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When things just don't work...

The first step in troubleshooting any problem is:
Stop and think about it before pulling plugs and moving things

Serial Port
X-10 Interface
Known Bugs

It is so easy to get frantic and try typical "Macintosh Voodoo", like resetting 'PRAM' or re-installing the operating system. We're used to this as something that just comes along with installing some new applications on the Mac.

But the history of problems with XTension shows that this kind of radical response is seldom necessary, and often just adds to the confusion.

Seriously, no Mac product could survive as long as XTension has if it was a real pain. And if there were a lot of bugs, you'd certainly hear about them in the discussion list.

This is a very important resource !

There are two years of past discussion list digests, as well as a searchable archive. If you can't find a solution to your problem on the website, then try searching the archive for similar keywords. Then, if you can't find an answer, try subscribing to the discussion list and asking. There are many very helpful folks there !

This is not to say that there are no 'bugs' in XTension. There are just too many Mac platforms and OS combinations that it would be stupid to say that XTension is 'bullet proof'. If you cannot see your problem described here, then please either call Sand Hill or send email. Often just a few words and minutes can save many hours of aggravation.

There is a small set of common problems that users have had over the past year, all of which require a simple fix, with no more than a new copy of a file, and perhaps one 'reboot'.

There are also a set of problems which can occur AFTER you have set everything up, and everything seems to be going just fine. This is applicable to all X-10 interfaces, but currently, only the CM11a and the "Two-Way" present problems which are sometimes aggravating.

If you believe that your problem is really something to do with the interface, and not some startup or configuration problem, then you should go to the Interface Problems page.

Common startup problems

Configuration of your system, like where things are,
and corrupt or outdated versions of various system extensions are the most frequently encountered :

You might see your first problem when you double-click XTension for the first time, excluding the request for your 'master disk' :

AppleScript Extension missing from System Folder

Almost immediately, XTension will display the following dialog :

no applescript

The AppleScript Extension must be put into the Extensions folder of the System Folder in all MacOS versions through 7.x, but this may change in MacOS 8.

There is a copy of the AppleScript Extension in a compressed file which is delivered with the full
DEMO package, and of course any purchased copy.

Move a copy of this file into the proper place in the System Folder, and you may have to restart the Mac, although not always.

Serial Tool Missing from System Folder

The Serial Tool Extension must be in the Extensions folder of your System Folder, even if you are using OS8. this is a common oversight.

If you see the following dialog, XTension cannot find the Serial Tool :

no serial tool
There is also a copy of the Serial Tool in the same compressed file found with each delivery package of XTension.

Move a copy of it into the Extensions folder, and restart XTension. It will not likely be necessary to restart the Mac.

Please hold it here a moment...

At the current time, these are the only two 'exceptional' reasons why XTension would start up and immediately display such a dialog.

There are of course several common "Macintosh" kinds of things that could cause problems at this time, like "insufficient memory" or disk errors, but these are things that should be familiar to you already.

If neither of the above problems occur, then you should see a Log Window entry which indicates that XTension is "ready".

At this point, the DEMO version should be completely functional, and any further errors are almost always attributable to script "Loops" which can cause System Errors.

But this kind of thing should be obvious that it has something to do with the latest change to your scripts etc.

If however, you have a full version of XTension, then you must know that there are two things that you must yet do in order to completely enable XTension serial communications.

XTension Defaults to "Monitor" mode

After initializing all windows, XTension will write a message to the Log Window which indicates any problems encountered, and will show that you are still in "Monitor Mode", and need to enable the serial port.

not enabled
Now you need only pull down the File menu and 'uncheck' the item "Monitor Only". If you don't do this, XTension will appear to be working just fine according to the Log Window, but no X-10 commands will be sent to the serial port.

NOTE however, that XTension will receive messages from the interface, like from a wireless remote or a motion sensor. XTension will log these events, and will run any scripts for them, but it will not send commands to the serial port.

Leaving "Monitor mode" enabled is a common oversight, because it looks like the interface is talking to XTension, but XTension is not sending commands.

Assuming that you have an interface connected to a serial port, you will now have to select the "Preferences" dialog from either the Edit Menu, or by entering a "Command-;" (semi-colon).

all ok
You should be able to click on the box that says "Serial comm enabled", and "OK", and XTension will continue on happily. And, on any subsequent startup, XTension will have already set the serial port parameters correctly for the type of interface that your copy supports.

If however, you click on the "Serial comm enabled" button and you get an immediate error message, then there is a :

Serial Port Conflict

port conflict
There is some other application or Mac function which thinks that it already 'owns' that serial port, and won't let go.

This may be a FAX extension of some sort, or AppleTalk which thinks it owns the only serial port on some 'single-serial-port' powerbooks etc.

This conflict must be resolved before XTension can take control of the serial port that you chose for the X-10 interface.

This is most often an AppleTalk thing, but next most is some fax or printer 'extension' which is there in your active 'Extensions' folder of your 'System Folder'......lots of problems solved here, and often it leads to asking "What is all this other stuff ...?"

Wrong serial port settings ?

OK, so you enable the serial port, and don't get the conflict message, but you do get a warning message in the Log Window that announces that you may have the wrong baud rate for your serial port.

Normally, XTension will attempt to set the serial port settings properly for the interface that your copy supports.

If you have previously downloaded the "DEMO" copy of XTension for the CP290, OR if you are switching between X-10 interfaces, ( like the CP290 to the CM11a ), then it is possible that XTension will see an existing copy of the "XTension Prefs" file and fail to properly condition the serial port settings for the 'new' interface.

You may even see a message in the Log Window which announces that the serial port settings may be wrong.

XTension will not automatically change settings in any existing XTension Prefs, because it is possible that you might choose (carefully) to use different serial port settings. ( maybe you have a serial port 'switcher' ? )

Here is an example of what you might see in the serial port settings window if you have just installed the CM11a version, after having 'played with' the CP290 or the DEMO version :

port conflict
Note that the baud rate is set to 600, which is right for the CP290, but wrong for the CM11a, which should be 4800, or the LynX and the "Two-Way" which should be 1200.

If this isn't right for your interface, change it and click OK.

Now that we've got the right baud rate, and the serial port is enabled, there is just one more thing to do before you know that everything is OK :

Try to issue a command from XTension

DON'T BELIEVE the message that says "...interface located" to mean the everything's ok yet. Remember, that we're starting up for the first time still...

Assuming again that you have an interface connected properly to your power lines, then you should be able to control some lamp or appliance module that you've installed.

You know it's address, just pull down the "X-10 direct" window, select that address, and turn it ON. Watch the Log Window.

In the following screen shot, you will see that I have used one of the items from the DEMO database, "Office Lights" :

log file
If the interface is talking to XTension, and vice versa, you will see no error. You will only see a message that says that we are turning A5...or "Office Lights" ON.

NO GO, you get an Error in the Log Window

Either XTension cannot talk properly with the interface, or the interface cannot talk to the power line.

If XTension can talk to the interface, but the interface can't talk to the X-10 power line, then there is something that is not plugged in...somewhere. This is a very rare error.

If there is a problem with the physical connection, or if the interface is simply not responding to XTension, then you will see the Error #35...

Error #35 on every attempt to send a command

Most often, the serial port settings are wrong. As described above, please check the serial port settings.

If you have selected the CM11a as an interface, it is very likely at this time that your CM11a is in a well-known mode, and you should see the next page about
Hard Problems.

If however, the serial port settings are correct, and still XTension fails to command the interface, then you need to make sure of your cable connections.

If the cables are ok, and everything is installed correctly, AND XTension cannot communicate with the interface, then you need to go to the next page which describes specific problems with the various X-10 interfaces. Please don't go there until you have at least gone carefully through the above steps.

No problems sending the command, but the lamp Never turns ON

This can be the opening to a bigger set of problems, or it can be simply that you have overlooked some step above.

If everything is set up properly, and there are no errors in the log, AND the lamp still doesn't turn ON, then you either have the lamp set to the wrong address, OR you have a power line problem which is addressed in the next section.

You can turn on a lamp from XTension ( but not always )

This is very strong evidence that at least everything is connected and configured correctly. It is most likely that if you cannot control the lamp reliably, then you have a powerline problem.

As a last effort at this point, it is possible that either the serial port connector of the Mac or the serial cable is flawed and therefore 'inconsistent'. This is a difficult thing to determine, even if you're familiar with ohmmeters and pinouts.

If you suspect that this is the problem, then try to prop the cable into different physical positions using any convenient book or rock, and try to determine whether the inconsistency has anything to do with the position of the serial cable. Do NOT overstress the connectors, be nice. If wires are the problem, it doesn't take a lot of movement to make them fail.

If you can possibly do so, figure out whether it is the connector on the Mac or the cable from Sand Hill that is causing the inconsistent behavior. There is always the possibility that someone has 'jerked' the serial port cable on your Mac, and there is of course the possibility that the cable is flawed !

But before you choose to ask an exchange from your distributor, try a common 'modem' cable to a modem on that same port and see if you can get proper behavior. The cables that we provided pre 9/97, were triple-tested here at Sand Hill and had very few failures. Those thereafter are made by a machine and molded. Although we do test samples, we have found not a single flaw in these as of this date. This doesn't mean that yours can't be the first...

Nothing makes sense

Ok, we agree that there have been some very 'interesting' problems in the past, but since the release of version 1.5, there just haven't been any that weren't explainable, or that weren't involved in exceptional configurations and ultimately resolved.

If you still have a problem getting the software to run and at least send a command to the X-10 interface then please either call us or send us email about your specific problem. We are especially responsive to such problems.

The bottom line is that only a very small percentage of XTension users have problems either starting up or controlling simple devices, an most often we don't hear from them at all.

It is to the credit of the X-10 technology and products that these inexpensive little boxes do work, and it is only when you exceed the 'envelope' of the technology that you run into problems.

Before throwing it all out the window, please either email michael, or call 407-349-5960 and talk it over. We don't have any degrees in psychology, but we have helped some very distraught folks.

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Last modified: May 1, 2009
Michael Ferguson, webmaster@shed.com