«13 1 Preface This paper is intended to provide information on the installation and use of Sorcerer, a software multimode decoder. It was written ...»
SORCERER INSTALLATION AND OPERATION
By N0SYA December 6th, 2013
This paper is intended to provide information on the installation and use of Sorcerer, a software multimode decoder. It
was written following the theory that certain aspects of the tool such as features, optional settings, and tuning routines
are the functional equivalent of those found in other decoding tools. More or less it's just those things I have noticed in
the tool so far and would like to point them out for those who might have missed them or not understood them at least to the degree I may. In the end they simply represent my opinion. Error in the paper is to be expected. Reading the user manuals for other decoding tools may give further insight into the use of this tool and is suggested reading. This paper will also address some common receiver issues that could be considered when using software decoding tools. This paper assumes that a user has working receiver/antennae, pc, interface, and these are connected and adjusted properly. The user should also be familiar with hf radio. "Ionosphere and You" primer included at no charge.
Use of this paper constitutes agreement with the following;
- It is for information only.
- The olivia decoder crashes the tool.
- Other decoders may infrequently crash the tool.
- The tool has been reported by some to contain malware.
- By installing and/or using software you accept all risk involved.
- The user accepts full and sole responsibility for his or her actions.
What is Sorcerer?
Per the installation manual;
"SORCERER is a collection of decoders for modes found in the ELF-SHF range. These work in tandem with proprietary intelligent bit parsers automatically identifying targets of interest.(ie - country and specific service as well as identifying data link protocols, compression schemes, file formats, and cryptographic formats in use.
- No proprietary hardware
- The most comprehensive collection of current, on-air modes
- Superb demodulation, decoding and parsing of ELF-SHF modes
- Run multiple decoders simultaneously
- Unmatched decoder performance in weak/poor conditions
- Hundreds of parsers always available - run multiple per decoder
- High-speed constellation display
- Offline or Online Analysis
- Flexible variety of outputs to support cryptanalysis
- Continuous development - new modes added throughout the year
- Custom demodulators, decoders and parsers available upon request
- The decode modules are selected based on the requirements of Avonlea Services' customer requirements and the realities of what is actually currently on air in these spectra. It is Avonlea Services' goal to provide a collection of decoders and parsers simply not found in any product offered by competitive manufacturers. Customization and Prioritization of decode
- modules in currently in progress in possible and to this end Users should contact Avonlea Services for details of special contracts.
Tool Footprint The tool takes about 1 meg of space on disk and in operation creates 6 threads while taking up about 13 megs ram (or less) with one S4285 decoder running. A performance increase may result from use on multiple cpu systems as the tool is multithreaded and adds another thread for each decoder running. With 33 decoders (cw, all fsk and mfsk modes, and about half the psk modes) running I was warned about too many windows open. In this state the tool used about 50 percent cpu, 27mb ram, and had 37 threads running. It runs about 12 percent cpu decoding a single instance of S4285.
Cpu time the tool uses will vary from system to system due to processor characteristics and loads. With no decoder running the tool uses little to no cpu time. What all this means is the tool is very lightweight in disk space and ram taken and is not cpu intensive in most instances, it should run well on newer systems and many older systems that do not quite come up to the specs suggested for the tool. The pc system used for testing was a Intel 2.13GHz C2d machine, 4gb ram, 32bit Vista os.
Tool Capabilities Some program features such as non-standard bit parsers, automated mode identification, automated decode parameter setup, and signal database may not be present - if they are I did not find them. The downloads available consist of the main program of the tool; a FFT Spectrum Display window from wich to call up decoders and their parsers, and a manual.
Not all the decoders were checked for decode function as not every type of signal was present when needed. All named decoders executed when called and did not crash the tool in this instance- with the exception of Olivia and sometimes but not often other decoders. These random crashes - always when the decoder was activated not in the middle of a session - may be attributed to application uptime, the longer the app is running the more neurotic it may be.
Decoders Decoders are programs that take coded input and process it (hopefully) into a less coded form. For example, many codes employed on hf are very highly structered and complex in the sense of forward error correction, interleaving, and synchronisation and that's besides any intentional encryption. These encodings are meant to ensure message delivery by reduncancy of bits in most cases. The decoder understands these paradigms and tries to make them into something the average pc can output/display in a meaningful sense to a user or another program. One might view decoders and parsers as interpreters of bits.
Decoders available CW
ACARS, ARQ E, Async FSK, AX.25HF/VHF/9600Bd, CIS-11, Cosmos Navdata, EFR, GTOR, GlobeWireless FSK, IRA ARQ, ITA2 FSK, IVSU, Linea SITOR A/B, M823DGPS, MD674, Pactor1, SITOR A/B, STANAG4481, Sync FSK.
CIS MFSK-16/20, Coquelet 8/13, Olivia(crashes tool), Piccolo MK6.
ARINC 635, GlobeWireless PSK, HAM BPSK/QPSK modes, MilStd188-110A, MilStd188-110A App.A, MilStd188-110B, Pactor II/III, STANAG4285, STANAG4529(sometimes crashes tool).
ALIS, BARRET Selcall, CODAN CALM ChirpCall, CV-786, Datron S3, GMDSS HF/VHF DSC, HARRIS RF-3560,
AM, FM Greyscale, FM Black&White.
Parsers A parser takes the output of the selected decoder and tries to further place it into some sense a person or program can use, such as text, graphical bitstream, or raw bitstream; 1s and 0s. Most decoders will automagically bring up one or more appropriate parsers, such as "Ascii" or "ITA-2". Sadly I did't see an XOR parser, wich could be handy for certain fsk signals. Another parser inherent to the tool but is only available in certain decoders is "Bitstream-VisualBits. VisualBits provides a graphical representation of bit patterns and in doing so increases cpu load noticeably, but not so much as to hinder tool performance in a single instance. Such bit parsers are typically used to allow a user to note sequences and visualy locate the start position of a frame in a bit stream.
A faster decoder rate (such as 1200L in S4285) using the VisualBits parser may result in rather high cpu usage. This additional cpu usage may stem from video card driver overhead due to the VisualBits parser running and the video card processing the image to be displayed. To best save a VisualBits image intact use the "save file as unicode" save option.
Other parsers may be inherent to the tool depending upon decoder and you can add these. After adding a decoder you can call up further parsers by clicking on the + button in the upper left corner of the decoder. To remove a parser simply click the colocated - button while viewing the parser window to be closed. Testing to see if the decoder can employ a 3rd party parser was not done. I assume one would add these to the tool as dll files.
Ascii. ITA-2,, Bitstream, Bitstream-VisualBits, KG84C Crypto Parser These parsers may have options to themslves. Only certain parsers are available in every decoder.
TCP IP Servers;
This option is called up by the unlabled Start Server button located just to the right of the Save File button on the decoder. It offers two TCP server types; ANSI and UNICODE, and asks for the port number to employ for the server. I assume the tool uses the default IP address of the host pc. This functionality was not further explored at time of writing.
Why use Sorcerer?
Having tried many other freely available decoding tools, followed their install and setup directions to the letter, simply no decoding tool worked as well. The Sorcerer gui is very intuitive and non-intimidating. There is no.dat file to be replaced every few months to keep the tool running nor need to change the current date in the pc just to enable the tool. No intimidating gui filled with tiny controls that are in turn filled with tiny fonts, or demanding and involved installation and setup that places bits of the tool here and there in a hard drive. It just works well where, sadly, the others often did not.
That is not to say other tools are not worthy of consideration. The others simply do not come close to this tools usefulness and ease of operation in my case. The only decoder featured in the tool that crashed in testing is the olivia fsk mode. This mode crashes the tool and has been reported to activate malware but I've only noted the tool crash with no other effects on the pc. There are other freely available tools that decode olivia, wich is an infrequently found amateur radio mode.
4 The following is diagnostic output of an olivia decoder crash;
Problem Event Name: APPCRASH Application Name: sorcerer-v1.0.1.exe Application Version: 0.0.0.0 Application Timestamp: 49bc5109 Fault Module Name: StackHash_fd00 Fault Module Version: 0.0.0.0 Fault Module Timestamp: 00000000 Exception Code: c0000005 Exception Offset: 00007a48 OS Version: 6.0.6002.2.2.0.768.2 Locale ID: 1033 Additional Information 1: fd00 Additional Information 2: ea6f5fe8924aaa756324d57f87834160 Additional Information 3: fd00 Additional Information 4: ea6f5fe8924aaa756324d57f87834160 Pre Installation/Operation Suggested Practices
Determine wich Sorcerer download link you wish to use and download Sorcerer if you have not. Once you have your copy simply open the zip file and copy the exe intact to a folder named appropriately from where you will be using the tool.
For example: C:\RadioApps\Decoding\Sorcerer You may include the original Sorcerer installation pdf file in the same folder if you wish. The installation pdf file provides info on the full version install procedure. It also offers some hints at what the tool is capable of especially with regards to radio control.
Note on Root Folders:
Vista and later MS os require programs that are in the "Program Files" or "Program Files (x86)" folders to write data to the "ProgramData" folder.
Thusly, in Vista and Win7 do not install the tool to the C:\Programs folder as that may limit its ability to make changes to the contents of that folder such as logs the tool can save automatically, and may have other issues with regards to optional settings being saved. Installing it to its own distinct parent folder should ensure desired permission levels and program function. This applies to any exe, not just Sorcerer. Other os may not have such issues and one may install the tool anywhere.
Shortcuts Left click on the Sorcerer exe in your folder and set a startup icon on the desktop or in the startup menu by pinning the link in the startup menu. Once you have your shortcut, right click on the link and select properties. Select maximised window if desired, via the "shortcut" tab menu. Under the "advanced" tab of the same property sheet, select "run as administrator" if that option is available and desired. If you use the Aero (or other) Windows gui as opposed to explorer it may help to use some of the compatibility options found in the shortcut compatibility menu tab. If there are visual anomalies in the tool related to the gui, experiment with these and see if they help. Some guis can make apps not specifically written to run under said gui look "wrong" such as missing or corrupted fonts or controls or other visual issues. I have had no issue with gui in the case of Sorcerer on Vista with Aero disabled other than the tool windows not always minimising/restoring with a single click.
Tool input selection This tool can accept wav files, live audio from a sound card, or I/Q input. Only sound card input was used for this paper.
Interfaces An radio interface is typically used with most any radio not having an I/Q output. If you have an sdr radio you can use its I/Q output to feed the tool and thusly avoid the need for an interface. Interfaces can be bought or built, and range from cheap to expensive. One can always just run a patch cable from radio audio out to pc audio in but a decent interface will have isolation transformers and level adjustments that can be very beneficial to decoder performance. For example, there's often an impedence and level missmatch between the line input on a soundcard and the impedence and level of a radio line level output. In such a case isolation transformers can be of benefit for matching impedences. They can also reduce ground loop caused hum and other noises. Often an interface provides some audio bandwidth limiting, and as long as it doesn't limit the desired frequencies this should be of benefit. I suggest interfaces with isolation over simple patch cables.
Sound card properties Sound cards come in various levels of quality, wich is often reflected by their price. Some onboard soundcards are full of system noise and are not going to do very well used as an input to the tool, other onboard soundcards may offer excellent audio reproduction. External soundcards may or may not be superior to onboard soundcards. Try what you have and see how well it does. If it seems that the sound card is keeping you from good decodes try another.