Stallman’s One Mistake

We all owe [Richard Stallman] a large debt for his contributions to computing. With a career that began in MIT’s AI lab, [Stallman] was there for the creation of some of the most cutting edge technology of the time. He was there for some of the earliest Lisp machines, the birth of the Internet, and was a necessary contributor for Emacs, GCC, and was foundational in the creation of GPL, the license that made a toy OS from a Finnish CS student the most popular operating system on the planet. It’s not an exaggeration to say that without [Stallman], open source software wouldn’t exist.

Linux, Apache, PHP, Blender, Wikipedia and MySQL simply wouldn’t exist without open and permissive licenses, and we are all richer for [Stallman]’s insight that software should be free. Hardware, on the other hand, isn’t. Perhaps it was just a function of the time [Stallman] fomented his views, but until very recently open hardware has been a kludge of different licenses for different aspects of the design. Even in the most open devices, firmware uses GPLv3, hardware documentation uses the CERN license, and Creative Commons is sprinkled about various assets.

If [Stallman] made one mistake, it was his inability to anticipate everything would happen in hardware eventually. The first battle on this front was the Tivoization of hardware a decade ago, leading to the creation of GPLv3. Still, this license does not cover hardware, leading to an interesting thought experiment: what would it take to build a completely open source computer? Is it even possible?

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Scanning tunneling microscope under GPL3

ChemHacker has posted schematics and code for a scanning tunneling microscope. [Sacha De’Angeli] finalized the proof-of-concept design for version 0.1 and released all of the information under the Gnu general public license version 3. You’ll need to build a sensor from a combination of a needle, a piezo, and a ring of magnets. There’s an analog circuit that gathers data from the probe, which is then formatted by and Arduino and sent to your computer.

We haven’t really dabbled in this type of equipment, though we did cover an STM earlier in the year. Take a look at the video after the break and then help jump-start are imagination by sharing your plans for this equipment in the comments.

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Chalkbot Vs GraffitiWriter

For those who watched the Tour de France, you may have been pleasantly surprised to see some cool tech. Nike was using a robot to paint pictures on the street in chalk dot matrix style. It was accepted by the general public as new and innovative, as well as generally cool. In the hacker community though, a bit of trouble began to brew. The Chalkbot bears more than a passing resemblance to a project called GraffitiWriter. GraffitiWriter was a bot initially designed to protest the militarization of robotics. As it turns out, one of the early developers of the GraffitiWriter is behind the Chalkbot in a legitimate contract. The trouble doesn’t seem to be one of intellectual property legalities. People are mad at the corporatization of public work. They want kids watching to know that this system was designed by regular people in their spare time at their homes, not by a team of researches in a secret underground Nike laboratory.

The article takes a bit of a turn and talks some about the possibility of projects being taken and used for corporate advertisement. The specific item they are talking about is the Image Fulgurator which secretly projects images on objects in your photographs. You’ll have to go check that one out to see how it works.

Netflix Player source code released


The Netflix Player continues to gain in popularity. Roku has finally released the GPL code for their Netflix Player. Just today Forbes published that Roku would roll out a software update allowing it to stream from other online services. The diminutive device has no internal storage and just enough RAM to buffer the stream. Many have wondered how a Linux box is handling the DRM; this is purely a feature of the NXP PNX8935 processor being used. While waiting for the code, hackers have already popped the box open to see what’s inside. We found [hokiokie7]’s photos of the internals on Roku’s forum. The only really interesting thing we’ve seen so far is that the WiFi is on a daughter card that plugs into the USB. That should make it much easier to support other devices, if users ever manage to get into the system.

UPDATE: [mbailey] points out in the comments that he was able to telnet to the device.

GPL vs. Skype back in court


UPDATE: Skype has withdrawn their appeal and accepted the original judgment.

Tomorrow the High District Court of Munich will hear Skype argue against the validity of the GPL. Last June, the court issued an injunction against Skype for selling the SMC WSKP 100, a Linux-based WiFi VoIP phone. After the initial GPL violation, a flier with the URL for the source was added to the package. The GPL wasn’t provided and the court found this insufficient for fulfilling the requirements of the GPL. Skype is appealing and claims that the GPL as a whole violates anti-trust regulation. The case against Skype was brought by OpenMoko‘s original system architect, Harald Welte, as part of his work for gpl-violations.org.