The Amateur Amateur: And Then the Battery Died
By Gary Ross Hoffman, KB0H
But which cable is the right one?
I have too many radios. It must
be a curse of the hobby. But as I specialize in emergency
communications, I try to keep all of them programmed with the
frequencies that I'll need and ready to use.
emcomm group to which I belong is St.
Louis Metro ARES.
We have agreements with some local repeater owners, but who is to say
that those machines will still be operating when disaster strikes?
Or, that we won't need wider coverage? To that end, we created a list
of the local area repeaters, added the Missouri ARES Interoperability
Plan frequencies, and topped it off with our own five simplex
Yeah. It's a big list.
Nevertheless, we recommend that our ARES members plug those
frequencies into their dual-band transceivers
Admittedly, that takes some
doing. If it can be avoided, you shouldn't attempt to enter a few
hundred frequencies manually. Fortunately, most transceivers these
days can be connected to and programmed from a computer. And we,
being the nice guys we are, make a comma-separated-variable list of
the frequencies available on our website. Hypothetically, at least,
one can import this list into whatever radio programming software you
are using. You may have to play around some with the imported data,
but by and large it works.
I happen to prefer using RT
Systems software and cables to program my radios. It can be done
cheaper, but I find the RTS stuff saves me a lot of aggravation.
I programmed every radio I might
use during a disaster. Or, so I thought. It turned out that I'd
missed one. There was a Yaesu FT-8800 in my deceased wife's Toyota
Corolla. As I rarely drive the car, the fact that it had a radio in
it slipped my mind.
Even with RT Systems software as
the common denominator, each of my transceivers had its own quirks
when it came to programming it. It had been years since I'd done so
with the FT-8800, but I remembered that it had been a difficult
endeavor. In particular, there was something about the data cable
that had driven me crazy. I keep notes on virtually everything
radio-related that I do, but I could find nothing about programming
the FT-8800 in any of them.
I did, however, notice a cable
with a 8 pin DIN on one end and a DB-9 plug on the other lying next
to one of my go-bags. I strongly suspected that was the cable I
needed. There didn't seem to be anything else around that looked even
As the FT-8800 was mounted in the
trunk of the Corolla, I used my laptop computer to do the
programming. I already had an FT-8900 file with all of the correct
frequencies in it, and it took only three tries to convert it to
FT-8800 format. (Nothing ever works for me on the first try.) But,
before I dragged the laptop up from my basement shack, I wanted to
make sure that I had the right cable.
It was cold in the garage, and
when I opened the garage door, I found that it was even colder
outside. And windy. I opened the trunk and peered inside.
At least I had mounted the body
of the FT-8800 so that the back of it was visible. And yes, it looked
like the data jack was for a DIN, though it was unclear how many pins
it took. I plugged in the mystery cable.
No, I tried
to plug in the mystery cable. It didn't fit. It looked
like it should fit, but short of an assist from a hammer, it
wouldn't. How could this be the wrong cable?
Back down to the basement.
I looked high and low, and it was
an embarrassingly long time before I remembered that one of the file
cabinets down there had a folder containing everything related to
radio programming in it. Including the software CD-ROMs.
And the adapter cables.
the folder, the FT-8900 cable, clearly labeled, was in there. So was
another one, labeled “FT-8900, older connector”. Hmmmm,
nothing for a FT-8800,
but “older connector” caught my attention. I took it up
to the garage.
FT-8800 control head. Press the following buttons...
Elated, I brought my laptop up,
set it in the trunk, and started it.
Booting Windows on any machine
seems to take a long time, but my ancient laptop took even longer.
Sitting in the cold trunk, and running on its internal battery
instead of comfy household power, it took an eternity.
the meantime I stood there freezing. One of my neighbors drove by,
stopped, rolled down his window, laughed, and asked if I was putting
a new sound system in my car. He knows I'm a ham, has seen me on my
roof many times, and knows that I have endless problems with my
Amateur Radio projects. He was just glad it wasn't him
standing there in the cold waiting for the laptop to come to life.
The laptop eventually stopped
clicking and clacking and gave me access. I brought up the RTS
software, loaded the FT-8800 file, and followed the program's
instructions, both on the computer and the transceiver.
Let me pause and note that this
was a three-location project: The basement, the trunk, and the car's
interior, where the transceiver's control head was. I had to make
many trips between the three.
The software flashed up the
message: “Make sure data cable is securely connected”.
Well, it was. Most definitely.
And no, I didn't use a hammer, it actually fit.
I tried again.
I wiggled the cable. Tried a
different USB port. Unplugged and replugged everything.
the cable was
just for a FT-8900.
I went inside and logged into a different computer (mainly so I could
sit down and warm up), and checked the RTS website to see if they
indicated the model number of the FT-8800 programming cable. They
did, and it was not
the one I had plugged in. So “FT-8900 older connector”
meant I had the right connector, but the cable was still for the
Where was the correct cable?
down to the basement. Digging through the file cabinet again, there
was nothing labeled FT-8800. But there was an unlabeled
RTS cable, model USB 29B.
is what the RTS website said was the correct
I took it upstairs. I ran the
program again and tried to connect.
Same error message.
I was ready to scream at this point. I had the right
cable, I was sure of it!
Main body of the FT-8800, with DIN data/programming port
But, looking down, I realized
that, although I had brought the right cable upstairs with me, I'd
forgotten to plug it in.
The frustration and cold were
getting to me. I would have stopped right then and taken a long
break. I knew, however, that I would continue to obsess about the
whole project, so I continued.
I disconnected the wrong cable
and connected the right one.
I ran the program again and...
...got a different error message.
It said that the file was not right for that radio.
I took the laptop back
downstairs, reloaded the original FT-8900 file, and ran the
conversion again. One bank came up correctly, but the other was
wrong. Almost immediately I realized that I'd called up the wrong
file when working on the second bank. I really was getting
slap-happy. I tried again, more carefully this time, and both banks
I went back upstairs. Started the
computer again. Ran the program again.
Same error message about the file
being wrong for that radio.
I took deep breaths. Closed my
eyes. Waited for heart rate to slow down. Said Ommmmmm twenty times.
I disconnected and reconnected
everything. I shutdown and restarted the computer. And I think this
is what did the trick, I cycled power on the transceiver itself.
time, it worked. The program successfully uploaded the new
frequencies into the transceiver's memory.
Shivering and coughing, I packed
everything away. Physically, I was spent, but mentally I was elated.
I decided to go out for lunch.
And that's when I found out that
the car's battery had died.
Some days you just can't win.
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