Burk Autopilot, DOS version

We have been doing work at a particular radio station for a few years now. Every time I go there, I look at this… thing:

Burk DOS Autopilot/CDL running on Windows 98
Burk DOS Autopilot/CDL running on Windows 98

It is a very old PC running Windows 98 and Burk Autopilot/CDL 4.6 for DOS.  The autopilot program is running from a windows DOS prompt and seems to be working okay; my concern is about the age of the hardware and the potential for failure.  The Autopilot is what controls the AM station’s power levels, which vary from 1,000 watts daytime to 4 watts nighttime.  We have all read about AM stations fined by the FCC for running daytime power levels at night.  Failure of the ancient autopilot computer could lead to exactly this scenario.

I attempted to purchase the newer, Windows XP version of Autopilot, only to be told “that item is not in this year’s budget.”  Apparently, it was not in the budget for the following year or the one after that.  Thus, when the hard drive on the old Windoze 98 machine began making a terrible grinding noise, I knew the end was near.  I made an attempt to run the Autopilot from a Windows XP DOS prompt, at which time I was informed: “The program cannot start or run due to incompatibility with 64-bit versions of windows…” GAK!  I kind of knew this already.

I began daydreaming about running a DOS virtual machine inside of a Ubuntu or Lubuntu operating system.  Then I found a DOS emulator program for Linux called “DOSemu” which looked like exactly what the doctor ordered.  Using the carcasses of several old HP desktop computers, I came up with one working PC that had two organic serial ports.  This is actually not a bad unit, as it has a 1.6 GHz dual-core processor and 2 GB RAM.  On this machine, I loaded the 32-bit version of Ubuntu 12.04 desktop.  Naturally, the original Autopilot/CDL 4.6 disks were nowhere to be found so I had to copy the directory off of the old computer.  It was also understood that this project was simply going to suck.  Therefore, the superannuated Windoze 98 machine had no network interface or any USB ports.  My only option was to copy the files onto a 3 1/2-inch floppy disk.  Fortunately, I have a USB 3 1/2 floppy drive, which I was able to use to copy the files onto the new computer into the /home/ARC16 directory.

Downloading and setting up Dosemu was fairly straightforward.  There were a few configuration steps that needed to be completed before the Autopilot software would work and communicate with the ARC-16 remote control:

  • In the DOSemu configuration file, the hardware serial port needs to be configured to work with the DOS emulator.  This is located at /etc/dosemu/doseum.conf.  The default conf file has all of the serial ports commented out.  Remove the comment and change the serial port source:  $_com1 = “/dev/ttyS0” or $_com2 = “/dev/ttyS1”  The serial ports available can be determined by the following terminal command: dmesg | grep tty  The output should look something like this:

    paul@engineeringIII:~$ dmesg | grep tty
    [ 0.000000] console [tty0] enabled
    [ 37.531286] serial8250: ttyS0 at I/O 0x3f8 (irq = 4) is a 16550A
    [ 37.532138] 0000:04:00.3: ttyS1 at I/O 0x1020 (irq = 3) is a 16550A
    [16206.667112] usb 2-1.3: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0

    For USB to serial port converters, the serial port source may look something like this: $_com1 = “/dev/ttyUSB0”

  • The DOS emulator time can be synced to Linux time by: $_timemode = “linux” This is great because Linux can be synced to a NTP source, meaning Autopilot time will always be correct.
  • The logged-on user that will be running the DOS emulator needs to be added to the “dialout” group.  This can be done by sudo adduser [user name] dialout.  This will allow Autopilot software access to the comm port.
  • The DOS autoexec.bat file should be edited so that Burk autopilot loads automatically when DOSemu is started.  DOSemu automatically assigns the D drive to the Linux home directory.  Thus, simply adding:

    CD ARC16

    to the end of the autoexec.bat file will start the ARC16 program automatically when the DOSemu program is started.

  • DOSemu can then be added to the Ubuntu desktop startup.

The results:

DOS autopilot running on Linux machine
DOS autopilot running on Linux machine

Burk Autopilot/CDL (DOS version) running on a Linux (Ubuntu 12.04.4) machine.  The stupid thing will probably run forever now.

This computer is also used to program the satellite receivers, which are located at the transmitter site.  Thus, there are several manuals and program clocks stored in the documents folder.  I also installed the x11VNC server program, so that the computer desktop can be logged into remotely from the studio over the LAN link.

I noticed that the DOSemu program hits the processor fairly hard, with one core running about 45% most of the time.  That should be fine, as this machine is used very infrequently for other tasks.

CES 2014 and the Digital Radio question

I have been busy of late, however, still keeping abreast of the news of the day.  Along with that, CES 2014 wrapped up recently.  No huge developments, especially when it comes to Broadcasting.  However, there was one item of interest; the updated technical specifications of IEEE 802.11ac.

It is of interest here because of the implications of mobile/portable data developments and their impact on traditional AM and FM broadcasting. The new specification calls for 1.2 Gbp/s per device in the initial release, increasing that throughput to 6 Gbp/s in later releases.  These data rates are for overall transmission, including the WiFi overhead.  Actual usable application data (layers 5-7) would be about 20 to 30 percent less.  Even so, 900 Mbp/s is a phenomenal data rate.  Truly I say to you; this is the future of digital broadcasting.  HD Radio™; may well prove that the “HD” stood for “Huge Distraction.”

The new 802.11ac specification uses MU-MIMO, high-density modulation, larger channel bandwidths, and beamforming technology in the 5 GHz WiFi spectrum.  Of course, the question is, at what distances will this system work?  If it is like conventional WiFi, then 100-200 feet is about all that can be expected.  However, there are also many people interested in wireless broadband (WiMAX) service as an alternative to traditional wired ISPs. For that application, having many outdoor 802.11ac nodes connected by a backbone could potentially blanket a city or campus with free high-speed wireless data.

Example of cjdns network
Example of cjdns network

Along the same lines, there are many people involved in creating mesh networks of various types; be they ad-hoc mobile networks, darknets, bitclouds, etc. Mesh networking is a very interesting topic, for me at least.  The network protocols are getting better and more secure.  WiFi hardware is becoming less expensive and more reliable.  As more and more people put effort into developing protocols like cjdns, local mesh networks will become widespread unless they are outlawed.  You know; because of teh terrorism!!1!!

As it stands today, I can drive for two hours in mostly rural upstate NY and CT streaming my favorite radio programs and have nearly seamless handoffs and very few dropouts.  This is on my three-year-old, beat-up 3G HTC android phone sitting in the passenger seat of my car.

Digital Radio is here, it is simply not the In Band On Channel system that legacy broadcasters have chosen.

Cable Porn

On occasion, the company I currently work for does installation work. Thus, I am always keeping my eyes open for new equipment and tools to make that job easier. The cable comb seems like it is just such a thing:

ACOM tools cable comb
ACOM tools cable comb

Instructional video from youtube:

Then there is this:

Which is simply amazing. It is described as “1320 Category 6 cables, dressed and terminated.”

Incidentally, there is an entire subreddit: reddit.com/r/cableporn for all those cable geeks that like to look at neat cabling work.

Windows XP

WDST technical operation center
technical operation center

It is time to plan and upgrade those machines running Windows XP. After April 8, 2014, Microsoft will no longer be updating the software and/or patching security holes. Many in the IT industry believe that after that date, hackers will attempt to break the popular operating system which has been in use for twelve years.

Approximately one-third of all Windows operating systems in use today are XP.  Microsoft has already warned users that potential hackers could use security patches and updates for Windows 7/8 systems to scout for vulnerabilities in XP.  I know several radio clients have automation systems and office networks that run primarily Windows XP.  Microsoft may be overstating the risks of remaining on XP, then again, they may not be. This situation has been described in several trade magazines as “A ticking time bomb,” or equally dire:  “Microsoft urges customers up upgrade or face ruin.”

In radio station infrastructure, very few systems are as vital as the audio storage and automation system.  Without a functioning automation system, most stations would be dead in the water.  If an automation system were to hack and be ruined completely, I do not think there are enough people left on most stations’ payrolls to run an operation manually, even for a short period of time.   I, for one, do not want my phone to start ringing on April 9th with a bunch of panicky managers talking about how unacceptable the situation is.