tobias_platen's blog

Tobias Alexandra Platen's software freedom blog

Meta Horizon OS, Replicant and the GPL

April 23rd, 2024

Meta Horizon OS is a variant of Android, which includes GPLed parts, including the kernel Linux. Replicant is a fully free variant of Android that can run on smartphones and other kinds of devices. As the maintainer of libsurvive I have been working on a port to Android/Replicant which is known to work well with the Rockchip RK3399.

A few weeks ago, I asked for the source code for the Oclulus-Linux kernel, but until now the Meta Quest does not comply with the GPL. So I plan to make my own device running Replicant and maybe Guix codenamed the Replica Quest. The Replica Quest will include a user interface called LibreVR Mobile and on my POWER9 system I use LibreVR Desktop. Any part that Meta releases as free software can be integrated into Replicant. Non-free parts need to be replaced, that will be hard work.

Talking more about Freedom not Less

February 14th, 2024

I don’t like the term “Open Source”, because it does not refer to freedom. When a computer program is labeled as “Free” (or “Free to Play” in the case of games) we have
the same problem that “Free” often means a price of zero. By contrast games such “Tanks of Freedom” and “Freedom Saber” really respect users freedom. So I try to avoid using free
as an adjective, and use the term “Freedom” instead: Instead of saying that something is “Free Software”, I say it respects the users freedom.

I Love Free Software Day 2024

February 14th, 2024

I recently did my first FOSDEM talk, about a Free Software project that I contribute to: Using the ECP5 for Libre-SOC prototyping. On the day before I met some of the GNU Guix developers. With this short blogpost I want to say a simple “Thank you” to those people I met at FOSDEM, and those who have started projects such as Libre-SOC, SlimeVR, CrazyFlie and Godot Engine.

Because I Love Free Software, I’ll started my own Free Software project called LibreVR. The FSFE’s sister organisations in North America, has a “Respects Your Freedom” certification program, and I recently have begun working on my hardware design for a wireless VR headset and will soon do regular live streams that document my work on Free Software VR games and hardware.

Avoiding nonfree DRM’d Games on GNU/Linux – International Day Against DRM

December 8th, 2023

As a proud user of an FSF-certified Talos II Mainboard and some Rockchip SBCs, I find that is has become easier to avoid using Stream, Valve’s platform for distibution of nonfree computer games with Digital Restrictions Management.

Since I cannot (and don’t want to) play any of the non-free games from Steam, I have begun developing my own games that bring freedom to the users. Some of those games are “clones” of popular nonfree VR games such as Beat Saber and VRChat.

I’m also going to sell copies of those games and hardware that I am currently working on. The games are copylefted Free Software and the hardware is designed with the Respects Your Freedom Certification in mind.

For me there is an ethical imperative to make the game art and hardware designs free too. I don’t think that those things have to be copylefted, as most GNU software is. The distribution service/site must also be ethical, which means that it is not SaaSS and does not send any non-free JavaScript.

I also plan to provide Windows binaries, cross compiled using MinGW and tested on Proton on my Opteron system. My goal here is giving users of Windows a taste of freedom.

I replaced Windows with GNU/Linux long time ago and want to encourage gamers to do the same. The first free game that I had on a Windows 3.1 as a child was GNU Chess. At that time I never heard about Linux and did not know what GNU is. But I started learning to program and wanted to make use of freedom 1.

Today I use GNU Guix which can run on any GNU/Linux distro and even Android. No nonfree software is needed to run libsurvive and spreadgine, so both can be included in Guix. Instead of Steam, I now use Guix for gaming.

When games included in Guix respect Freedom, this does not mean that users do not have to pay to play the games. Guix has substitutes for local builds, and users could either pay for those substitutes or build the game locally. Even when the artwork is non-free, downloading the artwork could be done without running any non-free javascript or other proprietary malware. The FSF* could run Crowdfunding campaings for freedom respecting games and host game servers on hardware that has been RYF certified.

People often think it is not feasible in the current situation to develop a free replacement for some of the most popular nonfree VR games including “VRChat”. But projects such as V-SekaiV-Sekai have proven that this is not the case, free games can be developed and users who value freedom will only play those free games and reject the nonfree games.

Since I want to promote the cause of freedom in gaming, I am settung up a website which lists only libre games that can run on GNU/Linux and/or liberated
consoles. The page includes integration for GNU Taler so that users can donate or buy games and/or RYFed gaming hardware, including a future Guix Deck.

I love Free Software – and Free Hardware Designs

February 14th, 2023

For many years I have been using free software. I remember that one of my first GNU programs that I used was a chess game, ported to 16bit Windows. Many years later I switched to GNU/Linux and started programming myself, and also releasing my software under strong copyleft licences. I also discovered that many popular distros of GNU/Linux include non-free firmware. So I began contributing to GNU Guix, a fully free distro of the GNU System that excludes nonfree firmware blobs, nonfree games, and any other nonfree software.

Unfortunately many hardware vendors, including AMD, NVIDIA and Intel starting making their hardware Defective By Design, by implementing HDCP, a kind of hardware-level Digital Restrictions Management. Even if you never watch Netflix, you will be restricted by the non-free firmware, required to use their CPUs and GPUs. If we want to eliminate that form of hardware-level DRM, we will have to design our own Freedom-Respecting hardware. A few years after I baught my Talos II, I began contributing to the Libre-SOC project.

After switching to the POWER9, it was clear that I would not be able to play the nonfree DRM’d games that Valve distributes on their platform Steam. And I didn’d want to either. So I started porting existing free software games to the ppc64el architecture, including VR games such as V-Sekai and BeepSaber. I discovered that there was a libre-licensed SteamVR clone called libsurvive that implements libre licensed lighthouse-based tracking. So I baught my Valve Index, installed libsurvive and started playing with Godot4.

Today is 愛 ♥ Free Software Day 2023, which aims at raising awareness to Free Software and the passionate, hard-working people behind it. So I want to thank Luke Kenneth Casson Leighton who started the Libre-SOC project and Charles Lohr for their work on libsurvive. Last year the FSFE had an event dedicated to Free Software games, where we played Veloren, a libre licenced voxel game. The game was really fun, so I want to show my appreciation for their work. The same is true for SlimeVR/monado and Yosys/nextpnr. 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍⚧️💛🤍💜🖤

5 Years of Freedom with OpenPOWER

September 15th, 2022

5 years ago I preorded my Talos II from Raptor Computing Systems. The Talos II is a POWERful system built from the ground up with freedom in mind. In one of its PCIe 4.0 slots, I plugged an AMD Radeon RX 5700 (Navi 10) which I mainly use for playing VR games, but also for multi monitor setups, faster video decoding and many more. Unfortunately all modern graphics cards require non-free firmware, but currently the libre-soc project is developing an OpenPOWER hybrid CPU/VPU/GPU that comes with its own Vulkan drivers.

Currently the next candidate for Respects Your Freedom certification is the Arctic Tern, a BMC development kit for OpenPOWER systems. A prototype libre GPU can be implemented using two FPGAs, each one for one screen, with a resolution of up to 1920×1200. Currently I use an OrangeCrab for my work on libre-soc, I have no need for an Arctic Tern. I also have a BeagleWire, an FPGA development cape for the BeagleBone Black, using an ICE40 FPGA which is also found on the Valve Index and Talos II.

Unlike a modern x86-64, such as the Steam Deck, the Talos II can’t run Steam, so the is no way to play VR games such as Beat Saber, Blade & Sorcery or VRChat. Currenly I can only play the godot4_openxr_demo using Monado and Libsurvice, but I have begun doing a VR port of Minetest, a libre clone of Minecraft and I am also trying to get Godot Beep Saber VR working with my Valve Index using Monado. Currently Beep Saber only works with SteamVR and the Oculus Quest, both non-free platforms incompatible with OpenPOWER systems.

Since I want a mobile VR headset that works without any non-free software, I propose building one using libre-soc and the already existing Monado OpenXR stack. For both projects there is still much work todo. Hopefully the number of libre VR games will grow in the next few years, if more and more people switch to OpenPOWER and ethical distros. Since I avoid both Android and SteamOS, so I won’t buy the Oclulus Quest nor the Steam Deck. Once a libre VR headset exists, it could get Respects Your Freedom certification. In guess that that will be another 5 years.

Nonbinary Grammatical Gender and Nonboolean Logic

July 14th, 2022

For many years I have been a hobby linguist and also liked doing math. When learning French and Spanish long time ago, I discovered that Grammatical Gender is binary in these languages. Nouns are classified as female or male, a third neuter gender, as it exists in German does not exist. Adjectives and articles are gendered too. In Spanish and French the World (el mundo/le monde) while in German we say die Welt. German also has neuter as in Das U-Boot (a well known boot loader). Old English was gendering too, but in many cases this has been dropped. Other languages such as Finnish and Esperanto do not have a grammatical gender, or more precisely it is unary in these languages. Only one form exists. In Finnish the Moon is called kuu and in esperanto she is called Luno. Luno is derived from latin Luna, a Luna is the divine embodiment of the Moon. In many langues including Spanish and Russion Luna/луна is female. Not so in German where we say der Mond. In Esperanto Luno sound male, but remember there is no gender in that language. The o at the end just indicates that Luno is a noun.

When I studied computer science I heard of “Aussagenlogik” which has two truth values. Those are True (Die Wahrheit) and False (Der Widerspruch) often represented as bits (binary digits). At that time I had never heard the term Nonbinary, but I had heard of Nonboolean Fuzzy Logic and Quantum Computing. In my head I added a third truth value Unknown (Das Unbekannte) which uses the third neuter gender. When one operand of a binary operator is unknown, the whole result becoms unknown. With Quantum Computing we do not have bits, instead qbits which are superpositions of one and zero. My gender feels the same, it is a superposition of both male and female, so I prefer to call myself genderqueer.

What’s in a pronoun?

March 31st, 2022

Today is Transgender Day of Visibility, and I am nonbinary Transgender.

I recently told people that I now prefer they/them, or any other gender neutral pronoun, such as spivak (e). But he/she is OK, depending on context too. Since I still go by my masculine name, most people use masculine pronouns.

In German there is no standardized neuter pronoun, I go by er/sie but strongly prefer er. By contrast Finnish has no binary gendered pronous, the only one is hän, a gender neutral pronoun. When I started learning Finnish I had difficulty translating that pronoun. The use of hän does not misgender anyone, wheather they are nonbinary or not. German has ternary grammitical gender, er (masculine), sie (feminine) and es (neuter).
The neuter pronoun is not commonly used to refer to a person, only tho things and persons in some cases.

Somtimes I am a women, sometimes a men, often both at the same time, so both pronouns are correct for me, so strictly speaking using one of those pronouns is not misgendering in my case. Still I prefer neutral pronous, as those do not misgender anyone.

I mostly present masculine, but I do have a feminine voice, so that I can pass as a woman on the phone. I consider my voice more androgynous or in the upper part of the male range, which overlaps with the lower female range. When I first passed as a women that way I was unware of being Transgender and told poeple my masculine name, they were confused, because they were expecing a person with a masculine name not to be a women. At that time, I began cosplaying female characters, wearing red lipstick and nail polish.

Later after more people I know came out as trans, or nonbinary, I knew that I was nonbinary too and began exploring the use of different names, using different pronouns for each name. I was a grammer geek long before, and once in Star Trek when Riker tried to avoid personal pronouns, I liked that.

Tobias Alexandra Platen (he/she/they) or short Alex (they/them only)

why I do not buy the Oculus Quest

October 6th, 2021

Oculus is part of Facebook, a company that does many evil things including surveillance, censorship and tax avoidance, The Quest cannot be used without a Facebook account and it runs Android, a nonfree OS. Installing a free OS such as PureOS or the GUIX system seems to be impossible, since the bootloader is most likely locked down. Of course I don’t want to play nonfree games such as VRChat, which most likely spy on the player. By contrast VSekai is free software built on top of the Godot engine. The Godot engine runs on my Talos II and most likely it will also run on the Librem 5, and future hardware based on the Libre-SOC which I have been contributing to. Cardboard is great if ungoogled.

Why I am not using Grindr

February 14th, 2020

Grindr is proprietary software that only runs on Android and iOS. It also depends on a centralized server infrastructure that stores data in unencrypted form. The company that hosts Grindr, Amazon is known for violating users privacy. Grindr also sends data to Third-Party Websites and is known for sharing users HIV status without their consent. The terms of use and privacy policy are much too long (about 50 pages), therefore most users don’t read them. If a user has read only parts of those terms, they should become suspect that Grindr violates their privacy and not use the service. I think that sensitive information should be visible only to the intended recipients and not the administrators of any servers or routers, therefore I never use Grindr.

To share such sensitive information I could only use copylefted free software such as GNUnet, which has strong privacy guarantees. In GNUnet every communication is end to end encrypted and metadata leakage is minimized. This is important today where secret services such as the NSA kill on metadata. GNUnet provides social scalability while protecting metadata and it allows users to have multiple unlinkable Egos. It also uses public key cryptography which is inherently more secure than using passwords. Systems such as Alovoa still use passwords and depend on email which is unencrypted by default. Even if used with GPG email leaks metadata. Since GNUnet is a peer to peer network no centralized servers storing data of millions of users are needed. It also provides a replacement for centralized identity providers such as Facebook that act as a kind of password store. When you send personal data to Facebook, the NSA gets the data anyway and they can abuse it for killing people. Please do not do that.