Muse Group Continues Tone Deaf Handling Of Audacity

When we last checked in on the Audacity community, privacy-minded users of the free and open source audio editor were concerned over proposed plans to add telemetry reporting to the decades old open source audio editing software. More than 1,000 comments were left on the GitHub pull request that would have implemented this “phone home” capability, with many individuals arguing that the best course of action was to create a new fork of Audacity that removed any current or future tracking code that was implemented upstream.

For their part, the project’s new owners, Muse Group, argued that the ability for Audacity to report on the user’s software environment would allow them to track down some particularly tricky bugs. The tabulation of anonymous usage information, such as which audio filters are most commonly applied, would similarly be used to determine where development time and money would best be spent. New project leader Martin “Tantacrul” Keary personally stepped in to explain that the whole situation was simply a misunderstanding, and that Muse Group had no ill intent for the venerable program. They simply wanted to get a better idea of how the software was being used in the real-world, but after seeing how vocal the community was about the subject, the decision was made to hold off on any changes until a more broadly acceptable approach could be developed.

Our last post on the subject ended on a high note, as it seemed like the situation was on the mend. While there was still a segment of the Audacity userbase that was skeptical about remote analytics being added into a program that never needed it before, representatives from the Muse Group seemed to be listening to the feedback they were receiving. Keary assured users that plans to implement telemetry had been dropped, and that should they be reintroduced in the future, it would be done with the appropriate transparency.

Unfortunately, things have only gotten worse in the intervening months. Not only is telemetry back on the menu for a program that’s never needed an Internet connection since its initial release in 2000, but this time it has brought with it a troubling Privacy Policy that details who can access the collected data. Worse, Muse Group has made it clear they intend to move Audacity away from its current GPLv2 license, even if it means muscling out long-time contributors who won’t agree to the switch. The company argues this will give them more flexibility to list the software with a wider array of package repositories, a claim that’s been met with great skepticism by those well versed in open source licensing.

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RevK_NFC-Reader_v2-Photo

NFC Who’s At The Door

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An early prototype that worked on the first try, except for one LED

[RevK] wanted to learn about NFC readers, and we agree that the best way to do so is to dive in and build one yourself.

There are readers available from multiple sources, but [RevK] found them either compact but with no prototyping space or plenty of prototyping space and a large footprint. High-speed UART (HSU) was selected over I2C for communication with an ESP32 as testing showed it was just as fast and more reliable over long distances at the cost of only one additional wire.

After a few versions, the resulting PN532 based NFC reader has just enough GPIO for a doorbell and tamper switch and three status LEDs, with board files and a 3D-printed case design included in the open source project on GitHub. When looking into the project, we appreciated learning about tamper switches that can include closed or open contact status when an NFC is read, most often used in the packaging of high-value and collectible products. If you have worked with this tamper feature of NFCs, let us know about it.

Thanks for the tip, [Simon]

Get Yourself A Pupper (For Education)

While the disquieting appearance of some of the robots coming out of DARPA and other labs might give us some reservations about how much intelligence we want to give to those robots, there’s a lot to be learned from them before their inevitable global takeover. This small quadruped called the Mini Pupper is just the robot for that job. With a low cost and familiar platform, it’s the ideal robot to learn some of the tricks of the trade.

For a quadruped so small, some unique changes had to be made to ensure the robot’s functionality. There have been a few developments since it was first shown over a year ago. The first was to design a custom servo that could handle the unique characteristics of this robot. From there, some other improvements were made to the robot chassis such as using threaded rods for ease of assembly and maintenance. Some other things have stayed the same though like using a Raspberry Pi to handle the control systems and self-navigation.

Of course everything needed to make this robot yourself is open source, from the code to the schematics. For experimenting with quadrupeds and even with automatic navigation, this would be a great way to get started, and the small size will also limit its ability for a Skynet-style takeover as well. That’s a nice bonus.

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Emulating A Power Grid

The electric power grid, as it exists today, was designed about a century ago to accommodate large, dispersed power plants owned and controlled by the utilities themselves. At the time this seemed like a great idea, but as technology and society have progressed the power grid remains stubbornly rooted in this past. Efforts to modify it to accommodate solar and wind farms, electric cars, and other modern technology need to take great effort to work with the ancient grid setup, often requiring intricate modeling like this visual power grid emulator.

The model is known as LEGOS, the Lite Emulator of Grid Operations, and comes from researchers at RWTH Aachen University. Its goal is to simulate a modern power grid with various generation sources and loads such as homes, offices, or hospitals. It uses a DC circuit to simulate power flow, which is visualized with LEDs. The entire model is modular, so components can be added or subtracted easily to quickly show how the power flow changes as a result of modifications to the grid. There is also a robust automation layer to the entire project, allowing real-time data acquisition of the model to be gathered and analyzed using an open source cloud service called FIWARE.

In order to modernize the grid, simulations like these are needed to make sure there are no knock-on effects of adding or changing such a complex system in ways it was never intended to be changed. Researchers in Europe like the ones developing LEGOS are ahead of the curve, as smart grid technology continues to filter in to all areas of the modern electrical infrastructure. It could also find uses for modeling power grids in areas where changes to the grid can happen rapidly as a result of natural disasters.

Freenode Debacle Prompts Staff Exodus, New Network

It’s no secret that Internet Relay Chat (IRC) has lost some of its appeal in recent years. These days there’s plenty of free chat platforms boasting slick web interfaces and smartphone push notifications, to say nothing of social networks like Facebook and Twitter. The ability to communicate with like minded individuals from all over the planet in real-time is now something we take for granted, so it’s little surprise that newer and flashier protocols and services have steadily eroded the IRC user base.

But there’s often a hidden cost to using these more modern communication protocols. A lack of operational transparency naturally leads to concerns over monitoring and censorship, which makes such services a poor match for the free and open source community. As such, many open projects have eschewed these newer and more popular services for IRC networks that were developed and maintained by the community itself. Among these, the best-known and most respected is Freenode. Originally started as a Linux support channel in 1995, Freenode grew to become the defacto communication and support tool for free and open source projects of all shapes and sizes, and by 2013 had officially become the largest and most active IRC network in the world.

Unfortunately, the incredible legacy of Freenode is now being jeopardized by what former staff members are describing as nothing short of a hostile takeover. Through a complex series of events which actually started several years ago, control of Freenode has been taken from the community and put into the hands of an enigmatic and wealthy entrepreneur who claims his ultimate goal is to revolutionize IRC and return it to the forefront of online communication. Here’s where it gets weird.

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Telemetry Debate Rocks Audacity Community In Open Source Dustup

Starting an open source project is easy: write some code, pick a compatible license, and push it up to GitHub. Extra points awarded if you came up with a clever logo and remembered to actually document what the project is supposed to do. But maintaining a large open source project and keeping its community happy while continuing to evolve and stay on the cutting edge is another story entirely.

Just ask the maintainers of Audacity. The GPLv2 licensed multi-platform audio editor has been providing a powerful and easy to use set of tools for amateurs and professionals alike since 1999, and is used daily by…well, it’s hard to say. Millions, tens of millions? Nobody really knows how many people are using this particular tool and on what platforms, so it’s not hard to see why a pull request was recently proposed which would bake analytics into the software in an effort to start answering some of these core questions.

Now, the sort of folks who believe that software should be free as in speech tend to be a prickly bunch. They hold privacy in high regard, and any talk of monitoring their activity is always going to be met with strong resistance. Sure enough, the comments for this particular pull request went south quickly. The accusations started flying, and it didn’t take long before the F-word started getting bandied around: fork. If Audacity was going to start snooping on its users, they argued, then it was time to take the source and spin it off into a new project free of such monitoring.

The situation may sound dire, but truth be told, it’s a common enough occurrence in the world of free and open source software (FOSS) development. You’d be hard pressed to find any large FOSS project that hasn’t been threatened with a fork or two when a subset of its users didn’t like the direction they felt things were moving in, and arguably, that’s exactly how the system is supposed to work. Under normal circumstances, you could just chalk this one up to Raymond’s Bazaar at work.

But this time, things were a bit more complicated. Proposing such large and sweeping changes with no warning showed a troubling lack of transparency, and some of the decisions on how to implement this new telemetry system were downright concerning. Combined with the fact that the pull request was made just days after it was announced that Audacity was to be brought under new management, there was plenty of reason to sound the alarm.

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When The Right Tool Is Wrong

I’m a firm believer in using the right tool for the job. And one of the most fantastic things about open-source software tools is that nothing stops you from trying them all. For instance, I’ve been going back and forth between a couple, maybe three, CAD/CAM tools over the past few weeks. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, and so if I’m doing a simpler job, I use the simpler software, because it’s quicker and, well, simpler. But I’ve got to cut it out, at least for a while, and I’ll tell you why.

The first of the packages is FreeCAD, and it’s an extremely capable piece of CAD/CAM software. It can do everything, or so it seems. But it’s got a long shallow learning curve, and I’m only about halfway up. I’m at the stage where I should be hammering out simple “hello world” parts for practice. I say, I should be.

Fortunately/unfortunately, some Hackaday readers introduced me to KrabzCAM through the comments. It’s significantly less feature-full than FreeCAD, but it gets the job of turning your wife’s sketches of bunnies into Easter decorations done in a jiffy. For simple stuff like that, it’s a nice simple tool, and is the perfect fit for 2D CAM jobs. It’s got some other nice features, and it handles laser engraving nicely as well. And that’s the problem.

Doing the simple stuff with KrabzCAM means that when I do finally turn back to FreeCAD, I’m working on a more challenging project — using techniques that I’m not necessarily up to speed on. So I’ll put the time in, but find myself still stumbling over the introductory “hello world” stuff like navigation and project setup.

I know — #first-world-hacker-problems. “Poor Elliot has access to too many useful tools, with strengths that make them fit different jobs!” And honestly, I’m stoked to have so many good options — that wasn’t the case five years ago. But in this case, using the right tool for the job is wrong for me learning the other tool.

On reflection, this is related to the never-try-anything-new-because-your-current-tools-work-just-fine problem. And the solution to that one is to simply bite the bullet and stick it out with FreeCAD until I get proficient. But KrabzCAM works so well for those small 2D jobs…

A hacker’s life is hard.