Windows XP themes for Windows 8.1 (or Windows 7)

Since Microsoft has finally put an end to support of the most popular Operating System it ever made (Brilliant), the Computer User Community at large is less than enthused. Many users who became comfortable with Windows XP did not relish the idea of learning a new Desktop and navigation scheme (look and feel). So they just stuck with XP and never bothered with Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8/8.1. Are they now faced with a steep learning curve? Maybe, maybe not…

Did you know recreating a Windows XP look and feel is possible for Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1?

While it requires a level of technical knowledge to do so, if you are fretting over what to do in a world without Windows XP, rest assured there is more than one way to make the desktop of the newer OS look a lot like Windows XP.

R.I.P. Windows XP

April 8, 2014:

R.I.P Windows XP

Today is the day that Microsoft officially pulled the plug on Windows XP…

While applauding Microsoft for the longevity of Windows XP is outside typical human nature, perhaps vilification of the company over it’s greatest Operating System success is a bit cliche as well. Windows XP has truly had a glorious run for a major revision of OS Kernel and User Interface. However, it’s not hard to agree that the business case for continuing to support it has faded to nothing. Microsoft has been warning the public for well over 7 years that they need to retire Windows XP and it is now over 2.5 years beyond the 10 years that was originally promised for support in the service terms document. Don’t get me wrong, I know many technical users who depend on Windows XP native applications for their livelihood. Applications that have never been updated to run on anything but Windows XP in many cases. Windows XP was the greatest, but the scales have tipped in the direction of liability. It’s time has passed.

So what is a dedicated Windows XP user to do? Well, my advice is fairly conservative.

  • Make sure all of the Security related patches (updates) have been installed.
  • Consider using a third party Antivirus progrm if you don’t already (just because Microsoft will quit updating Securty Essentials and Firewall for XP as well). Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) supply one with the service at no extra charge, so use that if you can.
  • If you can afford it, get a new computer with a newer OS as soon as possible and start learning how to use it before retiring your Windows XP computer.
  • Most Important!!! Ifyou use Windows XP for banking, bill paying, or online shopping, STOP doing that as soon as possible!
  • Need more help? Click here.

R.I.P Windows XP

BTW: I use a variety of OS (while I use W7 most of the time, my current favorite OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, also obsolete and superseded after 14 months can’t even run on a 32 bit CPU).

Screen Sharing on a MAC (Alternative Method)

Many are familiar with the “Screen Sharing” feature in MAC OS X. It allows you to connect remotely to the desktop of another MAC when that other MAC is accessible as a network share and has the Screen Sharing feature enabled under the Sharing setting in System Preferences. A “Share Screen” button will be displayed to the left of the connnect/disconnect button for the network computer in the upper right of the finder window when that remote computer is selected in the network page or in the sidebar.

Unless… If you have a network with multiple subnets, routers and/or firewalls. Network discovery services like DNS and Bonjour may not get through these boundaries. Then you may not see the “Share Screen” button, so what do you do?

Watch the video for an alternative method…

This method uses Safari to launch Screen Sharing via the http port.

A Serial Bootloader for Microchip 8 bit PIC Embedded Designs: Microchip Application Note AN1310

This article introduces the reader to a set of up to date Serial Bootloader tools for Microchip 8 bit PIC series products that we frequently use in electronic designs featuring an 8 bit embedded MCU (Micro Controller Unit).

So what is a Serial Bootloader and why would anyone want it?

In some products that use an MCU it may be advantageous to allow the program to be updated in the field or at a service shop without the specialized programming gear needed to completely reprogram it. For this purpose the MCU is equipped with a small primary program whose sole purpose is to facilitate updating of the main device application program.  In embedded systems this is sometimes referred to as a “Bootloader Stub” since it is often located at the beginning or end of the program memory space, and is the first code to execute on start or reset.  When the device starts, the Bootloader checks for a special state or instruction.  If that object is present, the Bootloader waits to download and overwrite the Application Program with an update.  Otherwise the device continues on to execute the full Application Program.  Some such devices have a USB port that can be used as the communications for this but it is less common than other serial port types that can be implemented at lower cost. One of the most common serial port types on low cost embedded designs is the venerable RS-232 port. In fact, many different MCU devices have one or more built in UART devices (direct support for RS-232) while just a handful build in the more complex USB port.

For example: recently tasked with redesigning a controller PCB for an existing product, there was no need or desire to change the interfaces, only update the components that were obsolete. One of the obsolete components was the Microchip MCU, a 40 PIN DIP with insufficient Flash memory for program updates and a shortage of digital I/O. It was replaced by an 80 pin TQFP variant with more memory space in all 3 categories (Flash, RAM and EEPROM) more I/O of course (to eliminate the previous I/O sharing scheme and provide for expansion) and perhaps most important at a lower cost than the old part it replaces. A dedicated ICSP (In Circuit Serial Programming) port replaces the practice of burning the old DIP parts in in an old EEPROM programmer appliance. The product also uses an RS-232 port to communicate with a control computer. In this case, it was decided to leverage the existing RS-232 port in the design for firmware maintenance. The larger Flash space of the new MCU allowed adding the Serial Bootloader feature to eliminate the need for any dedicated programmer equipment when updating units already programmed at least once. All that is needed is a PC to run the AN1310 PC Bootloader application equipped with a RS-232 serial port, an established serial link between the computer and device to be programmed and the program update in the form of a .hex file.

The Application Note from Microchip, AN1310 provides all of the resources needed to accomplish the addition and operation of the Serial Bootloader with many variants of the PIC16F and PIC18F 8 bit MCU families having an available UART port.

Microchip AN1310

Windows Server 2012 Essentials First Look

Update November 2, 2012: The video is now available with Captions in several languages. Just select the CC icon to include the Closed Caption Text in your favorite language.

Windows Server 2012 Essentials First Look. A quick tour of Microsoft Windows Server 2012 Essentials, the latest Server OS from Microsoft as of this post.

I am evaluating this new basic version of Windows Server. It was released to manufacturing (RTM) on October 9, 2012 and released to MSDN Subscibers on October 10, 2012.

Posted by Vernon, Engineer LLC October 19, 2012

Creating a Windows Form Application on Windows 8

Updated October 26, 2012: Windows 8 is now in the wild!

Update October 17, 2012: A new version of this video is now available with complete Closed Caption Narrative. Just select the CC icon to include the Closed Caption Text.

Windows 8 was just released for public consumption October 26, 2012. This video demonstrates how designing a standard Windows Form Application remains largely unchanged from earlier versions of the OS and Development tools. This demonstration uses Microsoft Visual Studio 2012 on a fresh installation of Windows 8.

Posted by Vernon Johnson, Engineer LLC September 30, 2012

PIC32 SPI to MCP4922 Dual 12 bit Digital to Analog Converter

Reposted from Vernon’s Excellent Blog (original date 12/16/2011).

I recently completed an exercise in bringing up a MCP4922 DAC on the PIC32 SPI. I didn’t find any examples specifically using the PIC32 with MCP4922 or even any examples of the MCP4922 used in a 3.3v circuit. Therefore I thought a post might help the next fool that comes along and tries it…

1. The PIC32 Peripheral Library Help file is not much for detail, I found a need to dig into the SPIxCON register table in the PIC32 datasheet just to get definitions for the Input Parameter Mnemonics.

2. The CLK and SDO lines both need to be pulled up with at least 10K (I ended up using 4.7K). Further design refinements included pull ups on CS and LDAC with 10K to ensure sufficient loading on the PIC32 outputs, .01uf bypass caps on the outputs to filter the switching noise out and closer coupling of the MCP4922 P/S bypass caps to 4mm or less from the Vdd pin as recommended in the datasheet.

3. When halting just after a TX everything worked OK but it got unstable when I let it run free at an update rate of 10HZ or even slower. After much troubleshooting (including assuming that I had damaged the DAC chip) scope trace snapshots revealed the instability was due to a data/clock sync error. Specifically the clock burst was terminating early on random data write events. I found that it requires the CKE transition to be inverted (CKE = 1, [SPI_OPEN_CKE_REV]) to shift data out before the clock to run stable. Indeed, now it runs smooth and clean at a 1MHz SPI clock rate. YAY!

Here’s the SetDAC Function (Written in C32 v2.01)


And now it works!

Clock and Data Waveforms @ 1MHz

Clock and Data Waveforms @ 1MHz

Happy Coding…

January 2012. A new beginning

With a Prosperous 2011 drawing to a close, I began the process of forming a new Business Venture “Engineer LLC“.  With a portion of my earnings from Contract work, I have formed a new LLC organization to serve as a foundation for the several business ventures that I have been incubating or planning over the course of 2011.  Engineer LLC is now operational and forms the new “Parent” organization for several business ventures…

    • Spidersource Unlimited is my vision for a provider of Consumer and Technical Software in the mobile marketplace. It has yet to be officially launched as of this writing.
    • was created in January of 2008 in response to an inquiry by a Ferrari restorer and as a tribute to my Father’s invention of aftermarket emission control devices for the Automotive “Grey Market” of the United States in the early 1980s. The site serves as a source of information for owners of these now antique Automobiles. Occasionally, a request comes in for assistance to this site which will now be a division of Engineer LLC.
    • Vernon Johnson Engineering Services has been consulting with private Inventors since 2004 to assist in bringing new inventions to life! Vernon Johnson Engineering Services also occasionally provides Advanced level Computer Networking and Systems Engineering services to Clients with challenging Computer needs.  For the time being, Vernon Johnson Engineering Services will remain independent for existing Consulting contracts.  New Consulting contracts will be fulfilled through Engineer LLC.

There may be other ventures in the future that will emerge as projects or ventures of Engineer LLC as well.

The new web presence for Engineer LLC is hosted by Dreamhost. I have been using them for 7 years (ever since I started publishing public web content) and must say I am a very satisfied customer. This blog you are reading right now is hosted on Dreamhost. If you are considering opening a new web Hosting account, I strongly recommend Dreamhost. Should you choose to use their services, use the promo code NEWUSER2012 and you will get an additional discount when you create a new account with Dreamhost. Full Disclosure: I do receive a small referral fee for referring new customers.

Vernon Johnson

January 24, 2012