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Probe V2

by Ed Lentz

RCMA Scanner Journal - Issue #243

"Probe" by DataFile, Inc. was recently upgraded and some new features have been added. Probe, written and optimized to utilize the features of the Optoelectronics Optoscan 456 and Optoscan 535 boards for the Radio Shack PRO-2005, PRO-2006, PRO-2035 and PRO-2042 scanners.

Those of you who are new to the hobby of scanning may not be familiar with what you can do with a scanner and a computer control program. All the bells and whistles the scanner manufacture included in your scanner are replaced with chimes and musical notes. It's that much different. Except for the squelch and volume control, you never have to touch your scanner again.

Probe will run on a very basic computer including the 8088 models that most people are throwing away. I'm using everything from Windows 95 and a 486 to a HP 100LX Palmtop for mobile scanning. The Palmtop is slow in everything it does and I still scan faster than the factory scan rate of the PRO-2006. With the 386 and 486 computers speeds exceed 60 channels per second on the 2005 and 2006 and I understand they exceed 100 with the PRO-2035 and PRO-2042.

Probe will not recognize anything that you have programmed in your scanner memory since the OptoScan interface doesn't utilize the memory of the scanner. Frequencies to be scanned or searched with Probe are stored on disk that offers several advantages to storing frequencies on disk. The main advantage is, you are not limited to how many frequencies you can scan at one time. Also you can quickly change frequencies being scanned. I have a file of ALL licenses allocated by the FCC within a 40 mile radius of my house, something like 2000 entries, in one file. I can scan the whole thing or by Service Codes. In other words, I can scan just the Police, Fire, Business, Emergency Services, or any combination of Service Codes.

Probe has a limit of 99 banks and up to 1000 freqs per bank. That's a total of 99,000 frequencies on hand if you want to spend the time to set them up. If you set up one frequency group for a certain instance there is no reason to delete unless you need the disk space. Never know, you might need it again someday.

Ok, we have our scanner with the Opto board installed, we have Probe installed on our computer and the cable connected, and we have the FCC database for our County. Now what? It's time to let Probe do its stuff.

Probe will allow you to set many different variables within the program and I know that I will not be able to tell you about all of them. What I consider more important is the ability to scan using CTCSS or DCS. CTCSS and DCS are two forms of encoding that will allow a radio to receive other radios coded with the same encoding and mute the sound of all others. In an area where there are several users on a single frequency scanning with tones will allow you to hear only the users you want to monitor. If you don't know what tone Probe will decode both CTCSS and DCS. You will have to figure out which one belongs to the agency by listening which can happen the first time they talk on the radio.

If you have a list of frequencies similar to the FCC database where there are several different users in the list are on the same frequency Probe will allow you to use it's "dupecheck" function. Let's say you are scanning away and you have "dupecheck" on. You get a hit on a certain frequency and there are 13 users in your list on that frequency. Probe will show you a list of all 13 frequencies and you can select which one is the user so the proper tone can be applied to the user. The next time the proper listing will display on the screen by using the tones as an indicator.

A new feature from DataFile for this version of Probe is "SmartScantm". Key frequencies are assigned as triggers. When activity is detected on one of these key frequencies, Probe activates an assigned bank of frequencies, called a "SmartBank," for a specified amount of dwell time. A SmartBank can be any bank of a few frequencies or as many as 1000. For each key frequency, you can choose whether the SmartBank is the only bank scanned (exclusive mode), or is added to current banks scanned (non-exclusive mode). The length of dwell time spent in either mode can be tailored to your own situation. If activity is detected within the SmartBank of Frequencies during the dwell time, the dwell timer is reset so you can continue to monitor the action.

For example, you can designate the air emergency frequency 121.5000 as a key frequency. When it becomes active, you can have your scanner scan just those frequencies related to the air emergency frequency, like the local tower, ground control, rescue squad and airport security, or you can include them with your regular scanned frequencies in the non-exclusive mode. You set the time that you want to scan these special frequencies or you can end the special scan by hitting one key, normal scanning is automatically resumed waiting for the next occurrence. And this is just one of many uses for SmartScan.

That is the way I have SmartBank set up for my area. The Industrial Mutual Aid Association has one dispatch frequency that they use to call out to all area Refineries. When that frequency becomes active it's time to stop all scanning activity and go to a special set of frequencies including all the area Fire Departments. I set up to scan for several hours and then cancel SmartBank when this incident is over manually.

Remember when we reviewed the PerCon CD-ROM disk of the "Master Frequency Database" regional files and "Spectrum CD"? What I do is use these CD-ROM's as my frequency list and use the program with the CD-ROM's to create a file that I want, generally a several mile radius. If I'm traveling from one location to another and will pass through several counties then I search for all licenses within a county. These files can be read directly into Probe by an import command in Probe.

The one problem that I continually run into isn't a bug with Probe, just something that wasn't programmed in the way I use it. I make a list of Counties that I will be traveling through and extract all the frequencies in each County from the Spectrum CD-ROM. I then have to combine all the counties in another database program like Access, Paradox, or FoxPro to create one database file. Then I use Probe to import the files. For some reason each time I add a new database using the Probe insert routine, it tries to create a new bank for the each FCC allocation in the new database instead of using the same banks that it created with the first database. Since there is the 99 bank limit this quickly causes a bank overload.

I've used Version 1.4 of Probe for the past year or so without any other problems and I have my doubts that any will be found in this new version either. Perry is very thorough in releasing software where customer support will not consume his time and discourage the user of Probe.

Reprinted with permission
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