Featured Map for 4 March 2013:
Following a New Path Using Raspberry Pi


The Great Circle Mapper runs on a server running FreeBSD, which has provided a reliable platform for nearly 17 years—the current server last rebooted 1,258 days ago when there was an unexpected power failure. Most software development is done on an Apple Macintosh, upgraded last month from a MacBook Pro to a MacBook Air. Mac OS X is derived in part from FreeBSD so it's pretty easy to develop the software for both computers.

Recently, I bought a Raspberry Pi, a powerful little computer which sells for $35 with Ethernet and runs Linux. A case, power supply, and SD card (in lieu of a disk) added another $29 to the cost. After getting this new little computer running on my network (using a spare display and keyboard during setup), one of the first projects was to port GCmap. This was purely a research exercise, with no specific plans to do anything with the result. The port to Linux and a different architecture (32-bit ARM11 instead of 64-bit Intel x86) proved useful for flushing out a few portability bugs, though it turned out to be an easy software port beyond the need to track down a few libraries.

Ok, it also seemed that a computer with Pi in its name should run software related to circles!

The result is about ten times slower, but that's still impressive given the cost differential between the computers and the fact that some key optimizations in the code for the Intel x86 instruction set don't have ARM equivalents, at least not yet, and the Raspberry Pi's Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) is not used at all. Further tinkering on the Raspberry Pi, especially with the GPU, may be helpful in porting GCmap to other devices including an app version for smart phones, a project which is high on my wish list.

Today's Featured Map maps all 42,438 ICAO, IATA, and FAA codes from the GCmap database and was generated on a Raspberry Pi in a little over four minutes.

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