Thursday, January 31, 2008

Review: Two ACARS Log Analyzers for Windows

(This was originally part 1 of the post below, but I split it off to make the posts shorter.)

Along with the Dynamic Data Exchange path described in the post just below, some listeners are adding ACARS log analyzers to crunch the data from acarsd.

What you do here is run acarsd with yet another DDE server active, and add yet another client application! That's five simultaneously running programs, for those with the courage to keep count, and yes, you still have to start them in order of the data flow. It all works, at least on my hot dual-core XP Professional system with 2 gig of RAM. All these ones and zeroes churn around inside the machine. Messages appear on screens at various intervals, and ultimately get written to the analyzer database.

I'm not sure these analyzers are worth it for HF, though. I tried two of them. Some people love each of them, so they obviously work well enough to fill their needs. Once again, the price is right, as in free. However, I'm more oriented to DXing and finding new catches than plane spotting, and I'm not sure either program added that much more to acarsd to justify the increased level of complexity.

For a start, neither program seemed to contain an easy way to display the ICAO 24-bit hex addresses, though I understand from various Internet chatter that this may be added soon. My real problems seemed to come from both programs' heavy reliance on various data handling features in the Windows operating system itself. Those of us who have spent years fighting with these know what a mess THAT can create!

After the glowing review that another MT column gave the first one I tried, known as ACARS Log Analyser (British spelling), I couldn't wait to get it going. For whatever reason, though, my results weren't as good as his.

It's possible that my problems were caused by Windows DLL conflicts. It's fine for radio freeware to want to replace multiple shared DLLs with older ones. However, it's also my policy not to let these installers do so, because the resulting unpredictable problems with other, more important (or expensive!) apps can really be a mess.

Perhaps this is why the Log Analyser was so fussy, not to mention prone to all manner of arcane error messages, some of which crashed the program. After working through several truly bizarre logic bombs, I finally got the DDE working, sort of.

I never did get my older logs to import. Only one format worked at all, and this one corrupted all the records to have dates 20 years from now. Since I doubt even the NRD-545 can hear into the future, I finally put this program out of its misery with a full uninstall. Since this is Windows, there were a few harmless dregs left in the Registry, but nothing too critical.

Next up, I tried Acars Analyser (Australian spelling). It's right here. This one is a bit slicker, with pretty little icons and an interface generally more to my personal liking. Even better, its installer didn't ask to change any DLLs at all.

I also like the way the software is structured into two parts. One of these is a DDE client, which (like acarsds) connects to any number of programs and then sits happily in the background. The setup screen for this client is accessible, and comprehensive. The other part is the actual analyzer. It works with an external database using Jet (the MS data engine, not an aircraft type). Many items are stored, and these can be massaged in a truly impressive number of ways.

Unfortunately, that's all I can really say about this program. It never got a fair trial on my machine. It, too, seemed fussy. I never got past the initial stages of file not found errors and an occasional hang when I tried to access the database.

This might have been my fault. I became confused during the installation, and later I was able to find multiple database file paths in the Registry. It's possible the code became confused too. Also, according to the programmer, the public databases that make several of the better features work suddenly stopped being maintained, crippling these until an alternative is found.

At this point, I decided that I really wasn't going to use this program very much for what I was doing, and I uninstalled it. The end of this project is at hand, with Posfix and acarsd doing the job just fine. I've come to like these a lot.

Happy buzzing on HF!