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


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.


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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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??


Linux Game Review: Beat Hazard Ultra

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

I've been a Linux user for going on twelve years now. It wasn't until a few years ago that I discovered Linux was actually a pretty good platform for gaming too. And with Steam's supporting Linux, it became official: Gaming isn't just for Windows.

On a whim, I picked up a title called Beat Hazard Ultra from Steam, since it's one of the games that runs natively on Linux.




New Feature: Retro Game Of The Month

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

Since stumbling across several old video games from my DOS days (think pre-1995) I've decided to fire up a few of them and offer up some fun reviews of games that were made before many of you were born. These games, in some way or another, shaped the gaming industry into what it is today. They were the birth of the PC gaming industry, when Atari and Nintendo had been dominating people's living rooms for over a decade.

I can remember playing my first networked multiplayer games in 1993, when Doom and Descent came out. There weren't Cat5 ethernet cables back then, everything was 10-Base2 running on Coaxial cable with BNC T's and terminators. TCP/IP hadn't become the standard yet, either, so everything ran Novell Netware and used IPX addressing (instead of TCP/IP addresses that everything uses now). The hardcore guys would either play point-to-point on dialup modems, or drag their computers to a friend's house and use a null-modem cable to simulate a phone line. We're talking back in the days before Pentiums were invented... the first PC I played Doom on was a 386dx clone, running at 33Mhz. I think it had 2MB of RAM. We're talking before PCI slots were standard. Just think about that for a minute. A 28.8Kbps modem was all you could get then. Let that sink in.


The Prodigal Son Gamer

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

Recently, in one of their Netflix binge-watching marathons, my kids discovered a show called Video Game High School. Most of what they watch is aimed at younger teens, mostly Disney (teenage soap opera) drama and comedy. This looked pretty promising at first, but as the series ran on, I started not liking what I saw.

The show centers around a kid who unintentionally ends up at an elite high school for competitive video gamers. It's filled with the usual action and drama, but I guess I was expecting more of the traditional cheesy comedy. I ended up pulling the plug when the show's main antagonist started dropping 4-letter words (cause my pre-teen kids were watching it too).

The problem is, in typical drama show fashion, VGHS shows unrealistic caricatures of what real gamers are like. If you didn't know better and only went off of what the show presents, you'd think all skilled gamers are egotistical jerks, they all have some weird accent/slang dialect, and run in weird cliques. But from my experience, the people that have the dedication to drag a computer setup to a hotel ballroom somewhere just to play video games for fun and prizes are much, much nicer than that.

Twenty years ago, I used to be pretty big into gaming. I had a dedicated LAN party rig, and I went to competitions a few times a year. I gave that up to be able to raise a family shortly thereafter, and for the most part, I never really got back into it. Here's a shot of my last custom LAN rig:


Scrivener For Linux

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

As a creative-type person, I understand when people get picky about what tools they use to create their particular art form. Musicians will obsess over the tiniest things to get the sound "just right." Photographers will spend hours waiting for just the right light.

But why are writers usually just the opposite? They use kludgy writing tools, and sometimes even physical "index card" information management. Wouldn't it be nice if there were a single program that could do everything a writer needed? Formatting, templates, organization, storyboarding, corkboards, revision management, links and information, pictures, exporting direct to publishing formats, and even a full-screen writing mode?

Well, there *is* such a program. It's called Scrivener. It's completely changed the way I write, for the better.

Scrivener was made *by* authors, *for* authors. It's like a tool that plugs directly into your brain and lets you focus on writing. There are plenty of testimonials praising the OSX and Windows versions, but I run the Linux-specific version, which is technically still in beta. It still has more features than a regular word processor, and I've found it has become integral to my writing process.

For those of you familiar with Scrivener, the Linux version is available as a free (for now) Beta. For the rest of you, here's the overview:


Offline/Online Password Management

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

For someone who's been using the internet almost since its inception, I've collected quite a large assortment of usernames and passwords over the years. I think something on the order of 150+ of them, not including the ones that have gone defunct, or actual local network passwords.

How does a professional geek handle hundreds of passwords? Here's a quick primer on how I do it, with a few suggestions on general password security, too. I've used two programs in the last year to get a handle on my password/username combos; LastPass and KeePass. One is a web-run business; the other is a free, open-source program. I'll explain a bit about each one, and how I decided to use them.


Guitarix And Ubuntu For Live Use

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

I'm working on finishing up some articles and videos of demoing Guitarix in a live performance setting. Until then, here's some screenshots of my rig in action! The last picture is what the laptop looks like when you put Guitarix in "Live" mode. The buttons at the bottom light up as you use MIDI triggers to turn on/off effects, so you can easily see what's switched on. Also, if you have a pedal mapped to volume or wah, it shows what position the pedal is at. (That's going to get a video demo as soon as I find the time!)

You can store presets in banks, so you can set up your sounds according to songs and sets.

Guitarix1 Guitarix3



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!