While waiting for the telegraph key and sounder to arrive I decided to tackle the XBee problem. Because I have this unshakable belief that anything numbered “2” is better than a similar product numbered “1” I decided to get series 2 XBee radios. This was my first problem. Series 1 radios are point to point and relatively easy to work with (as I understand) but series 2 radios are mesh based. Out of the box, two Series 2 XBee radios cannot communicate. One of them needs to be reflashed into “co-ordinator” mode in order to set up the mesh. Had I researched beyond the “2” part of the product description I may have realized that, but as I mentioned, glaring character flaw. Anyhoo, now I was in a pickle. Flashing one of these blighters requires downloading an application that doesn’t work on anything other than Windows. There are some vague assertions that people have gotten it to work under Wine on Linux but not much in the way of experience running it under Wine on the Mac. I gave it a go and got basically nowhere. After setting up the Wine COM ports (the symlinks in the Wine dosdevices directory) I was able to attach to the device via the USB explorer in only a limited fashion. If I attempted to connect with the default settings I couldn’t get anywhere – test connection would fail as would all the read/write and terminal operations. However if I activated the “API” mode (which I was certain my radios were not running in) I could sort of connect. It would give the OK message but declare that the hardware/firmware versions were empty. Read/Write configuration options would fail immediately saying the version wasn’t available. Interestingly however, the terminal worked fine and I could access all of the expected AT commands. I struggled with this for several hours and got nowhere. I tried as many permutations as I could think of: I grounded out the DTR pin on the radio and wired RTS to 3.3V on the USB explorer, I popped the ATMega out of my UNO and tried writing via the shield, and I combined that with the earlier DTR/RTS idea. Nada – all roads led to Advil City.
The next day I plugged into a proper Windows box and had both of the radios flashed, configured and tested within 5 minutes. Sigh. I’m sorry Sunday – I’ll never waste you like that again.
Bottom line: if you don’t need mesh networking give series 2 the pass, ESPECIALLY if you’re on OS X. As far as I can tell you’ll either need to bum a Windows machine off a friend, dual boot, or possibly use a VM unless you can somehow make use of the USB drivers that can be found on the X CTU download page. Utilizing drivers with Wine appears to be experimental, but I’m not that adventurous. If anyone has had any success flashing these blighters on OS X I’d love to hear about it.
There’s a lot of half-baked and incomplete documentation out there when it comes to XBee Series 2/Arduino integration but this article over at plasticbit was by far the most concise and complete in describing exactly the setup I was looking for.