Reware your PDA from Hans-Christoph Steiner on Vimeo.

Give a hoot – don’t pollute with your old mobile gear. Make musical creations with it instead, powered by Linux.

Sure, there are wonderful things happening with mobile music applications on platforms like the shiny, new iPhone. But remember how technology was supposed to democratize access? Lots of us don’t have the money for a new iPhone or iPod. And how many of us have outdated Pocket PCs and Palms collecting dust? How many of these highly toxic devices get thrown away?

Linux to the rescue.

One of the biggest hits of my talk at the OFFF Festival in Lisbon, Portugal was the mention of the Reware, a project by Hans-Christopher Steiner, who is doing research at New York’s Eyebeam. He has literally a box full of old PDAs – the kind a lot of people would give away at this point – which he has rescued in order to reuse as development platforms and musical devices.

There’s something just stunning about watching an old Pocket PC transformed into an interesting musical device. It’s like the feeling you get when you save a puppy with the help of a rescue / adoption agency, and instead of being put down, Buster turns out to be an agility champion. (Sorry. I really love dogs.)

Reware Project at Eyebeam

For a sample project, here you can dual-boot Linux on an old Palm:

Reware your PDA: dual boot Linux on a Palm TX from an SD card

Once you’ve done that, you can run your own creations and even Pd patches on your mobile. Even old iPods can work.

Pd Music Patching on PDAs

It’s a little trickier to recycle older embedded devices than it is desktop computers: for one thing, many of these devices lack floating-point calculation capability. (The FPU on the iPhone is one of the things that makes it so nice.) For fans of the multimedia environment Pd (Pure Data), the variant PDa (“Puredata anywhere”) is the solution. It rewrites signal processing as fixed point (integer) processing. It’s nowhere near as fast as a floating point-native Pd, and there are some other caveats, but there’s still a whole lot you can do with it. This is also good news for the currently-shipping Google Android handset, the HTC G1, which also lacks an FPU.


Gunter Geiger is responsible for PDa, with help from lots of other folks. Now Hans is packaging all this stuff together to make it easier to run.

See it in Person; More Soon!

If you’re in the New York area, next week Hans is coming to Handmade Music to show off the work he’s doing. Check out the lineup on our new, evolving Handmade Music minisite:

That’s free, 7:30pm Thursday, May 21 in Brooklyn at 3rd Ward.

For fans of Android, I’ll be talking about development on Google’s own open source, Java-based mobile platform, which also runs the Linux kernel.

Android is itself getting ported to alternative platforms, again thanks to the magic of GNU/Linux and open source. Here’s just a small sampling:

Android Ports and Hacks Round-up

If Android also gives us native library access, it could become powerful for music. Even with just the 1.5 SDK, there’s a Java library for interactive music production. Both projects should cross-pollinate, though, because of the common Linux kernel between them.

If you’re not in the New York area, we’ll post details early next week about a live webstream. And we should have additional video after the event.

Hans and I are also working on getting Pd running on the BUG, which is both open-source software and hardware.

To round things out, here’s a video by Public Radio International’s Takeaway, showing how Hans is working with hackers doing other super-cool projects at Brooklyn’s NYC Resistor. It’s just one of many hacklabs sprouting all over the globe.