Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

How to avoid giving a summary presentation

Aug 20, 2014 GMT

Information designer Edward Tufte said it first: slide shows allow as much two-way exchange of information as a Soviet May Day rally. The presenter has almost total control, which tempts them into reading their presentation off the slides in a kind of death march through the bullet points. Meanwhile, human audiences falls into stupors and other species gnaw off a leg to escape -- twin fates that make the looming return to school and seriousness in September something to dread unless you take definite steps to improve matters.If your presentation runs in an unsupervised loop, you may want it to be a summary of your talk. However, in almost all other circumstances, you need to struggle...
How reliable is a Wikipedia citation?

Aug 06, 2014 GMT

"I don't trust it," someone wrote when Wikipedia and its reliability was discussed on Facebook recently. One or two others added that, for them, a Wikipedia citation immediately discredited an article. I was surprised by these old school sentiments, having imagined that familiarity had years ago blunted contempt, and Wikipedia now had at least a reluctant acceptance.Not that Wikipedia hasn't had its share of dubious episodes, with contributors accepting payment, and editing wars that can change the reliability of an entry from hour to hour. At times, the conflicts have become so heated that some entries have to be protected, so that just anyone with a grudge or a need for...
KDE and the Naming of Parts

Jul 29, 2014 GMT

KDE concluded long ago that names were an important part of branding. However, looking at the latest changes, I am genuinely undecided whether the effort to brand through names is worth the effort, or is only likely to cause confusion.The concern with names goes back to the earliest days of KDE, when every application began with a "K" (Kate, K3B, Konsole), or at least contained a "k" somewhere in the name (Amorok). By the release of KDE 4, this convention had been dropped, but the new modular sub-systems were all given names (Akonadi, Plasma), few of which except for Phonon, the sound controls, had even a hint of their functions.In 2009, KDE announced a change in its...
When happens if crowdfunding free software reaches saturation?

Jul 23, 2014 GMT

Suddenly, every other free software project seems to be crowdfunding -- and those that aren't will probably be trying tomorrow. In three years, crowdfunding has gone from an exciting innovation to something almost everyone is trying. Yet its very success makes me wonder: is there a limit to the money that can be raised by donation? And what happens when we reach it?"Saturation" is the term used in marketing to define this limit. It refers to a market in which everyone who wants a product has bought it, and future sales are limited mostly to replacements. In North America, cars and many household appliances reached saturation several decades ago, so the results are well-known --...
KDE Plasma 5: A New Awareness of Design

Jul 16, 2014 GMT

The release of KDE Plasma 5 is mostly a technical event. However, one fact that is being mostly ignored is that Plasma 5 is the first release in which the KDE Visual Design Group has been at work, attempting to improve Plasma visually. Which raises the question: how successful is this effort?The Visual Design Group is overdue in KDE. Over the last fifteen years, the KDE desktop has offered everything in default themes from a blocky, plastic theme that resembles plastic children's toys to a metallic modern minimalism, but has never approached design systematically. Unlike GNOME, KDE has never encouraged consistent design principles, with the result that some utilities, such as the System...
Distro-hopping

Jul 08, 2014 GMT

I know several people who make a habit of changing distributions every few weeks. They install a new distribution, and for a few days they have nothing but praise for it. But the honeymoon soon ends, the complaints start, and they are back hunting for the perfect version of Linux.It's a cycle that remains foreign to me. My first distribution was Mandrake, but I soon settled on Debian, and, fifteen years later, at least three-quarters of my computing remains on Debian. Partly, the choice was due to the fact that I worked for two Debian-related startups in a row. However, the main reason was that Debian fulfilled all the requirements I wanted in a main workstation: it was stable, and had a...
Fifteen years in free software

Jun 30, 2014 GMT

Fifteen years ago this week, free software became a major part of my life. It was a change that took me to places I never imagined, and introduced me to people I otherwise would never have met, almost none of which I regret.At the time, I wasn't a complete stranger to free software. I had tried installing Linux a couple of times without any success. My last contract, too, had been documenting a Slackware system, even though it had been described to me, somewhat misleadingly, as a type of Unix.Then, I went to an apparently routine job interview that turned out to be for a writer for a new distribution. By the time the interview was over, I had fallen down the rabbit hole.As Stan Rogers...

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