Living Outside The Box Born-Again Techo-Geek Renaissance Man

10Oct/160

Rise And Fall Of Social Media Giants

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

In the last few weeks, there's been quite a bit of news going on with the Presidential campaign (which I won't talk about) and how the media covers it. Specifically, there's been a LOT of people complaining that social media platforms are censoring honest criticism, and mostly on one side.

This of course is a problem if you live in the United States, where we (supposedly) have protection of free speech under the First Amendment. If you post something that someone doesn't like- you could be censored, suspended, or in extreme cases, have your account terminated or even be personally attacked, without actually violating the site's TOS.

With the recent craziness going on at Facebook and Twitter, defenders of free speech have been getting banned from the social media platforms, and are looking for alternatives (and they're out there). The most recent I'd heard of is Gab.ai, which isn't even in full production yet, but is already garnering a huge influx of users migrating from Twitter and Facebook because of its staunch "no-censorship" policy. Users are welcome to filter anything they don't want to see for themselves, but they won't be able to get other users censored for saying something they don't like (illegal activity is still addressed, of course).

But from the looks of it, the Social Media giants are slowly showing cracks at the seams. Twitter's stock is declining steadily after a failed attempt to sell the company, and Facebook's insistence on becoming "all things to all people" is bordering on anti-trust territory.

You could almost say... they're ready to croak.

Nevertheless, I am overjoyed there's someone stepping up to fight for free speech. And with Gab.ai's user count exploding, I can't be the only one!

9Jun/160

Untangle Router Thoughts Redux

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

Sometimes, when you say something and you eventually turn out to be proven wrong (even if it takes 3 years), you have to eat some humble pie.

For the record, the team at Untangle have created an awesome product. I originally didn't use it/like it because there were no affordable home-based versions, and the free version was lacking in features.

However, I'm pleased to say that with Home version pricing for their full product, Untangle is now a serious contender for DIY budget-minded home techies. Here's the rundown on mine, which I built for a grand total of about $150, including the computer, NIC, and a 1-year subscription to Untangle NG (Home license).

The basis for this machine is a tired, refurbished Dell Optiplex I picked up on Amazon for $75. It's not anything spectacular, but for just running a software firewall, it's perfect. It had 2 PCI slots and 1 PCI-express slot, which means you shouldn't have any trouble finding network cards to put in it. I opted for a Rosewill dual-port network card, and since I had a couple extra PCI Intel Pro/1000's sitting around, I threw them in there, too. Plus the onboard LAN port gave me five total network ports I could play with.

19Apr/160

Untangle Firewall: Round 2

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

Some of you may remember me writing about Untangle Firewall a few years ago. At the time, it was (and still is) an amazing piece of software, but had no affordable option for home networks. So I put it to the wayside, and moved on to other solutions.

When I say Untangle is a solid piece of work, I'm not exaggerating. It has tools that let you control, filter, log, and lock down everything passing through your router. It was just out of my price range for what I needed it to do. I'll even admit, I might have been a bit harsh on them- it really is good- but their business pricing is pretty steep for a home user.

And then recently, I discovered that Untangle released a Home pricing option for the full package. We're talking a $540 value for $50!

Naturally, I was intrigued. So I'm going to pull out my unused firewall mini-PC again, slap a dual-port NIC in it, and give Untangle another (well-deserved) shot.

I'm honestly looking forward to trying it out again, and if it works well for my needs, I will definitely make some how-to's and give them some well-deserved positive publicity. I'm pretty excited.

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28Mar/160

Homemade MIDI Filter

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

One of the goals I wanted to do with my guitar stage setup was to be able to control everything the Adrenalinn3 pedal does with two different MIDI foot controllers. This is interesting at least, challenging at best. You can't just combine the output of two pedals, because the Linn doesn't know which pedal the commands came from, and even if it did, it doesn't know what to do with them.

I looked into off-the-shelf pieces to do this, and there were a few that were close, but none of them could do what I needed without custom ROM hacking. I wasn't really interested in that (for time constraints) so I looked into something simpler, easier, and definitely cheaper.

Enter the humble Arduino. This amazing little piece of technology takes a cheap microprocessor and packages it into a board the size of a credit card, with a voltage regulator, and input/output pins. The tools to program them are free and (mostly) easy to use, and they even make DIY add-on kits that let you expand what the board is capable of.

10Mar/160

Wanted: Swiss Army MIDI Workstation

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

One of the goals of my guitar setup is to be able to use it in 3 different configurations:

  1. Hardware only
  2. Hardware/software
  3. Software only

Ideally I'd like to be able to exactly the same things with each, but hardware costs money! A lot of money. For instance: a hardware looper that syncs with MIDI clock starts around $400. That's more than what I paid for my whole laptop! It's becoming increasingly obvious to me that dollar for dollar, software is the way to go.

But I'll never completely eliminate hardware, and I don't think I should. It's not that I don't think software is reliable: my laptop runs effects for hours without a hiccup. But you still need hardware for interfacing things together. Controllers, pedals, mixers, etc.

So I guess the question is, what's an acceptable mix of hardware and software? If I say hardware only, I know exactly what I'd need to buy, and it wouldn't be cheap.

For effects, i.e. amplifier models, delays, etc. I've got it covered in hardware. That's easy, and I can control everything without a laptop. Everything syncs to the MIDI clock (delays, drum machine, etc.) and everything works. I'd still like to be able to use the Master Control to select drumbeats and the ART pedal to control effect presets... but because of the way the Linn handles that, it will require another piece of hardware to insert Bank Change signals so the MC will only switch drumbeats. Not ideal, but doable.

In order to control the Adrenalinn's drum and effect presets with two separate MIDI controllers, it requires injecting "bank change" messages into one of them to change the A3's preset mode. This isn't very complicated, except that there's currently no piece of hardware that will do that. However, for about $30, I can build a hardware MIDI filter out of an Arduino Uno board, and it looks something like this: (This is the actual MIDI board I will be using with my Arduino)

29Feb/160

Information Diet – Week Five

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

A while back, I wrote about how I was using Zapier and IFTTT to filter all of my social media notifications through Evernote, so that I didn't have to actually visit those sites on a regular basis. I'm now a month into it, and I figured it was time to post my findings.

In reality, how well it works depends on what my mind is focused on that day (or that hour). The good news is that it does indeed capture my social media interactions exactly like I wanted it to. The bad news is, it didn't magically immediately change my habits, which is what is needed to actually make it useful.

Bottom line: the system does work when I use it. It doesn't prevent me from still checking social media sites occasionally. For that.... I've got a secret weapon, called StayFocusd.

This program is a Chrome browser plug-in that allows me to limit how much time I can spend on certain websites. I can tell it certain times of the day (or days of the week) to track it, and I can even have it lock those sites out if I reach my limit. Obviously this is an extreme measure, but the reality is, how else am I going to enforce it? My ADD won't allow me to not think about it. So the alternative is to manage that information, skim it in a usable way (with Evernote) and then discourage myself from going around the method.

So going forward, this week I'm going to start using StayFocusd to enforce my Social Media information management.

Artificial means are a necessary way for people like me to get things done. Artificial deadlines, artificial schedules, artificial website blackouts: I use whatever works. It can apply to writing, working, social media, recreation time, or whatever.

 

5Feb/160

Using Automation To Centralize Input

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

Recently, Zapier announced that they would be rolling out a new feature: multi-step automated internet functions they call "zaps." Now, I've written about IfTTT and Zapier before, and if you're plugged into the internet at all, it's possible they can help you automate things that take up your precious time. I'm currently using these programs to auto-generate task lists every morning, and send myself reminders to update the list during the day. I also have an ongoing" to-do list, for things that are long-term projects. If I add an item to my Google tasks, it's automatically added to my Evernote list. If someone follows me on Twitter, they're automatically added to my contact list in Evernote. The goal is to centralize my information input: to conglomerate everything to one portal, where I can look through all the information I need in one place. It could be Google Docs/Keep, or Evernote, or Office 360, or whatever information management program you like. But it should be something that's accessible anywhere, and is flexible enough to manage any kind of information.

But automation is a mixed blessing for me. It opens up a world of possibilities, and I usually spend more time playing with it than actually getting things done. This is especially true when playing with apps like Tasker, Evernote, and AutoKey.

13Aug/150

New Laptop Considerations

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

I'm getting close to replacing my aging (but still perfectly functional) HP 625 laptop. The kids have been using it heavily for school, along with the handful of other laptops (two Dells and an HP). My requirements for a laptop are a bit different than most people's, though... I need mine to be Linux compatible.

I'm looking at getting an HP laptop/tablet with a rotating screen, for a couple of reasons. First, the tablet function would be very handy for using it on a music stand, or as an e-reader. Second, I write a lot, so it needs to have a decent keyboard. Third, I don't like devices that separate the screen from the keyboard.

Possible candidates are the HP Elitebook 2760p, or the HP Elitebook Revolve 810 G1. Both come with an Intel i5/i7 and comparable hardware, but the Revolve is thinner, lighter, and more expensive. The only thing that doesn't work with Ubuntu is the fingerprint scanner (yet).

One thing I want to be able to do with it is use it as a mobile recording studio/performance laptop with Ubuntu Studio.

Filed under: Music, Tech Tools No Comments
30Mar/150

Adrenalinn III Pedal Control Project

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

One of the toughest challenges in using the Roger Linn Adrenalinn III pedal (henceforth referred to as the "A3") is figuring out how to use it! The pedal is nearly perfect, and yet there are ways I want to use it that don't fit how it was intended  to be used.

For starters, the pedal is basically two machines in one: a full-blown digital guitar effect pedal, and a Drum Machine. You can connect the two, but I want to be able to use them completely separately, with two separate sets of controls. The pedal's buttons can control certain things, but can only change presets up/down. You can use external MIDI commands to switch presets, but you can do either FX or drums, or both together, but you can't use two different controllers to change presets separately.

My setup is a bit complicated, I'll admit. I have a rack unit that I want in the MIDI chain, for clock-synced delays AND preset changes. But I want the presets to change with the A3's FX presets, and NOT the drum patterns. I want the Molten Voltage Master Control (henceforth referred to as the "MC") to provide clock and PC only for drums... and a second controller to provide PC and CC messages only for the rack unit and the A3's FX side. I also want to leave the A3's buttons alone to turn individual things on and off. So how do I make this all work??

4Feb/156

Tasker And MyTracks

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

As part of my Constant Struggle To Simplify, I wanted to track my cycling miles without having to jump through hoops or do anything crazy. Up until recently, I was using Endomondo to track miles (and before that I used MapMyRide). These programs promise all sorts of features; social commentary, audio coaching, ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity, route planning, etc. etc. But really, I found I didn't use any of these extra features. I just wanted a simple, automated way to track my mileage that I could keep in digital form. And with Endomondo's recent feature creep I was having to tap 3-4 menu items just to get to where I could record a ride! Nothing wrong with my Cyclecomputer, either, but I like analyzing numbers and stats.

Keeping with my wanting to use Tasker to automate stuff, I found a Tasker Plugin that allows it to start and stop Google MyTracks recording. MyTracks doesn't have all the fru-fru social stuff, but it supports ANT+ and Bluetooth if I decide to go that route later (and Tasker can automatically connect to them). Plus it automatically syncs with Google Drive, so the potential for 100% complete automation is there. Let's get busy!

There's a couple of plugins I use to do this: AutoActivity, and the MyTracks Tasker Plugin.

AutoActivity is a service that runs in the background that guesses what you're doing (walking, cycling, driving, still) based on GPS and inertia input, and assigns it a "confidence" score percentage of how sure it is you're doing that. You can use it both as a trigger (i.e. "when you detect me driving, do this") or an active variable (i.e. "Do this only IF activity=xxx")

Tasker is so ridiculously flexible, it takes some playing around to figure out the best way to accomplish something. Sometimes the "best" solution isn't immediately obvious. This is definitely the case with this problem. So, let's look at what we want to accomplish, and how we can go about it.