Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category

How to Make CH Products Controllers Wake Up in Windows 7 (and 8)

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

A while back I picked up a set of CH Products game controllers on eBay. This set included the Pro Pedals[1], the Pro Throttle, and the Fighterstick [2].

They are very well built and I expect them to last essentially forever (or at least until USB is obsolete). There was only one problem, when my PC[3] woke back up from hibernate, the controllers wouldn’t work. I discovered that I could use the CH Control Manager to rescan for them to workaround the problem, but this was still a bit annoying.

After contacting CH Products about the issue, they told me that if I sent them the controllers they would update the firmware to resolve the issue. The charge was only $10 per controller (for return shipping), but having just gotten used to them, I didn’t want to be without them for several weeks. Instead, I did a bit more troubleshooting.

My workaround is quite effective and involves four parts:

  1. USBDeview.exe: An application which allows you to view, enable and disable any USB attached devices.
  2. resetChProducts.bat: A batch file which uses USBDeview to disable, then enable all CH Products devices by product ID. (in attached zip file)
  3. runResetChProducts.vbs: A VisualBasic script which runs a batch file without opening a window[4] (in attached zip file)
  4. wscript.exe: A built-in component of Windows which allows execution of Visual Basic Scripts.

I installed USBDeview and used it to determine the Product ID of the CH products devices (0x068e). The scripts expect the install location to be C:\Program Files\USBDeview. I also put them in the same folder. The VB Script simply invokes the batch script without creating a window. The batch script disables all the devices which match this ID, then immediately enables them again. The final piece of the puzzle, was to use the Windows Task Scheduler to run the whole shebang automatically. In this case I used “On workstation unlock of any user” as a trigger for the command: wscript.exe “C:\Program Files\USBDeview\runResetChProducts.vbs”

Now every time I log in, the lights on the controllers blink once, and they’re good to go.

I discovered an issue in Win8 I didn’t have in Win7, which is that my devices seem to enable in an arbitrary order. As a result, the joystick mappings (i.e. numbers) in my games change from one start-up to the next. To work around this, I change the bat file to enable the devices in an order I prescribe. As follows:

REM Disable, then re-enable all devices with the CH Products VendorID
"C:\Program Files\USBDeview\USBDeview.exe" /disable_by_pid 068e
"C:\Program Files\USBDeview\USBDeview.exe" /enable_by_pid 068e;00f3
"C:\Program Files\USBDeview\USBDeview.exe" /enable_by_pid 068e;00f2
"C:\Program Files\USBDeview\USBDeview.exe" /enable_by_pid 068e;00f1

  1. Replacing a heavily worn, but still working set I’ve had for over a decade of the old game-port variety. []
  2. Replacing a MS Precision 2. []
  3. Running Windows 7 Pro, 64-bit. I’ve since determined that this continues to work for Windows 8 Pro 64-bit. []
  4. Thanks to Hey, Scripting Guy Blog for the code I generated this from. []

My New Law of Brake Repair

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Law: The pads and rotor that are the most worn and in need of replacing will be impossible to remove.

Corollary: The pads and rotor that come off easily will be nearly pristine.

At least I’ve learned when to quit and go to the other side before I irrevocably damage the bolt heads. I will have to pay someone with an impact wrench and/or torch to get those steering knuckle-caliper bracket bolts off I think.

So you decided to get a D-SLR…

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Some friends of mine have recently taken the plunge into the world of digital SLR cameras. For those who aren’t sure if they really want to go there, please take a look at my dated but still relevant series on choosing a digital camera.

For those of you who have that new shiny complicated D-SLR, here are few pieces of advice in approximate order of importance. Most of them involve buying stuff (of course!) so the approximate damage to your budget is given. This is probably going to get long, so here’s a summary list and the fold.

  1. Take some pictures. ($0)
  2. Always use the camera strap. ($0)
  3. Get extra media. ($10-30)
  4. Get an extra battery. ($30-50)
  5. Buy a UV filter for your lens. ($10-30)
  6. Make sure to backup your images. ($30-50)
  7. RTFM (more than once!) ($0)
  8. Get a bigger bag than you think you’ll need. ($30-75)
  9. Take a class and/or do some research. ($0-100)
  10. Get decent editing software. ($0-350)
  11. Accessorize! ($25-2500)


Email Security: How? (Part 1: Stuff you need)

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Yes, this will be a how-to in installments. There’s far too much to try to cover in one abusively long blog post.

The purpose of this post is to familiarize you fine curious readers with the tools you’ll need to achieve the same relative state of email security that I have. Disclaimer: Although I think I’m generally fairly smart, I am NOT -nor do I pretend to be- any sort-of accredited data security expert. However, I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express at some point this year, and will therefore do my best to not lead you terribly astray.

These instructions are for Windows users, although, to be honest, doing this in Linux is probably not terribly different, since ALL of the tools I’m about to discuss are open-source and available without cash of any kind.

The list:

  1. Thunderbird: An email client built on the Mozilla engine. I currently have, but I upgrade regularly.
  2. GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG or GPG) V1.4.9: An implementation of OpenPGP for encryption and other related stuff.[1]
  3. EnigMail (0.95.7): The plugin for Thunderbird that provides the graphical user interface that makes this oh so much easier.

A bit of detail… (more…)

  1. This is actually the engine that does all of the encoding heavy lifting. []

Email Security: Why?

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

You may be wondering why I would spend my valuable time learning and configuring my system to send encrypted emails. My reasons, to be brief, are very much the same that Bill discussed some weeks ago. The most succinct reason is: “The same reason that most paper mail isn’t on postcards.”
Not that my adoption of encryption will change this, but does it occur to you that all of those bills and other documents that are being emailed to you are completely retrievable by anyone who cares to look?
“Sure,” you say, “but that person would have to be some kind of computer guru who has access to special tools, right?” Wrong.
At work we use a program called WireShark for analyzing network traffic, it’s open source software that anyone can download and use. Although being a computer guru might help, the software makes it surprisingly easy to make sense of the garbage flowing around on the intertubes. Anyone who can connect somewhere along the network path from you to your email server can intercept and read your email. Note: Many email servers allow for encryption in the transfer to/from your PC, I recommend that you turn this on if your server supports it. For instructions, read on![1]
For demonstration purposes, I setup one of my email accounts with no login or communication security (this is the default for most email programs!!). I sent myself an email from one email account to another , and by simply selecting the packets marked “POP” and telling WireShark to “follow the TCP stream”, I get a text chain that is so detailed, I dare not even post it here. Passwords, user names, server information, etc… all plain as day.
So even if I cannot persuade you to use encrypted email, you at least owe it to yourself to be connecting to your email server in a secure way. [2] These instructions are for Thunderbird on WXP, your mileage may vary. (more…)

  1. Edit: I hate it when I spell a tag wrong and my entire website suddenly converts to bold text! []
  2. Of course this won’t secure your messages themselves unless the recipients are also protecting their email server traffic! []

Email Security: Multiple recipients

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

You thought you were safe after that last post, didn’t you? Well it turns out that I didn’t quite have the details correct. You can read for yourself in the governing IETF document RFC 4880: The OpenPGP Message Format. [1]
It seems that the whole public-private key thing is only PART of the magic which makes encrypted email possible. The details came out when I looked into how messages intended for multiple recipients are encrypted. It turns out it’s pretty simple, and fairly elegant (as you might expect from the kind of gurus that hang out in the IETF) and can be simplified as being what I described before pretty accurately.
So here’s how it really works: (more…)

  1. It’s ok, I read it so you don’t have to! []

Email Security

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Thanks to Bill for finally pushing me over the edge to secure email communications, I have transitioned to the use of Enigmail/GnuPG for signing and encrypting email. Of course, I must now struggle with the inevitable incompatibilities of the email viewers of the rest of the world. This includes my workplace, my friends’ workplaces, my family (both tech savvy and not so savvy), etc.
For those of you who understand the OpenPGP technology (and encryption in general), this rest of this post will be review, but for those who don’t, it will be needed to provide backround for future posts. Thanks to Phil for familiarizing me with the “PAIN” acronym for security:

  • Privacy: Only the intended recipient can view the information.
  • Authentication: The information came from the person you think it did.
  • Integrity: The information has not been tampered with.
  • Non-Repudiation: The sender cannot deny the message was from them.

OpenPGP uses a public-private key encryption system. You can read a lot about this on the web, but I’ll trouble you with a summary. I generate a key-pair which is associated with ME. There is a private key which I keep and never share with anyone, and a public key which I can give to whomever I wish. The encryption system is rather mathematically interesting because it allows anyone with the PUBLIC key to encrypt a message that only the PRIVATE key can unlock. What’s especially funky about this is it allows the unwary sender to encrypt a message that they themselves CANNOT read. [1] So if you want to send me an encrypted message you have to have my public key. Click on the link to download it (then contact me to validate the fingerprint if you wish). This is the Privacy part.
Authentication, Integrity and Non-repudiation is achieved by a process called signing a message. The sender generates a ‘signature’ which is based on the sender’s PRIVATE key (yes, they need a key-pair too) and the content of the message (or attachments). The receiver, can validate the signature by combining the sender’s PUBLIC key and the content of the message. Having received a message with a signature from the sender, the receiver knows that the message WAS in fact sent by the sender and has not been altered in between. Think of the signature as an encrypted check-sum. Of course, if the private key is compromised, then all bets are off. So the private key is generally password protected. If you want more information, the Wikipedia article on public-key cryptography is quite good.

Whew! You made it through the technical stuff and you’re still reading! I’ve decided to be kind and cut off this post and save some material for a later day. Look for future posts about the impacts and how-to of encrypted email (unless Bill beats me to it).

  1. There’s a setting in Enigmail to prevent this by adding yourself to the recipient list, so the message is also encrypted with your own public key. []

BACKUP Before it’s too late!

Friday, September 12th, 2008

“There are two kinds of computer users in the world, those that have regular backups and those who are about to.” – I’m pretty sure I didn’t make this up, but I can’t figure out where I saw it.

Thanks to John for reminding me that I had put this chunk of how-to advice together a year or so ago. This is excellent blog fodder in the vein of “giving something back to the community”.

I do regular automatic backups, and I keep a copy of my backup off site. This is my backup method. It is the result of personal experience, long philosophical discussions with tech-savvy friends (Hi Eric!) and some just plain laziness[1].

This is long, but reads quickly, so here we go… (more…)

  1. I like to say that necessity is not the mother of invention, laziness is. I’m sure I heard that somewhere too but Google was unable to find a suitable attribution for me. []

What camera should I get? Last Thoughts.

Monday, November 5th, 2007

So after all of that, if you actually want me to narrow it down to a few choices, I give you the following. Again, I’m only selecting from the Canon line because I simply don’t have enough experience with the competitors.

Unless you have some particular need to get an ultra-miniature, I pretty much don’t recommend them.

“Normal” point and shoot digital cameras
K’s folks have the A400, which is an earlier model of the A460. When I asked about how they liked their camera, K’s Dad was pretty positive. Enjoying many of those features that make digital cameras so easy to own and operate. If you’re not worried about taking masterpiece images, and you want a portable camera that can fit in a large pocket, I recommend the A460 ($120*). If you want a bit more control, higher resolution and a bit larger light gathering ability, consider the A630, a later model A600 series camera ($235). The newer models (A640 and A650) are so expensive, that you would be better off considering the next line up, the S series.

Canon recently came out with the S5 IS ($350) to replace the very popular S3 IS ($270). IS refers to “Image Stabilization”, a feature which removes camera shake to allow shooting with slower shutter speeds. These cameras sport 12x optical zooms, which will really get you up close and personal. This is the class I would recommend for most users who aren’t afraid of a $300 price tag. These cameras pay for their zoom lens with a bit more weight and bit more bulk, but they are great performers. I had an opportunity to try out an earlier S-series (I think it was the S2) and it felt like a ‘real’ camera. These cameras can be battery hogs, so I always recommend buying some rechargeable NiMH AA batteries as your first accessory. If I were buying in this class today, well, I’d probably recommend the S5. It’s a higher resolution camera (which may actually push a bit beyond the limits of the optics) and has a bigger LCD, which drains the batteries a bit harder. Both take 4-AA batteries. They also use an electronic viewfinder (a mini-LCD behind the eyepiece lens), which you should try out to see if you like it. The S5 also has a flash shoe for a large external flash. Anyhow, only you can decide whether the extra $80 is worth it to you.

If you’re serious about your photography, or you already have a Canon EOS film camera, consider a digital SLR. The digital Rebel Xt (2005 model) body is a steal at $430 if you already own a lens to put on it. You can buy the 2006 model, the Rebel XTi, for $150 more at $585. You get a 10 Mp sensor instead of 8 Mp, a 25% bigger LCD, more focus points and various other features. If cost is not a primary concern, the next line of SLRs is the 30D (2005) for just under $1k and the brand new 40D (2007) at $1.3k. Ok, so you’ve got be committed to pay prices like that, and I pretty much would never recommend these to somebody who’s asking. If you have to ask, you probably ought not pay $1k for a camera body.

So what’s my overall recommendation? This is so tough. If you just want to grab some shots, drop $110 for the A460. If you don’t mind spending a bit more, but don’t have an SLR now, go for the S5 at $350. If you have a Canon EOS film camera, you’re comfortable with it, and don’t mind carrying it around, you’ll probably be quite happy with the Rebel Xt for $430. I’m not sure that I can justify the extra 50% for the XTi body.

Good luck!

* All prices from BuyDig, ZipZoomFly, or Buy.Com just to name a few.

What camera should I get? Q5: Loyalty

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

As I warned you, my discussion has been very Canon camera centric. I’m a fan of Canon’s products, even if I tend to think that they cost too much. In some sense you do get what you pay for, but Nikon and other brands make great equipment also.
So why the topic of Loyalty? For me it is a practical matter. When we were looking to upgrade from our Canon G2, a Canon SLR was an obvious choice. Not so much because the 20D was vastly superior to the equivalent Nikon model (they were pretty comparable), but because we already knew the Canon interface. The icons were the same, the dial placement was similar, and the nomenclature in the manual was similar.
Don’t underestimate the power of habit. Sure, anything that can be learned can be un-learned, but do you want to spend the time learning a completely new camera interface when you could be out shooting? How many priceless moments will you miss because you’re trying to remember how to turn the flash on?
For the G2 to the 20D, there were also practical considerations: they used the same digital media (CompactFlash) and the same battery (a Canon custom rechargeable). This was a major plus, because it allowed us to carry some accessories forward to the new camera. Generally, you won’t be that lucky, but it might be worth shopping around for.
If you already own an SLR, consider a model by the same manufacturer. You may be able to use the lenses you already have on a digital model. This can be a huge cost savings for the startup with a digital SLR.
On the other hand, if you’re looking at the lower end of the price range, look for a bargain. The difference in capability between a $100 Canon model and a no-name brand is probably incremental. You may not get a manual that was written in English as a first language, but then that plagues the name-brand manuals from time to time. Also consider what your friends and family have… if they have a similar model/brand to yours they will be able to provide greater assistance than if the brands are different*.
Obviously, the company won’t be paying you for your loyalty, so it’s purely a personal convenience issue.

Final article on this thread upcoming.

* This is why we helped K’s parents get a Canon A400 and my folks get a Canon A520. They’re both great cameras, and the best part is if I pick one up, I pretty much know right where the controls will be… or can explain it over the phone on those rare occasions where assistance is required.