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New Ghost Box Tool

research tool ghost box spirit box evp

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#1 doug

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Posted 30 October 2016 - 03:09 PM

I created a utility that allows computers to be used as ghost boxes that I thought some of you might find interesting.

In most varieties, a ghost box or spirit box is a radio that sweeps over a range of frequencies.   I'll assume that most people here have some exposure to ghost boxes, their usage, and applications.

There is a type of device for computers known as a software defined radio (SDR.) For our purposes, these are devices that allow a computer to tune and receive signals from a range of the radio spectrum.   Cheap ones are available, and it is possible to purchase decent USB SDR devices for as little as $10.   The lower end devices usually support tuning between 24 MHz and 1.7 GHz.   This excludes AM, though more expensive devices and upconverters can be used to provide that part of the spectrum.

The program that I wrote is called gqrx-ghostbox.  It is freely available and open source.   It controls another open source program called Gqrx, which is a receiver for SDR devices. You can provide options such as the direction and style of scan, the speed, the demodulator mode, and the range of frequencies.  It then connects to Gqrx, and the scanning begins.

I wanted to share this here because there are some advantages over traditional ghost boxes:
  • Traditional ghost boxes can be expensive.   With SDR, the extra hardware needed is a cheap USB device.
  • Traditional ghost boxes are limited in range by the device, but generally support AM and/or FM scanning. Using SDR the limits are defined by the device, opening up the potential for exploring results elsewhere in the spectrum.
  • Gqrx shows visualizations of the spectrum that may provide other useful information when receiving EVP.
  • Gqrx has options to help control the incoming signal, such as gain, demodulation, noise filtering, and squelch controls.
  • The scanning program has options and modes that aren't supported on most ghost boxes, such as random and bounce scanning modes.   The tool is open source, and adding more modes and features is possible.
  • The underlying scanning program is command-line based, and this makes it very easy to save and share the settings that work for you.
  • With SDR it is easy to swap out antennas, and research which types of antennas and what layouts work best.
On the downsides, the cheaper devices do not support AM.  If this is desired, a more expensive SDR device, or an upconverter would be needed.

A big downside, and one that everyone should take note of is that this requires more technical skill to set up than a standalone ghost box device.   Setting up SDR and the Gqrx program can be tricky.  The gqrx-ghostbox tool itself uses the command line. A certain level of comfort with these types of things is needed, as is a willingness to tinker and figure them out.   To anyone who isn't somewhat familiar with these things, I do caution you it could be a pain to get it setup.

As for operating system support, I've only run it on Linux.  Running on Windows would require installing Perl.  (Using Cygwin should work.) If the versions of Gqrx for Windows and MacOS are relatively up to date, it should work there as well, but I have not tested those environments.  Again, I caution anyone who attempts that path, it is uncharted territory, and may take some effort to get going.


I do think this style tool has interesting potential for researchers.   I hope that someone finds this useful, and if you do, please share the results back so that others can learn from them, and attempt to repeat them.


Links:
  • gqrx-ghostbox - Application for using SDR as a ghost box
  • Gqrx - SDR Receiver application, required by gqrx-ghostbox
  • results sharing - A page for sharing successful results and details of the setup and configuration used to achieve them

Edited by doug, 30 October 2016 - 03:12 PM.


#2 Mikaru

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Posted 05 November 2016 - 11:15 AM

That's very interesting. What distro are you running?



#3 doug

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Posted 05 November 2016 - 03:43 PM

 Mikaru, on 05 November 2016 - 11:15 AM, said:

That's very interesting. What distro are you running?


It was developed on Ubuntu using Gqrx installed from:

deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/gqrx/gqrx-sdr/ubuntu xenial main

The tool is light on dependencies, so I suspect it should run on any Linux distribution or operating system that Gqrx can run on, including MacOS, and with a little effort, Windows.

Edited by doug, 05 November 2016 - 03:46 PM.


#4 Faranormal

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Posted 17 November 2016 - 07:10 AM

I use a Linux tablet for EVPcording (waveform is great for live visual audio review) and an SB7 for spirit-boxing.

I'll give this a go!
Would be nice to have waveform view and lossless recording of FM sweeps. Currently I record SB sessions atmospherically, with a microphone.

Just got to sit and wait for the USB tuner to arrive now.

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#5 siguie

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Posted 04 December 2016 - 06:22 PM

K so I picked up a "Digital RTL2832U+R820T DVB-T SDR+DAB+FM USB 2.0 DIGITAL TV Tuner Receiver" off ebay for $8 delivered and got it yesterday {after many weeks} and hooked it up yesterday :D

I've done a lot of perl coding so CPAN module installation is a no brainer and I'm running on ubuntu 16.04 but you did a good job explaining the setup and installation :yes: I'm new to GQRX but it's fairly straightforward. The remote option seems to be unchecked when I restart Gqrx but you ghost script spits out a warning so it's not really an issue :no:

The RTL2832U dongle I picked up wasn't officially supported so it took a little more tweaking to get it working BUT I figured as long as I was getting one I wanted to get digital tv as well as FM stations.

All i all Good Job :thumbs: :yes:

I think sleep_time set to 30ms is a tad too fast but it was easily changed and with all the REMs  the perl code is easy to figure out :yes:


I haven't caught anything I would consider paranormal yet BUT one idea I had for your script was to narrow the scan range to a small area instead of sweeping the entire band :yes:

In any even I just started using it BUT good job! :yes:
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#6 Capt-Zeanie

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Posted 27 December 2016 - 08:01 AM

Sounds interesting.

I have had a look online and there are some different types from prebuilt cheapo's on Ebay to custom builds by rtl-sdr.com that come in at a reasonable $25 that do 24Mhz to 1.7Ghz.  I have also found a a kit/prebuilt range on Ebay that gives you 100KHZ to 1.7GHz that is about $30, so I might give all this a go.
Sounds good to sit at my desk at home and scan different frequency bands. How it would work for EVP's I do not know but if anyone has tried this and got something it would be nice to know.

#7 siguie

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Posted 27 December 2016 - 02:10 PM

I think doug has a sourceforge forum for any results in case you wanted to check. :yes:

One nice thing is that the base code has a built in recorder so you can record while scanning.

Unless you are very familiar with Linux I would hold off on those more expensive units ... my SDR was not supported so I had to do a lot of tweaking to get my system to recognize the thing.

Also I don't know if GQRX is meant to function at those frequency ranges so you might be writing your software from scratch.

On the other hand doug really did do a good job and for $8 I'm very happy with it PLUS I also get digital TV 8)

Edited by siguie, 27 December 2016 - 06:43 PM.

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#8 siguie

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Posted 27 December 2016 - 08:17 PM

If anyone is interested here's a quick demo using the "Digital RTL2832U+R820T DVB-T SDR+DAB+FM USB 2.0 DIGITAL TV Tuner Receiver"  on an ubuntu 16.04 system. The file is in mp4 format and is 3mb in size and 65 seconds long. I show the connection Failed error when the remote is not turned on then how to turn it on and reconnect. The audio doesn't start until the last 15 seconds when the "waterfall" starts.

So the last 15 seconds is the ghostbox in action :yes:

The script running is doug's with just a slightly longer delay.
  .
GQRX GhostBox demo :)


It's very easy to use and modify and I'm running the thang on an old intel laptop that I salvaged from the e-waste container so everything is very low resource :yes: I was also simultaneously running SimpleScreenRecorder and the the video is unedited from that.
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#9 Capt-Zeanie

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Posted 30 December 2016 - 07:20 AM

Cheers Siguie

I am a little ofay with Linux ( I have used it a bit over the last 10 years).

Some of the frequencies I would like to use is not avavlalbe of the $5 ones. I would like to use the same frequencies that Friedrich Jürgenson used 1445-1500kHz and also the frequency of 3of John Fuller used on 29mHz

#10 siguie

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Posted 30 December 2016 - 02:12 PM

Ok but once you start getting into the mHz range you have to deal with all sorts of atmospheric noise issues like the recent aurora sounds, meteor showers, solar winds etc. PLUS you will likely need to write your own filter systems or port one over from astrophysis software ... maybe ... :dunno:

Oh and of course you will have to find the drivers for your hardware so your OS can talk with your device ... that's what took me most of the time to set things up.

If you are comfortable doing those kinds of things then I certainly don't want to discourage you :no: In fact more power to you and I'd luv a "How To" post :yes:

That said unless you are really REALLY comfortable doing that level of coding {I'm not :ashamed:} I strongly recommend picking a stick that is on the supported page list. That way you could atleast try out GQRX in the ranges it can handle before doing the trail blazing thing :yes:

Edited by siguie, 30 December 2016 - 02:15 PM.

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