Hunting Hurricanes

The authors tell us about hunting hurricane using the Scanning Radar Altimeter based on the Linux system and analyzing the data with Yorick.

RT-Linux is a patch which gives Linux many of the most important features needed by real-time programmers and embedded-system designers. It is implemented as a set of modules which can be installed and removed using insmod and company. You also use insmod to install any real-time code you write. RT-Linux programs execute in the kernel space and have full access to the system hardware and kernel code as well.

We've done a considerable amount of development using Turbo-C and DOS in the past, and it is truly amazing how infrequently we had to reboot Linux during development of the SRA. Back under DOS, we usually had to reboot several times per day. With Linux, we had to reboot only three or four times during the entire development period.

Shared Memory

Figure 10. SRA Memory Usage

Once the RT-Linux programs/modules capture the data, they must be written to storage and displayed for the system operator. We accomplish this by using shared memory. The SRA has 64MB of RAM and we configured the kernel to boot using mem=61m which causes the kernel to manage only the lower 61MB, leaving 3MB untouched. It is this 3MB that we use for real-time data capture and as a common communication buffer area between RT-Linux modules and normal user-space programs. Figure 10 depicts the SRA memory usage.

We wrote a single C program (rgc.c) which provides most of the interface between Linux user mode and RT-Linux. This program is a simple command-line style program with tons of commands to read and write data space in common between RT-Linux and user space. Most of our Tcl/Tk scripts merely open a pipe to this program and use it to pass commands and extract data from the system. The program can also be used directly from the command line. This makes development and debugging simpler.

One of the run-line options to rgc causes it to loop, testing for data to be written to disk. If no data are ready, the program sleeps for one second. If data are ready, they are extracted and written to the specified disk file.

Linux Laptops

We use up to five laptops on the SRA at once: three for collecting GPS data (one laptop for each GPS receiver) and two for control and display of real-time SRA data. A personal laptop is used for control, and if we're both on the flight, we can both run several instances of the same display programs using another personal laptop. We each have our favorite color-bar for the image of the sea. We'll frequently use one machine to control the SRA and the other to write or modify display or system software as we're flying. The laptops are Chembook 9780s. Each has a 4GB internal hard drive and a modular 6.4GB drive (in place of the floppy), a 14.2'' XGA LCD display, PCMCIA Ethernet card and a 233MHz Pentium-Pro CPU.

Each of these machines dual boots either Red Hat Linux 5.1 or MS Windows 95. To use the laptops as X terminals, we boot Linux, then run the Xfree86 server. We run the X server such that the laptop becomes an X terminal for the SRA data system. This puts most of the burdensome display processing on the laptop processor, since the X server seems to be where the CPU cycles go. There are two ways to cause X to act as an X terminal. The first is:

X -query

and the second:

X -indirect
The target machine must be running XDM (X display manager) for this to work. The first method will link directly to the target machine, where you see a typical XDM login prompt. This first method is what we use when controlling the SRA data system. The second method will give you a list of all the machines known on the network to support XDM or X terminals. It is useful back at the lab where many potential hosts are available to pick from.

You can even have two or more X servers running at once. Here's an example:

X -query first-machine
X :1 -query second-machine
X :2 -query third-machine
X :3 -query fourth-machine

You can get a local X server going with the command:

startx -- :4
The SRA system configured for storm-surge measurements consists of three Chembook Pentium laptops which dual boot Linux and DOS. The GPS data acquisition program was written for DOS, so each laptop runs this DOS program when collecting the GPS data. After the mission, we reboot the machines to Linux and transfer the data to the SRA data system where it is archived with the other mission data. Once it is all together, we transfer it to the two laptops. In this way, we have triplicated the data. We then take the laptops with us back to the hotel and begin analyzing the data. All five laptops and the SRA data system are on a 10baseT Ethernet network.