It’s a feature: Family Safety’s Activity Report in Windows 10

Ever since Windows 10 was released to the general public, there has been a concerted effort to discredit the operating system and Microsoft. This release has been the target of those who believe that their privacy has been compromised and that Microsoft is collecting all it can on them.  While a few of the default settings should not have been set to be the default, there is nothing nefarious going on and the latest release of Windows is no more invasive than any previous release of Windows or the Mac OS for that matter. 

Now, these people have taken aim at one of the better features of WIndows for children: the Family Safety feature. 

win10famsafeSomeone discovered that a report is generated that contains things like web sites visited, applications used and how long and computer usage. The report is emailed to the parent or person who set up the family safety.

Sorry, people, this feature has been in family safety from day one. It was in Vista. It was in Windows 7 and both releases of Windows 8. Nothing new about it.

Yep, this report is integral to the feature. It does spy on the child, that is the point.  It lets the parent know what the child is doing and how long they are doing it.  I, for one, am glad it is there.  I’ve used this feature since the Vista days. Only, then, instead of emailing, it would pop up a notification in Windows that the report is ready. 

So, obviously, the people complaining about this feature have never used family safety and, likely, do not have children.

I do not see problem with this feature and have utilized it in the past and will do so again. I have two more children that I want to be safe on the Internet and whom I don’t want on the computer 24/7.  So, to those who oppose this feature, I say, go find something worthwhile to complain about, like the high price of cell service, gasoline or other such product.  Windows 10 is awesome, family safety is awesome.

Note:

Family Safety has changed with Windows 10 and will be doing a new write up on the feature at a later date.

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Get your USB To RS232 TTL PL2303HX Auto Converter Module working with Windows 8.x

ttlrs232usbWorking with the microcontrollers, Arduino compatibles mostly, has been quite a bit of fun but has had a few challenges.  For the last three or so months, I’ve been working with boards that do not have on board USB connectivity so I’ve had to use FTDI TTL to Serial converters.  These things are cheap, under $2 on eBay.  They work great…as long as you are not using Windows 8.  And, therein lies my problem.

As I am designing a product to be used by ordinary people, these things HAVE to work with any modern version of Windows, from XP to 8.1.  And? They didn’t work with 8 or 8.1.  So, I set out to begin designing my own interface for 8.1. Fortunately, there’s a way to make them work.

I stumbled upon a nice site, Electro-Labs.com, and, one click after another led me to Nerd Ralph, a blog not unlike this one. One of the Nerd’s posts was about these little devices, which are actually clones of the Prolific device.  Prolific, understandably, was upset over the clones and made the newer drivers incompatible with the clones. The Nerd, fortunately, is very clever and found out that the older drivers do still work with the clones and has posted the older drivers.

So, go here and read the Nerd’s post and then you can either grab the drivers from his post or from here (64 bit drivers) and here (32 bit Windows 7 drivers).

RIP, Windows XP, it was a heck of a ride

Windows xp ProfessionalWindows XP is nearing the end of its long run.  Microsoft pulls the plug on support for the dinosaur of operating systems.  What this means is that it will no longer be patched for security issues.  It also means that, as time goes on, fewer applications will run on the beast. 

For whatever reason, people are clinging to it for dear life. Granted, most of the remaining installations are at corporations, corporations that may have internal apps that will not work on newer operating systems. However, there are a fair number of people who just do not wish to upgrade. Many think that moving on to Vista, Windows 7 or 8 would be a ‘downgrade’. Well, sorry people, that’s just nonsense. Many of its supporters now say it is ‘tried and true.’

It might be ‘tried and true’ now, but, when it was released, it was a disaster. So much so that Microsoft put off development on its replacement to focus on XP’s problems. Among them was a security hole big enough for Jupiter to go through.  And, People HATED it. Hated it worse than Vista or Windows 8 today. I recall many, negative reviews, articles and such that just skewered it.

There were Windows 98 diehards still. There were those who were clinging to Windows NT 4. It’s look and feel was called ‘Fisher Price’. Many thought its hardware requirements were ridiculous. It’s bundled apps, like Movie Maker, were laughed at (even though it was quite functional.) And, consider this:

  • George W Bush was in his first year of his two terms
  • The World Trade Center had only ceased to exist just weeks before
  • We still had a Space Shuttle program with all orbiters (but Challenger and Columbia broke up years later)
  • No one knew who this Obama guy was
  • Compaq was still a big name
  • Apple was still pretty insignificant

It wasn’t until the second service pack that XP became robust and stable. By that time, most Windows users had made the switch.  Those who disliked the Fisher Price interface switched back to the old, battleship gray, 3D-ish UI that adorned 95,98, Me, NT and 2000. There were all kinds of third party tools available to alter its appearance and the way it worked.  This indicated that its users still were not happy with XP.  Indeed, most business did not begin to switch to XP until 2006 or later.  By the time most business had switched, Microsoft had released Vista, at which point, there was this sudden XP fanboy thing.  Suddenly, it seemed, everyone who hated XP suddenly LOVED it and began hating Vista. The hate for Vista was so bad, that Microsoft, very quickly for them, got Windows 7 ready and out the door. Windows 7 seemed to be what people wanted and the mass migration, among ‘normal’ people started. They all skipped over Vista. The XP diehards, however, still clung to it.  At that point, Microsoft announced its imminent demise. And, then, NETBOOKS saved XP. Microsoft practically gave it away. And, in doing so, moved its death sentence way out.

Well, now that day is upon us.  It will be interesting to see how many stay on the aging platform and how many will, begrudgingly, move on Windows 7 or 8. Or, GASP! onto Mac or, worse, Linux. I doubt many will go that far.

Now, just because XP is being buried by Microsoft, does not mean it will just stop working. Quite the contrary, if you are careful, keep your antivirus updated, don’t do anything funky on the Internet, you should be able to continue to safely use XP for a long time.  Sure, as time goes on, those hot new games or applications will not run or even install on XP, but there is still enough of a user base that that will be a year or two off before it becomes a real problem for you.  If you move to Windows 7, you can still use Windows XP via XP mode. For Windows 8, you can always install a virtual machine and run it, safely, there. Of course, you can always just unplug it from the Internet and you know it should be nice and safe.

So, lets hear it for XP one more time…hip, hip, hoorah!

LCD Character Editor for Parallax LCD panels

The Parallax 2×16 or 4×20 LCD panels are inexpensive and easy to use. While limited to 2 or 4 lines of text, they do provide for 8 definable characters. This allows a bit of ‘graphical’ manipulation but, doing so in code can be a bit tricky.  I have developed a small, Windows based editor that lets you specify the target for the code, the type of output you want and a graphical way of creating your character.

The LCD Character Editor

lcdchared

Using the application is simple: when it starts, you have a blank canvas. Click in the white squares to turn them on. Create your character this way. When you are done, click Add and the code to create the character appears in the large window. There are a few things you need to enter prior to Adding the character.

First, you need to name the character.  That really means assigning it a special character number (0 to 7.) Enter that in the ‘Special Character # box. Next, you need to tell it which platform to gen the code for … either the Basic Stamp, in which case it creates BASIC code or Arduino, which generates C like syntax. Next, select the type of code you want. The Source + Header option will create a nice beginning to a project file in BASIC Stamp mode or some generic starter code for Arduino.  Source Only just gives you the code that actually gets sent to the display. It uses the binary format. Hex Code APPENDS the hex version of the binary code. You can then cut the format you want.

Save and Load does just what they say.

Clear allows you to start a new character. And, since this is a one character at a time deal, that is why you have a choice of inserting the header code or not. You can create as many characters as you need, maybe create a library and import the characters you want into your project.

Finally, EXIT just shuts down the program.

All character files are stored as text files with the .BS2 extension, even for Arduino…sorry Arduino fans. This was an oversight and might get fixed in a later version.

I make no warranty about this application. It is free to use, even for commercial works, but you cannot sell it.

It was developed with Visual Studio 2005 and requires .net 2.5. You should not have to install anything if you are running Vista or better.

Code Samples:

I. BASIC STAMP, Header and Source:

=============================
‘   {$STAMP BS2}
‘   {$PBASIC 2.5}

‘ =========================================================================
‘ —–[ Program Description ]———————————————
‘ —–[ Revision History ]————————————————
‘ —–[ Variablew ]————————————————
baud            VAR     Byte            ‘ baud rate variable
‘ —–[ I/O Definitions ]————————————————-
TX              PIN     0               ‘ serial output to LCD
‘ —–[ Constants ]——————————————————-

#SELECT $STAMP
#CASE BS2, BS2E, BS2PE
    T2400       CON    396
    T9600       CON     84
    T19K2       CON     32
#CASE BS2SX, BS2P
    T2400       CON     1021
    T9600       CON     240
    T19K2       CON     110
#ENDSELECT

baud=T9600

HIGH(TX)
PAUSE(100)

SEROUT TX, baud, [251]

SEROUT TX, baud, [%01110]
SEROUT TX, baud, [%11011]
SEROUT TX, baud, [%01110]
SEROUT TX, baud, [%10101]
SEROUT TX, baud, [%11111]
SEROUT TX, baud, [%10101]
SEROUT TX, baud, [%10001]
SEROUT TX, baud, [%10001]

II. BASIC STAMP, Source Only

SEROUT TX, baud, [248]

SEROUT TX, baud, [%01110]
SEROUT TX, baud, [%11011]
SEROUT TX, baud, [%01110]
SEROUT TX, baud, [%10101]
SEROUT TX, baud, [%11111]
SEROUT TX, baud, [%10101]
SEROUT TX, baud, [%10001]
SEROUT TX, baud, [%10001]

III. BASIC STAMP, Hex Code

SEROUT TX, baud, [0xE]
SEROUT TX, baud, [0x1B]
SEROUT TX, baud, [0xE]
SEROUT TX, baud, [0x15]
SEROUT TX, baud, [0x1F]
SEROUT TX, baud, [0x15]
SEROUT TX, baud, [0x11]
SEROUT TX, baud, [0x11]

IV. Arduino

#include <SoftwareSerial.h>

SoftwareSerial s(2,1); //receive on 2, and transmit on 1 aka ‘PB1’ aka pin 6
void setup() {
s.begin(9600);// set baud rate to 9600 baud
s.write(12);// clear screen
s.write(17);// turn on backlight

s.write(248)

s.write(B01110);
s.write(B11011);
s.write(B01110);
s.write(B10101);
s.write(B11111);
s.write(B10101);
s.write(B10001);
s.write(B10001);

You can download it, free, from here: LCD Char Editor

iOS 7 on older hardware: you should wait

I upgraded my 8gb iPhone 4 to iOS 7 when it released.  In the few days since the upgrade, however, I have experienced some anomolies with the upgrade. First off, it seems the NASCAR app is not compatible as it locked up the phone. I had to reset it to use it again.  While this may not be an issue for you, bear in mind that there will be apps that may not work or work well with iOS 7.

Next, while trying to setup one of the gestures, the OS started ‘scanning’ the screen, presenting options at each widget. The screen then became unresponsive.  After holding down the power and home buttons, I was able to reset the phone. Unfortunately, the touchscreen became unresponsive after about ten to twenty seconds.  I decided to restore the phone, but, because I have ‘find my iPhone’ enabled, I was unable to reset it with out turning off that feature.  Now, will someone tell me why it is this way? Yeah, I suppose it is a security ‘feature’, but, if my phone becomes unresponsive, how the hell am I supposed to fix it? Go to an Apple store?

Anyway, after twenty or so minutes and repeated restarts, I was able to close a few apps and get the phone responsive again.  There has to be a better way.  This process was enough to make me want to pull a Scott Bourne and toss the phone into the river.

While some Apple supplied apps are a bit faster, overall, however, this upgrade is akin to running Windows Vista on a machine designed for Windows 2000 or early XP: you might get it to work, but it won’t be pretty. There are so many features in iOS 7 that simply do not work on this earlier device I have to wonder why they thought it was a good idea. 

I know there are millions of iPhone 4 devices out there and those owners would be ticked (I would, I know) but, sometimes, things are better off left alone, like iPhone 4.  I am glad that Apple finally put it to rest, they should do that to the 4S as well.

This experience has, more than anything else, made me want to ditch the iPhone altogether now. I won’t go back to Android, that’s for sure.  I had given a fleeting thought to a Blackberry Z10, but, with their recent news and woe, I want a Windows Phone even more now.

Desire aside, other issues with the upgrade, for me, include confusing settings, the control center-which does not always popup- and animations that are just in the way.

If you have an older iPhone, a 4 or 4S, you may wish to wait for the inevitable ‘point’ release, which, I am sure, will be soon.  If you simply must upgrade, do so with caution. Make sure you back up first. And, good luck!a

Using your smartphone as a Windows or Mac secondary display: iDisplay

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about ways to use your old smartphone once you got a new one.  A reader asked that I expand on this post, so I am.

idisplay4One of my suggestions was to use it as a secondary display.  There are several apps out that will do this, for the iPhone/iPad and for Android.  The one I am writing about today is for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch.

Called iDisplay, this little gem does a terrific job at adding a second display to your Windows or Mac PC (because, you know, the Mac IS a PC.)

There are two parts to the setup: the iDisplay app for the phone and the desktop app that streams to the phone.  Installing on the phone is as easy as going to the App Store, searching for iDisplay, purchasing (it is .99) and downloading. Then, go to the iDisplay web site and download the appropriate desktop app and install that.  Please Note: it is also available on Android via the Google Play Store, but I am focusing on the iOS version here.

idisplay1Once running, the desktop server uses Bonjour and Wi-Fi to talk to the phone.  In Windows, it acts as a driver, allowing full video and audio as well as adding touch to a non-touch computer.  On my Windows 8 desktop that does not have touch, using this app on my iPhone adds touch.  And, works very, very well.

On my desktop, I let it use the default, which is to extend my display to the second device. The cool thing is that in the Windows 8 desktop, I get the full experience, task bar and right click action all work.  Apps that were running already, will remain on the primary display, apps that you start from the phone will display on the phone. I have to admit, I rather like seeing Windows on my iPhone.

idisplay3Among the features in the phone app are: gestures, integrated on screen keyboard, audio playback, touch, full interaction with your desktop.  From my desktop, I could even watch a video that was streaming from the desktop with relatively high frame rate. Of course, that will depend on your Wi-Fi network and how busy it is.  Also, the phone app works great with Windows 8 Start Page.  So far, it all seems to work nicely. One really nice feature is that the phone app can show you a list of currently running apps on the main display and allow you to move them to the secondary display, pretty nifty and useful. And for an application that has multiple windows or instances, you can select which one to view.

idisplay5I tried running the server app from my VivoTab Smart tablet running Windows 8.1 preview. It works, but only to a point.  I think it is a problem with the video driver and the Atom processor. It is slow and the only mode supported is mirror of the desktop, not very useful. And, really, for a tablet, you won’t need a second screen, but I had to try anyway.

Now, even though this app works very, very well, there are a couple of drawbacks.  One, it does put a load on your Wi-Fi network, so keep that in mind; two, using the Windows Desktop on an iPhone screen is a laborious task. The ‘chrome’, so to speak, is just too small. I had a difficult time closing windows or tapping on the address box to enter a URL. Now, you can zoom, which helps, but using full screen is pretty tough.  Using the extended mode on the phone app allows this.

Overall, I think this is a very well and highly useful application.  Not only is it a secondary display, but it also acts as a remote desktop as well.  Well worth the purchase price.

UPDATE:

I downloaded the Android version to my Kindle Fire. While I am still evaluating it, it looks just as good as the iOS version. Since the Kindle Fire is somewhat bigger than the iPhone, it is much easier to use Windows on the this device. It also works better with the system mouse. In addition, you can use USB to connect your Android device to the PC (or, presumably, your Mac.)  I have a Mac Mini, so I think I may try that as well. How about full Mac OS X on your Android or iPad?

Windows and Internet Explorer, still the most popular?

NOTE: This is a post that originated on HalfByte’s sister blog on SquareSpace.

One of the nicer things about Squarespace is the stats that you get for your blog. I can see who or what referred traffic to the blog, what browser is being used, operating system and more.

Interestingly, from the stats, I have a wide variety of users hitting this blog: Windows, Linux, Mac and mobile. So, just how do the numbers break down?  Have a look…

Browsers  

IE7

24.14%

Gecko(Firefox)

22.90%

Chrome

11.07%

Unknown

9.47%

Opera9

9.23%

IE6

6.69%

Safari

6.15%

Opera7

3.43%

IE8

3.25%

IE

2.37%

IE9

1.01%

KHTML

0.30%

As you can see, IE7 is the most popular, followed by Firefox. Chrome is a distant third. Mobile browsers, likely, make up the ‘unknown’ followed, surprisingly, by Opera. Now, Opera is in a variety of devices, including the Wii and a host of feature phones and Android devices. That last one, KHTML, surprised me. Seriously, people actually use that. Huh. Collectively, however, Internet Explorer is, by far, the most popular browser. 

Next, operating systems…

Operating Systems  
Win7
34.44%
WinXP 27.75%
WinNT 10.47%
Unknown 9.47%
WinVista 5.68%
Win2000 4.26%
Android 3.43%
MacOSX 3.08%
iPhone 0.59%
Win2003 0.47%
Linux 0.30%
Win 0.06%

Several things stand out here. First, the high percentage of people still using Windows XP. The ‘Win’ is even more surprising as that represents the Windows 9x family (including ME.)  I think Windows 8 may fall in the ‘WinNT’ category, but I am not positive. At any rate, the high percentages of Windows prior to Vista is just odd. Who still uses them?  I am also a bit surprised by the low percentage of iPhone  and Android.  Though, I think the higher Android numbers reflect the overall type of reader for this blog: more techie types, though by that line of thought, I would think the Linux numbers would be higher. But, once again, the majority of readers are Windows users.

Now, it would really be easy-and the numbers would back it up-to conclude that the majority of readers use Internet Explorers and Windows. I suppose I could be like other sites and extrapolate that to mean that Windows is the most popular operating system used and Internet Explorer is the most used browser.  HOWEVER…I also know that my blog is one tiny, miniscule sliver of the Internet and that it is NOT a destination for, what I think, is the most prevalent type of computing consumer on the planet: the mobile user.  While Windows is still the king of desktop/laptop computing, it is not king of mobile computing.  For now, that’s Android with iOS in second.  I would expect, however, that Windows Phone will gain even more traction and Windows RT/8 to pick up some of the tablet space.

While it is nice to see that the material I write is pertinent to the majority of readers of the blog, I am also a bit disappointed that my readership is not more diverse.  But, it is a changing landscape and I, too, must change and accept that the world I am comfortable with is changing. Microsoft knows this and they are trying to adapt. And, so do I.