Sunday, May 26, 2013

PL-2303 Troubles cannot start device code 10

Having to deal with this issue, again, lately gave me the idea for this post. Ever buy a radio programming cable, or a cheap USB-Serial adapter, only to plug it in and have Windows tell you that there was an error installing the device? Typically, when you go into the device properties it tells you that it "Cannot start device (code 10)".

Prolific is the original manufacturers of the PL-2303 chip. It is a single chip device that plugs into a usb port on one end and gives you a normal RS-232C serial port on the other. The chip got popular enough that other Chinese manufacturers cloned it. I'm not sure if they cloned the exact chip, or if they made one that does the same function but uses the same protocol as the PL-2303 chip and uses the same drivers. At first, when these chips came out the version of drivers which existed would work 100% with these clone chips.

Prolific didn't like this however. They have a good reason I'm sure. Since clone makers tend to ride on the coattails of the authentic chips, the authentic manufacturer gets to deal with people coming to them when things don't work. So it's an issue of supporting chips that you didn't make and you didn't profit off of. What they did, I've read, is add a check into the newer versions of the drivers so that they check for a specific response from the chips. If it responds with 1 code then it's authentic and the drivers work, if it responds with another code then they know it's not authentic and the drivers give you the oblique error message.

It's been awhile since they changed the drivers to add this check in, so it's rather hard to find older drivers that work in Windows for your new serial adapter.

Prolific has a good reason for doing this, but it really only hurts the end user who buys a device that doesn't have an authentic chip in it. It's not like the end user can check to make sure it does, or even knows that it might not have an authentic chip before they buy it. Some locations to buy these are also not receptive to returns either. It's possible that someone could lose some money buying a cable that they don't have the expertise to fix. Moving up the chain, it's even possible for the people who are designing the cables to errantly use unauthentic chips even if they think they are buying the real deal. Some of the older drivers do still exist that work with the clone chips, and I'm willing to bet that the Linux drivers are not hobbled in the same manner.

Given all of the difficulties with these chips, why can't an alternative show up to replace them in designs? I think even if someone could produce an open-source adapter design using an inexpensive PIC chip or similar with USB support then that would benefit a lot of people. If I find a list of alternative chips later, I will append it to this post. Maybe an open-source project has already been accomplished if this page about LUFA is any indication.

Shameless plea to radio manufacturers: Please build USB support into radios. Please? It would be beyond great to have a micro-usb port on one side of the radio that could accept a standard usb cable for programming. (Trickle charging would be a good benefit as well, but I won't push it.) Seriously, I have separate, incompatible, cables for my new Baofeng, my Icom R3, my Yaesu FT-50R, a Puxing PX-2R and I think one or two older radios floating around. In the future, I should be able to get all new radios with a micro-usb port and just use the same cable as I do for my phone to plug into my computer for programming.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hamvention 2013

Had some fun at the Hamvention today. Saw a lot of APRS equipment. This was also apparently the year of solar panels.. noticed a fair few of those in the flea market. Got a terrible sunburn on the back of my neck. Also had to cut my visit a little short because of a bad migraine, guess I was overdue for one.

Noteable mentions:

  • Codec2 booth right next to a D-Star booth, nice place! Wish I had asked about the prototype HT of the future but other people were in conversations and I didn't wait around very long.
    • Was talking to someone in the flea market about an Icom 2200H and asking about D-Star (which the radio didn't have that card in it) and had someone stop by to comment on the proprietary nature of D-Star driving the extreme cost. Which I agree with and it's good to see that Codec2 is having a positive impact here by providing a more Ham friendly alternative to the closed, proprietary nature of the AMBE codec that D-Star uses. (And the weird, open/closed protocol too)
  • Yaesu FT-1DR at the Yaesu booth. I see now it has a price on Universal-Radio, $540. It's approved by the FCC with an expected release date of June 15th.
    • GPS is built in.
    • Has a Group Short Message function that I expect should be like cellphone texting
    • Neat sounding Group Monitor function - ARTs on steroids?
  • TinyTrak
  • 2 or 3 portable terminal boxes for backpacking digital modes. Can't remember the names of them now and didn't grab any papers while I was there (sorry!). One could do CW, PSK and RTTY. The ones I saw had the old usual 4 line by 20 character displays
  • Elecraft had some neat things like the K3/0 Mini.. Remote control for a K3 in what looks like the style of a KX3. (So much so that the card next to it said "Yes, this IS the new K3/0 Mini")
  • Neat demonstration at a ATV booth of the differences between analog ATV and Digital ATV (DTV). Output of a DVD player (or Bluray?) run through both types of transmitters at once into a (slightly damaged) Digital TV. Guy giving the demonstration showed both signals with attenuation to show different reception signal strengths. Digital signal stayed perfectly clear down to 80db down, but disappeared at 82 or 83db. Analog was very fuzzy when you could still receive Digital but could be received even when Digital cut out completely. Effective demonstration.
  • Uhm, there was a digital DMR booth somewhere that someone had a digital radio the size and shape of a cellphone, even looked like one a bit. Very cool! Didn't stick around to ask questions because right then there was a group picture. Meant to go back later though.
  • AMSAT and QSO radio show were both showing and talking about nano-satellites. QSO radio show was talking about a dual-band FM cube satellite that had 400mw transmit power which is enough from space, and each side will have a 1w solar panel. It had 10 pcbs stacked on the inside. Kinda neat. AMSAT had one with bits and pieces and one complete (model?). There was a board transmitting a saved voice ID on a timer.
  • Not really related to the show but I want to throw out there: The Internation Space Station recently switched to Linux from Windows.
  • Import Communications had some neat things. Wouxun radios, Baofeng radios (I bought one of those with all the goodies), and the X1M QRP SSB/CW transceiver which I was sorely tempted to buy. (But held off, I have a perfectly fine HF radio.. my problem is I need an antenna for it)
  • SDR goodies here and there.
Didn't really run into anyone I knew. Half the time I was looking at the various wares people were offering (and I'm pretty sure there was some warez too, at least two booths selling DVDs of electronic manuals that had scans of old QST magazines or Elector Electronics magazines that I'm not sure were officially licensed) and half the time I was looking at faces for some that I recognized. Allwell, this year was fun. If I can go next year, things that I want to do different are:
  • Try and get off Friday.. I've never been on a Friday
  • Hope it doesn't rain on the day I go like this year
  • Wear sunscreen, good grief.
  • Go to a forum or two?
Some things that I was looking for but didn't find:
  • Raspberry Pi - Did I miss it?
  • Arduino - should be a slam dunk, I did see someone selling a custom PIC (I think) platform for ham applications and I did see someone selling things that were compatible with the Raspberry Pi or were an Arduino shield.
  • Boatanchors - Just Kidding. It'll probably be Hamvention 2113, most hams on Earth will be using subspace or quantum tunneling or 100 Ghz nanotechnology wifi mesh, and someone will still be selling old Drake and Halicrafters radios.
I could've done without the cloud of poisonous cancer causing chemicals that I got the pleasure of breathing every time I went in or out of a door.

Friday, May 17, 2013

vv-808 Mobile Transceiver update

Found the cheap mobile I saw yesterday even cheaper, by way of someone selling it with a $10.55 shipping cost.

Here it is on Aliexpress for $68.55 shipped. The seller doesn't have any feedback yet though. The only other seller is doing the thing where shipping is $70. I imagine these are going to start showing up more and more on there with time. If anyone gets one, send me a message about it?

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Just a little warning, I might go a little nuts posting over this weekend. I'm going to the Hamvention on Saturday, like many other people, and I'm probably going to repost some news if anything noteworthy shows up during, before or after the show.

Ten Tec 506 Rebel
It's a 20/40m QRP CW radio. The neat thing though is that the CPU in it is Arduino powered. The whole thing has standard connectors and all kinds of standard, easy to work with, parts. The complete opposite of ridiculously expensive closed systems like the Icom D-Star radios. I think it would have been more fun if it wasn't just CW only. Even something geared more toward digital modes than voice would have been nice. Still, this is a very good direction to go in after tons of radios that are completely closed off (and really fly against Ham radio tradition) or radios that are otherwise built completely without digital components at all.

Not that there's anything against roughing it with the same functionality as radios had 50 years ago for nostalgia... but there will be no innovation if you just do the same thing you've always done. Without innovation, Ham radio is doomed.

Now I'm waiting for a series of radios that include an empty bay for taking things like a Raspberry Pi or Arduinos or whatever you can squeeze in it.

VV-808 Mobile Transceiver

$134 shipped ($65.71 of that is the shipping cost, $68.29 for the radio.)

Found this one talked about in a post on the Baofeng UV5-R mailing list. I'm still not sure if this is single or dual band. The listing says 136-174mhz or 400-470mhz. But the listing also says Dual Reception/Dual Display so that could mean it's dual band or it could mean it monitors two frequencies on one band (by switching between them) and they're counting on the terminology to confuse someone. Anyways, if it is dual band it happens to be the cheapest Chinese radio I've ever seen. If not, it's not that good of a deal. Single band mobiles aren't that expensive.

The radio looks TINY. It's my theory that they put the pcb of a handheld in it and made a beefier amplifier circuit. Not much though, 10W/4W on VHF. Maybe 15W on UHF? Again, ambiguity in the specifications.
Size: 120*85*40mm

Just look at that.

X1M MKII 20W QRP SSB CW Transceiver

Wow, this looks pretty cool actually. They don't have a price listed yet though. Check out the connections on the back:

  • GPS ant.
  • IF out
  • I&Q out
  • ACC1&2 (Hope at least one of these are CAT)
  • VGA(!) Probably goes with the color LCD on the front
  • ATU
  • 12v Power
  • Antenna
Note that the front seems to say "HAM Toy" in the corner, how true. 
HF-6M I read somewhere that it was all the way from 160 meters up. Don't know if it has band limits. Hope so but this is Chinese in origin so probably not.