A Chronicle of My “Getting Started With Arduino” Journey

Fig 1: The Arduino Uno starter kit

Having heard so much about Arduino at work while knowing next to nothing about it, I finally decided to face the “devil”. So here I am — with a starter kit in hand and ready to start my Arduino equivalent of “hello world!”.

This very first episode centers around getting the first blinking light test working. The biggest challenge? Fixing the missing port problem.

Setting up

I was following Chapter 0 of the Arduino Projects Book that came with the starter kit.

  1. Install the Arduino IDE: The installation was uneventful. Click, download, install, and I was good to go.
Fig 2: Arduino IDE installation

2. Test communication with the Blink sketch:

The serial port “crisis”

Full of excitement, I connected the Arduino to my iMac. Things went swimmingly until the step “Choose serial port our Arduino port” — my Tool > Port menu does not have Serial port available (Darn it!). As you can see from long threads of discussions on the user forum, many Mac users have experienced this problem, and the solutions are a bit all over the place: some say we’d need a USB2 hub (my iMac built-in ports are USB3), and some others say we’d need a different USB cable, or try clicking different board options until finding one that works. Unfortunately, after nearly an hour of futzing, none of these options worked for me. I was almost going to call this an ominous start, then a YouTube video provided solutions that saved my day.

The fix: CH34X driver, restart, unplug and replug the Arduino

As the video stresses, we need an additional driver installed (ignore the text in the guidebook “You do not need to install any drivers to work with the board” — well, we do, at least for High Sierra). Many thanks to the RCBoat YouTube channel by directly providing a download link below the video. After installing the driver, restarting the Mac, I relaunched the Arduino IDE. But wait, the Tool > Port menu still only shows a Bluetooth option that won’t work. While quietly cursing, I unplugged and replugged the Arduino board, and Yes!!! The option finally came live :D

Fig 3: The YouTube video with the fix that works for me
Fig 4: Port appears(!)

Finally, with the proper port made available, the sketch under File > Examples > 01. Basics > Blink works.

My board came with the Blink sketch pre-programmed, so it wasn’t immediately clear if the communication indeed worked. As the project book suggested, I reduced the delay time from the default 1000 to 100, and was able to see the effects of the changes: faster blinking!

Fig 5. The blink test

Summary

If you are working with a Mac with USB3 ports and Sierra or High Sierra OS, you might run into the same problems when setting up your Arduino. Here is a summary of action items for a smooth start:

  1. Install the latest version of the Arduino IDE
  2. Install the CH34X driver (resource: this awesome YouTube video)
  3. Restart your Mac and relaunch the Arduino IDE
  4. Unplug, and replug the Arduino board, check if the Tools > Port menu to see if the proper port shows up
  5. Once you can use this new port, it will be smooth sailing from here on. Test the blink sketch, and if in doubt, tweak the delay time and see if your Arduino responses :)

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