Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Google Takeout: viewing what Google knows about you

Feb 15, 2012 GMT

Ever wonder what information Google has collected about you? Now, you can find out, thanks to Google Takeout, which allows you to download most of the information that Google has collected about you.The question should be of more than passing interest to just about everyone. Few people may have bought Google's Chromebook with its web-based applications, but Google still dominates our computer lives. We use it to receive emails. We store pictures and documents on it. We socialize on it -- and, all the time, Google is collecting information about us. Google Takeout is a creation of the Data Liberation Front, which describes itself as "an engineering team at Google whose singular goal...
Review: "The Linux Command Line"

Feb 07, 2012 GMT

William E. Shotts, Jr.'s The Linux Command Line is really two books in one. In the first two-thirds, Shotts offers one of the better introductions to the Bash shell that I have seen. However, in the last third, the book describes shell scripting, and the tone and pace of the book change so much that you have to wonder why these two sections are between the same covers.This structure is deliberate. Early in the book, Shotts specifically identifies his audience as power users who have just migrated from another operating system. From this description, you can easily guess how the first two-thirds is meant to prepare readers for the last third.Unfortunately, though, that is not how The Linux...
Fundraising for Free Software and Free Culture

Jan 24, 2012 GMT

I've spent December and January watching the fundraising campaigns of several free software and culture projects. I'm involved in fundraising for two mainstream charities, so the efforts of others is directly interesting to me. Also, increasingly, free software and culture projects are looking for ways to make their efforts pay, so what works and what doesn't is becoming an important community issue.I admit that I watch the progress bars for fundraising with considerable fascination. I look, for example, at least once at day to the Free Software Foundation's site to see how much of its target of $300,000 is left to raise, or nose around to see how Wikipedia's latest personal appeals are...
Where are they now?

Jan 18, 2012 GMT

Years ago, the short-lived Maximum Linux magazine ran a graphic showing Eric Raymond, Richard Stallman, and Linus Torvalds wearing the gang colors of open source. Naturally, Stallman protested in the next issue that he was an advocate of free software, not open source, but the point is that, back then, it was easy to point out the leaders of free and open source software (FOSS) in a way that would be impossible today. And I can't help thinking that's a healthy sign.I was reminded of how much things have changed when I read about Bruce Perens' keynote at this week. If the Maximum Linux graphic had added a fourth or fifth figure, that figure would probably have Perens. But...
GRUB 2 Editor

Jan 13, 2012 GMT

Mostly, I prefer using a command line for system administration. However, I'm willing to rethink this preference in the case of the GRUB 2 Editor for KDE.Not too long ago, editing the GRUB boot manager was a straightforward task. You edited a text file directly, and, if in the long intervals between changes you forgot the structure of a boot entry, you could usually figure out what to do from existing entries. About the hardest thing to remember if you didn't have an example to crib from was how to boot an unsupported operating system like Windows.However, in distributions like Ubuntu in which GRUB 2 has replaced Legacy GRUB, editing has become more complicated. Not only has the basic...
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...

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