tobias_platen's blog


Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

5 Years of Freedom with OpenPOWER

Thursday, 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

Thursday, 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?

Thursday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Friday, 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.

Spotify is Defective by Design

Saturday, October 12th, 2019

I never used Spotify, since it contains DRM. Instead I still buy DRM-free CDs.
Most of my audio collection is stored in free formats such as FLAC and Ogg Vorbis,
or Red Book in the case of CDs, everything can be played by free players such as
VLC or mpd.

Spotify, which uses a central server, also spies on the listener. Everytime you
listen a song, Spotify knows which song you have listened and when and where.
By contrast free embedded operating systems such as Rockbox do not phone home.
CDs can be baught anonymously and ripped using free software, there is no need
for an internet commection.

Defective by Design recommends the book “Spotify Teardown” which I haven’t read
yet. The book is an innovative investigation of the inner workings of Spotify that
traces the transformation of audio files into streamed experience.

The world’s most advanced UNICs of Organizers

Thursday, February 14th, 2019

I recently began using Emacs Org mode, a tool for keeping notes, maintaining TODO lists, planning projects, and authoring documents with a fast and effective plain-text system.

Since I am a cosplayer I was looking for a repacement for Cosplanner, a non-free Android app. When I was still using Android, I once installed Cosplanner and found out that it has many nasty features. So I deleted my copy. Unlike Cosplanner, Orgmode uses a human readable text format that you can read with any text editor. This allows the user to store an Orgmode file in a git repository that can be synced between devices.

Emacs was written by Richard Stallman as part of the GNU Operating System. GNU is a Unix-compatible system that respects the users freedom. Todays GNU comes mainly in form of a GNU/Linux distribution, but the Hurd (GNU’s Kernel) still exists. The Guix System Distribution is one of those, it is often called the Emacs of Distros. There are many text editors, but Emacs is probably the worlds most advanced one.

#ilovefs #unicorn

No Netflix on my Smart TV

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

When I went to the Conrad store in Altona, I saw that new Sony Smart TVs come with a Netflix button on the remote.
Since I oppose DRM, I would never buy such a thing. I would only buy a Smart TV that Respects My Freedom, but such a thing does not exist.
Instead I use a ThinkPad T400 as an external TV tuner and harddisk recorder, since my old TV set does not support DVB-C. As a DVB-C tuner I use the
FRITZ!WLAN Repeater DVB‑C which works well with the free VLC player. Since it lacks a CI+ slot, it cannot decode DRM encumbered streams.

When Netflix was founded in 1998 they initially only offered rental DVDs only. Today most DVDs can be played on GNU/Linux using libdvdcss.
Even if most DVDs that Netflix offers do not contain strong DRM, Netflix is still a surveillance system that requires proprietary JavaScript.
When I buy DVDs, I go to a store where I can pay using cash.

The Thinkpad T400 has no HDMI port and “management engine” back door is removed by installing Libreboot. Most modern Intel systems come with a HDMI port.
HDMI comes with some kind of DRM called HDCP which was developed by Intel. On newer hardware the “management engine” is used to implement video DRM.
Netflix in 4K only works on Kaby-Lake processors, which implement the latest version of Intels hardware DRM.

Two years of terminal device freedom

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

On August 1, 2016 a new law that allows clients of German internet providers to use any terminal device they choose entered into force. Internet service providers (ISPs) are now required to give users any information you need to connect an alternative router. In many other EU countries there is still no such law and the Radio Lockdown Directive is compulsory in all those countries. In Germany there the old “Gesetz über Funkanlagen und Telekommunikationsendeinrichtungen” is now replaced with the new “Funkanlagengesetz”.

Routers that use radio standards such as WiFi and DECT fall under the Radio Lockdown Directive and since the European Commission did not pass a delegated act yet there is no requirement to implement a lock down for current hardware. Many WiFi chipsets require non-free firmware, future generations of that non-free firmware could be used to lock down all kinds of Radio Equipment. Radio Equipment that comes with the Respects Your Freedom hardware product certification is 2.4GHz only in many cases, but some hardware that supports 5 GHz does exist.

Voice over IP (VoIP) is supported by most alternative routers and free software such as Asterisk. Since most ISPs and routers use SIP it is now possible to connect modern VoIP telephones directly to routers such as the FritzBox. Many compulsory routers such as the O2 Box 6431 use SIP internally, but it is not possible to connect external SIP phones with the stock firmware. So some users install OpenWRT on their box to get rid of those restrictions. Some ISPs in the cable market don’t use SIP, but an incompatible protocol called EuroPacketCable which is unsupported by most alternative routers.

Many set-top boxes used for TV streaming use Broadcom chips which offer a bad Free Software support. TV streaming could be done with free software, but many channels are scrambled requiring non-free software to unscramble. Old hardware such as the Media-Receiver Entry may become obsolete when the Telekom stops offering Start TV in 2019. No ISP publishes the interface descriptions for TV streaming, even if they could do so for the DRM-free channels. It is possible to use Kodi to watch those DRM free channels, but many features such as an Electronic Program Guide (EPG) do not work with IP TV streaming.

With this new law users now have a “freedom of choice” but they do not have full “software freedom” because many embedded devices still use proprietary software. Freedom respecting terminal device are rare and often they do not implement all features a user needs. Old analogue telephones sold in the 90s did not have any of those problems.

Robotnik Utaite – A modern Singing Computer

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

Hatsune Miku is now 10 years old, but I do not use the Vocaloid Software,
because it is non-free. It’s note editor that is not fully accessibile.
The other Singing Computer from Milan Zamazal is no longer maintained
and only supports English and Czech languages and singing-mode.scm is broken
in modern distributions of GNU/Linux.

So I decided to replace the Festival Speech Synthesis System with a patched
espeak-ng that has its own Singing Mode and Sinsy as a MusicXML parser.
The user can type in Lilypond sourcecode in Emacs. Robotnik Utaite, the new
Singing Computer that I am currently working on uses python-ly to convert
Lilypond source code into MusicXML.

I also plan to package this software for GNU Guix, a new
package management tool that is much more advanced than pacman and apt.
Therefore I won’t provide any binary packages for Trisquel or Parabola.