[Tinkerphones] [Gta04-owner] New LetuxOS Kernels and some tricks and thoughts

Paul Boddie paul at boddie.org.uk
Tue May 21 23:29:43 CEST 2019

On Tuesday 21. May 2019 20.15.04 Jonas Smedegaard wrote:
> Quoting Paul Boddie (2019-05-21 18:33:09)
> > 
> > I recall Nikolaus getting quite a bit of hassle from people who
> > demanded full access to the materials around projects like GTA04. I
> > wonder if those people are currently pursuing projects in a way that
> > is consistent with the demands they made of Nikolaus (and others) back
> > then.
> I am one who wants to "tick the box" it seems:

I don't think so. I was rather thinking of other people who perhaps didn't 
subscribe to this list when it was created. We are talking a few years ago 

> I prioritize OSHW not because I plan on rewiring things myself but to
> encourage a World where I can hire someone to rewire if I one day need
> it - similar to how I prioritize Free licensed software not because I to
> reprogram it but for the possibility of eventually maybe hiring someone
> some day to do that.
> I have spent quite some time getting an understanding of what it
> requires for software to be "free" and am gaining similar knowledge for
> hardware.  And I realize that for both it is quite difficult for me to
> explain to friends and family with less time devoted to this geeky
> research what exactly they need to look out for.  For software I tell
> them to use Debian (where others might instead refer to FSF) and for
> hardware I tell them to look for the OSHW brand.

It is a useful label. And certification is a useful thing, as you note below:

> I buy certified organic food.  I am not geeky enough to judge
> sustainability of unbranded food.  So I recognize how it must be
> similarly difficult for non-technical folks to not be able to judge
> sustainable hardware without a brand.

There is a central role for certification in certain industries. We have to 
assume that organic food, fairly traded/sourced and ethically produced goods 
really are those things, and certification offers a hopefully convenient way 
of assessing the nature of such products.

But there are also untrusted or less-trusted certification marks and bodies, 
these potentially being cynical attempts by industries to deflect criticism or 
concerns about those industries. And there are also marks that are misused, 
not properly protected, and so on. Suddenly, it isn't clear which ones can be 
relied upon any more.

The difference with Free Software and open hardware is that we can be 
empowered to verify that what is advertised really is delivered. Consumers 
cannot so readily check the supply chain of purchased goods. (Yes, people 
promote blockchain for this kind of thing - and everything else - but it ends 
up being based on trust, anyway.)

> Yes, the brand does not concretely gain enyone - it is purely branding.
> But for users that branding can be helpful.  For me it is, even if I
> personally can bypass it and check directly if hardware ships with
> sources for the schematics, I cannot explain my lesser geeky friends how
> to avoid the traps of hardware promoted and "open" or "free" with
> different watered down meanings than the sustainability which I consider
> "getting out of the vicious circle".  What we were discussing here.

Although non-technical people might benefit from clear branding and 
accompanying advocacy, I am not sure that projects like GTA04 are at the stage 
of reaching out to such audiences, as Nikolaus seems to admit. I rather think 
that the problem lies within the technical audience that would facilitate 
broader adoption.

For something like GTA04, with supportable hardware, the attention turns to 
making the lower-level software function. That requires cooperation with 
operating system developers, many of whom are likely to be rather apathetic or 
unmotivated to focus on tasks or features that need to be pursued. Here, it is 
not so much a question of trying to pay people: it seems to me that some of 
the gatekeepers are already employed and will obviously prioritise things 
according to their existing responsibilities; some are more helpful than 

Similar stories can be told at higher levels of the software stack, albeit 
with arguably less corporate influence but perhaps just as much (or more) 
influence from other initiatives. "Why should we cooperate with some guy's 
phone project?" is the kind of thing one expects the developers of various 
other projects are thinking. They don't seem to get as much out of it as they 
think they should, although I imagine that they happily request free-of-cost 
hardware to be persuaded to "take a look".

The challenge is to make people see that they also benefit from sustainable 
hardware running their software and that it is not all about their own 
project's grand vision with everything else being subservient to it. This is 
where the "shopping around" mentality is really damaging: it is the taking for 
granted of the very things needed to be able to run that software.

Some people probably get it more than others. I imagine that the Replicant 
developers know very well what the problems are with trying to support Free 
Software on different devices. Others who concern themselves with higher-level 
software probably care a lot less about these challenges provided that their 
software gets to see a suitably recent OpenGL-whatever API, for instance, 
unconcerned about the maintenance or origins of the software providing that 

Much of the above actually has rather little to do with open hardware, of 
course. This is where we wander into the territory of "Respects Your Freedom" 
which might well be good enough for many people, or at least a good-enough 
starting point. Eventually, of course, for the longevity of an actual physical 
device itself, open hardware (however described) becomes a necessity. But RYF 
is a much better tool of persuasion within the software realm to clue people 
up first.


> I am not the one seeing competition here:
> When I talk about collaboration and plural distributions, Nikolaus wants
> to to discuss how to "prioritize LetuxOS over other distributions"

Nikolaus can clarify here, but he is in the position of having to formulate 
his support for various pieces of hardware independently from upstream 
projects that have different concerns and priorities. So if he needs to add 
something to Linux and Debian to deliver something, I think it is justified 
and is hardly competing with either of those things. Indeed, LetuxOS can 
probably be regarded as a Debian "blend" or something of that sort.

For various embedded devices, I ended up writing my own scripts to manage the 
installations using multistrap. Since the "wisdom" in Debian embedded circles 
was that no-one would use Debian-packaged kernels to build the kernels for 
these devices (how stupid of me to ask!), I ended up doing my own kernel 
builds using other technologies. I don't think that my efforts put me into 
competition with Debian, however, although Debian might have benefited from 
considering my not-exactly-uncommon use-case.

> > I wouldn't mind a clarification of how LetuxOS is somehow competing.
> > One might claim that there are ways of doing similar things with
> > Debian tools, but given that the toolset seems to change constantly
> > with the latest fad tool for building, bootstrapping or whatever being
> > introduced, advertised, outdated and abandoned within the season,
> > perhaps there is a valid argument for just writing something that will
> > do the job regardless of what other people think about it today.
> Which of the more conservative tools are being abandoned?!?

I can't judge what is conservative or not, but the first thing I thought of 
was this:


And, of course, it is deprecated. Good thing I never paid it any attention 
when people were talking it up! More here:


> > Maybe the reason why there is such a constant parade of tools is that
> > people struggle to persuade the right people within the Debian
> > community. And, of course with all these projects, the people who get
> > to decide have their own pet projects and ideas about how things
> > should be done. When they get round to it, naturally.
> Sounds like you are grumpy about Debian.  I generally appreciate your
> reflections, Paul, and am genuinely curious to learn more about this!

I am grumpy about almost everything these days. My Debian environment is not 
significantly more functional than it was ten years ago and yet there are 
plenty of regressions in terms of functionality and performance. Admittedly, 
some of the blame can be laid at the door of the Mozilla Corporation or 
related organisation with conveniently different tax status.

Meanwhile, it almost seems that nobody values robustness and maturity in their 
software projects any more: it is all about churn, the inevitable regressions, 
and the users being told that they don't understand the masterplan. That and 
egos, getting people to prove themselves, and jaded indifference towards any 
enthusiasm anyone might have left.

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