Sunday, March 18, 2018

UTSC Datagram Specification

I finalized this in 2017 but forgot to release it. This is the format for sending files (aka datacasting) across a dedicated UTSC channel. With such a setup you could send about 10 GiB of files per day.


Friday, March 16, 2018

New data fuzzer

The main focus of my UTSC standard is reliability so I needed a way to test how it responds to bit errors. Randomly corrupting data is called "fuzzing" but I couldn't find a program that was easy to use so I wrote one in Liberty BASIC.

My program takes a file to be fuzzed, and another file containing high-quality random bytes. It uses 24-bit values from the random file to get byte positions to fuzz, and uses "mod 8" to get the bit position to flip. This means it can randomly flip bits in files up to 16 MiB.

You can fuzz anything you like, but I wanted to fuzz audio so I could see how it would sound when the signal is weak and bits are being corrupted. The sound worked on analog TV when the signal was too weak for the picture to come through, and I want UTSC to do the same. First I tried Opus files. They can handle some bit errors but they stop playing altogether if there are too many. And if the header is corrupted, they won't play at all. I added a header-skipping feature to my fuzzer but obviously a real-world signal could lose the header.

Then I got to thinking about WAV audio. It has a very small header (44 bytes) and the audio portion can withstand unlimited bit errors without stopping. Of course, you need the header to know the sample rate and format, but what if "best practices" were defined for UTSC that define a default WAV format? After some tests I found that 24 kHz mono 8-bit WAV files are a good compromise between quality and bandwidth. As I wrote on the LostCarrier.Online Discord channel today, "With 17% bit errors, it degrades like analog sound and fades into the noise rather than glitching." My code was off by a factor of 8, so I meant 2.125% bit errors.

I already specified Opus as the recommended audio format on UTSC, but it can't handle anywhere near enough bit errors to be reliable in bad conditions. Let me demonstrate with a 10-second clip from Syn Cole's "Feel Good" from NoCopyrightSounds.

This falls outside of YouTube use, so hopefully 10 seconds is short enough to fall under Fair Use, but if not I'm including the attribution and I'll gladly swap the clip for something else if the owner complains.

"Syn Cole - Feel Good [NCS Release]"
Syn Cole

Notice that with only 0.2% of the bits flipped, the Opus file is barely playable. In contrast, the WAV files still contain obvious music even with about 50% errors. I say "about" because since this is a random process, some bits may be flipped twice and be unchanged, so 50% is only a reasonable figure. We can assume it's very close to 50% because of the high quality of the randomness used.

These results make me think that 24 kHz mono 8-bit audio is the optimal format to use if you want to ensure audio reliability at low bandwidth. However, the bandwidth is much higher than Opus. With Opus at 48 kbit/sec, the audio takes about 5.7% of the channel bandwidth, counting overhead. Using WAV as I've described would take 192 kbit/sec, or about 19.24%. That's roughly 4 times as much bandwidth just to make sure the sound gets through.

UTSC offers 1 Mbit/sec of bandwidth. So with Opus audio, about 94% of the bandwidth is available for video compared to 80.75% when using WAV. It's up to the broadcaster to decide if losing 135.8 kbit/sec of video bandwidth is worth it. If extra-high quality is desired, it may not be.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

LimeSDR Mini unboxing

Yesterday my 2 LimeSDR Mini's arrived. Before I show its performance, let's see some unboxing photos.

Driver Setup

The LimeSDR is not well documented. You can't just Google "limesdr mini drivers" and expect to find anything. After I put in a lot of trial and error, Jeff from LostCarrier.Online linked me a USB controller driver that somehow makes this work.

So to install the drivers, it looks like you need to start by installing PothosSDR. It won't install drivers, but it will provide a Start Menu link to something called Zadig. Use that to install a driver for your LimeSDR Mini. Then download the USB controller driver and have Device Manager update your LimeSDR with the new drivers. Windows should prefer the USB controller driver and quickly begin upgrading to it once you choose the Update Driver Software option.

This does not work for EXTIO-based programs like HDSDR. You'll need SDRConsole v3 to try your LimeSDR Mini. It has good support for receiving from a LimeSDR, but can't transmit even though there is a Transmit tab. Also, I heard somewhere that 20 MHz is the most bandwidth you can do over USB 2.

I have an NVidia GTX 750 Ti so SDRConsole can use CUDA to accelerate the FFT that generates the waterfall. Still, for me it stutters over 7.5 MHz.

One more thing: choose an antenna once your LimeSDR Mini is running in SDRConsole. I spent a few minutes troubleshooting the blank waterfall before realizing that no antenna was selected.

Reception tests

3 ATSC TV pilots (spikes) at once:

LTE at 2.1 GHz:

I couldn't get SDRAngel or Foobar2000 (with jocover's plugin) to transmit. I'm still trying to figure out how to transmit and when I do I'll write another post showing how to do it.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Jammer on 2018 AM Rally

Last night I heard a looping recorded message jamming AM transmissions on 80 meters. It was mixed in with other QSO's, but here's what I managed to get:

"Why don't you narrow 'er up, because like narrow it up, I'll have a sideband QSO below me, one above me, and I'm the ****** in the middle."

As I said, it was looping but one contestant seemed to think it was a live person. I think it was controlled by a live person, because I remember it following the contest when it went lower in the band, but it was looping, not to mention it was the exact same tone of voice each time. The real proof came during one cycle when it started stuttering like a slow computer. Everyone else's voice was fine, so it wasn't an issue on my end.

Here's a bit I managed to record.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Reading power meters with RTL-AMR

Today I got the RTL-AMR tool working and monitored some power meters. To install it, you'll need to install 2 programs: Git and Go. This program needs to be compiled by Go and that can't happen without Git.

The install instructions are mostly copied from RTL-AMR's official GitHub page.

Download Go from here. Once you've installed it, download Git from here and install it. Lastly, you'll need to make sure your RTL-SDR drivers are installed and then download and extract this ZIP file.

Go to the extracted files, open the "rtl-sdr-release" folder, choose your architecture (x32 is fine by default) and run "rtl_tcp.exe". This will produce a Command Prompt window. Leave it running.

Open another Command Prompt and enter (or Copy-Paste) go get

This will produce a file called "rtlamr.exe". It should be in your "C:\Users\[username]\go\bin" folder. Drag it onto a command prompt window, press Space, and add (without brackets) [> "C:\pop.csv"]. Press Enter to run this command.

This is what it should look like when you press Enter:

That command with the right caret and "C:\pop.csv" means we want to pipe the output into a file.

Now, as long as an antenna is hooked up, it will collect power usage stats from the nearest power meters and save them into the *.CSV file.

Here's what that file should look like in Notepad++:

The Type field in the middle tells us what kind of meter we're reading. Type 7 means electric. Reddit user dongledorr says that gas meters are type 12, but I'm not picking up any of those.

I've written some programs in Liberty BASIC to process these files.

To make it easy to keep this process running, I left RTL-AMR running and just did copy-paste on C:\pop.csv. In Windows 7, this produced "C:\pop - Copy.csv". You'll need to open this copy in Notepad++ and convert the line endings to Windows-style using Edit->EOL Conversion->Windows (CR LF), or the following code won't read it.

Here's the first program to process it into an actual CSV file:

This produces C:\pop2.csv, which may be opened in Excel. You'll want to sort the data. Excel can sort by more than one column, so you'll want to specify that there's a header column, then sort primarily by ID's and secondarily by time. Then save your Excel sheet. I saved mine as C:\pop2sorted.csv.

Now you can process it into a power graph with the following program. It takes the power consumed between intervals and converts it to an average at the end of the interval.

This program doesn't produce a proper CSV file. The values are actually tab-delimited so you can easily copy-paste into Excel.

Here's what the output should look like in Notepad++:

You can copy-paste it into Excel and select a group of lines having the same ID, but only select the last 2 columns. Then insert a data graph and you should get this:

Now you have a graph showing wattage at various times. This is just the simplest way to do it. Other people have much more elaborate ways of collecting and showing the data.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

VP9 ELI5 Part 7

Now we need to write the data for the first 32x32 block. Remember that the last chapter ended with us recursively calling decode_partition(). Now we need partition to be PARTITION_NONE because we don't want to split the 32x32 block any further.

Let's go to the beginning of decode_partition(), section 6.4.3 of the spec PDF.

Skip the first IF statement since we're not on any right or bottom boundaries.

num8x8 will be 4 since you could fit 4 8x8 blocks inside the width of a 32x32 block.
halfBlock8x8 is rather obvious: 2.
hasRows and hasCols are both TRUE.

Now let's take care of our partition field. Remember, we need it to be PARTITION_NONE.

Plugging our values into this method, we find that our first probability is 17. For PARTITION_NONE, it's quite easy. We just need to write a 0 with probability 17. Let's add that to our running tally of bits.

Running tally of bits
1, p = 10
1, p = 7
1, p = 6
0, p = 17

Continuing, subsize is going to be BLOCK_32X32, or numerically, 9.

The next line is an IF block. We want to check if subsize is smaller than 8x8 OR if partition is PARTITION_NONE. In our case, the second condition is met so we will execute the statement inside the block, decode_block(r, c, subsize).

MiRow = 0
MiCol = 0
MiSize = BLOCK_32X32
AvailU = FALSE
AvailL = FALSE

Now we need to do mode_info().

This is an intra frame so we'll execute intra_frame_mode_info().

We can skip intra_segment_id() since we chose not to enable segmentation. intra_segment will be 0.

read_skip() reads a value called skip. We want skip to be 0 because we don't want to skip over this block.

Skip is a Tree value, so we need to figure out the probabilities to use when writing it.

Since AvailU and AvailL are both FALSE, ctx will be 0. This means our probability will be skip_prob[0]. We want default_skip_prob[0] since we didn't change any probabilities. default_skip_prob[0] is 192.

The Note at the bottom is interesting because it means that this is not a tree, but instead a normal bit flag expressed as a bool value. That means all we have to do is write 0 with probability 192.

Running tally of bits
1, p = 10
1, p = 7
1, p = 6
0, p = 17
0, p = 192

Now it's time for read_tx_size(1).

allowSelect is 1, but TX_MODE_SELECT is FALSE so we'll execute the code in the ELSE block. tx_size will be the lesser of maxTxSize and tx_mode_to_biggest_tx_size[tx_mode]. tx_mode, as you may recall, has been set to ALLOW_32X32.

maxTxSize is TX_32X32.  tx_mode_to_biggest_tx_size[ALLOW_32X32] = TX_32X32. So, tx_size will be TX_32X32.

Now we have some more state variables:
     ref_frame[0] = INTRA_FRAME
     ref_frame[1] = NONE
     is_inter = 0

Now we reach an IF block that checks to see that we're working on an 8x8 block or larger. Since we are, we'll execute the statements in here and skip the ELSE block underneath.

We need to figure out default_intra_mode, which is a Tree value. Let's look at what intra modes are available.

Before we go on, you may be wondering what these intra modes do. Well, intra modes are smudge functions. You see, compressing a video isn't just about finding differences between frames. You also have to compress as much as you can within each frame. That's what "intra" compression is all about.

So in an intra frame (like the one we're encoding now), you don't just write image data. That would take a lot of space. Instead, you grab the top, left, or both top and left edges of the block and smudge them across, and then only save the difference between the actual image and the smudged block. Here is an example of all the possible smudge functions:

Let's start by getting the necessary probability.

Both abovemode and leftmode will be DC_PRED. That means our probability will be kf_y_mode_probs[DC_PRED][DC_PRED][0] which equals 137.

For simplicity, let's just write a 0 bit, which translates to DC_PRED.

Running tally of bits
1, p = 10
1, p = 7
1, p = 6
0, p = 17
0, p = 192
0, p = 137

Now we have to add some more state variables.
     y_mode = DC_PRED
     sub_modes[0 - 3] = DC_PRED

To finish up intra_frame_mode_info(), we need to write our default_uv_mode. We'll set it to DC_PRED so we can write as little as possible.

kf_uv_mode_probs[DC_PRED][0] = 144, so we need to write a 0 bit with probability 144.

Running tally of bits
1, p = 10
1, p = 7
1, p = 6
0, p = 17
0, p = 192
0, p = 137
0, p = 144

Another state variable:
     uv_mode = DC_PRED

Finally, we're done with mode_info() and we're back in decode_block().

We have another state variable,
     EobTotal = 0

The next step is residual(), which will be covered in the next chapter.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

VP9 ELI5 Part 6

Now it's time to create the actual image data. We're at the section labeled decode_tiles(sz - headerBytes), near the bottom. These functions are deeply nested, but by the end it will only be 4 levels so don't worry if it seems like each function leads to something else.

Here's what decode_tiles() looks like.

Now we need to define some state variables. Open Notepad++ and begin by adding the lines tileCols, tileRows, MiRowStart, MiRowEnd, MiColStart, and MiColEnd. Save it as state.txt.

There are a few more to add. Just add the name (ie MiCols) and the end value, not the formulas. For example, you should have "MiCols 120".

     MiCols = (FrameWidth + 7) >> 3 = 120
     MiRows = (FrameHeight + 7) >> 3 = 68
     Sb64Cols = (MiCols + 7) >> 3 = 15
     Sb64Rows = (MiRows + 7) >> 3 = 9

We'll need to keep this updated as we go along because some future functions depend on these values and it's easy to find them at the beginning.

Now let's fill in the values. We'll start with tileCols and tileRows. They depend on log2 functions. For our image, we opted (in the uncompressed header) to leave the log2 values at 0 because 2 ^ 0 = 1 and we only want 1 tile. So, tileCols = 1 << 0 (1 left-shift 0), which equals 1. tileRows works the same way so it will also equal 1. Therefore, we have 1 tile column and 1 tile row for a total of 1 tile. Fill in tileCols and tileRows in the text file.

Do you see the nested FOR loops, for (tileRow = 0... and for (tileCol = 0...? Since we only have 1 tileCol and 1 tileRow, these will execute only once. Therefore, we can pretend these loops don't exist and just perform everything once.

The first thing being done is the statement

     lastTile = (tileRow = tileRows - 1) AND (tileCol = tileCols - 1)
     = (0 = 0) AND (0 = 0)
     = (TRUE) AND (TRUE)

Both conditions are met, so lastTile will be TRUE. Now we look at the IF block, if (lastTile). Since lastTile is TRUE, all we have to do is tile_size = sz. But don't worry about that statement. We can't know it right now anyway.

Skipping the ELSE block, we have the MiRow/MiCol statements. Let's start evaluating these. tileRow and tileCol will be 0.

     MiRowStart = get_tile_offset( tileRow, MiRows, tile_rows_log2 )
     MiRowEnd = get_tile_offset( tileRow + 1, MiRows, tile_rows_log2 )
     MiColStart = get_tile_offset( tileCol, MiCols, tile_cols_log2 )
     MiColEnd = get_tile_offset( tileCol + 1, MiCols, tile_cols_log2 )

Here's what get_tile_offset() looks like.

     MiRowStart = 0
     MiRowEnd = 68
     MiColStart = 0
     MiColEnd = 120

Copy and paste these values into your text file. You'll need them later on.

The next statement is init_bool(tile_size), but since we're encoding we don't worry about that. That's for decoders to do. What we will do, however, is start our boolean encoder once we have some values to write.

Finally, the exciting part: decode_tile(). This is where our image data will go.


To decode the single tile in the image, we have 2 nested FOR loops. The outer loop iterates through Rows, and the inner loop iterates through Columns. In X/Y terms, the row is Y and the column is X. So, you can see that the outer loop runs through Y while the inner loop runs through X. These FOR loops increment in steps of 8 because the Mi series of variables represents 8-pixel increments. Incrementing these by 8 equates to incrementing by 64, the size of a superblock.

Inside the nested loops, we have clear_left_context(). This just says that every time we finish a horizontal line and jump back to the left, we have to forget everything about the previous line's left side. Notice that it's only inside the outer loop.

In the inner loop, we iterate through superblocks (64x64 blocks). That's what decode_partition(r, c, BLOCK_64X64) does. Recall at the beginning how I said that VP9 images are broken into 64x64 superblocks. This is where that happens. Basically, this loop goes left-to-right from the top to the bottom, processing superblocks.

So for the first superblock, we'll be executing the statement decode_partition(0, 0, BLOCK_64X64).

These decoding functions are already nested pretty deep. Later I'll draw a diagram to show which functions we're running.

We can forget the first IF statement since it only applies to right or bottom edges of the image.

Add the following variables to your text file:
num8x8 = 8
halfBlock8x8 = 4
hasRows = true
hasCols = true

Now here's a hard part. partition is a Tree, a binary tree specifically. A video on these is shown below. We need to encode a value that says we want PARTITION_SPLIT so we can split the superblock into 4 32x32 blocks. We could say PARTITION_NONE and it would still yield 4 32x32 blocks, but then they would share a prediction mode (smudge function) and for better compression, we want each block to specify its own prediction mode. Using PARTITION_SPLIT lets us choose on a per-block basis.

I had trouble with this part, but fortunately Ronald Bultje explained it to me and I drew a diagram of what he described. Here's my drawing of what the partition binary tree should look like.

We want Split, which breaks the block into 4 equal parts. In this case, that would break the 64x64 superblock into 4 32x32 blocks. That means we need to write 111 to the bitstream (using the bool-coder, of course).

(Advanced theory, not necessary to continue)
Credit: Ronald Bultje, in a chat with me on Nov 29, 2017

Here's the decoding side of this tree. I show it so we can work it backwards to encode.

The T[] array is the tree, which according to the spec is an array of integers. In this case it's partition_tree[] which may be found in the spec PDF.

Notice that read_bool() expects a probability, P(n >> 1). The >> is a logical shift of 1 bit, to the right. To find the probability to use when writing, we need to first run a complicated unnamed function (below).

To make a long story short, ctx will equal 15 at the end.

When the tree decoding function (9.3.3 Tree decoding process, above) first runs, n = 0. That means read_bool() will use P(0 >> 1) or just P(0) as the probability. Let's derive P(0).

hasRows = 1 (true) and hasCols = 1 (true). FrameIsIntra = 1 (true). This means we'll get our probability from partition_probs[ctx][node2]. We know that ctx is 15 and node2 = node = 0. So, we will retrieve the value partition_probs[15][0].

But there's a problem here. There's no such table as partition_probs in the VP9 spec PDF. How will we get the number we need? It turns out that we will use default_partition_probs[15][0], since we decided before that we would just use default probabilities.

default_partition_probs[15][0] = 10. So, our function will be read_bool(10). This means we need to write a 1 to the bitstream with a probability of 10. Let's keep a running tally of our bits and their probabilities, since we can't stop to write them now.

Running tally of bits
1, p = 10

Because we wrote a 1, read_bool() will return 1 when the video is decoded. Now refer to the binary tree shown above. Since we wrote a 1, we have a choice to write either 0 for a horizontal split (2 64x32's) or write another 1. We write another 1, and notice that we have to write just one more 1 to get Split.

Here are the passes the function will go through on the decode side:
  1. n starts at 0. At the end, n = 2, which equals T[0 + read_bool(P(0 >> 1))] = T[1]
  2. n starts at 2. At the end, n = 4, which equals T[2 + read_bool(P(2 >> 1))] = T[3]
  3. n starts at 4. At the end, n = 5, which equals T[4 + read_bool(P(4 >> 1))] = T[5]
Since T[5] = -PARTITION_SPLIT (negative PARTITION_SPLIT) and the loop condition is that n is above 0, we exit the loop and return PARTITION_SPLIT without the negative sign. This means the decode_partition() function (section 6.4.3, shown near the beginning) now knows that we want the current superblock to be broken into 4 32x32 blocks. The partition variable in that function will equal PARTITION_SPLIT.

Before we start writing more bits, we need to know the probabilities to use. Notice that, during our tree loop, P(n >> 1) was changing. First it was P(0), then P(1), then P(2). We know that default_partition_probs[15][0] = 10, but what about default_partition_probs[15][1] and default_partition_probs[15][2]? Well, those are 7 and 6, respectively. The designers knew that the chance of a 0 diminishes as we go further down the tree, so they set the default probabilities accordingly.

Now that we have our probabilities, let's add the bits to our list.

Running tally of bits
1, p = 10
1, p = 7
1, p = 6

That was quite a lot. So where are we? Now that we know how to tell the video player that we want 4 32x32 blocks, we can go back to section 6.4.3, decode_partition().

Just under partition is subsize = subsize_lookup[ partition][ bsize ]. We know partition now, so we can plug it in. bsize is BLOCK_64X64. Basically, subsize_lookup lets us plug in a partition type along with our current block size and see how big the resulting block(s) would be. In our case, subsize will be 9 which corresponds to BLOCK_32X32.

Now we have a bunch of IF statements to go through. The first one checks if subsize is less than 8x8 or equal to 64x64. Neither of those is the case, so we move on to check if it's a horizontal split (64x32 in our case) and then we check if it's a vertical split (32x64 in our case). The ELSE block at the end of the IF statement reflects that if none of those conditions were met, which they weren't, then the only other possibility is a PARTITION_SPLIT.

Notice that inside the ELSE block, we have 4 decode_partition() statements. These are processed in raster order within the superblock. This means that superblocks are processed in raster order, and blocks within superblocks are processed the same way.

We're done here since we're calling decode_partition() again. When a function calls itself, as decode_partition() is doing right now, it's called recursion. In this case we have to recursively call ourselves to decode each of the 4 32x32's. Now would be a good time for a diagram of where we are.