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Battle of Big Sur: Apple's War on Serial Adapters. What Are You Doing?

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Battle of Big Sur: Apple's War on Serial Adapters. What Are You Doing?
Posted by mlehman on Sunday, February 21, 2021 8:12 PM

After getting my command station fixed from last summer's lightning strike back from NCE, I next moved onto getting JMRI back up. Well, it just wouldn't and I didn't have time to fuss with it, figuring there would likely be more melted wires to deal with. A summer full of pandemic-driven projects passed. I poked at it a time or two without results. Now that I'm planning on re-opening ops sessions with the vaccine helping things along, I got serious about figuring this out.

Turns out there aren't any fried wires to find. Nope, it's my Mac, which I foolishly allowed to be "upgraded" first to Catalina, then to the latest and grestest, Big Sur. In the process, the drivers that are needed to operate the USB-to-Serial adapter that connects my NCE Power Pro to my iMac now no longer function. Thus, no way to use JMRI on the layout, as many do with their cellphones these days.

Mac refers you to the manufacturer of your  serial adapter's dongle to solve this "incompatibility" -- except it's pretty clear that the manufacturers seem to have been locked out of this by policy if we're talking serial adapters. Perhaps Apple considers the technology passe, but I'm sure many of us who use DCC don't think so.

So far, I found a few solutions that looked like it might work with Catalina, but since I've already moved on, I can only pass this info along and not verify it. Based on my experience, do not "update" to Big Sur on your Mac if you depend on such a USB-to-serial adapter for now. I found only one solution that seemed to specifically say it could defeat Apple's efforts to force you to use its App Store - Serial 2 (and I haven't been able to make it work for me yet) - and then not make something that could substitute for what they've broken available (as far as I can tell) in its restricted store.

Of course, I may simply be ignorant of what the nice, neat solution is here. I'm prepared to be enlightened, but I haven't found much much beyond the little bit mentioned here.

I also understand there's a network interface that could be used. However, my wife uses the internet for work and adding the command station as a network device  would present a whole 'nother set of issues, i.e. I'd rather spend the personal capital on other more important issues than talking her into helping me fix Apple's virtual vandalism.

So did I just miss the memo on the easy fix for Big Sur's annoying overprotectiveness that disables many USB-to-serial(DB9) adapters or is there a simple solution?

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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Posted by speedybee on Sunday, February 21, 2021 8:25 PM

I can't help you fix this problem, but I can commiserate.

It seems that nowadays the MO of big software companies is they try to decide for you what you should want to do, rather than trying to make something that helps you do what you want to do.

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Sunday, February 21, 2021 8:45 PM

Why do I still run Windows XP?  Because the old Game Port devices I needed for my Flight Simulator hardware don't work on the "improved" newer systems.  This contagion seems to be common to Windows and Macs.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by mlehman on Sunday, February 21, 2021 8:52 PM

What's really sad is that there are a lot of creative folks who use serial adapters for various purposes, it's not just DCC. Most such things are never going to be updated to more modern interfaces. These are the same creatives that Apple tries to market itself to as the product of choice, so they are kind of shooting themselves in the foot here.

Unless there is some neat solution here. So far, it's not obvious. You can't actually walk into a Best Buy and get a cable that will do this. I know, I tried that today. Despite the adapter's  claim of "OS support for all versions of...Mac OS X or later..." Nope, doesn't do it when you get to Big Sur.

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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Posted by OldEngineman on Sunday, February 21, 2021 10:08 PM

If the drivers are 32-bit, they will not work with either Catalina or Big Sur. Both these OS's now require 64 bit compatible software.

You wrote: "I found only one solution that seemed to specifically say it could defeat Apple's efforts to force you to use its App Store - Serial 2 (and I haven't been able to make it work for me yet) - and then not make something that could substitute for what they've broken available (as far as I can tell) in its restricted store."

Can you identify this "solution" by name, and provide a link to it? I'd like to download it and experiment with it (I have several Macs and can run numerous versions of the OS).

You do realize you can "go back" to an earlier version of the OS, right? How easily this is done depends on how one backs up one's system. If you were using either CarbonCopyCloner or SuperDuper, it's almost child's play to "get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged". It's still possible with a time machine backup (I don't use TM and wouldn't recommend it to anybody).

No backup? It's still possible to go back, but it's not an easy trip.

One last thing. You speak of Big Sur's "overprotectiveness"? Does this mean you can't INSTALL the drivers? Is Gatekeeper getting in the way? That, too, can be easily overcome. Open terminal and enter:

sudo spctl --master-disable

(password required). That might help. No promises.

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Posted by mlehman on Sunday, February 21, 2021 11:38 PM

OldEngineman
s Gatekeeper getting in the way? That, too, can be easily overcome. Open terminal and enter: sudo spctl --master-disable (password required). That might help. No promises.

That's what it came down to and what I was going to try again because I wasn't sure I got it done. It was supposed to produce another choice that allowed installation that bypassed the App Store gatekeeping by allowing the user to override things. It failed to do that, so...

Then I somehow managed to get it working and I have no idea how. I left the Best Buy solution (Insignia USB to RS-232 Serial Adapter #NS-PU99501) in place. Then I tried to install again one of the previous failed, the CP210xVVCP driver from Silicon Labs. Then I couldn't find where I'd misplaced that dongle. Figured I'd give it a shot and it worked! YMMV and sorry I can't be more precise about this. Apple is not supposed to be this hard.

The one that seemed most promising with Big Sur was Serial 2 from Decisive Tactics:

https://www.decisivetactics.com/products/serial/

I also suspected I may have mangled getting the trial version of it set up, but I'm just not sure at this point. Just happy it's alive again.

Thanks everyone for the suggestions. I'm not sure how much here that I brought is useful because of the associated uncertainty about what it was that did work after fussing with this for most of the weekend. So anything that works that you can document here to add to this will help others. If your JMRI suddenly quits wokring on your recently updated Mac, consider this as a potential cause.

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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Posted by maxman on Monday, February 22, 2021 12:06 AM

Is there some reason you need a Mac?  Why not just purchase an inexpensive laptop with windows for the railroad and JMRI?

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Posted by mlehman on Monday, February 22, 2021 1:07 AM

It's my computer and it's next to the railroad. I have enough trouble managing one computer Confused I actually have a RaspberryPi that I first tried to run JMRI, in fact several of them. I had too much trouble managing the OS to be quite honest, along with the DIY nature of the little beast. I'm thinking about getting it back out and trying to get it going again, but I don't want to get in a position of depending on it.

After XP, I've tried to have as little as possible to do with Windows, in fact made the jump to Apple to avoid the W10 learning curve. I do have an old XP laptop that doesn't go on the internet that I fire up from time to time to use for a few radio things that are Windows only (and old versions at that)

Mike Lehman

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, February 22, 2021 3:22 AM

OldEngineman
Is Gatekeeper getting in the way? That, too, can be easily overcome. Open terminal and enter: sudo spctl --master-disable (password required). That might help. No promises.

With visions of Mickey and thousands of brooms ... don't you think you better give him the spell to re-enable it when he gets done finding out he still can't load his drivers? Wink

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Posted by mlehman on Monday, February 22, 2021 3:26 AM

Drivers are loaded, by magic brooms or otherwise. To keep them working your have to leave SIP turned off. Life is dangerous.

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, February 22, 2021 3:31 AM

With great power comes great responsibility Cool

I was amused by the files in the Decisive Tactics 'My Drivers' window.

The description does say it's Big Sur compatible, but something might have changed in the Apple release at the last moment that has them scrambling to fix it.  I confess I'm still bitter over the Apple Compatibility Card support thing in, what was it, 8.1? and I sympathise (Oz spelling) with the folks at Coriolis that undoc changes put out of business; Apple sometimes likes to do that stuff on purpose.

But what's this about Bluetooth serial adapters?  Those might be interesting for model railroading connectivity...

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Posted by rrinker on Monday, February 22, 2021 8:02 AM

 It was Apple and their overprotectiveness that made the 75 year DVD collection of MR stop working too.

Your best bet is the SiliconLabs web site, if that's the chipset used. I've heard of people having problems using clone Arduinos with Macs as well, because of the drivers for the CH304 chip many of the non-official Arduinos. Never had a problem on Windows 10. The latest version at SiLabs.com claims that it support Big Sur: CP210x USB to UART Bridge VCP Drivers - Silicon Labs (silabs.com)

 I was one of those who got a Lokprogrammer with the unsupported serial cable in the box. Luckily I had another one that worked with Lokprogrammer. The funny thing it, the one that didn't work with Lokprogrammer worked FINE for my Locobuffer (I have a serial one I build myself using the Hans DeLoof PCB so need a USB to serial adapter on any modern computer). I swear half this software "incompatibility" is just lazy or ignorant software developers.

 I gotta laugh though, sorry, at your reasoning to switch to a Mac. Avoid the learning curve of Windows 10? By switching to a COMPLETELY different system where nothing is even remotely the same (except maybe that you select icons by moving a mouse pointer on the screen) vs learning some differences where at least the underlying structure is actually still all the same? Talk about learning curves....

                                             --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by rrebell on Monday, February 22, 2021 9:09 AM

Now regular computers (don't know about apple) can be reset to factory specs. You think Macs have problems, newer Windows will not let you get rid of edge, a microsoft product, I want my Vista back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Posted by joe323 on Monday, February 22, 2021 11:56 AM

I have several windows pc's doing nothing but one of them is just for running JMRI on the railroad.

As for Mac Big Sur My 128 gb MacBook Air is too small to hold the upgrade so O stick eith Catalina for now.

 

Joe Staten Island West 

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Posted by mlehman on Monday, February 22, 2021 12:00 PM

rrinker
I gotta laugh though, sorry, at your reasoning to switch to a Mac. Avoid the learning curve of Windows 10? By switching to a COMPLETELY different system where nothing is even remotely the same (except maybe that you select icons by moving a mouse pointer on the screen) vs learning some differences where at least the underlying structure is actually still all the same? Talk about learning curves....

It makes sense when the support person you're married to works on Apple. Otherwise, I was on my own in my declining years. It's not like I didn't have some Mac experience, either, I was in academia before I retired. So it was choose one or the other and I went with what seemed most supportable under the circumstances.

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

  • Member since
    February 2002
  • From: Reading, PA
  • 30,002 posts
Posted by rrinker on Monday, February 22, 2021 4:52 PM

rrebell

Now regular computers (don't know about apple) can be reset to factory specs. You think Macs have problems, newer Windows will not let you get rid of edge, a microsoft product, I want my Vista back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

 Why would you want to get rid of Edge? It works very well. Less problems than most browsers. And it's just Chrome now anyway. That's another one I never got - I can't get rid of Edge - well, nothing prevents you from installing any of the other browsers and using them, it's not like you are using much space.

                           --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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