The hams among you know that ARRL Field Day, held the last full weekend in June, is fast approaching. A few of my ham buddies and I usually try to pack up our QRP gear and head into the forest or to the top of a local peak for a weekend of sleeping on the ground and seeing how many contacts we can scare up with just a few watts of power and a wire thrown into a tree. This year I’m trying to get a head start on preparations. I’m planning to take my four-band Elecraft K1 with internal battery pack and run off lithium AA’s for the entire weekend. My antenna’s going to be an old stand-by, a half-size G5RV hung from the highest tree I can find. My K1 has the internal ATU and it’ll tune up the G5RV with no trouble, so I’ll be able to work 40, 20, and 15 meters. I even decided to dust off my old mouse paddle–a computer mouse modified so that the left and right mouse buttons act as the dit and dah paddles (you laugh, but it works great because it’s easily managed with one hand–no need to hold it with the other hand or anchor it to something).

I even printed out some log and dupe sheets and dug out my old clipboard. I noticed the clipboard still had a square of hook-and-loop material that I used to use to hold my old Handspring Visor PDA in place for logging. Ten years or so ago, I wrote a Palm contest logging application that I named GOLog, and I designed and constructed a companion device I called the Serial CW Sender that interfaced GOLog to my transceiver to handle contest keying. All in all, it was a pretty neat system. Its chief drawback was that data entry on the Visor (and other PDAs, for that matter) was pretty awkward–you either used Graffiti or the onscreen keyboard. While it’s true that you could buy nifty fold-up keyboards for these PDAs, it wasn’t possible to use a keyboard and the Serial CW Sender at the same time, since they both wanted to occupy the single serial port on the Visor. I did, however, pick up a Targus keyboard at the time so that I could make sure that GOLog would work with a keyboard (GOLog could be used with or without the Serial CW Sender).

I hadn’t used my Handspring Visor in years, and since I bought my new notebook computer six months ago, I didn’t even have the Palm Desktop synchronization software running on any of my computers. I wondered if I could even still use this stuff–after all, the hardware is more than ten years old. So, naturally, I gave it a shot.

Palm Desktop is still available for download from Palm’s website. It turns out that Palm Desktop won’t run properly on a 64-bit Windows 7 computer, so that eliminated using my new notebook. Instead, I installed on my MSI Wind netbook running 32-bit Windows 7. Palm Desktop runs like a champ on that platform.

My Handspring Visor is the original Visor Solo, and it came with HotSync cables for both serial and USB. Once I got Palm Desktop installed and running, I connected my Visor to the netbook using its USB cable and initiated a HotSync on the Visor. Much to my surprise, Windows 7 found a driver for it and installed it! I thought for sure I’d have to go hunting for a driver for the thing.

I wasn’t out of the woods yet, though. The HotSync process kept causing a fatal exception on the Visor. Apparently the Palm Desktop software was trying to sync with an application that didn’t exist on the Visor. I fixed this by turning off synchronization of all the apps. It would then HotSync, but nothing was being transferred. (Later I went back and enabled selected applications for synchronization–it’s safe to enable Date Book, Address Book, To Do List, Memo Pad, Install, and Backup. Enabling Package Installer caused the Palm to lock up, so leave that disabled.)

Next I re-enabled the application installation feature so that I could at least install the GOLog application, and that went without a hitch. GOLog was up and running on the Visor, but it’d been so long since I used the software that I had to consult the user’s guide (that *I* wrote) to remember exactly how to set up for a contest. So far, so good.

I had no intention of using the Serial CW Sender, but I thought I might try the Targus keyboard to see how that’d work for Field Day. Miraculously, I still had the CD containing the installer for the Visor keyboard driver. The installer wouldn’t actually run–it said it couldn’t locate the executable for Palm Desktop–but the driver file itself was located on the CD and was easily installed manually. Once I figured out that I had to reset the Visor before the keyboard would work, everything was up and running!

The last test was to see if GOLog would properly synchronize with Palm Desktop. When I wrote GOLog, I also wrote a conduit that transfers GOLog’s log files from the Visor to the PC as a text file. Thankfully, the conduit worked like a charm, and I was able to get a sample log off the Visor and onto the PC. All was set!

My first opportunity to try the system under actual contest conditions was the monthly Spartan Sprint, conducted by the Adventure Radio Society. While the Spartan Sprint doesn’t offer anywhere near the activity of Field Day, it did give me enough to shake down the setup and assess it for Field Day use. I managed about 10 contacts in an hour or so, with no surprises from the equipment. The keyboard made it a breeze to use the Visor for logging, and GOLog did a great job of handling logging and dupe-checking. Since I operate in search-and-pounce mode during Field Day, I wouldn’t really miss the Serial CW Sender’s ability to handle the contest keying.

One of the best thing about the Visor and other old monochrome LCD PDAs is that you can run them for an entire weekend on a couple of AAA batteries. This is a definite contrast to more modern color devices that drain batteries pretty quickly. Also, with the Visor, you can swap batteries in the field if needed. Almost all modern devices use rechargeable batteries that are built-in and can’t be changed. In this case, older technology is definitely better suited for my needs.

So I’m all set for Field Day, at least for my radio gear. No one will be able to accuse me of running the latest and greatest stuff. I’ve definitely turned the calendar back about ten years or so.

One thought on “Field Day: Doing Handsprings Into the Past

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