kig.re Writings on tech, music and life by Konstantin Gredeskoul, aka 'kig'

How to use cheap Chinese Arduinos that come with with CH340G / CH341G Serial/USB chip (Windows & Mac OS-X)

  • Updated Nov, 2017 with the latest driver for OS-X High Sierra
  • Updated Oct, 2016 with the new signed driver for OS-X Sierra
  • Updated Nov 22, 2015 with the new signed driver for OS-X El Capitan and Yosemite
  • Updated Jan 9, 2016 with Windows Drivers

My golden rule is that if something took me longer than 15 minutes to figure out, then it's worth documenting in a tiny blog post so that it would save time to others, just like many other similar posts saved me million hours by providing simple clear instructions.

Introduction – What is CH340G?

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Announcing LaserCutter ruby gem and MakeABox.IO web site

My day job, @ Wanelo, requires cranking on all cylinders, and so I've been pretty busy with life, the universe, and everything, although it mostly means Work, the Wife, and the Cat). In all this constructive chaos, I totally forgot to mention, and properly introduce to the world something I've been working on during many sleepless nights this September :)

So without further ado, LaserCutter –– ruby gem (a library and a CLI) for making PDF designs of laser-cut boxes, which fit/snap in together at all edges using tabs that go in and out. The output of the library is a PDF document. Typically next step would import that PDF into Adobe Illustrator for additions and touch ups, and then sent off to a laser cutter for the actual, well, cutting.

In addition to the ruby gem, there is also simple web front-end, called MakeABox.IO, which can get you started creating boxes without installing any gem, or running anything on the command line.

If you've made any enclosures of your own, like either for your electronics gear, or a lighting show, or your cat auto-flushable toilet, you probably used one of the existing and free tools out there. I did not find them all when I started making boxes, but over time the choice seemed to come down to three options:

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BORAT: Bathroom Occupancy Remote Awareness Technology with Arduino

A great company where I work, Wanelo, with all of it's 35 people, recently moved to a new office which has only two single-occupancy bathrooms, each on a separate floor.

A few times a day, when the need was strong, I'd go to the downstairs bathroom only to find its door locked. I'd then run upstairs and find the other one locked too... Damn! I'd come back down only find out that someone else grabbed the first bathroom while I was upstairs. Argh!

You can likely see how this could be a frustrating and disruptive experience even just once or twice. Now multiply that by 35 employees and every work day of the year, and you end up with an actual productivity problem.

Given my foray into Arduino over the last few months, I knew I could come up with a solution. I got approved for a small budget of about $200, and started looking around.


The problem was very simple: people needed to know when each bathroom was occupied, or not. Just like on an airplane you can see bathroom light on/off, I wanted something similar for our two bathrooms. Something everyone could see.


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Choosing The Right Arduino IDE (And The Winner… Is Eclipse!)

As a relative late comer to Arduino world, I went through the beginner tutorials and examples using the provided Arduino IDE. I faithfully downloaded it from arduino.cc web site, took a quick tour and was pretty unimpressed with the set of features. For one, I am very particular about the color scheme of my programming editors, and not having a choice was an immediate downer.

Arduino IDE is simple to use, and I think this was one of the key design goals for this software. It is commonly used to introduce many folks to programming electronics, and just programming, notably in C/C++. As such, this tool is pretty limited, and limiting too. Very quickly I found myself very stuck unable to browse through external symbols by clicking through them, using auto-complete features, refactor code, and so on: all the "basic" features I so got spoiled with, by tools such as JetBrain's RubyMine, AppCode, IDEA, open source (but originally IBM's) Eclipse, and not to mention Apple's XCode.

Arduino IDE

After going through several example projects using the IDE I became more and more frustrated with its limitations. Programming hardware is hard enough (pun intended), and the IDE is supposed to make life easier.

For example,

  • How do I explore the source code of the included libraries that are being used by my sketch?
  • Why does "Import Library" insert a new #include into my sketch when I already have one?
  • Why is tab indentation not maintained as you move to the next line while editing?
  • Why is the board and port selection remain global, and are not assigned to each sketch? Can't I be working on multiple boards at the same time, especially, say, when they talk to each other?
  • And of course... why can't I change the goddamn colors :)

So I became worried that my foray into electronics would die young if I didn't find a more capable programming alternative, and so I started exploring.

Arduino IDE Alternatives

First off – a tiny disclaimer: this is not a feature by feature comparison of Arduino-capable IDEs. It's a personal opinion of an experienced software engineer, who recently entered this domain. I work on Mac OSX, and so I only briefly mention the Windows options. But on a Mac I did end up trying most of the options listed here.

When I talk about software IDE, I generally do not mean a fancy text editor. While I know that plenty of great developers love and use text editors on complicated software projects, the convenience of a true IDE on a small to mid-sized software project is hard to dispute. So while I do, when appropriate, use a combination of VIM or TextMate for exploring or quickly editing, I prefer to actually write code in a true IDE. If I had to define what true IDE means for me, I would list the following features:

  • full indexing with ability to click on a symbol or use a key shortcut to go to the definition or source file where that symbol is defined
  • in-place documentation lookup for APIs
  • code auto-complete (configurable, and not automatic – key press invoked)
  • code auto-format with automatic tab positioning while editing
  • refactor (extract method, etc)
  • symbol rename (automatic renaming of functions, class names with file name change, variables, etc across many files)
  • built-in debugger
  • automated test integration
  • arguably less important are global project search, global find and replace, project-level symbol lookup.

My absolute favorite over the years have been the series of IDEs for all popular languages produced by JetBrains –– a company that singlehandedly dominated the IDE nitche for over a decade now, including winning over droves of professional java programmers away from Eclipse.

But anyway, here is the list of what's available for proper software development of the code, with Arduino as the final destination:

Arduino IDE for Visual Studio

(screenshot courtesy VisualMicro)

  • embedXCode – use XCode 4 or XCode 5 to write Arduino sketches. I tried to install this, and was able to pretty quickly compile a sketch. But to be honest, I never loved XCode to begin with. It's gotten infinitely better over the years, but something about it's Preferences screens is so incredibly daunting, that I never got really good at XCode. Perhaps someday :)

Arduino IDE for Visual Studio

(screenshot courtesy StackOverflow)

  • This brings us to the last contender: Eclipse. Eclipse has been around for a long time, and is an amazing platform for so many things, including software development. Having used Eclipse on several Java projects in the past, it seemed the most natural fit. So I downloaded the Eclipse Arduino Plugin, and that's what the rest of this post is about.

Eclipse Arduino Plugin Saves the Day

Having now used this IDE for several weeks straight, I am pretty happy with the Eclipse Arduino Plugin. The project is pretty active on GitHub, and the author is also quite nice :)

The Case for Open Source

One of the first things I bumped into, with the nightly build of the plugin and with my Arduino Esplora board, was a pretty major problem: I couldn't upload any sketches. So I posted a bug report on GitHub, and author replied with a quick note on how to get the source of the plugin, and which class to look at, so that I could fix the problem. It sounded like a challenge. Of course I took it.

For the next few hours instead of working on my Arduino sketch I was fixing the Eclipse plugin. To my surprise, it was relatively easy to get setup with the environment where I imported the entire plugin source into JetBrains IDEA (haha, sorry Eclipse! You are still number two :) and was able to diagnose and fix the issue with the timing of opening serial port and uploading the sketch. A few hours later my pull request was merged, and the nightly build of Eclipse Plugin started working for everyone with Arduino Esplora! That, my friends, is the true power of open source.

While I was at it, I also updated the README with proper markdown and (perhaps) slightly better English. And of course I couldn't stop there either, and continued going slightly crazy, massively refactoring serial communications of the plugin deep into the night, and then submitting a beautiful pull request. However, at that point the plugin author probably had gotten pretty annoyed that I was making his code look and work a bit better, and sadly rejected the PR, explaining that another rewrite of serial comms is happening. Oh well, at least I can keep using my fork on my own machine, where I get to see pretty error messages that actually explain what's going on :)

But I digress.

Installing Eclipse Plugin for Arduino

Option 1: probably the simplest way to get started is by downloading the nightly build, in my experience they've been pretty stable. The single-file download will already contain a compiled binary (called something like "arduinoEclipse.app" or similar), and you can just run it.

Option 2: But my preferred way to install the plugin is to first install a full version of Eclipse Luna for C/C++, and then add Arduino plugin to it via software installer.

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Books I Am Reading

This post is about the books I am reading right now, with short reviews.

Books

Zero to Maker: Learn (Just Enough) to make (Just About) Anything by David Lang

Something must be said about inspiration. This book is great at providing continuing inspiration in my quest for building with my hands. I am still reading this book, but I love it. The specific practical advice is not always realistic or applicable to anyone, but the back story is fantastic and I love reading how the author turned into maker so quickly and so successfully. Perhaps there is a path down the road of this hobby that offers something different.

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson

This book by the head editor of Wired magazine provides insightful and fascinating view point that we are at a brink of the new industrial revolution. If anything, this blog and my obsession is a living proof. Anderson believes that the current tools, costs and opportunity is immense for those interested in becoming inventors and entrepreneurs at the same time. He offers some convincing evidence, by artificially bringing to the market a new type of sprinkler, following his dad's footsteps decades ago. It's a thought provoking read and I highly recommend it.

Make: Electronics by Charles Platt

This is one of the best introductory books to electronics, and it takes time to get through. I am about 25% through, and I already learned so much about physics, electricity and electronics to be pretty dangerous, literally, in my office/workshop. I read enough to understand that a fuse may save me from a fire, and have since promptly purchased a buttload of 2A, 3A, 5A mini car fuses, which work great with big batteries.

Anyway, this book I highly recommend for the fundamentals.

Programming Arduino – Getting Started With Sketches, by Simon Monk

Very short, and very surface level coverage. I did not find this book overly useful, and finished it in a weekend.

Exploring Arduino – Tools and Techniques for Engineering Wizardry by Jeremy Blum

This is a fantastic book, very much in depth and with great examples. I am still reading it. Probably the best book on Arduino at the moment.

Arduino Cookbook, by Michael Margolis

This book was recommended to me at a meetup, and it's a thick heavy book. I must admit I only looked through the first third, and have not yet used the recipes in practice. But the breadth of coverage is impressive.

Making an Arduino Controlled Robot, by Michael Morgolis

This is another great book with lots of good examples, but all the code is filled with delay(). I'll discuss in later posts why this is terrible, and offer an alternative. I just started reading it, so standby for more details.

Programming the BeagleBone Black, by Simon Monk

This is a better "short" introduction than Arduino, and uses JavaScript (since BeagleBone now comes with Cloud9 + node.js). I read about a half, since I am not currently working on BeagleBone yet, I am waiting for another moment.

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