Timeline

Privacy friendly phone, desktop and services

This is a living document, I'll update if things change in the future.

Why

It started as an exercise to start replacing applications and (free) services with open source variants. As I'm using Android phone for all these years, getting rid of Google was the hardest part, even though I don't necessarily have a big problem with them. Given how much you can control in your settings, they are doing a good job. This made the exercise quite interesting because I had no clue anymore how many dependencies I had on them. Besides that, I simply started to hate the additional layers that Android comes with, plus additional applications which come from the vendors as well on your phone. It should be easier to control this, which simply is not the case anymore.

The most fun part so far was discovering many fun and handy applications out there that exactly do one thing perfectly. Especially playing with GPS utilities was rewarding.

I still have a Google account for one reason: publish two apps (Indigenous and Gentse Feesten) on the play store. I'm not planning to close that down for now as more are on the way. I will be moving all YouTube videos to a PeerTube instance though at some point.

Food for thought

This might not apply to your personal situation, but below are some general digital principles I try to live by.

  • Don't use main stream services: no WhatsApp, Facebook, Slack and so on for me. I really don't miss anything at all (au contraire), and there are good replacements for communication. Signal comes to mind, and the list of people I know using it is steadily growing.
  • Work: don't read your e-mail or sync your calendar on the phone. I've stopped doing this for almost a year now and it's extremely liberating. Ideally, my next phone also comes with two sim card slots so I can start using a dedicated professional phone number.
  • Use your own domain for your website and go IndieWeb. It still allows you to broadcast to external services like Twitter, or (even better), the Fediverse.

Data management

To store, sync and backup my personal data, I've setup a private Nextcloud instance. It manages my files, contacts and calendar. More extensions are available which I still have to discover, but the important ones are covered. My partner also has an account and uses it to manage her work and our shared calendar.

My e-mails provider is Combell where my personal domain is registered.

Phone

Running /e/ on a Fairphone which is really smooth. In all fairness, I do like the look and feel of LineageOS a bit more, but it's still great. The Pine64 is also interesting, but then for the laptop only since I've tried an Ubuntu based phone in the past which was quite disappointing.

Applications

  • General: Signal, K-9 Mail, VLC, Open Camera, Simple mobile tools calendar, andOTP, Jitsi Meet, Nextcloud (with DAVx5), c:geo and (of course) Indigenous.
  • Ad blocking: personalDNSfilter. Works amazing and has great flexibility. I've also added 0.0.0.0 *.facebook.com. I smiled when I added that line.
  • I'm not a fan of the default launcher, so I run a slightly modified version of the Trebuchet launcher from LineageOS.

That's practically the full list I have installed. I'm hardly distracted anymore by my phone, apart from playing Wordfeud which is a big hit with the family. Feel free to challenge me, swentel is my username.

Itsme could be installed using the Aurora store. It's a useful tool to login into my bank accounts or government services. I still think they should offer a non mobile solution, like. e.g. Signal desktop has, because relying on a phone alone is annoying and a bit weird IMO. (Look again at the second introduction movie, it even becomes more weirder in my opinion: someone working on a tablet, then having to switch to a phone .. really .. it's just silly).

Desktop

OS: Ubuntu. I've been a long time Redhat/Fedora user, but switched a few years ago as I experienced too many hassles when upgrading. Check your dash settings and optionally motd-news too. I might switch back one day though, or go to XUbuntu, you never know. Qubes OS has been on my radar for a while as well, especially as Android support is on the roadmap.

Applications

  • General: Evolution (mail, contacts), Signal desktop, Nextcloud sync, Libre Office, Glimpse, Authenticator, KeepassX and supergenpass bash. Using Jitsi web for video conferencing.
  • Ads blocking: manage my hosts file with the excellent project by Steven Black. Pi-hole is on the radar so I can protect my entire network even better.
  • HexChat: yes, I'm still on IRC, connected with the freenode network, usually on most #indieweb channels. Now and then I login into drupalchat.eu, but happens rarely.
  • GPS babel and GpsPrune: utitilies to read activities from my Garmin Instinct watch and convert gpx files. This is enough so I don't need a Garmin account or the Garmin apps to sync tracks, waypoints or courses.

Offline speech to text to trigger custom commands on Android with Kaldi and Vosk

Speech to text on Android usually means using the built-in speech recognizer which connects with Google cloud. Offline recognition is possible too, and, let's be honest, support for 120 languages is pretty impressive. However, I'd like to experiment, and also be as consistent as possible when it comes to building and using open source, so I started looking for alternatives. I can't remember how long ago I went to at least page 5 or 6 in search results, but I suddenly stumbled onto Kaldi and Vosk.

The use case for speech to text for me is simple: voice commands. I'm currently building an app, nicknamed Solfidola. It's still in early state1, but the main goal is to create an app to learn Solfege. It's an interesting project from a technology point of view: render music sheets, place notes on the right position in the bar, play them with the right pitch and interval and getting soundfonts working with the midi drivers. You can create exercises to test one or more intervals, and this is where I wanted to introduce the voice commands: say you create an exercise with 3 intervals, you are presented with those 3 choices. And when you hear the interval, I wanted to be able to speak the position of the solution by just saying one, two or three. Or say 'play' to hear the interval again. That's it, and thanks to Kaldi it works beautifully now!

The implementation

An example Android app is available at Kaldi Android Demo on GitHub which ships with the Kaldi library and a small English model. The two most important methods are onPartialResult() and onResult() from the RecognitionListener interface which return results from the STT engine. The string comes back as JSON, so it involves a bit of parsing first before you can take action.

    @Override
    public void onResult(String s) {
        String match = "";

        try {
            JSONObject o = new JSONObject(s);
            if (o.has("text")) {
                match = o.getString("text");
                // We have a result, check if we can push a button.
                checkSolutionFromSpeech(match);
            }
        }
        catch (JSONException ignored) { }

    }

The checkSolutionFromSpeech() method then goes on to check whether the word that came back matches a solution and gives feedback whether you are right or wrong. See the source for more inspiration for your own application.

Making the model smaller

The English2 language model is relatively large, around 50MB. Since I only need a few words to be recognized, I wondered whether it was possible to make it smaller. Turns out it's not that hard once you have Kaldi installed on your machine. Tip: in case you install Kaldi from source, only compile the tools folder, that's all you need for making the model smaller using only the words you need.

The steps are described in the Vosk adaptation document on GitHub. I created a 'text.txt' file which contains about 15 words at the moment, ran the commands which saves me about 20MB of storage for the app, which is a great deal!

I'd like to take a step further and try and figure out whether it's possible to save more storage in either the model or the kaldi aar library. But, first things first, I need to practice my interval recognition now :)

Footnotes

1. If you're interested in testing, contact me and I can add you to the alpha program!
2. Models for other languages are available at Vosk models.
New post: Offline speech to text to trigger custom commands on Android with Kaldi and Vosk: https://realize.be/blog/offline-speech-text-trigger-custom-commands-android-kaldi-and-vosk #speech #android #kaldi #fun #solfege

Indigenous for Desktop

I'm excited to announce that Indigenous for Desktop has a first release! Like the Android client, this application allows you to interact with the IndieWeb using the Micropub and Microsub specifications. Besides the fun of experimenting with a different framework, there are a couple of other reasons why I felt the need to have a different client. The main reason is the reader: long articles are quite tedious to read on my phone because the screen is simply smaller. Looking at images obviously has the same problem. Listening to podcasts works fine, but during working hours, I'm already on my laptop, so why not listen on the laptop?

This (currently) means I'm not going to port over all functionality that exist in the Android client, the main focus is on the most common features used on a daily basis. Please keep that in mind before opening issues. I've already created a bunch in the queue which I will work on next and (most likely) freeze after they are done.

The app is written and packaged using the Electron framework, which gives me the opportunity to use features outside of a browser, like disk storage (for configuration, caching ..), notifications and so on, but without having to worry that everything works on every operating system. Packages for the first release are available on the releases page at GitHub. I've tested it on Linux, MacOS and Windows, so crossing fingers that it works for other people as well!

Features available

  • Micropub: note/article with tags, single file upload, syndication targets, and published status.
  • Microsub: Read channels and posts per timeline. Inline reply, like, bookmark and repost with or without confirmation, mark all read.
  • Settings: The reader connects to https://indigenous.realize.be by default so there's a nice preview to see how it works. You can configure your reader and post endpoint manually - IndieAuth flow is coming in later versions.

What's next? Add more features of course! The idea is also to extract the code at some point to create a PWA version, but that's for another time :) In case you want to contribute to development, feel free to open issues and pull requests at https://github.com/swentel/indigenous-desktop

See it in action

New blog post: Introducing Indigenous for Desktop - https://realize.be/blog/indigenous-desktop - I also recorded a short video demonstrating the current features. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7egdRBg70XA #indieweb