Friday, January 20, 2012

Getting the Mastech MS8218 DMM Viewer to operate under Windows

I've been using my new Mastech MS8218 DMM for a while now.  I've been quite happy with it.  Fantastic value for a $199 meter, no worries at all.  Much better investment for me right now than an 87-V or 189.
I wanted to use my shiny new toy for datalogging, so I installed the Mastech DMM Viewer on my old laptop.  It all installed fine, but the viewer software wouldn't connect to the DMM.  The error was a Visual Basic one, "Run-time error 8002: invalid port number".  Good old VB.

Solution reproduced here is from the Power Hungry Performance forum (copied without permission, hope nobody minds):
"The issue is related to an inherent port limiting problem with the Windows COM control. It has the nasty habit of only allowing enumeration of 16 COM ports in Visual Basic.

When you installed your USB drivers, it enumerated an emulated serial port and assigned it a port number higher than 16. To correct this perform the following:
  • Go to Device Manager (from the run menu, type devmgmt.msc and press [Enter])
  • Scroll down to the Ports settings and click the [+] symbol to expand that group
  • Right-Click the Power Hungry Performance USB to Serial Controller and select Properties
  • Click the [Port Settings] tab at the top of the window
  • Click the [Advanced] button
  • Under Com Port Number: select an unused serial port number less than 16 (lower numbers are better)
  • Click [OK] to save the settings and close out the rest of the windows
If you can't find an unused serial port, you may have to piggyback another serial port. This is generally not a problem as serial ports are often used by devices that aren't frequently plugged in. Cell phones often use them for data transfer so it would be a safe bet that if your cell phone or other similar device isn't plugged in at the same time your programmer is, there won't be a conflict.

I hope this helps.
Bill Cohron - The Mad Doctor   "

Now, with the Mastech software, my PC had assigned COM4, which is obviously a valid number, and an extremely common setting to boot.  But it still didn't work.

COM1 worked, indicating the Mastech software is pretty limited in which COM ports it likes.  It may be limited to COM1 and COM2, or just COM1.  So try using COM1 before giving up on it.

The software is pretty simple, you can see what it does from the screenshots below. 

Basic, but works just fine, thank you.  Would be nice to have logging settings that are wider than 1/2 second to 5 seconds, but hey - with 45 hours of total recording time, not too many people will care. 

Mastech is funny, they sent the software on a CD-R of all things.  Guess they didn't want the cost of getting a non-recordable disc pressed!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Updating the firmware on MSP430 LaunchPad

I swear I must be the only schmuckazoid in the world having so many problems with the MSP430 LaunchPad.

Well, maybe not, as a lot of other people found out (by accident) that several of the MSP430 chips were not, in fact, supported.  Kudos to TI for recognizing this - see the thread here.

Anyway, I managed with a different chip for a while, then found the LaunchPad Updater.  "Awesome!" I said.

To be safe, I tested the LP with IAR, just to make sure.  It is a bit twitchy.  For $5, you put up with a few niggles.  Worked fine.

Ran the LaunchPad Updater - version 2.0.  Didn't work.

In my case, it gave the "No MSP430Gxxx device found" error message straight off the bat.  It said it saw the LaunchPad, but not the chip in the socket.  Kinda hard to put a chip in the socket when one is already there, TI!

I tried both a '2231 and a '2152.  No luck.  Checked IAR again, yes, that works.

Anyway, in my case, what fixed it was putting in a brand-spankin' new 'G2352 - never programmed, factory-fresh.  The previous two chips were both programmed with my own application code.

Why this would make any difference, I have no idea.  All I can say is that the LPad does seem to get a bit unreliable with application code that involves LPM modes.  That could just be my imagination, or not, because in any case it should not affect the emulator.

Anyway, it did work, in the end.

If you're having problems, try a blank chip.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Can't print from Windows 7 x64 in landscape mode on shared printer

Ever since I upgraded to Windows 7 x64, my Samsung ML-2010 printer has failed to print in landscape mode.  It's connected to an XP machine that acts as the print server, but I print from my Windows 7 machine.

This was annoying, but I didn't much care.  I have another printer, an HP 2600n, that works OK, so I always used it. 

Lately, though, I wanted to print some large B&W documents.  The 2600n is color, which makes it more expensive to run.  So I decided to fix it.

After much mucking about, I still could not print landscape from Win7 through XP to the ML-2010.
This is another annoying Windows 7 permissions issue.  Apparently, my W7 user does not have permissions to modify the printer settings.  Therefore, programs running on the W7 can't alter basic parameters, such as paper orientation.

Haven't fixed it yet, because all of the permissions settings for the printer on the W7 machine are greyed out.  Great.

I got around the problem by printing the documents on the XP machine.  That obviously works, as Win7 permissions are no longer in the picture.

If you are having problems operating your shared printer from Win7, it's a permissions problem, not a driver problem.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

First impressions of the Nanuk 925 case

Now, I've always wanted one of these.  Who wouldn't?  They're cool, exotic, and expensive.  They used to be a lot more expensive, but competition has forced prices down (fortunately for Joe Consumer).

Anyway, in the interests of educating others who may be interested - and, potentially, supporting a worthy Canadian manufacturer - here's my first impressions of the thing.

[I will apologize in advance if the pictures are small/low resolution.  The originals are huge, but Blogger shrinks them automatically.  You should be able to click on them to get to a photo gallery.]

For context, I used to sell cameras back in the days when AF was just coming in.  We had Pelican cases in the store occasionally - it was a branch store, and Pelican's were famously expensive - and we got to play with them sometimes.

Everyone always wanted one, but nobody at my store could justify the expense.  So most of my impressions will be measured against the older Pelican cases.

I hate unboxings, but having pictures of the box can sometimes be handy.  Web sites often have incorrect or omitted information, but product packaging rarely has such errors.

Front view

Back panel
Side panel top

Side panel bottom

The side panels (above) describe the latching system, handle, pressure valve and o-ring sealing.

OK fine, it's a box...

Spiffy looking front
The case presents well.  Good detailing without looking chunky or too sci-fi.  I ended up with the silver, although most will probably choose black.  This is likely fortunate, as (a) I think the silver looks spiff, and (b) it probably photographs better than the black version would.

My wife thinks it looks like the kind of case movie characters carry around handcuffed to their wrist, because it's holding nuclear codes, top-secret info, wads of cash, or whatever.  She's not too far off, actually.

Bottom ain't too bad either

The outside surfaces have been textured and seem fairly durable.  They will probably scratch and scuff if treated badly, but should wear pretty well. 

The case feels light without feeling flimsy.  Seems lighter than the similar Pelican cases of yesteryear, although I didn't actually measure.

Double latches

 There are dual locking latches with recessed catches.

The black plug above the grip is the automatic pressure equalization valve.  Let's hope it does what it's supposed to.

Handle up

The handle folds, unlike many cases, where the handle is solidly molded in to the body of the case.  Useful for travel.  When up, it's solid and won't flop around.

Handle down
The handle locks in the folded position.  It makes a huge clunk when it folds down, which might be obtrusive in the odd quiet/no-noise situation.  But it will never pop up on its own.

Deliberate seam
When looking at the handle, you will see the lid of the case doesn't seem to quite match up to the bottom.  This is actually deliberate, as it gives you something to grip to should you need to pry the case open.  There are no projections or anything otherwise.

The latches are a dual-fold design.  There is a recessed catch in the middle.  When closed, they are locked on to the case and cannot be pried open unless you release the recessed catch first.  This makes them, in a sense, "self-locking" to an extent, meaning some people won't need to worry about padlocking the case just to keep the latches secure.

Opening is pretty easy:
The latches are sort of spring-loaded.  They don't flop around loosely when disengaged.  It's a nice touch, makes the case feel more high-tech and refined.  However, the latches will not automatically disengage from the case when unlocked.  You have to lift them off.

Disengaged latches
General interior
Well, I would have hoped THAT was obvious......
Everyone at the store had a good laugh at the safety warning.  (Unfortunately, they probably had to put it in because some idiot let or had their kid try some variation of this.  You can see it's a small additional page over-top the original front page.)

Top foam
The lid foam is "egg crate", and there are three layers of foam in the bottom.

The top layer of foam is about an inch or so thick, and it's pre-perforated into little cubes.  Pelican used to (or maybe still does) call this "pick and pluck" style foam, or something like that.  You can easily rip or cut out chunks, then put them back again if you need to reconfigure.
Little bits of foamy goodness...

Obviously, there's a limit to how far you can re-use the stuff before it chunks into uselessness.  But it's still the best way to go for the average Joe, I think.  At least you can fix the odd boo-boo and add/remove the odd item without totally wrecking the interior.

A custom factory-cut liner is the best, but certainly limits your future flexibility - not to mention the cost.  Plain old foam is fine, but that leaves the cutting the user, and this stuff ain't nice to try and cut neatly by hand.  Cubed stuff is a good compromise.

Two identical layers
Here's the detail that I was unable to determine from all the photos, websites and descriptions.  The second foam layer is identical to the top, including the pre-perforated pick & pluck style cubing.

This may seem obvious, but it isn't.  The info I had seemed to imply that the second foam layer was solid, not cubed, which obviously would have been less than ideal.

I was able to look at this in the store before I bought it, so I (finally!) knew what I was getting.  Truth be told, I would have bought it anyway, but I'm glad I wasn't disappointed.

So, good news - second foam same as first, about 1" thick, and cubed.  Great!

So far, so good...
Above is just a shot of the three foam layers described so far.  Egg crate on top, two 1"-ish thick cubed foam layers on bottom.

The egg crate is semi-stuck into the lid with a few strategically placed Velcro dots - secure, but easy to remove anytime.

Only a little tiny bit left for the bottom
After removing both of the 1" thick cubed layers, we're left with a thin little liner of foam on the bottom.

Kinda small, ain't it?
I'm not too sure what this layer is meant to be doing.  It's a half-inch thick, and seems just barely enough to cushion anything that is tall enough to extend through both cubed layers.  Also, it seems stupid to have an inch or more of foam in the lid, but (possibly) be stuck with only a half-inch in the base.

This bottom liner is not stuck down in any way.  This is fine, since the top foam would normally hold it in place without any problems.  People planning to use the case without the thick foam layers, however, may need to stick this liner down somehow.

The moral of the story here is to not take the depth figures for the case for granted.  First of all, the quoted depths usually don't include the lid, which can add 1-2" of total depth overall - that is good.  But the quoted depth is pretty much to the plastic, which can be bad if you don't allow enough depth to keep a goodly thickness of foam underneath your parts.

Nearly all of the photos for these kinds of cases show them putting in relatively thin items in a flat way - guns, laptops, monitors, are all laid flat.  That's great, but these things are so costly that many people are going to look for a case deep enough to be able to insert their items "vertically", rather than "horizontally", to maximize the utilization of the available square inches.  Be sure to measure the depth carefully to avoid bottoming out.

Just for reference, I measured this case at 4.53" / 115mm on the base, and 2.1" / 53.5 mm in the lid.  That's max depths, making 6.63" overall.  Nanuk rates it as 6.4" inside, so I'm either gaining a bit by mis-measuring or Nanuk is being a bit conservative.

I suppose the other piece of good news is that, most of the time, the case will be stored vertically rather than flat.  This makes this little liner a side-wall liner, not a bottom liner, and the equipment weight will be not be resting on that thin piece of liner foam much of the time.

Having said all that, a shove test seems to show that most items will be adequately cushioned by this bottom-most liner layer under all but the heaviest of impacts.

As it is unlikely the case will be dropped from a large height and land flat and square on it's bottom/side, the liner is probably fine.  It's probably really there to cushion the items from relatively benign side impacts, little hitting doorjambs, passers-by, small dogs, etc.

Just the plastics, ma'am
Last shot is of the 'empty' case with the thin bottom/sideliner removed.

The external features are visible on the inside, but they're not deep enough to cause too many people any concern.  The edges are all rounded, though, so if you put papers or whatnot in the case, they will end up in a semi-rolled pile after carrying them around.  This is not really meant to be a briefcase.

The interior surface of the case has not been textured or finished.  It looks good, but it is soft and does scratch easily.  Putting metal tools or the like in the empty case will make it scratch city after one carry.

Nanuk did mold the case model number into the interior wall.  Useful if you forget what model you have, and/or if the nice little identification tag on the outside has gotten bashed away over time.

There are no slots, hooks or divots for attaching anything, leaving the interior clean and relatively unmarked.  On the other hand, I have no idea how the optional divider kit fits into place.  It must have edge pieces that provide the attachment points for the interior dividers.

There are screw bosses on the inside edge of the base.  Probably allows a water-tight panel kit or something similar to be mounted inside.

I don't know if this case is readily available empty.  I think they're out there, but are not common.  If you did land one, it would be very easy to get your own custom foams made, or make your own.

A few manufacturers even offer antistatic foam, although unfortunately Nanuk isn't one of them.  Not necessary the vast majority of the time, but if you wanted to transport raw semiconductor parts, it may be useful to put ESD foam in.  Maybe just an ESD top layer would be sufficient.

Anyway, I'll be fitting some offsite backup hard drives into this little guy for storage soon.  I wanted a water-tight impact-proof case - just in case - and this seemed to fit the bill fine.  I'm sure it'll find other uses in the future.

For reference, I got mine at Memory Express. also had them for about $2 less.  I personally wanted to see it, just in case.  (Pun.  Ha!)

So far, thumbs up.  If that changes, I'll probably do an encore and bitch.