Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

The Ada Initiative leaves a mixed record behind it

Aug 04, 2015 GMT

I was one of the first to write about the Ada Initiative. I was also (as Anonymous Donor #1) -- the first to donate to it, and the first to resign from its advisory board. I've passed through personal distaste and disillusion to indifference, but, having written about The Ada Initiative's start, I feel an obligation to write about its end, and the legacies it leaves behind.The Ada Initiative was founded as a response to a sexual assault on Noirin Plunkett. Appropriately, the announcement of its end comes a day after Plunkett's memorial service. But you could have predicted what was about to happen for a couple of months.Long-time advisers resigned, and were keeping feminist solidarity by...
Will open hardware face the same dilemma as the Arts and Crafts Movement?

Jul 30, 2015 GMT

An unexpected benefit of crowdfunding is that it is encourages the development of open hardware. A couple of years ago, when I counted the Kickstarter campaigns that mentioned free and open source software, there were more than ten times the number that were developing hardware than software, and my impression is that the ratio has not changed much today. Yet while I appreciate seeing open hardware starting to establish itself, I worry that open hardware might go the way of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and defeat its larger aims because of what is needed for success.The Arts and Crafts Movement was a reaction to mass production in architecture, manufacturing, and art. Flourishing between...
What's the next step for FOSS feminism?

Jul 20, 2015 GMT

Men who support feminism aren't supposed to criticize. They are supposed to expand the size of a crowd, donate, and keep their mouths shut. However, I have never had trouble being insubordinate, and I have a question I think worth asking: isn't it time to take FOSS feminism to the next level?FOSS feminism has had a long list of accomplishments since Alex Bayley (AKA Kirrily Robert and Scud) started talking about the issues in 2007-08. Dozens of organizations have sprung up teach girls and women to code --Code 'n' Splode, Geek Girl, Girls in Tech, Hacker You, Ladies Learning Code, PHPWomen, RailsBridge, Black Girls Code, Women Who Code are just the ones I can easily recall. The Ada...
Freedom from nagging

Jul 17, 2015 GMT

Freedom from nagging software is not one of the Free Software Foundation's four freedoms. However, after several days of setting up my new Samsung Galaxy Tab 4  to avoid as many unwanted notifications as possible, I wonder if it shouldn't be the fifth.On my KDE Plasma desktop, the only nagging is for upgrades -- and that can be turned off. In fact, as on many desktop environments, I can set which notifications to display. Having long ago set my notifications so that only essential system messages display, I can focus on my work, confident in the knowledge that my thoughts will not be interrupted by a bit of system trivia that I can read later.Unfortunately, not having bought a...
How I marketed free software

Jul 13, 2015 GMT

In 2000-01, I was director of marketing and communications at Progeny Linux Systems. As an early hire in a startup, I had many jobs, but the most important was to create name recognition for the company. Relying heavily on the experience and talent of Optimium Design and Consulting, I created a series of three ads to introduce the company. Recently, I came across the ads, and, with no false modesty, I discovered that they held up surprisingly well as examples of how to market a project or company in free and open source software (FOSS).Marketing to FOSS is radically different from general ads to consumers or to other businesses. To start with, FOSS can be deeply suspicious about...
Why I don't write lists of influential people

Jun 29, 2015 GMT

Summer is a-coming in, and the entire tech sector is entering its annual slowdown. One way you can tell is that lists of influential people are starting to appear. It's a type of story that I've never written, and hope that I never will.I understand why lists of influential people are popular. If you regularly write about a certain topic -- free software, for instance, to take a random example -- then lists of influential people are an easy assignment. You should be able to start writing in five minutes, a preparation time that fits right into the lazy days of summer. Yet to my mind, such stories are too easy. They're the kind of story that Buzzfeed specializes in, conveying little new or...
What happens when leaders quit?

Jun 24, 2015 GMT

Recently, Swapnil Bhartiya published an article that quoted Linus Torvalds speculating on what might happen if he quit leading kernel development. To my surprise, I have seen the article condemned here and there as being in poor taste. Yet the more I think, the more I think that many free software projects need to start similar discussions.We live in a death-denying culture, and the sub-culture of developers is not known for its maturity. All the same, as free software advocates and contributors are aging. On social media, you may have noticed gray hairs that weren't there a decade ago, and people who were once cradling infants now congratulating those same infants on graduation from...

Issue 180/2015

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