Tuesday, August 30, 2005

While rushing for the train to get home on Monday afternoon, my mate called me, and asked about me giving him a hand at his job, with those cabinets that have a serial port, and you need some software to configure.

I told him I'd help him out. (I was supposed to be sorting out a website for one of the seniors' clubs on the coast, but I put that off).

Anyway, I got together all the stuff I thought I'd need, RS232 leads etc, DB9 -> DB25 adapters (and vice versa), my null modem adapters.

I'd breifly looked at the software before, and when I'd tried to run it on XP, it had just said "error opening port", in that case, I figured it was because the laptop had no serial port.

Apparently it had said the same thing, when trying to run it on a machine that had serial ports, so then I began to suspect that it was an issue with direct hardware access, and the fact that NT doesn't allow it.

I grabbed my _old_ laptop, with Windows 95 on it, packed it up, along with all the cables, and we went off to the job.

I used my USB floppy drive to get the software off the XP laptop, and load it into my old laptop (since it doesn't have USB, or a CDROM or anything).

I set the laptop up, plugged in the null modem lead, between the serial port and the cabinet.

After mucking around with the laptop, for bloody ages, because it was being a pain, it'd lost all it's settings because it's been unplugged for so long.

Eventually I got it running, copied the software on, ran it, and found that it started, and connected immediately to the cabinet. Sweet.

I was expecting to have to muck around with the pinouts, but they've made it RS232 standard.

I used my old laptop to reconfigure a few cabinets. There was a different model one, which had a DB25 instead of a DB9 on it, and it was the wrong gender, and the gender bender I had was the wrong way.

We went out, and bought the right gender bender. When I tried to attach to the cabinet, all sorts of weird things were happening.

I traced the signal (RX/TX) connections, and I couldn't work out why, but the serial connection to the laptop, was causing the light in the cabinet to turn on and off.

When I tried a different null modem adapter on one end, it was causing the UV to turn on and off.

I traced the signal ground connection, it looked like it was being used as the common for all the buttons on the front panel.

I wondered if the signal ground line was non standard, not 7 (on the DB25) like it was supposed to be, so I tried a couple of other pins, that weren't attached to the front panel, but the laptop still wouldn't connect. I tried using pin 5, and 6 as the gnd, but this didn't work, and was causing other relays on the unit to click on and off.

I gave up, I don't think it's a serial port for configuring the board, I think that's why it had a different gender DB25 on the board (and a cable in it).

After work, went out to Jaycar, and I bought the bits to make up 2 null modem cables, for both the laptops, and a USB -> serial adapter, for the one with no serial port.

Then we came back to my place, and I grabbed my laptop, and an old 11mbit access point, so I could browse wirelessly at my mate's place.

I went back to my mate's place, we were going to try to make up a bootable live windows 98 cd for his laptop, so he could configure the cabinets.

I remembered reading a way to have windows 98 running off a usb drive, but I couldn't find any references to it, maybe I imagined that.

I setup the access point, and got googling.

Anyway, I found a few ways to make up live CDs, and the method I was going to go with is here.

While I waited for my mate to backup everything, in preparation for wiping the disk in his laptop, and installing 98 on it, I decided to see if I could find some way to get the software running under XP, since I wasn't really looking forward to all the crap I'd have to do.

First I had to put the software on the machine, I still had it on the floppy, from when I installed it on my crappy old laptop this morning, so I put my USB drive in, and tried to copy the files to his laptop.

I had to smbmount the hard drive in his laptop, but it just wouldn't work. I eventually discovered the problem. When I used smbclient to list the shares on his machine, I found that I was looking at the shares on my machine.

There was something dumb going on with the DNS, his computer name was resolving to the IP address that I had.

I checked in his ADSL modem, and found it was screwed up, had the same IP address in there twice, resolving to 2 different hostnames.

I mounted his laptop's drive using the IP address, and I was able to copy the files across.

When I tried running the software, I got the same thing, "Error opening port".

Hmm. I googled around, and found some software called "direct i/o", which is supposed to hog the serial port (or other address ranges) in windows, and allow legacy applications direct hardware access.

I installed this, and then couldn't remember the COM1 address, had to think about it for a minute, back to my days of mucking around in DOS, and I remembered it was 3F8.

I added in 3F8 - 3FF to the software, and IRQ 4. I tried running the application again, still no good.

I wondered if the COM port was running on some weird address in the laptop. I used winmsd, but couldn't see any references to the serial port addresses.

I looked in Device Mangler, and there were no Ports listed in there. WTF?

I asked my mate if his laptop really had a serial port. He swore that it did (I'd been doing everything over a vnc link, while sitting in a recliner with my laptop).

I asked if it was disabled in the BIOS or something. He rebooted, and had a look in there, couldn't find any settings related to the serial port.

I googled around, to try to find out about the serial port on the Dell 5150, and everything that I could see about it, said that it had no legacy ports.

I'm beginning to think that there really is no serial port on this model.

I eventually asked him to show me the serial port. "It's right on the back here" he tells me, turns the laptop around, and shows me the VGA out port.

Hmm.

It was at that point I got to jokingly abuse him for wasting my time.

I told him to install the USB -> RS232 adapter we'd bought, so he did that, but instead of installing the drivers that came with it, he used the windows update crap, and it figured out that the adapter was a motorolla modem, and not a serial port.

It took me a few minutes of fiddling, and I managed to get it to install the correct drivers. Now we were getting somewhere, we had a serial port, but it was COM6.

I tried running the software again. "Error opening port". Argh. I reconfigured direct i/o, and added in the COM6 address. Still couldn't use it.

I figured it was because the COM number was too high. I hadn't seen any config in the software, to tell it was port to use, so I assumed that it wanted to use COM1.

I tried to reconfigure the port, but Device Mangler kept crashing. I eventually figured it out to be caused by direct i/o, stopping windows from accessing the port.

I reconfigured it, freed up the COM6 address again, so that windows could hog it, and I was able to get to the settings. I found where to change the port number, but when I tried to change it to COM1, Device Mangler crashed again.

I figured it was because direct i/o was still holding the COM1 address, so I removed that, and then I was able to move the port.

I tried running the software up, and this time it worked. Hooray, I didn't even need the direct i/o software.

After that, my mate told me about the issues he was having with using some "snapshot viewer", which is for looking at M$ Access reports, when you don't have Access or something.

He could install it on his machine, and it worked, but he couldn't install it on his laptop, or the other laptops, they kept coming up with some error about "C:\Windows\System32\Autoexec.nt The system file is not suitable for running MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows applications. Choose 'Close' to terminate the application."

I googled around, and eventually found this to be caused by a few files missing.

I found the knowledgebase article here, and followed the innstrutions, expanding the necessary files.

I was able to install the snapshot viewer after that, and it worked to open the files.

Why the hell are M$ putting out 16 bit software in this day and age??

Now that I had that fixed, I decided to fiddle around with the ADSL modem, and see if I could fix that up.

My mate recently changed away from BigPong, to Internode, and his ADSL modem still had all the BigPong settings in it, like their DNS servers, which are crappy, because they're overloaded with requests from their customer's worm infested machines.

I tried to work out how to change them, but the SpeedTouch is really a piece of crap. Even in console mode, it wouldn't update properly.

I bit of googling, and I found that a newer firmware was available from the New Zealand site, so I grabbed that, but it was a stupid exe, so I put it on my mate's machine, and had him run the update.

Even after that, it still had BigPong all over it. It was only when I went through the stupid easy setup wizard, that I was able to get all that crud out, and have it using the correct DNS servers.

At one point, I connected the SMC 2632W card in my laptop to the AP, and it stole the IP address my mate had on his machine, but what was even weirder, was that I ejected the card, but the IP it had was still responding to pings.

I decided to leave the AP around there, since I had 4 APs these days, so I can use it when I take my laptop around.

I looked at lending my mate the 2632W card, I put it in his laptop, had to go and find the drivers for it, from SMC's site, installed them.

It was able to see the AP, and I could connect to it, but then it would just flick off it again. I tried this a few times.

I eventually found it was because it had no aerial attached, which was weird, because I've been running it with no aerial, and it worked fine.

That was useless, because the aerial/pigtail has a lucent connector on it, so it just falls out, unless you hold it in there.

I bid on a wireless card on eBay for him, that's covered in the next post..

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