host-and-organizer-rancho-electr-nico">Jonathan, a Debian enthusiast, student at my university, and collaborator for several free software-related collectives in Mexico City, invited me to the celebration at Rancho Electrónico (which I recently mentioned in this same blog). While I was unable to stay for the whole celebration, we had a very good time; I talked about some ways on how to contribute to Debian. Although I didn't have much of a presentation prepared for it, I feel it was successful and interesting for the attendees — I just hope to start seeing some of them get into any of the ways for helping Debian soon. I also stayed as a listener and ocassional commenter for a talk on the Debian Project's history and goals, and to a presentation on a nifty electronic music programming tool called Supercollider (of course, available in Debian).

Now, "regular" life should continue. For some value of "regular".

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