Focusrite Scarlett USB audio interface: disconnection problems

A simple Google search on “Focusrite Scarlett disconnect” reveals this to be a common problem with no clear solution.  I’ve experienced and solved this issue on two independent PC+Scarlett setups, and both times it boiled down to the same problem: the USB cable.

Not only do you need an A-to-B cable specifically rated for USB 2.0 (or higher) compatibility, but you need to ensure it is a short cable (I’d say 6 feet max) with at least one good ferrite core around the end that plugs into the back of the Scarlett.  Ideally you’d use a cable with two ferrite cores (one around each end).  And do not use a USB extension cable or USB hub in between the Scarlett and the computer.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say “ferrite core”, just plug the following search into Amazon: “USB 2.0 A to B ferrite”.

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Getting Windows 8.1 to actually sync with OneDrive / SkyDrive

Apparently you have to have UAC enabled in order for SkyDrive sync to actually work in the background like you’d expect on Windows 8.1.  Lame — I always turn UAC off because it’s horrendously annoying and I’m not a blithering idiot who randomly clicks “Yes” on everything without reading it first.

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I helped design and build the Windows 8 Start screen. Wow.

Looking back over my “Windows Wish List” posts and some wild hand-drawn sketches in a spiral notebook from 2008, it’s amazing to me to look back over the last 4 years and realize not only how many of my ideas have been incorporated into Windows 7 and 8, but also the fact that I helped make much of it happen by working on the Windows shell team. The Start screen in Windows 8 has several design elements that were originally mine: the parallax scrolling effect of the background (inspired by old-school video games like “Shadow of the Beast”), the notion of making a full-screen version of the Start menu, and a way of organizing or partitioning Apps, Settings, and Files. Another one of my ideas — pinning a website from Internet Explorer to the Taskbar as its own icon with its own jumplist — was picked up and turned into a feature in newer versions of IE. It’s surreal to now see the Start screen (which I spent 3 years helping to design and build) all over the news, TV commercials, and printed Christmas shopping ads. I guess while I was busy working my butt off, I really did manage to help change the world.

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SEGA D-pad analysis

Anyone who has read my previous posts knows I’ve been obsessed with game controller design for a long time. My obsession has led me to three overall questions/conclusions:

  1. The Japanese SEGA Saturn controllers (and the genuine SEGA-produced Genesis 6-button controller modeled directly after its internal design) have the best D-pad ever designed — but why?
  2. The “transforming d-pad” on the new 360 controllers works bettter but still has some problems — why?
  3. Convex-shaped analog thumbsticks are superior to concave-shaped analog thumbsticks — but why?

I have analyzed each of these topics with OCD-like attention and have come up with some explanations/answers that are actually very interesting. This post will address points 1 and 2, because they are related.

The one remaining problem with the “transforming D-pad” on the new xbox360 controllers is that it is still a tip-prone teeter-totter. Meaning, as you are trying to cleanly switch from pressing “left” to “right”, it’s all too easy for the d-pad to accidentally “tip” up or down enough to erroneously activate one of those vertical directions. This is what still infuriates many players of games like PacMan CE DX, which require accurate split-second 4-direction controls.

SEGA solved this problem in the 1990s with their D-pad design for the 6-button Genesis controller (same design used in the Japanese Saturn controller). They eliminated the tip-prone nature of the d-pad by eliminating the central pivot point altogether! See the following illustration:

I bought an old 6-button Genesis controller (the good SLS-manufactured ones, not the crappy knock-off ones manufactured by Jalesco or whoever it was and rebranded with the SEGA logo) off eBay and took it apart. I also bought off eBay a pair of the new (2009) SLS-manufactured and reissued-only-overseas “Saturn” controllers that are USB for use with PCs, and took one of them apart. The controllers are cosmetically different on the outside and have a slightly different feel, but they use the same D-pad design as illustrated above. The Saturn USB controllers, when used with emulators like MAME or KEGA Fusion, are far more accurate and “less frustrating”-feeling than the D-pads on either the PS2 or Xbox360 controllers I also hook up to my PC. The SEGA pads truly are the best design, even after all these years.

Which leaves me wondering, why don’t all the modern game makers use that design? Surely whatever patent(s) (if any) SEGA held on the design have expired by now. Maybe it’s just because the engineers at Microsoft and Sony and various third-party controller makers are unaware of this design.

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Review of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 wireless controllers with transforming D-pad

I’ve replaced all my original Xbox 360 wireless controllers with the new silver model with the transforming d-pad. Although still far from perfect, the d-pad on these is a major improvement, and worth the upgrade now that the price on these has dropped. It’s also looking like all future controllers released by Microsoft will use the new d-pad design, such as the Gears of War 3 special release controllers.

Cons:
1. The grayscale buttons. Many games use the color codings, so it was stupid to make them all grey. Fortunately they can be swapped out for the colored buttons from an original controller.

2. The analog thumbsticks still have concave tops (rather than convex, as PS2/PS3 use). Fortunately they can be swapped out for aftermarket PS2-style sticks from online sellers such as http://www.evilcontrollers.com/

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HOORAY! Microsoft finally to release xbox360 controller with fixed D-pad

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CompuTrace/”LoJack” for laptops: rcpnetp.exe, rpcnetp.dll, autochk.exe

So there’s this “security” software built into the BIOS of many laptops called CompuTrace.  It is sorta like “LoJack” for laptops.  If your laptop is ever stolen, CompuTrace can “phone home” to notify a server where your laptop is.  It is written by a company called Absolute Software and then provided to laptop manufacturers so they can include it in the BIOSes they supply for their laptops.  If you have one of these laptops, then you have this software in your BIOS and there is no way for you to remove it.
CompuTrace is at least partially a rootkit.  Absolute designed it that way intentionally so that a thief cannot remove the software by formatting the disk or reflashing the BIOS.  The problem is that rootkits can cause all kinds of other horrible problems for you, the user.
The CompuTrace rootkit in your BIOS will write the following files (and possibly others) to your Windows filesystem:
c:\windows\system32\rpcnetp.exe
c:\windows\system32\rpcnetp.dll
The rootkit will also hijack the AUTOCHK.EXE process that normally runs during Windows boot, and instead run its own code.
One issue this rootkit may cause: chkdsk may not run during boot like it is supposed to.
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