Its really not very difficult (or time consuming) to find out who it is.
It's highly selective though. There are some great Hackers who have passed away recently and get no black bar at all. I guess you don't want to do it every single day, but then why do it at all ?
In fact I've just arbitrarily decided that it is, because there is no official word either way. If I go off and do research into what happened today Brussels makes just as much or as little sense as Andy Grove. Both are on the front page.
Anyone who disagrees needs to show me why it is an Andy Grove bar instead of a Brussels bar? And, yes, I am intentionally being obstinate to make a point.
Edit: FWIW I as a blind user didn't notice the bar. Glad this story pointed it out. Kind of wish HN would update its layout to be more accessible. There are a ton of aspects of HN that are entirely unusable or painful--no easy way to navigate comments by thread, no accessible indication of downvote status, no easy accessible way to scan the front page other than pressing tab 6-7 times to navigate between entry titles... I suppose some of that isn't a huge deal--I just don't notice or care about downvotes and speak my mind (within reason) as a result--but the whole tabbing half a dozen times to hear each new headline is a bit ridiculous.
Anyhow, sorry to derail the black bar discussion. Respects to the deceased, but I'd still like to see HN become more accessible and inclusive. When you literally can't notice things like this then they become aspects of a community you aren't included in.
IMNHO Not at all! Just like I love the fact that someone that didn't realize the meaning of the bar, simply asked (and so helped others figured it out), I love your input on accessibility. I'm sure I'm not the only one that hadn't considered the accessibility implications of such "semantic" style/design choices. FWIW, I think it's a bit crazy to use a table with a 1px image and background colour (if I'm reading the source right?), when a "border-top: thick solid black" would do the trick. But then again, HN does stick to a strict 90s table-layout. That still leaves out the question of where/how to communicate the change to those that are vision impaired.
I wish development of the HN code was a bit more open - as far as I know, the current code, has evolved a bit from what's currently readily accessible as FOSS -- but doing something with the layout to help accessibility while still staying true to the spirit of HN really shouldn't be that hard. And I'm sure the result would be greatly helped by some of HN readers that are able to do the change themselves, for themselves.
As for general accessibility, I think everyone would want vote-buttons that work (I'm using vimperator, so on Desktop, it doesn't really matter if the arrows are invisible on a big monitor - I just know that the "first" link-hint is "up", and the second is "down", indications of which way one voted (and a grace period to change/cancel), and a way to hide threads.
The latter is especially useful if the first comment on a story is a controversial tangent.
As for the black bar: Having those that change the bar submit a story at the same time (eg: the "Andy Glover has died"-story that was on the front page earlier), and have the bar link to the HN submission might not be a bad idea. We sadly live in a time where it might not be obvious, even in a relatively small community, for who or what the black bar express sympathy.
 "Anarki: a publicly modifiable 'wiki-like' fork of Arc Lisp (http://www.paulgraham.com/arc.html)"
 "Ask HN: Is the Hacker News Team Actively Developing Arc?"
What's that you say? But I'm writing this on HN? Oh right, er, uh..
/me takes his own advice and closes HN.
It's like flying a flag at half-mast; you don't attach a sign with the person's name.
Unless you know what it is, it's really not obvious at all. A flag at half-mast is a commonly known thing, someone important died. A 5 pixel black bar at the top of a site is not used anywhere but here.
Insularity, exclusion and gradually-learned shared secrets and customs are one of the ways communities define, distinguish, and stabilize themselves.
I recall black bars being used on various sites, although usually not for individuals. Similar to black mourning bands worn on clothing, or how sometimes newspapers will print black front pages. Black isn't a universal colour for death and mourning across cultures of course, but it is rather universal in western cultures at least.
At any rate, as I mentioned in another comment, I'm glad people ask when they don't know. And I'm not convinced having a link to an obituary wouldn't be a good thing, but apparently some people feel strongly against it.
You either know what it means or you don't. Did you know what a flag at half-mast meant the first time you saw it too? You learn what it means and move on.
Regardless of what you say it's not obvious... If it was there wouldn't be this thread.
I am aware of what the black bar represents however it is not always consistently used. for example, Ian Murdock who I consider to have a great impact on GNU/Linux in general was not given one after his passing.
The black bar is an admin/moderator decision, and because it's not applied to all front page deaths, it's hard for headline skimmers to associate the black bar with a consistent pattern.
That is why the black bar confused me - it's when the black bar isn't there that throws me off, because it makes me doubt the assumption that someone died.
Like an4rchy mentioned here in a comment, yesterday I thought it was "a styling issue or maintenance mode etc", and had to google it to learn about it. Not really intuitive.
EDIT to your EDIT: "a flag at half-mast" has shared meaning among sailors. I'm not so sure about an innocuous black bar on a website.
So you're okay with these threads every time there's a black bar?
The black bar is not at all obvious in its intent. I don't see why it should remain that way.
The fundamental problem with the non-discoverability is that it means that you're either one of the in-group people who knows who Andy Grove is and that he died yesterday, or you're an outsider and not a real Hacker News family member. If that's the approach to community HN wants to take, that's fine, but then why are there three stories about Andy Grove's death if all the real HN commenters already know that?
<td bgcolor="#000000" title="Andy Grove (1936 – 2016)">
Edit: The tooltip mentioned above is an even better idea.
In this case Andy Grove - one of the fathers of Silicon Valley.
May he rest in peace.
EDIT: just putting [black bar] into the search box tells you why the black bar is there. Sorting by date tells you who died.
1. Scroll all the way to the bottom and casually scan everything on the page. This is also useful for when you are just unfamiliar with an interface and don't have a specific feature that you are looking for.
2. "CTRL-F", type the name of the feature you are looking for and press return. In this case you would have typed "CTRL-F", "search" and then pressed the return key. If you do this on the front page right now the first thing you will notice is the word "search" next to the sort of text box frequently used for entering search terms.
Can we please get native collapsible threads here?
edit: Also I just attempted to use an emoji for the first time here, and it was stripped. ????
edit2: I thought it was a simple design update, had no idea it was a tribute. RIP Andy Grove.
(It's usually one of the first as well)
I agree an association would be helpful (is it for Andy Grove or for Belgium, for example)
But it is not hard to find the association
Luckily, the black bar doesn't appear as a weekly occurrence. When it does appear, the community can explain it well enough.
In this case, no one is saying that you can't mourn more than one event. Incidentally, the site administrators are most concerned with events that directly relate to Silicon Valley. That is just the context that they operate from and is not a statement of values.
Perhaps adding a tooltip would be a subtle way to provide more info.