Thursday, July 14, 2011

Back on the air!

Well, for the ham radio digital modes anyway. The HP laptop we were using in our "shack" seems to have given up the ghost a few months back, which severely curtailed our use of the ham radio gear. That computer was used for logging contacts, and to work the HF digital modes (PSK, RTTY, etc...). I decided to re-purpose the OpenBSD computer (Dell Vostro 230N), and move it out to the radio room.

The first part was easy, or so I thought. Just install Linux on it and get the accounts set up. Well, me being the OS explorer that I am, I started with Linux Mint Xfce. Linux Mint Xfce is a very nice, Debian based distro. It is fairly light weight, with a usable interface. The thing that was throwing me was the kernel. The version in Debian testing is 2.6.32, apparently. This kernel was released in December of 2009. I guess I just like my kernels a bit "fresher". After my disappointment with Linux mint, I decided to try my old stand-by, Xubuntu. After downloading and installing Xubuntu 11.04, I realized my USB wireless networking adapter for that computer would have to use ndiswrapper, and that the version of ndiswrapper in the Ubuntu archives didn't have a critical patch that was needed to make it work with the adapter (Netgear N300, WNA3100). At that point I decided that if I were going to go outside of the Ubuntu archives for a program, I might as well scrap Xubuntu entirely. Next up: Slackware!

Ok, so I grabbed my Slackware 13.37 CD set and started the install. The install was quick and painless, as usual, and before I knew it, I had a working Slackware desktop again. The window manager I chose was Xfce, because this isn't exactly a high-end system, and my wife is used to Xfce from using her Xubuntu desktop. After getting the system up and running, I tripped over to the Slackbuilds site and grabbed the build script for ndiswrapper. Again, it didn't have the patch I needed, so I created it myself (ran the build script once, added the needed function to a copy the ntoskernel_io.c source code file, then ran "diff -u" to create the patch, and integrated it into my slackbuild script, and then ran it a second time, building the proper package. After installing it, loading the ndiswrapper kernel module (and setting it up in /etc/rc.d/rc.modules, so it would load upon reboot), the OS was able to see the adapter, and I was able to set it up. Wireless networking works! Yay!

Our local Staples had a sale on some nice Asus 20" LCD displays, so we went out and bought one, along with a cheap pair of amplified speakers. I was now ready to move the computer out of the office, and into the radio room. That process took about an hour total, to get it all set up. It has been running out there very well, and I've actually used it to listen in on a few PSK-31 conversations. I will probably spend a little time this coming weekend, tweaking the radio and software (fldigi) to make it work optimally, then after that, we're off and running! I'll see if I can grab a screenshot of one of us working PSK-31 or RTTY on that new computer, and post it later.

The more I use Slackware, the more I like it. I'm seriously thinking about replacing Xubuntu on my wife's computer, with Slackware, the next time I re-image it. Using the Xfce desktop is a great trade-off between usability and resource usage.

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