Category Archives: free software

Standard C150 handheld – manual and schematic


I am just putting this here more for archival purpose than anything. I have a Standard C150 handheld transceiver that I have used when I first bought it but have not been for the last ten years or so. In case someone is looking to buy this off of me please leave me a message.

Here’s the C150 manual and schematic.

73s de 1HP

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The Enormous Empowering of Free and Open Source Software Ecosystem


It is quite disappointing to see the escalation of bad behaviour on the part of some of the partners in the technology industry legally pushed on by US politicians who have no idea what they are doing.

I got asked by many people what this withdrawal of access to the Android code by Huawei by Google would mean?

Simple. Nothing. It is just another day, another bad decision.

Why?

The Android ecosystem is driven not only by the business arrangements Google has with the various OEMs, but also by the existence of the Android Open Source Project,

The AOSP is the basis of the various replacement code that run in millions of Android phones already in the market. You have all of the functionality one expects from an Android smart phone but without access to some of the “special sauce” (proprietary) that Google provides to the OEMs. If you think about it for a moment, not having access to the proprietary secret sauce/source is actually a Good Thing.

The special code that Google provides to their OEMs is, among other things, the ability to track users. I know lots of users would say, “but how else can I use the phone”? You do not have to give up your privacy to use the Android device. And for all those who say “privacy is dead, just get on with it”, I would like to ask “why do you close the door when you use the restroom”?

I have 3 Android phones – two Nexus and one Pixel. On the Nexus I am running AOSP and the Pixel is still running stock Android OS from Google. On all three, I use, to the extent I can, mostly all open source applications – FreeOTP, Signal, Telegram, Firefox, Firefox Focus, Tor, Torbrowser, Jitsi, DuckDuckGo, OpenStreetMap, AntennaPod, Keybase, Nextcloud, MIT AI2 Companion, VLC and Feedly. I don’t use Chromium (or Chrome).

About the only Google application I use is Gmail client and Google Maps if I did not download the OSM map for the city I am travelling to. And in case it is not already obvious, I don’t use Google for search. It is DDG for me, everywhere.

I do have ParkingSG, DBS’ apps, NEA, SGBuses and some others. By and large, the phone running AOSP have pretty much the same (minus Gmail) but that is fine.

But let’s return to the issue that is annoying the tech world right now. Since Google, Intel, Qualcomm and others have been arm twisted by the USG to stop providing to Huawei, what do you think will happen? Huawei will turn to others – for the hardware components – and will also potentially spur other Chinese companies to step into the void. Thanks to a braindead move, the rest of the world has been energized to remove the Single Point of Failure situation we are all collectively facing.

Don’t get me wrong in assuming that I think Huawei is above board on all things. They probably are not. But so are the likes of Cisco, Apple etc (just search for the Snowden revelations). But, the major difference between Huawei and the US companies accused of similar bad behaviour is that Huawei has a strong link with the CCP via their CEO (if you are reading this in China, the Wikipedia page is blocked I am sure).

It is all about optics. He might indeed be a fine and honourable person. But the CCP link (and their Great Firewall of China and the slow train wreck that is their Social Credit experiment) does not bestow confidence. Compound that with the removal of the term limits on the presidency of China which essentially means one person will rule for his lifetime, does bring into sharper focus, the entire Chinese technology ecosystem in their lack of independence.

How could this be resolved. Partially, perhaps, by the CEO stepping down and having a very transparent management that we can all check for links to the CCP. This applies to the other Chinese companies as well – ZTE, Ali, Tencent, Baidu, QQ, WeChat, Didi etc. The opacity and the central control of thought by the CCP is a root cause of these troubles.

The accusations that Huawei “stole” “intellectual property” from the US is potentially provable, if we are talking about hardware. If it is about software, the code that is used to run on their systems are all essentially FOSS and GPLed code (most likely). There is no archaic 20th century style restrictions on the code and this is where Free and Open Source Code’s power is shining through. No amount of sanctions can stop the open sharing and collaboration that is already there.

Let’s make one thing clear. When you are looking at the code running on your devices (any), you have the opportunity to examine them, fix them, update them and do what you please, so long as you have access to the code. If the code is proprietary, discovering issues is really hard, not impossible, but hard.

The less informed would say that since the code is open, anyone can put in malicious code to do stuff. Of course that can happen. And precisely because the code is open, you can go in and take out the malicious code, and even publicly shame the perpetrators.

The similar statement of openness in hardware is slightly harder to make. This is because one will have to have access to the entire supply chain all the way to the chip foundry to ensure that there’s nothing that is not supposed to be in there in the first place. The issue with Supermicro board having some malicious components is a case in point. The manufacturer might actually be telling the truth that they were not aware of the issue. This is a failure of the supply chain into whcih sophisticated (perhaps state actors) work is done to incorporate malicious componenets.

Can this issue be fixed?

Potentially by having DLT (distributed ledger technologies like Hyperledger, or HashGraph, or Blockchain) in the supply chain to authenticate and verify the hardware from design to delivery. We do not yet have such a system.

To summarise, the technology world will continue to move on. Free and Open Source Software is the bedrock of all of these technology and no one can stop it from continuing to conquer the world.

 

Good bye and On on!


Today, a second person that I know, decided to be euthanised. He was suffering from a very rare brain tumour that was operated on a few years ago and made recovery. Over the last few months, it came back with a vengeance and his quality of life started deteriorating. With his family with him, he has taken, what would have be a very difficult decision, to end it – with dignity and with some control that he had left.

Raising a beer to you – you were both a optimist and a realist, but never a pessimist.

Screenshot from 2019-04-15 18-52-24

On on, my friend.

Start-ups and patents


I have been part of a few start-ups and there has always been the conversations around “are we patenting our ideas?”.

I understand the nature and purpose of a patent and the lofty principles behind it and I still subscribe to them.

The growth of the Internet driven hand-in-hand by the proliferation of free and open source software has changed how I view the efficacy and value of patents. I clearly am on the side of the Free Software Foundation‘s and the Electronic Frontier Foundation‘s stands on the nature of software patents.

The reason there even exists software patents is because the US Patents and Trademark Office has been granting patents for software that clearly have no novel elements and has not been able to drive any new innovations despite the best intentions of the patent idea. It is a meme that the US patent system is broken.

We have to accept the reality that the system is broken and needs fixing, but that would take time, effort and political will on the part of many governments – lots of whom have vested (another way of saying corrupted) interests in keeping the status quo going.

Realising this, many people and organisations have come together to solve the issue. One of those is the 15-year old Open Invention Network which Red Hat is a founding member.

OIN recognises that the only way to work within a broken patent system is to work collaboratively with like-minded individuals and organisations to mitigate the ill-effects of the system. By pooling patents, any member of the OIN will become part of the large group of entities who can defend and remove threats that are brought upon by patent trolls etc.

With this background, it bothers me that start-ups in 2019 are still being “pushed”, “encouraged” by VCs and investors to “patent” their technologies. On the surface, it seems quite logical, but, as noted, it is “on the surface”. Patents are only useful if one actively licenses it out to others. That’s how you generate value from the patents. The more people who use your patents, the better for all. The larger goals of the patent system gets realized.

It does not also matter whether the licensing is offered at a price or at no cost (see Red Hat’s Patent Promise). What is fundamentally more important is that innovation can move ahead without any form of friction.

Here’s a set of questions you should ask if you (as a start-up) is being asked to patent your innovations:

  1. Would these patents be actively licensed out?
  2. Would there be cross licensing of patents with others?
  3. Would the patents be offered into a patent pool?

If the answer to 1 is “no”, “maybe”, “don’t know”, don’t patent it. Publish it publicly in a corporate blog so that it will become part of prior art and can never be patented.  if the answer is “yes”, what is the timeline? How would you actively do so? If you have no plans or are ambivalent, don’t patent.

If the answer to 2 is “no”, “maybe”, “don’t know”, go back to question 1. Why are you bothering to go down a path that you are wasting good money (spent on expensive lawyers, the patent process etc etc etc) and not actively trying to gain any form of return? If the answer is “yes”, how would you do it? What is the timeline? What happens if you can’t cross license? Would you not be better off focusing on getting the product to market than these patent games?

If the answer to 3 is “no”, “maybe”, “don’t know”, stop patenting things. Learn about patent pools. Learn about the value of coming together with other innovators and build real, sustainable technologies for all of society. If the answer is “yes”, be quick and sign up with OIN. Run.

Stop the greed that clueless VCs push.

Congratulations to the new SCS president and council


I have been in the SCS executive council for many years. I am deeply thankful for the camaraderie and friendship of the numerous committee members. It was a pleasure serving with all of you for the benefit of our members, our chosen profession and in turn for Singapore.

The elections/AGM happened today. I would like to congratulate Yoke Sin in winning the president’s position. As is befitting the spirit of the SCS, it was a good natured fight for the votes and as with anything, there can only be one winner.

I would also want to congratulate the new VPs and the newly elected committee members (12 of them). It is really nice to see each one come forward, and what is essentially not a comfort zone, to pitch why one should be voted for.

I think contests bring out the value of membership and helps to sharpen the dialogue with members and strengthens the organization’s culture and core.

Here’s to more good outcomes from the SCS.

Why am I running for the presidency of the SCS?


Yes, I’ve decided that I will run for the post of the President of the Singapore Computer Society. The Annual General Meeting of the SCS will be held later this month on 28th March 2019.

Why?

The Singapore Computer Society is my professional organization. I have spent many years in numerous roles within the Society as well as representing the SCS externally. I have gained tremendously from this personally with opportunities to lead SIGs and various committees, to inform, collaborate and be representative of what this profession is all about.

The time has come for me to give back by running for highest office in the Society while continuing to being part of a team that could bring the Society to higher achievements.

The Society was setup in 1967 – that’s 52 years ago. The technological landscape of 1967 is exponentially different to 2019. In 1967, man had yet to land on the moon. Today, the technologies, such as the integrated circuits,  that were invented by necessity for Lunar landing, are everywhere and riding on the Internet which itself took life in 1969. These two critical developments have unrecognizably transformed how people live, learn and enjoy their lives.

Singapore itself has progressed by leaps and bounds in many areas and, as the wise would remind us, the journey is never ending, with many more challenges and vistas to experience and conquer.

The Society has about 10,000 professional members and about 25,000 student and associate members. We pride ourselves in doing all that we can to promote the profession and also to be the voice of reason and technical competence. We do lots in that objective, but I feel we can do much, much more.

Digital technologies are highly pervasive and no part of life and economy is unimpacted. This places a significant burden on members and leadership of the Society to be both the beacon of excellence, professionalism and ethical behaviours in all that we do. This profession is the baseline and enabler of all parts of the economy, everywhere.

I am an electrical and computer engineer. As a Society, I feel we can do significantly more in the renewal and promotion of all forms of engineering, especially computer science. This is crucial for the long term future of the country. One cannot become a “Smart Nation”, if we are deficient and lacking in hardcore engineering skills within the nation at large. As a Society, we must be leading the charge in the enablement and evangelism of engineering skills including all of the subdisciplines

In doing these activities in enablement and education, we also need to raise the profession to one that is on par with a Chartered/Professional Software Engineer – similar in spirit and intent as the Professional Engineer Board‘s charter.. Granted this is not easy. But we must strive to achieve it. We can certainly draw upon the experience of the British Computer Society’s Chartered IT Professional.

I am a coder/maker. I write code to solve problems. I build things to solve and move things forward. I stand on the shoulders of others who came before me to make things better. What I create or help create is open to anyone to take and bring it to a higher level. The ethos of the free and open source communities is in my core.

I am reminded that when I did my Masters, I wrote in my thesis, a paragraph in page 6: “A lot of suggestions and hints came from a wide variety of sources too numerous to mention here. However, the one source that I would like to specifically mention is USENET. USENET’S newsgroups such as comp.protocols.tcp-ip, comp.os.os2, and comp.sys. ibm.pc were just wonderful in generating ideas and solutions.” Collaboration across groups from around the world to solve problems helped form my collaboration and leadership style. I thrive best when I can work with people who help sharpen the ideas and work towards achievable goals.

Likewise, I want to see the Society do lots more in areas such as skills training in as many areas as relevant and doable. Such benefits can be delivered by collaborating with edX, Coursera, Lynda (of LinkedIn) and even the elearning/training options of the local institutions of higher learning. Membership of the Society has to have significant advantage.

I would want to have the Society to be the thought leader in technology policy for the country. I would want to have a member of the Executive Council to head up a Policy committee, The charter of this Policy committee would be to generate thinking and analysis on topics and issues that are current to the Society and Singapore. The membership is a goldmine of talent and skills that I am sure will step forward to make this possible.

I am currently a member of the Board of Trustees of the Internet Society (from what I know, the first Singaporean on the Board). Singapore is blessed with a world class Internet infrastructure that will be driving the efforts around the Smart Nation. I would want the Society to have a liaison to the Smart Nation office so that we are at the table as we make collective progress in the grand vision.

The Society has a security focused Chapter and I would like to have them lead the effort in getting our membership to be actively using and deploying cryptography in all aspects of what we all do. Privacy and security has to be front and centre in the minds and way of life of our members. This will have a multiplier effect in raising the awareness and use of cryptography across all of the citizenry. Some would say that it is a challenging task. I say that it is an easy task. We need to try.

I have provided a snippet above on why I am running. I hope this is inspiring enough for you to consider voting for me at the AGM.

Note: If you are not able to attend the AGM, I will be pleased to carry your vote as a proxy. Please send me (harish dot pillay AT scs dot org dot sg) your name, membership number and membership grade and I will get in touch with you to get the proxy forms signed and delivered to the SCS by 5pm on Wednesday 27th March 2019.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Blaise Pascal


This. There was a time when I was so happy to be able to connect to the Internet with my mobile phone by dialing-in into the ISP. I remember on a trip to Tel Aviv, Israel in 2000, a colleague SMSed me from Singapore (remember SMS?), that there was a problem with name resolution of the service we were providing. He had updated something in the table and after that, the DNS was not resolving and could not figure out why. I was the CTO of that organization and it was cool to be able to fix operational technical issues.

I was in a cab on my way to a meeting when the SMS came in. I plugged in the Nokia proprietary data cable for my Nokia phone – 6210. The cable had a 9-pin RS-232 serial port which went into my laptop. With that setup, I then fired up minicom (the laptop was running Red Hat Linux 6.1 I think), dialed in the local ISP in Israel (as part of the “roaming” for ISP dialups), ssh‘ed into the server, checked the DNS named files, found the issue (a missing trailing “.” after a domain name), restarted named and viola, all’s well. What a thrill that was. Thousands of kilometers away, but still able to fix an issue remotely, via the mobile phone connection on a laptop, in a cab.

I was pretty pleased to have been able to make something happen successfully. I felt like a hero.

Why am I relating this story?

I do wonder how I would have managed this technical issue if I did not have Internet access the way I had then. Today, being on the Internet is the default. 24/7 is the norm. When are you not connected?

I have come across Blaise Pascal’s quote many times before, but today it made particular sense to me. As I have noted in a previous blog post – A Simple Life Hack – I turn off my mobile data on my phone when I am moving around – in a bus, car etc. I turn it on only when I need to. I have setup the wireless on the phone to connect automatically to Wireless@SGx, so when I am the MRT stations, I get connected to the net.

This disconnectedness is really wonderful. Some people go for “digital detox“. That’s not what I am suggesting. I am suggesting a deliberate and thoughful disconnection from the online world for shor durations of time. Eventually, by doing this, I’ve found that I am really not missing the constant barrage of chatter and information. I am (re)discovering the world around me.

I am able to revisit my own thoughts, roam around the place I am at, and be able to be in the moment, being mindful. I truly like that.

I like it because it is now a deliberate action on my part and I see and observe things around me that I would have missed. Lots of things are happening around you. If you choose to observe, see, listen, smell, you’ll learn some. You’ll probably smile. Not everything happens online – to state a truism.

If you do not get to sit quietly in a room and contemplate – heck, even navel gaze – I think Pascal’s observation will be spot on.

What happened today? Well, I have been trying to figure out how to use a regular scanner to scan photo negatives. negative-scanning-mediumIt was in the 30 minute bus ride home, disconnected from the Internet, that I came up with the solution.  I will write that up and post once I’ve built it.

If you are reading this on my mobile phone (thanks btw), go turn off your mobile data, put the phone back in your pocket, look around, be mindful and live in the moment.