Monday, March 10, 2008

Vault-OS : Update #3

This is a computer I bought for $8 at a garage sale and painted with a $2 spraycan. It's a 386 SX with 4 megs of ram and it is running the current version of Vault OS in spite of the fact it has no hard drive, monochrome screen only and even the CMOS battery is dead for the bios. I plan to implement a feature whereby these machines can be told to ignore their BIOs settings and to get an accurate date-time from a TCP-IP service. The app is running in 32 bit protected mode on a 640x480 256 color SVGA display at about 64 fps. It has two visual pages (for smooth flickerless updates) and two offscreen buffers for the GUI interface display management. The current build has all the TCP-IP libraries compiled in, the Metakit database, the John Miles Sound System, the Fastgraph graphics library and a heavily adapted version of FastGUI. The executable is now 1.2 megs leaving roughly 3 more megs to operate with in RAM alone. Amazing what you can do once you ditch windows.

This machine comes with a functional serial port, parallel port, a single USB socket, a microphone input, soundcard output jack and a PCMCIA slot. I already found a network card with floppy disk software that works on this for $1 at a surplus store. So this would be a typical example of a single server/client terminal in the Vault OS Network. You could plug who knows what kind of real time data sensors into this unit without the hassles of having to build a dedicated ethernet board as described in the first draft of the Vault OS architecture. The exact mechanics of how you will read/interpret the data on a port are still up in the air, but I am writing a scripting language that is going to give you all kind of flexibility to do things like read/write to/from ports and some built in routines for A/D conversions and other features for embedded sensors. I will not hard code any of this stuff on my local setup to make sure that others will be able to adapt their networks to do what they want.

Note that the simple presence of a microphone jack implies the capability to read incoming analog sound signals (like from the audio jack of a CD-715 radiation meter) through the sound card and convert them to digital data signals that can be displayed on a graph or display widget of some kind. This part is a gray area but in the act of getting my own setup running I'll be debugging this through the scripting front end. I thought one way of standardizing this might be to insist on Sound Blaster compatibility, that way I could count on an SB driver that I could call off interrupts from inside the script to process audio information. Fantastic things with A/D sensing have been done through sound cards so this is worth investigating.

Right now the important thing to debug is the sensor input framework, but the ports aren't limited to input - they can also be wired to control the outside world ... turn on lights, run the water or fuel pump, manage the temperature of a greenhouse, etc. ... and that's the tip of the iceberg. One very cool application might be a generic system for management of CCD security cameras and getting the framebuffer off of one to splat into GUI windows for real time capture and motion detection on video frames.


A Thousand Good Intentions said...

This is all really exciting sounding, I will be so curious to see the working model when you get it all up and finished.

Not to be off-topic, since you're obviously focussed on some very specific aspects of the project and not necessarily the overall at this point, but what have you thought along the lines of EMP hardening?

Obviously most of your shelter is essentially a faraday box and would protect any computers inside... But what about incoming electrical wires, whether the current A/C or self-contained solar panels? incoming feed wires from external sensors, like the geiger counter? Those can all collect EMP energy and wire it in to your delicate electronics... Had you thought of some ideas to tackle that front yet?

Texas Arcane said...

Ethernet already has much technology designed to protect the lines from electronic interference, including magnetic grounds and optical isolators.

Initially, you could just observe a pre-attack procedure of pulling all Ethernet jacks out of equipment. Later on as time permits, you could graduate to optical isolators if you could afford/beg/trash them.

The biggest danger comes from Ethernet lines that run outside the shelter in long runs. These act as antenna collectors for EMP and bring it through the steel shell where it can do the most damage. The threat of EMP burning out ethernet lines of an average of a couple meters inside a steel shelter are minimal but external it is a real risk.

A Thousand Good Intentions said...

I hadn't thought about fiber optics. excellent idea. I had also wondered about sheathing external leads in galvanized conduit, grounded to the steel shelter, if that would help or not, since the sheaths would still be open-ended.

So you have your cheap computers... each one has just a couple of inputs. lets say you hook your geiger to the mic jack... well, if you want two geigers, one for outside rads and one to monitor internally for leaks, are you gonna need a minimum of two cheap computers in order to have two mic jacks, and network them?

how do you hook up the water-reserve indicator? the power reserve indicator?

The far-easier low tech alternative is a set of analogue gauges, hydraulic pressure meters, voltage and ammeters at your vault control station. But this Vault OS just sounds so much cooler. If you're gonna make preparations, you might as well have a ton of fun with it.

Texas Arcane said...

I think based on information I got off the internet, it is pretty easy to design a serial I2C interface for 1-unlimited # geiger counters with audio outputs. The direct-to-sound-card method is just the easiest.

You might want to start by reserving that jack for monitoring your long cable sensor CD-715 aboveground and add others to the network as you are able to hook them up. The instant I figure out how to build an I2C serial driver for the CD-715 I'll put it up.

I get Silicon Chip magazine here every month in Australia, it's the best. In the past year alone they've described dirt cheap circuits to monitor water levels in a steel tank (adjustable to any volume) and a superb 12 volt battery charger with PC interface via serial port. The great thing is that most circuits in the magazine are then offered as kits shortly afterwards by Oatley Electronics, Jaycars here in Australia. Dick Smith used to have every kit ever published in SC but Tandy bought them out and turned them into a communist distribution point for chinzty toys from China.