Using a knock-off 232 to USB converter? Better check that chip!

WP_20140705_010FTDI recently submitted a couple of drivers to Microsoft for automatic update via Microsoft’s Windows update feature.  The drivers work well, IF you are using a USB to RS232 converter that uses FTDI’s chip. If, however, you are using a ‘knock-off’ or a clone chip, these drivers will render them useless. 

The drivers reprogram the PID to all zero’s and cause the devices using the cloned chip to appear as something other than an FTDI to the drivers.  This makes them useless, even if used with older drivers or Linux.

FTDI has long been battling these cloned chips and this is the latest salvo. Previously, they just would not work with Windows 8.x if you used an 8.x driver. The 7.x drivers worked great under Windows 8.x and still do.  Though, I think I have a converter using one of the cloned chips and Windows did, in fact, update that driver. Now, however, that particular device does not work with the old driver.

There is a recovery tool, available from FTDI, that fixes the issue, but if a newer driver is used again, you will have the same problem.

Microsoft reached out to FTDI and the drivers in question have been removed from Windows Update.


Thanks to reader Thomas Foster for bringing this to my attention.


Windows 9…make that 10…

Tech-Preview_Start-menuMicrosoft, today, introduced Windows 10, the successor to Windows 8.x, Windows Phone 8.x and Windows RT.  While today’s presentation was aimed solely at the Enterprise, there were nuggets for everyone else as well, especially those who did not like the current version (and probably did not even bother to try it) and its Start Page and tiles.

Indeed, todays presentation showed off changes for the desktop and how Windows will handle the variety of devices.  This means figuring out what it is running on and, in the case of tablet/laptop hybrids.  If it detects a touch screen, it will default to the Windows 8 style with the Start Page, touch centricity and tiles.  If it detects a mouse and keyboard, it defaults to the desktop and the keyboard/mouse centricity.  It is something called Continuum and looks rather nice.

The desktop receives a welcome upgrade in the inclusion of the Start Menu with Tiles.  The Charms bar, still in the Technical Preview showed at the presentation, is accessible in much the same way. The task manager has a new button on the task bar and the ability to create, manage and use multiple desktops is built in. The feature resembles similar features found in Linux and Mac OS X.Tech-Preview_Task-view-500x281

Even the Command window got updated: copy and paste now work IN the window, no need to use an inconvenient context menu.

Windows 8 Style apps can now run in windows right on the desktop, which, for some, increases their usefulness.  The Start Menu is both old and new and incorporates a pared down Start Page. Part of it is the old style menu, the other half is the pared down start page.  A nice compromise.

Another interesting thing Microsoft has done is enhance the Windows 7 Snap feature. Previously, you could drag a window to the right side and snap it in place and then drag another to the left and snap it. Now, from the new task list, you snap up to four windows, certainly something a power user or developer will welcome.Tech-Preview_Three-program-snap-and-suggestions-500x281

Terry Myerson and Joe Belfiore stuck around for questions after the presentation. Among the questions asked was what this does to Windows RT and Windows Phone. The answer was that Windows 10 would be available to the majority of devices running Windows. Previously, they had said it would, in fact, run on ARM based devices…which includes Windows RT tablets. Now, recently, it was revealed that the majority of Tablets are, in fact, RT. So, I cannot imagine that this segment will get ignored. Windows Phone will be replaced with Windows 10, something we already knew.

All in all, the new version looks promising and you can get your hands on a very early build, starting Wednesday, October 1, 2014.  Go to to download the ISO file.


Halloween Haunt: a Kings Dominion favorite is back

WP_20140926_18_41_42_ProI have not written about theme park related things for quite awhile.  I do so now as I have a personal connection and am excited to share it with you.

For a decade, I have taken my oldest son to the haunt events at Kings Dominion and, for a lot of that time, to a similar event in near by Busch Gardens Williamsburg.  For at least half of that decade, he has wanted to work as a ‘scare actor’ at Kings Dominion. Well, this year, he got his chance.  He is a Zombie in the Zombie High maze, which is already one of the favorite mazes at the park.  To my delight, he is really good at immersing himself in the part.  It is a long, tiring and dirty job, but, he loves it. WP_20140927_20_38_09_Pro

Enough boasting, lets talk about what they are doing.

This year, they five ‘scare zones’  and eight mazes.  The best mazes include Cornstalkers, Zombie High and Club Blood.  Cornstalkers is a maze made out of corn husks, bales of hey and other similar items. Most of the actors blend into the environment and are difficult to see until it is too late. They really get into character and are very enthusiastic.  Zombie High takes place in a high school setting where zombiism has broken out due to a lab experiment gone wrong. Student zombies are seen in various states and you never know where they are waiting.  The theming is excellent and the atmosphere is foreboding. Club Blood takes place in a vampire themed night club. Scantily clad ladies and beefcake vampire dudes fill the building. As with the other mazes, you never know where they are.  The exit is, perhaps, the most hair raising…if you catch it right.WP_20140927_20_28_06_Pro (2) 1

The first night we went, the park was deserted. The Virginia State Fair opened the same night and it is just down the road. I suspect that, a slew of local high school football games and other events took away from the crowd.  As such, we got way more scares than we did the next night we went.

The following night, a Saturday, the park was packed.  Long lines were everywhere. We only went through Zombie High, mainly for my son. Again, he and his co-scare actors, were on their game and we got some good scares and laughs.  The park was letting too many through at one time, which did detract from the experience.

We decided to go through the ‘scare zones’ that we did not hit up the night before. We also spent a lot of time in the ‘Clever Brothers’ zone, themed to a circus.  That was fantastic. I had as much fun watching the others getting scared as I did going through the mazes.WP_20140926_21_41_47_Pro

I anticipate this weekend’s visit to be even better as the actors know what to do and will be more comfortable.

If you are in the area, go out there and give it try.  And, hit up Zombie High, but don’t eat the meatloaf!


The Great Half-Byte Blog Robot Challenge

Ok, people, you have that awesome Arduino or Arduino clone.  What are you doing with it? Doing something other than making an LED blink or getting temperature readings from a DHT-11? Well, here’s something:  The Great Half-Byte Blog Robot Challenge.  During the months  of September and October, we challenge you to build a robot using the common ATMega328. It doesn’t have to be a genuine Arduino, but should include the same bootloader and be software compatible—that means being able to load up the code in the Arduino IDE, along with any necessary libraries, and download to another without any changes.

The robot itself should have at least two wheels and enough intelligence to sense when it has hit an object and then go the opposite direction. You can use any commonly available components, including ultrasonic sensors, infrared, etc.

The challenge will run from September 7 through October 7. Submit your entries to this blog by leaving a comment below. Your entry should contain: text description of your robot, how you built it, parts, and any code (which you can zip up and upload to your favorite Drop Box, OneDrive, GoogleDrive,etc. Leave a link to the file in the comments. Photos should be put a photo sharing site, like Flikr, and linked back here.

We will judge the entries by originality, appearance, simplicity and code.  The top five entries will be featured on the blog. 

Please do not start until September 7, 2014. 

Have fun!


Hacking the Half-Byte Console and Tiny Basic v2 (or, making Tiny Basic tell me the temperature)

WP_20140826_22_19_55_ProI had one main goal in mind when I designed the Half-Byte Console: to bring together parent and child in a learning experience. Now that the console is a reality and a few are out in the wild, I want it to do other things.  So, I thought ‘what can this do that isn’t expensive and would be easy to add to the Tiny Basic as well?’

Looking around my office, I see a DHT-11 temperature and humidity sensor. Ah ha! These are cheap, just a few dollars each.  They are also easy to access in code and, with only three pins, easy to connect.  So, this is the Half-Byte Console’s first hack: measuring indoor environment.

The DHT-11 has three pins: +5, data and Ground (-).  I chose to use D5 on the console as it is safe to use and won’t interfere with video or the keyboard.  Plus, it is easy to get to on the board. I loaded the example sketch and changed the pin reference to make sure it worked. It did. WP_20140826_22_20_22_Pro

Next, I added support for the sensor to Tiny Basic.  I am working on Version 2 and this support will be part of that release (which should be ready very soon.)

Support comes in the form of two functions:

  • x=Temp(1)
  • x=Humidity (1)

The parameter for Temp actually has meaning: if the parameter is a zero, the temperature is returned as Celsius. If it is a 1, it is returned as Fahrenheit. Any non-zero parameter defaults to Fahrenheit.WP_20140826_22_20_46_Pro

So, now the console can do something useful.  I’m anxious to get the release of Tiny Basic out and see what you all can do with this new functionality.  I am going to post more on the new features of Tiny Basic (hint…more graphics, LIST is fixed…)

In the mean time, if you have any suggestions for Tiny Basic, please let me know in the comments.