Tuesday, October 10, 2017

FreeBSD and APRS, or "hm what happens when none of this is well documented.."

Here's another point along my quest for amateur radio on FreeBSD - bring up basic APRS support. Yes, someone else has done the work, but in the normal open source way it was .. inconsistently documented.

First is figuring out the hardware platform. I chose the following:

  • A Baofeng UV5R2, since they're cheap, plentiful, and do both VHF and UHF;
  • A cable to do sound level conversion and isolation (and yes, I really should post a circuit diagram and picture..);
  • A USB sound device, primarily so I can whack it into FreeBSD/Linux devices to get a separate sound card for doing radio work;
  • FreeBSD laptop (it'll become a raspberry pi + GPS + sensor + LCD thingy later, but this'll do to start with.)
The Baofeng is easy - set it to the right frequency (VHF APRS sits on 144.390MHz), turn on VOX so I don't have to make up a PTT cable, done/done.

The PTT bit isn't that hard - one of the microphone jack pins is actually PTT (if you ground it, it engages PTT) so when you make the cable just ensure you expose a ground pin and PTT pin so you can upgrade it later.

The cable itself isn't that hard either - I had a baofeng handmic lying around (they're like $5) so I pulled it apart for the cable. I'll try to remember to take pictures of that.

Here's a picture I found on the internet that shows the pinout:

Now, I went a bit further. I bought a bunch of 600 ohm isolation transformers for audio work, so I wired it up as follows:

  • From the audio output of the USB sound card, I wired up a little attenuator - input is 2k to ground, then 10k to the input side of the transformer; then the output side of the transformer has a 0.01uF greencap capacitor to the microphone input of the baofeng;
  • From the baofeng I just wired it up to the transformer, then the output side of that went into a 0.01uF greencap capacitor in series to the microphone input of the sound card.
In both instances those capacitors are there as DC blockers.

(I'd draw up a circuit diagram but for some reason there's no easy tool here in blogger to do that in-line! Sigh.)

Ok, so that bit is easy.

Then on to the software side.

The normal way people do this stuff is "direwolf" on Linux. So, "pkg install direwolf" installed it. That was easy.

Configuring it up was a bit less easy. I found this guide to be helpful:


FreeBSD has the example direwolf config in /usr/local/share/doc/direwolf/examples/direwolf.conf . Now, direwolf will run as a normal user (there's no rc.d script for it yet!) and by default runs out of the current directory. So:

$ cd ~
$ cp /usr/local/share/doc/direwolf/examples/direwolf.conf .
$ (edit it)
$ direwolf

Editing it isn't that hard - you need to change your callsign and the audio device.

OK, here is the main undocumented bit for FreeBSD - the sound device can just be /dev/dsp . It isn't an ALSA name! Don't waste time trying to use ALSA names. Instead, just find the device you want and reference it. For me the USB sound card shows up as /dev/dsp3 (which is very non specific as USB sound devices come and go, but that's a later problem!) but it's enough to bring it up.

So yes, following the above guide, using the right sound device name resulted in a working APRS modem.

Next up - something to talk to it. This is called 'xastir'. It's .. well, when you run it, you'll find exactly how old an X application it is. It's very nostalgically old. But, it is enough to get APRS positioning up and test both the TCP/IP side of APRS and the actual radio radio side.

Here's the guide I followed:


So, that was it! So far so good. It actually works well enough to decode and watch APRS traffic around me. I managed to get out position information to the APRS network over both TCP/IP and relayed via VHF radio.