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Open Source Moved the Cheese

For the longest time I have lamented the demise of the TrakBox. It
seemed to make so much more sense as a device for tracking and tuning. 
I liked the fact that it was independent from the shack computer, was 
platform independent, and didn't need a hard to find ISA slot, etc.

In fact, I had started to work on a single board controller that would
handle the tracking/tuning chores. I figured that instead of switches
and an LCD display for a user interface, it should include an onboard 
Web server and I could connect it to the home network (tcpip). It could 
then be completely configured via the Web browser on my shack computer. 

That would give me a tracker/tuner box that would operate without using 
my shack computer, be platform independent (anything on the network with 
a Web browser could configure it) and being "connected" it could even 
fetch fresh Keps on it's own.

Looking at the available hardware (JStamp, etc.) I figured that such a
contraption could be built for under $350.

I was about to send a note to this list asking if anyone was interested
in collaborating on such a project until I discovered the $199 PC from 
Wal-Mart...this is not an advert for Wal-Mart, but...

For under $200 I get a pre-configured 800 MHz VIA C3 processor with 
128 MB memory, 10 GB hard drive, CD-ROM drive, Integrated 10/100 LAN and
Linux pre-installed. The box has no monitor, but who needs one?

I install Predict and FODtrack and assemble the FOD interface, and I have
exactly what I was looking for for about $250 (PC, sales tax, FOD
interface hardware).

It's an independent box that sits on the home network. A simple cron job
fetches fresh Keps everyday. I can telnet into the box from my main
computer and run Predict to track whatever I want and/or to configure
the system remotely. Plus it has enough spare horsepower to search for
extraterrestrials (SETI client for Unix), serve up Web pages, and route
email. From my office or from a hotel on the road, I can SSH into the new 
box and update software, run pass predictions, schedule jobs, monitor
what my rotors are doing, etc.  

It would seem that the falling price of computing gear, coupled with
open source software will continue to obviate the need for certain,
custom hardware applications and it needs to be considered when looking 
for a "custom" solution.

Many thanks to John, KD2BD (Predict) and Manfred, XQ2FOD (FODtrack) for making 
their hard work available for us all.

73, Jeff Davis
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