Of floods and the longest distance between two points

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 10/12/2005 - 11:40
In order to understand this post, if you are not familiar with Mexico City (specially with Ciudad Universitaria), you should get this flood experience route, which illustrates the longest and wettest possible route between two points I have ever had to use. Yesterday, we had quite a nice Debian México group meeting. I invited the people over to my Institute, and we started on time, at ~17:00. I should note that my office has no windows, so until 16:50 I still had the impression we had nice weather - I came back from lunch at home at 16:00, and we still had sunshine. When I got to the Ángel Bassols room, on the fifth floor and with a beautiful view of the south west of the Mexico City valley, I noticed we had a severe storm - People got to the meeting anyway, which is admirable... But from time to time I was more into watching the rain fall than hearing people speak. We had four small talks out of the five scheduled: I spoke about Debconf - What it is, how are we advancing, what can local people do, where/how to get involved (hint: We are meeting this Sunday, October 16, at 19:00UTC, which means 14:00 Mexican time, in #debconf-team in irc.debian.org). Rodrigo spoke about public key cryptography, GPG, and the usefulness to have a Web of trust (meaning, it's not only good for becoming a DD). Sergio spoke about his experience setting up and administering Nisamox, Mexico's only Debian mirror (of course, in UNAM as well). Damog spoke about the fine job he has been doing on cleaning up the WNPP. Ana was scheduled to talk, but we had the room only until 19:30, so at 20:00 we had to leave. Well, we should take this meeting to the traditional restaurant, right? 20:45, still in the lobby of the building (Torre II de Humanidades), we were all watching one of the most intense rains I have ever come across. We were hungry and didn't want to be there anymore - Ok, lets move. Rain started to give way, so we headed to the cars. Yes, many of you know I live really close to the Institute (see the map again), but I wanted to go have dinner and talk a bit more. I went with Sergio to his car, parked in the Facultad the Ingeniería parking lot, some 40m from the Torre. The sight was amazing. The "Las Islas" park (sorry, I could find no photo) really became islands. There was even a considerable waterfall in the border between Las Islas and the parking lot! We took off our shoes to get safely to the car. Ok, traffic would probably be hellish, but we thought it would be 1hr until we got to the traditional Vips Altavista. One hour later, 22:00, we were only in front of Rectoría - What is it, about... 400 meters away, at very most? Sergio decided to park and wait until we got some possibility to move. After some 45 minutes, people started opening way towards Insurgentes Sur - We went that way. Even though it was in the opposite direction, we had the hope of movement. As we already knew (thanks to the radio) that everything in this city was chaotic, we headed to Sergio's institute (Astronomy). Before reaching there, we found yet another group of cars which did not move, forward or backward. Amazing - We entered the Facultad de Ciencias parking lot - The queue was of people trying to exit through the Cerro del Agua exit (which is ~700m away, northward, by Metro Copilco). We realized nothing would save us from getting soaked - At least rain was not severe anymore, but it was still falling steadily. We walked a bit, Sergio went on to his institute, and I decided to go to the metro and go straight home. I got to Metro Universidad at around 23:30, and waited there for about 15 minutes (metros in Mexico usually take between two and five minutes between each other, depending on the demand). Only that... Well, we were told that Metro Copilco was closed as the area was completely flooded. Crap. Crap. Crap. Later, my wife and her brother confirmed that the flood was severe - We were lucky not to get a flood at home! I decided to ride the metro anyway, as Metro Miguel Ángel de Quevedo is quite closer to my house than Universidad. And, yes, I walked back home. 3 frigging hours to go from my Institute to my house. ~300m away. Probably the most severe storm I have ever seen in Mexico City. Unbelievable. The only thing I really must thank for is that in my wife's family's house everything was OK - They live just next to the natural course of an open river, and they have had terrible floods, with up to 1m of water... The city government did some work, which proved to work correctly this time. Thanks to whoever made it!
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I like understanding why I am not a Gnome user

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 10/05/2005 - 12:02
Erich: Most Linux users expect me to run Gnome, KDE or -at the very geeky extreme- xfce. I hate them all - I hate xfce and KDE much more than I hate Gnome, yes, but I cannot live in a Gnome-based world. It is just not comfortable. It is not fun. Some months ago, I tried them all. One week with Gnome, one sour week with KDE, three very sour days with xfce. The world makes you feel you should be using an integrated feature-bloated desktop, and that good ol' beloved Windowmaker with {rxvt,emacs,firefox} is an anachronic no-go. I find it interesting to read other people explaining why they think as I do, and I also like reading the counter-arguments. Besides, if there happens to be an integrated desktop user who is dissatisfied with his current environment, why not tempt him to try something different (like my WMaker) or completely different (like their ion3)?
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Isn't it Galeon 1.2 which went off the path?

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 10/05/2005 - 11:13
Axel Beckert was ranting regarding how Galeon 1.3 sucks so badly he sticks to his Woody (Gnome 1.4 IIRC, Galeon 1.2) desktop. In one of the lines of his rebuttal/statement of what he wants from Galeon, he states:
I just strongly disagree with pure simplification being the right way in UI design.
This is the problem with Galeon: That it went far away from its original intention. Its original motto (which I discovered to be still in use) is The web. only the web... Well, I really enjoyed pre-1.2 versions of Galeon, but it just bloated, bloated, bloated until it was no longer usable for me. I too hate many aspects of Firefox, only it is the most usable browser I have seen... I still have to look at Kazehakase, but from the little that I can get from its page, it is not what I want. I want, just as you, something light, not over-featured, but tunable to my personal preferences. And while Firefox's configuration is closer to the extra wheels for a bycicle you complain about in Galeon, I have been able to tune it quite a lot via extensions.
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IBM keyboards / Enter and return

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 09/23/2005 - 00:19
Romain: IBM keyboards rule. I still have mine, dating from 1989, and in perfect shape. Delicious to touch. I think yours is a special edition, however, as mine has one E key only ;-) Bubulle: In Spanish and Latin American keyboards (yes, they are different and they both suck - The Spanish one sucks doubly), it is common to see keyboards labeled with Intro, a strange attempt to translate Enter. I have never seen a person call that key "Intro", althought some programs do refer to it. But anyway, for extra points: How would you call the icon for the numeric pad Enter key in Apple's keyboards? What does ⊼ mean? Where did it come from? I think it is the biggest oddity in the otherwise very rational design of the Macintoshes that I don't understand.
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On usability and on what Debian is about

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 09/22/2005 - 21:11
Andres Salomon rants on the apparent lack of focus on usability we have in Debian, compared to Ubuntu. First of all, I think that directly relating the word usability with the concept desktop is a very big and common mistake. I know I am not in the 99% of the computer users - but usability for me almost always means the opposite: Interfaces that stay out of the way giving you easy access to whatever you need (and I do mean whatever - think a nice and cozy shell, think ol' beloved Emacs). Once again, I know I am not in the majority, I know that many people will prefer spiffyness (if such a word exists). And, of course, I know perfectly the shortcomings of my style for the non-techie user. However, back to my point: Debian does not target a specific set of users. Debian targets anything deemed interesting and worthy by its developers - even if its developers try to go in opposite directions. Partly because of that, Debian as such, will probably only be useful for some people... It took me quite a while to grasp what might be the meaning of our often quoted slogan, The universal Operating System - What does that mean? I have always spoken against the one-size-fits-all approach - And that's precisely why I chose and continue to choose Debian. And that's Free Software is all about. I think I only came to terms with this slogan (which I hated before) after understanding why were many people pushing for CDD (Custom Debian Distributions): Because our work must be staged to really be universal. Debian provides a great deal of the needed integration work. Debian provides a well-established base, very usable and very (some people would say, excessively) complete. Of course, for most users, it is way too much. I have (numerically) 6% of the available packages installed in my main system - I suppose the proportion would be closer to 30% if I used any other mainstream distribution. It's easy to cut from there, to throw away most of the packages you will not need for a particular user profile, and provide a better solution for them. And that's precisely what Ubuntu -and many, many other derivers- do. Yes, I also -as most DDs and Debian supporters I've talked to as well- have some doubts and viewpoint shifts regarding how is Ubuntu good or bad for Debian. There are many, many sensitive spots. That's not what I want to tackle here... Call it Ubuntu, Progeny, Linspire, Libranet, LinEx, GuadaLinex, or whatever you want - We work on giving them a good, solid foundation. They work on improving this foundation for the kind of users they need. And, of course, those users will be happier than having the generic thing. Well, too much typing already. That's that.
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Who gets to cut the cheese

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 09/14/2005 - 10:03
Lars: I also like very much the typical Norwegian cheese slicers - I have had one for a long time, even before knowing where they come from. There are still many ocasions, though, when what you want is a simple, plain old knife.
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'Delete' as in 'Leave it hidden'

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 09/14/2005 - 09:56
I am quite happy: I found a 256MB memory stick card for ~US$60, so I just ran to buy it. Since then, I have been much more active with my camera, of course. I was baffled, though, last Sunday, when after only (!) 170 (1 megapixel) photos I got a memory stick full message. WTF? Well, we have been using Nadezhda's iMac to move the photos to our server's album - I don't like iPhoto, I prefer moving them to the destination directory. And, as the memory stick is a full RW filesystem (unlike the camera's internal memory, that can only be mounted read-only), I just told MacOS to trash them. Silly me: I assumed that having a plain old FAT filesystem, this would mean what I told it to - Nope. It just means 'create a /.Trash directory and move everything in there'. Of course, the /.Trash isn't viewable by MacOS' finder. It also stays hidden when doing a simple 'ls'. The camera does not report it, as it is outside its universe (/DCIM). Bah.
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The Universe is conspiring against me

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 09/06/2005 - 21:52
There is no other rational explanation. Today, I finally finished upgrading my Institute's ancient network infrastructure - Our network was still running over a 10mbps shared segment, one week ago I replaced the hubs by switches in three of the four floors, and today I did the last one - of course, my floor, the only one that's densely populated, and where the firewall and servers live. Instead of two lockers with one hub each, with a small mess but nothing more than that, today I replaced four hubs with three switches, in a major mess. Ok, nothing the average sysadmin hasn't done before. Estimated time? 90 minutes. I plug the net back in, and can see my internal network instantly. Beautiful. I can check the Institute's web site from a random machine. Gorgeous. I can even reach the University web site - Life is good. Or so it seems. I reach nothing else. For ${DEITY}'s sake... What can it be? Well, after some 20 minutes of bad luck (this means, I could not understand a bloody thing why was everything working fine on my end but I could not reach out of the University), I had to head back home, as the Institute closes at strictly 9PM, and it was already 9:15. I even tried logging in to the Physics Institute, where I have an account - Success! Anyway, no time to debug. I come back home... Well, before anything else: Please, don't forget that UNAM is home to over 300,000 students. It is the largest University in Mexico, probably in Latin America. It was founded over 450 years ago. I mean, it is a serious place. Ok, please explain me this: $ traceroute -n traceroute to (, 30 hops max, 38 byte packets 1 0.627 ms 0.404 ms 0.381 ms 2 0.179 ms 0.159 ms 0.153 ms 3 2.333 ms 0.893 ms 0.862 ms 4 32.014 ms 24.159 ms 3.464 ms 5 20.342 ms 30.751 ms 31.827 ms 6 18.951 ms 31.810 ms 31.688 ms 7 32.680 ms 16.426 ms 30.449 ms 8 20.964 ms 46.971 ms 62.977 ms 9 48.579 ms 56.504 ms 48.209 ms 10 * * * 11 * * * Bloody crap... I am trying to reach one of the central servers of the University! What the Fsck, this University has 3 B-class segments (that is, over 192,000 IP addresses, and over 60,000 connected computers). It is one of the main Internet providers in the continent! Why on Earth did the network feel like going on vacation precisely the night I am working on infrastructure!?
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Ahí viene el tlacuache

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 09/05/2005 - 00:47
Ahí viene el Tlacuache cargando un tambache por todas las calles de la gran ciudad. El señor Tlacuache compra cachivaches, y para comprarlos suele pregonar: ¡Botellas que vendan! zapatos usados! ¡Sombreros estropeados, pantalones remendados! Cambio, vendo y compro por igual! I remember a blog entry, possibly by Andrew Pollock, telling about the stupid road crossing habits of the kangaroos. Well, for us non-Australians, that's probably one of the most extravagant and folkloric tales that can be ever told. About 1hr ago, I was finishing reading a chapter, when I saw Santa staring out the window to the garden. But then again... She was not just staring at the void - She was staring at the nose of a very large rodent! I immediately called Nadezhda down to plan the action, and in one of the most varonile actions I have ever taken, I decided to go and solve the problem at whatever cost. Armed with a metal broom stick, I went out to the garden to hunt the large rat. Of course, at 11PM and in a garden so full of places to hide as ours, I wasn't precisely optimistic. My dear and brave wife was helping me (her sight is dramatically better than mine) standing over a chair. And then, we saw it. I was ready to smash it, but it was running over the wall, so I was some 30cm short - A huge beast. Over 30cm, plus a 30cm tail - Would not be that bad weren't it for the fact that my cats love to be in the garden, and they are usually there from 8AM to 8PM. Nadezhda reacted to the terrible beast's look: - That's not a rat, no way, that's a Tlacuache! - Well, yes, you might be right... Anyway, I don't want it to be anywhere near my cats! - Agree... But don't kill it! It's not a rat! Maybe... - Hmmmm... Then what can we do? - We can open the back door and scare it out! Ok, so we opened the door, sprayed water all over, made noise... In the end, we didn't see the tlacuache again. It very probably still is in the garden - And I am afraid to let the cats out tomorrow - It is easily bigger than Marabunta! Now, what is a tlacuache, and why did I remember (probably) Andrew's posting? The tlacuache is Mexico's only marsupial - yes, somehow related to the kangaroos and all those Australian-only animals. It is also known as churcha, zarigüeya, cuica, catita, zorra mochilera, llaca, coyopollin, comadreja overa or mucura in different parts of Latin America. Here is a nice picture of them. There is another interesting link about the tlacuaches in Mexico Desconocido - It is strange to see a Mexico Desconocido article that starts just around the corner, in the Pedregal area. I love living so close to the University. Besides not having to drive to work, UNAM has one of the most beautiful campuses (campii?) I have ever seen - And it has an ecological reserve of its own, the matorral de palo loco area. That reserve, and the beautiful way in which the whole campus is still integrated in the forest, is the main reason I have very unique and beautiful fauna at home: Every day, we chase out squirrels. In Spring time, we very often have humming birds. And... Well, today I had my first encounter with a tlacuache. I am happy to learn that they are very good climbers, so probably it just climbed out the fence the same way it climbed in - But I cannot be too sure yet. Oh! And what's that verse I started with? Of course, El Ropavejero, by Cri Crí, the sweet voice that saw many generations of Mexican children grow up - of course, with many critics as well.
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Conference backgrounds revisited

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 08/25/2005 - 15:50
Mako: So you thought you couldn't be surpassed Well, you should talk with Nadezhda... As this background image she gave me is still the winner in my book. Erich: IMHO, the problem with your suggestions is that they distract you from both your work and the conference.
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From my workplace: Intelectual property

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 08/25/2005 - 14:24
I work in a technical role at the Institute for Economics Research in UNAM, Mexico's largest university. This is an institute with relatively low computer awareness, although with a slight (or not so?) left-leaning political balance. I have found some points with which I can engage in interesting conversations with people here, but still, I am still amazed when I see something directly related to my Free Software interest areas. Today, I got in the institute's mailing list the link to a simple but interesting article called Intellectual-property rights and wrongs, written by the 2001 Nobel winner Joseph E. Stiglitz - It speaks about the common conceptions (and misconceptions) about intellectual property, and how the Free Software (well, I must admit - he used the "Open Source" wording) has proved many of its principles wrong. But even more, he goes on talking on how the strong IP protection can hinder development, how patents can be wrongly assigned (and how they have halted development even in industrial areas, even 100 years ago), and how IP protection is killing thousands of medication-deprived people. Nice article to point people at :)
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I would happily tell you...

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 08/22/2005 - 19:37
...that Panama or Oaxtepec have negative amounts of mosquitoes, but then again, I prefer not to register in livejournal just to post a stupid note :)
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It's not Panama, y'know...

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 08/22/2005 - 10:26
We do have some land between our two oceans! Steinar: It seems you want to travel ~3hr to the beach when you will have a voleyball court just behind the hotel? Hmm...
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Editorial changes

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 08/18/2005 - 15:54
No, I am not going to beat that old horse again - This is about some editorial changes I suffered. Yesterday, I bought the Mexican edition of PC Magazine. Why? Because I will be writing there every month, and this is the first article they publish. A two page long article, the "Linux" section. I wanted to check how butchered was it, as I understood it has to undergo stylistic review - Probably they were too busy removing the excess of emphasis in "Free Software" from my text, or something like that. Ok, so they deleted some paragraphs here and there, mutilated some others... But in general, yes, they took the central idea - They removed my emphasis also on how Free Software builds -like the Unix tradition- around many small tools that know very well how to do specific tasks... Well, whatever. Now, something just jumped to my eyes: I was talking in this article about firewall helpers, monitoring tools, intrusion detection, and... CD and DVD burners?! Yes, as silly as it sounds, I found this paragraph (obviously, in Spanish):
Nero has made available NerlLinux, with capabilities to record audio and mixed disks. This version uses the NeroAPI for low-level operations in the CD recording process, offers automatic detection and support for all kinds of internal CD or DVD recorders supported in the NeroAPI 6.6. It also includes optimizations based in the Kernel, support for UltraBuffer, support for hot-plug for external USB devices, without you having to reboot any of your applications. It supports RedHat Linux 7.2, 7.3, 8.0, 9 and Enterprise Linux 3, as well as SuSE Linux 8.0, 8.1, 8.2, 9.0, 9.1, 9.2 and Debian GNU/Linux 3.0 (with kernel 2.4 or higher). It is available for download at ww2.nero.com/enu/NeroLINUX.html
Ok, just in case somebody finds my page looking for information about NeroLinux: DON'T USE THAT CRAP. There are many better, free alternatives. My personal favorite is cdrecord - Yes, console-based and all, but it is extremely easy and efficient to use. If you want a complete, graphical, nice, easy and beautiful solution, take a look at gcombust or gnomebaker if you are Gnome-headed, k3b or arson if you like KDE, or any of the other available free tools. Say no to evil propietary software.
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And now, for Debconf 6... Please say hello to Oaxtepec!

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 08/15/2005 - 11:48
This Saturday I went with my father to Centro Vacacional Oaxtepec, the place I propose that will host us for Debconf6. I took photos of the areas we will work in - And here goes my report. Before anything else: Please be gentle to my server ;-) I have only a 128k upload rate, so if too many people request the high-res pictures, we will all lose (specifically, I will lose my patience and move the blog offline for a while ;-) ). I suggest you first look at the photo index page, it should be enough to give you a general idea. First of all, Oaxtepec is a beautiful balnearium located about 90 minutes away from the Mexico City airport. It was first inhabited over 550 years ago, when emperor Moctezuma created the first botanical garden in the Aztec empire, which also served as a medicinal garden. In the region, we have many interesting archeological sites, both prehispanic and colonial. It is located at 1,360 meters above the sea level, which gives it a very benign, warm climate - although we should be prepare for some quite strong rains, as we will be there in the beginning of the rainy season, and Morelos State's rains are internationally famous ;-) The modern Oaxtepec was built 40 years ago in the president Adolfo López Mateos' period, and given to the Mexican Institute for Social Security, which still runs it. Now, I expected it to be not in perfect shape, as government-run buildings in my country usually are, but what I found amazed me: There is an ongoing restauration, and it is in general in perfect shape. Oaxtepec is huge. Together with its neighbouring (and once part of the same complex Parque Acuático Oaxtepec, it covers over one square kilometer. I found a model and a map of the whole complex, as well as an explained map of the Centro Vacacional Oaxtepec. The first thing I want to show you all is a cure for the sad european climate: Some shots showing the general environment and facilities. As you will probably agree, a beautiful, beautiful place. I suppose we will be lodging at the familiar hotels (numbers 20, 21 and 24 on the map) - There are three such hotels, each with 38 rooms, 20 for four and 18 for six people (that means, each hotel can host 188 people). The rooms are quite comfortable, according to what we have seen at previous Debconfs. Every room has a private bathroom and a little fridge/minibar. Each hotel has a common kitchen for all of its rooms. The front of the hotel faces the olympical swimming pool. Just behind the hotels we have some sports facilities - a voleyball/basketball court. As for other lodging options, there are two executive hotels (at the moment being restored, but scheduled to re-open soon - Numbers 17, 18 and 22 in the map). The rooms are not much larger, but they are more beautiful and will probably be more comfortable. There are also over 100 bungalows (number 7 and 11 in the map), quite pretty and comfortable - and what's more important, giving more isolation (so that people can sing until the early morning and the impact factor on the fellow DDs will be diminished ;-) ). They have similar furniture than the familiar hotel, but they have a small living room and a small pool each. They are, however, much farther to the work areas. Right now we are on vacation, so there were no available bungalows for them to show me, but I have some pictures of their pictures ;-) I peeked around a bit, and they do seem similar to what I found. We have two small buildings we can use as work halls (i.e., for the hacklab) marked with number 16 on the map. Each of those buildings has two work rooms, a large one (for ~80 people) and a small one (for ~30 people) (a bit crammed, yes). The work halls have a small common space, where we can have a coffee service. Besides, behind them we have two smaller rooms which we could use - although they are IMHO a bit too dark and humid. There is a restaurant large enough to host us all, even twice or three times, in the main compound. Above it, the guest club provides more services - a gym, ping-pong tables, a sauna (I suppose it means a steam bath), some Internet access. (Of course, we will have Internet access all over - I just mention this for completeness). On the other side of the swimming pool, we have the main auditorium (number 29 in the map - detail). It is _very_ large, it can host 600 people. The auditorium, though, does look a bit old and rusty and has not-so-good illumination - But, in any case, we can use it for Debian Day. Oh! And the auditorium has scheduled movie sessions, IIRC, once a week. Then, we have the magnificent parlamientary tower (we have it in detail as well) (23 in the map - it is not shown there, but there actually is a path from Hotel Tepozteco, number 22, to it. It is about as far from the hotels as Smokki was from the dorms at Debconf5), complete with cable-car and everything. It is a beautiful building, with a breath-taking view of most of Morelos state. Its disposition is in five sections, which can be together for a plenary session (up to 150 people sitting) or divided in sections of 30 people each. There is also a 12-people meeting hall in the entrance, great for Cabal meetings^W^W^W^W which we will find a use for ;-). They have also a space for simultaneous translation - I think we can use that as our server room. About network connectivity: The person who kindly walked me all over the place says they are currently working on it. We will most probably have everything ready in the work halls and the parliamentary tower. We will almost surely have to do the cabling ourselves inside the hotels - I suppose that a couple of nice APs will make our lifes better. Yes, we will not be forced to use xsupplicant ;-) Ok, what problems have I found? Mainly one: The central area (this is, hotels and work halls) are taken care of for handicapped people. The main auditorium and the parliamentary tower are _not_, and they don't plan on fixing that. For both, the entrance for the sessions is one story high. In any event, we can surely find people willing to help carry whoever needs this help - although they might be uncomfortable requesting this. Probably what we can do is to split the tower in 2/5 and 3/5, have part of it work as Hacklab I and part of it as a conference place, and have the conferences which are more interesting to the disabled people in one of the work halls instead. Any ideas in this regard are welcome. Anyway... This is it for my report today ;-) I thought on posting this to the Debconf6 organizers only, but in the end, all of the Debian-interested people should have their say on this - even more now that we officially have a second Mexican DD, who wanted to do things a bit differently ;-) (congratulations, man!).
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