It still gets to my nerves...

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 07/06/2007 - 21:46
I've gradually become happier and happier with Ruby on Rails. I've got mostly past the constant "WTF?WTF?WTF?" phase that's so frustrating when you try to understand the magic behind the scenes (after all, I like understanding what happens inside a framework - the bang and the bling are not what lured me into Rails).
So I've tried to become a more idiomatic, more complete. In the last project I started, I decided to -gasp- stop declaring my schema structure in SQL, and use migrations instead. All fine until I reached migration 008... The first one including a table modification (adding a admin column for users) instead of a creation. Well, that one went pretty fine, but 009 was also a table modification (adding an order column for tsgs). And I updated my server - with both migrations at the same time.
Bad news: Tsg has_many :users, and every User validates_associated :tsg as it should. And as migration 8 modifies (and saves, of course) a User, this validation was triggered... So, migration 8 died complaining about an undefined method `order' for #<Tsg:0x2b2d2dd8d0d0>. WTF?WTF?WTF? all over again. It took me quite a while to realize.
What's the moral of the story? That a sleepy programmer can and will mess up. That batching up several migrations does not guarantee success, because the model is already up to the newest version. Crap. :-/
Or maybe it will just be safer if I abstain from directly instantiating models in migrations? umh... Does not feel right :-/
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Celebrated 10 years of the SC

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 07/06/2007 - 06:08
Following Liw's initiative, yesterday night Nadezhda and me joined the distributed pancake party. With a nearby restaurant's hotcakes, anyway, not as fresh or as great as they could, but you can still smell the spirit:

(artwork by Nadezhda)
And... Well, it was not until this morning that I checked on the Wiki just to discover that Damog took part of the same distributed party, just ~15km away from us. Shame - I had just met Damog that very morning at the University :)
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Keep rolling!

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 07/02/2007 - 08:02
It seems that I've held up -at least for half a year- what I stated back in January - I come by bike to work almost every day, and really enjoy the time spent on two wheels. My times have -of course- improved, as has my dominion of the bike - I make ~10 minutes each way (must be a bit more on my way to work than on my way back, as it is uphill).
My city's government seems to be seriously promoting people to consider using the bicycle as means for regular transport and not just as a recreational device - I see some of its measures as quite silly, but some are just perfect. One week ago, while I was on the plane from Edinburgh, we had the first Ciclotón, a 32Km ride open to everybody (and of course, Nadezhda was among them). Over 70,000 people took part, reportedly, and it seems it will be held monthly. Besides that, yesterday we had the paseo dominical in Coyoacán very close to my house - What's that? Something similar to the ciclotón, only much smaller (14Km), much less publicized, and in a different place of the city every Sunday. Well, we started up the day at 8 AM by cycling from Metro Copilco to Miguel Ángel de Quevedo, Av. Universidad, Río Churubusco, División del Norte and Henriquez Ureña back to Metro Copilco. We later learnt that around 10,000 people took part. 14 Km, 30 minutes - not bad, and quite enjoyable!
We didn't go for the second round, because we wanted to be by ~10 AM at Reforma, probably the city's most emblematic avenue, to be part of the demonstration marking one year of the electoral fraud. But... Well, we didn't want to just leave the bikes at home and go by metro - What can we do? Yes, take the open streets. We followed a bit of the path we had taken a bit earlier, then took Minerva, Insurgentes until Reforma (~45 minutes). And once we got to the meeting point, we didn't want to step down and crawl the bikes along... So we both found out that not only we dared take the main streets where people are not really used to cyclists and where taxi drivers will often try to make a point that if you don't own a car you should use a taxi and not a bike - We were able to cycle most of our way to Zócalo, going slowly and moving through people, in what seemed to be almost an unthinkable feat for me just a couple of months ago. We can now control the bike, we can even be almost still while riding it, and not crash into anybody!
Of course, the way back was similar - We took our bikes across Obrera, Doctores, Algarín and Álamos, then took Av. Universidad all the way down to Copilco, and -after some three hours riding, with my arms quite red and of course somewhat dehydrated and sore-butted- got home.
It feels great to have a well-deserved siesta! And... Well, biking is just too enjoyable. I guess we had ~45Km yesterday, plus some ~5 extra zig-zagging through the crowd. It rules.
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Back from DebConf7

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 06/25/2007 - 11:43
Ok, I'm officially back. Yup, when you have a meeting just over your regular lunch time and are suddenly seen as the guy who will fix the institute's video needs just because you worked manning cameras with the amazing DC7 video team, it just means you are back home. Lets see how several projects that have sprang up in the last couple of weeks (both at DebConf and at work) start materializing.
Anyway... DebConf was great. Just great. This time I had time both to feel I was useful and productive (mainly doing video-related stuff, although on some other points as well), to attend several interesting talks (although manning the camera did not leave my attention as complete as I would have liked), to have several nice chats, to play a good couple of hands of Mao - Hell, thanks to Kitty, I managed even to have some chats _while_ having a hand of Mao!
Of course, I was not productive neither with my Real Life duties nor with with the Debian stuff I wanted to hack on - In fact, the most productive period during the two and a half weeks I was away (excluding probably the two days I spent understanding/hacking Pentabarf with Damián) was the flight back - During the ~12hr we were on the air, I managed to read the second half of my book, to review two chapters for a thesis, to write a (really simple) article and to work on another one.
Anyway... Thanks to everybody. I had a great time, and am only looking forward towards Argentina.
Ah, and I also got The Debconf Flu.
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Fun at Debconf - And redefining targets

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 06/19/2007 - 05:06
For some days at Debconf, I've been somewhat stressed and frustrated. You see, the first DebCamp/DebConf I took part in (Oslo), I was really productive - Besides meeting lots and lots of people and having a great time, during DebConf3 I learnt a scary lot about the project in many aspects and, although I was already a DD, it really decided me to get more involved.
When we were at Brazil, I had a great time as well, but (code-wise, bugs-wise and so on) I was much less productive - I started peeking at the processes that involve running such a strange and intensive conference, I was more active talking with other Latin Americans, and so on.
So, for DebConf5, I was a full orga team member - Man, did that make me feel powerful! Of course, as there was so much orga work to be done, I basically didn't hack into anything. During the day it was organizational work, and during the night time-after-22:00 (how do you people live without a night!?) it was sauna. What a great invention of the Finns! After getting relaxed by sauna, nights were socially intensive
About DebConf 6... Well, it was hectic and chaotic. It is probably the most stressful two-week period (two week? Two months at least! Well, anyway) period of my life. It is the only Debconf so far I don't even remember having had much social interaction. But still, for reasons I fail to understand, I am really happy we held DebConf in Mexico. It is one of the best, most exciting and (hopefully!) unrepeatable experiences in life.
What about this year? Well, I took a couple of steps back, and while I'm formally still part of the always-great orga team, there are way too many things I don't know or can answer. Partially, I blame that impossible dialect of English they speak in the UK - Please, next time you feel a bit tired, lock yourself in a room with six hurried English and Scottish people, add a couple of Germans to the mix (no, I don't have problem with the other accents spoken in there), and try to get the general lines discussed. Impossible.
As I took a couple of steps back, I thought I would be able to hack a bit. There were some great ideas of things to work on - But so far, I've practically not started with any! I wanted to do some QA rounds in the pkg-perl repository, kill a couple of long-standing bugs, and then there is thismetainit idea we have been discussing... So we held the MetaInit BoF, and Nomeata has been actively hacking it - But I must recognize I have done little besides documenting and cleaning a bit a minor module of it. The second day I was here, I started working on something that was completely outside of my plan (hacking up a subsystem for Pentabarf to help the video team, as I previously complained). Just after we finished with it, DebConf properly started - So I've been basically taping the talks, reviewing the files, in the orga and video meetings... Until yesterday, I was quite frustrated not to have been able to work a bit on the couple of things I wanted to do. I have not yet been able even to work on three things I need for my Real Life, which still counts, even at DebConf.
But then, yesterday I read a post by Wouter - Man, you are completely right, and I must keep this in mind at all times: DebCamp to me isn't about being productive, so much as it is about meeting people and getting to know the environment. Well, I've terribly even failed to get to know the environment (I'll reserve some time on Thursday or Friday, I hope), but so far this has been quite fun, and completely out of what I usually do. And, even without me considering this, DebConf has been quite productive for me in ways I didn't expect - I've met and had a couple of beers with the pkg-perl group (and today I'll meet with the pkg-ruby-extras group), have plotted several things with the Spanish-Speaking group (which, by the way, has tremendously grown since we were at Oslo), I even started hacking a bit my way into Pentabarf, which will be very useful once I get back to work!
Anyway, in short: Wouter, you made me reconsider, you made my day - Thanks! And now, I'm a happy man again :)
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Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 06/14/2007 - 11:31
Yesterday and today, I've spent most of the time sitting next to Damián Viano (des), feeling 1337 because we are doing exactly the heavily recommended pair-programming thingy with a Rails application that everybody in Debconf is familiar with: We are adding some stuff for our beloved video-team in Pentabarf! Now, Pentabarf is -as we were trying to explain earlier on, amidst angst and frustration- a strange beast: It looks like your regular Rails app. It smells like Rails. But it tastes like Java.
For some reason, the Pentabarf author (who I sincerely expect to meet soon - yes, he is coming to Debconf as well!) decided not to use Rails' killer app part, the one which has got most interested people into the whole framework, ActiveRecord. For all of the object-relation mapping needs, uses something called Momomoto.
To its defence, Momomoto is a lightweight library. This has the great advantage that, although it completely lacks documentation, its source code is very easy to follow, and it takes just a couple of hours (and forehead-wall bangs) - Much unlike ActiveRecord. But on the down side, as lightweight as the library is, the model it uses is completely suboptimal for many of our (so far really simple) uses. We have a simple view, for example, that runs in at least On^3 (measured in independent DB queries, of course). Going through a different model, it could at least be cut to a much nicer On^2.
Anyway... I'm relieved. The extension the video guys wanted is not that large, and it's mostly done. It is surely showable by tonight's meeting (modulo a couple missing bits, of course, but it's just bits), and will be ready no matter what by tomorrow. I'm just sorry I had to throw des aside, as pair-programming for two days in a row for the best portion of the day is not good for sanity.
Well, neither coming to Debconf is, so whattheheck... ;-) At least I could get a bit of my mail and RL work backlog processed.
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Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 06/11/2007 - 08:11
Ok, so here am I, just arrived to Debconf, surrounded by tens -soon to be hundreds- of Debianers. A big YAY! :D
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Top-down and bottom-up: Two approaches for... Hydrodynamics?

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 05/24/2007 - 09:52
Yesterday we had one of our first full-evening rains of this Summer. It started raining around 15:00, and didn't really stop until past 22:00. Most of the time, it was a low intensity rain. Also yesterday, Sergio and I started with the Debian course I recently talked about - Fun!
Now... This course is scheduled at Instituto de Astronomía, which is halfway between my work and my home. 19:00 to 21:00.
I decided to leave early, so we could check some pending details - At 18:00. I biked to Astronomía, about 1.5km. When I arrived, I was as wet as you usually get at a regular rain: I still had some dry spots under my arms and legs. Nothing terrible, although a bit coldish - Anyway, that's a top-down approach for hydrodinamics, the approach most people are used to.
When we finished this session, I had to go out in a rush, as I had a meeting at 20:00 at Balderas (downtown Mexico City, ~25min away by metro). Of course, I was one hour late already, and adding the time it would take me to get home, leave the bike and run to the metro, I could not just sit and wait for the rain to get any easier on me. So I pedalled.
Contrary to what I originally expected, I didn't get soaked wet in the usual pattern. Stronger rain leads to more rain flowing down the road. Yes, almost immediately I felt a cold shudder on my legs and back: The water sprayed from below by my wheels. Of course, the front wheel was even more fun, as it sprayed my face from below - My helmet has a small protuberance at the front to make some shadow, and tilting a bit my head forward prevented the rain from hitting my eyes - but the dirty water, with small bits of wood and whatnot, from the ground found an easy way to my face. My only defense was to close the eyes as much as I could without losing visibility. A strange excercise to do :) Anyway, that's the bottom-up approach for hydrodinamics.
Anyway, by the time I got home, after an extra ~1.5km, my pants were basically a soup. My shirt was not exactly dry, but it still kept me a bit warm. I just ushered inside, grabbed a jacket, and went on for my second meeting.
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On sending out the right image

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 05/22/2007 - 22:29
At my Institute, we get the El Financiero newspaper - I like it quite a bit. It's very well balanced, with opinions from all of the political and economical points of view. Of course, it has huge business and market sections which I don't usually even care on looking at, as I won't understand much anyway. Those sections usually include advertisements for potential courses and businesses.
Today, Nadezhda showed me an ad that's just beautiful - It shows off the level of commitment and seriousness a company has. It is so beautiful that it deserves me copying it in Spanish and translating it for your further enjoyment. Of course, if somebody stumbles upon this advertisement at my personal blog - I don't know them, they might just be serious but clueless :)
A académicos, investigadores, intelectuales, economistas y expertos en reformas estructurales para el análisis de las siguientes:
  • Economía y finanzas
  • Educación y empleo
  • Seguridad y desarrollo social
  • Política y Energía
  • Reforma del estado
Para integrarse a un equipo serio y propositivo de Profesionales en estas áreas que brinde asesoría puntual sobre las antes descritas.
REQUISITOS: Titulados con Maestría y/o Doctorado. Contar con publicaciones especializadas.
Interesados enviar CV al correo electrónico:

Bosque de Ciruelos No. 140, piso 12, oficina 1202, col. Bosques de las Lomas
And now, for your further amusement, in my hastily translated English, as faithfully as I can do it.
Academics, researchers, intelectuals, economists and structural reform experts for the analysis of the following areas:
  • Economics and finances
  • Education and employment
  • Social security and development
  • Politics and Energy
  • State reform
To join a serious and propositive team of Professionals in the above areas that gives punctual advice regarding the aforementioned.
REQUIREMENTS: Holders of a title, with M.Sc. or Ph.D. studies. Having specialized publications.
Interested people, send your CV by email to:

Bosque de Ciruelos No. 140, piso 12, oficina 1202, col. Bosques de las Lomas
Yes, several of the redaction mistakes are in the original text (and several more were introduced due to my English translation, of course).
Anyway... Would you believe in the seriousness of a professional-looking group of economists, paying around US$2000 for 1/4 page in one of the leading Mexican newspapers? By the way, their offices are located at one of Mexico City's most exclusive, expensive areas. But... For ${deity}'s sake... COME ON! Please tell juan_zzz to get a decent-looking mail and domain! Having their main contact addresses at two free mail providers, Starmedia and Yahoo, does no service at all to their professional image! How can people still not pay even a bit of attention to those basic details?
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Cannot help it - Are you into human interface design?

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 05/22/2007 - 10:42
Thanks to Planeta Debian (yes, planeta, the Spanish version of Planet Debian), I came across this Darío Rapisardi's post.
Sometimes poetry can be expressed in human-interface guidelines.
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When bad system design leads to pain...

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 05/17/2007 - 10:22
A long time ago, I wrote the system that still manages the Cuerpo Académico Historia del Presente group in the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional. Yes, I'm happy a good portion of my project, which took me over a year of work... But I must admit a nice deal of shame as well.
Of course, it comes from not properly understanding the domain data and information volume my system would be working with - and coming up with a stupid way to implement searches. I won't get too much in detail because, even if you had access to the full search facility in the system (no, it's not available for the general public), I would not like a swarm of curious people to make last week's events come back... Anyway, the group works by daily filling in tens or hundreds of articles in the system, and having some interesting search sessions every couple of months.
I knew the performance problem was caused by an inefficient searching mechanism (explicitly, category exclusion is the prime killer). I knew loadavg jumped through the roof, memory usage did so as well... But it was not until some weeks ago we installed the mighty Munin on the machines at UPN that we got this jewel - Thanks, Victor, for putting the graphics somewhere they can be shown! ;-)
So... How much does memory usage increase during searches?

Whoa. The system has 640MB real RAM. It has as well 1GB swap. Don't ask me how the hell it reports it was using ~2GB swap - but still... And how is our load average?

Have you ever seen a (single CPU, Pentium 4 1.7GHz) Linux system with a loadavg of 80?! For those who don't know, loadavg gives you the general status on how many jobs are pending scheduling by the CPU. 1 means that all of the CPU's time during a specified timeframe was used (and, on single-core systems, it's the optimal usage level). On this machine, things start getting uncomfortable at 6 or 7. I had never before seen values even half this large.
Sigh... Well, in my defense, I must say I've warned them about this problem for over two years. My contract with them has long passed - I've repeatedly recommended them to hire somebody to fix it. So far, they have not.
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On magazines without editorial direction

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 05/16/2007 - 14:45
Scott complains on how Linux Format #93's articles comparing Ubuntu and other distributions often contradict each other, and blames it on the lack of any editorial direction or basic research.
I... Have to confirm this. But anyway, I can stand a bit on the different writers' side - Each article is written by a different person and, although the magazine must try to be coherent (of course, within certain limits - if the magazine suggests editor's picks in one article, they should not bash them to death in the next one).
I write the Linux column in the Spanish edition of PC Magazine. No, it's by far not a technical column, nor anything far like it. The magazine is end-user oriented, and clearly sponsorship-driven - In fact, my column was not part of the magazine for quite some time, as they gear it towards end-users, and sponsors (I cannot venture which sponsors, but your imagination will probably go to the same company as mine) do not like what I write about. All in all, I get the general topics which each month's edition will cover, and I just have to write an article about one of them. Of course, I don't know most of the other writers. There is no interaction at all.
And I guess that Linux Format is a typical magazine - If they run like PC Magazine, they just won't have the time to put all the articles together checking for inconsistencies. I think it is enough of a task to chase the contributors month after month (BTW, I'm a week late already :-/ But I cannot finish just today, as there's too much work to do, and I spend my time blogging... Hmh, time to finish this post, as coitus interruptus as it may seem).
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Starting as a mentor soon

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 05/16/2007 - 11:04
After a long time talking this as a mere potential would-be-nice thing, finally we are putting some action behind our words: One week from now, Sergio Mendoza and I will start a ~2 month long extracurricular course on Debian. The students? We have 12 students of the Facultad de Ciencias at my University. The students are pre- and post-graduate (licenciatura and maestría), from the Phsyics and Astronomy areas. Sergio got this group as he is a teacher and researcher at Instituto de Astronomía.
While this first iteration is completely extra-curricular, unofficial and by invitation only, we expect this pilot course to be later presented as an official course in the Faculty.
Many people will remember I usually don't like general courses on Unix, Debian or whatever. What made me accept this time - even more, be enthusiastic about it? First of all, the requirements: We assume the students already know their way (at least as users) in a multiuser Unix-like system, so we won't be hand-holding them all the way through. Second, the focus: Sergio (who is among the first Debian users in Mexico and who got us our first full Debian mirror - which is actually a bit sick, but awaiting for prompt hardware upgrade ;-) ) wants them to focus on becoming developers. Not only developing science-oriented applications and libraries, but properly packaging and integrating them in Debian (and, hopefully, some of them will become interested in joining the project). We will also spend a good portion of the course on teaching them good practices on system adminsitration, teaching the principles behind what we do (i.e. I'm looking forward to participating, and in this case as one of the more students, in the sessions where different cryptography-related topics will be explained, starting from their mathematical foundations and going all the way up towards the implementation, where I'm more comfortable at).
It will be a nice experiment. I will be away for at least five of the lessons (Blame Debconf!), but I'm really looking towards the process and the results.
We will be making rough documentation of what we teach. We don't have a planned complete program, as we want to go with the group's real skills and interests, planning not more than three lessons ahead. This will be, however unofficial it is, my first time in front of a group in a university-esque setting (i.e. not short sessions, not capacitation built for a company, but with people eager to learn what we want to teach. I'll post again on this topic :)
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Nekkid city!

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 05/06/2007 - 20:37
I did it.
We did it.
The whole lot of us did it.
And we liked it.
In fact, we loved it.
Today, Spencer Tunick held his long awaited session in Mexico City. I signed up a long time ago, yet could not believe this was really going to happen - And man, did it happen!
For those still wondering who is Tunick (lazy you, as with the first link, it becomes just obvious), he is an artist who enjoys gathering large crowds, getting them all naked, and photographing them. Some people (including me, until this morning) erroneously categorize him as a photographer - No way! Out of Tunick's own words, out of many comments I heard and read today (i.e. at El Universal's forum), I can assure you only a participant can feel Tunick's art - A sensation of togetherness, of freedom, of clean enjoyment, throwing out the denial and repression we have regarding ourselves and our society.
I was quite skeptical. The Mexican society is well known for being conservative on many issues. Nudism in Mexico is basically something not even talked about. There are a couple of nudist beaches, but they are closely associated with relaxed morals and drug abuse, and are just not safe for, say, women on their own. Nudists are seen as sex-maniacs... And, yes, this is as far as it gets from truth.
As I said, not only did it happen here, but how! We were between 18,000 and 20,000 naked people in the Zócalo, Mexico City's main square, the third largest square in the world. The previous attendance record for Tunick's works was at Barcelona, Spain, with 7,000 people. And the surprise is not just the number - I insist, it fills me with joy to recognize a positive change in my country, to recognize we are not that retrograde anymore.
Nadezhda and I were there, as many couples, groups of friends, even families (although, yes, people under 18 were requested not to come - they would be expelled if found). I think the main age group was people in their late 20s, but there were many people from every age group. We met people who travelled from Jalapa, Veracruz (5 hr away), to be here today. I read reports of people coming from Guanajuato (5 hr), Oaxaca (6-7 hr), even Durango (14 hr)! We met near the Zócalo at 4:30 AM, as Tunick likes making his work with the early morning light. As you can imagine, and after quite a busy and tiring day, I feel like minced meat... So I'll leave this for now. I expect to come back to the topic in the next couple of days - But anyway: This was amazing. Incredible.
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On certifications

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 05/03/2007 - 12:33
Ok, so LPI will be at Debconf, giving discounted certifications to registered attendees. Is this good or bad? Mario likes the idea, Madduck is in the middle ground, not decided on his stance on this regard, and Joerg basically says it's not worth much to him personally. Actually, I'll quote Madduck, as he has an interesting point:
I am not looking for employment, and if I was, I'd certainly not want to work at a company that thinks certifications are the true proof of capabilities. So I guess that leaves me with a 'no' still.
When confronted with this topic, I always oppose certifications. Why? First of all, I think they are worth very little. I got three or four Brainbench certifications when they were free - And of course, noticed right away that such a simplistic test is worth very little. Of course, LPI is a better established name, and is usually respected - Lets be fair, and talk about LPI together in the line with Cisco's, Microsoft's, Novell's and similar certification programs.
I've worked with several people who have got certified in different technologies, and almost always, this works against them rather than in their favor - Such people usually are blinded to all but their technologies. My most recent experiences are with the network infrastructure people - Cisco people know how to push Cisco, but know very little about protocol details, and cannot recommend a tool that's not madesold by Cisco. Same goes for 3Com. Same goes for everybody else.
Although many certification tests include general situations like Solve this real-world problem, they are hampered by the final exam syndrome: The certification candidate spent a couple of nights frantically reading the books, and the material sits eager to jump on his brain lobes. Of course, given a couple of weeks, he has forgotten most of it and confused the rest. No, I don't have hard data to back this up except for my experience - But I have some experience at least. Oh, and of course: This people can quote from memory in inverse alphabetical order each of the command-line options to ls, but might be unable to spit up a clever shell pipeline without sketching it in paper and thinking it over for some minutes.
What will this mean for most of Debconf's target audience? Well, just what Ganneff and Madduck said: Take the test if you want to get a new job more easily - but you should have more confidence in yourself.
Just as a final note: Whenever I've interviewed people to work with me or for people that trust me, from all of the received curricula, I start by throwing out every curriculum that has the certifications earned in a prominent place. People who give too much weight to certifications IMHO tends to be worthless to work with.
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