Entries posted in October 2017

A busy week or two

Thursday, 12 October 2017

It feels like the past week or two has been very busy, and so I'm looking forward to my "holiday" next month.

I'm not really having a holiday of course, my wife is slowly returning to work, so I'll be taking a month of paternity leave, taking sole care of Oiva for the month of November. He's still a little angel, and now that he's reached 10 months old he's starting to get much more mobile - he's on the verge of walking, but not quite there yet. Mostly that means he wants you to hold his hands so that he can stand up, swaying back and forth before the inevitable collapse.

Beyond spending most of my evenings taking care of him, from the moment I return from work to his bedtime (around 7:30PM), I've made the Debian Administration website both read-only and much simpler. In the past that site was powered by a lot of servers, I think around 11. Now it has only a small number of machines, which should slowly decrease.

I've ripped out the database host, the redis host, the events-server, the planet-machine, the email-box, etc. Now we have a much simpler setup:

  • Front-end machine
    • Directly serves the code site
    • Directly serves the SSL site which exists solely for Let's Encrypt
    • Runs HAProxy to route the rest of the requests to the cluster.
  • 4 x Apache servers
    • Each one has a (read-only) MySQL database on it for the content.
      • In case of future-compromise I removed all user passwords, and scrambled the email-addresses.
      • I don't think there's a huge risk, but better safe than sorry.
    • Each one runs the web-application.
      • Which now caches each generated page to /tmp/x/x/x/x/$hash if it doesn't exist.
      • If the request is cached it is served from that cache rather than dynamically.

Finally although I'm slowly making progress with "radio stuff" I've knocked up a simple hack which uses an ultrasonic sensor to determine whether I'm sat in front of my (home) PC. If I am everything is good. If I'm absent the music is stopped and the screen locked. Kinda neat.

(Simple ESP8266 device wired to the sensor. When the state changes a message is posted to Mosquitto, where a listener reacts to the change(s).)

Oh, not final. I've also transfered my mobile phone from DNA.fi to MoiMobile. Which should complete soon, right now my phone is in limbo, active on niether service. Oops.

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Tracking aircraft in real-time, via software-defined-radio

Thursday, 5 October 2017

So my last blog-post was about creating a digital-radio, powered by an ESP8266 device, there's a joke there about wireless-control of a wireless. I'm not going to make it.

Sticking with a theme this post is also about radio, software-defined radio. I know almost nothing about SDR, except that it can be used to let your computer "do stuff" with radio. The only application I've ever read about that seemed interesting was tracking aircraft.

This post is about setting up a Debian GNU/Linux system to do exactly that, show aircraft in real-time above your head! This was almost painless to setup.

  • Buy the hardware.
  • Plug in the hardware.
  • Confirm it is detected.
  • Install the appropriate sdr development-package(s).
  • Install the magic software.
    • Written by @antirez, no less, you know it is gonna be good!

So I bought this USB device from AliExpress for the grand total of €8.46. I have no idea if that URL is stable, but I suspect it is probably not. Good luck finding something similar if you're living in the future!

Once I connected the Antenna to the USB stick, and inserted it into a spare slot it showed up in the output of lsusb:

  $ lsusb
  ..
  Bus 003 Device 043: ID 0bda:2838 Realtek Semiconductor Corp. RTL2838 DVB-T
  ..

In more detail I see the major/minor numbers:

  idVendor           0x0bda Realtek Semiconductor Corp.
  idProduct          0x2838 RTL2838 DVB-T

So far, so good. I installed the development headers/library I needed:

  # apt-get install librtlsdr-dev libusb-1.0-0-dev

Once that was done I could clone antirez's repository, and build it:

  $ git clone https://github.com/antirez/dump1090.git
  $ cd dump1090
  $ make

And run it:

  $ sudo ./dump1090 --interactive --net

This failed initially as a kernel-module had claimed the device, but removing that was trivial:

  $ sudo rmmod dvb_usb_rtl28xxu
  $ sudo ./dump1090 --interactive --net

Once it was running I'd see live updates on the console, every second:

  Hex    Flight   Altitude  Speed   Lat       Lon       Track  Messages Seen       .
  --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  4601fc          14200     0       0.000     0.000     0     11        1 sec
  4601f2          9550      0       0.000     0.000     0     58        0 sec
  45ac52 SAS1716  2650      177     60.252    24.770    47    26        1 sec

And opening a browser pointing at http://localhost:8080/ would show that graphically, like so:

NOTE: In this view I'm in Helsinki, and the airport is at Vantaa, just outside the city.

Of course there are tweaks to be made:

  • With the right udev-rules in place it is possible to run the tool as non-root, and blacklist the default kernel module.
  • There are other forks of the dump1090 software that are more up-to-date to explore.
  • SDR can do more than track planes.

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