Windows Home Server as an Earthquake Tracking Device

After feeling my house sway pretty nicely during the 7.2 Mexicali Earthquake here in Southern California, I became very interested in an article in the LA times covering some work being done at University of California, Riverside which allows everyday users like you and I to monitor earth tremors using a home PC or laptop. By utilizing either the built in motion sensor in a laptop or an external USB sensor device, you are able to track local earth tremors in the local area you live in and send the results back to a central database. Called Quake Catcher Network (QCN), I thought I’d give it a try and hook it up to a small Windows Home Server box built using the VIA Artigo A2000 low power server box and Microsoft’s Windows Home Server software.

BTW, drop me a comment if you’d like to learn how to build up a Windows Home Server using the VIA Artigo A2000, or check out how to here.

Obtaining the USB Sensor and Software

The USB sensor was relatively easy to obtain. Go to the http://qcn.stanford.edu/ web site and follow instructions on the web page (far right) to first order the USB sensor (as I didn’t have one built into the PC/server I was using) then download the software or take a look at the user manuals, etc. It took around 45 days to get the sensor, so you may want to find something else to do for a while….

Installing the USB Sensor

The QCN guys recommend you install the device on the lowest floor of your property. For me, the garage ended up being the best place. I have Ethernet already in there, but if not accessible in your situation, you may want to consider using either a wireless card in the server (VIA Artigo A2000 for example actually support a wireless option) or trying out the HomePlug power based networking to get the signal to your preferred location.

The other item of importance was ensuring that the USB sensor was permanently mounted pointing north. A mounting strap was provided to help secure the sensor solidly to the building structure to provide the most stable measurement setup possible.

 Installing the software

Step 1: Go to http://qcn.stanford.edu to download the latest software. You’ll need the Seismic monitoring software, USB drivers and the manual. Save in your Public or Software folder on Windows Home Server

Step 2: Log into your home server using Remote Desktop. You will need to install software that is not supported via the Windows Connector Add in interface.

Step 3: Locate your saved files by clicking on the Shared folders icon on the desktop of your Windows Home Server (assuming it is still in the default configuration). Start by installing the MotionNodeWin.msi USB drivers before plugging in your sensor unit, followed by the BOINC software application following the instructions in the manual provided. You will be asked to reboot the server.

Step 4: Once rebooted, the BOINC software application should already be running and will prompt to Attach to a project (if not, select the Add Project option on the lower right). Add http://qcn.stanford.edu/sensor as the project location.

Step 5: You will be asked to provide the location of your computer. An initial entry is determined from your IP address. Using a GPS (e.g. from your iPhone readings), you may want to update to something more accurate. Up to 5 locations can be added but in this case, as your WHS is likely to stay in one place, one is enough.

Step 6: You will then ask to register your name/computer with the Quake Catcher Network.

Step 7: As WHS is idle most of the time, you may optionally want to change the preferences as I did to make the computer always available via the preferences/settings.

Step 8: Finally, by switching to the advanced view in the BOINC software, you can verify that the WHS is now communicating with the network correctly by looking at the Messages tab.

Step 9: Once the download cycle and syncup is complete, you will see the BOINC top level (simple mode) window display the Quake Catcher Network window. Clicking on the graphics display will show your sensor activity.

Step 10: To see a more detailed output from your sensor, you will need to install the QCNLive software also. Unzip the downloaded software to a suitable location (Public or Software) to a directory on your home server. In this case, there is no installation process. You simply click on the qcnlive.exe program by opening directory in Windows Explorer and double clicking on the application directly. Alternatively, you can click on the graphic display in the simple view of the BOINC manager.

Note: It wasn’t clear if the BOINC process still ran in the background if I completely logged out of the server, so just in case I left exited the remote desktop manager without logging off.

Checking the Results

To take a look at what your sensor is doing, fire up the QCNlive software and select the second red icon  from the graphical display options (under View, next to the world icon) to show the sensor activity over time. Adjust the scale settings using the buttons provided to first zoom out (e.g. to 1 hour) versus the real time short window default, and then also adjust the vertical scale to at least 6 or 9 to ensure you can reasonable jolts (or less if you get smaller activity in your area).

The only thing that appears missing from the software is the ability to show a readout of the XYZ sensor readings as shown after the fact without leaving the application running all the time. The problem I encountered was for the small 1GHz CPU in the Artigo A2000, running the application resulted in 100% CPU levels when observed via remote desktop (as I have no direct screen attached) which suspended the BOINC application. More tweaking here to find out the best overall setup. Once it’s been running for a while, you can log onto the QCN web site and examine what event triggers your home server may have sent to the network, view your device on the map and tweak other location settings if anything has changed.

Other than that, a really fun project and my Windows Home Server has already gained over 150 credits from running tasks for the QCN project and is hopefully now providing some useful data from my neck of the woods! I’ll post again if I manage to catch any earthquakes to let you know how I get on.

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