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Old 26-02-2018, 15:07   #1
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Debugging Airmail and Pactor

I'm about ready to either shoot myself, or shoot my Pactor modem. I'm hoping someone can intervene here with some ideas.

I'm running Windows 10 to an old Pactor IIex upgraded to Pactor III, plus Sailmail.

This has run reliably in the past, but for the last few days, I just can't connect. I'm in St. Augustine, FL, connecting to the SC station.

It fails in a number of ways:

1. Sometimes the SSB just can't seem to sync up with the server. The status says 'connected', but they just can't seem to pass data.

2. More often, the Airmail program just crashes in some way. The only way to get it working again is to reboot the computer. I mean it is crashed!

3. Just about as frequently, Airmail starts to connect, but then says it has lost communication with the Pactor. Again, the only way I can find to try again is to reboot the computer.

Bottom line, I just can't get it to connect anymore. Very frustrating. I almost ordered an Iridium Go this afternoon, but that seems dumb. There must be away to get this set up working again. Or even better, replace the ancient, crappy Airmail with something written in this century.

Any thoughts, much appreciated.

--- John
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Old 26-02-2018, 15:41   #2
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Re: Debugging Airmail and Pactor

1. if the pactor appears normal -- status lights etc are normal -- check the cables and the connectors, including the serial-USB converters.

2. if 1 fails to correct, or if pactor does not appear normal, there is/was an issue with the power supply internal to the pactor failing. It is either a diode, cap or resistor as memory serves, and relatively easy to fix. Just don't have the details handy, but I am sure someone does.
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Old 26-02-2018, 16:32   #3
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Re: Debugging Airmail and Pactor

Interesting that you mentioned a power supply issue. Now that you mention it, the Pactor blew a 2A fuse just before this problem started. I had to disassemble the instrument panel to find it buried in the wiring. I replaced it and thought that was that, but the Pactor hasn't worked properly since, thought it certainly *looks* like it is working.

I will have to consult the Google and see if I can discover what this power supply problem is. I do know my way around a soldering iron, if it is that simple.

The serial to usb converter cable is ancient, so it wouldn't hurt to replace that, either.

Thanks for the lead.

-- John
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Old 27-02-2018, 06:55   #4
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Re: Debugging Airmail and Pactor

Hmmm... new wrinkle: i can still receive weather faxes without problem. So recieve works, but still can’t connect on to sendmail. I’m fed up with their software always crashing, so going to try WinLink today.
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Old 27-02-2018, 08:25   #5
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Re: Debugging Airmail and Pactor

How clean is the wire connection to the back stay? It sounds like your pactor is being kicked offline from tx radiation being distributed in the boat.
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Old 27-02-2018, 09:00   #6
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Re: Debugging Airmail and Pactor

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How clean is the wire connection to the back stay? It sounds like your pactor is being kicked offline from tx radiation being distributed in the boat.
Yes, it does sound like RF is getting to your computer, probably on the serial/USB cable. You haven't mentioned what you're using for the computer-to-modem connection, I am assuming a serial/USB adaptor?

If you have changed adaptors, or computers, or moved the computer. or cables, you could be picking up enough RF when you transmit to crash the computer or adaptors. You don't need a dirty connection for this to be a problem, any change in configuration can do it. You can't avoid the transmitted RF (you *want* a strong transmit signal). In my setup initially there were USB-related problems until I installed clamp-on ferrites around my connecting cables. This problem is often frequency-dependent, so if you are using another frequency than previously that could make the difference.

I am concerned by the blown fuse though. Unless the fuse is running right at it's rated current, it shouldn't just spontaneously blow. Unless it blew because your power wires were momentarily crossed, something is wrong.
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Old 27-02-2018, 09:12   #7
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Re: Debugging Airmail and Pactor

Okay, a bit more information for this puzzle...

This morning I installed RMS Express for WinLink -- the Amateur Radio version of Sailmail. Using the exact same hardware set up, I was able to connect and exchange email on the very first try.

I do have ferrites on my USB adapter. I have a standard backstay type antenna.
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Old 27-02-2018, 09:22   #8
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Re: Debugging Airmail and Pactor

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Originally Posted by jalmberg View Post
Okay, a bit more information for this puzzle...

This morning I installed RMS Express for WinLink -- the Amateur Radio version of Sailmail. Using the exact same hardware set up, I was able to connect and exchange email on the very first try.

I do have ferrites on my USB adapter. I have a standard backstay type antenna.
I suppose it could be an AirMail problem, but it seems unlikely that a once-working program would start failing. Have you reinstalled it?

And remember that Winlink uses the ham frequencies and Sailmail uses the marine channels. It doesn't take much of a frequency difference to move a voltage or current node along a cable. I like RMS Express, but I've only used it lately in the WINMOR mode, on my ham radios.
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Old 27-02-2018, 09:24   #9
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Re: Debugging Airmail and Pactor

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Originally Posted by jalmberg View Post
Okay, a bit more information for this puzzle...

This morning I installed RMS Express for WinLink -- the Amateur Radio version of Sailmail. Using the exact same hardware set up, I was able to connect and exchange email on the very first try.

I do have ferrites on my USB adapter. I have a standard backstay type antenna.
Try to do a clean reinstall of sailmail.... Sounds like a software issue then...
(Also your disk may be going bad... so. the old location it used for install is now being 'wonky' very technical description... )

(so... chkdsk to check the disk for errors ) and clean reinstall of sailmail...
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Old 27-02-2018, 09:31   #10
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Re: Debugging Airmail and Pactor

Had a similiar problem with RF continuously crashing the laptop. Used a USB hub and somehow that cured it, well 95% of time.
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Old 27-02-2018, 09:43   #11
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Re: Debugging Airmail and Pactor

Seems like I spoke too soon...

I was playing around with WinLink again, and experienced the same problem I had with Airmail. Basically, computer can't talk to the Pactor. I happened to notice this time that the Pactor looked frozen. i.e., all the indicator LEDs on the front panel were frozen, even though it was still cycling the tranciever from transmit to receive, and I could hear the receiving station bleeping back.

An error message said the serial port connection was not responding.

This is the same problem I was having with Airmail, the only difference being that Airmail crashed when this happened and RMS Express just printed an error message.

So, it certainly does seem likely that there is some RF interference?
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Old 27-02-2018, 10:09   #12
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Re: Debugging Airmail and Pactor

Okay, in the spirit of KISS, I decided to try something simple, so I coiled up the serial cable to make it as short as possible. This definitely helped. I was able to connect to a WinLink station again without crashing something.
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Old 27-02-2018, 10:17   #13
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Re: Debugging Airmail and Pactor

More Ferrites! (and more cowbell!) Here's a presentation I gave that touched on the use of ferrites: http://www.sailvalis.com/presentatio...ons%202012.pdf (see page 14)

I'm using "FairRite 31" core material and it had worked well for me at HF frequencies, but I've seen recommendations for other formulations that may be even better.
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Old 27-02-2018, 10:37   #14
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Re: Debugging Airmail and Pactor

The problem is 99% sure RFI getting into the modem and the PC. The software will work fine without RF, and only seconds with RF in the PC, you may even find the mouse has a mind of its own as well.
Try running lowest power on the radio and see if it improves it.
Something has changed for the worse on the radio/tuner/antennae instalation to be generating the RFI. Chokes and toroids on ALL the cables to and from the radio/tuner and radio/modem and modem/pc will go a long way to help.
The reason the connection is so marginal is because the TX audio quality is so bad from RFI in the modem.
I recently listened to a Cruiser on a connection, and was actually very impressed that the modem managed to decipher anything, because the audio was so badly distorted from RFI
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Old 27-02-2018, 10:53   #15
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Re: Debugging Airmail and Pactor

I have had similar problems in the past, with RFI around the boat. One way to help yourself out of this situation is to get a cheap SSB receiver (always good to have anyway), set it to local, set the radio to the lowest power then tune both on the same (unused) frequency. Then you start moving wires, installing ferrites, the ground, etc. with the aim to get the cleanest possible signal on the shortwave receiver. It really helps you to figure out the impact of various sources of RFI.

In my case, it turned out to be the audio isolation transformers on a cheap sound card I bought off ebay. In your case, it looks like a pure RFI problem.
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