tobias_platen's blog

Just another GNUstep users blog

Freedom to repair.

February 15th, 2017

On the I love Free Software day iFixit posted an article “iFixit Loves Repair”. For me repair is freedom. The freedom to repair is just as important as Stallman’s four freedoms. I think that computers should come with free repair manuals.

Many Apple products are hard to impossible to repair. Repair at certified shops is expensive, but you can repair them yourself if you use tools and manuals from iFixit.
I once had a Mac that had a mechanical defect and I could not buy replacement parts and I did not have a repair manual at that time.
But I was able to change the battery without using any tools.
With newer hardware such as the iThings users cannot replace the battery without the use of a special screwdriver for the pentalobe screws.
In the Apple world everything is proprietary. The Lightning connector is only found on Apple hardware and incompatible with standardized USB ports.
There is also an authentification chip that implements a hardware DRM. By contrast the Fairphone uses USB which has a standardizes charging protocol.
You just need to add an 200 Ohms resistor between the data lines and connect the two power lines to 5 Volts. I once built this circuit on a breadboard.
Changing the battery is easy, no tools are needed.

Fairphone Fixed

On many laptops it is not easy to replace the harddisk, keyboard or RAM. But on some ThinkPads supported by libreboot you have only to remove four screws to replace the keyboard.
Flashing libreboot for the first time requires removing more screws, but this only needs to be done once.

Open Thinkpad running libreboot. This little chip here is the keyboard controller

Free software replacement for UTAU nearly completed

January 30th, 2016

In 2011 I discovered UTAU, a proprietary singing synthesizer from Japan that is similar to VOCALOID, but limited to the Japanese language. It is available gratis, has no DRM and it’s voicebank format is documented, but it is still proprietary. It requires a Japanese 8-Bit locale, which is unable to encode European Umlauts. I installed UTAU using Wine, and began to reverse engineer the UST file format, which was really easy for me in this case. I also discovered that the developers of VOCALOID, had released their Spectral Modeling Synthesis Tools as free software under the terms of the GNU GPL. So I wrote a parser for the UST format, and used that parser in my smsUTAU resampler. I also wrote a first replacement for UTAU’s graphical user interface, using the cross platform toolkit Qt.

After I had done my first attempt to replace UTAU, I found two other free software singing synthesizers and a GUI written in Java. I found out that Debian includes Cadencii, which can be used as a replacement for the VOCALOID editor. It was originally written to allow Mac users to run the proprietary VOCALOID software on their incompatible proprietary OS, but it has been ported to GNU/Linux, and it can be used with v.Connect-STAND, an advanced indepedent UTAU resampler that is released under the GNU GPL. The second free singing synthesizer is eCantorix, which lacks a graphical frontend. In the meantime I found out that a group of UTAU users, had released an improved version of my first graphical frontend, but this one did not include a workig synthesizer. They decided to write the program from scratch, using an advanced design. I also found out that Trisquel GNU/Linux incudes Cadencii, but the freedom bugs are not solved until now. Because Cadencii is written in Java, it is extremely inflexible, making it hard to add new features.

In the meantime the QTau devgroup had stopped working on the free software replacements that I had stated in 2011, so I decided to fork their editor and add support for both existing synthesizers (ecantorix and v.Connect-STAND). I began adding new features such as Jack Transport, so that QTau can syncronized with other applications such as Ardour and Rosegarden. I plan to add NSM support in the next release. I created a git repository on and encourage anyone to install the free UTAU replacement. I will publish prebuilt binaries as part of Ongakunix, a Free GNU/Linux distribution with special emphasis on music production. My version of the program only runs on GNU/Linux, there is no support for Windows.

How I do my computing in freedom (GPLv3 x 10 = The Free Software Foundation turns 30)

October 4th, 2015

1 I use a Libreboot X200 computer with Trisquel GNU/Linux.

2 Trisquel GNU/Linux is my preferred GNU/Linux distro, because of its usability.

3 I use the GNOME Desktop that is included in Trisquel.

4 I read and send mail with Icedove. I run my own mail server on a virtual machine.

5 I browse the Web using an unbranded version of Firefox and I use plugins to block non-free javascript and tracking cookies. I use Greasemonkey to run userscripts instead.

6 First time that I used free software was GNUChess on Windows 3.1 twenty years ago. Today I never use Windows, I use Wine instead.

7 I use VLC to break the DRM on DVDs, for High-Definition Video I recommend Lib-Ray.

8 I have never had a Facebook account and I do not use Skype, instead I use RetroShare as a replacement.

9 People sometimes ask me to recommend an email service. I can recommend FSF-endorsed Posteo.

X As a software developer I prefer the GNU GPL v3, because of its stong copyleft.

Why I won’t buy the Purism Librem

September 22nd, 2015

Purism claims to respect your privacy, security, and freedom. Unfortunately those laptops use the latest Intel hardware which requires non-free blobs in order to boot. This makes it impossible to run libreboot on these laptops. These computers come with the Intel Management Engine (ME), which is a serious threat to users freedom and privacy. The claim to be able to unlock the ME, so that one can use those computers without that disloyal technology. Because the boot-firmware is non-free, they won’t be able to respect the users freedom. PureOS 2.0 seems to be based on Debian GNU/Linux which is a non-free distribution. Older versions of PureOS were based on Trisquel GNU/Linux, which I use since 2013 on a ThinkPenguin laptop. Some ThinkPenguin products respect the users freedom, but their laptops do not, because their boot firmware is non-free. The also talk about “Free and Open Source Software”, but Open Source misses the point of free software. Because software freedom is important for me, I decided to buy the Libreboot X200 that Respects Your Freedom. That GNU-Free laptop is also much cheaper than the Purism Librem.
Freedom status of Purism and Minifree

Skype is broken! GNUnet Conversation will restore user freedom and privacy

September 21st, 2015

Skype is an centralized service that requires a nonfree client program. Because of the centralisation it is easy to eavesdrop on calls. Because the software is nonfree the developer has power over the users. Insted of using Skype one should use Free Software replacement such as GNUnet Conversation which provides end-to-end encryption. Decentralized networks such as GNUnet are also more resilent against outages because every user can run his own personal node.

Why I still buy CDs

May 6th, 2015

I do not use iTunes because it is non-free software. While iTunes music is DRM-Free, other media distributed through iTunes contain DRM. iTunes also has long EULAs which further restrict what you can do with the music. If you buy a CD in a store there is no such EULA and you can pay anonymously with cash. iTunes does not accept cash, they only accept credit cards which tell Big Brother about your purchases and gift card which are known to be insecure. Therefore I do not use iTunes, instead I buy CDs in a store or directly from artists who self publish their music.

As an anime fan I often go to conventions where you can easily buy CDs with Japanese music (including VOCALOID music). Many VOCALOID producers sell their music online using iTunes, while others offer gratis copies for download after you have liked them on Facebook which is a Monstrous Surveillance Engine. Because I don’t like surveillance, I never used Facebook. The only way to support these artists is buying a CD. I also started writing my own music using only free software, and I plan to sell physical copies of my music at anime conventions.

I don’t use VOCALOID because it is non-free software with DRM and a surveillance feature. I also think that there is need for a free iTunes replacement, where one can pay anonymously with GNU Taler and download copies of the music in patent free formats such as FLAC and Ogg Vorbis.

My first LV2 plugin

January 24th, 2015

My first LV2 plugin

Recently I wrote my first LV2 plugin. It’s an additive singing synthesizer similar to Madde by Svante Granqvist but it also uses the Excitation plus Resonance voice model that is used by VOCALOID. It runs in realtime and it can be controlled using a MIDI keyboard. But it can also act as a placeholder for the singing voice in an Ardour project when composing songs.

LV2 is a plugin standard for free software developers that allows decentralized extensibility. It is a replacment for the older LADSPA and DSSI plugin standards that are commonly used with older DAWs such as Rosegarden and LMMS. Unlike other well known plugin standards such as VST there are no licencing restrictions in LV2. There is a small program called Jalv which connects your LV2 plugins to Jack and makes testing easy. It is also possible to combine multiple plugins and applications using Patchage which allows you to make modular synthesizers.

The MaddeLOID plugin is part of my work on free virtual singer project which aims at building a free software replacement for both VOCALOID and UTAU. There are already some free programs such as jcadencii, vConnect-STAND and Sinsy, but most of them lack flexibility and support for other languages than Japanese. Therefore I started writing my own programs that fill the gap and improving existing ones where it should be done. New features such as Non-Session Management and Jack Transport are likely to be added to the QTau Editor, which currently lacks both a working synthesizer and a lyricizer. I dedided to use eSpeak as the speech synthesis backend, which does two different things. First words are converted to phonetic symbols, and in the second step the waveform is generated. Then WORLD is used to change the length of the notes and to apply vibrato and portamento. All of my programs and related documentation can be cloned from my gitorious.

Sync your Fairphone or any other Android phone with your GNU/Linux computer

May 11th, 2014

Some years ago when I had a Mac I was using iTunes. Then Apple introduced the iPhone and I decided not buy one, as there are to many restrictions. Instead I choose Android which is much better for freedom. But Android devices do not sync with iTunes because Apple does not want them to sync with iTunes. This is a clear example for an antifeature in the non-free iTunes software. The iJails won’t play patent- and DRM-free formats like Ogg Vorbis and WEBM. But my music collection is partly in Ogg Vorbis and allmost all Android devices do support Ogg Vorbis. Android also supports M3U playlists which are an Open Standard while the iThings use a proprietery format for playlists. After switching to I wrote some little scripts me to automatically synchronize my Fairphone with my music library. These scripts use adb push so your device does not to be in USB storage mode. Therefore you have to enable USB debugging. You can download the scripts from my Gitorious page. I dont have an M3U editor so I use tools such as grep and find for playlist creation.

If you can’t open it, you don’t [have freedom]

February 14th, 2014

Today is #ilovefs day, and Fairphone released their kernel under the GPL so that users have the freedom to build custom kernels. You can also build your own kernel modules without the risk of bricking your phone. Running your Android phone with free software is important, as spyware is commonly found in nonfree software. Many smartphones implement DRM and/or violate the GPL, but the Fairphone does not. It still runs non-free software and there is no modem isolation, so it has the same problems as many other smartphones. Unlike other phones it does not come with the Google-Apps preinstalled, and you can install F-Droid and use it with only free apps. Installing a different OS such as Debian GNU/Linux is also possible. It does not respect your freedom, but it is a step in the right direction.

GNU/Linux on mobile devices and single board computers

January 5th, 2014

One year ago I baught an A13-OLinuXino-WIFI. This version of the board comes with a nonfree distribution of Android, but you can also boot other operating systems, such as Debian GNU/Linux and FreeBSD. Recently I ordered a freedom respecing WIFI adapter from that I will use as a replacement for the Nonfree Wifi. This adapter is not supported by Android so I installed GNU/Linux on the internal NAND. I will have to install the free firmware, it is not included by default in GNU/Linux. Most mobile Android devices ship with nonfree software, for some devices it is impossible to install free software other than userland software from F-Droid.

Android is mosty non copylefted free software, a few components are copylefted (Linux and ALSA sound stack) while important drivers are nonfree in most cases. Vendors often preinstall proprietery applications such as Skype, Flash Player and the Facebook app.
Many SoC manufacturers do not allow users to install modified versions of Android such as Cyanogenmod and Replicant. Allwinner SoCs are different, as they can dual boot GNU/Linux and Android. Just insert an sdcard that contains Debian and reboot into freedom. With the new version of the bootloader it should be also possible to install GNU/Linux on the internal NAND flash.

Google and Cyanogenmod describe Android as Open Source, but Open Source misses the point of Free Software. There is no Android device that respects your freedom. The replicant project seems not to have the resources to develop its own device. There is the Vivaldi Tablet designed to run GNU/Linux. Godelico smartphones can run either Debian or Replicant.
The Fairphone is another rootable Android device, and it should be possible to run Debian and Replicant side by side on the device. Those devices can run free software, but some functionality often depends on nonfree Software. But hackers are working on free software replacements for most nonfree components.

Android is also used on many digital audio players and tablets. Unlike smartphones those devices are not tracking devices as there is no modem. Some tablets come with mobile internet, so you should not buy such a device if you don’t want to be tracked. You can use an external 3G dongle if you need mobile internet access. It seems that some Android devices do not support external 3G dongles, so the only tablet that I can recommond is the Vivaldi. If you need Android then you should buy a Vivaldi and ask for Replicant support.

Most Android devices come with nonfree firmware blobs in the kernel. Some preinstalled applications and userland libraries are also nonfree. Some versions of Cyanogenmod include their own nonfree applications. You can install F-Droid as a free replacement for Google Play. If you buy a new Android device phone you should buy one that is supported by replicant. I chose a Fairphone as a replacement for my unstable HTC Dream. I installed a SIP app as a replacement, so I can still use it as cordless phone in my home.

Android does not include GNU, it uses its own GUI and system libraries. So it is not easy to run software written for GNU/Linux, especially if X11 is used. The android kernel blocks services such as avahi, you will need an unlocked bootloader and a kernel without paranoid networking restrictions to run such programs. Even if you use a preinstalled GNU/Linux it is possible to get a precompiled kernel with Android networking restrictions. You will have to recompile the kernel from source to get a kernel without restrictions. There are some programs in F-Droid that help you to install Debian on your Android device. However, installing debian on the internal NAND flash is not possible with an App, you need to do it maually.

Many Android companies are known to violate the GPL. By contrast Allwinner complies with the GPL, both their bootloader and kernel are releases as free software. However you still need nonfree software when you first install Android into the NAND flash. Further upgrades to Replicant can be done without the use of nonfree software. Hackers are working on free software to flash those devices, but the software is currently usable.