Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Internet access and human rights

Jan 05, 2012 GMT

This morning, Tim O'Reilly linked with apparent approval to Vinton G. Cerf's New York Times editorial, "Internet Access Is Not a Human Right". Technically, Cerf is correct, but I'm not sure that the distinctions he makes are ones that should be insisted upon too strongly.Internet technologies have been an enabler of the Arab Spring, and a few countries -- notably Estonia and France -- have declared Internet access a human right. However, Cerf begs to differ. Defining rights as "the outcomes we are trying to ensure," he insists that technology "is an enabler of rights, not a right in itself," regardless of whether you consider them human rights (that is,...
Comparing DuckDuckGo with the Search Giants

Dec 26, 2011 GMT

Reviewing the latest Linux Mint release, I discovered the DuckDuckGo search engine. Linux Mint is using DuckDuckGo as its default search engine in a revenue sharing plan, and, given DuckDuckGo's friendliness to free software, as well its privacy tools, the choice is one that should appeal to many. But how does DuckDuckGo's search results compare to that of the search giants Google and Bing?I'm still working out a detailed answer to that question. For one thing, DuckDuckGo is a hybrid search engine, drawing answers from over fifty sources, so probably the answers vary. For another, when I use Google, as a Canadian I am redirected towards the Canadian versions of the site, which might give...
New Survey on Gender Indicates Increased Awareness

Dec 20, 2011 GMT

For several years, people have talked about updating the FLOSSPOLS survey about gender in the open source community. Now, Roberto Galoppini, Senior Director of Business Development at Geeknet, is actually doing it, posting the same questions used by FLOSSPOL as a new survey. The survey is still going on, but preliminary results suggest some changes for the better.The original FLOSSPOLS survey asked participants for their gender, and asked a few questions about how old participants were when they starting working with computers. However, the core of the survey was the questions about gender, and the two statements that participants were asked to respond to: For whom is it easier to get...
In Defense of Free Riders

Dec 07, 2011 GMT

Free riders, people who contribute nothing to the software they use, are to free and open source software (FOSS) what illegal downloaders are to the Recording Industry Association of America. They're people who are perceived as getting away with something, and are the subject of periodic rants. Really, though, I don't see what the fuss is about.Yes, FOSS projects might be better off if everyone who used their software contributed code, time, or cash. Projects could be finished faster, and core team members might be able to work full time on what is now an avocation. But the complaints would seem more valid if more projects made more effort to welcome newcomers and orient them. When the...
Back to the Future with GNOME Shell Extensions

Dec 02, 2011 GMT

When GNOME 3 was released, the marketing material emphasized how the new interface was uncluttered and contained nothing that users didn't need. In effect, the advertising copy was a repudiation of everything that the GNOME 2 series had become after seventeen incremental releases in nine years. A praiseworthy cleanup, you might imagine. So why are most of the extensions for GNOME 3 designed to put the clutter back, and make GNOME 3 look and act more like GNOME 2?Not all the extensions coming out have that intention. You can find several extensions for Zeitgeist, the combination calendar and file manager. There is also the usual array of minor enhancements, such as windowsNavigator, which...
Occupy Your Computer

Nov 25, 2011 GMT

As I write, many of the local Occupy movements are ending. They'll almost certainly be back, since the problems they address haven't been solved even slightly. Meanwhile, however, you might want to remind yourself just how radical an idea free technology and culture can be, and consider whether they should be part of the movements.I make this statement partly because, while free technologies don't seem to have played a major role in most of the local Occupy movements (in fact, some have shown what I consider an appalling fondness for Apple products), free technology and culture seem to have helped to create the atmosphere from which the local movements grew. Environmentalism played an...
Bar camps, not conferences

Nov 17, 2011 GMT

Last week, ApacheCon hit Vancouver. I duly attended, but a chronic knee problem forced me to sit out most of the conference at home. But I did manage to limp to the bar camp on the Saturday, so I only feel mildly short-changed.Bar camps, as you may know, began in 2005 as a democratic alternative to O'Reilly Associate's Foo Camp. Short for "friends of O'Reilly," Foo Camp is an invitation-only event. By contrast, bar camps are open to all comers, their name punning on "foobar," the placeholder name used by some coders. Like Foo Camp, bar camps are explained by describing them as "unconferences." Their rules are simple: at the start of the day, attendees gather...

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