Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Writing online and on paper

Feb 19, 2015 GMT

Yesterday, I visited the Vancouver Pen Shop. The hoarded refills for my favorite pen had run out after a decade. However, to my annoyance, the Very Fine nibs I prefer are no longer being manufactured. They are a victim of the computer age -- apparently, the number of people still using pens has dwindled to the point where a selection of nibs is no longer economical. I regret the loss, because those nibs helped determine how I wrote by hand, which is very different from how I write on the keyboard.(And no, this will not be one of those laments for lost technology, in case you were wondering.)Time was when I never would have considered writing on a computer. I wrote all my university essays...
Flash in the pan

Feb 13, 2015 GMT

I've known for several years that development of Adobe's Flash player for Linux has ended except for service updates. In the last couple of months, though, maintaining it on my Debian system has become a series of rear guard actions. Each time I update my system with the last minor release, all is well -- then after a couple of weeks, Iceweasel (Debian's unbranded version of Firefox) fills every web page is full of notices that Flash needs to be updated again. The trouble is, I've installed the latest update in the repository, and I can't update.I suppose that Mozilla means well. Updates can help to make a system secure, and by most estimates Linux accounts for only a percent or two or...
LinuxQuestions' Members Choice Awards

Feb 08, 2015 GMT

Every year, I rely on LinuxQuestions' Members Choice Awards for a snapshot of the habits of part of the Linux community. True, the results can be idiosyncratic -- for example, I doubt that users in general would continually vote Slackware the distribution of the year. However, aside from Linux Journals' Reader Choice Awards, LinuxQuestion's poll is almost the only indicator available. Assuming that the The 2014 awards are even remotely representative, little has changed since last year. The great upheavals on the desktops have quieted down, and users seem well set in their ways, to the point that oligarchies or near-monopolies seem more common than the diversity than many pride free...
Why projects need task-based documentation

Jan 30, 2015 GMT

Documentation in free software has improved immensely in the last fifteen years, At least most projects have some, which is more than could be said when I first started using Linux. However, far too much of it stops with descriptions of menus and dialogue windows instead of being structured by tasks and user.The type of documentation you find in perhaps two-thirds of the most popular applications is what I like to call death marches through the menus. Like some forced march of prisoners, a death march starts resolutely with the first item in the File menu and tramps relentlessly down and up each menu in turn until it reaches the last item at the bottom of the Help Menu. Each menu is given...
The Wikipedia backlash

Jan 24, 2015 GMT

So that's what a backlash looks like.Understanding the politics of Wikipedia is hard for an outsider. Much seems to go on that never gets officially reported, and the  maneuvering seems Byzantine at best. However, that's my first reaction to the news that Wikimedia's arbitration committee has banned five feminist editors from working on articles about gender while leaving their opponents mostly untouched.The decision is supposed to be an effort to stop a feud that has dragged on since September 2014 as both sides attempted to edit Wikipedia's Gamergate article about critiques of the gaming community by such commentators as Brianna Wu and Anita Sarkeesian. The decision is labeled...
The long twilight of 32-bit computing

Jan 23, 2015 GMT

Stephen Smoogen has withdrawn his proposal that Fedora release only a 64 bit version, apologizing and claiming that it "was meant to be absurd." Still, the change is only a matter of time in all distributions. The only surprising thing is that the transition from 32 to 64 bit computing has taken so long.To appreciate just how long the transition has been, consider this: the transition from 16 to 32 bit in the early 1990s was a matter of two or three years at the most. In fact, the transition was something of a fiat: Microsoft and the hardware manufacturers announced it was going to happen, and it did. Complaints were few, because, back then, only free software supporters...
Coming Attractions for 2015

Jan 08, 2015 GMT

Last year at this time, I was waiting for Vivaldi, the free-licensed KDE tablet to go into production. That never happened, and free software is worse off for Vivaldi's disappearance. But, undaunted, I find myself looking ahead once again to three of the events likely to have a major influence on free software in the next twelve months: The gamble of the Ubuntu phoneThe first event I'm anticipating is the release of the first Ubuntu phone. What interests me is not so much the technology -- although I wouldn't mind tinkering with it -- as the fact that the phone is rapidly becoming a test of Canonical Software's credibility. Canonical has put most of its attention in the last two Ubuntu...

Issue 178/2015

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