Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Reason I Hate Windows

It was going to be a typical casual contest weekend. I had the new 160/80m Inverted L ready to go. I had hoped to work a few more countries on 80m for DXCC, as I inch ever closer to 5BDXCC. My employer even let us out a little early, so I should have plenty of time to get everything set up. Right?


It seemed simple enough. Just crank up the Acer and set the N1MM software for the WPX CW contest.   The Acer started ok, but for some reason, the N1MM software would not run. Strange, it ran just fine last time I tried it. Well, that's ok, the copy I have is a few months out of date anyway, I ought to update the software to the latest before the contest.

So, uninstall N1MM, go out to the site, grab the base (2011) installer, install it, then install the latest build. Try running. Oh, it says it has to reboot before you can run. Go to reboot - the Acer waits a long time at Logging Out....

And it was about time to go off to marital arts class, so I just left the computer Logging Out.... I figured it would be done by the time I got back, and maybe I would finish the setup then. But, after three hours of class, I was pretty beat and figured I would tackle that job in the morning.

So, around 1300z, I hop out to the shack and crank up the Acer -- and it is STILL Logging Out.... Well, it spent so long trying to log out that the computer went to sleep. I'm out of patience at this point. So, I pull the battery, and unplug the power, and poof, it is ready to reboot.

Turns out, the reason it was taking forever to log out was because it was installing updates. You see, somewhere in the infinite wisdom of the Windows designers, they decided that the best time to install updates was when you were trying to log out of the computer. It obviously never occurred to them that you might want to log out only to log back in on some other account, or perhaps just reboot the machine so some software you just installed would work. No. You say you are done using that account, and it's time for Windows to take over and install the almighty updates.

Oh, and if you happen to bypass that by yanking the power and rebooting the machine, Windows takes care of that by installing the updates when you boot up. But, at least during the boot-up phase, it gives you progress information as to what it is doing, rather than simply saying it is Logging Out....

Half an hour later, it finally finished the update process, and I could successfully run N1MM. Set it up for the WPX CW contest and....

It can't talk to the K3.

OK. It was working just fine back in March -- what changed? Well, nothing, really -- except I had just installed an upgraded copy of N1MM. The Elecraft K3 Utility has no trouble talking to the K3 at all through that same port. Hmm. Maybe I should go back to the old version that was working, except when it didn't work for some weird reason.

So, uninstall N1MM, go out to the site, grab the base (2011) installer, install it, then install the latest build. Go to reboot - the Acer waits a long time at Logging Out.... Hey, I just installed all those updates! Pop battery, pull plug, restart. OK, there's just a handful of updates, should only take a few minutes.

And, once Windows had finished updating AGAIN, run N1MM and.... It can't talk to the K3. Looking more closely, it is repeatedly reporting 8020 errors. A bit of searching the internet, and this appears to be a problem related to the serial port drivers. Seems some USB serial port drivers work fine with other applications (and the Elecraft K3 Utility had no trouble talking tot he K3)

So -- what changed? Looking at the Plugable site, the latest driver is v1.8, and that's exactly what's installed. However, from my work back in January, I remember a different version -- v1.7. Maybe that's what happened -- one of those many updates must have updated the serial port driver in a way that's no longer compatible with Visual Basic.

Easily fixed, right? Just install the old driver. Well, first you have to FIND the old driver. Unfortunately, I did not make a copy of it when I installed it in January. Fortunately, after about 15 minutes of searches, I did find a copy of v1.7. Uninstall, reinstall, and pray that plug-and-play doesn't just go update it all anyway.

Behold, start up N1MM and -- it can talk to the K3! It's now almost 1500z, I've wasted two hours of contesting time fighting with the stupid computer over what was, in reality, a dependency of the N1MM software on a serial communications driver that hasn't been supported by Microsoft for five years now. (All Visual Basic support ended in March 2008)

I need to wean myself off Windows software. If only there were decent contesting software for the Mac. Hmm.

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