Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

When Marketing Experience Lends Perspective

Jul 06, 2012 GMT

Over the years, I've endured my share of jokes about having worked in marketing. Never mind that it's only one of many fields in which I've worked, nor that I always tried  to work from a technical understanding of what I was promoting; the average marketer and programmer think so differently that the ribbing is inevitable. I'm just glad that so much of it has been good-natured. But part of me has always been slightly ashamed of my marketing experience -- until this last week, when I realized that knowing a little about marketing has twice helped me to keep me some perspective when those around me were losing theirs.The first occasion was the Google Glass demo last week...
Thinking about Alan Turing

Jun 28, 2012 GMT

You don't often hear about lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals, and queers (LGBTQ) in free software. Like the rest of the community, they're too busy contributing to their projects of choice. However, this past week, two events have emphasized the fact that they exist.The first event is the centenary of Alan Turing's birth. If you know anything about the history of computing, you must have heard of him: the builder of proto-computers, the cryptographer primarily responsible for cracking the German Enigma code in World War 2, and the inventor of the Turing Test for evaluating artificial intelligence.What you may not known was that, found guilty of the victimless crime of...
Ubuntu Accomplishments: Fad or Future?

Jun 21, 2012 GMT

These days, Canonical, Ubuntu's commercial arm, tends to get more press than Ubuntu itself. What deals Canonical has made, what new features will be in the next release to nudge the company towards profitability -- these are the subjects that tend to be covered, not what is happening in the community. The tendency is unfortunately lopsided, because the Ubuntu community can be even more innovative than Canonical. Consider, for example, Ubuntu Accomplishments.Like a surprising amount of the innovation in the Ubuntu community, Ubuntu Accomplishments are the brainchild of community manager Jono Bacon. In fact, judging from his blog, the idea has occupied much of his time in the last six...
KDE Activities: A Personal Case Study

Jun 12, 2012 GMT

Activities are both KDE's most talked-about and least understood features. Whenever I enthuse over them, I am invariably greeted with so much bafflement that I suspect that they are also KDE's least used features. So, for those who keep asking, "What's the point?" I thought I'd give a detailed description of how I use them.The typical desktop environment is built around applications, and designed for general purposes. By contrast, KDE Activities are task-oriented, and each one is customized for its specific task, and can have its own layout, widgets, icons, and startup applications. The result is an extension of the concept of virtual desktops (although, somewhat confusingly,...
Passwords and Convenience

Jun 07, 2012 GMT

The cracking of at least six million passwords from LinkedIn this week ( had me scrambling to change my own password. It also has me considering whether LinkedIn is a social media site I could do without. But mainly, it has me thinking how predictable -- and, in many ways, how useless -- the response has been.The problem is not that LinkedIn hasn't handled the situation well by the usual standards. The company responded quickly, and posted blogs telling users what was happening, what would happen, and how to set a strong a password...
Sarah Stierch: Closing the Wikipedia Gender Gap

May 31, 2012 GMT

In January 2011, the New York Times noted in a series of articles that less than fifteen percent of Wikipedia contributors -- more likely, as little as nine percent -- were women. The news proved a wakeup call, and quickly resulted in efforts to improve that percentage. Over the last year, Sarah Stierch, a Community Fellow for the Wikmedia Foundation and Wikipedian in Residence at the Smithsonian Institution Archives is a (, has emerged as a central figure in those efforts.Stierch describes herself as a non-technical person who has found herself increasingly involved in technology and the free culture movements. "I never thought I was...
Facebook: Like the Dot-Coms All Over Again

May 27, 2012 GMT

I was nonplussed about Facebook becoming a public company. Part of my reaction was due to the fact that I'd been expecting the IPO for some time. An even larger part is attributable to my deep-misgivings about Facebook, for all the usual reasons from privacy concerns to the amount of time it can suck up. But I took a while to realize the greatest source of my reaction: I've seen it all before.The year was 1999. I had newly discovered free and open source software (FOSS)), and was newly employed in a company on its cutting edge (or so I thought at the time). Eighteen year old coders were camping overnight in the boxes that office furniture came in -- not because it was crunch time, but...

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