Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Debian and I

Aug 16, 2012 GMT

Debian is the most influential Linux distribution ever. Of the 305 active distributions listed on Distrowatch, 147 are derived from Debian, and 87 from Ubuntu, Debian's most famous off-shoot. In other words, 77% of the distributions being used today wouldn't exist without Debian. That makes Debian's nineteenth anniversary on August 16 worth a moment's reflection, not just technologically, but socially as well.For me, Debian and free software are hopelessly intertwined.  While I had played about with Linux before, I only went hardcore when I started work on 5 July, 1999 at Stormix Technologies, an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to commercialize Debian. From there, I jumped ship to...
Geek Feminism's Opposition Emerges

Aug 01, 2012 GMT

(Disclaimer: I wrote in support of The Ada Initiative, a Geek Feminism off-shoot, in the first months of its existence. From June to November 2011, I was on its advisory board. I then resigned and wrote more critically about it once or twice. Since then, I have written several times about feminism and computing, sometimes discussing as individuals people associated with both groups.)Given my history, at first I may seem the last person to comment on accusations that Geek Feminism is hostile to more conventional women and how they dress. Nor do I want to be guilty of "mansplaining" -- assuming that I know more than anyone else simply because I am male. However, I maintain that my...
The Cant and Can't Against Free Software

Jul 31, 2012 GMT

I spent much of last week dodging discussions of the shootings in Aurora. Too much of the discussion was predictable -- the same pro and anti gun arguments we've all heard hundreds of time, all made in that contextless way that is so peculiarly American, as though the rest of the world didn't exist, and none of the collective angst likely to change anything. And the little I heard despite my best efforts started nagging me. Somewhere, I had heard it all before.An immediate answer was the ramp-up for the Summer Olympics, with all the talk about excellence that's designed to pretend that the games are still about something besides nationalism and commercialism. Since the Winter Games were...
Review: The Artist's Guide to GIMP

Jul 25, 2012 GMT

GIMP is part of the standard installation of most distributions. The average free software user opens it to resize a photo or to convert to a different graphics format, exactly as they might keep a Porsche around for trips to the corner store. But those who might wonder how to get more from GIMP, Michael J. Hammel's The Artist's Guide to GIMP, now in its second edition and covering GIMP 2.8, is a thorough place to start, even though it is not altogether free of the organizing problems that covering such a large topic.GIMP is a graphics application (although admittedly not for text), so a book on it requires a certain level of typography for credibility. Its publisher, No Starch Press, as...
The FSF Compliance Lab Doubles

Jul 17, 2012 GMT

Last month, Joshua Gay and Donald Robertson III, two long time employees, took on responsibility for the Free Software Foundation's (FSF) compliance lab ( Already, they are finding that having two people not only allows them to do more, but to organize more for future growth as well."Already, we're doing all the things Brett was doing and rolling out new projects," Gay and Robertson say. They are referring to Brett Smith, the former solo employee for the lab, who is now employed by the W3 Consortium. Under Smith and his lone predecessor David Turner, the compliance lab developed the policy of focusing on education and assistance rather than...
When Marketing Experience Lends Perspective

Jul 06, 2012 GMT

Over the years, I've endured my share of jokes about having worked in marketing. Never mind that it's only one of many fields in which I've worked, nor that I always tried  to work from a technical understanding of what I was promoting; the average marketer and programmer think so differently that the ribbing is inevitable. I'm just glad that so much of it has been good-natured. But part of me has always been slightly ashamed of my marketing experience -- until this last week, when I realized that knowing a little about marketing has twice helped me to keep me some perspective when those around me were losing theirs.The first occasion was the Google Glass demo last week...
Thinking about Alan Turing

Jun 28, 2012 GMT

You don't often hear about lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals, and queers (LGBTQ) in free software. Like the rest of the community, they're too busy contributing to their projects of choice. However, this past week, two events have emphasized the fact that they exist.The first event is the centenary of Alan Turing's birth. If you know anything about the history of computing, you must have heard of him: the builder of proto-computers, the cryptographer primarily responsible for cracking the German Enigma code in World War 2, and the inventor of the Turing Test for evaluating artificial intelligence.What you may not known was that, found guilty of the victimless crime of...

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