Miriam Ruiz
random thoughts on technology and life

{September 03, 2013}   pySioGame: Educational activities and games for kids

I discovered pySioGame for the first time in the first half of 2012, and even though it was still in a beta state, I liked it a lot. pySioGame is essentially a set of educational activities and games for kids.

pySioGame was initially developed by its author -Ireneusz Imiolek- for his son, but he soon decided to make it Free Software. And I’m glad that he did, because it’s a very cute application.

Even though -in it’s author’s own words- it’s hard to put age range on this kind of games, it is primarily targeted to children from as young as 3 years old, up to about 10 years old. The activities included, many of which are grid based, cover topics like maths, reading, writing, painting, and memory activities, among others.

I was finally able to upload pySioGame to Debian during the DebConf, and it has very recently hit the archive. I’m convinced that pySioGame is soon going to be one of the references among the free programs for small kids, among titles such as GCompris, ChildsPlay, PySyCache, or Bouncy. Or, even though it’s not in the archives, Omnitux.

Finally, to whet your appetite, here is the link to a video, and there go some screenshots:



{April 02, 2013}   Adria Richards, Donglegate or however you want to call it. Same shit, different name.

A woman has spoken up against misogyny in Free Software. And, as always, a bunch of bullies have mercilessly jumped onto her to destroy her and let us all know who is in charge. There’s not a single woman I know in the Free Software world that has dared to complain about something sexist and hasn’t experienced this, me included. This is often enough to make us shut down, essentially because we don’t want to add more problems to our lifes, and also because we don’t want to be excluded from our development teams. If we decide to still keep complaining even after the initial backslash, then harassment keeps increasing until we just can’t cope with it and we decide to retreat, or until they destroy us completely. It usually doesn’t get to that point, because we decide to retreat from the fight after receiving all the damage we are willing to accept, and generally without having been able to get anything good in exchange. That usually burns us out and makes us retreat from the first line of fight, at least for a while.

That woman happens to be also from a different race than the privileged one, and that has definitely added fuel to the attacks. Double discrimination. When I first read about what happened, I never took into consideration that race could have played a relevant role in all this events. But, after reconsidering it for a while, I thought that of course I wouldn’t think that it was important, because privileges work that way. It is enough to see the public comments of the bullies about her to see how not being a white person played an important part in the harassment.

There is really not much to say about the incident in PyCon 2013 that hasn’t been already said. It is simply another official confirmation of what we all know, and an exemplary punishment against those of us who dare to speak up in those situations. Of course, a lot of things have been said, and will be said, about this incident. And, as it happens in every case of bullying or harassment, Adria Richards will be blamed for everything. Because there’s nothing that she could really have done, except being a good girl and keeping quiet, that wouldn’t have blackslashed. And the blackslash is always proportional to how high the complains have gone.

So there go some links, for those who might not know what I’m talking about:


{July 04, 2012}   Scratch in Debian

Scratch has finally reached Debian repositories. Scratch is a programming learning environment created by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab designed to be accessible by young learners (over 8 years old). Scratch makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art through a visual interface based on blocks. Thus, beginners can get results without having to learn to write syntactically correct code first. It is powerful enough to have even been adopted as an entry-level computer language in computer science programs at different universities.

Scratch makes use of pieces of code embedded in different blocks that are shaped like puzzle pieces. That way, programming consists on putting different blocks together, which gives immediate visual feedback to the programmer about the correctness of the syntax: If the pieces fit together, then the expression is valid. Scratch programming system is so nice and easy that has been the inspiration of other systems such as MIT App Inventor or Google Blocky.

Scratch animations consist of sprites that are animated by dragging the corresponent blocks into the Scripts area of the Scratch interface. Multiple sprites can be created and interact with one another. Each of the sprites can have different looks (called “costumes” in Scratch). You can use built-in sprites, load them from files, or draw your own using a drawing tool integrated in the environment.

Scratch itself is coded in Squeak, a Smalltalk implementation derived from Smalltalk-80.

The Scratch 1.4 source went GPLv2 on March, but there were some incompatibilites with the Squeak Virtual Machine currently in Wheezy that had to be resolved first. Luckily we were able to solve them, with the help of the Scratch and the Squeak guys, so I’m happy to say that Scrach is finally available from Debian repositories.

Note: If any Scratch derivatives (such as BYOB or Panther) also need to be ported to the current version of Squeak, they should have a look at the comments in the Scratch ITP, and especially to the script uploaded by Bert Freudenberg, that replaces 90 indexed primitive declarations (removed in later versions of Squeak VM) with their named counterpart.

Note 2: This wouldn’t have been possible without all the great work and effort made by Amos Blanton and many others. Lots of thanks!

{November 19, 2011}   3D Puzzle Game: Phlipple

You might remember the action puzzle game Zaz. Well, we now have a new puzzle game from the same author (Remigiusz ‘mal1ce’ Dybka), called Phlipple.  The goal of the game is to reduce a 3D shape to a single square in each level, removing squares by flipping edges around, like you would do in a cardboard box. The Free/Open source version of the game, including 50 levels, is now available in Debian, in case that you want to give it a chance. You can watch the promo video in Youtube if you want to have a better idea of what the game looks like. I hope that you like it, I do :)

Here are some screenshots of the game:

Screenshot of the gameScreenshot of the gameScreenshot of the game

{October 04, 2011}   Periodic Calendar in Debian

Periodic Calendar, a GPL’ed GUI application, coded in Java that helps keeping track of women menstrual cycles and predict fertility periods, has just entered Debian. This information can be used as supportive either for conception or contraception planning.

This program (pcalendar in Debian) is by far more complete than mencal (a simple menstruation calendar that can be run in the console) or cycle (a windowed calendar that can calculate stuff based on the length of the cycle or on statistics of previous periods), and provides support for BBT and sympto-thermal methods, which have the highest reliability in fertility periods prediction. User can thus choose any subset of the features to be used or even fall to the generic calendar method (which if used alone is very unreliable).


Screenshot of Periodic Calendar

Keep in mind, though, that -as the authors of the program insist on- Periodic Calendar is NOT an equal substitute to the fertility planning consultants or doctors, and methods used are not 100% effective. It’s a useful program, anyway.

I’ve also translated the program into Spanish, made some cute icons and added MIME support so that data files can be easily open from the desktop.

{August 30, 2011}   Fantastic Park 2011 is over

On the 26th of June I wrote that I wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere this summer (including DebConf 11), because I was going to be teaching lots of things related to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to a bunch of kids. That was a bit more than two months ago. On the 27th of June we started the first edition of Fantastic Park with a lot of enthusiasm, and hoping that the kids participating could get in touch to the ICT world while having fun. After all, it was summer holidays.

The results have not only more than fulfilled our expectations but, from what their parents tell, we have also been able to overcome what the children were expecting. It was somehow encouraging to know that the kids were telling their parents to get up half an hour earlier (heh, sorry for them, but that’s what being a parent is about, isn’t it?), to be able to start as soon as they could, and also to make them wait until the last minute for going back home.

These four editions have involved more than two months of work (280 hours), and 82 kids have taken part on it (57 boys and 25 girls). There have also been visits to different companies that work on the field of ICT (32 in total), and there was an important number of other people collaborating (thanks to all of them). Finally, the last edition of the Park has ended yesterday.

Along these weeks, the kids have been able to get acquainted with a lot of different things, such as robotics (using Lego WeDo), digital photography and photo edition (using Pinta), Free Software, satellites, GPS or learning to code with Scratch. It has been very intensive and I’m almost exhausted, but I’m also quite sad that it’s over. Hopefully some of these children might have developed an interest in this field, and who knows what might come out of it.

If somebody is interested in the daily activities at the Park, we have been writing a blog with daily entries (in Spanish, sorry). We have also published quite a lot of photos of the activities. Of course, needless is to say that I’m really happy to have taken part on it, and that the kids participating were simply great. I’ll miss them.

{June 26, 2011}   I won’t be able to attend DebConf this year

I haven’t blogged for a while, because I’ve been doing so many things that I scarcely had time nor will for it. Among all those things, and during the weekends of the last few months, we have been teaching kids (8-12 y.o.) about computers, Free Software and technology. Those kids are great, very intelligent, very motivated, and very funny to be with. I miss them a bit after the program has ended. In any case, I’ve been given the chance to teach some more kids during summer weekdays, and I’m really looking forward to it. The downside of this is that I won’t have any summer holidays and, thus, I finally won’t be able to attend DebConf 11 in Banja Luka, which was something I was also looking forward too. But, even though that’s something  I’d really love to do, one cannot be in two places at the time, so this year I finally won’t be able to attend DebConf either. Have lots of fun! I’ll miss you! :)

In case you want to know more about all of this (sorry, links are in Spanish):

Oh, and to show you what I’m exchanging you for (nothing personal):

Photo of the official presentation, with the parents and the kidsPhoto of all the kids in Campus TICPhoto of all the kids in Yo ProgramoPhoto of the kids in my group of Campus TICKids in Campus TIC working with their computersTeam group of my kids in Campus TICGroup photo of the kids in my group, in Campus TICKids in Campus TIC working with Lego WeDo robots

I wouldn’t like to end this post without thanking all the kids from both Campus TIC and Yo Programo for being so cool, and also to welcome the kids from Fantastic Park, in case any of them -or their parents- are reading.

Oh, and all of you who attend DebConf this year, have a lot of fun! :)

{September 12, 2010}   Gnash 0.8.8 in Debian Squeeze

Gnash 0.8.8 was released on the 23rd of August, a bit more than two weeks after the freeze. There are very important features in this new release that made 0.8.8 by far a better option than buggy 0.8.7 for Squeeze:

Today, the Release Team has unblocked 0.8.8-2, which has already reached Testing, so I’m proud to announce that Squeeze will be released with latest Gnash. Thanks guys!

{July 15, 2010}   The 12 steps of the burnout syndrome

Jono Bacon made some really great slides about burnout last year, and I think it’s such an important topic that I want to bring it up again here. Scientific American MIND for June/July 2006 had a cover story on The Science of Burnout. Even though the article isn’t online, I was able to find a list of the 12 stages of the burnout cycle online. It has to be noted, however, that, according to Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North, the cycles don’t necessarily follow in order and some people skip steps or have more than one at a time.

  1. A compulsion to prove oneself: The beginning is often excessive ambition: their desire to prove themselves at work turns into grim determination and compulsion. They must show their colleagues – and above all themselves – that they are doing an excellent job in every way.
  2. Working harder: To meet their high personal expectations, they take on more work and buckle down. They become obsessed with handling everything themselves, which in turn demonstrates their notions of “irreplaceability.”
  3. Neglecting their needs: Their schedules leave no time except for work, and they dismiss as unimportant other necessities such as sleeping, eating, and seeing friends and family. They tell themselves that these sacrifices are proof of heroic performance.
  4. Displacement of conflicts: They are aware that something is not right but cannot see the sources of their problems. To deal with the root causes of their distress might set off a crisis and is thus seen as threatening. Often the first physical symptoms emerge at this stage.
  5. Revision of values: Isolation, conflict avoidance and denial of basic physical needs change their perceptions. They revise their value systems, and once important things such as friends or hobbies are completely dismissed. Their only standard for evaluation of their self-worth is their jobs. They become increasingly emotionally blunted.
  6. Denial of emerging problems: They develop intolerance, perceiving colleagues as stupid, lazy , demanding or undisciplined. Social contacts feel almost unbearable. Cynicism and aggression become more apparent. They view their increasing problems as caused by time pressure and the amount of work they have – not by the ways they have changed.
  7. Withdrawal: They reduce social contact to a minimum, becoming isolated and walled off. They feel increasingly that they are without hope or direction. They work obsessively “by the book” on the job. May seek release through alcohol or drugs.
  8. Obvious behavioral changes: Others in their immediate social circles can no longer overlook their behavioral changes. The once lively and engaged victims of overwork have become fearful, shy and apathetic. Inwardly, they feel increasingly worthless.
  9. Depersonalization: They lose contact with themselves. They see neither themselves nor others as valuable and no longer perceive their own needs. Their perspective of time narrows to the present. Life becomes a series of mechanical functions.
  10. Inner emptiness: Their inner emptiness expands relentlessly. To overcome this feeling, they desperately seek activity. Overreactions such as exaggerated sexuality, overeating, and drug or alcohol use emerge. Leisure time is dead time.
  11. Depression: In this phase, burnout syndrome corresponds to depression. The overwhelmed people become indifferent, hopeless, exhausted and believe the future holds nothing for them. Any of the symptoms of depression may be manifest, from agitation to apathy. Life loses meaning.
  12. Burnout syndrome: Almost all burnout victims now have suicidal thoughts to escape their situation. A few actually carry them out. Ultimately, they suffer total mental and physical collapse. Patients in this phase need immediate medical attention.

{March 24, 2010}   Ada Lovelace Day 2010

Today is March 24th, that means Ada Lovelace Day, and it is being pushed as an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science. The aim of Ada Lovelace Day is to focus on building female role models not just for girls and young women but also for those of us in tech who would like to feel that we are not alone in our endeavours.

There are some very good examples of women that have been important in the development of science and technology, starting with Ada Lovelace herself (the first developer of an algorithm intended to be processed by a machine), Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (developer of the first compiler for a computer programming language), Adele Goldstine (who wrote the complete technical description for the first digital computer, ENIAC), as well as the six women who did most of the programming of if (Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas and Ruth Lichterman), or women scientists, or women inventors, etc.

Well, I’m not going to write about any of those, even when any of them would surely deserve that and more for sure. I’m going to write about a woman who has definitely been very inspiring and supportive for me when I was starting to get in touch with Free Software and Debian, and who is probably the most important single reason I decided to go for it. It is definitely hard to write about someone you admire when she happens to be one of your best friends, and in fact I’m pretty sure that most of the people reading this article already know her, so there’s no great mistery. I’m talking about Amaya Rodrigo, the first european female Debian Developer (AFAIK) and co-founder of the Debian Women project, and also member of Hispalinux Board in the golden days.

The first time I met her she was giving a talk in Madrid about a project that was starting then, Debian Women, and it was very inspiring for me. Inspiring enough for me to join the project. Afterwards I’ve learnt more about her, how she overcame many dificulties, like starting to work with computers quite late, among others. The real merit of a pioneer is not really to be the best techie out there, but to overcome the difficulties and doing it the best you can, when no one else has done it before. I’m not going to write her biography here, it’s not really the purpose of this blog entry, and you probably can ask herself directly. This blog entry is, as I said at the beginning, to highlight women in technology that I consider inspiring and relevant. You know, I admire you, Amaya :)


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