[Tinkerphones] Happy New Year + Report

H. Nikolaus Schaller hns at goldelico.com
Sun Jan 6 18:16:36 CET 2019

Hi Paul.

> Am 05.01.2019 um 19:11 schrieb Paul Boddie <paul at boddie.org.uk>:
> On Tuesday 1. January 2019 13.49.11 H.  Nikolaus Schaller wrote:
>> Dear all,
>> first of all let me wich everyone a happy new year and say thank you that
>> you are still subscribed to this list.
> Happy New Year to you and to my fellow subscribers, too!
>> There haven't been many news in 2018, but there have been activites behind
>> the scenes that layed the foundation for plans for 2019 which you might
>> find interesting.
>> So let me start with the LetuxOS.
>> LetuxOS is constantly developing, mainly in the kernel which has reached
>> letux-4.20 release. And we are likely get 4.21-rc1 next week.
>> A lot of work has been done last year, mainly by Andreas Kemndade, to
>> upstream more parts of our private feature branches, so that even a
>> mainline kernel does useful things on the GTA04. Well, it is missing some
>> of the polishing done by our LetuxOS additions, but generally having the
>> core upstream helps everyone.
> I will admit that I stopped following the Letux kernel list, but I recognise 
> that upstreaming contributions is time-consuming and frustrating work for 
> which people should be thankful, particularly those lucky people who will 
> hopefully be getting their Pyra fairly soon.
> Once again, I feel a bit guilty about not continuing to work on the Letux 400 
> Linux kernel, but there are diminishing returns in doing so.

No need to worry - I am also far behind my plan to restart the Letux 400 units
and get access to the boot console... Before this is done, it is not even
possible to test your kernel.

Anyways, I am carrying along your patch set for the jz4730 and try to fix
upstream merge conflicts which rarely occur. I hope that I am not breaking too
much becaue I can't test...

> And as I 
> undoubtedly mentioned before, it was more rewarding to experiment with 
> alternative solutions on that hardware instead:
> "Extending L4Re/Fiasco.OC to the Letux 400 Notebook Computer"
> https://blogs.fsfe.org/pboddie/?p=2175

Cool and good reading. I've posted the link on our Twitter channel.

> [...]
>> This is a lot of news from the software side, but what is going on with
>> hardware?
>> I am currently working in my limited spare time on a project which is called
>> GTA15/PyraPhone.
>> It is just taking the Pyra hardware design, removing the keyboard and nub
>> and the display hinge and cable, changing the battery, adding some phone
>> features (earpiece) and Kill-Switches, but keeping everything else and make
>> a new PCB layout in a smartphone portrait format.
> It looks like it keeps the "Letux Cortex 15" CPU board used in the Pyra and 
> employs a more appropriate "mainboard". This reminds me of the modularity use-
> case for the EOMA68 initiative where the more expensive and more complicated 
> CPU board can be re-used in a number of different applications, with the 
> adapter boards hopefully being less expensive and less demanding to produce. 
> (We shall see how far the EOMA68 initiative gets in the next couple of 
> months.)

Indeed. The modular Pyra design was invented when Google Ara was the most
prominent leader of the modularity hype. But instead of wasting time to
try to specify a fully modular device and trying to cast in rock interface
standards for many years, we just did the K.I.S.S. approach to define two
board-to-board connectors and optimize pinout so that it does not slow
down the Pyra project. In fact it helped to speed up since we could develop
and prototype and test the mainboard and processor board separately. Now we
simply reuse what we already have. Again saving time by not reinventing the

>> Features will therefore be:
>> * 5 inch resistive touch display with 720x1280
>> * µHDMI out
>> * ca. 2000-6000 mAh battery
>> * 2 external µSD slots + one internal
>> * 2G/3G/4G + GPS/GLONASS
>> * 2 USB2 host ports (full size - one prepared for USB3)
>> * µUSB3-OTG port
>> * charger&FTDI console through µUSB2 port
>> * 3.5mm headset jack with auto-polarity detection and remote keypad option
>> * WLAN/BT (maybe with a RedPine module because it does not need a BLOB but
>> has to be checked)
>> * independent hardware Kill-switches for WWAN, WLAN, BT, Microphone,
>> Sensors, and more
>> * Processor board from Pyra, i.e. currently OMAP5 with 2/4GB RAM, eMMC - but
>> maybe a compatible i.MX8M board can be developed
>> * expansion connector (compatible to GTA04A5) for hackers to develop
>> extensions
> I guess that there is still a certain amount of similarity with Neo900 
> "STEP2", overlooking the matter of the keyboard. It seems that Joerg is open 
> to an evolution of the Neo900 away from strict N900 compatibility to being 
> able to use hardware that supports Maemo-Leste, such as the OMAP5 used in the 
> Pyra, at least from my understanding of IRC channel discussions.

It will not be difficult to add a physical keyboard since there will be
a FFC connector compatible to the GTA04A5 "hacking expansion connector".
It provides I2C and power to some additional keyboard scanner chip
(tca8418 which is used by the Pyra).

BTW: this concept is not new. We had shown a keyboard prototype for the
GTA04 long ago (check the date :)


The key challenge is of course to put that into useability, i.e. micro-mechanics
of a sliding keyboard.

>> Before you start to think that this project is vapourware like many others
>> with similar goals but nicer marketing (web pages, public relations,
>> political goals), I have attached some documents. The first one is a
>> prototype without any electrical function, but shows the concept. The
>> second is the current draft status of (improved but still not perfect and
>> finished) component placement.
>> When will it be finished? I have to admit that I don't know. The mechanical
>> demonstrator was already built in Feb 2017 and only now I have continued to
>> work on the PCB design, because I have to run this as a hobby project now.
>> Financing such projects in a way that they get tangible results has become
>> more and more difficult.
> I would really like to see Free Software organisations doing more to promote 
> (and fund) initiatives like this. There seems to be a lot of complaining about 
> how phones are not free, that proprietary software and services are taking 
> over, and yet the obvious step of ensuring that there is a foundation for Free 
> Software seems to elude many Free Software advocates.
> So we keep having people working around the limitations of existing devices, 
> with reverse engineering forming an unjustifiably large component of any kind 
> of strategy (if we can really perceive a strategy at all). This leaves the 
> FSF's Christmas shopping list still recommending an old Samsung phone, 
> presumably refurbished or rescued from post-retail distribution channels, year 
> after year after year.

The key problem is that successful software can be written by a big community
contributing small patches. So nobody has to throw in much money or time to
keep the ball rolling. But hardware development has different rules. One is
collaboration of many chefs doesn't work and it needs a lot of real money to
get the hardware tangible. And hardware design can't be done in small patches
because there are too many dependencies of everything, expecially if space
is tight. For software it is simple: buy or require more memory :)

>> Anyways, if you are interested in helping to speed up the GTA15 development,
>> there is a way:
>> 	http://shop.goldelico.com/wiki.php?page=Product&product=9601
>> And if there is really enough interest in a finished product, we can
>> organise to build some units - after the design is finished. If you are,
>> please also spread the word that this project exists.
> What kind of physical housing will this end up having? I recall that GTA04 
> required an original or 3D-printed FreeRunner case, and having seen Michael's 
> extensive efforts in getting the Pyra's case to an acceptable standard, I 
> worry that this might be a problem for this project, too. But hopefully there 
> is expertise and experience that can now be shared about such things.

Well, at them moment there are no specific plans for a housing. The initial
goal is just to demonstrate how the hardware could look like and that it
works. And learn about issues.

That said, it will not be difficult to print a 3D brick around it... Mechanics
is much simpler in this case than for a Pyra (no display hinge, game buttons).
All design depends a lot on the battery which also has not yet been finally

If that all settles down a little we can also think about crowd-funding for
making tools and a specific case. It also would be good to hire a professional
industrial design architect. Depends on budget which in turn depends on
donations/funding - if we ever come to this stage.

> Indeed, this is what I would wish for in the new year: that people and 
> projects work together a bit more, even if it is just to prevent people 
> struggling with a problem that someone else already fixed for their own 
> project. And that maybe compromises can be made so that instead of people 
> starting new projects with minimal differentiation from existing ones, often 
> due to some disagreement on some subjective criteria, they might figure out 
> how to work together under the same umbrella and produce a result that 
> everyone is broadly happy about.

Yes, that is something I wish as well, but I am not sure it will ever happen.
The key problem seems to me that collaboration of volunteers doesn't work
well and scale with number of participants for hardware. So usually each
initiative has exactly one head driving things. And success depends significantly
on budget and experience of this project head.

Let's see if this change in the future.

Best regards,

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