Making Linux Offline Voice Recognition Easier

For just about any task you care to name, a Linux-based desktop computer can get the job done using applications that rival or exceed those found on other platforms. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to get it working, and speech recognition is just one of those difficult setups.

A project called Voice2JSON is trying to simplify the use of voice workflows. While it doesn’t provide the actual voice recognition, it does make it easier to get things going and then use speech in a natural way.

The software can integrate with several backends to do offline speech recognition including CMU’s pocketsphinx, Dan Povey’s Kaldi, Mozilla’s DeepSpeech 0.9, and Kyoto University’s Julius. However, the code is more than just a thin wrapper around these tools. The fast training process produces both a speech recognizer and an intent recognizer. So not only do you know there is a garage door, but you gain an understanding of the opening and closing of the garage door.

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Pulling the Google logo off of a smartphone

Pining For A De-Googled Smartphone

Last summer in the first swings of the global pandemic, sitting at home finally able to tackle some of my electronics projects now that I wasn’t wasting three hours a day commuting to a cubicle farm, I found myself ordering a new smartphone. Not the latest Samsung or Apple offering with their boring, predictable UIs, though. This was the Linux-only PinePhone, which lacks the standard Android interface plastered over an otherwise deeply hidden Linux kernel.

As a bit of a digital privacy nut, the lack of Google software on this phone seemed intriguing as well, and although there were plenty of warnings that this was a phone still in its development stages it seemed like I might be able to overcome any obstacles and actually use the device for daily use. What followed, though, was a challenging year of poking, prodding, and tinkering before it got to the point where it can finally replace an average Android smartphone and its Google-based spyware with something that suits my privacy-centered requirements, even if I do admittedly have to sacrifice some functionality.

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Linux Fu: User Space File Systems — Now For Windows, Too!

One of the nice things about the Unix philosophy that Linux inherited is that the filesystem is very modular. That’s good, too, because a typical system might want a choice of filesystems like ext4, reiserfs, btrfs, and even network systems like nfs. Besides that, there are fake file systems like /sys and /dev that help Linux make everything look like a file. The downside is that building a filesystem required changing the kernel or, at least, writing a loadable module. That’s not as hard as it sounds, but it is a little more difficult than writing a normal program. Then came FUSE — file system in user space. This is a single file system module that allows you to create new file systems by writing ordinary code.

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Cash register keyboard

Custom Keyboard From A Cash Register

Having a high-quality mechanical keyboard is often a rite of passage in the computing world, with gamers and coders alike having strong opinions on the best devices. Even then, the standard keyboard layout can be substantially limiting, and often something a little extra and customizable is needed beyond even the highest-quality QWERTY keyboards. Reddit user [RonaldMcWhisky] was looking for a keyboard to use for macros, and discovered that it is possible to put cash register keyboards into service for any unique task.

Cash register keyboards have a number of advantages over a standard QWERTY design. They have big keys, the keys can be labeled, and the keys can be ordered in a way the user wants. The hardware is also cheap since cash registers are everywhere. Adapting one to work with a standard computer took a little bit of doing. Since this is /r/linuxhardware, you’re not going to find any Windows support here, but assuming you have the minimum system requirements of a Linux install to recognize the keyboard itself, a Python script can handle the events as the keys are pressed and interpret them in whatever way you want.

The actual hardware in this specific build was a Wincor Nixdorf TA85P — let us know in the comments if you’ve got one of those in your junk box. But the idea of using a cash register for a custom keyboard is interesting, and certainly a lot of work is already done for you if you don’t want to build your own custom keyboard from the ground up.

Linux Fu: The Windows X11 Connection

The life of a Linux user can be a bit difficult. Sometimes you have to — or want to — run Windows. Why Windows? Sometimes you have a work computer or a laptop that Linux doesn’t support well. Or it might be software. Although there are plenty of programs that can edit, say, Word documents, there’s always that one document that doesn’t quite translate correctly. Things like videoconferencing software sometimes works on Linux but might have fewer features.

So what do you do? You can dual boot, of course, but that’s not very handy. You can run Windows in a virtual machine if you have enough horsepower. There’s also Wine, but that often has its own set of problems with features and stability of complex programs. However, recent versions of Windows provide the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL).

With WSL, you can have most of what you like about Linux inside your Windows session. You just have to know how to set it up, and I’m going to show you one way that works for me with reasonably stable versions of Windows 10. Continue reading “Linux Fu: The Windows X11 Connection”

Classroom Surplus Becomes Linux Powerhouse

The SMART Response XE is a handheld computer that was originally sold for use in the classroom as a terminal for pupils taking tests. It’s now cheap enough on the surplus market to have become a target for experimenters, and we’ve seen them with a variety of cool hacks. We particularly like what [chmod775] has done with it, putting a VT100 terminal emulator on the device and hiding a NanoPi Neo Air single board computer in the battery bay. Powered from a USB battery bank, it gives a fully-featured Linux terminal in the palm of the hand. We see it running an Ubuntu LTS  version, and it’s clear that it’s a functional and usable device.

This raises a more abstract question though: We’d guess comparatively few of us write software through an old-style dumb terminal, instead we’re more likely to get our terminal experience at a much more accomplished command line with all the conveniences of a modern desktop surrounding it. How many of us could comfortably return to the limited confines of a VT100 emulator on an odd-sized LCD display? We’d be interested to hear [chmod755]’s experiences using it, because if it retains usability it’s a device we wouldn’t mind having ourselves.

Hungry for more SMART Response XE hacks? Take a look at the BASIC computer, or the spectrum analyser.

Linux Fu: Superpowers For Mere Mortals

You can hardly mention the sudo command without recalling the hilarious XKCD strip about making sandwiches. It does seem like sudo is the magic power to make a Linux system do what you want. The only problem is that those superpowers are not something to be taken lightly.

CC-BY-NC-2.5 by [XKCD]
If you are surfing the web, for example, you really don’t want to be root, because if someone naughty takes over your computer they could do a lot more harm with your root password. But still, there are times when you want to run certain commands that are normally root-only and don’t want to bother with a password. Luckily, sudo can handle that use case very easily.


As a simple example, suppose you like to shut your computer down at the end of the day. You run the shutdown command from the terminal but it doesn’t work because you aren’t root. You then have to do it again with sudo and if you haven’t logged in lately, provide your password. Ugh.

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