Category: Computers & Tech

General Computers & Technology

Acer Veriton

I picked up a used Acer Veriton X2631G desktop the other day from someone on Marketplace. It’s a nice compact sized desktop computer and even though it’s older, it has some nice stats.

Acer Veriton
  • Dual Core Pentium G3220 64 Bit at 3 GHz
  • 6 Gbytes RAM
  • 500 Gbyte Hard Disk
  • DVD player/recorder
  • 2 x USB 3.0 ports plus 4 USB 2.0 ports
  • VGA Video out @ 1366×768
  • Windows 10

It didn’t come with a keyboard, mouse or Wifi card (but it did have an ethernet port). I bought a cheap keyboard from Amazon, plugged in an old mouse and used the ethernet port on the machine to connect to my home network.

Linux Mint Cinnamon

Yesterday I installed Linux Mint 20.3 and configured the machine for dual boot so I can startup in either Windows or Linux. I will be using both because some apps that I use are available in Windows but not Linux, and vice versa. So far I’m finding the machine responsive and a 3 GHz it’s fast enough. I’m really liking the Linux Mint environment and I allocated the majority of the disk space to it.

Booting from SSD – Raspberry Pi

A few weeks ago I purchased a USB 3.0 Solid State Drive (SSD). My intention was two-fold:

  • to add more storage to my Raspberry Pi and
  • to eventually use it as the boot disk for the Pi.

There are some advantages that come with booting from USB 3.0 SSD, most noticebly an increase in speed but also SSD’s are more reliable that micro SD cards and more cost effective on a $/Gbyte basis.

Early Raspberry Pi’s booted primarily from micro SD card. You wrote your operating system image to the card and inserted it into the Pi before booting up. Booting from a USB device was possible but involved a bit of MacGyvering. Since the introduction of the Pi 4B and the Pi 400, USB boot has been made easier.

I had been looking at this option for a while. I found numerous write-ups on the interwebs explaining how to accomplish the task. Some were more complicated than others. But it comes down to whether you have the most up to date Operating system (I have the new 64 bit “bullseye” installed) and up-to-date eeprom.

I found a set of instructions written by J. A. Watson at ZDNet called Booting my Raspberry Pi 4 from a USB device and it seemed to be the simplest and least confusing way to go about it. The author explained that your Pi4 must have bootloader eeprom firmware dated Sep 3 2020 or later. He also explained how to check this and I was able to confirm that mine was up to date. Watson also explained that you need to be running Raspberry Pi OS version 2020-08-20 or later, which I am with Bullseye.

So having confirmed both of the above, I decided to go ahead and make my SSD bootable. The process was simple. After running sudo apt update and sudo apt upgrade I used the SD Card Copier utility from my Pi’s Accessories menu and copied the contents of the bootable micro SD card currently installed in my Pi to the SSD.

When the copy process finished after a few minutes, I shut down the Pi using the sudo shutdown command from the terminal. Once the Pi shut down, I switched off the power supply and removed the SD card.

Now for the moment of truth. I made sure the SSD was powered on (it’s on a powered USB hub) and I powered up the Raspberry Pi. The boot process was smooth and I encountered no problems.

And I have noticed an increase in speed now that the Pi is running from SSD.

Polar Unite

I bought myself a new fitness smart-watch, the Polar Unite.

Polar Unite

I’ve been wearing a Polar A300 watch for almost 4 years now. Got it when I was in cardiac rehab after my heart surgery. In combination with a Polar H10 chest strap it did a great job of tracking my heart rate during workouts. However, it did require the chest strap to be worn to get the heart rate.

This new watch has built-in heart rate monitoring right on my wrist, so it’s there 24/7. It also has a touch screen with a vivid colour display. It connects to the Polar Flow app which I’ve been using to track my training sessions. I get a lot more information on this new watch including my training history in charts and graphs. I think I’m going to like it.

I’m a big fan of the Polar line of fitness products and I didn’t want to see the old one go to waste. So my old A300 smart watch found it’s way onto Wendy’s wrist. Got it all set up for her, the change-over was pretty straight forward, and she’s looking forward to tracking her own daily activity tracking.

Homemade ADS-B antenna

I wasn’t really satisfied with the range of reception my ADS-B receiver was getting. With the kit antenna, I was receiving signals from aircraft up to about 50 nautical miles, but more reliably only really 30 miles. That was with the antenna situated inside my patio door. I found that moving it outside increased the range but it wasn’t a practical idea to have the patio door cracked open in March. I wanted a more permanent setup with even better reception.

After a bit of research on the interwebs, I decided to build myself a homemade “co-co” – coaxial collinear – antenna. I made my antenna based on a couple of YouTube videos and this excellent description at www.balarad.net

A collinear antenna consists of a number of equal length segments of coax cable joined by alternating the center conductor of one to outer sheath of the next. The ideal length of each conductor is calculated based on the frequency to be recieved (1090 MHz) and something called the coax velocity factor. Luckily there are calculators on-line like this one at jeroen.steeman.org

The videos and other resources I found had calculated the length for each antenna segment at either 116mm or 118 mm. So after careful consideration, I decided to split the different and go with 117mm. Fortunately, I had some unused RG6 coax cable which I was able cut into the required segments.

Assembling the collinear coax antenna

The antenna can have as many segments as you wish, but it seems that any more than 8 doesn’t offer a great deal of improvement. So I went with 8 segments. The photo above shows how the segments are joined with the center conductor of each inserted into the sheath of the next. A piece of electrical tape not shown here is placed between the conductors. Then each connection is wrapped with more electrical tape.

After assembling all 8 segments (the last one has an F-type fitting) the whole thing is inserted into a piece of 1/2″ ABS pipe about a meter in length. The top is capped and the fitting at the bottom is wrapped with electrical tape until it fits snug.

antenna mounted to deck

I mounted my new antenna outside on the corner of the wall of my deck and ran a 25 foot piece of RG6 coax cable into the house to the NooElec SMArtee SDR reciever on my Raspberry Pi 4B computer.

So was it worth it? Absolutely, my reception has gone from 30-50 nautical miles to 150-200 nautical miles. At times I have been receiving signals from over 100 aircraft. That’s a big jump form the 10-15 I was getting before.

My ADSB data is being fed to the flight tracking services of ADSB Exchange. If you check their website, you will see aircraft tracked by my ground station (and many others all over the world).

ADS-B antenna

Here’s a couple of screen captures that show the reception I had with the kit antenna (top) and with the new “co-co” antenna (bottom).

Reception with kit antenna
Reception with outdoor “co-co” antenna

ADSB Exchange

My ADS-B receiver has been working fine on my Raspbery Pi 4B. Using the cheap kit antenna I’m receiving signals from aircraft up to approximately 50 miles, depending on their elevation.

I found a site called ADSB Exchange that collects data from volunteer feeders and aggregates it onto a publicly available map. I was able to establish a connection with their network and I am now feeding ADS-B data to them. So if you view their map, some of the data you see is coming from my ground station.

ADSB Exchange

The above image shows an aircraft I was tracking. It was a Boeing 737-800 out of Toronto YYZ, Flair flight FLE111 as shown on the sidebar.

The jagged lines on the map indicate the range of my reciever. The map expands as planes fly through it and are detected, so it is constantly changing. It’s a nice feature and it tells me I need to relocate my antenna to a better spot. It is presently sitting on the floor just inside the patio door.

When the weather gets a little nicer, I will try to locate my antenna outdoors. I may also try to build a home-made antenna for better reception. There’s lots of instructional videos on line.

After my initial setup, I was unable to establish a feeder connection with FlightAware, so I’m not contributing data to their network.

I have been snapping photos of aircraft that fly close by. This morning I saw a helicopter heading our way and got this pic just as it flew over the house.

Aerospatiale AS-350
From the ADSB Exchange website

Receiving ADS-B on my RPi

ADS-B is a signal that commercial aircraft transmit that indicates their speed, position and heading, among other things.

To receive it you need an RTL-SDR receiver and some decoding software. I recently bought at dongle from NooElec, the NESDR SMArtee. One end plugs into a USB port on the computer and the other end attaches to an antenna.

It came in a bundle with some cheap antennas for listening to broadcast radio as well as one that’s tuned to 1090 Mhz where the ADS-B broadcasts are located.

I installed software called dump1090 on my RPi 4B which decodes the signals from the aircraft and plots them on a map (see below). Pretty cool.

I also installed PiAware which connects to the FlightAware website and transmits the data received to them, which they use to track aircraft all over the world and display on their website. In exchange for feeding them data FlightAware offers a free premium subscription.

I had a problem with the PiAware installation and I don’t have it working properly yet, so I’m not able to connect to FlightAware. But I have noticed that my data is more up to date than what is displayed on the FlightAware website.

But you can see from the screen capture below that I am getting some good data from the aircraft in the area. We live in a busy air traffic area, so this should be interesting.