Why?

After having been away for a week with work (not out of choice I can assure you) there was a need to catch up on some basic domestic chores yesterday morning. I’m not sure it’s a good thing that you now need to sit in front of a computer to do most things as the High Street which is populated by Wetherspoons, estate agents and charity shops will testify!

In my half jaded state I hardly noticed my PC glitch and then switch off. Hmm! On hitting the power switch to restart I was then rewarded with the acrid smell of burning dust and noticed one of the temperature sensors on the front of the case indicating a temperature somewhere north of the FTSE 1000 after an investment banker had been playing with the LIBOR rate. Oh crap! A quick squint through the case side revealed the processor cooling fan sitting still. That’s never a good thing.

Thankfully my cooler has a standard 120mm case fan bolted onto a piece of aluminium that makes the Sears Tower look small, so a trip to Novatech replaced that very easily.

On hitting the power button all went well for about 15 seconds before the smell of burning dust was once again liberated and the fan ground to a halt, as the system went haywire and told me there was no system disk installed.

Best guess is the CPU fan controller has gone on the motherboard. Just what’s needed on a Friday and especially after getting everything Windows 10 wise running perfectly!

So then came the usual dance of what to do. Like cars being driven off the forecourt of a showroom and depreciating by the time you reach the tarmac of the road, computers are old technology before you’ve even bought them. With that in mind it was going to be pointless to attempt to replace just the motherboard. Plus, after potentially having warmed a few surrounding components by several degrees centigrade what would go bang next just to spite me?

Spending chunks of money is never helpful, but if you’re going to do it with IT kit, do it properly to prevent regrets and provide some modicum of future proofing.

With that in mind eBuyer are providing a nice new ASRock FM2A88M Extreme4+ Socket FM2+. This is from the same stable as the one used inside my radio but is the AMD variant rather than Intel. I’ve always been a strong advocate of separate components in systems along the line of “if you want something to do it well, let it do that alone rather than try and do everything halfheartedly”. That was very true of the radio as the soundcard needed to be the best of the best.

With my day to day PC that’s not so important and the ASRock FM2A88M Extreme4+ is another Micro ATX board, which with a suitable processor provides great graphics and hosts a bucket of features and connectivity which means I can ditch the various cards I’ve used in my current system.

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Now I’ve often thought that processor manufacturers have done a great job in their marketing.

I remember in the mid 90’s that processors had catchy names like “286” or “386”. Now we have the AMD A10-7870K Black Edition which sounds like it’s just finished training SEAL Team 6 in the latest urban warfare techniques and quite evidently appeals to the inner warrior of every pasty online gaming teenager. It worked on me so I bought one!

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More for the fact that it’s the highest spec processor the motherboard supports and unlocks a lot more of the graphics processing functions I must hasten to add!

Memory was another minefield. Gone are the days of just sticking in a stick of memory, now you have thousands of designs, colours and specifications out there. A lot of them look like they belong in the cockpit of a Stealth Fighter rather than a home PC!

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So I bought some that was cheap and black in colour, 16Gb’s worth to be precise. The table of supported manufacturers and specs for the motherboard was a confusing as hell and in the end I just gave up. I’m not overclocking this thing when it’s built, I just want it to work so I can get on with life so it should work a treat (hopefully).

So in the meantime I will sit and twiddle my thumbs as it looks like a nice weekend and being outside in the sun seems more appealing than trying to build a new computer. That said, my box of bits won’t be here until the middle of next week!

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The jury’s out on Windows 10

As promised here’s an update on my experiences with Windows 10.

Since installing there have been a few snags which you need to be aware of if you’re going to update.

The whole Microsoft Windows Defender not working is a real problem and unless you address it, leaves you with your pants down and vulnerable to any malware and virus that comes your way. Having played with Windows 10 now on several friends machines the suggested solutions in my previous post don’t always work which is a head scratcher. One of the big problems is that the required application gpedit.msc, needed to edit the group policies isn’t as standard on all machines. That then causes a problem because you have to flit around the internet looking for a download, not all the downloads are clean and come packaged with nasty malware or worse, you’re not running any antivirus . . .

If you end up in that bag, just install a 3rd party virus solution such as Avira Free which will do the job just as well.

Next hitch is that the Windows 10 upgrade process appears to clear out the root of the destination drive. As such several programs and batch files that need to sit in the root of C:\ have disappeared. They can be readily reinstalled but typically you don’t realise they’re missing until you’re in the middle of something else and need them!

I also ran into a problem with my DVD drives disappearing. I know they’re very last decade in some people’s eyes but media still comes shipped on them, including the Windows 10 update, so to see the drives disappear was a real pain in the arse. The obvious unplug, reboot, plug back in doesn’t cause them to be detected. Thankfully Google saves the day on that one and http://www.askvg.com/optical-drives-are-not-showing-in-my-computer/ provides a solution. To be honest I couldn’t be bothered to edit the registry so I just used the provided script at Method 4 and it all started working nicely.

Also mapping network drives within Windows 10 seems to have issues. I have relied on this to give access to folders on other servers but despite all the security, privacy and sharing settings being set at what they need to be, I can’t browse my network.

I can however map network locations which works just as well, you just need to know where you’re going i.e. the IP address and path to the desired share, to type into the required field rather than browsing and clicking.

My advice is this. If you want Windows 10 do a clean install from a USB key. Microsoft’s little MediaCreationTool allows you to build a version on on either DVD or a USB device.

When you start the upgrade process, select the clean installation rather than preserving your existing settings. You’ll need to backup your documents, iTunes library and so forth but you get an as new installation rather than one with scattered fragments of debris from Windows 7 which could potentially be causing issues.

Remember, you can only upgrade from a pre-existing Windows 7 installation, you can’t do a fresh install on a clean machine.

That said at the moment SDR# is working OK, so if you fancy a change of environment take the plunge.

Big Brother changes it’s operating system

Ever since I’ve been playing with computers it’s been a love hate relationships with Bill Gate’s Empire and I’ve flitted between operating systems like a humming bird on speed on occasions.

Now the big dilemma arises when the dialogue box pops up in the system tray on your PC saying “Get Windows 10”!

Do you sell your soul to Satan or stick with what you’ve got?

After much umming and ahhing I’ve let one of my PC’s update to Windows 10. The logic on this is, at some point support for Windows 7 will end, in a similar manner to the demise of Windows XP which countless companies and institutions still use. The snag is a lot of ham radio software was crafted on XP and is very happy and stable in that environment. When you try and move it to a newer 64 bit operating system they tend to get very upset and stop working, so it’d be useful to know what’s going to break ahead of the party!

So after backing everything up (gone are my cavalier, throw caution to the wind days!) I lit the blue touch paper and let it do it’s thing!

I sat waiting for the inevitable blue screen of death to appear!

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Surprisingly things didn’t take too long before I was rewarded with ….

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Ok … Now what? Where’s everything gone?

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We’ve got a start button which does something, unlike the complete abomination which is Windows 8.

After a few seconds …

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In a similar manner to a very annoying advert for a certain brand of makeup available at a well known high street retailer based in Nottingham, “Ta Dah!”

It does take a while for the new installation to find everything that was there and put it where it should be.

Things to look out for!

1. In this big joined up world everything wants to bombard you with adverts and track you. http://bgr.com/2015/08/06/windows-10-privacy-tips-and-tricks/ provides some very useful advice on switching all that off.

2. Windows 10 has at last caught up with the Linux side of things and supports multiple virtual desktops. http://winsupersite.com/windows-10/windows-10-tip-move-apps-between-multiple-desktops for more on this. Grudgingly, I must admit it does it reasonably well. I’ve used third party apps previously to achieve the same result with the overhead of a continuously running app which wants to take over your PC.

3. Probably most importantly, you need to check that Windows Defender is running or you’ve got some virus guard/anti malware running. http://www.tenforums.com/tutorials/5918-windows-defender-turn-off-windows-10-a.html explains more. I’m still trying to get this working because Windows won’t switch it back on for some reason.

4. Edge wants to rule the world. Not U2’s guitarist “Mr The Edge” but the new incarnation of Internet Explorer. Thankfully the first time you run Chrome, it takes you to a nice little video which shows you how to restore the balance of things!

5. It’s quick. I’ve seen a marked improvement in speed just playing with it for the last 30 minutes.

Now thankfully, RealVNC works perfectly (I would have been annoyed if it hadn’t) as does RemAud (written by an enthusiast and the current version 1.7 hasn’t been updated since 2013) so playing radio over my VNC connection is business as normal.

I need to have a serious look at whether SDR packages (HDSDR, SDR Console & SDR#) work before letting this thing anywhere near my radio box. Perhaps the biggest issue may be the virtual audio cable solutions. Remember Virtual Audio Cable doesn’t work correctly on my SDR system despite it actually providing an audio output, hence the use of VB-Audio Cable. It’d be a real shame to watch that go bang as a result of migrating to a new operating system.

All things being equal the early indications are good. I’ll post an update after some serious testing.

By way of a test I took the radio for a spin and bagged a SIM31_PSK contact with CT4KO/QRP in Portugal! I was very surprised with that as I’m still tweaking the software which is a little bit clunky in places, but it worked nicely!

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Playing with new data modes

This weekend (1 & 2 August) saw FPARC holding a Special Event Station activation weekend, activating GB1PF at Fort Purbrook.

In the true spirit of membership I stuck my nose around the marquee flap on Saturday lunchtime to find the usual suspects enjoying a BBQ and real ale rather than chasing DX!

That said the bands were dead so what else do you do on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon?

A chunk of the afternoon was spent trying to get a very dodgy looking antenna working and getting to see first hand the advantages of being able to afford an MFJ Antenna Analyser. Unfortunately, it didn’t resolve the issue with the antenna but all learning is good learning in my book.

Here’s a rather nifty panoramic shot taken from the the trig point within Fort Purbrook, showing the home of FPARC in all it’s glory, along with some of the antenna arrays being worked this weekend.

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On a nice day what a place to be playing radio! I really need to sort a portable rig to catch some of the action sooner rather than later!

Needless to say, the lack of activity on the bands extended into my available time on Saturday which is disappointing. I’ve pulled a couple of late nighters in the past, when things start waking up as the D layer diminishes and the F layer kicks in and have been rewarded by plenty of QSO’s but at the same time been equally frustrated by seeing all sorts of exotic call signs from south of the equator flash by unable to hear my meagre 1W response to their CQ calls.

I’m at that dichotomy point where I can either invest a sizeable chunk of money in a linear amplifier and then wrestle with getting it to work with my SoftRock or put the same wedge towards a rig that will give me the portability I crave along with a greater power output as standard.

For once common sense is prevailing and I’ll stick with what I’ve got and look to the future, so I need a solution to increase my number of contacts that will count towards recognised awards and personal challenges I’ve set with as little financial expenditure as possible!

With my recent mast install I can try playing with the orientation of the antenna to see if that will give me anything I’m not already hearing. There’s always a massive temptation to try building a yagi and mount that but again zero expenditure is the objective here!

I have got a degree of “code envy” as I listen to the number of contacts being hammered out on the bands in CW. My attempts to learn morse would make a snail look like Usain Bolt in comparison, but like learning any new language, these things take time and a lot of dedication. As such I’ve got a limited number of options.

Since getting my rig running exactly how I want it, I have had a good play with the various modes supported by Fldigi with a reasonable degree of success. So I was a little surprised on Sunday morning to find partial decodes of messages which the modem was attempting to translate despite a reasonably clear signal. The message fragment included the characters “new sim”. Odd? Break out Google and guess what, SIM_PSK31/63 was what Fldigi was trying to decode.

After a quick read of the site http://www.on4nb.be/sim31.htm I was installing the software and ready to give it a go.

http://www.on4nb.be/sim_description_en.htm provides a full description of the mode

I’ll come back to configuration details in a minute but on spinning up the application I was gob smacked at the amount of traffic that was buzzing around out there and a lot originating from countries that for some reason are being elusive to other digi-mode contacts!

Not wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth if another mode bags me a few more QSO’S then all the better.

The setup for the SIM_PSK31 application is relatively straight forward but it’s worth a read of the manual before diving in. The existing setup I was using between HDSDR and Fldigi using the VB audio cable connections was supported directly in the drop down menus and the Rig-Cat works fine if the TS-50s option is selected. With a few sub settings completed, all that was needed was to hit the start button and see what happened.

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I need to sit and have a really good play with the application to fine tune a few bits but it appears to work, so forwards and onwards!