Title: Is it time for privacy yet?
Tags: update, proto_v2, layouts
body_params: class="weekly news"
Moving forward on layouts for `proto v2`! Migrated to
`KiCad`! [introducing our new communications officer sn0wmonster]
## Is it time for privacy yet?
What do you do when you realize software solutions to closed hardware
problems don't work? Do you settle for the illusion of privacy? Do
you sink deeper in sunk costs fallacy and find ways to defend the
My handle is `sn0wmonster`. Some might know me as the founder of
[`Taskhive`](https://taskhive.io). It's a decentralized, freedom and
privacy focused freelancer marketplace. It's an experimental software and
network solution to a social problem. The irony is not lost on me that
secure software is only as good as the hardware its run on. I concede that
as far as revolutions go, there is no greater or more important cause
than that of the fight for open source hardware. Without it, our tools
of sharing can easily become twisted as weapons against us. Skynet wins.
As far as hardware solutions go, the Neo900 will never be a
state-of-the-art mobile gaming machine. Nor a bitcoin mining rig. It
is not designed to artificially restrict itself and require scheduled
replacement. It is, however, a practical solution to a difficult to
When I stumbled upon the Neo900 project, it caught my attention by
promising a basic freedom we all deserve. It promised us the right of
control of what our devices do. For over a decade, we've waited for a
proper GNU/Linux hand-held to materialize. We continue to be marketed
lipstick on a pig as a legitimate solution. Closed-source firmware blobs
running Android chroot can not be called open any more than a scooter
can be called a hoverboard.
You can imagine how ecstatic I was to find a true cyberpunk project of
this nature: taking a system designed to control us, and hacking it up
to empower us. It's hard not to be a little excited; the Neo900 is what
hacking is all about.
It goes without saying that the Neo900 project is a first of its
kind. From its developers it demands focus, constant re-education, and
an absolute obsession for details. It's not something I felt comfortable
passively watching from a distance, merely hoping it succeeded. I knew
I had to get involved somehow. For me, the best way I can do my part is
to help provide news and announcements to the community at large. I've
stepped in officially to do so.
I encourage everyone else to find a way to do their part as well, to lend
a hand -- or a coin -- to seeing this project through to its end. If
you're not sure what you can do to help, just ask! You can find us on
[`irc.freenode.net`](irc://irc.freenode.net) in `#neo900`
## What has been completed so far?
We updated and released the
[`proto_v2` whitepaper in January 2017](https://neo900.org/stuff/papers/v2.pdf).
We will use this design for the new layout. It's essentially the Neo900
with its brain outside of its body: a `BeagleBoard_xM` that shares
an identical processor. This makes it easier to work on and minimizes
failure of `OMAP` integration. It also provides a working testbed and
development board for our community software developers (`freemangordon`,
`Pali`, and `parazyd`, to name a few).
We migrated from `Eagle` to `KiCad`. This wasn't easy and it took some
time to get right. The resulting freedom and more reliable future-proof
production environment was definitely worth the time invested. Migration
involved redesigning the schematics (i.e. circuit diagrams) in KiCad
(thanks `Werner` and `Joerg`!) based on the original Eagle schematics
made by `Nikolaus`.
To facilitate the migration to KiCad, Werner developed a very nice (read:
legendary) tool called `eeshow`. It facilitates cooperative concurrent
schematics design under KiCad. Thanks `Werner`!
We moved from the KiCad footprint editor to `fped`, where `ceene`
designed our footprints for use in the layouts. Thanks `ceene`!
We use git and eeshow to facilitate collaborative editing. The KiCad
project files are stored directly in the project git and accessed directly
We sourced all the N900 units for the Neo900 pre-orders.
We contracted with a layout technician who will be using KiCad.
## What held us back so far?
Long time supporters will remember one of the original project
co-founders, Nikolaus of GolDeliCo, was originally set to provide the
layouts using Eagle EDA CAD. Eagle however is only up to that task with
Nikolaus' own router extension plug-ins written for MacOS. This was not
optimal, but alternatives seemed less appropriate at the time. Things were
on schedule and moving along quite nicely. That is, until PayPal reminded
all of us why they are a poor choice for donations and pre-orders,
with a surprise account freeze (now luckily solved).
Prolonged illiquidity from Paypal and Nikolaus assigning all available
timeslots to his other project Pyra, ultimately ended in Nikolaus exiting
the project for a lack of available time. At this point we were forced
to reassess our options. We didn't have the proper tools to continue with
Eagle, which presented a daunting challenge that would involve a complete
migration to KiCad instead. Thankfully, not only did we accomplish this
migration successfully, but it turned out to be the right decision,
evading a pay-to-play change in business models introduced by Autodesk's
acquisition of Cadsoft-Eagle.
After ages of searching for and negotiating with several
layout technicians, we've finally contracted with the
for the `proto_v2` layout engineering. As it turns out, the agreed
contract was more beneficial than expected: the CEO of LNAFIN is
interested in supporting open source endeavors. That translates to
a better deal for us. Critically important, they also support KiCad,
which is arguably difficult to find. Thanks to `ravelo` for arranging
the introduction with LNAFIN.
## How are the funds holding up?
All pre-orders and kickstarters carry with them that ominous chance of
failure, but we're proud to say that the current funding is sufficient
to take us through to assembly and testing of `proto_v2`. Once it is
sufficiently tested and ready, a kickstarter will be formed to fund
the necessary production numbers for the final run to production. No
one wants this to succeed more than we do, and great sacrifices have
already been made to ensure funds are used appropriately.
## What to expect next?
We plan to build up to a dozen of the `proto_v2` units for
further testing, eventually opening the kickstarter campaign for
`proto_v3`. Prototype v3 - with luck and absence of Murphy - will be
identical to the "mass produced" final version.
Testing of `proto_v2` will likely reveal some minor bugs that will be
fixed before moving on to `proto_v3`, utilizing the already tried and true
`BB-xM/GTA04` CPU_et_al core.
Expect regular news updates and announcements from here on out care of
Thank you all for continuing to make the Neo900 possible, and please know
that the fight isn't over yet. When the time comes, we'll need your help
again, and will continue to use it sparingly.