Kind of Bloop: An 8-Bit Tribute

Kind of Bloop is a chiptune tribute to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, a track-by-track 8-bit reinterpretation of the bestselling jazz album of all time.
Launched as a Kickstarter project in April 2009, only two weeks after Kickstarter itself opened its doors, the album’s production was funded by 419 backers around the world.
Kind of Bloop was released on August 17, 2009, on the 50th anniversary of Kind of Blue.

Download at the link.

cross-platform NES emulator written in C#

XamariNES is a cross-platform Nintendo Emulator using .Net Standard written in C#. This project started initially as a nighits/weekend project of mine to better understand the MOS 6502 processor in the original Nintendo Entertainment System. The CPU itself didn’t take long working on it a couple hours here and there. I decided once the CPU was completed, how hard could it be just to take it to next step and do the PPU? Here we are a year later and I finally think I have the PPU in a semi-working state.

XamaiNES

If you ever wanted to start looking at and understand emulation this might be a starting point for you. With the high-level C# being used to describe and implement actual existing hardware – like the NES CPU:

Implementation of the Logical Shift Right opcode of the MOS6502 cpu

The author does the full circle and everything you’d expect from a simple working emulator is there:

a throw-away remote VNC linux desktop in a docker container

I am running most of my in-house infrastructure based on Docker these days…

Docker is a set of platform-as-a-service (PaaS) products that use operating-system-level virtualization to deliver software in packages called containers. Containers are isolated from one another and bundle their own software, libraries and configuration files; they can communicate with each other through well-defined channels.

All containers are run by a single operating-system kernel and are thus more lightweight than virtual machines.

Wikipedia: Docker

And given the above definition it’s fairly easy to create and run containers of things like command-line tools and background servers/services. But due to the nature of Docker being “terminal only” by default it’s quite hard to do anything UI related.

But there is a way. By using the VNC protocol to get access to the graphical user interface we can set-up a container running a fully-fledge Linux Desktop and we can connect directly to this container.

I am using something I call “throw-away linux desktop containers” all day every day for various needs and uses. Everytime I start such a container this container is brand-new and ready to be used.

Actually when I start it the process looks like this:

As you can see when the container starts-up it asks for a password to be set. This is the password needed to be entered when the VNC client connects to the container.

And when you are connected, this is what you get:

this is what you see after connecting to the desktop container by VNC

I am sharing my scripts and Dockerfile with you so you can use it yourself. If you put a bit more time into it you can even customize it to your specific needs. At this point it’s based on Ubuntu 18.04 and starts-up a ubuntu-mate desktop environment in it’s default configuration.

When you log into the container it will log you in as root – but effectively you won’t be able to really screw around with the host machine as the container is still isolating you from the host. Nevertheless be aware that the container has some quirks and is run in extended privileges mode.

Chromium will be pre-installed as a browser but you will find that it won’t start up. That’s because Chromium won’t start up if you attempt a start as root user.

The workaround:

“–no-sandbox” parameter for Chromium

Now get the scripts and container here and build it yourself!

housekeeping with NodeJS

When you are using or developing NodeJS applications and the Node Package manager (npm) over time a lot of old crusty libraries will accrue.

A lot means, a lot:

To have a chance to get on top of things and save space, try this:

npm i -g npkill 

By then using npkill you will get an overview (after a looong scan) of how much disk space there is to be saved.

Great tip!

Password Managers…

I am using 1Password for years now. It’s a great tool. So far.

As I am using it locally synced across my own infrastructure I feel like I am getting slowly but surely pushed out of their target-customer group. What does that mean?

The current pricing scheme, if you buy new, for 1Password looks like this:

So it’s always going to be a subscription if you want to start with it and if you want it in a straight line.

It used to be a one-time purchase per platform and you could set-up syncing across other cloud services as you saw fit. If you really start from scratch the 1Password apps still give you the option to create and sync locally but the direction is set and clear: they want you to sign up to a subscription.

I am not going to purchase a subscription. With some searching I found a software which is extremely similar to 1Password and fully featured. And is available as 1-time purchase per platform for all platforms I am using.

Also. This one is the first that could import my 1Password export files straight away without any issues. Even One-Time-Passwords (OTP) worked immediately.

The name is Enpass and it’s available for Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android and basically acts as a step in replacement for 1Password. It directly imports what 1Password is exporting. And its pricing is:

much more reasonable and without subscriptions.

Subscriptions for services as this are a no-go for me. It’s a commodity service which I am willing to pay for trailing updates and maintenance every year or so in a major update.

I am not willing to pay a substantial amount of money per user per month to just keep having access to my Passwords. And having them synced onto some companies infrastructure does not make this deal sweeter.

Enpass on the other hand comes with peace-of-mind that no data leaves your infrastructure and that you can get the data in and out any time.

It can import from these:

As mentioned I’ve migrated from 1Password in the mere of minutes and was able to plug-in-replace it immediately.

an OS in your browser

So I leave this right here:

OS.js is an open-source JavaScript Web Desktop implementation for your browser with a fully-fledged window manager, Application APIs, GUI toolkits and filesystem abstraction.

It really does implement a lot of what an operating system UI and portions of the backends are supposed to be. It looks quite funky and there are applications to this. Of course it’s open source

I want all electron Apps to start existing there so I can call all of them with just a browser from anywhere.

If you want to give it a spin, click here:

artifact, noise removal and inpainting toolbox

Deep convolutional networks have become a popular tool for image generation and restoration. Generally, their excellent performance is imputed to their ability to learn realistic image priors from a large number of example images. In this paper, we show that, on the contrary, the structure of a generator network is sufficient to capture a great deal of low-level image statistics prior to any learning. In order to do so, we show that a randomly-initialized neural network can be used as a handcrafted prior with excellent results in standard inverse problems such as denoising, super-resolution, and inpainting. Furthermore, the same prior can be used to invert deep neural representations to diagnose them, and to restore images based on flash-no flash input pairs.
Apart from its diverse applications, our approach highlights the inductive bias captured by standard generator network architectures. It also bridges the gap between two very popular families of image restoration methods: learning-based methods using deep convolutional networks and learning-free methods based on handcrafted image priors such as self-similarity.

Deep Image Prior Paper

As usual there’s source code available to try out yourself. It even comes with a pre-configured docker jupyter notebook.

stylizing video by example

AI and deep-learning is not always necessary or helpful. In this case impressive results have been achieved without the use of any of the hyped technologies.

In this case you give the algorithms two inputs. A video base that you want to stylize and a base picture that resembles the style you want to achieve.

We introduce a new example-based approach to video stylization, with a focus on preserving the visual quality of the style, user controllability and applicability to arbitrary video. Our method gets as input one or more keyframes that the artist chooses to stylize with standard painting tools. It then automatically propagates the stylization to the rest of the sequence. To facilitate this while preserving visual quality, we developed a new type of guidance for state-of-art patch-based synthesis, that can be applied to any type of video content and does not require any additional information besides the video itself and a user-specified mask of the region to be stylized. We further show a temporal blending approach for interpolating style between keyframes that preserves texture coherence, contrast and high frequency details. We evaluate our method on various scenes from real production setting and provide a thorough comparison with prior art.

Stylizing Video by Example Paper

Apparently there also is a Windows demo available in which you are supposedly be able to create your own stylized short clips. But as I wanted to try it out it threw a lot of funky messages regarding the application to be specifically untrustworthy / possibly malicious. So be aware and cautious.

Circuit Board Design in your browser

Once every while when you make things you actually need to make things. Things like PCBs – printed circuit boards to hold and wire your chips.

bold claim

Maybe you want to give EasyEDA a try as it’s in-browser experience is better than anything I had come across so far. Granted I am not doing PCBs regularly but nevertheless – whenever I tried with the programs I’ve got recommended it wasn’t as straight forward as it is with this tool.

color assimilation grid illusion

The image [..] is a visual/artistic experiment playing with simultanous contrast resulting from other experiments these days. An over-saturated colored grid overlayed on a  grayscale image causes the grayscale cells to be perceived as having color.
The processing needed to create the above image happened along with unrelated but significant code improvements In the last couple of weeks. I have been visiting mitch – a prolific GIMP contributors for collaboration – and lots of progress has been – and is still – being made on babl, GEGL and GIMP.

original article
See the effect in a video

You can now play with this effect and experiment for yourself. Get Gimp and enjoy!

host GIT repositories painlessly

As people around me discuss what to go for in regards to manage their growing number of private GIT repositories I joined their discussion.

A couple of years ago I assessed how I would want to store my collection of almost 100 GIT private repositories and all those cloned mirrors I want to keep for archival and sentimental reasons.

An option was to pay for GitHub. Another option, which most seemed to prefer, was going for a local Gitlab set-up.

All seemed not desirable. Like chaining my workflows to GitHub as a provider or adopting a new hobby to operate and maintain a private GitLab server. And as it might have become easier to operate a GitLab server with the introduction of container management systems. But I’ve always seemed to have to update to a new version when I actually wanted to use it.

So this was when I had to make the call for my own set-up about 4 years ago. We were using a rather well working GitLab set-up for work back then. But it all seemed overkill to me also back then.

So I found: gogs.io

It runs with one command, the only dependency is two file system directories with (a) the settings of gogs and (b) your repositories.

It’ll deploy as literally a SINGLE BINARY without any other things to consider. With the provided dockerfile you are up and running in seconds.

It has never let me down. It’s running and providing it’s service. And that’s the end of it.

I am using it, as said, for 95 private repositories and a lot of additionally mirrored GIT repositories. Gogs will support you by keeping those mirrors in sync for you in the background. It’s even multi-user multi-organization.

Walk through Tokyo

Let me introduce you to a wonderful concept. We are using these movies as backdrop when on the stepper or spinning, essentially when doing sports or as a screensaver that plays whenever nothing else is playing on the screens around the house.

What is it you ask?

The thing I am talking about is: Walking Videos! Especially from people who walk through Tokyo / Japan. And there are lots of them!

Think of it as a relaxing walk around a neighborhood you might not know. Take in the sounds and sights and enjoy. That’s the idea of it.

If you want the immediate experience, try this:

Of course there are a couple of different such YouTube channels waiting for your subscription. The most prominent ones I know are:

In addition to attract your interest there’s a map with recent such walks in Tokyo. So you can specifically pick a walk you want to see by a map!

don’t forget to zoom out – there is more than just the Tokyo area

code autocomplete with deep learning

When you are writing code the patterns seem to repeat every once in a while. Not only the patterns but also the occasion you are going to apply certain code styles and methods while developing.

To support a developer with this creative work the tedious and repetitious tasks of typing out what is thought can be supported by machine learning.

Chances are your favourite IDE already supports an somehow AI driven code autocomplete feature. And if it does not, read on as there are ways to integrate products like TabNine into any editor you can think of…

Visual Studio IntelliCode is a set of AI-assisted capabilities that improve developer productivity with features like contextual IntelliSense, argument completion, code formatting, and style rule inference.

IntelliCode augments existing developer workflows with machine-learning services that provide an understanding of code and its context. It’s applicable for C#, C++ (in preview), JavaScript/TypeScript (in preview), and XAML code today, and will be updated in the future to support more languages.

Visual Studio IntelliCode

Of course there are some new contenders to the scene, like TabNine:

TL;DR: TabNine is an autocompleter that helps you write code faster. We’re adding a deep learning model which significantly improves suggestion quality. You can see videos below and you can sign up for it here.

TabNine

Deep TabNine requires a lot of computing power: running the model on a laptop would not deliver the low latency that TabNine’s users have come to expect. So we are offering a service that will allow you to use TabNine’s servers for GPU-accelerated autocompletion. It’s called TabNine Cloud, …

TabNine

fiddle with .NET in your browser

There are a lot of different “fiddles”. There’s JSFiddle, SQLFiddle, HTMLFiddle, RegExFiddle, PythonFiddle, R-Fiddle, GoFiddle. There is even a page that curates a list of fiddles.

For .NET there’s one too. It supports C#, F# and VB.NET. For trying something quickly or sharing it online this is a nice way to do it:

Hello World C#
MVC even

Emulation

Preserving old software is all about storing it and keeping it running.

With the most important part being the later one. The best way to keep things running is by emulating the old and obsolete hardware as accurate as possible.

In computing, an emulator is hardware or software that enables one computer system (called the host) to behave like another computer system (called the guest). An emulator typically enables the host system to run software or use peripheral devices designed for the guest system. Emulation refers to the ability of a computer program in an electronic device to emulate (or imitate) another program or device.

Wikipedia: Emulator

There are a lot of different types of emulators for all sorts of purposes.

There’s things like bochs which is effectively emulating the hardware of a PC on chip-level and can run virtually anywhere:

Bochs is a highly portable open source IA-32 (x86) PC emulator written in C++, that runs on most popular platforms. It includes emulation of the Intel x86 CPU, common I/O devices, and a custom BIOS. Bochs can be compiled to emulate many different x86 CPUs, from early 386 to the most recent x86-64 Intel and AMD processors which may even not reached the market yet. 

bochs: the Open Source IA-32 Emulation Project

Emulators of game consoles are alike that – they are emulating the whole system hardware and are able to run original and unchanged code by replicating the exact hardware. Sometimes more and sometimes less exactly.

Hardware emulation in itself an extremely interesting field of software engineering. There’s the hard way to emulate everything accurately (and slowly) by doing what the actual old hardware would have done but maybe in software (or even in replicated hardware).

And there is harder way to emulate the software and hardware by applying all sorts of optimization techniques like JIT (just in time) compilation and dynamic recompilation.

In regards of old game console hardware there are even now specialized distributions of lots of hardware/system emulators available for specific and readily available hardware like the RaspberryPi. Some of them recently have gotten some nice updates.

Retropi

supported systems

Recalbox

Beautiful bits – information from old catalogs

There are many connectors out in the world. A lot of them are old but get still used. And once every while you might need an actual great drawing / scheme of such a connector.

There’s a place for all your needs and curiosity. It’s bitsavers.org.

Just take a look at this drawing and cut-away of a coax connector from the 1976 AMP product catalog:

There is lots more, just take a look at bitsavers. Especially the software bits archive of (very) old computers software and sources. Just wow.

electronic fireworks

The firecracker exploded. Apparently after 2 weeks of usage of the Chuwi Hi10 Air the eMMC flash is malfunctioning.

In a totally strange way: Every byte on the eMMC can be read, seemingly. Even Windows 10 boots. But after a while it will hang and blue screen. Apparently because it tries to write to the eMMC and when those writes fail and pile up in the caches at some point the system calls it quits.

Anyhow: It means that no byte that is right now on this eMMC can be deleted / overwritten but only be read.

The great chinese support is really helpful and offered to replace the device free of charge right away. That’s very nice! But I came to the conclusion that I cannot send the device in, because:

It contains a full set of synched private data that I cannot remove by all means because the freaking soldered-on eMMC flash is broken.

The recipient of this broken tablet in china would be able to read all my data and I could not do anything about it.

Only an extremely small fraction of data is on there unencrypted. Only that much I hadn’t yet switched on encryption on during the initial set-up I was still doing on the device. And that little piece of data already is what won’t let me send out the device.

Now, what can we learn from this? We can learn: Never ever ever work with anything, even during set-up, without full encryption.

easily draw text based flowcharts

As I am mainly producing text and markdown notes throughout the day I am always interested in ways to quickly create simple text-based flow-charts.

I did write about a couple of tools to accomplish this previously but I want to take note of the most recent addition to the toolbox: ASCIIFlow Infinity.

You open it in your browser and start drawing with the simple tools provided.

When you are done you export it to plain text and do what you feel like with it.

Here’s a feature overview:

retrofit an old printer to be available on the network

In 2007 I had become proud owner of a Samsung ML-2010 mono laser printer. It’s done a great job ever since and I can recall changing the toner just once so far.

So you can tell: I am not a heavy printer user. Every so often I gotta print out a sheet of paper to put on a package or to fill out a form. A laser printer is the perfect fit for this pattern as it’s toner is not going-bad or evaporating like ink does in ink-printers.

So I still like the printer and it’s in perfect working condition. I’ve just recently filled up the toner for almost no money. But – but this printer needs to be physically connected to the computer that wants to print.

As the usage patterns have significantly changed in the last 12 years this printer needs to be brought into todays networked world.

Replacing it with a new printer is not an option. All printers I could potentially purchase are both more expensive to purchase and the toner is much more expensive to refill. No-can-do.

If only there was an easy way to get the printer network ready. Well, turns out, there is!

First let’s start introducing an opensource project: CUPS

CUPS (formerly an acronym for Common UNIX Printing System) is a modular printing system for Unix-like computer operating systems which allows a computer to act as a print server. A computer running CUPS is a host that can accept print jobs from client computers, process them, and send them to the appropriate printer.

Wikipedia

A good, cheap and energy-efficient way to run a CUPS host is a Raspberry Pi. I do own several first-generation models that have been replaced by much more powerful ones in the previous years.

So I’ve taken one Raspberry Pi and did the set-up steps: Installing the Raspberry Pi Print Server Software.

And now – what did I get?

I got a networked Samsung Laser Printer. No thrills, no problems at all.

the CUPS web interface
the printer shows up on Linux (Ubuntu here)
on iOS and macOS the printer magically appears
on Windows 10.

brain simulators

With recent announcements around human brain and brain-machine interface research like Neuralink the topic is seemingly seeing some more investments now.

As this whole topic is special to my heart I am interested in all things brain simulations. Thus here’s my personal “logbook entry” on the re-appearance of this topic:

This leads to one of the arguments for whole-brain simulation: it’ll help us solve the “biological imitation game,” a Turing test-like assay that pits digitally reconstructed brains against real ones. Iterations of the test help select increasingly more accurate models for a given task, which eventually become the most promising ideas for how specific biological networks operate. And because these models are based on mathematical equations, they could become the heart of next-generation AI.

Singularity Hub

There’s also a paper! – Unfortunately I cannot link directly to the paper as it is behind paywalls. Neuralink on the other side was so kind to publish open-access:

TAICHI: opensource computer graphics library

I am following the proceedings of ACM SIGGRAPH conferences for more than 20 years now and with the recent years development in computational capacity it seems that many more algorithms and ideas make it to an application near you.

Take this one contribution by Yuanming Hu for example – the Taichi open source computer graphics library:

Taichi is an open-source computer graphics library that aims to provide easy-to-use infrastructures for computer graphics R&D. It’s written in C++14 and wrapped friendly with Python.

Yuanming Hu has been working on the development of Taichi since his third undergrad year (2016), mainly in his spare time. He would like to thank Prof. Toshiya Hachisuka and Prof. Seiichi Koshizukafor making possible his internship at UTokyo, where the initial parts of Taichi were developed.

Taichi: About

Also interesting, trivia about the name:

augmented (reality) book cover

If you ever want to quickly explain what augmented reality could be to a person not knowing yet, you might want to use this (and other) use cases for a visual explanation:

I achieved this by separating the artwork and text into many individual layers, that I placed in receding layers of 3D depth, in a 3D program on the computer. And made sure everything outside the borders of the book is excluded, to give it the ‘portal’ effect.

Augmented Reality Book Cover by Alexander Wand

Tool: Partition Recovery and Undelete – Testdisk

Mass storage hardware breaks all the time. Sometimes it’s hardware that breaks, but sometimes it’s the software that breaks. If it’s the software (or own talent) that made the data go boom, TestDisk is a tool you should know about.

DISCLAIMER: If the data you are trying so recover is actually worth anything you might want to reserve to a professional data recovery service rather than trying to train-on-the-job.

Apart from the availability of pre-compiled packages for most operating systems you can also grab a bootable LiveCD when everything seems gone and lost.

The process itself is rather exciting (if you want the data back) and may require a fresh pair of pants upfront, throughout and after.

Thankfully there’s a great wiki and documentation of how to go about the business of data recovery.

TestDisk is powerful free data recovery software! It was primarily designed to help recover lost partitions and/or make non-booting disks bootable again when these symptoms are caused by faulty software: certain types of viruses or human error (such as accidentally deleting a Partition Table). Partition table recovery using TestDisk is really easy.

  • TestDisk can
    • Fix partition table, recover deleted partition
    • Recover FAT32 boot sector from its backup
    • Rebuild FAT12/FAT16/FAT32 boot sector
    • Fix FAT tables
    • Rebuild NTFS boot sector
    • Recover NTFS boot sector from its backup
    • Fix MFT using MFT mirror
    • Locate ext2/ext3/ext4 Backup SuperBlock
    • Undelete files from FAT, exFAT, NTFS and ext2 filesystem
    • Copy files from deleted FAT, exFAT, NTFS and ext2/ext3/ext4 partitions.

TestDisk has features for both novices and experts. For those who know little or nothing about data recovery techniques, TestDisk can be used to collect detailed information about a non-booting drive which can then be sent to a tech for further analysis. Those more familiar with such procedures should find TestDisk a handy tool in performing onsite recovery.

And if you give up, think about writing an article of you actually digging deeper:

Wireless Network Mapping – data source and data sink

When you work with wireless networks and you do programming and mobile app development that works with things like user location you might find this useful.

Take thousands of users and you’ve got the worlds wifi networks mapped…

WiGGLE (Wireless Geographic Logging Engine) is a project which takes wireless network data + location and puts it into a big database. On top of storage it’s giving you access to that data.

We consolidate location and information of wireless networks world-wide to a central database, and have user-friendly desktop and web applications that can map, query and update the database via the web.

https://wigle.net/faq

So what’s my use-case? Apart from the obvious I will make use of this by finding out more about those fellow travelers around me. Many people probably to the same as me: Travel with a small wifi / 4g access point. Whenever this accesspoints shows up in scans the path will be traceable.

I am curious to see which access point around me is in the million-mile club yet…

full website screenshots from your commandline

Think of this: You want to capture a whole, multi-scroll-pages, web-page into one image.

This can be difficult without the right tools. It surely will be a lot of work to accomplish a 10th of thousand pixel height screenshot put together from multiple single screenshots…

CutyCapt is there to help! It’s a command line tool encapsulating the very powerful WebKit browser engine to render a full page and then create a single file screenshot of the whole page for you.

By example, this is what it did when told to screenshot this website:

PixelFed – Federated Image Sharing

In search of alternatives to the traditional centralized hosted social networks a lot of smart people have started to put time and thought into what is called “the-federation”.

The Federation refers to a global social network composed of nodes that talk to each other. Each of them is an installation of software which supports one of the federated social web protocols.

What is The Federation?

You may already have heard about projects like Mastodon, Diaspora*, Matrix (Synapse) and others.

The PixelFed project seems to gain some traction as apparently the first documentation and sources are made available.

PixelFed is a federated social image sharing platform, similar to instagram. Federation is done using the ActivityPub protocol, which is used by Mastodon, PeerTube, Pleroma, and more. Through ActivityPub PixelFed can share and interact with these platforms, as well as other instances of PixelFed.

the-federation

I am posting this here as to my personal logbook.

Given that there’s already a Dockerfile I will give it a try as soon as possible.