Goodbye, LastFM - Again

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 12/14/2012 - 08:15

I started using LastFM probably around 6 years ago, and loved its offering. I discovered a huge amount of music I would have never found otherwise.

Then, some time later, it changed its terms of use, and those of us not in some selected countries lost the ability to stream them for free. Bummer.

About one year ago, I decided to purchase a subscription. After all, getting to know new music is always good — And listening to recommendations for friends with interesting music tastes is fun as well!

Of my last music purchases, both in CD and as MP3 downloads (not a spectacular volume, probably some 15 albums in the last year), I can only point to two that I knew the interpreter beforehand. So, we could say I have bought approx. 1 album per month completely thanks to LastFM.

But, as of January 15, they are changing their licensing terms, and LastFM streaming service will no longer be available in Mexico. All it will continue to give me is recommendations based on my listening habits, given I continue "scrobbling" - Much less useful, not to say completely useless given my usual patterns.

So, I'm sadly cancelling my subscription, and quite probably will stop using the service altogether. And yes, this will make me reevaluate freely licensed music services. But while I know of several free music distribution sites such as Jamendo, I will long for this LastFM abililty to deliver me music that is aligned to my current tastes (instead of looking them up by myself)

Any suggestions on where to look for a similar service?

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Becoming a teacher!

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 11/30/2012 - 17:29

For many years, I have aspired being a university teacher. I remember asking at different universities as early as ten years ago — But I didn't have the needed papers. And yes, I have been a "Licenciado en Ingeniería en Software" for one year already.

Anyway, I won't go into the details on why I didn't do this earlier on. But this time, I did get my act together in time, and by mid October, I contacted Juan Carreón, an enthusiastic teacher I met a long time ago as he helped a lot for the formation and cohesion of the (now defunct?) LIDSOL group (Laboratorio de Investigación en Software Libre, Free Software Research Laboratory), a group of very worthy students, mostly from the Engineering careers.

Juan Carreón had long offered me help in getting to the right people in Facultad de Ingeniería as soon as I had my formal requirements ready. I just didn't expect it to be so swift! Within two days of my initial mail, he contacted me back asking me to look at the subjects in Computing Engineering and choosing some I would be willing to teach — Yes, understanding that due to my time (as I'm already full-time employed in UNAM) would allow me to take only one group.

Rush of excitement, of course. I promptly looked at the program, and answered with a list of 12 subjects I would be confident to teach. Next day I was contacted by the Chief of Computing Engineering Department, offering me to dictate the Operating Systems course. A subject that has always motivated me, and towards which I feel confident. A fifth semester course (from 9 semesters in the career), with around 30 students in the classroom.

And I'm very happy with this! Yes, this will be my first formal university course experience (either as a student or a teacher), and I'm quite nervous on how this will turn out. But I'm already reading again my books on the subject, starting to structure a set of teaching notes, and... Lets see what comes next!

So, I will be teaching this course starting January 28, three times a week for 1.5hr, for a formal theric total of 72 hours. We shall see how this results six months from today! :-D

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Update on my e-voting-related work — @e_voto

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 11/12/2012 - 11:15

For the last couple of years, one of the topics I have tackled with several columns and a couple of articles published, several presentations on conferences and many comments wherever I can is raising awareness on why security experts around the world oppose electronic voting.

Slightly over a year ago, I started gathering all the published news (in Spanish, with some notes in English if I feel them relevant enough) that came to my greedy hands and archiving them, categorized as well as I could, into what I came to call an Electronic voting observatory. I don't feed it with the frequency I'd like, but overall I do feel there is an interesting amount of information in there.

About a month and a half ago, via Twitterfeed, I set up a Twitter account where my bot echoes everything I get on that regard.

So, while you can follow the observatory via RSS (as probably most readers of my blog will do), I know there are many Twitter users among you — @e_voto might be interesting to you if you speak Spanish and are interested in the topic.

I try not to be partisan on the information I copy there; of course I am subjective (I try not to refer to news which don't provide new insight or data points, or to obvious repeats), but I am doing this effort to follow the development as it unfolds, not to push my viewpoints.

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Road trip to ECSL 2012 in Guatemala

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 11/09/2012 - 18:57

Encuentro Centroamericano de Software Libre! Guatemala! During a national (for us) holiday, so it's easy to go without missing too much work time! How would I miss the opportunity?

Several years ago, I started playing with the idea of having a road trip… Probably this was first prompted with the UK crew and the Three Intrepid Motorcycle Riders arriving by land to DebConf 9 — I don't know. Fact is, I wanted to go to DebConf10 in New York by land, as well as to DebConf12 in Nicaragua. Mostly due to a lack of time, I didn't — Although we did start making some longish trips. Of course, my desire to show Regina what Mexico is like also helped!

So, up until a week ago, our (according to my standards) long distance driving experience included:

  • México → Guanajuato → Puerto Vallarta → Guanajuato → México, in early November 2011, for Festival de Software Libre and with Regina and our Blender friends Octavio and Claudia. Totalling almost 1900Km, mostly consisting of wide, toll highway.
  • México → Xilitla → San Luis Potosí → México, in April 2012, just for fun and for a nice short vacation, alone with Regina. Totalling almost 1200Km, but through Sierra Gorda de Querétaro, a very tough stretch of about 250Km which we did at about 50Km/h on average. Beautiful route for sure! We didn't originally intend to go through San Luis Potosí, and it does not appear to make much sense, as it adds ~350Km to the total, but it was even quicker than going back by the same route — and according to those who now, even faster than our planned route, via Tamazunchale and Ixmiquilpan!
  • México → San Luis Potosí → Zacatecas → Aguascalientes → Guanajuato → México, in May 2012, for Congreso Internacional de Software Libre, again with Octavio and Claudia. Totalling 1250Km, and following very good roads, although most of them were toll-free.

But there is always a certain halo over crossing a border, maybe more so in countries as large as Mexico. We convinced Pooka and Moni, and –granted, with some aprehension, as we knew of some important security risks in the more rural areas we wanted to go through– we decided to go to Guatemala. And, although we wanted to go with a bit more time, Real Life took its toll: We could not take more time than the intersection of what our respective jobs offered. So, here goes a short(?) recap of our six day long, 3200Km trip. Of course, we have a map detailing this.

Mexico–Veracruz

I came to my office early on Wednesday (31-oct), and left with Regina around 10AM towards Veracruz. We agreed to meet there with Moni and Pooka, who would take the night bus, and continue together. Crossing Mexico City proved to be the longest obstacle — We arrived to Veracruz already past 3PM, and spent a nice evening walking down the center and port of the city. Veracruz port can still be seen as part of central Mexico; I knew the road quite well.

Veracruz–San Andrés Tuxtla–Catemaco–San Cristobal de las Casas

We met with our friends at the iconic Gran Café de la Parroquia at 6:30AM. Had a nice breakfast with coffee, and by 7:30 we were heading south-west.

The reason to have a road trip was to get to know the route, to enjoy the countryside… So, given we "only" had to make 650Km this day, we took the non-toll road — A narrow path stretching along the coastal plains of Veracruz, until Acayucan. Doing so, we also saved some money, as the equivalent toll road is around MX$300 (~US$25)!

Veracruz is a hot state. We ended up all sweaty and tired by 19:00, when we reached San Cristobal. We had agreed not to drive at night, due to security issues, but fortunately there was quite a bit of traffic both ways between Tuxtla Gutiérrez (Chiapas State capital, around 1hr from San Cristobal, where darkness got us) and our destination, so we carried on.

Now, San Cristobal is a high city, almost as high as Mexico City (2100m), and being more humid, it was quite chilly. We went for a walk, and were convinced that at a later time, we had to stay for several days there. The city is beautiful, the region is breath-taking, there is a lot of great handicrafts as well, and it's overall very cheap. Really lovely place.

San Cristobal de las Casas–Cd. Cuauhtémoc–La Mesilla–Guatemala

Once again, this day started early. We woke up ready to leave at 7AM, and not earlier because the hotel's parking didn't open earlier. After a very quick visit to San Cristobal downtown, to take some photos that were not right the night before, we took the road to Comitán, stopping just for some tamales de bola y chipilín for breakfast. Central Chiapas is almost continuously populated, differing from most of my experience in Mexico. It is all humid, and has some very beautiful landscapes.

We passed Comitán, which is a much larger city than what we expected, went downhill after La Trinitaria, crossed a plain, and continued until hills started taking over again. We stopped in a very chaotic, dirty place: Just accross the border, where Ciudad Cuauhtémoc becomes La Mesilla.

This border was basically what we expected: There is no half-official place to exchange money, so we had to buy quetzales from somebody who offered them on the street, at MX$2 per Q1 (where the real exchange should be around 1.50 to 1). While on the road, I was half-looking for exchange posts in Comitán and onwards, and found none (and being a festive day, they would probably be closed anyway).

But we were expecting this, after all, and exchanged just the basic minimum: MX$600 (US$50, which by magic became Q300, US$40). The tramit consists of:

  • Spraying the car against diseases (which has a cost of Q18)
  • Each of us has to go through migration. Note, in case you cross this border: We didn't expressly cross Mexican migration, so officially there was no record of us going out. Be sure to go through migration to avoid problems at re-entry!
    Migration has no cost.
  • Customs. As we were entering by car, I had to purchase a permit for circulation. I don't remember the exact quote, but it was around Q150, and the permit is valid for 90 days.
  • That's it! Welcome to Guatemala!

La Mesilla is in Guatemala's Huehuetenango Department, and from all of the Departments we crossed until Guatemala city (Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, Totonicapán, Sololá, Chimaltenango, Sacatepéquez and Guatemala), this is the largest one. Huehuetenango is home to the Cuchumatanes mountain ridge. We found beautiful, really steep, really fertile mountains. It is plainly amazing: Mountains over 60°, and quite often full with agricultural use — Even at their steepest points!

The CA-1 highway is, in general, in very good shape. There are however many (many, many) speed bumps (or topes, in Mexican terminology. Or túmulos in Guatemalan), at least a couple at every village we crossed, not always painted. The road is narrow and quite winding; it follows river streams for most of the way. We feared it would be in much worse shape, from what we have heard, but during the whole way we found only three points where the road was unusable due to landslides — and an alternative road was always in place when we needed it.

After Totonicapán, the narrow road becomes a wide (four lane) highway. Don't let that fool you! It still goes through the center of every village along the road, so it's really not meant for speeding. Also, even though the pavement is in very good condition, it is really steep quite often. It is not the easiest road to drive, but it's (again) by far not as bad as we expected.

We arrived to Guatemala City as dawn was falling, and got promptly lost. Guatemala has a very strange organization scheme: The city is divided in several zones, laid out in a swirl-like fashion. East-west roads are called Calle and North-south roads are called Avenida (except for zona 4, I think, where they are diagonal, and some are Rutas while the others are Vías). I won't go into too much detail). Thing is, many people told us it's a foolproof design, and people from different countries understand the system perfectly. We didn't... At least not when we arrived. We got quite lost, and it took us around one hour to arrive to our hotel, at almost 19:00 — Almost 12 hours since we left San Cristobal.

Went for a quick dinner, and then waited for our friends to arrive after the first day of work of ECSL, which we missed completely. And, of course, we were quite tired, so we didn't stay up much longer.

Antigua Guatemala

On Saturday, ECSL's activities started after 14:00 — so we almost-kidnapped Wences, the local organization lead, and took him to show us around Antigua Guatemala. Antigua was the capital of Guatemala until an earthquake destroyed it in the 1770s; the capital was moved to present-day Guatemala city, but Antigua was never completely abandoned. Today, it is a world heritage site, a beautiful city, where we could/should have stayed for several days.

But we were there for the conference, so we were in Antigua just a couple of hours, and headed back to Guatemala. Word of caution: Going from Guatemala to Antigua, we went down via the steepest road I have ever driven. Again, a real four-lane highway... but quite scary!

The main focus for this post is to give some roadtrip advice to potential readers... So, this time around, I won't give much detail regarding ECSL. It was quite interesting, we had some very good discussions... but it would take me too much space to talk about it!

The road back: Guatemala–Tecún Umán; Cd. Hidalgo—Arriaga

So, about the road back: Yes, we just spent three days getting to Guatemala City. We were there only for ~36 hours. And... We needed to be here by Tuesday morning no matter what. So, Sunday at noon we said goodbye to our good friends in ECSL and started the long way back. To get to know more of Guatemala, we went back by the CA-2 highway, which goes via the coastal plains — Not close to the Pacific ocean, which we didn't get to see at all, but not through the mountains.

To get to CA-2, we took CA-9 from Guatemala. If I am not mistaken, this is the only toll road in Guatemala (at least, the only we used, and we used some pretty good highways!) It is not expensive; I don't remember right now, but must have been around Q20 (US$3). Went South past Palin and until CA-2, just outside Escuintla city, and headed West. All of Escuintla and Suchitepéquez it is –again– a four lane highway; somewhere in Retalhueu it becomes a two lane highway. We were strongly advised not to take this road at night because, as the population density is significantly lower than in CA-1, it can get lonely at times – And there are several reports of robberies. We did feel the place much less populated, but saw nothing suspicious in any way. Something important: There are almost no speedbumps in CA-2!

The terrain stayed quite flat and easy as we crossed Quetzaltenango, and only in San Marcos we found some interesting hills — and a very strong rain that would intermitetntly accompany us for the rest of the ride. So, we finally arrived to the border city of Tecún Umán at around 16:30 — Approximately four hours after leaving the capital.

The Tecún Umán–Cd. Hidalgo cities and border pass are completely different from the disorderly and dirty Cd. Cuauhtémoc–La Mesilla ones. The city of Tecún Umán could be just a nice town anywhere in the country, it does not feel aggressive as most border cities I have seen in our continent. We stopped to eat at El pollo campero and headed to the border. In the Mexican side, we also saw a very well consolidated, big and ordered migration area. Migration officers were very kind and helpful — As we left Cd. Cuauhtémoc, Regina didn't get a stamp of leaving Mexico, so technically she was ilegally out of the country (as she is not a national... They didn't care about the rest of us). The tramit to fix this was easy, simple, straightforward. We only paid for the fumigation again (MX$60, US$5), and were allowed to leave.

Anyway, we crossed the border. There is a ~30Km narrow road between Cd. Hidalgo and Tapachula, but starting in Tapachula we went on Northwards via a very good, four lane and very straight highway. Even though we had agreed not to drive at night... Well, we were quite hurried and still too far from Mexico City, so we decided to push it for three more hours, following the coastline until the city of Arriaga, almost at the border between Chiapas and Oaxaca. Found a little hotel to sleep some hours and collapsed.

Word of warning: This road (from Tapachula to Arriaga) is also known for its robberies. We saw only one suspicious thing: Two guys were pushing up their motorcycle, from which they had apparently fallen. We didn't stop, as they looked healthy and not much in need of help, but later on talked about this — Even though this was at night, they were not moving as if they had just crashed; nothing was scratched, not the motorcycle and not their clothes. That might have been an attempt to mug us (or whoever stopped by). This highway is very lonely, and the two directions are separated by a wall of vegetation, so nobody would have probably seen us were we to stop for some minutes. Be aware if you use this road!

The trip comes to an end: Arriaga—Niltepec—Istmo—Córdoba—México

The next (last, finally!) day, we left at 6:30AM. After driving somewhat over one hour, we arrived to Niltepec, where a group of taxi drivers had the highway closed as a protest against their local government's tolerance of mototaxis. We evaluated going back to Arriaga and continue via the Tuxtla Gutiérrez highway, but that would have been too long. We had a nice breakfast of tlayudas (which resulted in Pooka getting an alergic reaction shortly afterwards) and, talking with people here and there, were told about an alternative route by an agricultural road that surrounds the blockade. So, we took this road the best way we could, and after probably 1hr of driving at 20Km/h, finally came back to the main road.

We planned on crossing the isthmus using the Acayucan-Juchitán road — We were amazed at the La Ventosa ("the windy") area, where we crossed a huge eolic plant for electricity generation, so –of course– we got our good share of photos.

From then onwards, not much more worth mention. Crossed the isthmus via a quite secondary road in not too good shape (although there is a lot of machinery, and the road will much likely improve in the next few months/years), then took the toll freeway along Veracruz until Córdoba. We stopped for a (delilcious and revigorizing!) cup of coffee in Hotel Zeballos, where Agustín de Iturbide signed with Viceroy Juan O'Donojú the treaties that granted Mexico the independence.

Traveller, beware: When crossing between Puebla and Veracruz, there is a steep slope of almost 1000m where , you will almost always (except if it's close to noon) find very thick fog; taking the highway from Córdoba, this is in the region known as Cumbres de Maltrata. We had the usual fog, and just as we left it, a thin but constant rain that went on with us up until we got home.

Crossed Puebla state with no further eventualities, and arrived to Pooka and Moni's house by 22:00. Less than one hour later, Regina and me arrived home as well. This was four days ago... and I have finally finished writing it all down ;-)

Hope you find this useful, or if not, at least entertaining!

If you read this post in my blog, you will find many pictures taken along the trip below (Well, if you are reading the right page, not in the general blog index...). If you are reading from a planet or other syndication service... Well, come to the blog!

Dreamhost woes

Oh, and... Yes, it sometimes happens: My blog is hosted at Dreamhost. This means that usually it works correctly... But sometimes, specially when many people request many nontrivial pages, it just gives an error. If you get an error, reload once or twice... Or until your patience manages ;-)

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Cycling: Atzcapozalco's cycle path; @p00k4 sends me rail-riding!

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 10/17/2012 - 18:16

Yesterday I went to FES Iztacala, the faculty where I worked between 1999 and 2003. It's nice to go visit some good friends (even if to talk for work issues). It is somewhat far from my usual roaming area (~25Km straight to the North), so I cannot do it as often as I'd like. But anyway - I had to be at work early in the morning, but leaving from here a bit early for lunchtime, and leaving home at ~14:30, I managed to arrive to Iztacala in ~75 minutes. Sustained cycling for 20 Km/h, even counting stops at traffic lights on the way, yay!

Anyway, had a productive and fun evening there, but around 18:00 I decided to head back before night got me — Specially for the first part of the way, as I'm not familiar with Atzcapozalco. Alejandro suggested me to go by the recently (some months ago) opened cycle path that covers 4Km and almost exactly crosses the delegation (each of the 16 constitutive parts of Distrito Federal, where an important part of Mexico City is located).

The cycle path is a good initiative... But I must say, I'm very very glad I took it still with good daylight. As well as the Recreative cyclepath that goes to the South, until the border of Morelos state, this one was built over abandoned rail tracks. Good use for a vacant and useless public space — Rail tracks which lay unclaimed in the city are uncomfortable to walk, and useless for anything else, so they basically mean a useless 2m-wide strip of common grounds. So, I welcome any initiatives that make it into a useful space again! And two meters are just enough for a comfortable cycling path - Yes, which will surely be shared with pedestrians, and sometimes becomes uncomfortable. But lets try it!

However... When rail tracks are decomissioned and cycle paths built over them... the metal should be dismounted! Not only because of economic concerns (good metal used for rail tracks is much more expensive and useful than asphalt), but because if it stays there, it just becomes a danger. Specially, as is the case, if the asphalt is just deep enough to sometimes cover the tracks — And sometimes not.

Had I known, I would have taken several photographs of important mistakes in the rail layout. I know I was very close to having an accident at least once (this means, I lost balance and miraclously managed to slow down from ~15Km/h by running with the bike between my legs!), and got in uncomfortable situations several more times. For a good portion of the track, there is a train track running at about ⅔ of its width, so I had to constantly ring the bell or shout whenever I saw pedestrians — As changing from side to side to route around them would put both them and me in danger. Towards the Southern part of the cycle path, as it is a much more active industrial area, there are many places where multiple tracks cross each other — under the thin asphalt, sometimes completely unpaved. In one of those points I even decided to step down of the bike and make ~20m walking.

This cycle path seems like it was done in a great hurry to present a successful project to the Politicians in Charge, without much thought on what it requires to be really a good project. It provides, yes, a very useful and good mobility solution for cyclists in the North-West. But it is too dangerous... And I am not sure whether I'd take it again. Probably not.

So, all in all...

  • Thanks to the Atzcapozalco authorities who thought of the cyclists and claimed back unused public space for us all to enjoy!
  • The job done was too hasty. Valuable money (selling the tracks) was lost by burying it under asphalt. But it was not enough asphalt — It needs attention before somebody gets hurt (or, before more people — I'd be surprised if nobody had yet felt adrenaline over there)
  • I hope the entrant city government takes the self-powered vehicle promotion more seriously than the outgoing one — Which has done great advances (such as the Ecobici program), but is still far from reaching its promises... As always, I know.
  • I managed to get back home alive and complete, yay!
  • Of course, the cycle path has been mapped into OpenStreetMap. My SportsTracker tracks are also there, but they require Flash (ugh): the way to Iztacala and the way back.

Oh, and lastly: Some might be surprised I'm using bits of Twitterspeak here. But well, I now have presence a bot repeating my posts over there, so I'd better get Alejandro to read this using the proper channels ;-)

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Rethinking copyright in the digital era: Dialogs on arts, regulation and culture availability — Museo del Chopo, Mexico City

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 09/28/2012 - 11:49

I was invited as a panelist for the Laboratorio «Repensar el derecho de autor y el derecho de copia en la era digital:
diálogo sobre artes, regulaciones y disponibilidad de la cultura»
at the beautiful Foro del Dinosaurio in the Museo del Chopo, located very centrally in Mexico City. The list of speakers is quite interesting, and makes me very interested and happy to be there.

The laboratory will be next week, Wednesday through Friday. I am scheduled to be part of the 17:00 table, Knowledge availability and regulation in Internet, coordinated by Pedro Mendizábal (Creative Commons Perú), and together with Juan Voutsás (Biblotecologic Research Institute, UNAM), Armida Aponte (Creative Commons México). The other topics that will be covered are:

  • Rights, technologies and commons
  • The culture and its industries in the digital age: What are the interests at stake?
  • Intelectual, cultural and scientific works: Open access or availability?
  • New business models around copyright-protected works
  • nowledge availability and regulation in Internet
  • Visual arts and copyright in the digital media
  • Open governments and citizenship: Information, data and intelectual works

Sadly, it does not seem they have planned for remote people to follow along. I will ask and update here if there is any way for people outside Mexico City to tune in — For people able to attend, it's free entrance (and certificates will be given to people pre-registered, if you are interested, call 5535-2288 ext. 123)

For further details on the participants, go to the laboratory's web page.

Update: The talks will be streamed! http://www.chopo.unam.mx/chopoenvivo.html, via UStream.

Update About one year after this activity (which was very interesting!) I was contacted by the organizers. They will be publishing proceedings — Transcriptions of our participation! Yes, a transcription is never as easy to read as a text created as such, but I am very happy of this. I was sent a first version of my transcription, which I'm attaching here. It has several corrections to be made (which I asked them to do), but it's surely worth sharing!

Married!

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 09/27/2012 - 11:47

So, yay! Title says it all!

On Saturday September 22, Regina and I got married in my parents' house, in Cuernavaca, Morelos.

We had a very very nice little party with our family and a small group of friends — Of course, due to the nature of our life, we could not forego inviting our family and friends in Argentina, as well as those in other parts of the world, so we set up a simple video stream so that our friends could follow along — And they did, with much greater success than what I expected!

So, besides those people present with us in Cuernavaca, we had people tuning in (at least to the degree I could get from the log files) from Argentina (Buenos Aires, Paraná, Formosa), Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the United States.

This next Saturday (September 29) we will have a second party, to which our friends in Mexico are invited, at home. And for the people from far away,, the stream will be available again — Expect at least one interesting surprise :)

PS- Visit also our wedding page, with some photos, video, and general information (Warning! Part of it is outdated by now)

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Great online course available: «Securing Digital Democracy», by J. Alex Halderman

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 09/13/2012 - 13:22

I was pointed at a great online course — If you are into e-voting analysis (or, more broadly, into democratic processes' history, evolution and future), I strongly suggest you to take a look at «Securing Digital Democracy». Just the name of the teacher should be enough to make it interesting: University of Michigan professor J. Alex Halderman, the guy who has analized/hacked several electronic booths, and one of the clearest, smartest voices to explain what should we require of a voting system and how electronic booths are the worst fit for any purpose.

The course is delivered through Coursera; I have found Coursera to be an effective, usable, unobtrusive platform — So much I even signed up for another course. I am not so happy with online courses requiring to wait so much between lessons, but after all, it tries to mimic what we see at "regular" (i.e. classroom) teaching settings. And, after all, we autodidacts are still a minority.

The course in question started ten days ago, but you can still perfectly join. Each week has two lessons, worth of approximately 40 minutes of video each, and are "graded" through a quiz. Lets see how this evolves.

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Electronic voting in Panama: Slower, more expensive, more uncertainty... Goodbye!

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 09/04/2012 - 16:56

Panama just underwent a nasty e-voting exercise: Electronic-mediated elections were held for the committee of the PRD party. It sounds simple - Even trivial! There were only 4100 authorized voters, it was geographically trivial (all set inside a stadium)... But it blew up in smoke. I won't reiterate all what happened, I'll rather direct you to our project's (the e-voting observatorium) page: News regarding Panama (for those coming from the future, search starting at 2012-08-27 — and yes, it's all in Spanish, but there are free-as-in-beer translation services.

Many e-vote proponents/sellers/pushers were very eagerly waiting for this election to brag about one more success... So much that they could not just ignore it, and started rationalizing it away. Anyway, while feeding the observatorium, I came across this opinion-article in the Voto Digital website, which makes quite a bit of pro-e-voting noise. I replied to it, and I think my analysis is worth sharing also with you:

So, lets make some simple numbers, rounding the numbers: The PRD vote in Panama was done for a universe of 4100 voters.

It took 10 hours (instead of the planned 4), so 410 people were processed every hour. There were 40 voting (electronic) booths, so each processed 10 people per hour. This means, each person spent 6 minutes by the booth.

A manual vote in this fashion is highly parallelizable: Each of the voters can be given ballots with anticipation, or many of them cna be allowed in to be given the ballots in situ (depending on the electoral scheme employed). The contention time is the time it takes to each voter to get near the booth and deposit his ballot (either folded or in an envelope) - And it will very rarely be more than a couple of seconds.

So, given that using electronic booths parallelism cannot grow (there is a fixed number of machines) and the queues grew wildly, with traditional voting it would have surely fitted in the expected four hours (they were expected, also, based on their past experiences).

As for counting, that's the slowest part of manual voting, it's also highly parallelizable: If each of the 40 booths has slightly over 100 ballots, the party personnel can easily count them in under 30 minutes. Capture and aggregation for the 40 partial results would take an extra 10 minutes, even being generous.

Manual voting would have saved them around five hours, without demanding additional resources (and being thus much more economical than having to buy 40 specific-purpose computers). And as an additional advantage, the physical and tangible vote proofs would remain, in case they were ever again needed.

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To CURP or not to CURP

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 09/04/2012 - 12:58
To CURP or not to CURP

CURP: Clave Única del Registro Poblacional, or Unique Population Registry Code. This is a (hopefully) unique, 18 character long, string identifying each Mexican - I won't get into the technicalities, but serve yourselves.

By following such a convoluted scheme, the authorities should have ensured a biunivocal relation between each person and their CURP number. Well, at some point, due to a bureaucratical mishap completely outside my hands (my patron registered me with the wrong birth date, as you can see in the page at the bottom), I got two CURPs - And the procedure to fix it was far from trivial.

Last Sunday, I entered the Consulta CURP system to print a copy of the official document. Much to my surprise... It answered that I was not registered!

A couple of minutes later, I tried again, and succeeded. But I could not refrain from printing my Certificate of non-registration.

I guess their system follows a strong-but-stupid scheme such as:

  1. begin {
  2. db = connect_to_database
  3. curp = find_curp_for_person(query)
  4. generate_document(curp)
  5. } rescue {
  6. generate_non_reg_certificate(query)
  7. }

So, right, if a user submits a query during the system maintenance window (after all, it was Sunday after 23:00), the system will fail to connect to the database (or whatever), raise an exception, trap it, and... Well, you no longer exist, thanks for playing!

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WikiLovesMonuments wants *you* (and me!)

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 09/03/2012 - 17:35

What, haven't you heard about the WikiLovesMonuments photo contest around cultural heritage? Copying from its web page,

Wiki Loves Monuments is an international photo contest around cultural heritage monuments in September. Starting from the Netherlands in 2010 and organized on a European level in 2011, we go global in 2012!

I heard about this initiative in Iván Martínez's Wikimedia talk at COSIT 2012, held last week in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz (I intend to write a bit more regarding COSIT later on). I loved the idea, and intend to participate — Not because I take great pictures (I don't, and I usually take them using my aging phone, which gives decent results but nothing beyond that), but because I love to move by bike in the city, and it's one of the best ways to roll in front of some of them. But more on me later… Back to the topic!

WikiLovesMonuments aims to improve on Wikimedia's (the organization behind Wikipedia and several other Free Culture reference projects) coverage of important landmarks all over the world. To do so, they are offering a trip to attend WikiMania 2013 in Hong Kong to the first place winner, and other "photography-related" prizes to the other winners.

So, back to me: My motivation to enter the contest is to help Wikimedia. I know my shots won't be top-notch (although they will be the best I can do). I enjoy biking in my city, and often go not too far from many of the listed monuments. I am amazed at the number of monuments still pending in my area (of course, it's not by mistake this is called "La ciudad de los palacios", The city of the palaces) — Surely some of the readers of this post will have (or will find easy to take) some photos to add. Of course, I'll try to focus on the missing monuments, but if you are a good photographer, you might want to submit a better version for a monument that's already there.

So, some pointers, from what's closest to what's farthest from me:

At least for Mexico, the listings are taken from the National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH)'s Public registry of archaeological zones and monuments. So, I cannot wait to start my biking session today to get some good end-of-summer evening sun and get some pictures taken! :-D

Historic airplane found, cash spammed!

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 08/23/2012 - 09:46

Sometimes, very rarely, I am happy that the spam filters in my personal mail server are so far from perfect.

Many of us were amazed, some days ago, news broke that Amelia Earhart's plane was found in the Southwestern Pacific. The news is amazing and worthy in itself. But today, I got this mail, proof that Amelia lived through all those years: (all addresses obscured, of course)

Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2012 23:38:59 -0700
From: Amelia Earhart <some-mail@gmail.com>
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;
Subject: Hello
Reply-To: some-other-mail@live.com

Hello friend,

With due respect to humanity, i am compelled to write to you on a humanitarian ground, however, it has been my wish to execute in life.

Please, I am contacting you based on my desire to create a charitable fund in your country with this sum of EURO € 3.5 Million which I inherited from my late husband (Dr. Ahrens Earhart).

It is my desire to see that this money is invested in any organization of your choice in your country and distributed each year among the charity organizations, the house mother of the child, mosques, churches, schools, support for disadvantaged older men and women or in whatever way you intend helping the less privileged.

I took this decision because I was raised out of the house of mother and baby at the moment, i am admitted in a hospital in London were i am taking severe treatment to my cancer illness.

Please answer as soon as possible to confirm your agreement with this proposal, so I’ll give you all the necessary information that will enable you to have access to this funds my personal accountant will be aware of my arrangements with you.

Thank you for your attention and I hope to hear from you soon. Please contact me through my this email- some-other-mail@live.com the nurse helping me will attend to you i have been restricted from touching the computer due to my illness i will direct you through her she is a nice person.

Sincerely,
Ms. Amelia Earhart.

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An industry commits suicide and blames us

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 08/22/2012 - 11:32

[ once again, I am translating somebody else's material – In this case, my good Costa Rican friend Carolina Flores. Please excuse my stylistic mistakes — My English is far from native as you well know. But this material is worth sharing, and worth investing some tens of minutes doing a quick translation. If you can read Spanish, go read Caro's original entry ]

Have you been to a music record store lately?

I did so last Saturday, as a mere excercise. I was not planning on buying anything but I wanted to monitor things and confirm my suspicions.

What was I suspicious of? First, that I would only find old records. And so it was: The only recent record I found was ...little broken hearts by Norah Jones. the second, that I would only find music for over 50 year old people. so it was: Were I there to look for a present for my father, I would have walked out with 10 good records. Third, that in the store nothing worth commenting would happen. About that last point, I should point out it was around 10 AM and the store had just opened its doors. Lets concede the benefit of doubt.

I don't think many of you will remember, but in Barrio La California (where there is now a beauty parlour, almost in front of AM.PM) there was Auco Disco. In Auco Disco there was a guy specialized in rock (Mauricio Alice) and another one specialized in jazz (I don't remember his name). In that record you could always find rare records, but if they were not there, at least you were sure to find somebody to say: "No, we don't have that, but that's an excellent record, it's the best that [insert group here] have ever recorded because just afterwards they switched their guitar player, they had gone a bit south but with that record they are flying. But no, we don't have it; I can recommend you this record by [insert another group] because it has a guitar solo in track six that is amazing".

It would happen more or less like that, which means, one would arrive to Auco Disco at 10 AM and leave around 5 PM with three new records, after having listened to a spectacular music selection. What happened to those stores? Were they killed by The Pirate Bay? That's the simplistic answer from the recording industry! The answer is that those stores never got anything from the industry but an invoice. The industry –specially in prescindible markets such as ours– was limited to hiring artists, taking care of them recording a sellable product, producing the object called record, and that's it. The more commercial radio stations were paid to program those songs —as it cannot be casual that "Mosa, mosa" is the summer hit in all of Latin America, can it?— but, record stores? Nothing.

Lets carry on with that idea: Radio stations are paid to program said music. This idea should not lead us to believe that recording companies are to blame for bad taste. I won't reveal my sources, but I know the success of the "Locura automática" song by La Secta was a real example. Nobody paid for it. That song got to the number one because of its own merits(?) (you don't know the effort it took to find that thing, I cannot recommend it to you). Same thing happens with other stations that don't program reggaetón, that try to save the species, and where they play what we do like. But the thing is, everything we like is not available in any record store in this country. Then, even if we wanted to buy a record or give it as a gift to somebody, it is plain impossible. And don't tell me it's the same to present as a gift a link or a CD full of downloaded MP3 as it is to give a record with cover and booklet, wrapped in gift paper.

I might be old-school, but the fetish object record still exists, not only because of its cover, but because of its sound. A 3MB MP3 is akin to drinking coffee dripping from a bag that has been used eight times with the same coffee beans. That format is the worst that has ever happened to music, and if we had any bit dignity we would never purchase digital files in Amazon or iTunes safe for MP3 with an acceptable compression level. That, if we could buy them, because not only that is allowed to us. As the musical industry has no interest in resolving ITS problem (that is not our problem, it is those companies') it has not even been resolved how to charge for a MP3 download that includes import fees (well, if downloading from here a MP3 from a USA-based file server can be considered importing goods into Costa Rica!!!) so we don't have to get dizzy entering into the nineties to Titi Online to discover there is nothing by Muse, Andrew Bird, The Killers, Death Cab for Cutie, Paramore, Björk... (believe me, I looked them all up, even Norah jones and La Secta. They also were not there).

This all leads me to the question, which I present with all due respect (NOT): What the fuck do they expect us to do??? It is outrageous; above all because in the best case they will sell us a watery coffee download that won't allow us to get all the details a vinyl or less compression would give us. In the worst case, post-MP3 groups will end up recording music with no harmonics or hidden sounds, because, what for? Nobody will hear it. They even admit it: "Some musicians and audio engineers say the MP3 format is changing the way studios mix their recordings. They say the MP3 format "flattens" dynamics –differences in tone and volume– in a song. As a result, a great deal of new music sounds very much alike, and there is nothing as focusing to create a dynamic listening experience. Why working so hard in creating complex sound if nobody can detect it?" (Rolling Stone, The Death of High fidelity, December 26 2007, taken from here).

That's why I am not surprised by Adrián's post regarding the sales of old records. The price has nothing to do with it. The causes are related to the fetish object record and what it means or does not mean for people that have never purchased one. Adrián also asks if somebody here keeps buying records. I answered that I would if the stores sold anything I like. I do it even after the nausea I feel while reading "This phonogram is an intellectual work protected in favor of its producer… COPYING IT IN WHOLE OR PARTIALLY IS FORBIDDEN…" (like that, uppercased, yelling to whoever is only guilty of having bought a record and defending the producer, not the artist). But I am sure that almost nobody buys records because doing so is no longer a gratifying experience; because if buying a record is clicking to wait 15 days for it to reach the mailbox, we prefer clicking on the download link.

But there is another reason for people not to buy records anymore. In one of my talks regarding the dictatorship of the all rights reserved, I asked the 30 twenty-something-year-old students if any of them had ever bought a record. One answered he had, because he is an author and performer (cantautor in Spanish) and understands the effort that producing a record entails. The rest of them had never done so. Is it possible that said young people have never listened to real music? Is it possible that, were it not for concerts, what they consider music is a set of washed-out MP3 that are about to fill up 1TB of their computer? Does people no longer buy records because they cannot differentiate one sound from the other?

It is not very clear for me where do I want to get to. The recording industry is despicable. An industry that instead of innovating sets its energy on suing adolescents for downloading songs, trying to pass laws restricting our freedoms in Internet, putting up DRMs making us hostages to our devices* and forcing us to listen just the aroma of music, deserves my whole contempt. If we add ot this that said industry won't allow us to legally download their breadcrumbs because it has not understood that Internet does not need a van crossing borders, besides my contempt they deserve my pity and my heartfelt condolence.

But the condolence is also for music, real music, that which is not compressed under the shoe using a terrible format. It is also for independent musicians that have not realized that begging for a bit of space to that industry they just add to themselves the "despicable" tag, given they deserve the fruits of their work to enter their bank account.

However, there are good things that have come out of this absurdity. Be it for those that have joined projects such as Autómata (even if it is in MP3) and for dreams come true such as Musopen (that have achieved that the music that's in theory Public Domain becomes so in practice as well). Good for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the list of lawyers willing to defend people accused of ilegally downloading music in the USA. Good for the Creative Commons licenses that allow free sharing.

All those are growing solutions, although none of them allows me to buy the Panamanian Carlos Méndez's record. Thankfully, a friend of mine who knows I will never give a dime to Apple, bought the files for me in iTunes. I thank him deeply, although I would have prefered to go to Auco Disco and have Mauricio tell me that the 2007 EP I have from Carlos is better than the record he did on 2009.

* My devices don't have DRM because I use free software. I also use the ogg file format.

Image by verbeeldingskr8

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Impromptu session on information freedom, network neutrality, etc. — COSIT 2011, Mexico

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 08/21/2012 - 17:54
Wolf G, Romo F, Miranda A, Méndez O, Hernández C, Araico S.  2011.  Impromptu session on information freedom, network neutrality, etc. — COSIT 2011, Mexico. :0:56:00.

During the COSIT 2011 conference, we held a very celebrated and fun impromptu talk. This was a very interesting session where many of the long-time Free Software activists in Mexico took the stage (we were waiting for a speaker who was late, so the audience was bored and waiting) and started talking –in a completely irreverent, disorganized way– about the status of network neutrality, ACTA, Free Software, Free Culture, legal issues regarding copyright and many other similar points.

At some point or another, we had on stage: Fernando Romo "el Pop", Alejandro Miranda "Pooka", Sandino Araico, Claudia Hernández, Octavio Méndez... Anybody else? ☺

Regarding the quality of the recording: Regina just found this file in her cheap, aging hand-held, photo camera. Again, this was not a planned session, so don't expect a high quality recording. It is hard to follow the audio at points, and the video is not steady. Anyway, it's worth following!

Great thanks to Regina, and to her quick sense of opportunity, for reaching for her camera and filming this, as it would otherwise just get lost and stay only in our memory! ♥

More on hacker conferences and sexual harassment

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 08/16/2012 - 19:41

At the beginning of this year, I blogged about a Mexican security-minded hacker conference scaring away its female audience by advertising in a sexist way.

I don't know if it is the need to be l33t or kewl, to show off that hackers are really socially inept, or what... but this seems to carry on. I know many are familiar with the red/yellow card project (and followup) by kdotcdot.

I am (rightfully? naively?) proud that at DebConf we have achieved a clean conference environment, without such problems... Yes, I know that, during the last ~year at DebConf11 we discussed an anti-harassment policy (look at the thread, it was quite interesting!), came up with standards of respect — And Debian as a whole voted on a GR that ratifies a diversity statement. The fact that we had those very positive discussions, documents and events shows we needed to have them. But, again, this shows that being a hacker does not necessarily mean being a jerk. And I'm very proud to be part of this community.

I recently stumbled across a very nice, insightful post by Valerie Aurora on The Ada Initiative: Supporting women in open technology and cultureDEFCON: Why conference harassment matters. Take a good read at it. I hope it helps shape other hacker groups in a less-aggressive, more welcoming way.

Oh! And before closing: Be sure to at least skim through both Valerie Aurora's and kdotcdot's comments. LOTS of insight in them.

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