Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Seven Points About Ereaders You Should Know Before Buying

Aug 16, 2011 GMT

Last week, I finally got around to buying an ereader. I might have bought before, except for a vague feeling that I should wait for the technology to improve, but the whim hadn't struck me before. Nothing I might read has ever been published exclusively as an ebook, and the price of ebooks isn't usually compelling, especially since I frequent used bookstores. But the stars aligned (or, more exactly, a sale and my available cash), and I bought at last.I chose a Kobo, based partly on in-store trials, and the fact that Kobo has limited support for Debian and carries some DRM-free books. This record could be improved, but it is better than any rival ereader boasts.Still, there are some things...
High-calibre ebook management

Aug 12, 2011 GMT

One of the delights of free software are the applications that do everything I can ever imagine in their general category. Sometimes I may long for leaner or simpler apps, but I know, for example, that K3B will give me everything I need for burning DVDs, or digiKam for managing and editing photos. Now, as I start getting into ebooks, I'm looking at calibre as potentially another of these ultimate apps, destined to be to ebooks what Amarok is to digital music.Currently at version 0.8.14, calibre is in rapid development, with new versions frequently coming every few days. For this reason, you are better off downloading directly from the project page, rather than from your distribution's...
From LibreOffice to ePub

Aug 04, 2011 GMT

As someone contemplating ebook publishing, I found the LibreOffice / extension Writer2ePub worth investigating. After all, while GNU/Linux has a couple of apps that can read the popular ePub format -- Calibre and Lucidor -- about the only way to actually produce ePub content is to export from DocBook. However, I'll have to wait a version or two before relying on Writer2ePub.Writer2ePub is available from the extensions site, where it is currently the highest rated extension -- which makes me wonder how carefully people have examined it before rating it. You can download it in seconds, then use Tools -> Extension Manager to install it. As with most...
Google+ and the right to use an alias

Jul 25, 2011 GMT

Until a few weeks ago, I hadn't thought much about the use of pseudonyms online. At times, I use "nanday" -- the species of parrots I live with -- but a pseudonym has never really been an option for most of my online presence, because, rightly or wrongly, editors assume that my name has some value on an article. So far as I had thought, pseudonyms seemed a childish remnant from the early days of the web. But the growing complaints about Google+'s anti-pseudonym policy have made me reverse my thinking.The matter came to a head a few days ago, when Google+, the new social networking site, suddenly started deleting or limiting accounts for violating its term of its conduct...
Free software isn't a single school of thought

Jul 20, 2011 GMT

"Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't NEED to follow ME, You don't NEED to follow ANYBODY! You've got to think for your selves! You're ALL individuals!The Crowd: Yes! We're all individuals!"- Monty Python, "The Life of Brian""Would it be immoral for me to write a program and then to sell it without providing the source code?" Someone asked in response to my last blog entry. The question might have a troll, but I replied, "I'm not the keeper of your conscience. You have to decide that for yourself." Belatedly, though, it occurred to me that I should have said more about the stereotypes of free software advocates, and just where I stand as...
Where Did All the Idealism Go?

Jul 13, 2011 GMT

"You say the little efforts that I make will do no good; they never will prevail to tip the hovering scale where justice hangs in balance. I don’t think I ever thought they would, but I am prejudiced beyond debate in favor of my right to choose which side shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight."- Tommy DouglasAs a writer, I am more comfortable reporting the news than making the news. For that reason, I'm reluctant to encourage the discussion started by my article, "Tech Pundits Surrender: The Retreat from Free Software and Open Standards" about the use of proprietary software when it's convenient. At the same time, I can't help wondering when idealism became a...
A small taste of the Maker movement

Jun 26, 2011 GMT

When I was growing up, I used to dream about magic shops -- stores filled with wonderful and precious objects. Since then, I've occasionally found close analogies in a craft or antique store and happily wandered about, not spending but simply enjoying the strangeness and diversity. But I don't think I ever found an experience as close to my childhood dreams as meandering through the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire this afternoon. At times, I could almost believe that I was moving through a steampunk magic store.The Maker movement exists at the crossroads of several cultural streams. It starts, perhaps, with the Do It Yourself (DIY) movement, with its emphasis on crafts and people learning to...

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