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Exterior view of 8track

"8track" is complete computer system based on a Via CN10000 Mini-ITX board inside a GE portable AM/FM 8-track player case. I am configuring it for use as a car computer in my Yaris.

I used 8track as the unofficial Solar CREEK kiosk at DaVinci Days 2006. It ran off solar power all day playing a video and allowing access to the Solar CREEK Web site.

Hardware specs

8track currently has

The PicoLCD should be able to support 5 LED's that will be inserted into the 8 track case "stereo" and "track" indicators. It should also support some push buttons if I find a place to mount them.

I'd also like to hook up the tuner knob to a digital encoder. Who knows when I will get around to that!

The first version of 8track used a Via EPIA 800. The C7 is faster and uses less power.

It had a 60W Morex automotive power supply which died when it was less than a year old. For a few years I used the C7 motherboard in this Casetronic case

The Morex supply allowed 8-24V input. It was supplied with a separate DC-DC regulator. I bought it from Logic Supply, this link might not work any more. Morex automotive power supply At the Solar CREEK booth at DaVinci Days, I ran it on a solar panel and a 120 vac inverter. The inverter powered a 12V DC brick, the 120V Acer LCD monitor, and a pair of powered speakers.

Currently an old HP Omnibook 800 laptop mobile adapter is being used as the DC-DC regulator in front of the Casetronic supply (which also takes 12V in). This should be fine in an automotive environment.

Disk storage: Originally I used the 2.5" drive because the Morex did not support the power requirements of a 3.5" drive on its 12V output.I used a Toshiba 4200 rpm 30GB drive (PATA) plugged into a 44-40 pin adapter. Later I went to a Seagate 80GB 7200rpm SATA drive. Currently I am using a Patriot 32GB SSD. This SSD is probably a step DOWN from the Seagate, its performance is not very good; but it's a better choice for an automotive environment.

The original C3 set up with 4200rpm hard drive took about 10 watts at its 12V input. I need to take measurements on the new configuration.

Main board

I bought the CN10000EG fanless C7 board from Logic Supply.

This CN10000 board worked quite well as a server, I used it for about a year as my home server and firewall. I replaced it with an Intel Atom server Bellman. The C7 did not have enough juice to run the Java Netbeans IDE and the video drivers were not up to snuff for Ubuntu 7.04 Hardy Heron.

Maybe the video chip itself WOULD work but the drivers don't support the high end Gnome features. I am not sure. I wish that Via did more work to support their products or at least open them up. They put dandy hardware like graphics and media decoder and encryption chips on the board then do not provide up-to-date Linux drivers for them.

I got my EPIA C3 800 Mhz mainboard from Logic Supply, too. It has since died. I abused it when moving it from case to case, static probably got it.

Some specs:

VIA CN700 north bridge
VIA VT8237R south bridge
LAN: VIA VT6103 10/100
AUDIO: VIA VT1618 8 channel AC'97 codec

File:CN10000.pdf PDF manual

C7 + DisplayLink kernels

Linux just gets better and better. The DisplayLink driver is now included with kernel 3.2 and the display just fired right up after a kernel package upgrade. That pretty much means the rest of this section is here just as documentation. Use the 3.2 kernel!!!

As I rebuild this system for its new automotive application, I tested Ubuntu 10.10 and found none of the i386 options will run. Applications crash randomly. I think it's probably using a 686 build that includes instructions not supported by the C7 processor.

I am using Debian 5.0 now and it works just fine.

I ran early versions of Ubuntu by compiling a C7 kernel. It turns out that I am once again building custom kernels, now to get support for the DisplayLink USB video system. While I am at it, I cut out every feature that I don't use (and there are a LOT of them) and I compile for a C7 again.

Official instructions: http://www.debian.org/releases/stable/i386/ch08s06.html.en

Building on a 64-bit development host: Not worth effort, I hope not to build too many kernels: http://linux.koolsolutions.com/2009/06/04/howto-cross-compiling-a-32-bit-i386-linux-kernel-on-64-bit-machine-amd64/

I tried using 3.0 but I found the new Alfa Networks card was not supported yet. Then I found I could not get the new (802.11n) card working with Kismet anyway so I tried the stock 3.0 kernel and it worked fine.

Some notes left over from the 2.6 days:

To configure the 2.6 kernel with 'make xconfig' I needed to do this

apt-get install libqt4-dev


cd /usr/src/linux-
make xconfig
make-kpkg clean
fakeroot make-kpkg --initrd --append-to-version=.090411 kernel_image

The 090411 thing is just a date stamp so I can differentiate builds.

This builds the packages up one layer, you have to go there and install them. Like this:

cd ..
sudo dpkg -i packagename

Fixing UTS error!!! ARGH!!!




To do

Tune Matchbox and all installed applications to be finger-friendly for automotive use-- including the application switcher and all controls

List of applications

  • Media player (VLC with custom skin?)
  • Maintenance records (esp records of fill ups)
  • OBD II interface
  • Web browser (everything needs a web browser, right?)
  • WiFi wardriving with Kismet?

List of controls

  • Volume/mixer control
  • On/off/sleep
  • Backlight control
  • Nightmode


  • GPS status

Keyboard special function keys

  • screen brightness up / down (F1, F2)
  • app switcher thing (I forget what Apple calls it) (F3)
  • gauges (F4)
  • rewind (F7)
  • play / pause (F8)
  • fast forward (F9)
  • mute (F10)
  • volume down / up (F11,F12)
  • eject

(What will the eject button do? Think about James Bond.)

If I had a bluetooth phone, I'd probably want to use 8track for hands-free.

I used netboot to install the basic Debian 5 plus the laptop stuff, because I always seem to end up with worn out CD players at home!

PicoLCD display

Set up /etc/lcd4linux.conf by uncommenting

Display 'picoLCD'

and set up the layout for L20x2 however you like, mine is

Layout L20x2 {
   Row1 {
       Col1  'WiFi'
   Row2 {
       Col1  'Busy'
       Col11 'BusyBar'

Audio setup

Add to /etc/security/limits.conf to reduce latency with Jack.

@audio		 -	 rtprio		 99
@audio		 -	 memlock	 unlimited

Festival speech synthesis

Download the latest version. (2.1 November 2010) Put it where you want it installed, it wants to live in its build directory. So for example unpack and build in /usr/local and then link /usr/local/bin/festival to /usr/local/festival/main/festival

The secret to making festival work:

printf ";use ALSA\n(Parameter.set 'Audio_Method 'Audio_Command)\n(Parameter.set 'Audio_Command \"aplay -q -c 1 -t raw -f s16 -r \$SR \$FILE\")\n" > .festivalrc

Text to speech

Play a file: festival --tts filename

Getting better voices for festival


The new release comes with several good voices.

Bluetooth wireless keyboard

One of my least favorite Garmin nuvi features is the on-screen keyboard. 8track now has an Apple Bluetooth keyboard.

I thought about getting a tiny generic bluetooth keyboard from eBay or Amazon, but ultimately walked around the corner and picked up the Apple keyboard at the Mac Store. I like the way the keyboard feels on my MacBook Pro, and the Apple keyboard should be small enough to get lost in one of Alba's numerous glove compartments yet it's still big enough for touch typing. I like the sturdy aluminum case and best of all, there is no garish logo on the front or glowing Apple on the back.

I followed the instructions on this page to get it working with Debian. https://help.ubuntu.com/community/BluetoothSetup

Later (Aug2011) I found this page helpful, http://chezphil.org/apple-alu-bluetooth-kb-linux/ especially the hidd --connect command

Log into 8track via ssh (since it has no keyboard right now) Turn on the Apple keyboard. Scan the airwaves to find the hcid code:

bwilson@8track:~$ hcitool scan
Scanning ...
	E8:06:88:4F:52:48	Apple Wireless Keyboard

Then in /etc/default/bluetooth, set HIDD_ENABLE=1 and add "--connect E8:06:88:4F:52:48" to HIDD_OPTIONS. Set up like this, the keyboard will be available after rebooting.

Removed dead weight

Basically I got matchbox going, which shows (most of) the installed applications, and whittled them away until matchbox became (IMO) usable.

cups -- not planning on printing... 
exim4 mutt -- not planning on emailing or reading email
iceweasel -- substitute for firefox, using firefox instead!
pidgin -- never use it on the desktop either
xsane xsane-common - uh no not doing any scanning!
wodim -- no cd burner here

Removing wodim, which is a disk burner causes a bazillion dependencies to be removed including gnome. To me this is stupid, wodim is like a bit of lint and removing it causes the removal of the entire windowing environment! Whatever. I was going to remove gnome anyway.

I figure I will add it back in in about 20 minutes when I add something that loads it all back in again. Merd! It should not be like this.

Once the obvious unwanted applications are removed, go look in /usr/share/applications. The files there define what shows up on the screen.

Added dead weight

aprsd (not sure about this one yet)
firefox (sorry Debian people, I want firefox not "iceweasel", oye!)
gpsd (for kismet and foxtrotGps)
kismet (for wifi searching. this pulls in lots of other packages)
openssh-server (for logging in from the laptop at the kitchen table)
vlc -- a media player
audacious - a media player that will be removed soon (?)
festival text to speech (build from source, distro version is too old)

Taking a page from the Garmin nuvi 855 I add these to try them out

pulseaudio -- trying jack first after reading the wikipedia pages.
speex -- speech compression
libmad -- integer based mpeg decode
flac -- free lossless audio compression

X Display manager

"Nodm" is the display manager used in Openmoko phones.

The "display manager" is the program that normally puts up a login prompt and then starts the appropriate X window manager as part of the login process.

There is no documentation on how to use nodm on the nodm site. The only place I found notes was the openmoko site: http://wiki.openmoko.org/wiki/Window_Manager_Startup

Read the README and INSTALL docs in the source, which is here: http://www.enricozini.org/sw/nodm/

echo "/usr/local/sbin/nodm" > /etc/X11/default-display-manager

You can install it from "backports".

deb http://backports.debian.org/debian-backports lenny-backports main
cat /etc/default/nodm

Enlightenment X Window manager

This is one of the choices for Openmoko, with the Illume module. Therefore setting it up is best done by following the openmoko instructions

I downloaded and ran the script there to get the latest enlightenment and the illume module. The alternative was to follow the complicated instructions on how to download and build each little piece separately. Too much work!!

The script installs into /usr/local

It fails on a Debian lenny install, it wants debian-unstable. Well... this is all an experimental system anyway. So off we go. Here comes Debian "sid". So I edit /etc/apt/sources.list and apt-get dist-upgrade and a few hours later... I am now running sid. I wonder how I am doing on disk space now, I am running a 32 GB SSD.

I no longer have X display on the little monitor. Boo. I wonder if my /etc/X11/ files were "improved" in the update.

Running the Enlightenment installer script again. This probably won't fix X11 but what the heck.

Matchbox X window manager

The Openmoko page taught me how Matchbox works.


Do this to get the Matchbox session manager to launch.

update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/x-window-manager x-window-manager /usr/bin/matchbox-session 100

matchbox-session is script that starts matchbox-desktop, matchbox-panel and matchbox-window-manager by default; you can create a file ~/.xsession or /etc/matchbox/session to override it.

After getting Matchbox going I was able to remove all the apps that are useless for a car computer, OpenOffice etc and the original window manager XFCE.

/usr/share/applications contains the definitions that the window manager uses to put all those icons out on the desktop.

Matchbox applets

Saved in ~/.matchbox/mbdock.session

mb-applet-menu-launcher = Application launcher (with the red ^ icon). Too fiddly on this screen.

Matchbox Theme

I can have more than one panel.


GPS Hardware


I have a "U-Blox AEK-4P GPS Evaluation kit". It shows up on /dev/ttyACM0


I have installed a backup battery on it. I could not find a spec anywhere for the battery but I popped in a 357A cell, that's 12mmx 4mm and it seems to work. (Faster fix on power cycle)

GPS Navigation

The navigation software will be based on FoxtrotGPS. Since I plan on writing code I am downloading the source from there. I added the packages required to build it; more information is on my page here: FoxtrotGPS.

To use FoxtrotGPS I need gpsd installed,

sudo apt-get install gpsd gpsd-clients
sudo dpkg-reconfigure gpsd

Now to dump NMEA strings as a test,

gpspipe -r
netlib_connectsock() returns socket on fd 3
{"class":"DEVICE","path":"/dev/ttyACM0","activated":1327254330.17,"driver":"Generic NMEA","native":0,"bps":115200,"parity":"N","stopbits":1,"cycle":1.00}

Then when I try FoxtrotGPS, it finds my location and puts me on the map.


My intention is to try using Kismet for wardriving. To kick things off, I am testing on my Ubuntu desktop. Once things are running here I will move them to 8track.

I installed the latest kismet from sources.


I really wanted this jazzy 2 watt Alfa AWUS036NHR 802.11b/g/n adapter from Rokland to work. I tried and tried. I even built new drivers from sources. It works as a network adapter but not wit Kismet.

I gave up and bought the 1 watt 802.11b/g model and it fires up out of the box. Conclusion: Get the Alfa AWUS036H from Rokland. It's only $27.

I also have a Shuttle WiFi adapter that came in Raven; again, it works fine with Linux as a network adapter but not with Kismet.


I have a nice heavy duty antenna purchased from Pasadena Wireless. It has a mag mount base and mounts outside on the roof of the car.

For indoors/testing I have the 5.8 dBi antennas that came with the Alfa radios.


Building Kismet from svn sources

sudo apt-get install libnl-dev libpcap-dev
svn co https://www.kismetwireless.net/code/svn/trunk kismet-devel
cd kismet-devel/

If you want to use GPS, get and install gpsd too. Kismet is a gpsd client.

Debian packages

When a package is too new, go to /var/cache/apt/archives and look for the older package and install it then delete the older and newer archives


Exterior view of 8track

A wood strip is fitted to cover over empty slots left when I removed the various controls (volume, tone and so on.) It fits the style of cases of this vintage though it's real hardwood not contact paper!

View inside with back cover removed

Here you can see the interior layout. The Seagate PATA drive has been replaced with a Patriot SSD SATA drive.

There is now a PicoLCD 20x2 LCD mounted in the tuner display area. The Wifi card fit in easily once I removed its card slot adapter.

I used a router* to enlarge the 8-track slot to fit the mainboard back panel. The styrene plastic is very easy and clean to work with a carbide bit. I probably won't get cancer for many more years.

The large metal ring on the left is an eye bolt to allow me to lock down the case when I leave it unattended in public places. It has been removed now, replaced with a power on/off push button.

* Def router: a motor with a spinning cutter attached, not a network device.