Thursday, 9 June 2011

USB, Soundcards, and connectivity.

Just thought I would document the problems I have had recently with my data connection between my interface unit (ZLP USBMiniPro) and the PC through external soundcards.

USB 6 channel audio external soundcard
After reading an article somewhere on the web about a decent external soundcard to use instead of the cheapo USB plug-in dongle I was using I purchased an External Sound Card USB 6 Channel 5.1 Audio from Amazon. It arrived a day or so later and as described in the article performed well, installation being straightforward, DM-780 recognising it easily and connection being 100%. Also there was far less added noise on the audio from the rig (TS-570D), as expected.

One morning however, weeks later after booting up the digimode software refused to recognise the microphone input, so I went about the usual steps of rebooting, reinstalling etc, all to no avail. I assumed therefore that the unit had developed a fault so returned it via Amazon's very efficient returns service. As it was sourced outside of Amazon I was unable to obtain a replacement, so a refund was made.

I temporarily connected with the dongle - no problems there.
Maplins 5.1 Multimedia Soundcard
Next stage was to obtain another external sound card (I wanted external so I could use my laptop if out portable). I went to the local Maplins and purchased a 5.1 Multimedia sound card. This as with the 1st unit connected easily and gave solid connections.

After a few days I decided to move the USB connection from the front of the machine to a rear panel input. On starting the DM780 software I was advised that the connection to the microphone had failed.(deja-vu) Went into the soundcard options and reselected the microphone without success. Next stage was to look at the recording devices available from right-clicking the icon in the notifications area of my toolbar (Windows 7). This shows activity against each connected device, and in my case showed that the Line-in was active although audio input was plugged into the microphone jack!  I selected this in the soundcard options dropdown and all was well, signals on the waterfall. Went to transmit and NOTHING.

To cut this long story short, after reloading drivers etc. the only way I could get both TX and RX to work was by connecting via different USB ports and reloading the disk based drivers. Currently working off line-in, audio plugged into this socket now.

I have a decent spec PC with a 750W PSU and am wondering if the voltage to the USB ports is marginal thus the intermittent connectivity. Also wondering if the latest W7 updates have fouled things up!

Working at the moment, so will keep fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

QSLs and all that

After a few false starts with a QSL card design I finally decided to got some printed for both my own call and the GR4EST call. I wanted to design something which typified village life in the UK, and a game of cricket at the village club, the church in the background under overcast skies seemed to represent this perfectly. The GR card was easier, being based on the Union Flag.

As for producing the card I trawled the internet and obtained several quotes. I ended up using InstantPrint, based in the North East and ordered 500 'main' cards and 130 for GR4EST. There were some issues with the artwork I supplied, however they helped me sort this out and reference to their website for detailed information proved useful. The cards were duly printed and I am pleased with the results - Thanks guys - I will definitely come back for reprints.

This is where the fun (sic) started.
I use HRD for logging which is based on an Access database. I have some expertise with this DBMS from a professional role (before I retired) as well as Microsoft Word. I therefore decided to overprint my cards via a Mail Merge.

I created the "Word" template, linked to the database as the Data (Recipient) source and did a test merge. All seemed Ok so next stage was printing out a test card. I then found that the minimum size my Kodak ESP-3 AIO could handle was 6x4 inch paper. As it drinks ink, and the cartridges cannot be refilled I decided to bite the bullet and replace it with one which could handle QSL cards @ 3.5x5.5 inches.
Trawling the internet I found the HP Photosmart Plus B210a at £79.99 in my local PC World. Got it home, connected up via the wireless network, printed off A4 test print OK, then loaded up the QSL cards into the Photo tray. Options set to use this tray on Printer Preferences, however A4 from main tray selected. I went to the Printer properties and found the Photo Tray was shown as "Not Available". Set it as holding 9x13 cm paper as it was the closest size to cards, Custom not available on this printer, and 'Saved' - well perhaps not as message came back that it "Can not save Printer settings". Eventually, after about an hour of fiddling, got it to print out one card from the Photo tray, but after this settings were lost again. Investigation on the internet showed that this is not an uncommon problem with this printer.

I decided to upgrade drivers etc. so downloaded the new versions from the HP site. 88% into the extraction it failed saying "unable to create output file" even when run as Administrator.

Contacted HP who suggested resetting etc. but then said it was a hardware issue, and to replace the printer. One guy who had the same problems reported that it worked off one of his PCs, but not the other two, so hardware not the issue in his case.

I have had issues with HP kit before as regards software stability and this purchase was made with some trepidation.

I took the support advice to heart and returned the printer for replacement - I have bought an Epson BX525WD which is working perfectly.

I will not touch HP stuff again. - Lesson learned the hard way.

The format of the date and time field held in HRD required some conversion to get it to look right, and after applying sorts on the data to get it into country order for the bureau I am good to go.