Stuff I have written/presented
Submitted by gwolf on Wed, 05/13/2015 - 23:46
The discussion regarding the legality and convenience of Uber, Cabify and similar taxi-by-app services has come to Mexico City — Over the last few days, I've seen newspapers talk about taxi drivers demonstrating against said companies, early attempts at regulating their service, and so on.
I hold the view that every member of a society should live by its accepted rules (i.e. laws) — and if they hold the laws as incorrect, unfair or wrong, they should strive to get the laws to change. Yes, it's a hard thing to do, most often filled with resistence, but it's the only socially responsible way to go.
Private driver hiring applications have several flaws, but maybe the biggest one is that they are... How to put it? I cannot find a word better than illegal. Taxi drivers in our city (and in most cities, as far as I have read) undergo a long process to ensure they are fit for the task. Is the process incomplete? Absolutely. But the answer is not to abolish it in the name of the free market. The process must be, if anything, tightened. The process for granting a public driver license to an individual is way stricter than to issue me a driving license (believe it or not, Mexico City abolished taking driving tests several years ago). Taxis do get physical and mechanical review — Is their status mint and perfect? No way. But compare them to taxis in other Mexican states, and you will see they are in general in a much better shape.
Now... One of the things that angered me most about the comments to articles such as the ones I'm quoting is the middle class mentality they are written from. I have seen comments ranging from stupidly racist humor attempts (Mr. Mayor, the Guild of Kidnappers and Robbers of Iztapalapa demand the IMMEDIATE prohibition on UBER as we are running low on clients or the often repeated comment that taxi drivers are (...) dirty, armpit-smelly that listen to whatever music they want) to economic culture-based discrimination Uber is just for credit card users as if it were enough of an argument... Much to the opposite, it's just discrimination, as many people in this city are not credit subjects and do not exist in the banking system, or cannot have an always-connected smartphone — Should they be excluded from the benefits of modernity just because of their economic difference?
And yes, I'm by far not saying Mexico City's taxi drivers are optimal. I am an urban cyclist, and my biggest concern/fear are usually taxi drivers (more so than microbus drivers, which are a class of their own). Again , as I said at the beginning of the post, I am of the idea that if current laws and their enforcement are not enough for a society, it has to change due to that society's pressure — It cannot just be ignored because nobody follows the rules anyway. There is quite a bit that can be learnt from Uber's ways, and there are steps that can be taken by the company to become formal and legal, in our country and in others where they are accused of the same lacking issues.
We all deserve better services. Not just those of us that can pay for a smartphone and are entitled to credit cards. And all passenger-bearing services require strict regulations.
Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 12/23/2014 - 23:47
Much ink has been spilled lately (well, more likely, lots of electrons have changed their paths lately — as most of these communications have surely been electronic) on the effects, blame, assurance and everything related to the (allegedly) North Korean attack on Sony's networks. And yes, the list of components and affectations is huge. Technically it was a very interesting feat, but it's quite more interesting socially. Say, the not-so-few people wanting to wipe North Korea from the face of the Earth, as... Well, how did such a puny nation dare touch a private company that's based in the USA?
Of course, there's no strong evidence the attack did originate in (or was funded by) North Korea.
And... I have read very few people talking about the parallels to the infamous Stuxnet, malware written by USA and Israel (not officially admitted, but with quite a bit of evidence pointing to it, and no denial attempts after quite a wide media exposure). In 2010, this worm derailed Iran's nuclear program. Iran, a sovereign nation. Yes, many people doubt such a nuclear program would be used "for good, not for evil" — But since when have those two words had an unambiguous meaning? And when did it become accepted as international law to operate based on hunches and a "everybody knows" mentality?
So, how can the same people repudiate NK's alleged actions and applaud Stuxnet as a perfect weapon for peace?
Submitted by gwolf on Sat, 11/08/2014 - 10:25
The following text is not mine. I'm copy-translating a text a dear friend of mine just wrote in Spanish, in Facebook. He writes far better than I do (much better than most people I have known). I am not also a great translator. If you can read Spanish, go read the original.
- Antonio Malpica. After what appears to be the bitter and sadly expected end of a sad, terrible, unbelievable collective social rupture we have lived for ~50 days.
And what comes next? How can it come? How can we expect it? I have no way to answer. We, the country's people, are broken.
Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 04/03/2014 - 20:16
I woke up to the news that, after a very short tenure, Brendan Eich steps down as the Mozilla CEO.
Why? Because of the community outcry. Because some years ago, Eich pubilcly supported (and donated funds) the ban of any kind of marriages in California that were not between a man and a woman. The world has advanced enormously in this regard in the last years/decades, and so many individuals and organizations opposed and announced they would boycott Mozilla that either him or Mozilla could not stand the pressure anymore.
So, of course, it's sad the person had to resign. Many people talked about freedom of speech, freedom of harbouring his own personal opinion — But when it comes to the rights of minorities, particularly of minorities that have suffered such hard prejudice and abuse as the gay, lesbian and all the other non-orthodox sexual- and gender- orientations, righting a wrong is much more important than preserving an individual's freedom of opinion. Besides, it's not just thinking or talking about something — The concrete proposition Eich supported (and eventually made him resign) is about bringing the life of thousands of people to a hellish state of uncertainty, and going back to not having a way for the society to legally recognize their way of being, their love, their lifes.
But anyway — What prompts me into writing this is that, once again, the Free Software (and related denominations) community has shown that a set of core values, seemingly shared by a very large amount of our own people with no coordination or correlation with what conforms us as a community (and thus, being emergent traits), are strong enough to create a critical mass, to achieve cohesion. And that ours is not just a technical community of people writing software at all layers of the stack, but –first and foremost– is a group of social activists, committed to making the world better.
I will quote from Matthew Garrett's post on this topic, clearly more contundent and thorough that what I'm trying to come up with:
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:
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:
Sadly, it does not seem they have planned for remote people to follow along. I will ask and update here if there is any way for people outside Mexico City to tune in — For people able to attend, it's free entrance (and certificates will be given to people pre-registered, if you are interested, call 5535-2288 ext. 123)
For further details on the participants, go to the laboratory's web page.
Update: The talks will be streamed! http://www.chopo.unam.mx/chopoenvivo.html, via UStream.
Update About one year after this activity (which was very interesting!) I was contacted by the organizers. They will be publishing proceedings — Transcriptions of our participation! Yes, a transcription is never as easy to read as a text created as such, but I am very happy of this. I was sent a first version of my transcription, which I'm attaching here. It has several corrections to be made (which I asked them to do), but it's surely worth sharing!
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:
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.
Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 05/22/2012 - 10:18
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, firstname.lastname@example.org:
Of course, I wasn't very optimistic when receiving this information. Still, I have to share my results: My information request was largely denied:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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 :-)
Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 01/02/2012 - 08:44
Every year, on January 1st, new material ceases to be protected by copyright and enters the public domain. This means, every year, more knowledge, literature, paintings, music, movies and a long etcetera becomes collective property, instead of being artificially held by the current holders of their rights.
As this image shows (source: http://publicdomainday.org/node/39 ), I have the honor(?) to live in the country with the longest copyright protection term in the world. Copyright in Mexico does not only last for 100 years — It lasts for the natural life of the author plus 100 years. This means that the popular corridos that tell the stories of the 1910 revolution are still not in the public domain. La sucesión presidencial, the book which Francisco I. Madero wrote to justify that a peaceful political change was needed for the 1910 elections, will not enter the public domain until 2014 (president Madero was killed during 1913). Does it make any sense to kidnap cultural, political or artistic works for over a century?
Not only that: Material that is legally sold as public domain in other countries is illegal in ours. Take as an example the recordings of Enrico Carusso, the great Italian tenor who died in 1921. Over 15 years ago, I bought a couple of CDs with his recordings (even if the sources were quite low-quality, as they had been copied over from wax cylinders to magnetic tapes to optical media). I bought them surprisingly cheap, as they were genuine public domain. But they are still protected in my country. That means, I ilegally have some stolen(!) works of art which I lawfully bought outside my country.
Copyright law needs to be revised to match reality. Technological advances have strongly changed reality since 1717's promulgation of the first copyright laws. The solution is not to extend the terms, but to rethink the whole process.
(yes, this rant was mainly made as an excuse for me to copy this image and put it in a location I can easily refer to later. But I hope it is interesting to you!)
Submitted by gwolf on Fri, 10/28/2011 - 10:41
This is an update to my last post regarding the «Construcción Colaborativa del Conocimiento» book.
But holding a printed book in your hands is just a different experience, isn't it? :-) Anyway, I said I would give here an update on how to get your hands on it. The main venue would be through my University's e-store. I recommend it to anybody interested in buying the book in Mexico. The book's list price is MX$300 (around US$27), but it is currently sold at half price — I don't know how long will that price be offered.
On the other hand, we also uploaded it to the lulu.com self-publishing service. Of course, given I have not seen the printed results, I cannot assure you the resulting product will be of the same quality as the one we got here, but I have a couple of books I have bought at lulu, and their quality is quite acceptable. So, you can also buy it from lulu.com. Note the 20% discount it shows will be permanent — That's what I would get as an author, a payment I decided to forefit given we are 11 authors and it would be unfair to collect it all myself. So, the price at lulu.com is US$12.64 plus shipping — Very similar to the price at UNAM.
Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 10/25/2011 - 19:25
Last Friday, after two years worth of work, I finally got the first box of books for the Construcción Colaborativa del Conocimiento (Collaborative Knowledge Construction) project I worked on as a coordinator together with Alejandro Miranda (pooka), and together with a large group of 11 authors:
Translating over from the back cover text (and this is just a quick translation from me — It reads better in Spanish ;-) ):
We will soon have the book ready in IIEc's e-store (which is mostly meant for national requests). I am also uploading the book to the lulu.com self-publishing service, and we are working on a epub-like edition. Right now it is still not available, but it should be there in some days. I will keep you posted.
Meanwhile, the full contents can be read online at http://seminario.edusol.info/seco3
Submitted by gwolf on Mon, 09/26/2011 - 18:14
There's something brewing, moving in Jalisco (a state in Mexico's West, where our second largest city, Guadalajara, is located). And it seems we have an opportunity to participate, hopefully to be taken into account for the future.
Ten days ago, I was contacted by phone by the staff of UDG Noticias, for an interview on the Universidad de Guadalajara radio station. The topic? Electronic voting. If you are interested in what I said there, you can get the interview from my webpage.
I held some e-mail contact with the interviewer, and during the past few days, he sent me some links to notes in the La Jornada de Jalisco newspaper, and asked for my opinion on them: On September 23, a fellow UNAM researcher, César Astudillo, claims the experience in three municipalities in Jalisco prove that e-voting is viable in the state, and today (September 26), third generation of an electronic booth is appearingly invulnerable.
Of course, I don't agree with the arguments presented (and I'll reproduce the mails I sent to UDG Noticias about it before my second interview just below — They are in Spanish, though). However, what I liked here is that it does feel like a dialogue. Their successive texts seem to answer to my questioning.
So, even though I cannot yet claim this is a real dialogue (it would be much better to be able to sit down face to face and have a fluid conversation), it feels very nice to actually be listened to from the other side!
My answer to the first note:
El tema de las urnas electrónicas sigue dando de qué hablar por acá en Jalisco... nosotros en Medios UDG hemos presentado distintas voces como la del Dr. Gabriel Corona Armenta, que está a favor del voto electrónico, del Dr. Luis Antonio Sobrado, magistrado presidente del tribunal supremo de elecciones de Costa Rica, quien nos habló sobre los 20 MDD que les cuesta implementar el sistema por lo que no lo han logrado hasta el momento, pudimos hablar hasta argentina con Federico Heinz y su rotunda oposición al voto electrónico y por supuesto la entrevista que le realizamos a usted.
And to September 26th:
Submitted by gwolf on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 00:45
Cineast and Free Culture activist Nina Paley wrote some days ago a rantifesto on why the FSF has a double standard: Why are the Freedoms guaranteed for Free Software not guaranteed for Free Culture?, by not following its own very strict rules on software when it comes to culture as a whole. Her post was widely circulated, and got (at least) one reply by fellow Debian Developer Wouter Verhelst, largely agreeing with her, and an anti-rantifesto by Joe Brockmeier — Which was promptly answered again by Wouter with a very fun and inspired post, written from the right angle: From the viewpoint of a person who is both a programmer and a musician, and understands the concepts at hand.
I'd love to write a longer, better thought post — But I'm tired and frankly stressed by many things, so I am just echoing their very interesting discussion to other people who might want to read it.
I have been thinking and writing bits on that subject over the last couple of months. An example of that was the talk I gave at the Senate ~6 weeks ago. Following that talk, I wrote a short article for Revista Zócalo (a widely circulated magazine mainly dealing with Mexican politics and social issues) called simply Software libre, cultura libre (full text available, but in Spanish only — You can try reading an automated translation if it suits you). I wrote the article, mind you, with very limited time, and I'll be the first to recognize the prose was quite poor this time :(
Anyway — My point is that our nature is to share culture, to build it in a collaborative fashion, and having the Internet as a practically zero-cost, zero loss medium with which we can interchange our creativity with other like-minded people will naturally boost creativity. Free Software emerged before other Free Culture groups just because programmers had privileged access to Internet in the 80s and early 90s; as network access –and digital creation tools– have got to more people, it's just natural for all kinds of free culture to grow.
Software is just a form of knowledge. Code is just a notation for a certain kind of ideas, just as the mathematical or musical notations. I believe (and hope) it's just unavoidable for us all to eventually switch to a mainly free cultural creation system.
Submitted by admin on Tue, 05/31/2011 - 12:49
I was invited to be part of one of the panels to be present this Thursday (June 2) in a forum that promises to be interesting. The forum is organized by the Science and Technology comission of the Senate of the Republic (of Mexico ;-) ), Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana and Mozilla México. The day will be opened by Sen. Francisco Javier Castellón Fonseca and Richard Stallman; starting at 10:00, we will have thematic panels on:
The full program (as well as details of interest of those that can physically attend) is attached to this post.
I am looking forward to this forum. Not only it is a good opportunity to get our work known in one of those places where it matters, but it's also being organized by several interesting people I'm sure will have something interesting to contribute. And of course, we lacked time to build a better, more complete and more coherent proposal — but there is a good probability we will have further such contacts.
You might find interesting to read on the list we have been discussing; subscription seems to be open (although access to the archives is not — Maybe it will be later on? In any case, I'm saving a mbox ;-) )
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