So ZTE it is

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 02/22/2013 - 09:03

Some weeks ago I posted about the long-expected demise of my old phone. And even given I don't usually don't pay much attention to phones (and could care less about the smartphone fad), I asked for a recommendation here on what to change to.

The only thing that made me look for something other than a ~US$15 phone is that I enjoy having a GPS-enabled device. So, with that in mind, I went to my carrier's offices, with a top budget of MX$2,000 (~US$150), and asked for help. After being a Telcel subscriber for ~10 years (and ~6 with the same device), even though I use prepaid cards only (and seldom pay over MX$100 a month), I expected some advice. So, when the employee told me to go to the phone exhibit they have and pick my favorite, I declined, by telling I just want the cheapest unit with a GPS. He almost immediately offered me the ZTE V791, an Android 2.3-based unit, for MX$990 (~US$75), just around half of what I expected to pay. So I got two - One for myself, one for Regina, as her previous "nice" phone died under the Bosnian rain and had one of the sturdy, reliable but utterly boring US$15 phones for over a year ;-) As a new Mexican resident, she can surely use a GPS as well! (and some other tools in it). So, two nice phones, and still (squarely!) in my projected budget!

I *did* give some thought to the comments posted in my original post, but given I don't want to bite in to the tendency too much, I let price determine what we get. And after all, I do not plan to ever enable data over the phone network (if at all, I use it on wifi). A recommendation for people with similar profiles/interest than me: Maps with me allows for downloading OpenStreetMap data on a country basis (so I get all of Mexico with me). I also got Vespucci OSM Editor, to be able to do OpenStreetMap updates from the phone, but given it has some stability issues I have not used it much (and it's understandably not so disconnected-mode-friendly)

Not much more to add to this. I am writing this prompted by Russell's "iPhone vs. Android" post. My point after getting these two cheap phones? Having a wide range of devices under this same OS (even if it still has long ways to go freedom-wise) makes it a choice for people like me, who don't want to save money for a couple of months in order to get the newest gadget. I hope this phone lasts with me several years as well, without changing my usage pattern!

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Too cool not to repost

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 02/20/2013 - 21:54

[ post made mainly for those poor souls who don't yet follow Planet Debian, but do follow me ]

Earlier today, Roland Mas threw an idea towards whoever had too much free time: Implement a valid QR code construction that would become an interesting pattern when interpreted in Conway's Game of Life.

But, as Jurij Smakov promptly showed, there is only one flaw in Roland's request: The need for too much free time. Jurij replied within ~4hr with a arbitrary string to QR code converter that allows said code to be seeded into a Game of Life interpreter.

Jurij: You get all the geek points I had in store for this month.

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"No al voto electrónico", Triple W, W Radio

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 02/19/2013 - 21:50
Wolf G, Ruiz O.  2013.  "No al voto electrónico", Triple W, W Radio.

In yet another episode where we push for the population to be aware of the perils that electronic voting represents, Octavio Ruiz (@tacvbo) and me were invited to (briefly) talk about the topic in W Radio, one of the largest radio networks in Mexico.

The interview was short-ish, but we managed to get several points accross. And, of course, one of the best ways to do so is via a radio show with tens of thousands of listeners. So, we were quite happy to be there!

Here is the audio of the segment we presented in Fernanda Tapia's radio show "Triple W", in W Radio, Mexico.

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The phone is dead. How to stay reasonably unbound?

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 01/29/2013 - 23:31

So, today an endurance test can be declared as finished.

In early 2008, for the first time, I paid for a cellular phone (as my previous ones were all 100% subsidized by the operator in a fixed plan). I got a Nokia N95. And, although at the beginnning I was quite thrilled with my smartphone (when such things were still a novelty), it didn't take much to me to start dumbing it down to what is really useful to me: A phone with a GPS. And the GPS only because it is the only toy I want in such a form factor.

Anyway, despite the operator repeatedly offering me newer and more capable models, I kept this one, and as soon as I was free of the forced 18 month rental period, switched to a not-data-enabled, pay-as-you-go plan. I don't want to be connected to the intertubes when I'm away from a usable computer!

But yes, five years are over what a modern phone wants to endure. Over time, I first started getting SIM card errors whenever the phone was dropped or slightly twisted - As I'm a non-frequent phone user, I didn't care much. Charging it also became a skill of patience, as getting the Nokia micro-connector to make contact has been less and less reliable. Over one year ago, the volume control (two sensors on the side) died after a phone drop (and some time later I found the switches broken from the mainboard loose) - A nuisance, yes, but nothing too bad. I don't know how, but some time ago the volume went down when using the radio, and as I can't raise it again, my phone became radio-disabled. And today, the screen died (it gets power, but stays black). I can blind-operate the phone, but of course, it is really not meant for that.

So, I expect this Saturday to go get a new phone. Between now and then, I'll be cellphone-deprived (in case you wonder why I'm not answering to your messages or whatever). I would love to get a phone with a real keyboard (as I prefer not to look at the screen when writing messages, just to check if everything came out right and fix what's needed). I understand Android phones are more likely to keep me happy as a free software geek, and I'd be delighted to use Cyanogen if it is usable and stable — But my phone is *not* my smart computer and it should not attempt to be, so it's not such a big deal. I will look for something with FM radio capability, and GPS.

Of course, I want something cheap. It would be great to get it at no cost, but I don't expect I'll find such a bargain. Oh, and I want something I can find at the first Telcel office I come to, am I asking for too much? :)

Anyway - I'll enjoy some days of being really disconnected from any wireless bugs (that I am aware off).

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The joys of Internet The Bolivarian dream

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 01/23/2013 - 23:54

Oh, the joys of the Internet.

A Mexican and an Argentinian listening to a Spanish cantaor singing Mexican music for an Argentinian audience, remembering a Costa Rican woman.


Regina and me are finally back home in Mexico, after a month (me) and six weeks (her) of vacations in Argentina. And this week, in the city of Cosquín (Córdoba, Argentina), they celebrate most important Argentinian folkloric festival. The Cosquín Festival can be followed live on the TV Pública website.

Right now, while I finish writing a short article and Regina fights her way to learn some of the GNOME 3 tricks, we are following Cosquín. Among many great Argentinian folklorists, they invited a Spanish cantaor, David Palomar, who is remembering Chabela Vargas, a great singer, born in Costa Rica, but who became famous in Mexico, singing very heartfelt Mexican music, and deceased earlier this year.

Trivia: Q: What do Mexico, Argentina and Spain have in common (besides a language that can be almost-understood)? A: They all have a city called Córdoba.

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Brazilian electronic booths hacked in a real election — Surprised, anyone?

Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 12/26/2012 - 14:44

Doing my regular news scan, I stumbled across this: Hacker reveals in Rio how he rigged an election (in Portuguese; you can try the Google-translated version).

Why am I reposting this? Because, even after the reported studies by Diego Aranha and the information disclosure exploited by Sergio Freitas, Brazil is still portrayed as the biggest example on how electronic voting can be 100% secure and tamper-proof. Well, in this case, Rangel (his full name ahs not yet been disclosed), a 19 year old hacker, not only demonstrated how elections could be rigged, but admitted on doing so together with a small group, and even pointed at who was benefitted from this.

Rangel's attack was done during the transmission phase — After ~50% of the electoral results had been sent over the Oi network. And yes, the provider will most likely close the hole that was pointed at, but this basically shows (again!) that no system can be 100% tamperproof, and that the more electronic devices are trusted for fundamental democratic processes, the more we as a society will be open to such attacks. The security-minded among us will not doubt even for a second that, as this attack was crafted, new attacks will continue to be developed. And while up to some years ago the attack surface was quite smaller (i.e. booths didn't have a communications phase, just stored the votes, and communication was done by personal means), earlier booths have been breached as well. And so will future booths be breached.

So, the news of this attack are indeed very relevant for the field. The presentation I am quoting was held around two weeks ago — And December will surely dillute attention from this topic. Anyway, I will look for further details on the mechanism that was used, as well as to the process that follows in the TSE (Supreme Electoral Tribunal). I hope we have news to talk about soon!

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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.


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!, 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!


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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