Older blog entries for pabs3 (starting at number 42)

Delving into personal software freedom

Over on Planet Ubuntu there is a VRMS meme winding down. Usually I tend to think web log aggregator memes are an abomination, however, this one is a little more interesting, especially if Debian folk pick it up. It seems like many Planet Ubuntu posters require some non-free stuff, examples include; graphics and other drivers/firmware, Flash (Gnash/Swfdec aren't there yet), Sun Java (despite OpenJDK), RAR 3.0 archives, LHZ archives (despite jlha), Microsoft fonts (despite ttf-liberation), icon themes, ICC profiles, mind mapping, support for codec DLLs from Windows, VirtualBox drivers for Windows, the Opera web browser, games and other things. For Debian users, the popcon information pretty much confirms the above issues. Some other stuff Debian users use that isn't in Debian include; patented codecs, skype, acroread, the non-free version of VirtualBox and more.

Next, lets get in on the getting your meme on part. On my Dell Inspiron 6400 laptop I have following Debian non-free/contrib stuff installed; firmware-iwlwifi, gcc-doc, gcc-doc-base, gcc-4.3-doc, autoconf-doc, gdb-doc, make-doc. On my OpenMoko FreeRunner phone I have nothing installed from Debian non-free/contrib. My wireless router and ADSL modem don't run Debian. The wireless router is a MIPS-based Netgear WGR614L (that is marketed as supporting DD-WRT, OpenWRT and Tomato) so I could conceivably install OpenWRT etc or Debian on it, but I haven't gotten around to that yet. The ADSL modem is a MIPS-based Siemens SpeedStream 4200, but it looks like that would require a significant amount of effort to get running FLOSS.

Lets ponder my laptop freeness a bit more. The docs are all FSF-free, but not DFSG-free. It appears they are not DFSG-free because the FSF will not allow 28 words of FSF/GNU advertising to be removed (I'm not sure if Debian or the FSF is more pedantic). I'm not aware of any DFSG-free alternatives to them and I don't particularly care about the restrictions. My wireless card is an Intel 3945ABG mini PCI card that requires the kernel to upload the iwlwifi firmware before it works. Intel refuse to release firmware source code under a free license, citing FCC requirements. I'm not aware of any free firmware (or firmware reverse engineering efforts) for this device so the only alternative is to use wired Ethernet or buy another wireless card. Ethernet wires everywhere would be very inconvenient, so I've been thinking about trying to replace the card or laptop as soon as I am able. Since Atheros has released GPLv2 firmware for its AR9170 802.11n USB chipset I'll probably get something released by Atheros. I wonder why the FCC didn't prevent Atheros from releasing modifiable firmware, perhaps Intel will change their position too. So, what other software is on my laptop apart from Debian? Lets see, nothing on the HD apart from GRUB 2, /boot containing a Linux image/initrd from Debian and the LUKS partition containing swap and the Debian ext3 rootfs. Coreboot laptop support seems to be in the very early stages so I have no alternative to the supplied Dell BIOS at the moment. There is also the CPU microcode and other firmware installed in the various devices on the system, at least the HD, Ethernet, Bluetooth, GPU, DVD drive etc. have some kind of firmware in them. Some of this firmware is updatable using software from the Dell Linux repositories.

Lets ponder my phone freeness a bit more. On it I have two copies of the u-boot bootloader (one in the protected NOR flash), u-boot is free. The NAND flash has an old Qt Extended Improved (QTEI) install that I need to copy stuff off and wipe. I also have a 4GB microSD card containing QTEI, Debian, FDOM and SHR. Now that QtMoko has brought QTEI to Debian packages I can probably ditch the QTEI install. I read that OM2009 is being merged into SHR so I can get rid of FDOM. That leaves SHR and Debian/QtMoko (nothing non-free). IIRC SHR does contain some firmware for devices that the OpenMoko FreeRunner doesn't contain, but that will get removed as Linux upstream moves more and more of that into linux-firmware.git. Nothing more on the main flash or microSD storage, so what else? The OpenMoko contains lots of hardware, but the main problematic devices here are the AR6000 Wi-Fi chip and the TI Calypso GSM device. The AR6000 is an issue because the firmware embedded in the chip is non-free and FullMAC so it is hard to add new features like AP mode or improve the connection quality/etc. In addition the firmware currently on the device is a development version of a 2.0 version (1.x was apparently broken) and further development does not seem to be happening yet. Since Atheros GPLed the AR9170 firmware I idly wonder if they could be convinced to release the source and GPL the AR6000 firmware. Perhaps a life-size gold statue of RMS would help there. The GSM device is problematic because of various bugs in the firmware. It apparently is an ARM chip with Nucleos, so perhaps uCLinux or something could be ported to it or written for it. There has been at least one discussion about hacking the GSM firmware (thar be dragons). Searching for some keywords extracted from the end of the first mail in that thread lead to some interesting results indeed.

Lets ponder my network freeness a bit more. I should allocate some time to investigate putting Debian on my wireless router and ADSL modem. These generally just work except the ADSL modem reboots itself a lot during the summer. The just-works status of these devices means that messing with them is problematic in case I brick them (luckily I have a spare for the ADSL modem though). I presume OpenWRT and similar have replacements for all the software on my wireless router, drivers may be an issue though. I use gmail for reading email lists, mainly because of intertia, cheapness and because the interface has no GUI FLOSS peers yet (sup-mail exists for console use). TangoGPS, OpenStreetMap and other tools are slowly replacing my use of Google Maps, although I imagine routing will remain an issue for many years yet. One of the tech groups I'm involved in uses Plesk as a hosting control panel, mainly out of intertia, I'm not familiar with any FLOSS replacement though. Some of the upstream FLOSS projects I'm involved with use sourceforge as a hosting platform. There is a certain level of lock-in with SF.net, most of the data is easily exportable though.

Lets ponder my software freeness in comparison to Planet Ubuntu posters. I have no freeness issues with drivers at the moment, however firmware seems likely to have freeness issues for a long time to come. I've avoided the need for the Adobe Flash Player by using swfdec and clive for downloading videos for some sites. swfdec works OK for some sites, some that I care about where it doesn't work and clive cannot download video include Vimeo, abc.net.au and sbs.com.au. For Vimeo you can download raw video if you have a login, but I do not, bugmenot is unreliable and Vimeo doesn't seem to be accepting new registrations. SBS I watch on television and ABC I get no reception so I just don't watch it. Java isn't an issue now that OpenJDK exists. I sometimes need to extract RAR 3.0 archives, which I do by copying the files to a friend's Windows machine or using a RAR extractor website. There is no free implementation of a RAR 3.0 extractor yet. I seem to remember that there is source code for a non-free extractor so presumably a clean-room documentation and reimplementation effort could fix this. I don't encounter LHZ files, but jlha-utils is available for if I do. I feel no need to install Microsoft fonts since the Liberation fonts and DejaVu meet my general font needs and Debian contains fonts covering all the scripts of Unicode (except for about half the huge amount of Han characters). In my music collection, only the Voxware audio codec and DigiTrakker MDL files are not supported by Rhythmbox, but I don't really miss those few tracks. I rarely have audio/video codec issues with video from the Internet. I don't have a use for Opera. Thanks in part to the efforts of the Debian games team, games from Debian main (such as warzone2100) satisfy my gaming needs. I just don't use Skype.

Overall, I'm generally happy with my level of software freedom. My main strategy for preventing regressions in my software freedom is to just avoid doing things that require non-free software. The most problematic FLOSS issues for me are Flash support (adoption of the HTML5 video tag will resolve this for me), RAR 3.0 support and firmware. Please feel free to contact me with any comments or questions.

Happy Software Freedom Day everyone!

Syndicated 2009-09-19 06:01:31 from Advogato

Importing GeoRSS feeds into TangoGPS

DebConf9 is getting closer so I was browsing the Internet and the DebConf9 wiki for information. When I'm travelling I enjoy having maps to be able to get around and not get lost. For DebConf8 I relied on TangogGPS with OpenStreetMap on my OpenMoko Freerunner since my laptop is fairly cumbersome and has relatively little battery life these days. For DebConf9 I'll probably do the same since navit doesn't seem too reliable for me yet. During my information gathering for DebConf9 I came across the DebConf9 map overlay and the Madrid free Wi-Fi map. I wanted to have these available in TangoGPS so I wrote a short python script to import them into the TangoGPS POI (points of interest) database. It requires the feedparser and beautifulsoup python modules. First download the GeoRSS feeds you are interested in and then run the script on the machines where you want to use TangoGPS with the filenames as arguments. It only handles points, not lines or polygons since TangoGPS doesn't allow that. Hopefully it will be included in TangoGPS upstream or the Debian TangoGPS package soon. If you want to update the feed you'll need to manually delete the relevant points from the database or remove and recreate the database and then import the feed(s) again.

Syndicated 2009-05-28 07:27:45 from Advogato

21 Apr 2009 (updated 24 May 2009 at 07:48 UTC) »

Going to DebConf!

I'm going to DebConf9!

I caught the end of a sale for international flights :D

Perth -> Dubai -> London Gatwick -> Madrid -> Cáceres.

Might be stopping in to see family in the UK and or other folks in Germany.

If any folks in London near Gatwick feel like lending a couch to a Debian developer on July 13th, please contact me.

Definitely looking forward to the debexpo hacking and deployment session, having fun with Debian games folks and seeing Debian folks again.

Syndicated 2009-04-21 07:27:45 (Updated 2009-04-21 08:08:47) from pabs

19 Apr 2009 (updated 24 May 2009 at 07:49 UTC) »

Going to DebConf!

Going to debconf!

Finally got my shit together and got a flight to Argentina for DebConf!

Perth -> Sydney -> Auckland -> Buenos Aires -> Mar del Plata.

That is quite a bit of flying and a long bus trip ending quite early on the 4th. It will definitely be worth it if DebConf7 was anything to go on.

Hopefully by DebConf I can get my hands on an OpenMoko FreeRunner to do some Debian porting work during DebCamp and possibly mapping out the streets of Mar del Plata for OpenStreetMap. Of course I need to work on completing analysis of the results of the Debian user and new contributor surveys and figure out what to say about synfig if I get the chance to do a lightning talk about it.

/me now officially excited

Syndicated 2008-06-28 10:21:33 (Updated 2008-06-28 11:00:22) from pabs

19 Apr 2009 (updated 24 May 2009 at 07:50 UTC) »

Surveying the Debian community!

As a Debian developer I have on occasion felt a bit out of touch with doing things with Debian and out of touch with other users. I mentioned to some folks at DebConf7 that I felt I focused too much on working on Debian and not actually connected to what the benefit of working on Debian is.

Partially as a result of those feelings and partially because I thought it would be an interesting thing to do, I started to prepare a couple of simple surveys early this year. The first one went out earlier last month and I posted the second one a few days ago after far too much procrastination and running the wording by a few people - thanks to Micah for the drug boats question :)

So, if you are a Debian user or are a new contributor (or DM/NM/AM or new DD), I would greatly appreciate hearing from you. Please respond to the survey addresses rather than my personal ones.

So far I have 15 or so responses to the new contributor survey, but ideally I would have many more, so please send something in if you are getting involved in Debian development or helping others get involved.

I've had about 24 responses to the user survey so far. Many of you will have heard about Debian success stories like Extremadura, Bhutan, HP, Skolelinux, Sanger and other high-profile Debian users. I'm hoping to hear about as many different uses of Debian as possible, so please keep the responses coming in.

The primary audience for these surveys is the Debian development community. The results will go to the debian-devel-announce and debian-private, I also hope to have a discussion or two about them at DebConf8 in Argentina. There is no time-frame for closing the survey or releasing the results, like the Debian distribution, I release when ready :)

PS: Please install the popularity-contest package on your machines if possible and subscribe to the packages.qa.debian.org pages for packages that you particularly care about.

PPS: Please feel free to ask me questions in your responses and I will attempt to reply as time allows.

Syndicated 2008-04-03 10:09:25 (Updated 2008-04-03 16:01:16) from pabs

19 Apr 2009 (updated 24 May 2009 at 07:50 UTC) »

Synfig January Challenge, Open Video meeting

So today is the last day of the 2008 Synfig January Challenge. It is hopefully the first of many synfig challenges, I hope that the February one will be for a new splash screen for Synfig.

My entry is fairly simple and boring compared to the other entries, but it represents one thing about Synfig that I think about a lot: we need more developers! Anyway, here it is:

pabs' Synfig January Challenge entry

There is nothing special in it, but I put up the source code too.

Also, I've been informed that there will be an Open Video Developer meeting on Friday February 1st 2008 at 21:00 UTC on irc.freenode.net in #openvideo. Should be an interesting meeting, sounds like at least Synfig, Blender and Cinelerra people will be there, hopefully many more.

Syndicated 2008-01-31 03:18:49 (Updated 2008-01-31 04:14:16) from pabs

19 Apr 2009 (updated 24 May 2009 at 07:50 UTC) »

KL wifi lazyweb

Dear Lazyweb

KL airport has free wifi, it works fine on Windows, but my Linux install relies on DHCP to get an IP address, gateway and DNS servers. I tried capturing some wifi traffic with wireshark, but had no luck. I remember in Thailand having to write down network settings from Windows computers in netcafes, then manually apply the settings after booting the copy of Debian on my external hard-drive. I'm currently using NetworkManager. On the way home from DebConf I'd like to be able to use the net in KL. What nasty Windows protocol am I missing support for?

Syndicated 2007-06-09 18:18:41 (Updated 2007-06-09 08:18:41) from pabs

19 Apr 2009 (updated 24 May 2009 at 07:50 UTC) »

Linux in the Air

On the way home from Thailand, I saw Linux booting and X starting up on the in-seat screens on our Malaysia Airlines flight.

Also got a funny cartoon for my birthday called "The adventures of debianman".

Syndicated 2007-02-13 05:23:45 (Updated 2007-02-12 18:23:45) from pabs

19 Apr 2009 (updated 24 May 2009 at 07:52 UTC) »

Back to landlubbery

So, back to geekery after too many months away. While we were in Thailand, I met Theppitak Karoonboonyanan and his friend Neutron Soutmun and a couple of others from the Thai Linux community. Thep is in the NM process for Debian, he maintains Thai support packages in Debian and Neutron is a Debian user. Neutron writes firmware for GPS receivers (IIRC) and other GIS stuff, I'm hoping he will get involved in the debian-gis subproject. I think I convinced Neutron to at least think about applying to NM :D. We talked about a lot of things, mainly about Thai localisation and the challenges involved. He mentioned that the language barrier is a big problem for Thai people, so their main focus has been firstly infrastructure (text rendering, layout and wrapping, fonts, input methods, locale, etc) and now translation (and the associated, laborious localisation efforts). He told me a bit about the writing system and how it is related to other systems in the area. Thep also mentioned the possibility of debconf9 being in Thailand, I recon it would be bloody awesome to have debconf in Asia. At least one other Debian Developer is interested in this, madduck is the initial instigator. I hope we both make it to debconf in the UK this year. I also visited the open source lab at NECTEC (the Thai National Electronics and Computer Technology Center), which is government funded. There, they develop LinuxTLE (an Ubuntu based desktop distro), LinuxSIS (a simple internet server for schools and businesses) and do lots of translation and advocacy work within NECTEC and with businesses and other organisations within Thailand. One thing about LinuxPLE which I noted was that during the post-install GUI configuration step, there is an option to setup the system to use fonts from a mounted Windows partition. IIRC, they explained that they found this was important because of a reliance on Microsoft fonts in Thailand. While I was there, I went to a couple of other labs and saw a demo of a cool Thai OCR and car registration plate recognition system, English to Thai machine translation (text) and direct English speech to Thai speech conversion. They were also working on some medical imaging and speech recognition stuff that I didn't get to see. I also met the founder of linux.thai.net, whose company develops this online map for Bangkok..

Also posted some photos from our trip through Thailand.

Syndicated 2007-02-03 04:49:52 (Updated 2007-02-02 17:49:52) from pabs

19 Apr 2009 (updated 24 May 2009 at 07:52 UTC) »

Arrived in Thailand

[RV Heraclitus SE Asia voyage: blog photos]

Arrived at Ko Phuket a few days ago, I'm off the ship and at a hotel. In Bintan, we saw an interesting looking resort with plenty of coconut trees, logs and other stuff floating in the harbour, a snake oil merchant (with a live cobra), barges and transformer ferries, pouring rain and bad drainage. We left Bintan, went south for Selat Durian, then north past Singapore Straits, into the infamous Straits of Malacca and north past Malaysia and to the tourist island of Phuket. Along the way, we saw the coals of sunset, massive jellyfish in the dark green water, huge queues of massive ships covering the horizon as we passed the entrance to the Straits of Singapore, lights from Singapore in the distance, the pirate-free Straits of Malacca, where many large cargo and other ships passed us, the fleet of lights/boats that sprung up as if from nowhere some 50 miles off Phuket, the last sunrise on the ship (in a bay near Phuket) and an awesome NYE party on the ship.

Leaving the Heraclitus has been hard, I'm gonna miss that black and red ship and the awesome crew who got us the 3000 or so nautical miles from Cairns to Phuket. Now it is time to visit some Thai Linux developers and return to Australia.

Syndicated 2007-01-02 07:57:11 (Updated 2007-09-15 06:19:36) from pabs

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