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.

19 years of Debian

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 08/16/2012 - 12:19

Happy 19th birthday, Debian!

The Debian project is 19 years old now. Following Francesca's invitation (and Raphaël's lead, and using Leandro's image, collaboratively as it always happens here), I will tell a bit of my memories: How I got to Debian.

I am a Debian user since ~2000, and a Debian Developer since April 2003. But, just as Raphaël's, my history must go somewhat further back in time.

In 1992, I got my first 1200bps modem, and almost immediately became an avid BBS user (what's that? Javier Matuk talks [in Spanish] about BBSes in his newspaper column back in 1994). By mid 1993 I started operating my own BBS, CatarSYS. One of the key points that defined CatarSYS is that my focus was large-scale communication. I started connecting to several BBS networks, allowing messages to be relayed to distant people, mainly in the USA and Spain, and getting some feeds that could be seen as the poor man's Usenet.

At some point during the year I kept CatarSYS going, I got connected through a strange set of gateways to pure gold: A UUCP feed! This means, during some months, I operated the first (free, hobbyist) service that offered its users a free Internet mail address in Mexico. Yes, it was completely different to what we are used to today. I tried to connect to my provider at least three times a week, but this meant less than one week turnover time for messages sent to people anywhere in the world! But, back to Debian: Via this UUCP feed, I also got some real Usenet newsgroups — Including several on the comp.os category. I remember reading about Linux back then, and learning some commands, but didn't really get hooked into it.

I was in Israel from July 1994 to June 1995, doing completely non-computer-related tasks. Came back in 1995, and due to my father being an academic, got dialup internet access at home. WOW, *real* Internet!

It didn't take me long to start downloading Linux information and floppy images. One failed after another. But before the end of the year, I found in a bookshop a book (that included a CD-ROM) called "Build your own web server with Linux". WOW again — Remember this was still 1995! I bought it, and shortly afterwards, I had a Slackware system (Linux kernel 1.0.9) running. That meant many sleepless nights full of joy and frustration (as getting hardware to work was cloe to impossible).

By 1996, I got (within one week) my two first real jobs: A systems administrator at a small ISP and a highschool teacher. At the ISP, I got a spare computer to play with Linux, as –of course– the Big Server was running with Windows NT 3.51. Poor little machine... By then I was already a part of the Mexican Linux User Group. This group had just printed a batch of Linux CDs — RedHat 4.0. This was the first release that really made me happy and allowed me to do good work. Together with a friend I took to work with us, Juan Pablo Romero, we installed over a weekend a full replacement for our buggy NT machine, in much cheaper hardware. Of course, Linux was nowhere near corporate-recognition, and our project remained a project, not touching the Windows machine.

Anyway... Several years passed, and I was happy with my RedHat choice. I won't mention the milestones and job changes, as it would get boring and leave the point completely aside. By the year 2000, I was quite more involved with the LUG, as well as with the computer security group in DGSCA-UNAM. I became also an OpenBSD user, and had got so hooked up in free software that I felt the need to collaborate: To be a little part of one of those Big Projects that had given me so much. But which one?

I have never been much of a programmer — Yes, I can solve my everyday needs and have fun with it, and sometimes a bit beyond that. I enjoy programming. But all of my projects have begun little… and stayed little. I wanted to join OpenBSD, as it was a community I really believed in, but given my skillset (and given a flame-prone, aggressive developer community), I lost motivation to do so.

By 2000, I had also lost faith in RedHat. I don't have the exact dates, so I might be some months off — But after RedHat's IPO, I felt a sharp change. Version 7.0 was really demotivating — It tried to offer a polished desktop experience, but was really buggy, unstable, and full of bad decisions. In Mexico, Pepe Neif had taken up the job of making a derivative distribution of RedHat (called LinuxPPP), pressing hundreds of CDs and making a teaching program I was part of several times. Talking with Pepe (who continued to release based on RedHat 6), he told me he was interested in switching over to become a Debian-based distribution, but the job of migrating his installed base made the project stall — LinuxPPP reached only version 6.4.

But I installed Debian in early 2000, and loved it. I started getting familiar with its social philosophy and foundation documents at the same time I started migrating my servers from RedHat to Debian — This must have been by Spring 2000, as I installed Potato while it was frozen but not yet stable.

By January 2002 I applied for NM. My process took a long time, as my AM got MIA when he had already approved me (but before sending the AM report), so basically I had to go through AM twice — And by April 16, 2003, I got accepted as a DD. Contrary to what is acceptable today, I requested the full process to be done before starting to maintain any packages, as I didn't want to bother people with package sponsorship requests, so my whole process was done evaluating packages I would eventually upload.

Since becoming a DD, my main involvement in the project has been in packaging groups (I was a pkg-perl founder and member for many years, and am currently working in the pkg-ruby-extras group). But, as I said, my main strength is not programming — So my main involvement in Debian has been more social than technical: I have been a DebConf organizer since 2005, a very interesting, stressing, rewarding and (for some months) time-demanding role, and since 2009 I am part of the keyring maintainence team, which is much easier workload, although carries important ramifications.

So, after 19 years of Debian, and after nine years of me being part of it, Debian is clearly my strongest link to the Free Software community, a project I have grown to love and whose way of being I share and enjoy studying and explaining. And it is a technically excellent product, and a great place to start and keep learning both about how every aspect and layer of an operating system works, and how human-to-human interaction works in such a diverse, almost impossible environment happens.

Congratulations, Debian!

Electronic voting: Talk delivered in Moquegua (Peru)

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 07/24/2012 - 17:28
Wolf G.  2012.  Electronic voting: Talk delivered in Moquegua (Peru).

While we were at DebConf, all busy and in the organizing frenzy, I was supposed to deliver a talk in Moquegua, Perú, on the evening of July 7. Of course, I was unable to attend. Nevertheless, I accepted, if the talk could be delivered as a pre-recorded video with a live Q&A session afterwards. And so it was.

The talk went quite smooth, and I think I will use bits of it. Video quality is far from great, but well... it was taken using nothing but a webcam and the laptop's integrated microphone. To my surprise, sound quality –that's what matters!– works quite well.

I mostly followed the attached presentation; the video is split in three parts to make it easier to download.

And yes, it's all in Spanish. Translations are, of course, welcome :)

Ten theses in favor of free download of cultural goods on the Internet (by Enrique G. Gallegos)

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 07/24/2012 - 17:09

This is one of the days where reading my everyday newspaper was worth more than just getting bitter at the news. I found this text in La Jornada, my usual newspaper. I liked it very much, and decided to translate it for a wider audience. Of course, if you can read Spanish, do yourself a favor and go to the original. It is not that the text is so easy to translate. And, after all, I'm not a native English writer.

I'm trying to do a literal translation, even when disagreeing with the author.

Ten theses in favor of free download of cultural goods on the Internet

Enrique G. Gallegos — Poet and philosopher. Currently a researcher in Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-C

  1. Historical legacy. Criticists who promote the persecution of piracy and free downloads of cultural works from the Internet argue that the patrimonial rights have been wronged; they start off suposing that a cultural work is formed from a historical void, as if there was a "nothing" to begin with, and then a "something" appeared. Nothing more fallacious: All cultural products has its precedents, and thanks to these it generates part of its best forces.
  2. Opening towards the future. Human beings are projected into the future. As the main philosophies of the 20th century have explored, one of the singular characteristics of mankind is the ability to think and imagine the future. Products of culture are the best ways to think and project society, politics, love, hope, needs, failures… A song, a poem, an essay, can trigger imaginary worlds with a transformative potential. To deny this to humanity with "patrimonial damage" as an argument is to mutilate man's temporal nature.
  3. Recognition of the present. Cultural works generate moments of reflection, criticism and pleasure; they can trigger actions demanding commitment, solidarity and strong indignation against injustice. If every cultural work is adscribed in some way to a historic tradition, and if cultural products anre necessary to imagine other possible worlds and open our future, it's not less true that they also allow us to recognize our present by making us more sensitive to others' ideas, sensations and emotions. Without culture, there is no present nor others' presence.
  4. Divulgation of the cultural heritage. If culture is "heritage of mankind", it should be also spread by any possible way. But not just spread, but actively sought for the biggest number of people to be able to effectively have access to it. In a potentially interconnected world, Internet is the most adequate world for it (despite its limitations). Therefore, penalizing free downloads means avoiding spreading it and restricting access to those groups who don't have enough economic resources.
  5. Preserving cultural heritage. If we agree that cultural works are heritage of mankind, we need to take every action needed to preserve them. But preserving culture does not only mean keeping the products in museums, galleries or never-polluted drawers; it rather means to keep them in the collective memory and in the flow of constant interpretations and appropiations. Said in other words, the genuine way to preserve culture is to allow universal access to cultural goods. That's why, holding that free copies and downloads of books, music, videos, etc. over the Internet are harmful, is an incompatible argument with the obligation to preserve cultural heritage.
  6. They are not goods. Cultural works are material and spiritual manifestations of mankind, concretions of its historicity; they are, also, expressions of emotions, ideas and projections of other lives and other worlds. That's why they cannot be equated to goods or inserted in patrimonialist logic. The market might want to cheat by giving a certain price to a painting by Orozco or auctioning a Baudelaire manuscript, but it will never be able to aprehend their true meaning as cultural works. And it's not that culture is not faluable, but taht its estimation criteria do not follow the rules of market, but those of the imponderable and unlimited.
  7. Price disproportion. Assuming we accept the possibility that intermediaries charge for the services they perform, the value of a book, record or movie should never exceed the daily wage of a worker or employee. But this ellection would only be one more option within the effective possibility that people opt to download or freely copy the cultural work. The final decision as to which media to go to should be a sovereign resolution of the culture-interested person.
  8. The principle of the most benefit. Even when copies and free downloads over Internet could generate a patrimonial "wrong" to third parties, the cultural benefit obtained by it will always be greater in as much that it carries out intensely the principle to foster, spread and access the cultural heritage of mankind. To think otherwise is to privilege the few over the many.
  9. The real evil is elsewhere. Murder, women- and children-trade, poverty and misery are the real evils that ache mankind. According to the United Nations, in 2010 there were 468 thousand murders in the world; the estimation is that 3500 million people live in poverty; in their 2009 inform, the UN found over 2400 victims of "people trade", kidnapped as sex slaves; in some regions in Africa, close to 30% of children suffer acute malnutrition and six people (between children and adults) die every day from hunger. That's why pretending that free download of cultural works is an evil is clearly a tricky and deceptive speech
  10. Against the intermediary-salesman. Culture does not need intermedieries that reduce cultural works to goods. Culture is too important to leavie it in the hands of salespeople that simplistly equate cultural goods with cakes. An intermediary of this kind will never understand the difference between a work of art and a disposable razor blade. What the world needs is more support from the government from every country to artists, creators and poets, as well as ensuring the conditions for the absolute mobility freedom for cultural works.
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La mochila viajera — The travelling backpack

Submitted by gwolf on Sat, 07/14/2012 - 11:53
Wolf G, Bello L, Ramón E, Taleno A, Ortega J.  2012.  La mochila viajera — The travelling backpack.

During DebConf12, and thanks to Fito's kind invitation, a bunch of us were part of a radio program that's transmitted in Managua and Chinandega, «La mochila viajera». This program talks about different viewpoints and problematics about migration, seen from the eyes of Nicaraguans, which share quite a bit with us in Mexico — But at the same time, are very different.

I was invited as part of a research group in UNAM on the topic «Communication, trasmigration and emergent systems». To be honest, I'm way behind schedule with the part of the research I should be doing, but here I very roughly describe (part of) the topic I'm interested in.

The session was quite interesting. Of course, the reason I'm sending this to the blog is mainly that I want to keep it at hand, but I think some of you might find it interesting. Of course, it is in Spanish, so… YMMV ;-)

From DebCamp to DebConf through cheese, wine and an intro track

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 07/10/2012 - 02:16

One week. One long week. One beautiful week. One of the two major weeks of the year has passed since my previous post. Surely, we are in the middle of the two Major Weeks of the year, in the yearly schedule I have upheld for almost(!) ten years: DebConf+DebCamp.

Yesterday, DebConf officially started. For the first time ever, we had a DebConf track targetted at the local (for a wide definition of local: All of the Central American countries) communities, which I chaired.

We had the following talk lineup during this track:

  • Empaquetando software para Debian (Gunnar Wolf)
  • Introduction to Debian translation workflow and processes (Christian Perrier)
  • OpenPGP discussion and skillshare (Daniel Kahn Gillmor)
  • Empaquetando colaborativamente con git y collab-maint (Ulises Vitulli)
  • Uso del sistema de manejo de errores de Debian (Hector Colina)
  • Building free software communities (Leandro Gómez)

I believe it was a great success, and I hope the talks are useful in the future. They will be put online soon thanks to the tireless work of our work team.

Today we sadly lost the presence of our DPL due to very happy circumstances he will surely announce himself. But DebConf will continue nevertheless - And proof of that is our anual, great, fun and inviting Cheese and Wine Party!

After a series of organizational hiccups I hope nobody notices (oops, was I supposed not to say this?), today we had a beautiful, fun and most successful cheese and wine party, as we have had year after year since 2005.

As many other people, we did our humble contribution for this party to be the success it deserves.

There is lots of great cheeses, great wines, and much other great stuff we have to thank to each of the individuals who made this C&W party the success it was. Yes, it might be among the least-academic parts of our conference, but at the same time, it's one of its most cherished -and successful- traditions. And above all else, we have to thank our Great Leader^W^WCheeseMaster (who we still need to convince to play by our Great Leader's mandates - And no, I don't mean Zack here!)

Hugs and thanks to my good and dear friend Christian Perrier for giving form to one of DebConf's social traditions that makes it so unique, so different from every other academic or communitary conference I have ever been part of.

We still have most of the week to go. And if you are not in Managua (and are not coming soon), you can follow our activities following our video streams.

Remember, debian/rules, now more than ever! And even given the (perpetual) heat in Managua: Wheezy is frozen, whee!

[ all photos here taken by regina ]

Arrived to Nicaragua. DebCamp has officially started!

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 07/01/2012 - 15:24

Yesterday night, Regina and me arrived to Nicaragua. Ready to greet us, we found quite a good number of good friends. We had a nice pizza+beer dinner at Diana's house, and some of the foreigners among us were distributed among the houses of several locals.

This morning, we woke up –together with Víctor, Moray and Gaudenz– in Norman's brother's beautiful house. We had breakfast with the family, were picked up to go to the hotel that will have the ho(n|rr)or to host us all for the following two weeks, and walked to the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) campus.

Contrary to our usual practices... It seems everything is working fine! I mean, I'm sure we will stumble with some unforseen details and what not... But coming on the very first day to the university, to find that food is all sorted out, that we have food tickets (and they are all printed!), that network works (and it's by a fiber connection that was laid out expressly for us), that we have all the hardware I was worried about, that people are arriving and getting accepted at the hotel. I mean, things work!

So, I'm quite optimistic this DebCamp will have everything ready to be a success — And the DebConf following it as well, of course!

If you have not yet arrived - See you soon!

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Turning failure into apparent success, and carrying on: e-voting in Jalisco

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 06/18/2012 - 18:02

I will sound monothematic, but I have been devoting quite a bit of work to this topic lately: Trying to stop the advance of e-voting in Mexico, Latin America and the world.

Why trying to stop it? Isn't technology supposed to help us, to get trustable processes? Yes, it's supposed to... but it just cannot achieve it, no matter how hard it is tried — I won't get into explanations in this blog post, but there is plenty of information. Feel free to ask me for further details.

Anyway — Yesterday (Sunday, 2012-06-17) was the fifth simulated voting that will lead to the first wide-scale deployment of electronic voting booths in my country: About 10% of the population of the state of Jalisco (that means, ~500,000 people) will cast their votes on July 1st electronically.

This particular case illustrates how simulated votings can be used to forge a lie: Pounce Consulting, the company that won the e-voting project for IEPC (Jalisco's voting authority), delivered their booths over 40 days late, just before the deadline for the project to be canceled. Oh, and by the way, it's the same company that just failed to deliver on time for another planned local authority (10% of the booths in the Federal District, where I live, where fortunately 100% of the votes will be cast on traditional, auditable and cheap paper).

After this delay, five voting simulations were programmed, to get the local population acquinted with them. The first ones just failed to get the population's interest and had close to 40% failure rates (mainly regarding transmission). Several other "minor details" were reported, including mechanical details that allowed subsequent voters to see the vote of who had just left.

Anyway, making long story short: The fifth and last simulation was held yesterday. Officially, it was finally successful (about time). As these booths include the "facilities" to communicate the results via the cellular network, but the populations where they are to be deployed do not yet have cellular coverage, 10% of the booths will have to be carried back to the Districtal Header (that can be a ~10hr trip) to be counted. Also, in all places, traditional paper stationery and paraphernalia will be printed just in case it is needed (and when will they now? When half of the votes are cast and lost?)

Anyway... e-voting is still in its first stage in Mexico. Right now, I'm sure, no attempts to rig the election will be made (centrally). But every effort will be made (as it has been made) to dismiss the obviously big and nontrivial ways it has failed and will fail, and any problems will be labeled as "minor". And probably by 2018 we will be facing many more states (even nationwide) deployments.

But propaganda fails to see the obvious: E-voting is more expensive, more complicated, leads to more possible failure states. E-voting should not be deployed in large-scale (i.e. more than a couple of hundred voters) elections. Electronic voting is insecure, violates secrecy, allows for fraud. No matter how many locks are put into it.

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e-voting: Bad when it's near, worse when it's far.

Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:18

Note: All of the information linked to from this post is in Spanish and related to Mexico… Part of it will be translatable via automated means, some will not. Sorry, that's what I have, and it's too much text to invest the effort to hand-translate

I have been following the development of the different e-vote modalities in Mexico for several years already, although I have only managed to do so methodically in the last half year or so. If you are interested in my line of reasoning as to why I completely oppose e-voting, you can look at the short article I published in 2010 or the slightly longer and more updated version published in our book in 2011.

Currently, in Mexico there are two different venues of e-vote that are being pushed: Bad and worse. The bad one will be carried out for about 10% of the population of the state of Jalisco and somewhat less for the state of Coahuila (Distrito Federal was also to be in this list, but the contract was cancelled due to the provider company delivering booths with too many problems and unable to deliver in the due time). The worse one is, fortunately, likely to have the least impact. Why? Because it regards votes cast by Distrito Federal residents (the capital entity, where part of Mexico City is located) living abroad. And it will have less impact because of the amount of the population registered for it: We are about 9 million residents in DF, and in the last election (first time IIRC there was the right to vote from abroad) there were only about 10,000 people registered for casting a (enveloped and sent by post) vote. Even if this year we the campaign for this was better (and I'm not yet sure about it), the number of voters will not be enough to make a dent on the results.

I'm not going into details as to why it is bad in this post — I requested information from the DF Electoral Institute (IEDF) with academic interest, to try to find more information about it, and I want to share my results with you — and, of course, to request for your input on how to continue with this. On May 3rd, I sent the following request (this I am translating to English :) You can look at the receipt for the request for the original redaction) to the official contact address, oficinadeinformacionpublica@iedf.org.mx:

  • What company was hired to develop the system that will be used to receive the votes from Distrito Federal citizens residing abroad that have decided to use the Electronic Voting over Internet procedure ("Vota chilango")?
  • What is the technical information for said system? That is, which technological basis was it developed on? Which operating base (hardware) will it be deployed on?
  • How many revisions or security audits has the developed system ben exposed to? Which are the entities in charge of doing them? What has been their evaluation?

Of course, I wasn't very optimistic when receiving this information. Still, I have to share my results: My information request was largely denied:

(…)
III. The divulgation of this information harms the interest it protects
Given that, were it to be divulged it would affect the informatic security of the refered system. Anyway, we have to point out that said systems have enough measures and security provisions, so that the citizen can emit his vote in a universal, free, secret and direct way.
IV. The damage that can be produced by making this information public is larger than the public interest to know it
This is so because making this information public puts at risk the correct development of the Internet-based voting, because were the technical, purpose-specific information be made public, it could be misused to carry out informatic attacks.
It is also important to mention that a confidentiality agreement was signed with the company that developed said systems.
(…)
VI. The time for the information to be reserved
It will be seven years starting at the present resolution, this information will be made public when the reserve period is over or when the target is reached, except for the confidemtial information that it could contain. (…)

In case some other person is interested in following this information, the other two points were answered, and I'll try to get some relevant information from it:

  • The company that provided the Internet-based voting solution was SCYTL SECURE INTERNET VOTING, S.A.
  • The only entity in charge of conducting a security revision/audit is Telefónica Ingeniería de Seguridad de México S.A. de C.V.. The audit is still in process, and thus it is not yet possible to give any results from it.

So, I don't have any real conclusions yet. I'm just reporting how work is unfolding.

Tomorrow evening (Wednesday May 23) I'll give a talk on the "e-voting in Mexico 2012" subject in Congreso Internacional de Software Libre in Zacatecas, Mexico. I'll talk on the situation on this and the other topics I have been able to work on.

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Co-starring: Debian Tour Managua 2012!

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 05/03/2012 - 10:25

As stated in the 2012-04-30 edition of the Debian Project News, this weekend I will be meeting Holger Levsen (who has been there for over a week now) in Managua, Nicaragua, as part of the Debian Tour 2012, a set of talks meant to raise awareness and interest on Debian between the Nicaraguan (+Central American) user groups, university students, companies and government.

Not all of the planned activities are present in the Debian Tour webpage. I know I will be giving my talk on Debian in the Free Software projects' universe, this Saturday at Universidad Centro Americana (UCA). Besides this, we will be meeting on Monday with the UCA staff to discuss some DebConf-specific issues. Sunday? Well, I hope^Wfully trust we will have interesting activities as well :)

Biking over Cd. Nezahualcóyotl

Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 04/16/2012 - 16:10

April 15 2012, my friend Alberto and I took on a difficult mission: Cross the –allegedly– biggest city in the world and conquer Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, one of its populous and famous districts. Alberto had been to Cd. Neza a couple of times, as he is one of the providers for a physical rehabilitation center built in it, but I had never set foot in it.

My friend Al and me started cycling in col. Escandón, in Mexico's Center-West, followed roughly along Metrobús' line 2 until its terminal, and at Cabeza de Juárez entered Cd. Neza. We went along the main avenue "Adolfo López Mateos" until Bordo de Xochiaca, then all straight until Vía Tapo, almost all around the airport, got lost a couple of times in the way, then back to the heart of the city.

I took only a couple of quick shots, which I have uploaded to this album — We saw so much, so huge, so surreal things, but the main goal we set for this was just to enjoy cycling. I can just complain about one thing: We cycled for maybe 10Km following the main open sewage line in Mexico City. I had never breathed so much shit in my life — take it as literally as you want. But, all in all, an interesting little trip.

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Xilitla

Submitted by gwolf on Sun, 04/08/2012 - 20:49

On this Semana Santa (holy/major week), Regina and I took a little vacation: We went ~400Km North, to the magical Xilitla, in the Eastern part of San Luis Potosí state. To get there, we went by the Sierra Gorda de Querétaro route: A beautiful but quite hard to drive road, crossing desert, forest and jungle through a very steep mountain ridge. What does hard to drive mean? It means that for ~200Km we had a speed average of 40-50Km/h. The road is in very good conditions, and traffic was quite light. And although our plans were to come back via the other ridge road (crossing Hidalgo state instead of Querétaro), we were persuaded to go the long way instead: We came back via San Luis Potosí city, making ~700Km instead of ~400, but –I'll concede– it was a much easier drive.

But although I take the road as an important part of the vacation, and although it was a very quick vacation, what is it we went to see there? Xilitla is a town at the beginning of the huasteca potosina region, with really exuberant vegetation, that captured Sir Edward James' heart back in the 1940s. Sir Edward, a noble Englishman, was good friends with several surrealist artists, and became one himself. After moving to Xilitla and buying an impressive chunk of jungle, in the 1960s he started building a surrealist garden in the middle of the jungle, which he continued to work on until his death, in 1984. We took some pictures, but of course, they pay very little tribute to the magic and beauty of the place.

And going to the huasteca means going to places of nature, of many crystaline rivers. Yes, only three days (two of them spent getting there and back) are far too little to enjoy it. But even so, we went to the birth of river Huichihuayán (~45 minutes North of Xilitla) and to the Los Micos waterfalls (~20 minutes West of Ciudad Valles). Very nice places to visit, among so many others. We should go back to the huasteca soon!

I uploaded many of the pictures here. They will not be syndicated on the planets that follow my blog on RSS (or for individuals following RSS, FWIW), but you will find them following the relevant links.

And of course: I pay for a very cheap package on my hosting provider. Drupal often answers with an error page when the server is (even mildly) overloaded. So, feel free to hit reload if something appears unavailable.

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Reflections on Mexico's bandwidth

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 03/09/2012 - 18:07

Around two years ago, the OECD presented a study on residential bandwitdth available per country that triggered quite a bit of debate all over the world — I have seen at least criticism to it in Mexico, in the USA and in Australia. It's very easy to take a simplified view of a statistic and bitch on how sorry the state of our country is. In our case, the outcry was that Mexico was the lowest of all of the OECD countries, and I have seen this repeated on so many topics that it what surprises me is that people keep getting surprised at it! OECD does not represent the ≥200 countries in this world (only the top 30, and the meaning of "top" is not unambiguous).

I found this graph that helps me illustrate this point:

Residential Internet speed comparison per country (2010)

While that graphic is part of a report illustrating how sorry the USA should be for their low position, it shows the OECD member countries. And yes, the only country Mexico could be compared in general terms from those in the list is Turkey. Coherently, they are located at positions 28 and 30.

But what prompted me into writing this post? That some weeks ago I was reading a viewpoint article at the Communications of the ACM magazine: What gets measured gets done: Stop focusing on irrelevant broadband metrics, by Scott Wallsten (might be behind a paywall for you — If you are interested, I can share a copy with you, just ask me by email). Wallsten's article contains the following graph:

Measured and advertised download speeds (in kbps)

I found it pretty telling that, although Mexico sits at the extreme of the graph (and the height of our bar makes it very hard to get a real value out of this particular rendering), our ISPs join a very select group of countries (Sweden, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Ireland, in my very subjective measure) by delivering what they promise.

In 2010, the dominant broadband offering was 1Mbps, although higher options have long existed. I always got basically the 100% of what my ISP (Telmex) has promised, even though I have always had the cheapest package available. Some months ago, I got a call announcing we were being pushed 5x into the future, and starting right then, I had a 5Mbps connection. And although I didn't really expect it to be true, I have had a clean 6Mbps (yes, 6 instead of 5) connection.

So, that's it. This post contains no hidden truths, but just what grabbed my attention from a series of data points :-)

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I am going to DebConf12!

Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 03/09/2012 - 17:10

I have just bought our plane tickets to Managua, so I can finally say this:

Going-to-banner-180x150-grey

Yes, many of you will ask what happened, I was bragging everywhere I wanted to go by land, driving from Mexico City to Managua. I'd love to, and I'm sure it's completely doable... But we have family issues to attend on July 21, in Argentina. So we will have a beautiful flight schedule (and carbon footprint) for this July:

June 30
Mexico→San Salvador→Managua, 17:35-20:30. Yes, this means I will not be in Mexico to cast my vote on July 1st. Well, I had already accepted this would happen... And the price difference was quite sensible.
July 15
Managua→San José→Mexico, 16:25-22:20
July 16
Mexico→Santiago→Buenos Aires (AEP), 20:30-09:55
July 23
Buenos Aires (EZE)→Lima→Mexico, 08:35-19:00

Several people have asked me on the best airline options for this trip. In our case, to Managua, it was with TACA, US$518 total. You can get tickets for ~US$30 less, but the flight goes through Panama instead of San Salvador, for an extra 1000Km – And instead of ~3hr it makes slightly over 6. Yes, on our way back we will be routed a bit South to San José, but it's not as bad, and it's for a very short layover.

For Argentina? Well, we have always found LAN to be the cheapest and most convenient. This time, TACA/Avianca was a very close second, which lost due to almost doubling the flight+layover time

Why aren't we taking a Mexico→Managua→Buenos Aires flight instead? Because it's ~US$150 more expensive per person. Not *that* much, but still some money. And by returning to Mexico and having a night at home, we will save us the hassle of carrying Winter clothes to Nicaragua and Summer clothes to Argentina.

Oh, and if you are planning on dropping by home while we are away and robbing all of our stuff: There's not that much to take from there, and we have already arranged for somebody to be there while we are away. But thanks for thinking about us, anyway!

[update] And what about DebConf12 registration? When is the system opening for us all to register? Soon, dear friends, we are talking about some related issues, and you will have your registrationi open soon.

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