Friday, January 31, 2014

Please Try These At Home

Inspired by my friend Paradox Olbers, here's my first annual list of security stuff that I recommend that you do.  I will help you if you need help finding and setting your preferences.

I follow all of these recommendations myself.  In each tool, I enable all of the protections.  I suggest that you do so as well.  That will cause a very few slimy web sites to not work very well.   You might have to list them as exceptions to the rules.  The privacy and security rules should be strict.  Complain to those sites.  Not working correctly with modern security has become completely unacceptable.

Web browsers: use only Firefox or Iron (Google's Chrome minus privacy leaks)
If your web browser is not Free (as in Freedom) Software or at least Open Source, they are hiding something.  If you can't audit it or have it audited, it is not safe.  Period.  You've heard me say this before.  The community-developed Free Software web browsers are actually better than the stuff that came with your computer---which can't be trusted. 
On those more secure platforms install:
  • HTTPS Everywhere to turn normal web connections into secure ones.  This is from the Electronic Freedom Foundation, AKA the good guys.
  • Adblock Plus to completely remove most advertising from your web experience.  Ads can be deceptive, with simulated popups that look like real warning messages from your computer.  Just say goodbye to all of them.  Turn on the feature that blocks Adobe Flash until/unless you click on the movie to start it playing.  Flash shouldn't be allowed to run unattended. 
  • Ghostery is a tool that blocks the invisible trackers, monitors, beacons and other  spyware that popular websites use or tolerate.  Crank it up to 11.  There is no reason to put up with any of this stuff.  Turn on the popup that shows you all the spyware that it found and blocked per page.   You will probably turn this feature off after a while.   I leave on.  It's pretty appalling, all this stuff that is hidden under most web pages.  It invades your privacy by tracking you and it slows the entire web down.  Slowing down the internet is bad.  That's damage.  We have to route around it.
If you have extremely good and pressing reasons that require you to use a commercial operating system, you need to plug the holes they left in.  Get a top-quality antivirus/anti-spyware package (Kaspersky, Norton, AVG) and keep it updated.  I don't consider that sufficient but I do consider it mandatory.

For Windows there's a free (as in price) version of AVG:
AVG Free Edition 64-bit
AVG Free Edition 32-bit

Don't use the same password on more than one web site.  Don't use overly simple passwords.  Follow the guidelines that each site will tell you, they are right to ask for better passwords.

Following these recommendations is not going to create peace in our time, but it will improve your security online.

People who sell or buy web advertising will say my stance is antisocial.  Tough.  Nobody ever said they were entitled to revenue streams.  This isn't censorship.  Content producers will claim that they will go out of business if you don't view the ads.  Tough.  If they reviewed all their ads, and insured your privacy, there would be no problem, but hey want to leave their pages full of messy invisible scripts and other stuff that you don't have control over.  Except that now you do have control.

I need you to know that you have that control.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Everyone is Equal and the Mail Must Go Through

That is the message that is the internet.

This is my rant, that I know is very much in the vein of Marshal McLluhan's "The Medium is the Message."  Wikipedia's take on this work seems a bit off to me and I won't link to it.  McLuhan was saying that the ultimate message of a medium is the medium itself.  Broadcast radio or television is a few-to-all message.  "The few of us decide what we provide to everyone."

The message that is contained in the very lowest layers, the autonomic system, of the internet is this: "Everyone is equal and the mail must go through." This was "an accident, really" because it was needed during the Cold War.  Parts of the network might get blown up and the surviving parts would have to cooperate and reroute things so that messages could get through.  This is serving us very well today because servers are always crashing and companies go out of business, but the mail goes through.  Massachusetts moment: a lot of this autonomic layer was created near Fresh Pond in Cambridge at BBN.  A bit later at BBN, at my first real job, I troubleshot some of the very first internet routers.

You probably connect to the internet through a cable company or a phone company.  These companies are trying to extort money from popular internet sites because "we provide the customers to you."  They want to slow down your connections to video sites that they don't own, unless they pay the extortion money, etc.  They want to block access to whatever they want to or whatever the government (UK, China, US) dictates.  This is what the "Network Neutrality" legal fight is about.  There is no real question here at all.  "Everyone is equal and the mail must go through."  No tampering.  No reading everybody's mail.  No extortion.  These companies must understand that they are providing a utility like water or electricity or we have to replace them and they will just die.  "The mail must go through."  I tell you: one antenna per housetop, no access companies at all.  The technology is ready. 

I cannot tell you how deeply this is written on my bones.

John Gilmore famously said "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it."  He was preaching to the choir, so I'll interpret.  If all of the mail, everyone's mail, everyone's opinion, is not getting through, well, the internet is broken.  We will wake up and re-route around the problem.

The internet does not consist of machines.  It's made up of people. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metcalf's_law The people who feel this most deeply are the people of my age who were exposed to the message before the public implications of that message were even understood.  For us, we'll carry it on our backs if we have to; the mail must go through.  You'll see gals and guys of my age, all the way down to pre-teens, running around with wires and antennas yelling things like "Maybe we can route through Cleveland!" and "What about Canada?"

I think the long term future of the internet is secure, but there are going to be huge ugly legal and political battles.  Nations and major corporations and business models will die.  The message that is the internet is not the message of corporate interests.  It is not compatible with a top-down government.  I think it will get very ugly.

Internet people think about the very long term.  Electricity might become scarce so some are raising pigeons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IP_over_Avian_Carriers It works.  Today, avian data transfer speed is increasing at three times the rate of increase in electronic internet speeds.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cat urine vs. Digital Piano, Round 2

Formerly-Feral-Fergus peed into my digital piano before settling down into his new home.

Round one was adjudicated as being won by the cat pee because the rubber-boot key contacts would not sit straight when the circuit board was slid over them from the end of the action.

You can see pee-induced corrosion and the way that the boots are not all happily slotted-in.  They have to be un-stressed in order to move freely.
This shows the skews caused by trying to slide the tight-fitting circuit-board under the rubber boots.  The boots are molded in long strips.   There are three sections in the bass half of the keyboard.  The contacts are graphite that is somehow applied to the bottom of the dents of the boots.  Strike force is calculated by measuring the time between two switch events.  If you look closely you can see two dents in each boot.

This instrument has a great deal of spill resistance in that the switching is capacitive and not based on making electrical contact.  If it weren't for the fact that the urine crystalized, I think there would have been no problem.   It still worked while it was wet.

I put one of the hammers on top of the keybed so you can see it.  The hammers strike up through the slots from below and pass into the body of the key.  They don't actually strike the keytop, though.

If you look carefully at the hammers, you'll see a round opening with a bushing.  That's completely unused in this instrument.  At first I thought it was a feature for a different action using these same hammers, but after removing most of them manually, I've figured it out.  That bushing takes a rod.  The rod is a tool that allow you to install or remove a bunch, maybe all, of the bushings in one operation.

Wish me luck.  I like this instrument.  It's a GEM (General Music, Italy) PRP-800.  The GEM instruments had something to them that I can only call a traditional Italian craftsmanship.  They didn't have a lot of glitzy features, and they didn't compete on technical specifications.  They just have a musicality and responsiveness that's often lacking in sample-based instruments.








Saturday, January 4, 2014

Word for today: Panopticon. It's where the NSA has put you.

Edward Snowden and the Universal Panopticon

Edward Snowden is a great patriot and American hero of the current era.  I am supremely glad that I'm only at most two (and really only one) link removed from someone who has collected all the Snowden documents and is studying them.  I would spend too much time screaming and throwing things were I to be doing it myself.

The UK is now going after the editors of the Guardian.   I wrote the following in response to Marty Hiller's post that links to a petition about that:

 I'm going to be very grouchy and extremely worried (more so than I am now) unless a lot of senior people go to jail for significant time. It's not as though this was not deliberate policy. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse" and it's not as if people were ignorant. Reimplementing the Internet from scratch isn't going to be easy, but it's a simple technical problem. Simple fully open modern best practices would fix almost everything. But I'm not spending effort there. That solution stands or falls on getting "Grandma Sally" and the teens and tweens to use it. That's the real problem. That and the fact that the telcos will spend billions to fight being put back into their box of providing only packet-forwarding. I wouldn't even let them see routing information. There's no reason that can't be encrypted with the public key of a trusted, auditable DNS/routing service. This is going to be extremely ugly because the telcos will buy law as they usually do. And, no system is idiot-proof and disinformation about how to be secure will weaken almost anything I can think up.

-----
Writing for a different audience, I should strengthen that and explain myself a bit further.  The NSA knows where every single cell phone in the world is, all the time, unless they are switched off.  I wouldn't trust the off switch, if I were you.  So, the NSA knows who your political associates are.  Any information that's available to the government is available for abuse.  Remember J. Edgar Hoover's little hobby of helping out presidents he liked?

I imply in the above that I'd accept simple encryption of packet headers (the internet is a packet network, information travels in packets and the packet routing header is like the address on a letter that you send via the Post Office).   When I say encryption I'm talking about negotiated dynamically switched pluggable ciphers with keys that are secure against being broken for the foreseeable future.  I'm talking about chaffing and winnowing on top of that and using all the obsolete fields in the headers in arcane ways.  (I've done this.)  I'm not sure if foreseeable should include Turing-complete (fully functional) quantum computers.  It would be good if we could stay ahead of those things.  They are still looking almost impossible to build, but some day the NSA will spend enough billions, and the week after that there'll be cheap counterfeit-but-working chips for sale on the street in Shanghai.   Praying that that won't happen isn't going to do much good if it is physically achievable.   Look at the books by David Deutsch for a glimpse of what physicists think is possible.  "The Fabric of Reality" is a good place to start.  Deutsch is a physicist at Oxford.  He's not a New Age guy.

I got an offer a couple of weeks ago to be the CTO of a firm that intends to "make the internet safe."   They've got a pile of academic research that they assume you'll be impressed by.  It doesn't matter for one second what their technology is.  It relies on getting "Aunt Sally", her friends, and all the teens and tweens of the world to drop the real Facebook and Twitter and G+ and SoundCloud, to go with their replacements in something like an opt-in  web-of-trust world.  Okay, so none of their friends is there....it's SAFE isn't it?   Just how safe was your behavior when you were a teen?  Besides, that web-of-trust world will last just as long as it takes someone's idiot uncle to add "that annoying guy at the office" to his trusted circles just to shut the guy up.

If we fix the obvious problem with the NSA tapping everything all time in the only way that will really work, most of the big telephone and networking and cablevision companies are going to die.  If they can't see what you're watching, they don't have any information to sell.  Solutions that involve trusting the government to clean house and remain clean-and-sober, are absurd.  The only thing that can possibly work is an infrastructure that's inherently secure.  We can do that.  I know smart people who are working on the technical side right now.

Having a free, perfect, solution won't work.   Aunt Sally needs to prefer that solution and go cold-turkey on Facebook.

The best infrastructure imaginable will still allow your child to give his address or phone number (maybe via evading pattern-matchers) to a predator in a chat room.   That's why Eli Yudkowsky thinks we have to create trustworthy godlike artificial intelligences).   I'm almost more afraid of that solution than I am of the alternative that he's afraid of.

This next decade is going to be interesting, in the traditional Chinese sense of "interesting."



Friday, December 27, 2013

What I Look At


This is what I tend to be looking at when I'm doing programming work.  It's subtle, but you can see the effect of rainbow-delimiters-mode on the second line of real code.  Nested parens and braces get highlighted in different colors.  It beats counting them!  All the long explicit names are there so that some future maintainer can understand the code.  There's way too much use of numeric constant indexes here.  It's hard to make myself replace a one character 0 or 1 with the name 'base_offset', though.  I'm not sure that would improve clarity.  This is definitely not as clear as I would like.


Friday, November 15, 2013

The Kitchen Computer

The Kitchen Computer

It's the perfect computer for my kitchen.  I'll have to find one.  I'm sure you can play kill-the-bit on it while waiting for the food to cook.  Check out the genuine vintage sexism in the original photo caption.  Mind you, this is sexism from Neiman-Marcus PR flacks against a chef who can read binary and enter her recipes using toggle switches.  My mother and aunt Jane hand-built mad scientist radar research prototypes at MIT during WWII.  They never really wanted to learn to cook, though. I had to scrounge through the cupboards on my own.

The described UI is wonderful.  It's too bad they don't have a photo of that part.

I knew this generation of computer hardware rather inimately.  I hand-debugged H316 hardware in Alston, MA in the dead of night, part of my early internet plumbing days which extended to debugging Pluribae (plural of Pluribus?) at BBN.  They had Tenex at BBN, of course, and I developed a sort of channeling skill where I could discover commands and APIs by absorbing the mindset of the developers.   There was no documentation.  Channeling the developers' mindset continues to come in handy.





Friday, September 6, 2013

Giant map for my Chinese phase, which is still going strong

This thing is a real whopper of a map.  It's the best topographic map of China that I've been able to find.  I got it on eBay, which is where some of the greatest stuff washes-up.

- HUGE Vintage Canvas Backed Roll Up Wall Map - China
- Canvas Backed
- Made in Germany by Denover Geppert
- BIG - 66" x 90"
 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Reverb, verb, verb, verb, erb, erb, erb, buh, buh, buh....

Ariesverb, it doesn't get better than this.  If you can just use the presets in the demo, get 0.7.6 beta demo.  If you want to save your work and can live with a host-provided GUI, get 0.4, which sounds just as good to me. Insanely wonderful modulated tails to die for.  You wouldn't think that modulation in the tail was important--I didn't--but it is.

Wizooverb, if you can find an old copy. One of my go-to reverbs along with Ariesverb. Great sound, great GUI.  Wizoo is gone, and no one took it forward.  Algorithmic and "High Def" Convolution.  Cute trick: Convolution early refections fading into an algorithmic modulated tail, but you can get one or the other purely if you want.  Sounds terrific, but more clinical than Ariesverb.  I probably haven't played with it enough. I think it has modulation somewhere. Much, much more approachable than the latest Ariesverb which lets you play with the algorithms. Won't ever go 64bit, obviously.  Where the heck is the code?  It should be released, not chained. I'm an Open Source hacker.

Ambience.  The go-to reverb for many people, but for some reason not me.  Lots of people agree with the tag line "Rivals the quality of many commercial reverbs."  Lots and lots and lots of great presets.  Get it for this alone.  Among the preset developers you'll see Rob Papen who is rather famous in the plugin world. Hey, I'm liking the presets right now as I write this.

MuVerb. Algo. From MuTools, makers of the MuLab audio production workstation. Original algos, not Synthedit. Really nice tails! Odd, but nice purple GUI.  Seriously, this is a nice reverb and I need to start using it!  Watch me put this up near the top of this list.

Reverberate LE
.  Convolution with many controls. Commercial promo-ware which probably gets updated.

Old freebies that are still useful, but will probably stay 32bit:

Epicverb from Variety of Sound.  He's still in business and has other great stuff.  This is the go-to freeware reverb for many people.  Algorithmic.  Get the presets that are in another download.  Nice GUI for a freebie! Not too many controls, but I have trouble controlling it.

Revolverb Lite.  Convolution reverb for people who are non-technical.  Three total controls, plus loading your convolution file.  Sounds great, just like you'd expect a good 16bit convolution verb to sound like--despite the dated GUI.  Was this the first freeware convolver?  There never was a non-Lite version.  Just get this. You'll like it.  Download a few impulse response files and go to it.  Search the forum (not the whole site) at kvraudio.com.  This verb does not get enough attention.

SIR is the commonly-mentioned freeware convolver, but since it went commercial for V2.0, it's really in the same boat as Revolverb, but it works and offers more controls than revolverb.

EVM V90. I don't like all his plugs, but I have some affection for this one. Maybe it has some fixed modulation in the tails.  Can go to huge hall/outer space sizes.  Simple, cute, algo-only.

Gigaverb.  Algo. Nobody but me seems to use it. I mentioned huge halls in EVM 90.  Gigaverb is for when you really need spaces up to 300 meters in size and decays of up to a minute. Smooth! Good to have in your collection.  Hard to find, get it here: http://www.mathieubosi.com/zikprojects/GigaverbVST.zip

Antress ModernSpacer (black or silver) The Modern-Foo plugins, and there are dozens, are a mixed bag, but this is a nice little algo reverb.  Algo. Sounds pretty good to me.  Hmmm, a quick check says it doesn't appear to be a Synthedit-made plug.  I don't like his other verb.  Remember that (pace Waldorf, Inc.) black sounds better.

Cinematic Reverb.  Algo, ancient GUI.  Good sound, and can go into nearly infinite decay. I love infinite decay.

Freezechamber
.  Algo. Speaking of infinite decays... This thing has a freeze button which keeps the reverb sound from decaying!  I think it's just looping over the buffer, but with some smoothing so there's a clean loop.  Doesn't sound like a loop, though. This is a serious product. Has manual, has MIDI controls. Just get it.

Empire 2.  An oldie from the well regarded spiritcanyonaudio.com.  Nice sound, you get to select from the algorithms, which have helpful names like "Catacombs" and "Ballroom."  Ugly but usable GUI. A professional product, really.

Hispasonic reverb, hispverb, Hispasonic.  I don't know why this algo seems to sound better than the Freeverb it's based on. I think this is just a skin, really.  Maybe it's the latin flavor.  It has the "Olga synth" factor for me.  I can't read the controls and have to experiment.  Algo, the Freeverb algo.

Freeverb.  Algo. Many people like it.  I don't use it or the Hispasonic version.  Ugly but usable GUI.  Has a convo version that I have not tried.  Now has 64bit.  In active development.

LIŚĆ VERB (hey,with a name like mine, I can type this name correctly) Brand new. Synthedit.  Is this the standard Synthedit reverb?  Doesn't sound bad, and the GUI is rather nice.  I want to like the guy whi makes these "Saltline" plugs. Has a weird freeze implementation that is hard to use, you have to turn a knob.  I don't love the sound. Maybe that's just me?  I haven't seen any reviews.

Mverb. Wusik did a new GUI for this classic algo. Get it from their site. I like the "quad" version which gives you two reverbs in parallel in one plugin.  I used that for flexible early reflections using one, and tail from the other. See the original Novaflash-style GUI on the single version and recoil in horror. No offense to that artist, I just don't get his GUI designs.  I just picked up the 64bit versions since I was writing this.

Reverbering. Rather old, but I like what I heard just now. Bizarre GUI, good sound, very few presets--but nice ones.

GlaceVerb. A current favorite of many people.  Nice sound, seriously great GUI, with a checkerboard display of the room you've created.  A professional product all around.  Can't go wrong with this one.  See their new synth plugs, too, but I have not tried them.

Reverb-O-Matic. Fun!  Moorer's six comb filter algo.  File name moorereverb differs from the plugin name I seen in Reaper (Reverb-O-Matic).  You can get wild interacting chaotic echos with the six LP coefficient sliders.  Eccentric GUI. Wear sunglasses or ingest substances before opening.  Wild fun!

RoomMachine844
.  Algo. Old GUI looks like a drawing of a rackmount.  Decay control seems to operate backwards.  Some people love this thing and it doesn't sound bad.  It was a go-to for a while in the freeware scene.  Original algos.

Space360. One of those interesting reverb plugs that show you the parameters as speakers and a human head in a room, but, no, you can't drag the icons.  I can't get good results right away with this and I dropped it.  You might do well with it.

Last but not least: Algorverb. Simple, clean GUI.  Really nice sound.  Original algos.   A forgotten gem.  I love this one.  You can push it into oscillation, and infinite decay. A grand total of four presets, but it's so simple that it's ultra easy to make your own sounds.  Six total sliders.  No other controls.  Mayhem if you want it.

That's all folks.  That's the contents of my Reaper reverbs folder.  Try not to ask me about my old EnergyXT reverb folder. It's scary in there.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Type non-English characters easily on Linux or any X-windows system!

The following works extremely well and does not break anything for typical users of English-language keyboards.

You have to edit the ~/.Xmodmap (traditional name, any  file name is okay) then do this in your init (.bashrc or .profile):
xmodmap ~/.Xmodmap

You are telling the xmodmap program to load custom keystrokes for this login session.

Below  is the edit to get a Compose key that enables most Unicode characters such as the í in my name or the the â in the French château.  I once broke the â in a Digital Equipment product, and you hear from the French, immédiatement if you do that!  To get that â, you hold down a special key call Compose, (like a shift key) type the a, which does not show immediately, and follow it with the ^ key.  This works for any vowel. Other sequences are similarly obvious. Just try it until it works for you.
Type Compose-i' to get the í in my name.

keycode 133 =  Multi_key

That's the entire content of my .Xmodmap.  It turns the Windows key into the Compose key.  Works for just about any well-behaved program, LibreOffice, browsers, etc.

This is a universal (any X-windows system) solution.

I find this super useful because it gets you French and Spanish, German, and most European languages  with no fooling around.  Asian and Aramaic languages are harder to do and having a dedicated keyboard would be the best thing.  Experts in a language might be able to manage with an English keyboard, but not me.

See this page for a readable, if simplistic, tutorial:
http://www.3till7.net/2005/12/28/non-english-characters-in-linux/
I just found that via Google.

The official technical docs make this look really hard.  It's not hard!

Thanks to Aron Insinga, who inspired me to write the first draft of this.  Anyone: please correct me if I'm wrong about some detail or failed to explain something well enough.

I once had all 14 Digital Equipment Co. keyboards in my office there.

Anyone: Please correct me if I got something work or failed to explain something well enough.




Wednesday, June 26, 2013

More skeuomorphism in the music software world.

This guy is a design genius with the artistic clout to make it happen.  Seriously he does UIs for hardware and software.  It's insane that this is free.  It's going to be my main platform for making music.  I was already in the process of moving off of EnergyXT (abandonware), but this skin makes Reaper like having a wonderful huge mixer to work with.

Okay, so why am I endlessly posting about skeumorphic interfaces when I am a noted objector to them?  I object when the metaphor doesn't work well enough or when the implementation is harder to use than a simple UI using the platform-native widgets.

What you get here in this mixer skin is a number of what Don Norman calls affordances--the way a polished metal panel on a door affords (suggests) pushing.  Here the controls are so very 'tactile' that the sliders afford sliding, the knobs, turning and the buttons being pushed.

Here the 3D element provides an excellent set of contrasts in the differing kinds of knobs, along with the physical beauty.  The artist is fully conversant with traditional mixing boards and is using that set of controls and layout.  It's not slavish, though, it takes advantage of things like tooltips and and pop-up menus.  It's not a replica of any specific vintage console, but it speaks to my heart.






Saturday, June 22, 2013

A piece of outstanding skeuomorphic art: XTrim from Sknote.it 

Functional Art

It's an audio processing plugin made to look like a vacuum-tube era studio device.  You need a music or audio processing program as a host for this VST format plugin.

XTrim works very well and retains all of its skeumorphism as it does.  Rotate the knobs and the specular highlights (bright spots) stay in place as the knob rotates very, very precisely, meaning hundreds of images were made for each knob.  Despite the incredible skeumorphism it provides extremely precise adjustments.

Narrowing and Panning


One piece of its functionality that I use is the stereo field narrowing and panning.  Many physical and virtual synthesizers produce exaggerated stereo (which sounds good in the music store, or in a demo) which becomes difficult in a mix.  Imagine several different instruments, each with its own idea of the stereo field.  You can't meaningfully move them to toward the left or right.  You can merge to mono, and then pan, but the phase shifts that create the stereo field then become phase cancelations that greatly alter the tone and behavior. What you need, and what this tool does, is to narrow the stereo field of each instrument to taste and then be able to move the instrument to where you want it.  After I saw this thing, I had to have it, just looking at the images, but it is extremely useful just for this one of its features.  This is just one (two, really) of its features.  I could implement these  features now that I understand the idea, using several different plugins with different user interfaces and different ways of storing settings.  I certainly won't do that when Sknote offers this lovely piece of work for $19.99.  If I want to, I can use one on each instrument in a mix.

Copy Protection that can't get in your way

The copy protection is only a small overlay of the purchaser's name at the bottom, which is a nice, classy touch.

One possible improvement

What do I think could be improved?  The labels are deliberately fairly low contrast against the background. The graduations around the knobs are fine, but at the standard fixed size of the GUI, the labels are hard to read, and made harder by the acronyms.  I think the labels need to be a bit brighter.  The acronyms are standard ones and should be kept for space reasons as on the original devices.

The company

Quinto Sardo of Sknote answers email quickly and provides excellent customer service.