Entries from September 2009 ↓

Antenna Rotator Problems

The big beam has been freewheeling for nearly a month. I finally cranked the thing down and took a look. Feedling is broken and the rotator sounds like it has marbles rolling around inside it.

The rotator is an Alliance HD-73. I had always thought it was much better than the CDE AR-22 but upon investigation the HD-73 can only handle a wind load of 10sq feet. Most ham rotators do 15sq feet or more.

Before the misshap I had trouble keeping the beam aligned to the rotator box indicator. At one time that problem was due to a missaligned gear that was driving the pot in the rotator. The HD-73 uses a potentiomemter inside the rotator to vary the voltage to a meter inside the control box. Well, this time the pot was just fine. The missalignment was due to the pipe mast slipping in the rotator coupling. So, I drilled a hole through the clamp and into the pipe. I threaded the hole in the pipe and screwed in a big bolt. Sucker would not slip anymore.

The HD-73 does not provide any sort of breaking to the mast other than the inertia of the geared motor mechanism. After the mast was not allowed to slip anymore, the force of t he wind stripped out the gears in the rotator. So much for avoiding slippage. I guess maybe the KT-34 was a little too much, or maybe the rotor was a little too light. There was no downward force on the rotor. A side saddle mount to the mast included a thrust bearing that bore the weight of the antenna.

So now that mast is tilted over and the beam removed, I can concentrate on repair.

I have a 50 foot tilt over. The tilting over part is drill stem pipe. The pipe is hinged at the 20 foot mark to a plate that is supported on the top of two sections of rohn tower. Been using that since the early 70′s of the last century.

Once I had the mast tilted over I tied it down so that if we did have storms there would not be any more damage. We did have storms but the only damage was due to my forgetting the mast was tied down before trying to raise it. I wondered why it took such a strain. Before I figured out what was going on, I ended up with a bent mast.

Tried to bend it back. No way that was going to work without risking pulling the tower sections out of the ground. So now I am having to engineed a way to remove the mast entirely so that I can cut the bent section out of the drill stem and weld it all back together after reinforcing the pipe above the 25 foot level.

The first 25 feet of pipe is 3 inch. The rest is 2.5 inch. It was 2.5 inch that bent.

Took a look at repairing the rotator. Found a fellow who does that. He also sells rotators. Wants close to 500 bucks for a new HD-73. Wants 60 bucks plus parts and shipping to repair a wrecked HD-73. That is shipping both ways and I figure one way was going to be around 20 bucks. So we are looking at 60+20+20+60(?) or more. Possibly close to 200 or better for repair.

Panasonic has a brand new rotator with twice the wind load capacity of the HD-73 for 300 bucks.

Unfotunately in this part of the country a wind load capacity of even 20 sq feet is inconsequential. We get storms with straight-line winds approaching. 90mph. God help you if you get brushed by a tornado. So it really does not matter that I ended up with a used AR-22. It will work. There is not downward force since the thrust bearing takes up the strain. And now I no longer pin the mast to the rotator so slippage is possible. What I really need is a very good braking mechanism to hold the pipe mast from turning in the wind. Of couse I know if I had that, It would just shell out the rotator when I froget to release the brake.

I have two old AR-22s. The AR-22s use two rows of ball bearings to support the rotating part against the non rotating part. But there are only six bearings on the top and six on the bottom. Those six are held spaced evenly around the perimeter by a band with spacers to keep the marbles in place.

The HD-73 had a full course of ball bearings top and bottom. I salvaged the balls out of the HD-73 and installed them in to one of the AR-22 rotators. The AR-22 with the extra balls will go on my auxilliary mast which will serve to hold a two meter beam and a multiband High frequency HF Moxon.

The remaining AR-22 will be used in the side saddle mount on the main tilt-over. It is going to be a 20 meter Moxon.

Both AR-22 rotators and their control boxes needed work. Both these rotators are four wire with really cheap screw connections in the base of the rotators. To prevent the screws coming loose with use, I decided to remove the screws entirely and solder the roator wire connections into the holes left by the screws.

As predictable the AC capacitors in both control boxes had aged ungracefully and need replacement. The replacement calls for a 120 to 150 mfd 50 volt AC capacitor. I did not have one of those. I did have a couple of 120mfds at 50 volt DC which when hooked back to beack. Minus to minus with the plus leads going to the old capacitor connections after the old capacitor is removed. That worked.

Caution, don’t install larger caps or caps of much smaller value. That will not work. I initially installed two 560mfd caps figuring that if 120mfd is good, 560 would be more good. Trouble was it was no good. I finally got the thing to work well by connecting a 120mfd and a 200mfd back to back.

Another thing that allows better preformance is clean and well lubringcated gear mechanisms inside the rotator. After cleaning and lubricating, both rotators functioned much better.

Computer Summary

A summary of work done on the computers during September.

SATA card and driver: It is finally official now. The Siliconix SATA card will not work under XP without causing problems with explorer. The solution is not to use the SATA drives under XP. Do not install the Siliconix driver. The card is okay in the PCI slot, just don;t load the driver.

We can use the SATA drives under Debian or we can run the SATA drives extenally using the external USB cable interface that handles SATA, IDE 3.5, and IDE 2.5. It is a cheap cable interface with its own switching supply for the hard drive.

The Hitachi SATA drive remains installed in the computer and is the auxilliary storage for Debian. Mainly video files, movies.

The best media viewer is VLC. It works under XP and there is also a version for Debian.

We do have instructions on how to use dd to make an XP clone drive. We also have a drive duplicating utility for XP, Acronis. Acronis is easier to use but will only run under XP. That seems appropriate since it is the XP drive we wish to clone.

In the past we have swapped out drives for the cloning process. That is we install a second drive as a slave and run Acronis from the first master drive to clone it to the salve, then remove the slave, check it to make sure it works and is bootable, then put it away in a safe place.

Now we have a second drive installed as the second IDE controllers slave drive. We clone to it and leave it in the machine. We could boot off it using Grub. Which we do to make sure it is a good clone. But the main way we will be using it is as a source to a good XP system which can be used as a source to clone to the first primary drive when that drive should end up being trashed for whatever reason. The Acronis software will take any drive as source and clone to any drive as target.

The mpeg editing software we need is avidemux. Avidemux is available for XP, Debian, and OS-X. I have tried it on OS-X and it did not work. I tried it on XP. It worked, sort of. At least it seemed to work but I could not figure out how to use it.

The version for Debian has a broken package so it cannot be installed easily, but the bigger problem is figuring out how to use it. Looks like we are going to have to stay with XP and VideReDo for now.

While we are on the subject of non-working software, note that GnomeBaker cd/dvd writer created two dvds that did not read after they were created. Don’t use GnomeBaker. Remove it from the Debian system and check out all the other software that was loaded. Junk those programs that are redundant or do not work right.

The onboard (motherboard) USB ports do not work in high speed. Although Gigabyte provides high speed drivers, they do not work. So we added a secondary high speed USB PCI board and it does work. It has three ports. The internal port supports a four port hub that runs USB 2.0. The other two USB 2.0 ports come out the back. One goes to the USB-TV device. The other goes to the Venus T4U external drive box.

External USB stuff now works as it should with the new card. USB support for the internal ports has been deactivated in the bios.

Here, then, is the lineup for drives:

Internal to the Gigabyte computer:
First Master Drive hda1 (hd 0,0) XP 10gig IDE
First Slave Drive hdb1 (hd 1,0) Debian 90gig of a 300gig IDE
hdb2 (hd 1,1) Debian swap
hdb3 (hd 1,2) 90 gig NTFS windowsaux
hdb4 (hd 1,3) 90 gig free space
Second Master Drive hdc1 (hd 2,0) CD/DVD
Second Slave Drive hdd1 (hd 3,0) XP clone 10 gig IDE
First SATA Drive hsda1 ( ) Video storage 230 gig SATA

Externally we have the following:

WD passport drive USB 120gig mainly used as auxilliary on the iBook.

JACK drive USB (used to be firewire too but now does not work that way) 30gig uses an internal fan. noisey.

VENUS T4U drive enlosure USB. Room for four drives. Presenty has two 80gig drives intalled. One is the old iBOOk3. The other is the old FIREWIRE. Both drives have data that probably should be removed.

ThermalTake USB single 40 gig.

VOX 300gig USB, Firewire, and NSA. Has the storageS backup and the storageN backup.

External cable USB interface. This cable will interface to SATA, IDE 3.5 and IDE 2.5 drives. Has its own switching supply for powering the drives. Has a SATA power adapter to four pin molex.

Have gone back to the tray system of removable hard drives. Repaired the trays and housings. Have trays installed as Primary First Drives in Ham (supports the magic jack in the radio room), in Tower (an old 233mhz/98meg ram tower machine), and in Media (the XP/Debian Gigabyte 7XAP).

Also have a Dell machine and an iBook in the bedroom. Also have two Dells in the front room one of which is Mary’s work machine. The other is Michaels old P4 which needs work.

All machines can use any of the USB external drives. The Gigabyte and the iBook can also use firewire but that is not an advantage since firewire is the old 400 and USB 2.0 runs at 480..

Note that the only external drive capability that supports SATA is the cheap cable interface. Only the Dell in the bedroom supports SATA internally. Well, so does the Gigabyte in the front room but then only for Debian, not for XP.

At last count that brings us up to six active computers. We have desktop cases for six more and hardware to support most of them but they are all very old machines of the pentium I, II, and III variety. Hardly worth the effort to implement or restore.

Besides, we have only four additional monitors to support these other computers.

Debian boot disk problem

I knew it would happen if I screwed around with it long enough I would break it.

Messed up the boot disk. I have Debian 5.0 installed on the second hard drive in a 90 gig partition. Still have over 200gig left on that second drive that has no other paritions or software on it.

The first drive has XP.

I have been booting Debian off floppy because it is far more likely that I will have to re-install XP than have to mess with Debian. Since an XP re-install takes out the MBR, it makes no sense to put the Grub loader in the MBR where an XP re-installl can overwrite it. So, we depend on the boot disk to get to Debian.

Very simple, really. Boot order is floppy, cd, harddisk. If the floppy is inserted, Debian boots. Actually, Grub boots and the default is Debian. XP can be selected from the Grub loader too.

If we know in advance that XP is desired, all we need to do is pop the floppy out of the drive and reboot. That takes the system to the MBR of the first drive and XP boots normally like it would without all this nonsense.

This may not be the best way to do this but it works and I have gotten used to it.

While trying to make sure that I had a good spare Grub boot floppy, I ended up destroying the only copy I had.

There is all kinds of help on the web and specifically on Debian help sections explaining how to make a grub floppy, how to duplicate a grub floppy, how to use dd to do everything, how to use non-Debian CDs as rescue disks, everything leading to complicated proceedures and tricks when all that is needed is the original Debian 5.0 install CD.

Load the CD and boot from it. On the opening screen will be an option to choose ‘advanced’. Choose it and proceed as though installing Debian all over again. A very small and basic Debian system will be loaded to memory. When it gets to the partitioning option it will ask which partition contains the system you want to recover. Select that partition, then select re-install Grub.

When the Grub install screen comes up you can select where to install the Grub boot loader. I chose (fd0). Once that was done, I was taken back to the restore screen, selected install Grub again, and installed it to a spare floppy.

The entire process took all of two minutes. Mission accomplished and I am still wondering why none of the help on the web or Debian help sites recommended doing it this way. Perhaps they assumed you had already tried it the easy way without sucess. Perhaps they need help too.

GRUB Geom Error

Seems that the more I use computers the more problems I find. The Grub error in the title comes up if you have changed (added or deleated) partitions to the system. Removed or added drives before the Linux drive or partition. Doing so will no longer allow Grub to find the linux boot partition. Grub takes its drive information from the BIOS. If a drive does not pqwer up it will not appear in the BIOS so Grun does not know about it.

In my case I had unplugged all but the XP drive to re-install XP. Then I forgot to hook up the rest of the drives after installation.

The second time I got the geom error, the second had disk did not power up. Weak power supply? Maybe. I tensioned the power connector molex sockets by squeezing them together using a screwdriver. Then sprayed some contact cleaner on the connector pins and sockets and put everything back together. So far that has solved the problem.

After that was corrected I found I could not log on to Debian. Turns out my keyboard was not sending ‘s’ or ‘c’. Keys stuck. Changing out the keyboard corrected the problem.

Multiple Systems re-Visited

After I nuked my latest multiple boot system, I decided to put all the Microsoft stuff on its own disk. A disk for XP, and seperate disks for the other Microsoft stuff I had accumulated.

That worked fine for a while until I had to start over on the XP drive which is the first drive, first partition. I did not know how to make a Grub boot floppy. I do now but then it took longer to learn how to do that than just reinstall everything again. That reinstall works now but later, when I have lots of time and effort invested in each system I am not going to be wanting to reinstall it all over again.

So now I have a boot floppy and a spare. XP can go to hell and take the MBR with it and I still can boot Debian.


I started using the boot disk to boot everything. Insert the disk, wait for the Grub screen to come up, select the operating system you want.

Then I discovered if I just wanted to boot XP, I could do so merely by disengaging the boot floppy and letting the system default to boot of the MBR on the XP drive.

Then I became aware that having XP as an option on the Grub boot disk was just a PIA when I wanted to boot Debian. So I changed the default in Grubs menu.lst file back to 0. Now it boots Debian automatically since Debian is the first active entry in the menu.lst file.

To summarize: Pop the disk out of the drive and do a cold boot to boot XP.
Push the disk into the drive and do a cold boot to boot Debian.

The BIOS is set to a boot order of Disk, CD, HardDrive.

Debian 5.0 Quirks

I just started using Debian for real now and am finding that some things do not work as expected. No, they work, just not as I expected they would and there is nothing definitive in the docs explaining these ‘quirks’. It could very well be that these things have always been this way and that I am just now discovering them for myself. I guess 30 years of computer savy may not count when trying to use Linux.

You can’t log on as root (they call it administrator at times) from the console. I guess that is to differentiate from being able to log on as root remotely. I say I guess because that does not make sense to me. The remote logon is far more dangerous. Then I may be making a wrong assumption. To correct this problem you have to reconfigure the log-in feature to allow the ‘administrator’ to log-in from the console. I am sure there are situations where this degree of security is needed but it just gets in the way of this single user in a secure office.

You can’t format a mounted floppy. It should be obvious why this is. Obviously to prevent formatting a floppy by mistake. DOS and Windows does not require mounting and unmounting of storage meda. It allows you to screw up everything at once if you don’t know what you are doing. Debian is a little more secure in that it anticipates your mistakes. Of course you can always unmount the floppy and then format it by mistake too. In that case you should probably no be allowed near a computer.

More quirks to come as they are discovered.

Here is one for you. Debian does not do NTFS. No reason why it should but it would make life a lot easier for me. I have over 600gig of media movies stored on NTFS. I would eventually like to have Debian be my sole operating system but first I have to learn how to make it do everything I have gotten used to doing with XP. Not being able to mount and read NTFS is not a very promising way to start. Guess I am going to have to see if there is anything RELIABLE that will allow Debian to talk to NTFS. It will talk to FAT16, Not sure about FAT32. I would hate to have to convert all my stuff to some format that windows cant read or write.

We have a solution!!

(The best solution would have been to dump XP as well as NTFS, but we are not yet ready to cut ties.)

apt-get install libfuse2
apt-get install ntfs-3g
apt-get install disk-manager

Now log on as root, go to the first drop down to the right, second entry on the dropped down menu is disk-manager, select it and activate (mount) the new partitions you find. Under ‘file’ be sure and save before quiting disk-manager. Might want to make sure the permissions are set the way you want. Re-boot and log-on as a user other than root. Double click on the new drive icon and load some movie files if you have them.

My Lenny installation worked flawlessly. No fooling with codecs, command line aggrevations, custom compiling, or asking permission from the Microsoft robot to use the software. No bull shit, just results. Almost like using an Apple.

Got everything covered except for mpg editing software. Once that is found and I learn to use it, I can give XP the boot.


I now have 1.1 tbytes of hard disk storage. Some of the disks are external. One external drive enclosure supprts NSA, USB, and FIREWIRE interfaces. All external drives support USB interfaces. External drives have both FAT32 and NTFS partions. All external drives are IDE. Three internal drives are IDE with one using FAT16, one using EXT3, and the other using NTFS. Two of the internal drives are SATA. All the SATA drives are NTFS.

The setup does not have to be this way. This is just the way it ended up. I use the external drives to transfer files (large video files) between various computers and devices one of which is an iBook. I have had bad experiences resulting in data loss trying to run NTFS on the iBook. So, I no longer do that. The iBook gets to talk to FAT32 now. That gets to be problematic when the file size gets to be more than 4gig but that seldon happens.

Bear with me, I do have a point to make.

I run Debian and XP on the machine that has the 1.1 terabytes of storage. This presents me with several problems. XP does not read the SATA drives because the motherboard does not support SATA. I bought an add-on card to support the SATA drives but XP will malfunction when the SATA cards drivers are loaded. Debian has no problem accessing the SATA drives now that I have installed the software that allows Debina to read and write NTFS.

This large machine does support Firewire and USB. Unfortunately the USB is version 1.x something and not really suitable for data transfer among hard drives. ( or anything else for that matter). The motherboard does have claims of a 2.0 capability but no drivers for it. It is a Gigabyte (giglebyte?) board. It is an old board and recommends the user apply SP1 to XP to get the drivers for USB 2.0. I just hope that the external USB board I just bought has drivers that work with XP. If not, I am pretty confident they will work with Debian. Then I can disable the defective USB features on the motherboard and use the external board and a four port USB 2.0 hub to solve my USB problems.

Getting back to the drives, I find that I can access the FAT16 drives just fine when running XP. When running Debian without root privledges, I can read the FAT16 drives but I cannot write to them. Have to be root to write to them. I tired to change the permissions several times and was unable to make that work. Finally I realized that FAT16 does not know anything about permissions because it was designed by morons.

If you have kept up with this to this point, you will notice that all of these problems are being casued by XP. Right now I still need to use XP because I use some software that was designed to run under XP and have not yet figured out how to make it run on Debian using wine. As soon as that happens XP is going to be a faint and unpleasent memory.

If you are new to computers, stay away from any Microsoft software. Start with something like Debian. If that does not do what you need done, try a MAC. Whatever you do stay away from PCs running Microsoft stuff.

When you hear people say, ‘but they know how to use windows’, remember that they really mean that the user can find and click on a familiar icon to access the desired program. They really do not know anything about windows and don’t need to. So, configure the desktop to look familiar, set it up with the familiar icon, have it bring up a software application that does the same thing, and BINGO you find you cant tell the difference.

Who needs Windows? Microsoft needs windows!


Seems that the problem of accessing SATA drives because of not being able to load the SATA add-on board driver has been sidestepped. I had a new problem with XP that required another re-installation. This time I did a clean install from a version that indicated it included SP2. After the installation the SATA driver loaded without incident and we now have access to ALL drives under XP. The only difficulty now is that we need to be logged in as root in order to write to the FAT16 partitions. All the more reason to work to get rid of windows.

Still not sure what happened to make the SATA thing work with XP. I do know that it quit working after one of those stupid Microsoft ‘updates’. No more updates here. No more am I going to serve as a Microsoft beta test site for free. Access to the network will only take place under Debian in the future.

Now I have to figgure out how to turn of those clownish ballons that keep poping up.

Got those clownish balloons turned off. Still have the explorer hang problem. The only difference is that this time it did not warn me I was getting screwed. No problem. I will get to screw it back before long.

Booting Multiple Operating Systems

The main reason for this is to allow comparing various operating systems as they run on a particular computer. While you might be able to get some information from running different systems on different computers, you get a much better idea of their capability when they are run on the same hardware for a more direct comparison.

Why compare? Why not? How else are you going to discover how much better a different system is unless you try it? You can take the words of others but you really need to see and know what the newer stuff will do on your preferred hardware. Not only will it disclose hardware which might be uncompatible but it will also evaluate the features of the software itself. (Actually, I do not believe that there is anything like incompatible hardware, just bad software.)

Another reason for multiple booting is that you may have software that requires a particular operating system to work and you don’t want to dedicate a complete hardware/software system to that task.

Finally, it is very convenient not to have to search for that old DOS boot disk that may now have bad sectors. Or swap out the windows hard drive for the Linux hard drive. Once again we can subsidize our laziness by using some clever solutions.

Some problems that are avoidable and preventable have to do with the use of most Microsoft operating systems. When Microsoft invented their own special brand of memory storage they ignored several very important possibilities. The possibility that there would ever be desk top computers running word lengths of more than 16 bits and that there could be a time when a desktop computer might have more than one physical hard drive.

That last little bit of ignorance is why all of the Microsoft systems expect to be installed on the first partition of the first hard drive and that that particular part of the first hard drive is the only one made bootable. But wait, there is more good news, Microsoft will not allow you to have more than one primary partition on the hard drive. At least not more than one primary partition that the Microsoft systems can identify.

I have been using Grub as a boot loader. Not that I particular prefer it for usefulness or capability, but mainly because it works for what I want to do and I know how to use it.

Grub will do a virtual swap between drives. So, if we have a Microsoft system on the third hard drive, Grub can fool the system into believing that the drive is actually the first hard drive. Grub can also hide and unhide partitions. So if you have a Linux system on the first hard drives’ first partition and a Microsoft system on the second partition, you can hide the first partition and still boot the Microsoft system on the second partition. Although that can be done, it is not recommended.

In fact, it is not recommended to have anything but a Microsoft system in the first partition of any hard drive. Sharing a MS drive with a Linux or other system is a very dangerous thing to do.

For instance, I had XP followed by Debian, followed by PC-BSD all on the same 300 gig hard drive, the first hard drive in the system. XP developed a problem after numerous so called ‘updates’. It soon became apparent that chasing down the problem might take several decades so I decided to just avoid it by re-installing XP. To make sure I did not pick up any nasties from the exisitng installation I nuked the partition. When I tried to make a new partiton in that space I was informed that the drive already had a primary partition.

I ended up deleting all of the partitions on the drive and starting over. This time I made sure that XP had its own hard drive just like I had arranged for DOS6.2 earlier. This makes it less likely that I will have to trash my unix-like systems when XP decides to quit working. It also allows me to clone the XP drive once it is working and hold that clone for backup if there should ever be a problem. Note, this is not a data backup. I do those seperately and hold the data on different hard drives. No, this backup is for the operating system itself. A complete installation of XP along with all the application software takes the better part of a full day. It is much easier to just pull out the cloned drive and re-clone it onto the offending drive for a future problem.

There maybe better ways of doing this. Doing backups and using multiple disks and multiple operating systems. At one time I had a tray system where I could change out hard drives merely by pulling a try out of a socket and inserting a new tray with a different hard drive. This worked well until the connectors began to fail. (This was over a period of about 15 years.)

I still use the remaining good connectors on a tray system on an old slow Pentium II but I rarely use that computer anyway. Having too much fun with my faster multiple boot system.

Hardware or Software

When troubles start most engineers will blame the software, most programmers will blame the hardware. Which is right?

Neither is right. They just are both lazy so they blame something out of their realm of responsibility. They act like politicians. Who?, me?, I wasn’t even there when the s–t hit the fan.

You have to trust your own conclusions based on the facts. The real facts. Facts that you can see and evaluate.

When software that runs on other equipment without incident suddenly goes bonkers in your machine, it is probably not the software. Even if it is your machine alone that goes bonkers. As long as it was working correctly at some time with the software it is running now, it is probably not the software.

That is how I was able to find and identify a bad hard drive and some bad system memory (RAM). The hard drive was not dead but developed some bad sectors. Being more than then years old it got trashed. Same with the memory. The memory was not all dead but had enough stuck bits to not be able to read what was written. Symptoms similar to buggy software but it was definately the memory because when it was replace the problem dissappeared. No not in as in a magic act as in, ‘Look! the elephant dissappeared. It just friggin dissappeared.

No, the problem went away and stayed gone for the better part of a week with the machine running around the clock.

So the next time the engineer tells you it is software, or the programmer tells you it is hardware, take a look yourself. Especially if it is your machine or your investment.