tobias_platen's blog

Tobias Alexandra Platen's software freedom blog

The world’s most advanced UNICs of Organizers

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

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

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

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.

DRM free Smart TV

July 9th, 2017

Today is Day against DRM, so I’ll post a short update about a DRM free TV set construction that I have build in the last two month.

My TV set only supports DVB-T and old analogue cable TV. Because I don’t want to buy a new one with even harder DRM and the patented H.265 codec, I am now using Kodi to watch TV. Kodi is free software and runs on a ThinkPad T400, which I also use as a DVD player. I installed Libreboot and removed the internal screen, which caused problems with the external TV set connected via VGA.

Libreboot is a free BIOS replacement which removes the Intel Management Engine. The Intel Management Engine is proprietary malware which includes a back door and some DRM functions. Netflix uses this hardware DRM called the Protected Audio/Video Path on Windows 10 when watching 4K videos. The Thinkpad T400 does not even have an HDMI port, which is known to be encumbered by HDCP, an ineffective DRM that has been cracked.

Instead of using DRM encumbered streaming services such as Netflix, Entertain or Vodafone TV, I still buy DVDs and pay them anonymously with cash. In my home there is a DVB-C connector, which I have connected to a FRITZ!WLAN Repeater DVB-C which streams the TV signal to the ThinkPad. The TV set is switched on and off using a FRITZ!DECT 200 which I control using a python script running on the ThinkPad. I also reuse an old IR remote and an IRDuino to control the ThinkPad.

Compulsory Routers, the EU Radio Lockdown Directive and transition to DVB-T2

March 28th, 2017

DVB-T will be switched off on 29/03/2017. I have seen ads for freenet TV,
for which I would need a new DRM-encumbered receiver. Of course I won’t
buy such a thing and use a different technology instead. I have a DVB-C terminal
in one room, but my TV set is in the other one. So I thought I could transmit
the TV signal from the source to a Raspberry Pi connected
to the TV set. On the other side there is a FRITZ!WLAN Repeater DVB‑C which
is compatible to free software Applications such as Kodi and VLC.

From June 2017 the FRITZ!WLAN Repeater DVB‑C is compliant with the directives
2014/53/EU, 2009/125/EC and 2011/65/EU. The first one replaces old directives
and is called the EU Radio Lockdown Directive. This directive harms Freifunk
and many other free software projects. As there is no standard for 5 GHz WLAN
many companies fear that they won’t be allowed to sell those products legally.
The FRITZ!WLAN Repeater DVB‑C also has 5 GHz WLAN, but I only use 2.4 GHz,
because 5GHz WLAN hardware does not work well with GNU/Linux yet. The AR9271
chipset has free firmware and only supports 2.4 GHz. It works well with the
Linux-Libre kernel and it’s firmware can be modified to support new features such as mesh networks.

I recently replaced my compulsory router (an Arcadyan VGV7510KW22) with a FRITZ!Box 7430.
If you have an Enterain or Vodafone TV packet you can also watch TV using VLC.
An IP-TV compatible router (such as a Fritzbox) is needed,
a set-top-box is often included for no additional cost when you switch to NGN.
But I don’t want to use a pay TV product which requires me to use TiVo Hardware.
TiVo (formerly Rovi Corporation and Macrovision Solutions Corporation) is one
of those companies that uses a locked down GNU/Linux operating system on their
digital video recorders (DVR). Macrovision was an analogue copy protection for
video tapes (VHS). Rovi is mentioned in the manual of the Vodafone TV Center.
So if I switch to Vodafone I won’t buy the TV packet, and I may not get the
multicast IP streams which contain the TV program. In any case I will have to
pay for the cable TV terminal, which is part of my apartment. The repeater
only supports unencrypted (DRM-free) TV, so I payed 86 Euros once instead
of 8 Euros per month for an encumbered pay TV product that I won’t use.

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