tobias_platen's blog

Tobias Alexandra Platen's software freedom blog

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The other Singing Computer from Milan Zamazal is no longer maintained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

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.