Sunday, November 05, 2023

One Step Back


The GNUPG Logo

With governments around the world trying to move encryption solely back into their domain it's time to change the process around retaining our privacy.

As previously mentioned, using what you have is a good start and in most cases will suffice for now. But what about in the future? What if the tools we use are compromised or even banned? What then? What if all we have is email as a communication medium?
The answer to this problem is relatively simple.
You can encrypt your private communications before you press send. There are an abundance of tools out there that will let you do just that. In fact the list is long and the majority of these tools are constantly being updated against threats.

One of the most prevalent ways to achieve communication privacy is to use public key cryptography. This, at it's most basic, is a way of encrypting text with your own personal key. That text can then only be decrypted by someone with your public key. When encrypting a message to someone you use their public key alongside your private key so that only the intended recipient can read what you have written. It's a beautifully simple concept but amazingly secure. Of course I have only outlined this process basically, there is more you can do with your keys such as verify that you are who you say you are and verify other people also.

The biggest problem has been the implementation of this method of encryption. In the past it was a real pain to get it up and running but more recently it's become a lot simpler. It's worth remembering that it only needs to be set up once. From then on integration with software such as email is straightforward. You can also export your keys to some online services.

On Linux I use GNUPG which is an open source and free implementation of the PGP standard. I'm not sure what there is for Mac and Windows but there is software and apps that let you create keys. There are also apps for Android.

It's definitely worth your time doing a bit of research into how to add GPG / PGP to your communications on your platform but it isn't the only way of encrypting messages before sending them. You can choose what is right for you from the plethora of tools available.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

The Bleedin' Obvious


The first rule of cryptography for personal use is use what you have.

Cryptography can be a deep and complex subject and the very thought of implementing something that complicated into everyday life can seem so daunting that people just don't bother to look at the obvious.
On your phone, tablet or PC there will be something in place already that will get you up and running. Whether that's WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or whatever, you probably have something that offers end-to-end encryption.

While there are arguments for and against using big tech companies apps for something as sensitive as privacy there are ways of strengthening the use of these technologies.
I'll get into that on my next post.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Typewriters Rule


A typewriter keyboard as seen through a kaleidoscope.

On Tuesday of this week the UK government announced that the Online Safety Bill had passed its parliamentary debate and was now set to become law. Regardless of what you think of the reasons behind implementing the OSB or how you think it will affect you the simple fact is that sooner or later the legislation will affect you.

I'm not going to go into the arguments for or against the bill.
I've long thought that there are plenty of ways to circumnavigate such potentially intrusive snooping on the lawful communications of ordinary people. Most of what I know how to do isn't convenient, it's time consuming and for those reasons hasn't been widely adopted by the general public. Having said that it's good to know that your privacy is still able to be controlled by yourself if you put the effort in.

In future blog posts I'm going to share what I know to enable you to take control of what you share and with whom.

If you'd like to read the Online Safety Bill it's here.
The UK governments press release is here.
Meredith Whittaker makes understanding the arguments around the OSB simple to digest. Find here Mastodon account here.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

No Sew Saturday

There will be no sewing done today.

My trusty Singer 514 has a problem whereby it runs without the foot pedal being depressed. After a bit of investigating and searching online it would seem that this problem is not uncommon. Apparently the capacitor in the foot pedal dies and then needs to be replaced in order to rectify the situation. I've ordered said capacitor and now I'll have to wait until next weekend to perform the required surgery.

At least I know that the machine is running because while it was chugging along on its own I managed at least to wind a bobbin. No weird electrical smells coming from the machine. Only the pedal.
I have achieved one thing with this machine today. It's clean. There's no amount of fluff that you can pull from a sewing machine. Once I got started I kept finding more. After about an hour I was satisfied that the tweezers, paint brush and cotton buds had retrieved every bit of cruft that I was likely to find this time around.

If the fix works I'll be very happy to have only spent £4. If not then I have eliminated one possible cause of the fault, the next potential solution I suspect will cost a lot more.


Sunday, July 09, 2023

Keep It Simple

A screen grab of a Linux terminal running a shell script.

More often than not I'm thinking about privacy and especially cryptographic functions that enable it.

At the beginning of the year I was in a truck waiting to be unloaded and started thinking about creating secure passwords from simple inputs. The best way for me was to use the terminal on Linux and Termux on my phone.
If you don't use Android or Ubuntu there are still ways to run a BASH script on Mac and Windows.
I've been using the script for a while and it's good for medium security applications. I have just published the script with an explanation of how to personalise it for yourself should you want to use it.

You'll find it on Github.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Sundog Song Studio


Sundog Song Studio interface.

I have been using Sundog Song Studio for quite a while and it's quite possibly my favourite tool in my music making box.
Today it just got better because I finally worked out that it can do everything I need to make patterns for my Yamaha QY series sequencers.

I'll explain. Previously I had used Sundog to make patterns, which it is extremely good at. Then I'd export the MIDI file and try to use another piece of software to get the patterns into one of my QY sequencers. The problem is that the software I own doesn't seem to like sending MIDI clock messages that would start the QY recording when I pressed play on the software. There were work-arounds that would do the job but if was a faff getting everything to sync.

Today I noticed that Sundog has a check box for sending MIDI clock messages. I'd never used it because I had always intended to export the MIDI. Anyway, I hooked up a QY70 and with the pattern recording paused I pressed play on Sundog and the QY70 started recording. Problem solved.
The only minor work-around I have to do is insert a blank pattern into Sundog because it naturally loops patterns and the QY70 only has an Overdub recording mode so it will double the note input as it loops. The blank pattern gives me time to stop recording before that happens.

All I have to do now is transfer all my Sundog ideas over to the QY's and start writing tunes again.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

New Beginnings

It's Spring and there's a lot of changes happening.
Firstly I have a new job, one that I'm happy with. It's taken 8 months to finally find somewhere that I can settle. Those past 8 months have seen highs and lows. Some of the jobs I took weren't 'as advertised' and I had to leave. I think a lot of employers are well aware that if they gave you the low down on what the job is really like you'd run a mile.

Secondly the garden is looking good again and I've been doing my usual pottering and keeping it growing at full speed while the weather is good. Lots of feeding and watering to be done.
The best bits are the cheap end of season climbing rose bush which is now very happy and producing lots of blooms. The beer barrel pond which is sprouting lots of bulrushes and my brambles which I'm hoping will produce a bumper crop of blackberries are both doing well.
The only bad thing is my box hedge which I've been shaping for 20 years has now succumbed to an invasion of Box Caterpillars and looks like it going to have to be replaced.
Such are the trials of gardening. 


Friday, April 28, 2023

Changing The Narative


A watercolour of an alleyway between 2 buildings.

It's not in my nature to let people down.

I had to cancel an agency appointment for next week because I have accepted a full time job and as part of that process I needed to commit some time to that. I feel bad about letting down the work agency but in the last 8 months I have been trying to find a full time job with no success.
Other jobs that I did successfully find didn't turn out to be what was described at the interview stage and I had to decline the offers. For so long it seems that people are less than honest when it comes to giving accurate descriptions of work roles. I'm not sure why that is. It certainly isn't productive to have an employee find out that things aren't going to be as expected and waste time on time consuming interviews. I made myself a promise after my last experiences and that was to only work for a company that I had temped for, and liked or to only accept a job I really wanted.
The latter is the case this time around and I'm determined not to mess things up by letting other stuff get in the way.

And so I find myself in the position of letting someone down to pursue my own ambitions. While it still feels wrong I know it must be done this way. The job I had to leave in August last year was something I had been doing for the same company for 15 years. It was a hard blow to have been treated so unfairly after such a long commitment. I learned the hard way that for loyalty to my employer there was no such loyalty in return.

Maybe I should be more 'hard nosed' when it comes to decisions but I prefer to treat people fairly and in the same way that I would expect to be treated.
I do find that all too often, as mentioned above, my ethos is not reciprocated.
Maybe I should make myself another promise now and that should be to treat people in the way that they treat me, let them make the first move, but I don't think that I can change my attitude that readily.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

A Little Too Much

The top half of the front cover of the book GNU Emacs

It's said that too much of something can be a bad thing.

That's certainly the case with me these days with regard to reading manuals.
I seem to spend more time reading about things than actually using them. There was a time not so long ago that I would simply jump in and read the manual when I got stuck.
This morning I remedied the over-reading situation and got back into Emacs. I've used it briefly before but whatever I had learned in the past had long since been forgotten. Instead of flicking through pages and pages of stuff I really don't need to know I messed around and added both the Melpa directory and a couple of Major Modes that I intend to use.

I have decided that the new space in my head can be filled with learning Emacs and trying to stay in that environment to complete other work. The idea being that it will do away with various other pieces of software that I use for individual tasks. I really could do with slimming down my software which in turn removes distractions and leaves me no option but to get on with things that need doing.

Monday, April 24, 2023

So What Happens Now?


For over 20 years I have been working on an encryption problem that has been stuck in my head.

It's only taken that long because I have only occasionally been able to work on it. Today sees the end of that long process. The work is done, the paper finished, printed and locked away until I decide what I'm going to do with it.
The terribly low-res image above it something I created to adorn the front of my work. It's ordered but random at the same time.

So what happens now?
I need something else to work on or dare I say finish? I started a novel many moons ago, got 5 chapters in and stopped. That's high on my list but I'm undecided at the moment. I need to empty my head of thoughts of my stream cipher and see how much space there is to expand into.

Monday, April 17, 2023

In The Garden

It was good to spend some time in the garden today.
It feels a bit like spring is here for some of the plants but not quite for others. I'm glad to say that all the spaces left from the very cold snap in winter are now filled. It's now a case of waiting to see what takes and what doesn't.
Waiting for the garden to flourish is a good thing. Because on the whole everything moves quite slowly there is time to sit and contemplate everything else. That's what I like about the garden, it's an inspiration for other things.
Weather permitting of course.

Monday, April 10, 2023




While the thought of learning LaTeX to write my encryption paper was a decent idea, the fact is that I don't want to spend the next 6 months learning to format something which is already written.

I will at some stage delve deeper in LaTeX, its formatting is very professional and looks good, especially for an academic paper. What I need at this point in time is an approachable modern text that I can work on without needing to learn something from scratch. Enter LibreOffice. I've used various components of this office suite before and I'm comfortable using it. I took time over the past weekend to explore its capabilities in depth to see if it could produce the kind of document that I want. The good news is that it is more than capable and I only have a few new things to learn.

I suppose that unless one uses office software on a daily basis its many abilities aren't often noticed. One uses it on a basic level using only the features that one needs and nothing else. When it comes to producing something a little more refined, something that is consistent throughout and designed well LibreOffice doesn't, for me at least, spring to mind. I would have thought that a DTP package might have been better suited to the task. My paper has a lot of tables and the ability to edit them in place is just one feature that I didn't know LibreOffice could perform. It's an extremely useful attribute.

I am now designing, correcting and formatting my document in the small amount of free time I have to do this work. LibreOffice has made that small amount of time much more productive.

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Almost There


There have been many reasons why I haven't been here.
Over the past year work has been an on / off thing. Trying to sort that out has taken up way more of my time than it should have. At the moment even though I'm not in a permanent job I am at least happy and for the most part stress free which is a good thing.

This positive mood has had me put some serious work into a project that I have been working on for over 20 years. It's a cryptographic thing and I don't know if it's any use to anyone except myself but I'm happy to have concluded both the method and the research. This again has taken up serious amounts of my free time and it doesn't quite end there. I now have to typeset and publish my work, both things I'm looking forward to.

I bough the LaTeX book (above) a few years ago for this very project. Having worked through some of the early chapters I'm confident that diving back in isn't going to be as daunting as starting from square one. Although I'll still mostly fill my free time doing this the pace will be slower and so I can start finding time to dedicate to other things, this blog included.

If you're still reading this blog after my long absence then thank you.
There will be much more to see from now on.