Category Archives: GPS

Building A Linux Computer For Offline Use

Building A Linux Computer For Offline Use

Linux Computer

HP 15.6″ FHD 15-ef2030tg for a Linux Computer

I talk a lot about having a computer set up for off grid situations.   But let’s build our own Linux computer that we can use both online and especially offline.  I’ll try to teach you some valuable tips along the way.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, the picture next to this shows Windows.  That’s a stock photo of the laptop I’m using for this project.   The HP 15.6″ FHD 15-ef2030tg.

I picked this up for a song and it was so cheap, I believe, because this is a model from 2021 that is probably the last of its stock.  It has decent specs though and this thing is IDEAL for a Linux computer.
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VK-172 GPS Review

HiLetgo VK-172 USB GPS Review

VK-172 GPS

VK-172 GPS

U-blox 7020 in VK-172 GPS

I’m on a GPS kick lately and picked up a HiLetgo VK-172 GPS dongle ($12) from Amazon.

It claims to have a U-blox 7020 chipset inside but if I know anything it’s that most GPS modules you buy online that claim to be U-blox are usually counterfeit.

We might be in good shape here because the 7020 chipset is an older generation product according to U-blox.

The 7020 chipset is a GPS/GLONASS (Russian positioning system) and is small and low powered.  It is my understanding that it will not do GPS and GLONASS simultaneously.  You have to select one or the other in U-blox software.  United States GPS is a bit more accurate than GLONASS and it seems to be default set to GPS.  We’ll keep that setting for initial testing and toggle it to GLONASS later (if we can).

You can find these VK-172 GPS dongles all over the place but I think a large number of them have counterfeit chipsets.

Let’s test it with U-blox U-center software to see if it indeed an authentic chipset.
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USB GPS Receiver Uses

I have several blogs on GPS modules.  Most of them deal with either counterfeit modules or using a USB GPS module on an offline computer.

Then someone recently emailed me and asked,  “who the heck needs a USB GPS receiver”?  That is a perfectly good question to ask.   Most of us know right where we are, and besides, our phones and a lot of our cameras already have built in GPS.  While you know your phone has GPS and you can drop a pin to someone………when’s the last time you actually saw the coordinates?

And ask yourself if you can share that GPS with other devices on your network?
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GPS Linux GlobalSat Receiver

GPS Linux GlobalSat Receiver Sirf Star IV Chipset

GPS Linux

GlobalSat BU-353S4

This will be a quick primer on how to use a GlobalSat GPS receiver on Ubuntu Linux.

It is actually quite easy since Linux doesn’t need any drivers loaded.  Also this blog sort of augments the last blog I wrote  regarding the capabilities of using a computer offline.  In one section I used a U-blox GNSS module to capture GPS coordinates on Windows and Linux operating systems.

That U-blox module is not exactly what I’d consider to be weather proof.  My intent here is provide a GPS solution that is in some sort of reasonable enclosure that is more conducive to getting bounced around in a backpack.  Or more conducive to being used in an outdoor environment.
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Using A Computer With No Internet Connection

Using A Computer With No Internet Connection

What if you woke up and there was no internet connection?

No Wifi Area Sign 2315098 Vector Art at VecteezyI have written similar blogs a couple of times in the past but like to keep it up to date as technology cruises forward or if I discover new hardware.  Just what would you do if you woke up and there was no internet connection?  This could be due to a massive telecom hack, or natural disaster, or an act of war.

Surprisingly, your computer can do quite a lot without a network connection, even if you can’t picture in your mind how that could be.  Let’s explore how we can use a computer with no internet connection.

What Can We Do With No Internet Connection?

Quite a bit actually.  Let me make a quick list:

  • GPS
  • Radio (AM, FM, shortwave, weather, air band, etc.)
  • Television
  • Monitor Emergency Communications (Police, Fire, EMS, Military, etc.)
  • Establish Emergency Communications between computer using Long Range Radio  (LoRa)
  • Track Weather Satellites and download weather data
  • Program Radios with CHIRP
  • Files such as manuals
  • Entertainment such as books, magazines, music, and movies

Let’s build our SHTF machine, shall we?
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What Can You Do With A Computer With No Internet?


This is one of my favorite subjects.  And it kind of goes along with being prepared for the worst. Small devices such as computers can be easily recharged or used on even a small solar set up. So what can you do with a computer when there is no internet?  Quite a lot actually.

I’ve done this before in 2018 with a Linux computer but I’m going to do it this time with a Windows laptop.  But it is time to update that post a little bit, I suppose.

And as per my previous recommendation you want to probably use an old laptop and preferably something like a ToughBook.   If the internet is down, and life is getting harder you don’t need some baby computer that won’t hold up.


Yep, your computer can be a TV with no internet connection.  You do need a USB TV Tuner though.  I use the Hauppauge 955Q which is probably obsolete since I couldn’t find it anymore on Amazon.  This seems to be the latest generation.  Despite which tuner you get make sure that it is ATSC and not PAL.  ATSC is US and PAL is European.   Your tuner combined with software called NextPVR or probably any number of software programs you can download will give you an Electronic Program Guide and allow you to watch Over The Air Live TV.  That program guide does come down from the internet though, and you won’t be able to access it if the grid goes down.  Still, you know what your local channels are though.

NOTE:  I probably should state that my grid down situation is most likely a hurricane and all the local stations are 40 or so (driving) miles away and inland so they will most likely still be operational.  Your situation may vary.

Being able to watch TV during a power outage or while you are Sheltering in Place could provide vital, life saving information.  Or it could just provide much needed entertainment in a bad situation.

NextPVR (click pics to enlarge)

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Legitimate GPS Modules

I’ve been talking a lot about fake GPS Modules a lot……now let’s talk about legit GPS Modules.

First of all I’ll run over the actual legit GPS chips that I own and have dabbled with.

I have several GlobalSat BR-355S4 pucks.  These have Sirf Star IV chipsets in them which ONLY receive USA GPS system.  I use these with my Uniden Police Scanners.  Simply cut the plugs off of them and wire them to a plug that fits the Scanner.

I think it is important to note that as I mentioned above it ONLY receives GPS.  While this is probably fine for a police scanner, I don’t think I’d trust my life hiking out in the Mohave Desert with a device that had a Sirf Star IV chipset.  I’m not saying GPS would go down………but what if it did?

And I’m not knocking Qualcomm or their Sirf Star IV chipset.  I’m just saying I want redundancy in a life or death situation.

Then this leads me to my next GPS point.

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More GPS Module Fuckery

I have this on-going project to find a GPS Module that works with my Uniden SDS200 police scanner.  Obviously this is so the scanner will auto update its location when a GPS Module is connected.

Uniden sells one for $50, so the goal is to manufacture one for less than that amount of money.  Actually, I’ve succeeded several times, with my last build costing about $20.

So, what’s the problem you ask?

Almost every GPS Module I have purchased is FAKE.  The GPS Modules that I know are not fake are from Manufacturer recommended sources, and all cost more than $50.  More like in the $70 range.

The most commonly counterfeited chips are U-blox and specifically the NEO-6 series chips.  An actual, REAL NEO-6M CHIP, not module at  Mouser in the US for is $60 for one.  A NEO-7 CHIP, not module, can be purchased from Digikey for $31 and I did find that Digikey calls the NEO-6 series “obsolete”.  In fact U-blox says the NEO-6 is an old product as well.

6=OLD, 9=NEW

So how is that you can do a search for GPS Modules and find $8 NEO-6M modules all over the place? If a legit chip is $31 or more how can a complete module be $8 or $12?

Answer: It can’t. It’s fake.
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Beware The Fake GPS Modules

I just started dabbling with GPS modules.  I got my first one from Amazon for about $12.  I didn’t know almost anything about GPS chips but I did know that U-blox chips are pretty prevalent in the Drone community, so I set out to purchase a module with a U-blox chipset.  The Amazon one I linked above (which now shows as unavailable, and I hope I had something to do with that) indicates that it has a NEO-8M chip on it.

Let’s see.

I plugged the GPS into my computer and started U-blox U-center software.  The GPSTXT data indicated

??:??:??  $GPTXT,01,01,02,u-blox ag -*50
??:??:??  $GPTXT,01,01,02,HW  UBX-G70xx   00070000 FF7FFFFFo*69
??:??:??  $GPTXT,01,01,02,ROM CORE 1.00 (59842) Jun 27 2012 17:43:52*59

Rebranded Old Chip

Say What? I got a U-blox chip all right but it is a U-blox 7th generation with firmware from 2012. Here’s what the label indicated on the chip.

It says NEO-M8N.

Soooooo, someone took a 7th gen chip that is 10 years old and rebranded it to a current production version.

Not only that, the 7th gen chip does have a firmware upgrade however you can’t apply it because whoever made the module board didn’t include flash rom so it simply cannot be upgraded.  How cool is that?
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