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

2Apr/140

Linux For Guitarists – Getting Started

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

I've been messing around with Linux since about 2001, been playing guitar since about 1992. I've done lots of projects with Linux over the years, but the last couple of years I wanted to use Linux as a platform to make music with. I'm not a professional blogger, nor a video expert, but I know a lot about being a geek and being a musician, which is why you're here. I originally wanted to do Youtube videos, but I'm really better at writing. It would be a lot more informal, like hanging with your Geeky tech buddy. But in the end, I just didn't have time to make videos of the quality I'd like. So for now, I'm your Geeky tech pal who's a Linux Guru and just so happens to love playing guitar. Welcome to Linux for Guitarists, Episode 1.

There's been plenty of stuff written about Ardour, and a bunch of other open-source music tools, which is fantastic. But when I started to try to learn more about guitar-specific stuff, specifically performance-oriented software, I discovered there's actually very little out there.

Now, a lot of people are intimidated by Linux, and I understand, but it's not that bad. It gets a bad rap from people that haven't really used it that much. But I'm very comfortable with it, so I feel pretty good about helping you with it. I'm not gonna go into the reasoning behind it*, but let's just say, if you want to use something besides Windows or OSX, for whatever reason, you're in the right place.

21Feb/140

MIDI Effect Sequencing Software For Guitarists

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

As many of you know, I'm working on a complete open-source solution to doing guitar amp and effects emulation in Linux. Because, you know, I'm a geek like that. So far, I've had great success with Guitarix and SooperLooper, and added a few other tools and utilities to make everything work smoothly. I have to say, considering what the equivalent software would cost, I've been pretty impressed with Guitarix. (Rakkarak might someday be a viable performance alternative... it just needs a complete UI redesign. Yes, it's really that bad.)

One of the guitar effects that I've been curious about is an effect sequencer. Some hardware equivalents would be something like the Electro Harmonix 8 Step Program, which lets you sequence a signal that goes to the external control pedal jack of another effect. (Demo video and good explanation of step sequencers (not mine) is here)

13Feb/140

Getting Back Into Evernote

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

I'm actually a big fan of Evernote, if you hadn't heard. However, I haven't been using it much lately. Partly, that's because I made the mistake of using it (on my tablet) at work, and for some inexplicable reason, Evernote massively multiplied the photos I had uploaded, which maxed out my free account monthly bandwidth in about 10 minutes. I thought I had fixed it and deleted the offending notes, but alas, as soon as my limit reset, it promptly locked me out again for another month.

After a few tries, I managed to delete (really delete) the posts causing it, and everything returned to normal. By then, however, I had gotten out of the habit of using it!

Now I've decided to get back into it. Especially with it being Tax Season in the States, there will be plenty of paperwork and things to keep track of. So how do I get back in the swing? I guess I have to start with some things I have lying around, ready to be filed. The program is free, so the only thing it requires is some planning and a little time.

There are currently only four viable options if you want to use Evernote on your Linux computer (that I know of).

  1. Evernote for Windows client in an emulator
  2. Evernote web client in a browser
  3. NixNote/Nevernote
  4. Everpad
5Sep/130

My Guitar Setup

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

Some of you may have been wondering what my actual guitar setup looks like, so after some prodding from the Google+ Worship Guitarists Community, I decided to make a short video and explain what I've got and why I'm using it. Let me know if you have any questions.

In my quest to minimize, I will probably be rearranging some of this equipment, but I will still keep an actual amp setup in case my computer crashes in some way. Just wish MIDI controller pedals were cheaper on Ebay! Sheesh.

29Aug/130

Untangle Web Filter: Thoughts

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

Update: Untangle recently released a very affordable "home" complete package. I'm going to reevaluate it, and update as necessary.

A while back I wrote up an article on how to set up the Untangle Web Filter distribution, and explained how it worked.

However, after a few months' worth of using it, I've discovered a rather unpleasant shortcoming. Untangle doesn't support keyword filtering. So, as easy as Untangle is to set up and configure, it doesn't do the one thing I really needed it to do well: filter web content.

Don't get me wrong, Untangle is still an excellent firewall/filter/etc. distro under certain circumstances, but for home use, the regular "blacklist" content filter just isn't cutting it. Untangle works great for sectioning off your network, doing wireless sharing, access control, etc. and I'd still recommend it for a lot of uses. Just isn't a strong enough filter to work on my home network. Without even trying, I was easily able to find and get to stuff I shouldn't have. This is unacceptable when its primary function is to stop people from accessing unwanted web pages!

So, what do I do now?

Well, good news, there are plenty of web filter packages out there. The best one is probably DansGuardian, which is also free and open-source. The problem is, I can't install it on Untangle, so I'll have to completely redo the filter box with a different Linux installation.

Smoothwall is an excellent firewall/proxy/filter distribution, and I almost used it initially, but it's not quite as easy to set up (I went with Untangle because of its easy setup). However, I recently discovered that Smoothwall has the ability to install third-party modules to add functionality, one of which is DansGuardian (and a Samba file server! Yay! Which is something else Untangle won't do) so it looks like in the next week or two, I will be learning how to install, configure, and run the Smoothwall setup. It should work fine with the existing hardware I have, and it might even work with USB wi-fi adapters, which would be pretty slick. (This would be a great way to repurpose old laptops, etc.)

I will begin the process and document as it goes along. Wish me luck!

16Aug/130

Less Is More: Recycle An Old Computer

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

One of the ways I've been able to save money over the years is to not buy new computers, or software for my older computers.

Seriously. When you buy a new computer, you're paying for the hardware, plus a license to use some version of Windows, but to get Microsoft Office, you have to dish out another few hundred bucks. And antivirus, of course, need that, so that's another $60. CD burning software? It doesn't come with that? Another $20. Games? $20-$50 a pop. And you need other stuff to go with it, of course.

Wouldn't it be nice to just buy a computer, and then be able to use it? Man. Who wants to spend an extra $300 on software to use on a $400-$800 computer? I sure don't. Did you know that there are thousands of perfectly usable programs out there, that work just as well as the Microsoft stuff, that you can download, legally, for free?

Yup. So fire up that shiny new computer, and immediately go find a free web browser, like Chrome or Firefox.

Need something to open and edit Office files? Spreadsheets, documents, and so on? OpenOffice, or Libre Office. Both are fully-functional office suites, but completely and legally free.

Antivirus? Did you know you can download AVG Antivirus for free?

There are tons and tons of more productive things you can put on your computer, for free. Can't upgrade to Windows 7/8? Things like Evernote, Dropbox, or Winamp will work fine on older computers.

But if you want to build the ultimate cheap/free computer, you can pick them up (usually with wiped hard drives) at Goodwill or garage sales. Sometimes I find them in a dumpster! If you happen to find a working, functional computer- even if it's old- you can usually bring it back to life by installing some version of Linux on it, probably Ubuntu.

And Ubuntu is completely, legally, free. It works very similar to OSX, but you don't have to pay $300! Not even $30!! You get an awesome, virus-proof fast-running computer for absolutely nothing more than the cost of the used hardware. How can you beat that?

It comes with Audio/Video software... free. Word processing, internet, chat, webcam, graphics, you name it! All for free, legally. All it takes is some time to get used to it, and learn.

Tagged as: , No Comments
22Jun/130

QMidiRoute, and CPU Scaling In Ubuntu Studio

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

How many of you are aware of the program "QMidiRoute"? It lets you transform any kind of MIDI input into any other... it doesn't have the power of something like Mididings, but it's got a GUI and is very easy to use. What do I use it for?

On my live looping guitar setup, I wanted to be able to control three programs with one MIDI foot controller, an old ART X-15. The pedal isn't programmable, so for me to split up messages, I use QMidiRoute. It goes something like this:

I'm using Rakarrak for guitar sounds (I also use Guitarix, which sounds better), and I'm pretty much using it in stompbox mode, i.e. just turning single effects on and off. The mapping uses a single CC# and different distinct values to turn individual fx on/off (which is dumb). I can put the pedal in CC mode, but I can't make it do that... qmidiroute can do that for me. Also, any PC signals automatically change presets in Rakarrak, which I don't want... so I have qmidiroute discard anything it doesn't have a specific rule for.

For SooperLooper, I want to be able to use PC messages 1-10 to record, dub, change loops, and so on. It doesn't need any translations, so I have my MIDI messages going straight to it. It only does what you map it to, so no other changes are needed for it.

For Hydrogen, I want to use my second bank of PC messages (11-20) to control it, but Hydrogen doesn't recognize PC signals, only notes or CC values. Once again, qmidiroute to the rescue... I can make specific PC changes translate into an actual note, which I can then use to trigger controls or one-shots from Hydrogen.

You can also have multiple configurations, and make a shortcut that loads that particular file on startup, which makes it easy to use in a live performance setting! You just add it to your Jack patch panel, save it, and the next time you fire it up, it's automatically configured and patched in.

Check it out! It can also route signals to two different output ports, which lets you split notes or note ranges (or PC and CC ranges) to two different outputs.

qmidiroute

This leads me to my next problem to tackle... I hadn't been able to run guitar effects very well, due to random CPU spikes and latency issues. In my research to build my laptop into a live performance machine, I stumbled across some interesting information about CPU frequency scaling, and how in XFCE it is extremely wonky... I did some research, and discovered how to manually override the wonky settings with a program called "cpufreq-set" (in package "cpufrequtils").

I also noticed how my laptop would go out of performance mode whenever I started Jack, which caused all kinds of problems with latency. So, I added a couple of scripts in the Jack configuration tab, which forces the CPUs into Performance Mode when Jack starts, and puts them back in economy mode when Jack stops. (I had to add superuser rights to the program cpufreq-set to do this).

Here's the page with all the info on cpufrequtils, and a screenshot of my Jack startup/shutdown scripts.

http://www.pantz.org/software/cpufreq/usingcpufreqonlinux.html

Screenshot - 06222013PM

You can see the numbers, those are forcing the CPUs to run at a max of 2.2Ghz and a min of 800Mhz, respectively.

11Jun/138

My Linux Rig

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

I got the idea to post up the computer setup I'm using from MyLinuxRig, which is itself a derivative of The Setup which outlines what successful people use to get things done. So without too much fuss, here's my Linux Rig questionnaire! This is what I use to get stuff done.

1. Who are you and what do you do?

I'm Jeff Hendricks. During the day, I am a technical writer for the Manufacturing Engineering department of a major agricultural equipment manufacturer. By night, I'm a writer and musician. On the weekends, I organize and lead the music in our local church.

2. What Distro do you run on your main desktop/laptop?

I'm currently running Ubuntu Studio 12.04, probably will upgrade to 13.04 for testing/documentation purposes. I started off with Red Hat 7.3 years ago, migrated to SuSE for a few years, and then settled on Ubuntu somewhere around 2008. When I discovered Ubuntu Studio in 2010, I knew I had found what I was looking for.

3. What software do you depend upon with this distro?

Ubuntu Studio is geared towards audio, video, graphic, and creative production in general. For music, I use Ardour, Hydrogen, SooperLooper, and a bunch of other tools... LMMS is nice, Rakarrak, and so on. Ubuntu Studio comes with just about everything you'd need for music production already installed and configured.

For writing, I use the Linux Beta of Scrivener, from Literature and Latte. I also use WriteOrDie (with Adobe Air) for those stubborn days of writer's block.

For productivity I use Dropbox, Evernote (running in Wine), Lastpass, XMarks, Thunderbird, and LibreOffice occasionally. I use a lot of Google Chrome plugins too, especially CloudPrint, XMarks and LastPass. I use Evernote Clearly on a daily basis to read news articles without all the garbage ads and sidebars.

4. What kind of hardware do you run it on?

I've got an inexpensive HP 625 laptop, I upgraded it to 8GB of RAM. It's not that fast, and the touchpad on it is very iffy... otherwise, it's rock solid, haven't had a problem with it. Does everything I want it to. If I upgrade in the future, I'll probably go with a higher-end HP with a better chipset. (I'm also HP repair tech certified, so fixing those laptops is a piece of cake)

5. What is your ideal Linux setup?

I think an HP Elitebook 2170p (I've used these, they're very nice!) would be perfect with an SSD and 8+ GB of memory. It's got ridiculous battery life (around 8 hours with the extended battery) and it's very portable, yet packs full-size laptop performance. And everything is Linux-compatible. It'd be perfect with a docking station and dual 22" monitors! The only downside is that is uses Intel graphics... not my first choice. It wouldn't be for gaming, though, so it's okay.

6. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

Here's a shot of my desktop running Native Instrument's Guitar Rig 5 under Wine using ASIO drivers.

GuitarRig 5

 

ADDENDUM:

What is a computer if you can't have fun with it? Here's some games I play on my Linux machine when I'm not working! Some I got from the Humble Indie Bundle, some from Steam, some I bought direct. All are native Linux versions.

29Apr/131

Why Windows 8 is Ahead of its Time (and Why I Won’t be Using it)

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

Yesterday, I set up and used a Windows 8 desktop computer for the first time. And I know what you're thinking... you were a computer tech for 18 years, it's been out for almost a year, and you're just now getting around to it? I think there's some validity to that question, but the truth is, I don't like Microsoft. (This is not a secret, by any means.) I installed and set one up for some friends of mine, and I have to admit, I was both impressed, and frustrated.

I'm not going to go into what Windows 8 can do (there's plenty of that around); instead, I'm going to try to explain why the infamous Win 8 user interface (or "UI") is ahead of its time... way too far ahead.

windows8metro

The experience is... how shall we say... interesting. I've been a computer guy for close to 20 years, so I've seen almost every kind of UI there is. Not much fazes me, until I suddenly realize I can't find stuff, not because it's hidden, but because it's not there... and since this is Windows, there's certain things that should be there, and easy to find.

Things that are missing:

We can start with the obvious. A software menu of some sort. Metro is not a replacement for the start menu, it's a disgusting pile of "mystery Meat" navigation. No text titles? No options? What is this, Kindergarten? I can read just fine, thank you. Please put a logical list of the software I have at my disposal, so I can decide what I want to run. Or even know what I can run. With Metro, you don't even know what the machine does.

There are plenty of other things it can't do, and it's obvious that Windows 8 is basically a tablet OS, based on desktop code. It doesn't work well on a desktop at all.

It comes down to TXT.

So why did they do it? Because, on a tablet, it's actually very slick. Touchscreen PCs are slightly less usable, but who buys those? Microsoft is basically hedging their bets that the traditional desktop PC will go the way of the dinosaurs. The sad thing is, it won't, at least not any time soon.

I could see keyboards eventually going out of use, once the voice recognition of a PC can accurately dictate your voice in a room of other voices. I could see Xbox Kinect-like PCs using body motions to navigate (well, yeah... like the Xbox) but the technology for text input just isn't there yet.

Ask any tablet user what's the most frustrating thing to do on it, and the answer is almost always "typing." Why? Because touchscreen interfaces just aren't up to the task, and voice recognition isn't developed enough to replace it. So today's Windows 8 is firmly stuck smack in the dead spot of computer evolution. We still communicate by reading and writing, for the most part... even if you post a picture or video, you type a description of it. Even "txt spk" has to be typed, albeit horribly.

So Windows 8 was designed for something that doesn't exist yet. It's a desktop OS for a portable machine that isn't there. Sure, you can buy a high-end tablet that will run it, but you can get a better experience (and better performance) from an OS that was designed for portable devices from the start.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Since I have no use for Windows 8 RT on a tablet, and I have 100% more flexibility and usability from free operating systems like Ubuntu Studio on a laptop or desktop, this is where Windows and I finally part ways.

It's been interesting... since the Windows 3.1 days with floppies and DOS, to Windows 7 which was quirky, but usable... the run has been nice, but it's over. My Microsoft days are officially over.

At least for me. How about you?

Tagged as: , 1 Comment
28Apr/130

How To Add Free Filtered WiFi To Your Network

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

Update: Untangle recently released a very affordable "home" complete package. I'm going to reevaluate it, and update as necessary.

Well, like the title says. If you have a business or church that wants to have freely accessible (and filtered) wi-fi for guests, it's not as daunting a task as you think. In fact, I can show you how to do it yourself... with stuff you probably already have laying around! You'll need some computer skills, but nothing fancy. If you can use a screwdriver and know how to hook a computer up, you can probably do this yourself. Interested? Read on! Much thanks to the file people at Untangle.com who made this software package freely available for people like us!

First, we put together a list of things we'll need.

  1. An old or used (preferably functional!) computer. You want something with at least 512MB of memory, a hard drive (10GB or more is fine) and a CD-Rom for installing the OS. 
  2. Wi-Fi access point (you may be able to use an old router if it supports AP mode)
  3. Small network switch (only needs to be 4 ports, but use what you can find)
  4. Some Cat5 ethernet cables
  5. Two PCI ethernet cards (preferrably Intel or 3Com, but use what you can find)
  6. A blank CD-R (or a 1GB thumb drive)
  7. Another computer with a CD burner
  8. Someplace to set the computer up and work on it (keyboard, monitor, mouse, etc.)

Once you've assembled your stuff, you're going to want to give the old computer a check-up to make sure it's in good working condition. If possible, blow it out with compressed air. Make sure all the cables are connected. Make sure it has two open PCI slots for the network cards!

100_3505