Friday, January 29, 2010

Arrghh, computers!

My new shack computer is here, and I am nowhere near having it usable to get on the air. I have had one problem after another. Some are silly if annoying things, like forgetting to save my Firefox bookmarks before I vaped the hard drive of the old system. But one is a show-stopper. The new PC doesn't seem to have what I recognize as PCI slots.

Things weren't helped by my printer suffering an ink cartridge failure today, the day I sold my VX-8E to someone who paid extra by direct bank transfer in order to have next day shipping to his QTH in Luxembourg. As you probably know if you have sold any gear recently, if you arrange courier shipping online you need a printer in order to print shipping documents with barcode labels to fix to your package. So when the printer came up with "Error - Check right print cartridge" I was not best pleased.

I knew that the colour cartridge was low on ink and had half expected this might happen, so I whizzed down to the local computer shop and bought a replacement. Still the same error. We then realized that the printer was saying the right print cartridge needed checking. That's the black ink one, which I knew having looked at the indicators recently was still at least three quarters full of ink.

We took it out, looked at it, put it back, still no improvement. I Googled the error message, and the suggestions included cleaning the contacts with a cotton bud moistened in water, which didn't help. The other suggestion was that the ink cartridge electronics had failed, so despite Olga's reluctance to replace a thirty quid ink cartridge that was still almost full of ink she agreed to another trip to the computer shop. I think the fact she could see I was close to throwing the printer on the floor and stamping on it may have helped. Sixty quid's worth of ink cartridges later and I was finally able to print the shipping documents, but too late for a pickup today. Grrr.

Meanwhile the new computer arrived. Thankfully it had the Windows XP "downgrade" already installed on it, so I could set straight to work. It has a 300MB hard drive, all partitioned as one C drive (plus a recovery D drive.) I wanted to shrink C and create a separate D drive which I would use to store backups created using MagiCure Professional, which is a kind of super System Restore. But I couldn't find a way to do it.

I thought I'd read that you could resize drives using the Disk Management console in Windows, but I couldn't find a way to do it. My usual tool, GPartEd, crashed with a kernel panic so I couldn't even try that. I had a free Partition Manager program from a 2006 magazine cover disc, but that said "no free space" so it couldn't shrink the drive. I also tried various things from an "Ultimate Boot CD" but they either couldn't handle NTFS partitions or offered to correct scary looking errors with the existing partition that I didn't believe were real errors. So I gave up and will just have to make do with a huge great C drive.

Installing software is a slow process and I had just got to the point where I wanted to start to install the ham radio apps. For this I need my new serial port board and my old sound card, which I'd removed from the old computer. I opened the new one up, and was amazed. It has only one slot that looks like a PCI slot. But actually isn't, when you compare it to the one on my SoundBlaster Live 24 card that I use for digimodes.

There are also three tiny little slots, which fortunately appear to match the one on my newly bought serial port board, so at least I can use that.

So the question now is what do I need to be able to work digimodes with my new computer? I don't think I can use the built in sound card as it has a control panel with sound effects that I can't see any way to turn off. In any case I had thought I would use the built-in sound for normal audio.

If I had known in advance that I couldn't use my old sound card I think I might have saved myself some trouble (and a lot of spaghetti wiring) by getting a RigExpert or similar that combines the sound card and serial control functions into a single serial cable. I'm getting tired (and a bit too old) for crawling around on the floor under the desk groping behind the computer trying to plug audio cables into sound cards by trial and error.

Double arrghh! Having installed the serial board I have now found that I can't connect my radio because the connector on the computer and the connector on the cable are both male! I used a "gender bender" on the old computer which I forgot to disconnect and I have already given it away! So I am completely thwarted and frustrated at the moment, unable to connect my radio to the computer for either digimodes or logging.

I hate messing with computers!


Anonymous said...

As my PC had no free slots I purchased a cheap, £10 off EBay, USB external audio device for my ham applications. It works great and might be a solution for you if all else fails. A dedicated audio device for ham applications certainly makes life much easier.
John (G4HUK)

Unknown said...

Hi John. I bought a cheap external USB audio device once and it was terrible. I have such a knack for buying rubbish that these days I'm reluctant to buy anything without a specific recommendation unless it's something that can't go wrong or so cheap I don't mind throwing it away if it turns out to be useless.

Jay Dighsx said...

John, I feel your pain. What I would do is go have a beer and forget about it for a day. In fact I think I'd have more then one beer.

Buy and RigExpert or a SignaLink USB(I've got a SignaLink USB and love it).

And remember, there are very few problems that can't be fixed by throwing money at them.... hi hi

Good luck and try not to go insane.
Jay aka KD8EUR

Jspiker said...

Ditto on the pain..... My old XP computer crashed a few weeks ago and I was worried sick that I would loose my log book. It was in my "outlook" program.

Fortunately, I had everything backed up on an external hard drive and was able to save and transfer to my new Windows 7 operating system.

XP and Windows 7 seem to be compatible. (knock on wood).

It's shameful how much you can loose on a "new" improved computer. I had to toss a perfectly good printer and scanner. (I actually gave it to charity).

Many times a new product is marketed not because it's a better's justification for a price increase.

Where will it end?

John N8ZYA

Steve Silverman said...


I believe those slots are the mini PCI slots that obviously use a different connector than your audio card. The Digi Keyer audio/PTT devices work great and include an excellent external audio card. Just use an available USB port.
Steve KB3SII

Unknown said...

Those are x1 PCI Express slots (PCI-X). They are the next standard in computing, serial bitstreams, faster data rate, etc...