Saving the IBM AT desktop

It has been saved! I was asked to write a short story about this very old desktop. The story starts on 1st May 1990 – over twenty nine years ago.

I applied for a computer technician position at NW Kooperasie and easily got the job. Jobs were easy to get in those days. I was a senior technician doing PABX installations and maintenance for Philips telecoms and data systems. I worked from home covering the Northwest province and Bophuthatswana.

After three days I wanted to go back to my old job. This was a disappointment as all I did was drive to the 65 odd branches to do computer maintenance which required blowing out dust and oiling printer shafts. Occasionally I’d build a file server running Novell. Most servers were cheap AT computers and the workstations were cheap XT computers, like the “Bondwell” booting off 360k floppy drives. The servers had 20MB or 40MB hard drives depending on the size of the branch.

This original IBM AT ran at one of the larger branches. It had only 1MB of RAM and a fancy 40MB hard disk

After about three years I requested a transfer to the mainframe section as a systems programmer / database administrator. I got the job but was thrown in the deep end when the mainframe facilities manager passed away just weeks after my transfer. I spent 6 months on IBM MVS doing DBA work on Adabas then became part of the team migrating to IBM’s VSE operating system still running Natural / Adabas. I spent months in Johannesburg building the new mainframe.

Then came the era of Windows 95. and many experiments were done. The IT manager, a rather tough man by the name of Johan Smith would often say I could take my wife out to the Spur for a hamburger saying thank you for my interest and passion getting this new technology working. He even sometimes said I should take my mother in law along as well! You knew where you stood with Johan, he’d never hold a grudge but he’d sort out a problem right there and then. You could trust a man like this.

It was the age of the Pentiums and all the XT, AT, 386’s and 486’s were pulled from the field as the PC’s were upgraded to the new technology. I think this was at the turn of the century. Many were concerned about the date, especially on the mainframe. I stood by as the the clock ticked on old years eve of 1999 and saw no problems as we entered the new century ….

There were heaps of old computer equipment. As a radio ham I needed better PC’s for our radio BBS networks and this hardware became available at R12.00 per item. And so I bought a few cases, power supplies, mother boards, RAM, floppy drives, hard drives, keyboards and mono screens.

This particular IBM AT I kept on a shelf in my back room all these years. I worked for the company for over twenty five years eventually landing up as technology manager. With the influx of new management and new ideas the stress started affecting my health and I opted out only to return as a PHP contract programmer for three and a half years. My contract came to an end and now needed to scale down, survival mode really and all my keepsakes needed to go with plans of renting out parts of my property.

I mentioned to my friends that I was dumping all the things I dearly cherished all the years. Luckily my ham friend Johnathan ZS1ARB in Cape Town halted my dumping plans and so the AT was saved and now on it’s way to a new home, including the software I once loaded on it when I had run a little business, “AGE Leighton Electronics CC”.

The system still booted but I had to find the hard drive type by trial and error. It happened to by type 8!

These were the days!!!!
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RaDAR – April 2019 challenge

Kobus Boshoff ZS6BOS took part in the RaDAR Challenge for the first time in April 2019. His results were pretty good managing four deployment points moving as a mobile station but deploying out of vehicle.

Kobus ZS6BOS

Kobus used manual logging but sent in a logbook in Excel format which looked very professional as it should be.

According to his first page declaration he used his FT-857d and dipole antenna. He also used VHF and UHF simplex frequencies. modes SSB and FM.

Eddie ZS6BNE tried to combine his RaDAR challenge with a trip to Potchefstroom initially starting out as an on foot RaDAR operator but only managing two satellite QSO’s using a TH-D7A and SA AMSAT Satellite yagi but had to walk back anyway to be in time to drive through to Potchefstroom. The plan was to continue satellite comms from the university but the stop/goes along the way didn’t allow for the planned time frame and the opportunity was missed. Lesson to be learned, RaDAR challenges cannot be combined with other activities. Dedicated attention is a prerequisite!

In the meantime John ZS5J was trying to call RaDAR stations from Kenya using various antennas including magnetic loops. Conditions were not favorable for HF DX.

RaDAR – A weekend of fun with my X5105

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to really play ham radio. It was also the Easter weekend and the kids came to visit for a few days.

I put up my 40m end fed wire using a six meter fibreglass mast to keep it in the air in the form of an inverted vee. I also built a bungi shock into the “Third guy rope” to protect the antenna from damage in windy conditions.

The bungi shock absorber

My home brew end fed tuner works well. It has a LED tuning indicator but I used the SWR indicator on the Xiegu X5105 to fine tune for zero SWR.

The end fed tuner

The fun started while chasing SOTA on the Friday where Johnathan ZS1ARB and Markus ZS1MTB were activating ZS/WC-845. I initially could not hear them at all but fortunately left the rig on as I browsed around the area where I was deployed. I heard ZS1OB. He had a strong signal. Shortly thereafter I heard the two SOTA activators and we could make contact! That made my day for sure.

I felt the need to make a CW QSO or two on the Sunday afternoon so I took a stroll into the veld where my end fed was deployed. I had a QSO with Eric ZS5EL. Then a little later I found myself in the middle of a local sprint contest. It came as a pleasant surprise so I was able to make more QRP contacts than what I’d imagined! That was fun too!

My comfortable shack – Well more comfortable than a RaDAR deployment!
A mixture of SSB and CW contacts – All QRP
WSPR App

Pierre, ZS6A and I were having a discussion about WSPR on our Facebook group Zone 38 and I thought it a good idea to try this Android WSPR App again. I last did the same a long time ago with my FT-817ND but never with the X5105.

I set up a simple SDR WSPR receiving station at the house using the SDR-IQ reciever, SpectraVue and WSJT-X software linked through a virtual audio connection (Software). The antenna was a short piece of wire hanging over a picture frame.

Intitial tests didn’t confirm my WSPR transmissions were working but after going back a second time I saw success!

SpectraVue and WSJT-X running on Windows 10
5W WSPR’s being heard a long distance away – Possibly even long path too!
Stats from the WSPR website
A stroll on my trail – Happy after achieving a little success!

RaDAR – RBN Skimmer tests

Reverse Beacon Network Results

And so two evenings ago I had a little success – well after a battle.

The computer was built in 2009 – I could still do a Windows XP update! It was necessary 

Internet Explorer – How I hate that browser!!! I could get a version of Chrome that still works on this old operating system.

I battled to get the RBN’s “Aggregator” software to install – it just CRASHED. Then I remembered reading about Dot Net 4 and downloaded and installed that first. Aggregator could work after that 

Oh, I had to install drivers for a plug in wireless USB adapter to get a connection to the Internet.

Skimmer was very jerky before the Windows XP update but better after the 130 odd updates that were installed.

I monitored 40m and 20m throughout the night while I slept ….

I sent RBN spots for a few stations that were heard on CW in the forty meter band 

OH the RAM on this old PC is a little over 200MB 

I had to reseat it (Old engineering first line maintenance procedure) and replace the BIOS backup battery.

Last night saw it’s own challenges. My temporary long wire came loose in the wind so a few spots were possibly missed in the process. Then this morning I discovered Windows rebooted due to an update so the computer ran for hours – for nothing.

I don’t like Windows!!!

RaDAR – Preparing the trail

Soon it will be the first RaDAR Challenge for 2019. The have heard of and seen a few large snakes sailing around the area, some pretty dangerous too, like the BOOMSLANG!

So I decided it’s time to clear the RaDAR training ground a little to make it a little safer to walk around and at least have room to deploy an antenna quickly without the wire getting tangled in some thick bush.

I started on Friday afternoon …..

140cc four stroke engine

I started by making a new road …..

I’m pretty impressed with the power of this motor!

So I started cutting the path …. It didn’t take too long considering.

The wild fowls liked to scratch around here afterwards.

Where possible I want to clear the grass around the natural trees. Most trees are of the thorny kind, the worst being the “Haak en steek” but a beautiful tree nevertheless and the bees love them!

A prime example

I used a nearby overgrown gravel road to make up the last few meters of a full kilometer loop but needed some cutting too.

The gravel road

My grandson did some trail running on the route.

A sharp turn it seems
A brief piece of shade

Tomorrow I’ll need to take a half days leave to clear an area next to the fence my immediate neighbour thinks needs cutting. I can’t agree more. The previous owner of this area never, ever bothered ….

Just being naighbourly ….. the task that faces me.
The RaDAR Playground – Alias E-Trail

RaDAR News – SDR’s and the RBN

RF Space’s SDR-IQ in action using Spectravue software

It wasn’t a bad idea to start up a QRP CW beacon here in South Africa.

I might add that it is Region 1 policy, β€œIt is recommended that HF Beacons may be established on the 1,8, 3,5 and 7 MHz band in the regions of Africa south of the Equator. (REC/99/LH/C4.1 – Lillehammer 1999)” 

I had discussed the matter with the Region 1 HF Beacon Coordinator, Dennis Green ZS4BS. The SARL also suggests the following frequencies for beacons on 40 metres : 7 039.000; 7 039.200, 7 039.400, 7 039.600, 7 039.800

During a discussion with Raoul ZS1C and Roger M0ORD (Ex ZS6RJ) on our local SARL Forum, suggestions were made to rather set up a reverse beacon network as none were pesently running in South Africa or AFRICA for that matter! Roger ran one before moving to the UK a few years ago.

Roger had just what was needed, an unused RF Space SDR-IQ receiver. He donated the SDR for the cause and even paid the courier costs too! It arrived on my doorstep within a week. I will do my part to make ZS part of the RBN now too.

Trying to figure out the software was initially running around in circles starting on Windows 10. I wasn’t sure what was the norm. I tried Spectravue and the lED’s on the SDR showed “something”. I couldn’t resolve any stations though with a simple wire antenna plugged in. My XYL is using my laptop since I still need to replace the internal battery of her ASUS 555 so could not have too much access to my computer!

I had an old XP tower machine in the back room and fired it up. There were a few hiccups, almost like an engine that had not been started in years. This was similar but it seemed to settle down after a while. Fortunately it has working USB ports so I copied what I found on the Net to it’s hard drive via a USB stick.

Somehow, when plugging in, the SDR’s lights would momentarily flash and then “die”. I imagined maybe the SDR was drawing more current than these old USB ports could deliver so I put a powered USB hub in line. The result was the same.

Then I tried on my grandson Eduan’s old windows 7 laptop and did the Spectravue installation according to the instructions and eventually got the LED’s to light up and it appears that this happens only when the PC and SDR start talking to each other – via a driver no doubt!

Back to the Windows XP machine. I followed the instruction for the driver installation and after the while the SDR LED’s lit! I now know what the “Norm” is. I plugged in the same antenna.

After a while I started to figure out how the Spectravue software works and started browsing the HF spectrum. I could find no amateur radio activity but found two reasonably strong AM stations around 3 MHz. One was the BBC world service and the other a local broadcasting station.

The weekend has arrived and time to play (After the normal chores have been done). The next goal is to find some ham activity and then starts the real software setup challenges to get the SDR working with CW Skimmer, the RBN “Aggregator” and get some spots gated to the RBN via the Internet.

For a permanent solution, I have an idea to “fix” my old HP 210 netbook which runs three lightweight versions of Linux and return it to a windows 7 environment seeing the RBN software support exists only on Windows. I have an old hard disk that came from one of my damaged laptops from many years ago that has a Windows 7 image on it. Looking forward to seeing the history that was once stored on it too!

E-Trail my RaDAR training ground


I’ve been working on building this trail for a few weeks now going out for an hour or so each Saturday with the bush cutter. I’ve already used up a blade and a half but the trail has now been cut.

I have a link dipole out there about hundred meters from home where I occasionally go out and make a QRP contact or two with my Xiegu X5105 or YouKits HB1A.

Today my grandson and I took on the challenge of doing five laps each at his own pace. He lapped me at 2.25km and finished his 5k in a good time, way ahead of his granddad πŸ™‚ My time according to the Forerunner 305 was 43:51 an average pace of 8:53 minutes per kilometer. Very slow – It’s a rough route and so it must be.

Soon I’ll try a little on foot RaDAR here. The bush is quite dense in places which makes quick deployments of antennas rather challenging but hey we don’t get to choose the environments in an emergency or RaDAR Ops.

Now it’s just a matter of a little upkeep of the trail environment. Soon I’ll be able to use a petrol lawnmower in place of the bush cutter!!! At every opportunity I move those rocks that can be moved to the side and out of the way.