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

28May/140

Linux For Guitarists Episode 2

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

If you managed to make it through the first step of getting Linux installed on a computer, then we're ready to go to the next step, which is finding a decent audio interface to use for live guitar performance. This is Linux for Guitarists, Episode 2.

If you want to play guitar through your computer, you're going to need some way to plug it in. The best way to do it is with an audio interface. Specifically, you want to look for one that has a "Hi-Z" input. This makes the input jack have the correct impedance for your guitar to sound right. If you want a better explanation of why this is, check out this video on Impedance by Nick Jaffe.

I'll give you fair warning: most manufacturers are going to cheaper platforms, and putting most of their interface's features in software. I mean, they only have to write the driver software once, and it costs them nothing to duplicate it. Hardware costs money! So what that means for us is that a lot of these will only work in the most basic ways in Linux. If you know this going into it, you won't get as frustrated, but I'll tell you now, there's only a handful of interfaces that work 100%. One of them is what I have, a Roland UA-25EX. It has hardware switches for settings and a hardware compressor, hardware everything, and it's USB class-compliant, so it just works.

You may not be able to find one of these, so what you want to look for is something that specifically says "USB Class-Compliant." That means if you plug it into anything, it will at least work to get audio in and out. The advanced features probably won't work, but that's generally not a problem. If you want to see what interfaces are known to work, you can go to the Alsa home page and look through the list. Also, most Firewire interfaces will work, but again, you're gonna want to check and make sure. I have heard reports that the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 works perfectly in Linux, but I don't have one to test yet. It's still in production, so if you can't find a Roland UA-25EX give the Focusrite a try.

To install an interface in Linux, you just plug it in. The audio drivers are already built into the kernel, so if it works at all, it should just work. You can plug your guitar into the Hi-Z port, and see if you can get it to record something. If you can get it to work at all, you're set! It's all playing with software from here.

I'll also add, you'll probably want to find an interface that has MIDI in and out too, but if you can't, you can always get a simple USB to MIDI cable. They sell them on Amazon for like $19, and they'll work fine for what we're going to be doing with it.

Okay, that's about it! Next episode, we're going to talk about the two main software packages, Guitarix and Rakarrak. We'll be talking about how to get a decent guitar tone to start with, and then we'll get into effects later on.

Again, thanks for reading, and keep on rocking!

24Aug/130

Hate The NSA? Do Something About It: Start Here.

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

If you haven't heard about Snowden and the NSA whistleblowing scandal, you either 1. live under a rock (with no internet) or 2. only use the internet to play Candy Crush (which is just as bad).

Basically, it was made publicly known that the U.S. Government records everything you do on the internet, including emails. Do you like the government having access to all of your emails and surfing history? Your passwords? Your private information? I hope not... and today, I'm going to show you what you can do about it.

Disclaimer: I'm not going to even address the faulted logic of saying "Why use encryption, I have nothing to hide!" Basically, the government can and will use anything you do or say against you if they want, for any reason they want, and their track record of mistakenly incriminating innocent people isn't particularly good! Encryption is basically the digital version of the Fifth Amendment. Protect yourself.

Back before my web hosting server got wiped a few years ago, I had written a few articles on how to use something called "GPG" to encrypt computer files, primarily emails. GPG (Gnu Privacy Guard) is a fantastic application that basically encrypts computer information using public and private keys.

How GPG works:

  • You download the GPG software. The easiest way to use GPG is to add it as a plug-in to your email client, like Thunderbird or Outlook. (I use Thunderbird with the Enigmail add-on, works fantastically!)
  • You pick an email to identify yourself... this is your digital "identity" that people will associate you with. Doesn't matter which email it is, but most likely your primary one.
  • You create a "Key Pair" which includes a Public Key and a Private Key. The public key is what other people use to send you messages, and the private key is what you use to decrypt, or read them. You publicly hand out your public key, and you keep your private key, well.. private.
  • You will also want to create a revocation certificate which lets you "revoke" the keys if they ever become compromised. Keep it safe!
  • Now if someone wants to send you a private encrypted message, they use your key to send it to you, and nobody but you can read it. Not even the NSA. You can encrypt messages or files with more than one key, so it does work for group messages. Just be aware! If more than one person can read it, you'd better trust them!

There are lots of other interesting things you can do, and of course, it doesn't encrypt the email's headers... who it was sent to, the subject, and any other header data. But if you want to simply communicate without being snooped on, GPG will do it.

You can get started by downloading GPG and trying it out. Feel free to send me an encrypted message to try it out!

My public key (jeff@jeffhendricks.net) can either be downloaded here, or you can search for and download it from a GPG Keyserver.

31Jul/12Off

Resources for Music Ministers

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

I've been a church music minister/worship leader for going on 20 years now, most of my adult life. I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to make my job better and easier over the years. I've done it professionally for a good part of those years, but always in smaller churches. I like the dynamics and flexibility of smaller churches, and I wouldn't want my music to come down to "do this, it's what we pay you for."

The downside to this is that small churches don't have the budget to do all the cool new slick presentation stuff like you see on TV. I'm not going to debate whether or not those things are useful- in the right hands, they can be- but most churches can't do them anyway because of the cost involved.

That's where I come in. I've also been a computer tech for close to 20 years, and I know a lot about getting the most out of old computer hardware and software. Businesses are usually locked into using expensive software suites, but churches don't have to spend big money to get useful tools. Still interested? Read on!

It adds up. For instance, upgrading old office computers to Windows 7 costs from $150 to $300. Replacing them is even more expensive, especially if you go with Macs. Microsoft Office can set you back $150 per computer or more, and if you use projectors in your service, the price of presentation software is astounding.

Granted, if you can afford to buy the best tools, so much the better. Most of us can't, though, so we're forced to either do without, or get creative! For geeks like me, the second option was always better.

I'll deal with some of these problems in upcoming posts, but the first one I want to share with you is the foundation for reducing costs in computers. I highly recommend Ubuntu Linux, and more specifically, Ubuntu Studio for worship leaders. They are great operating systems for upgrading older computers that won't run Windows 7. Why spend $500 on a new computer when you can get a modern, useful upgrade for the old one- and it's 100% free!

Here's a quick video explaining how to install Ubuntu on a computer!