Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Wanna-be Software for Wanna-be Novelists

Feb 06, 2017 GMT

A whole industry exists to encourage would-be writers. Magazines, websites, seminars, and reading services all support an entire sub-culture that for many becomes more of a social club than a means for members to realize their literary ambitions. Written in Java, bibisco is a free software contribution to this sub-culture: a database for planning everything in a novel from the characters to the setting and the plot. As a way to organize your ideas, it seems sensible enough, but whether it is actually useful probably depends on your work habits. Personally, as a very occasional fiction writer, I remain skeptical.The most useful feature of bibisco is its organization. It consists of a...
KDE Comes to a Commercial Laptop

Jan 27, 2017 GMT

The newly announced KDE Slimbook is not free hardware. All the same, it is an important step in bringing Linux and related technologies to a commercial audience. Unlike last year's Aquaris M10 Ubuntu Edition, the KDE Slimbook is a high end machine, with a mature desktop environment – KDE Plasma – that should show off free software to full advantage. Recently, I talked with Aleix Pol, the Vice President of KDE e.V, the governing body for the popular desktop environment, about how the project came about.According to Pol, the venture  began in Madrid in April 2016 at Akademy-es, a Spanish gathering for KDE. "one of the presenters, Pol recalls, was Alejandro López, the founder...
Adding a Bluetooth Speaker to Linux

Jan 25, 2017 GMT

These days, support for various technologies under Linux can often be taken for granted. An exception is Bluetooth, whose configuration remains arcane, as I found when trying to add a Bluetooth speaker to my workstation. My efforts were dogged by outdated information, and sometimes lack of information, but the audio improvement added by a high-end speaker made the effort more than worth my time.As you might expect, the best time to add support for any Bluetooth device is during a fresh installation. However, adding Bluetooth after installation is also possible. It consists of four steps: enabling general Bluetooth support, pairing the speaker with the computer, configuring the computer to...
Leaders, Rock Stars and Ninjas

Jan 18, 2017 GMT

In recent weeks, I find myself thinking about Ian Murdock, the founder of Debian and my former employee. Ian, you may remember, died a year ago after being beaten by the police. At the time, I described him as demonstrating "the modesty of a man who has nothing to prove." It's a description that applies to most of the best-known developers in free software.Not that as a non-programmer I haven't had my share of grief. Worse, I entered free software as a technical writer, so over the years I got used to being in a gunslinger scenario for the first few weeks of any contract.Part of the problem is that most developers have seen their share of incompetent technical writers. Far too...
Ventures in Open Hardware

Jan 11, 2017 GMT

For over a year now, I have been watching the efforts to develop open hardware. I have been especially interested in the combination of open hardware and crowdfunding. Not only are the lists of open hardware campaigns like an adult version of a toy catalog, but the combination helps small businesses and is becoming a source of new businesses as well. Sadly, though, in my own experience, the resulting products have left a little to be desired.The Pi-Top LaptopThe first open hardware project I backed was Pi-Top. Its product was a do-it-yourself laptop running on a Raspberry Pi. I reviewed the Pi-Top enthusiastically -- to the point that I worried if I could discuss it impartially, but,...
LibreOffice MUFFIN risks being half-baked

Dec 26, 2016 GMT

On December 21, The Document Foundation announced that LibreOffice 5.3 would include MUFFIN (My User Friendly FLexible Interface) -- a feature for configuring toolbars that includes an option similar to Microsoft's Ribbon toolbar. With its emphasis on choice, MUFFIN is being well-publicized, although one documentation did worry that it would require LibreOffice's manuals to be completely re-written. However, while I like choice as much as anyone, while investigating I found MUFFIN an over-hyped and misplaced effort that is right in the middle of an old controversy in office suites.To start with, when I enabled MUFFIN from Tools > Options > LibreOffice > Advanced > Enable...
How Signal does security right.

Dec 21, 2016 GMT

A couple of weeks ago, I was writing about Echo Whisper Systems' Signal, which encrypts voice and text messages for Android and iOS phones. Signal is an essential privacy tool, and has become a standard part of my installations. However, as I started using it, I quickly realized that Signal not only offers some useful functions, but is also a rare example of security added so that average users will actually use it.In these days of anxiety, new security and privacy apps are popping up every few days. Most of them, however, do little to integrate into the desktop. All too typically, especially with distributions, they install a bunch of utilities, then leave users to figure them out for...

Issue 198/2017

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