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!

20150809_082131

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

20150809_083657

Ok … Now what? Where’s everything gone?

20150809_083756

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

After a few seconds …

20150809_084012

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!

Screenshot 2015-08-09 09.28.17

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RemAud Server and elevated Tasks to overcome Microsoft UAC

After fine tuning VAC so the audio from the radio is available to Fldigi or whatever the chosen application is to decode digi-mode transmissions, there is still a need to be able to hear what is going on.

I’ve had the SoftRock tuned to middle eastern AM voice transmissions which is a good way of testing various functions of the rig. Equally, when trying to identify the transmission mode be it CW (morse), PSK, RTTY although you eventually learn the characteristic shapes of each within the sometimes very messy waterfall, each mode has a distinct audio tone and being able to hear it is a massive help.

Now remembering that all our audio is whizzing around on the virtual audio bus, you need a way to tap into it and turn it back into something you can hear through the speakers of whatever device you are accessing the radio from.

Enter RemAud http://www.df3cb.com/remaud/

Screenshot 2014-11-26 13.12.11

Again, for a free piece of software it provides a fantastic feature which solves the problem nicely.

The server element is installed at the point of origin for the audio, in our case the Radio-Box where VAC has our audio.

The client element is installed on the device(s) you wish to access that audio on.

Tell the server what it’s audio input is, that being VAC, create a username and password and that’s it.

On the client side, give it the IP address of the RemAud server, put in your username and password and press go.

Now remember, any audio that’s being streamed isn’t going to be as true to the original source due to network latency and so forth, but once again, for free it does the job nicely.

 

After playing with things for a few days I had a few issues with RemAud server, which can become unstable if something crashes out in the background. The result is extremely choppy audio on the client end.

The only solution is a reboot of the server and client machines. Not ideal but it fixes the problem if experienced.

Having double checked everything by tuning to an AM voice broadcast signal I’m happy everything’s as good as it can be. When using a Cat-5 link to my laptop everything’s crystal clear. There is a degree of latency when using a WiFi connection but then it’s only a 2.4GHz 802.11g connection and there’s a hell of a lot of BT and Sky boxes in the neighbourhood banging out all sorts of signals all over the spectrum which are getting in the way.

The solution would be to shift to a 5GHz 802.11n wireless network. At the minute my laptop doesn’t have the necessary wireless card to support this standard and it can’t be retro fitted. New laptop time!

The Wireless Acces Point solution of choice would be the XClaim Xi-1 providing 300mbps for $89

http://xclaim.s3.amazonaws.com/pdfs/datasheets/ds-xi-1.pdf

http://www.xclaimwireless.com/

As an interim measure I’ve dug out an old Edimax WAP and set it up with a dedicated SSID that is only used for remote radio access and have shifted the broadcast frequency as far away from anything else on the spectrum. Far from ideal but it’ll do for the minute.

 

Anyway, we digress! I’ve been having a problem with Microsoft wanting to take over the world and prevent applications running without UAC stepping in and wanting verification of the action.

You know exactly what I mean don’t you?

Windows_7_UAC

This was happening every time I was starting RemAud on the Radio-Box. Now fully understanding what UAC does, I know why it steps in BUT what I want to run on my machine is a trusted process and I want it to run without UAC stepping in every time and if possible from machine start up so that on remote access you don’t have to go looking to start it, it’s already there.

Strangely, this becomes a bigger issue over VNC because on occasions the screen formatting gets screwed up and you can’t select Yes or close the UAC dialogue box to try again.

I was hoping that you could create a “whitelist” for UAC but that’s not possible. Extensive use of Google came up with a range of solutions, very few that worked I must stress! I don’t want any 3rd party programs on the Radio-Box as “bloatware” is an issue for me. Call it OCD if you want, but I want neat and streamlined to ensure maximum bang for my (someone else’s!) buck!

I used option number 4 on the following post –

https://www.raymond.cc/blog/task-scheduler-bypass-uac-prompt/

Other similar solutions are available –

http://www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/11949-elevated-program-shortcut-without-uac-prompt-create.html

I’ve placed my shortcut in the Windows 7 startup folder so when the Radio-Box boots RemAud is running instantly and in the background.

Virtual Audio connectivity

Unless the radio is used directly at the desk, with a set of speakers plugged into it, it’s not possible to hear any audio output. Equally to use the output in Fldigi to decode CW, PSK31 etc there needs to be a mechanism to pipe the audio between applications.

A virtual audio program pipes the output from SDRConsole, normally destined for your speakers, onto an audio bus which is then available to any application requiring an audio input. As many applications as are necessary can tap into this bus and multiple virtual cables can be created.

Sounds complicated? Trust me it isn’t when you’ve got the very simple setup and config screens in front of you.

Think of a virtual audio cable as any other lead that you plug things into or equally plug into things. The only difference is it isn’t physical.

Screenshot 2014-11-26 12.05.01   Screenshot 2014-11-26 12.05.31

 

As the screen shots show, once installed on a system, Windows displays the Virtual Cable as any other sound device plugged into the machine.

There are several virtual audio packages in existence which attempt, with varying degrees of success, to achieve this.

 

The most popular is Virtual Audio Cable (current version is 4.14)

vacsetup-4

http://software.muzychenko.net/eng/vac.htm

 

A free alternative is VB-Audio Virtual Cable

R5QYQ

http://vb-audio.pagesperso-orange.fr/Cable/index.htm

Unfortunately as hard as I tried I just couldn’t get VB-Audio Virtual Cable to work, which is a shame as it looks good.

 

Virtual Audio Cable on the other hand worked instantly. To get the audio out of SDRConsole and into Fldigi it’s as simple as selecting the Audio setting within SDConsole

Audio -> playback -> Line 1 (VAC)

Fldigi is using the virtual audio as an input source and everything, just works.

VAC has its own control panel and I’ve left it purely as the default settings.

 

To get a feel of how it works and to satisfy my curiosity, following this section of the manual gave great proof of concept, especially when you run the Audio Repeater. There are two available to select from and I used the MME one.

Simple cable usage

To use a cable simplest possible way, first run VAC Control Panel application and make sure that there are 1-3 cables and they are configured with typical parameters:

  • Maximum instances – 20
  • Milliseconds per interrupt – 5..7
  • Sampling rate range – 22050..48000
  • Bits per sample range – 8..16
  • Number of channels range – 1..2
  • Stream format limiting – Cable range
  • Volume control – disabled
  • Channel mixing – enabled
  • PortCls usage – disabled

Don’t close VAC Control Panel, it will help you later.

Run any audio producing application (a player, a tone generator, an audio editor) that allows you to specify a playback/render device directly and choose Virtual Cable 1.

Start playback and make sure that the application really plays to Virtual Cable 1. You should hear nothing but VAC Control Panel must show 1 or 2 new playback streams for Virtual Cable 1 and cable signal level indicator should be shown. If you hear a played sound, it means the application directs it to your hardware audio device, not to Virtual Cable 1.

If a sound is really played to the Virtual Cable 1, run Audio Repeater (MME variant) application and choose Virtual Cable 1 as a recording (Wave In) device and your hardware audio device as a playback (Wave Out) device.

Activate audio transfer clicking Start button in Audio Repeater. Now you must hear a sound played by an application started first and the Control Panel application must show a new recording/capture stream. It means that audio data are transferred from a playing application to Virtual Cable 1 and then Audio Repeater transfers them further to a hardware audio device. You have created a full audio path containing Virtual Cable 1.