Sunday, December 30, 2018

Somewhere In The MIDI

There are 3 modes to MIDI.
1. It works.
2. It doesn't work.
3. You have to patch it to make it work.

I've just spent an enjoyable hour and a half in mode 3. Sometimes mode 3 is a nightmare. No matter what you do it's always in mode 2 or trying to resolve itself to mode 2. When you finally get to mode 1 it's best to get your ideas recorded in the fastest possible time before you change a voicing and find yourself back in mode 2.
I say enjoyable because I went from mode 2 to 3 and then to 1 and messed with voicings and managed to stay in 1. All good.

I've spent the last few months rebuilding my late lamented studio. A few years ago I sold a lot of hardware because I was writing music in FL Studio but it's now been about 3 years since I owned a Windows PC and so I've been without both hardware and software.
I had a couple of choices. Firstly I could spend a significant amount of money on a new Windows PC and get FL Studio up and running or I could replace the hardware with updated kit for about the same price.
While I'm competent with both set-ups I went with the latter. I just thought it'd be more fun. I was right. Tonight I programmed my Yamaha MIDI sequencer and re-voiced the tracks with a Korg keyboard. It sounded great and while messing around I opened a few more sequencing doors. I've added some new ideas to my workflow.

In case you're interested the kit list is:

Yamaha QY300 - MIDI Sequencer and secondary sound bank.
Korg Liverpool (MicroArranger) - Sequencer and main sound bank.
Zoom R8 - 8 track recorder, sampler, drum sequencer and guitar fx.
Squire Precision Bass
Zoom B1on - Bass multi FX and looper.
Blue Moon electric 6 string guitar.
Ashbury baritone ukulele.

What I'm hoping to produce is some kind of techno bass jazz but we'll see about that.
Making music has never been a precise art.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Alternative Radio

UK radio stations on the whole are terrible.
Most FM stations are a complete waste of time. Radio 4 is an exception but only sometimes. AM is sparsely populated and so hit or miss as to be worth very little of my time. LW doesn't fare any better, RTE 252 is decent but reception is limited.

This is of course my opinion. Many people love listening to the same tunes on a roll interspersed with adverts. People like to phone into shows and give their opinion of the events of the day however irrelevant. They also like interacting via social media if only to listen back to what they've just typed. That's a little harsh but not wide of the mark.
What I'm looking for is educational material, in depth analysis and good investigative journalism. The BBC has this covered for the most part on Radio 4 but it seems to be dumbing itself down in recent years.
Radio 6 Music is OK most of the time when I have a digital radio nearby which tends to be only at home.

It's a sign of the times that we all want and to some extent expect personalised content. When I'm in the truck at night I listen to podcasts, occasionally Radio 4 or nothing. What I miss is the radio as a tool of exploration, of discovery, of surprise, shock or delight. At home I have so many radios that when one type runs out of options I switch to another and carry on the search. Even that's getting more difficult with digital noise deafening the bands.

What I needed in the truck for when the podcasts ran out, which they frequently do, was a scanner. I've spent these last 2 nights programming in frequencies to my new Uniden UBC125XLT. Scanners are great radios. Like fishing you prepare your rod, line and bait and then wait. Sometimes there's nothing to catch, other times you can be overwhelmed. The surprise element is always possible. The anticipation is probably the best part and if all else fails there's always aviation to keep you occupied. That's what the books behind the scanner are. One is a totally nerdy guide to Air Traffic Control for radio enthusiasts. The other is an official study guide for radio operation when learning to fly.
They're both probably a bit overkill but I do intend to understand what pilots are going on about when that's all there is to listen to.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Another Lubuntu Win

Well that put a stop to the music making.
And I'm not even bothered.

The RAM for the old (read ancient) computer turned up early so I've spent this evening / morning getting everything working. I knew the PC had had Ubuntu previously installed so I added the new 2GB RAM and powered up. I was surprised to find a fresh Ubuntu 14.04 distro waiting for me. Even with the new RAM it chugged. So much so that simple screen animations took forever. I started to doubt how good the new memory sticks were. It was no wonder that I hadn't done anything productive on it.
Fast forward through a long install of Lubuntu 18.04 including one mistake and backtrack to correct it. I had wanted to boot straight into Terminal because the PC is so old but I wasn't given the option. I didn't have high hopes for the GUI desktop when it appeared after the first boot.

How wrong I was. This modern distro flies on this old machine. More likely than not because it's an old Lenovo with an AMD Sempron chip inside. Both of these things favour Linux OS even today. I then spent a decent half hour installing the extra software I really need, Emacs, Vim, Imagemagick etc. This is still going to be a barebones PC.

So there it is, a modern, fast PC. If you have one gathering dust somewhere or you're offered one take up that offer. The RAM is cheap, the distro is free and well worth your time.
This takes recycling to a whole new level.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Lots Of Little Jobs

I've had a weekend of sorting out the small things that are always at the bottom of my todo list.
My list is purely mental. If I had a list of things written down somewhere I'd probably be put off starting it in the first place.

Job number one was getting my Raspberry Pi Zero W loaded with Raspbian and running a VNC server on it so that it can be controlled by my Android phone. I can now remote into the Pi desktop which is odd but very satisfying especially on a smartphone. All done and quite a simple exercise too. What should be a straight forward task usually isn't. This time was fortunately different.

Next on the list was to play my electric guitar for a while to get the strings stretched enough for it to stay in tune. New strings are better these days but there is that initial play-tune loop to go through. I had a lot of fun jamming through the Zoom R8 and trying the effects. That's all now ready for a bit of a marathon recording session which will hopefully happen next weekend. That's if I can leave my computers alone long enough.

That's going to be difficult because task three was to find some old RAM for a very old PC. A long time ago I installed Ubuntu on it so I know it works with a Linux distro. The problem was the 512MB of RAM that was trying to run everything. To give this old box its dues it managed admirably albeit slowly.
After falling for the lightweight Lubuntu last week I was tempted to install that straight away but I came to my senses and went down to the computer shop on the hunt for retro memory. The shop owner was all smiles in a 'helpful / what does this idiot want that for' way. I did try to explain that Lubuntu would handle the old PC without any problem but I think Mr Computershop is all about Windows so the word Lubuntu fell on deaf ears.
He did however suggest going onto eBay and buying my RAM there, so I did. For the princely sum of £10.95 there will be 2GB running my revived PC.
That's if I don't add more jobs to my todo list in the meantime.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

No Win Is A Win

Not so long ago I bought a Lenovo Ideapad 120s because I needed some kind of machine with Windows installed.
Windows served its purpose and so the Ideapad was just kind of knocking around not doing much, which is a waste. I played with it a bit, tried a few things but I've been using Linux for so long now that I really had no use for it. The 120s is a bit like a modern netbook. It has a 32GB hard drive and Windows 10 Pro takes up pretty much all of that space. By the time I'd done a decent system clean there was only about 6GB left. I added my own 32GB micro SD card but that's still not a lot of space.
Having searched the net I found someone who had managed to install Ubuntu 18.04 and that inspired me to do something similar. My Lenovo is now running Lubuntu 18.04.
Lubuntu is a really lightweight distro and I've reversed the hard drive allocation so that I now have just over 20GB of free space on my home drive plus the 32GB micro SD. The startup time is about 30 seconds but after that it runs smoother and faster than Windows 10. Everything is familiar about the distro so I feel right at home and I now have a very productive laptop.
Linux is the ideal choice once again.

Saturday, October 20, 2018


A few years ago I sold my Yamaha QY100 sequencer.
I think from the moment it was gone I regretted the sale.
The only thing that would replace it for me was a Korg MicroArranger or a Yamaha Tyros. Both are expensive arranger keyboards and I never had a spare £500+ to invest in either.
The other week I was looking into either a MicroArranger or another QY100. There was one of each on eBay, both around the £250 mark, second hand. I was late at making a decision and both were gone by the time I'd decided to bid on one of them. While looking for another MicroArranger I stumbled across the Korg Liverpool. After some investigation I discovered that it's a reworked MicroArranger stuffed with Beatles songs and a Union Flag case. It's a bit ugly but it's growing on me.
As you can see I bought one, brand new and sub £200. It's a great keyboard to play and a good accompaniment for my bass playing. I think I've only scratched the surface of its abilities and I'm really enjoying messing about with music again. It's been more than 3 years since I wrote a track.
I think that's all about to change.

Sunday, October 14, 2018


I did try and avoid posting about the TRNG but I thought I had just one more post left in the story.
The Element 14 kit for the desktop Pi has a board included so that a mSATA drive can be added. I wanted the extra drive to store the files of random numbers that I'm producing. It took a while to work things out. Adding the drive really wasn't that straight forward and I spent three hours getting everything talking to each other. I even went as far as breaking out the soldering iron and hard wiring the cooling fan into the GPIO power pins. The desktop is a bit noisy now but it'll never overheat.

While waiting for my transfer hardware to arrive I'm re-purposing the Pi Top as a processing machine. As I type this it's downloading the full Kali ARM OS.
So that's about it really. I'm just about set up for some serious encryption experimentation, that and restarting my Python encryption course along with a decent pen testing introduction.

I imagine the next few posts will be music related. Hopefully next week's blog will contain some exciting keyboard news.
Until then it's back to the bass.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Back To Bassics

When I was about 8 or 9 years old I learned to play a cello.
I did that for 3 years, got a Grade II certificate and played an end of year concert with the school of music.
The cello went and so I taught myself keyboards on a cheap Casio VL-1. I was still playing basslines.
Fast forward a few years and I spent a back dated dole cheque on a candy pink bass. I think I sold that for a night out.
When I started writing tunes I always wrote the bass first. I played keyboards with my left hand playing bass and my right hand filling in the blanks with chords. For as long as I can remember the bass was the most important part of anything musical.

For the last three years I've been without FL Studio. It doesn't run well on Wine for Linux. I've tried LMMS and a few other things but my heart was never in it. I haven't recorded a track in the last three years and I miss it.

To rectify this situation I decided to go back to what I know. Four strings.
Not another cello but instead another bass. A half decent one. Five minutes ago I was playing my Squire Precision Bass. It's easy to play and the experience of 45 minutes solid playing was cathartic. I'm happier for having spent the time with the instrument and although it's back to basics my enthusiasm will drive me on to be better. I can see myself writing tracks again soon.
Just for myself, but I will share the resulting happiness with everyone else.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Gimme Numbers

Tested and working, my new hardware RNG is in operation.
It's not quite offline yet because there are still a few drivers and bits of software to add. Once everything is one hundred percent it'll go dark and you'll never hear about it again. In fact this is probably the last time I'll mention it.
So that's it. Goal reached.
I'll be making numbers.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Nearly There

I know, I know. This stuff is taking a long time.
But wait...

If everything was instant there wouldn't be time to work out the finer details. Sure, I could build this project in as fast as the bits I need could be delivered but where would the mental system testing have room to breath?
Because when this system is built I need to air-gap it, how am I going to transfer the data produced? That problem, the one about moving air-gapped data to and from the machine was only solved tonight and involved another purchase which will take a couple of weeks to arrive. That's no big deal. For this to work I need time to build and program this machine properly. If there are mistakes to be made I'd rather come across them between here and the lake district on my nightly commute than while I'm overwhelmed with the excitement of a newly built system which I expect to work from the word go.

Patience may well be a virtue but in this day and age and for this project also it's a necessity. I want my TRNG to be robust, reliable and secure and so time spent now on future problems will pay dividends.
In the world of "everything now", preparation is still everything.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Totally Random

It's here.
As far as computing goes this has to be one of the most exciting days of my life.
That's a big statement, let me explain.
Ever since I got the encryption bug, the one thing that has been the most difficult to deal with is the creation of entropy within any kind of computing equipment I own. There are plenty of ways of doing this like flipping a coin or rolling dice but they're all too time consuming when you need to test new methods. There is also crypto secure pseudo random number generation which is great for making sure stuff works, but what about putting methods into practice? There never has been nor will there be a replacement for true random.
The USB device above from OneRNG and is an:
...avalanche diode circuit and optionally an RF circuit, whitened and presented over a USB/Serial connection.
This will feed a computer's entropy pool to stop the PC from grinding to a halt trying to create entropy by itself.

As I mentioned in my previous post this will be attached to a Raspberry Pi with a thermal printer. My aim is to use the RPi as an air-gapped PC that, on boot, will print out a series of random numbers which will also be saved in on-board memory. I'll have to write a start-up script but I don't think that'll be too difficult.
I have a few more components to buy and another couple of weeks before I'm up and running but at least the major parts are here.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Getting There

I've had a bit of a dream for a while.
I've always wanted to build a hardware random number generator.

It's easy to create random numbers on my computer but they are pseudo random and that's never quite been good enough. A while ago I saw a Raspberry Pi project that had a thermal printer as one of its components. I thought it was a good idea to get a print out of the numbers without having to waste a whole sheet of A4. I've been testing a thermal printer tonight and as you can see it performs well.
In a few weeks when my hardware TRNG USB key arrives I'll build a desktop Raspberry Pi to attach the USB key and thermal printer to.
I'll then have my own hardware TRNG to mess about with.
Exciting times ahead.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Adventures In Digital

This is the Radioddity / Baofeng RD-5R.
I've been after one for a while. Not that I don't have enough radios but this one is digital. Up until now everything has been analogue with the exception of an old SDR running on SDR# years ago and that was receive only.
Things have come full circle. It was trying to update SDR# that virused my Windows PC and that's what got me into Linux. This radio, at the moment, has to be programmed on Windows so I've bought a laptop to do just that.
I've learned a lot about digital radio (DMR) over the last week. One thing I didn't know is that I need a digital ID. I've already sent an email to get hold of that. I think I can just about program the radio. The digital set up it a little more complicated than analogue. I have to get contacts, talkgroups and colour codes into the right places so that my codeplug will work. New words for a new adventure.
To be honest I just want a DMR to listen to the digital simplex channels that bounce around town. I imagine that by the time I've got all the right frequencies dialed in I'll find that they're all encrypted.
Such is life.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Twists & Turns

I think I can say that it has been a good day.
Sunday wasn't so good. The drill press that I had ordered from an online store arrived damaged. Not really their fault, the manufacturer's idea of decent packaging fell way short of what one would expect for an item of that size and weight. The online store were great. They issued a postage label for a courier and a refund.
The courier was supposed to collect today but never showed which was a waste of a day for my girlfriend. After a lengthy phone call this evening it was decided with said online store that I couldn't use my work address for the parcel pickup and it was too heavy for someone to deal with at a drop off shop. What was I going to do with it? They told me to take it to a recycling centre. Fair enough.
I've got that in writing also so the drill press will be recycled.
I'll find somewhere that deals with that kind of activity.
Shouldn't be too difficult.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


It's only taken 5 months from concept to completion but it's done.
The Poc||GTFO skateboard has finally been for a spin.
It all started in January while searching charity shops for books which is something I do a lot. In an out of the way corner was a neglected deck once owned by Alex B. I don't know who he is but his name was Sharpie'd onto the trucks. The weather had been bad for skateboarding for a long time and the goal was to make a deck for riding in bad weather.
After a lot of work and some substantial purchases I created the deck you can see in the pictures. It's worth as much as my "good" deck but I'll still ride it on wet tarmac. That's what it was made to do.

So why the PoC||GTFO name?
PoC||GTFO AKA Proof of Concept or Get The F*** Out is a hacker publication. It's something I read to keep up to date with security stuff.
My concept was can I hack a cheap Amazon skateboard into something worth riding? I think I've proven that.
Having cruised my local park yesterday I can say that it's definitely a decent deck now that it's totally transformed. It's blisteringly fast too.
And the weather now it's finished?
It's good so I'm off for a cruise.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Weather Or Not

It really doesn't matter to me how poor the WEFAX images are that I receive through my radio.
They're usually pretty poor but I don't mind. I can usually get something from them. It's not just an image to me either. It's a picture sent over radio waves that I collect from a wire stretched along my back garden. I still get excited to see the picture forming on my computer screen. It's different every time. Even the same picture on a later transmission will have very different interference patterns overlaid. Maybe the WEFAX transmissions could be a source of entropy.
The other obvious benefit of these transmissions is to provide weather information. It's good too. Accurate and up-to-date, and talking of weather, it's changed significantly enough for me to start receiving WEFAX images.
That's how I know that Spring is truly here.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Going Green

While most people were contemplating what to wear on the way to the newsagent's this morning I was once again tinkering with crypto stuff.
The complex subject of air gapped computing was front and centre at 9am in my world. Unless you write your own OS in a Faraday cage then at some point, some part of your computer will have touched the internet. Getting the computer set up with the many updates you probably want for the new system and then pulling it offline is probably what most people do, but is that good enough? Many will argue that it isn't. There has to be a reasonably secure middle ground.
My solution is to power a Pi Zero W from my Pi Top and SSH into it via my phone acting as a wifi hotspot. In effect the Pi Zero W is connected to the internet but isn't accessing it. The only job it has to do is allow me access to the CLI so that I can use the on board hardware random number generator and then only over a secure connection.
If I sit in my Faraday cage of a car in the middle of nowhere especially with a dire cell tower signal I should be OK doing a couple of minutes work.
It's about as good as things are going to get in an ever increasingly connected world. All I need to do now is map cell tower dead spots.
Wish me luck with that one.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

It's Snowing

Outside there are large cold flakes of snow falling to the ground but I don't care really.
Apart from the obligatory 3 mile walk this morning I've been inside all day getting stuff to work on the Pi Top. The Pi Top has a Raspberry Pi under the hood and it's running Ubuntu Mate. It's a decent OS for what I need it for which isn't much. A bit of crypto and a Python playground.
I finally got round to writing the Nano crypto bash script for Ubuntu so I thought I'd port it over to Mate. A fairly easy process but you can't just add a bin directory to Home and have it work in the terminal. Several minutes of getting the script into the correct bin directory as root were needed. Anyway, all done now.
Should you be wondering what the script does, it allows me to write gpg encrypted messages without any of the plaintext being written to disc. Very nifty.
As long as no-one has installed a keylogger or happens to be looking over my shoulder I can safely jot down stuff that I want to remain secret.
If you're going to give it a go yourself make sure you have Nano 3.9.3 installed or it won't work.
Who said protecting your privacy wasn't fun.