Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

The Girl with the PGP Encryption Programme

Aug 06, 2010 GMT

Earlier this week, a neighbor loaned me Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the mystery that everyone seems to be reading this summer. Mostly, it's an intelligent light read -- even if the climax does occur three-quarters of the way through-- and the book is very lucky in its translator, Reg Keeland. However, my enjoyment is diminished by the sometimes less than expert treatment of computer security issuesLarsson gets some things right when he discusses computers. His detailed stats for a state of the art Mac in 2005 sound correct to my memory, and his assumption that most people do not protect their computers with a password, much less any other security measures is --...
Privilege and free software

Jul 31, 2010 GMT

Over at the Geek Feminism site, a discussion is going on about an article entitled, "If you were hacking since age 8, it means that you were privileged." As I usually do with anything remotely connected with computers, I immediately started wondering how I could apply the topic to free software. Specifically, is free software the product of privilege? Or does it work against privilege? My tentative answer is that free software is a paradoxical combination of privilege and resistance to privilege.As you might guess from the title, the article on Geek Feminism points out that, anyone who is an adult today who had early access to a computer probably comes from a middle class or...
The Free Software Foundation: New Home Page, New Directions

Jul 27, 2010 GMT

Ordinarily, a change in website design doesn't rate a mention these days. However, the recent change in the Free Software Foundation's (FSF) home page is an exception. It marks not just a change in aesthetics, but of organizational direction as well. Instead of being directed at the free software community, the site is now intended as an introduction to free software and the social and political issues that surround it.Go to the site, and the change is immediately obvious. A few weeks ago, the FSF home page was a typical minimalist site, of the sort that content management solutions generate by the millions. Now, it looks more like a a commerce site for web hosting or a travel agency,...
Ebooks outselling hard covers? Where's the news?

Jul 22, 2010 GMT

 Just by choosing which stories to cover, journalists and editors decide what is news and what is not. Since you can never cover everything, that is inevitable, and the alternative to being selective is to despair and cover nothing at all. But I despise news that is manufactured out of nothing or next to nothing. This week, for example, Amazon announced that it is selling an average of 143 ebooks for its Kindle reader for every 100 hardcovers – and, suddenly, everyone on the Internet is pontificating about the success of ebooks and anticipating the death of paper books. Why is this non-news? Not because, as some allege, the figures are heavily qualified and do not accurately...
Recommendations from Women in Free Software: Too Mild for Its Own Good?

Jul 20, 2010 GMT

The Free Software Foundation’s Women in Free Software has published its recommendations for encouraging women’s involvement in free software. I admit that I am curious to see what reactions it invokes – or, for that matter, whether it gets noticed at all outside of feminist circles.The analysis of Women in Free Software is not particularly new. It notes the barriers that many others, including me, have commented on in the past, noting that free software is perceived as a “boy’s club” where women are made to feel unwelcome and experience sexism. The closest that the group comes to saying anything new is when it notes that girls are not exposed to free software, and “finances...
The Reviewers' Perspective

Jun 30, 2010 GMT

This may be one of my blinding flashes of the obvious, but it occurs to me that I look at new applications from two perspectives. The first is that of any other user, looking for whether I might want to use the application. But the second is that of a potential reviewer -- that is, from the viewpoint of looking for a possible topic for an article that will intrigue me as I write. It suddenly occurs to me that these two perspectives are incompatible, and that the second one may influence my reviews too strongly. This is a disturbing possibility, because I have always seen myself as holding reasonably balanced views. I am neither a technophile nor a technophobe, embracing or avoiding new...
You Say Linux, I Say GNU/Linux

Jun 25, 2010 GMT

The older I get, the more certain I am that most discussions consist of arguing over half-truths. In fact, the more strongly everyone argues, the more likely that nobody has the complete truth. And nowhere does these hard-won truisms seem more accurate than in the age-old argument over whether the operating system we all live by should be called Linux or GNU/Linux. Yet that does not mean that you should necessarily avoid taking a position, and, in my case, I have come down -- with some reservations -- on the side of using GNU/Linux.This argument recently flared up again on the GNOME Foundation mailing list. If you've been around the community awhile, you know the arguments: Free software...

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