Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ham Radio Software Meets Windows 7 #3: Debugging PC-ALE

After uninstalling MARS-ALE and removing various droppings still found throughout my computer, I bravely set out to see what PC-ALE would do in a home directory outside the Program Files (x86) or the virtual machine ("XP Mode").  Others had reported success when installed in this manner.

The version I'd been using is in the 1.07x cycle. I had the installers on backups.  The files are not on HFLINK, but can be found elsewhere.  You install the FI version, then drop the unzipped UD .exe file over the original .exe in your installation.  Then you copy in your .qrg files.  You DID back up your .qrg, right?

Scanning will have to wait until a compatible USB-serial adapter is obtained.  Right now I'm only parking on frequencies.

Here are some issues:

#1: Do not check the "Create Desktop Icon" box in the installer. This creates an incorrect path, which causes PC-ALE to write the files it needs for proper operation to the desktop instead of its home folder. It is then unable to find them there.

Instead, go to the home directory and right-click ALE.exe. Drop down and hit "Create Shortcut," then move the resulting new shortcut icon to the desktop. This solves the problem.  The files are created in the right place.

#2. The problem encountered with the input being pure noise seems to have fixed itself with the install to my custom directory. PC-ALE is finding the right input now.  "First light" here was J14, 003, and D08 sounding on 15867.  BER and S/N were well above minimums for high confidence decode.

#3: For some inexplicable reason, PC-ALE likes to set the gain of Line In to zero at startup and shutdown.  This causes the bars/sync to vanish altogether, because there's no signal.  Do W7's silly sound driver and turn it back up.  The bars/sync should appear, and you should be decoding ALE.  This issue fixes itself after running the program a couple of times.  Presumably, the default level finally gets set to the figure in your 141A config screen.

#4: It is said that MARS-ALE is actually better for receive-only than PC-ALE.  This could be the case.  MultiPSK, however, is better than both of them for receive, though equally user-inscrutable.  It will scan after you do the developer's weird payment procedure and get a license.

#5: ALL MILEAGE WILL VARY!!!!! We are dealing with computers, after all.  If you get a total bomb job, try asking the experts on the HFLINK group at Yahoo.