Radiation Monitoring Update

I’ve spent the better part of a day updating my radiation monitoring computer.  Not wanting to use all the energy of a full desktop computer, I’ve decided to move the installation to a small netbook that’s been laying around.  About a year ago, I purchased a USB converter for the Aware Electronics RM-80 geiger counter and I finally decided to install it.

Needless to say, it has taken way longer than I had hoped.

First, installation of the software was not completely straight forward.  The software from Aware Electronics is somewhat complex in there are many different components and the documentation is a little haphazard – you definately need to “dive in” and read it all if you are going to do anything more than basic.  For me, I am very specific about the type of graphs that I wanted.  The scripting is a llittle complex, and when I had previously ventured into this area, I should have commented the .BAT files a little more.  One can never remember the fine points of these things several years later.  As there is a .BAT file on this site, I will be uploading an update that is well commented for those of you who might be interested in emulating it.

Next was the other programs that needed to be updated.  First, the windows remote desktop  was not working.  About 2 hours was spent on that…until it came to my attention that XP Home edition doesn’t have that functionality.  A Google search did come up with a solution…and now the remote desktop works.

Finally, I needed to transfer all the other “glue”-type programs and get them working.  Specifically, I needed to re-setup Watch4Folder and WinSCP to upload the pictures.  Again, a good reason to remember to comment liberally when writing script files.

So now, basement radiation is being monitored on the low-power netbook, and is now being tracked by microSeiverts, whereas it previously was reported in microRoentgens.  The Seivert is a more common measure of radioactivity and thus I felt it best to update.

Automatic uploading of files to my web page

I thought that I might relate some of my experience with the automatic uploading of files (images) on my systems.  On my systems, the weather data and POES images are uploaded via their respective programs (WXtoImg and Weather Display) Image files for my seismometer, geiger counter and LRIT images are created on the computers capturing the data, but there is no function in the respective programs for uploading.  For these programs, the images are written to a particular directory while awaiting for subsequent uploading to the webpages.  Here is the problem : A file should be uploaded whenever it has been a replaced with a newer one.  But, I don’t want to upload an directory whenever there has been a single replaced file…I really only want to upload the updated one(s) to conserve bandwidth.

The solution that I came up with is not elegant, but it works. I think that it would have been easier if I was working with Linux, but I’m stuck with windows for now.  I have seen some shareware and commercial software to do this…but I try to be frugal and conserve money where I can.

I currently use two different programs for the task.  One is called Watch4Folder.  This particular program watches a particular directory on my computer for any changes in the files there.  Once a change is noted, something can happen, and in my case, a batch file is then run.  The batch file calles a second program called WinSCP.  (I use version 4.3.7 as I havn’t upgraded to the later releases yet.  Also, I happen to use the portable version)  WinSCP has the nice feature of directory synchronization, which allows the program to connect to my webpage, compare a specific directory on my computer to a directory on my server, and only upload the changed files, again, to conserve bandwidth.

Some have suggested that I might use a .bat file to do this.  Unfortunately, I am not well enough versed in DOS bat files to figure out how to do this.  Maybe a .bat file could do this, but some of the complications are that 1, 2, 5, or all the files might have changed, and being able to account for that is just too complex for me.

If anyone knows of better solutions, please write a comment or drop me a line.

 

GOES 13 Images

It has been a while, but I finally got around to posting my LRIT images.  I am using processing from the program ImageMagick to overlay the images on a Blue Marble background.  Similar images can be found at GOES Project Science.  I contacted them about their images and they evidently have a specific program that overlays their images.  I have found that the technique that provides the best images so far involve the “screen” overlay function.  I will post the batch file for this when I get the chance.

Accurate Time with an Arduino…

Since getting a little back into amateur radio and making contacts, I found the need to have  some type of accurate time in the shack / workroom / man-cave…whatever the function of this room is at that particular moment.  A while back, a friend of mine, N1KMO, showed me one of his nixie tube clocks and I think he also had a very accurate clock either attached to it, or next to it.  Either way, I needed a totally accurate clock with millisecond accuracy!

I found a Spectracom Netclock/2 on Ebay several weeks later and purchased it.  I found out that I also needed a decent 60 kHz antenna for it, so I purchased that too.  Ok, I was now out about $350, but, hey, I now had a clock truely accurate to within a few milliseconds. O, sweet joy.

Well, reality set in when I found out that the WWVB signal was changing.  This would allow for better reception of the signal by consumer “atomic” clocks as found in hardware stores and Radio Shack, etc.  Unfortunately, the Netclock/2′s of the world would no longer work. No wonder why people were dumping their NetClocks on Ebay!  Now, all this went down / was to go down 10-29-2012, with a bit of a transition period afterward, but, I still find that the NetClock is providing a lock most of the time.  So, either the transition period has been lengthened, or the unit provides a false positive confirmation of signal lock.  Either way, I needed something else.

I found an Arduino Mega at the local Radio Shack and picked one up.  I figured that it would be an excellent platform to create a new clock on.  I also picked up a EM-406A from Spark Fun, along with the breakout board for the EM-406A which allows for easier soldering.

I won’t bore you with the details, but I now have a functioning GPS clock based on an Arduino Micro (although it will probably work on almost anything.)  My needs were basic…provide the correct time with some indication of second pulses, like a flashing LED with the start of the second.  The GPS unit EM-406A is good for this purpose because it also has a 1 pulse per second output which is accurate to 1μ second….give or take.

Here is a picture of the breadboard setup.  I’ll try my hand at a nice PCB to put the Arduino Micro on, and get a nice box.  I hear that SparkFun has an inexpensive facility for PCB’s.

Here is the Arduino ‘sketch’.  I like to think of myself as a programmer…but I’m not, or at least not lately, so this might not be the most elegant solution, but it does work.

Micro_GPS_PPS_1_0.ino

Currently, there is no functionality to minimize extra NMEA data from the EM-406, you will have to do that on your own, but it also can be done with your Arduino Micro.  If I get a chance, I’ll post that sketch also.

 

Elecraft KX1 Case Modification / Replacement…

Considering that this is my radio amateur blog, I have yet to post any posts to that subject. Well, here one is.

A while back I built the Elecraft KX1 Radio.  I love kits, there is no doubt about it.  Something about the smell of solder.  Anyway, I found this little kit that would put out a good QPR signal and received rave reviews.

Trouble is, with only 6 AA batteries, the output is only about 1.5 watts.  Not bad, but you could do better.  …and John / N0EVH did.  He got a buddy to draw up a sheet metal template that would replace the bottom section of the KX1 and allow 8 AA batteries, giving closer to 12 volts, and between 3-5 watts out.

Here is a link to the original article.. http://naqcc.info/newsletter_126.html

I bought the 15 gauge aluminum from Online Metals…about $16 with shipping.

I used a Harbor Freight 18″ bending brake for the bends.  If I were to do it over, I would use the 30″ brake from Harbor Freight.  Not much more expensive, but it would probably be a little better.  The long bends really push the little break and cause it to bow ever so slightly.

If you do choose to make the base, take the time to lay out all the lines with a scribe.  The dimentions are perfect…really.  Whoever made the template really knew what they were doing, because ALL the bend allowances are spot on.

Here are some photos of the job and the my complete go kit.

The template.  See the original article for full-sized drawing.  Need to print on legal-sized paper.

Completed KX1.  Weighs in at 15.5 oz, including 8 Lithium AA batteries.  That, my friend, is trail-friendly.

Cover made from Lexan, furniture protectors.  Not pretty, but works.

GoKit Items : KX1, Paddle, headphones, antenna, counterpoise, BNC to Mini Banana plug.

Fully packaged, this kit weighs in at 28.9 oz…that’s only 1.8 pounds!!!

WebBots…

I seem to be getting more traffic at the site, but not the good kind.  Seems that some bots have found me and enjoy posting replies to posts.  Being notified every 10 minutes that “Jenny really likes the site, and would I like some weight-loss info” just doesn’t appeal to me.  Posting now disabled until I see what others are doing.

My new lightning detector is up…

A while back, I was corrisponding with a fellow satellite entheusiste named Steve and he mentioned that he was thing about setting up a lightning detector system.  The thought popped back into my head recently, especially as I was looking over my weather display software and it had inputs for some commertial systems.  I looked into these systems, but there seemed to be some sigificant monitary investment (upwards of several hundred dollars) and that thought was dead in the water.

I found two hobby systems, Lightening Radar built by Frank Kooiman and Blitzortung by Egon Wanke.  (I did a web search just now for Frank and found out that he passed away 4/1/2012.  May he rest in peace.)

I setteled on the Blitzortung design which can be found at www.blitzortung.org. I contacted the creator, Egon, and in about 10 days recieved a kit that contains the antenna amplifier and a controller board, all for about $115.  I chose this route, rather than the Lightening Radar design, as the Blitzortung does not need a sound card to run and can actually run on a very minimal computer. (I hope to one day try it on a Raspberrry Pi.)

The kit was a joy to build and as long as you pay attention, it should go smoothly.

If you are interested in lightening detection, please consider becoming part of the Blitzortung network.  We could use many more participants, especially here in North America.

I’ll have some photos up when I get a chance..

 

Today made some changes to the graph and image pages.  I made the menu bar a little cleaner.  I still have to update my WxToImg template page so that visitors can access other areas.

Also added information under “About LRIT Images” from my previous posts at my google site about how I came to receive weather satellite pictures from GEOS 13.

Hard drive issues.

We lost power two nights ago for some unknown reason.  It wasn’t raining, snowing, windy or anything else.  I guess just a random event.  Either way, when I went to power up my box that collects satellite images, it failed to boot.  It was a dual-boot box that had Ubuntu loaded.  Somehow it seemed the boot loader for windows became corrupted.

Luckily, I didn’t have to reinstall windows and my other software…which would likely be several hours of computer hand-holding.  But, I also did not have any backups made.  So, the issue now has been what backup software to use.  There are many out there, but I think I’ll go with Macrium for now.  They have a free version that will image the drive, which for a computer that only collects data, should be enough.  At this point, I just want a basic image that I can use in case of disaster.  I the future I can think about differential updates and such.

Currently, I’ve shut down data collection and am defragmenting.  Then I’ll image the drives (one box for seismography, radiation and weather, the other for satellite images.) and keep that safe somewhere.  My advice, as you have all heard before, is that disaster strikes and a simple plan can keep you out of serious trouble.

a few new pages

I continue to add some pages to the site.  I’ve moved and updated my seismometer pages over and hope to complete the remaining sometime soon.  Most of the previously posted monitoring data is now posted, including seismic data, radon data and weather satellite data.  Still needed to do is local weather.  I still need to work a little on the static pages that I created as the “home” link is broken, from when I moved wordpress from the /wp directory to /blog directory…but then decided that it was better to actually have it in the /wp directory for update reasons.  The work continues…

Site update…

Finally got the site improved a little tonight.  I’ve spent a lot of time tryong to figure out how to widen the standard WordPress pages so that my images are not squashed.  Too much time, in fact.  So, I bagged the whole idea of modifying the pages and just created some of my own with KompoZer.  I think that if I know CSS  and PHP a little more I could get something going, but I have too little time now.

New difficulties with web host…

I would love to be further along with this site, but I seem to be encountering difficulties with my web host.  I have moved everything to Namecheap (who hosts my domains).  But, I seem to be getting blocked.  Now, to be fair, I’m getting blocked because my automated FTP software is causing some problems on my side, and Namecheap is interpretating that as an attack on my site.  I thought it was fixed, but this morning I found I was blocked again… my weather update software had somehow come alive again, and with 20 failed FTP attempts, I was blocked again.  I’ll have to contact tech support again when I get home.

Hello world!

I have just started this site, and am new to wordpress and the whole blogging thing.  As I get things up and running I’ll post more.  Thanks for taking the time to look.

- Mike