Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

11 Common Mistakes in Amateur Typography

Aug 31, 2014 GMT

Digital typography is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, thanks to office suites and typesetting applications, as well as an increasing number of free-licensed fonts, any computer user can potentially produce professional-looking publications. On the other hand, conventions left over from the typewriter, half-understood rumors, and some odd choices in popular office suites have left most of us unable to come anywhere close to realizing that potential.True, we have calmed down enough so that we no longer feel obliged to use every design feature available. Those who remember the late 1980s, when many design features were first introduced, may still have nightmares about text that was...
7 Favorite Cinnamon Applets

Aug 27, 2014 GMT

Some users condemn panel applets and desktop widgets as clutter. For me, however, they are two of the most important features of a desktop environment because of the degree of customization they allow. Their lack is a major reason I am indifferent to GNOME and Unity, and conversely why I prefer KDE and -- increasingly, Linux MInt's Cinnamon.Cinnamon's applets and desklets are a relatively new feature. Two releases ago, there were only a handful of applets and two or three desklets that amounted more to proofs of concept than anything of much use. However, in the latest release, I count 27 applets pre-installed and another 169 available online, as well as 17 desklets, making for a healthy...
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...

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