Using RBD’s Portal

Why should I register on the Portal instead of just sending an email with my question/request?

Many people would rather just send an email than register or create an account in a system. We understand this, so we’ll talk about the issue with emails a little later. For now, though, here are a few of the benefits of using the Portal:

  • When you register on the Portal, you have access to all of your tickets. This includes open and closed (resolved) tickets, as well as sales and service tickets. (Closing tickets is discussed later).
  • You have access to our Knowledgebase, which is discussed in more detail later.
  • You can search though your tickets, using any of the topic-specific words you have used in the ticket, to help find the relevant ticket more quickly. (Try doing this quickly when  you have many emails – maybe even thousands of emails – to go through! But again, more on emails later). It may be a little while between when you post and the search finds the ticket because there’s some data base indexing going on behind the scenes.

Do I need to register to use the Portal?

If you are asking for support assistance, yes, you need to register to use the Portal. If you have a sales-related question, no, you don’t need to register on the Portal. But, we encourage you to register for the reasons given elsewhere.

Why should I register on the Portal if I have only a sales-related question?

We have discovered that tickets that begin as sales questions frequently include technical discussions that contain information that is useful later, even if a purchase isn’t made right then. So, when you register, you have access to these discussions when you need them. And you can avoid the dreaded search through emails to find that wonderful technical tidbit you need.

Registering on the Portal also gives you access to our Knowledgebase (KB). Our KB contains articles that address many commonly asked questions about Physical Electronics products that we work on, trouble-shooting tips, and information about RBD Instruments products and services. Many of our customers have found it helpful to use our KB to determine which version of our products (like our 9103 or water vapor desorption products) will best meet their needs.

How do I do register?

Go to rbdinstruments.com and click on the Portal Register button as shown here:

Accessing the portal

Accessing the portal from RBD’s website

On the Registration screen, we ask you to enter the following information.

  • A Username. It can be anything that you want. Many people just use their first and last name, which makes it easy to remember.
  • A Password with at least 6 characters; it can’t match your username. You can even have the Portal remember you on your computer.
  • Your email address.
  • Your full name.
  • Your phone number.
  • Your time zone.

Then, just click “I’m not a robot” then click “Complete Registration” and you’re done!

What’s the issue with using emails?

Many of you have gotten comfortable sending emails to a specific staff member at RBD Instruments. But when that person is out of the office and is unable to check emails during the work day or maybe for a couple of days, your email could get stuck in their email list and it may be awhile before they get back to you. Enter the Portal.

When you create a ticket in the Portal, it goes into a General Queue, which is something that everyone at RBD Instruments is able to view. We can then, depending on what you’ve asked, help you quickly or assign your ticket to the appropriate expert. Now that you have created a ticket, all communications about your question are in one, easy-to-access spot. Continuity is maintained!

Please note that you should always create a new ticket to address a new topic or request. This keeps communications nice and clean. Have you ever written an email that has asked about a few different things but not all of them are answered in a single reply? And then you end up with multiple emails that are kind of about the same things but not completely? Using tickets in our Portal takes care of this: one ticket that contains a discrete, entire discussion.

Can I still send an email with my question?

The Portal is actually an email-based system. So, when you send an email to our sales or support department, your email is automatically sent to the Portal and a ticket is created there. We will be able to tell if it was a sales-related or a service-related question based on the email address you sent it to, and route it to the appropriate person in the applicable department.

When we reply, you get an email with a ticket number added to the subject of your email. If the subject of your email was “Question about your microCMA,” the subject of the reply will look something like “[123-1234DEV-456] Question about your microCMA”. The stuff in the brackets ([]) is your ticket number, which you need to keep. The ticket number is what our system uses to identify your ticket. When you reply to the email, keep the ticket number in the email’s subject to maintain continuity. If you change or delete the ticket number, the continuity and history of your discussion will be interrupted, which will make it more difficult to ensure that you get the answers you need. So, please don’t change or delete the ticket number.

How do I reply to a ticket?

Because the system is email-based, you can reply to the email you received or you can reply in the Portal itself.

When you reply to the email itself (and as mentioned above, please don’t change or delete the ticket number) this will ensure that everything already discussed in the ticket will stay in the ticket. If you change or delete the ticket number, it can get confusing and discussions will be interrupted. Yes, we’re saying this a lot, but it is really important!

You can avoid concerns about losing continuity by logging into the Portal and replying to a ticket in the Portal itself:

  1. Log into the portal.
  2. If you don’t see “My Tickets”, click the Tickets button.
  3. Find the ticket you want to reply to. You can enter the ticket number if you know it, or some text that you know was included in the ticket.
  4. When you are in your ticket and want to reply, scroll to the bottom of the screen. You should see something that looks like this:

    Portal Reply to Ticket

    Replying to a ticket and adding files on the portal

  5. Type your reply in the big text box.
  6. To attach a file, click the Choose File button to open the document storage location on your computer. Navigate to the file you want to attach and double-click it (or however you normally select a document). You can attach multiple documents.

How do I download documents that someone at RBD Instruments has attached to a ticket?

When you view RBD’s reply in the Portal, the ticket may look something like this:

Portal reply files

Accessing files attached to a reply on the portal

See the “Attachments” line at the bottom of this post? The light blue text to the right of the word Attachments is the name of the file (or files) that an RBD staff member has attached to the reply. Click on the file name to open the file.

How do I close a ticket? And, is a closed ticket permanently closed?

When the question that you asked has been resolved to your satisfaction, your ticket can be closed.

A ticket can be closed in a couple of ways:

  • As you can see in the graphic above, there is a check box that says “This ticket can be closed”. Simply click that box. We will receive a notification of your request and close the ticket.

Or

  • You can reply to the ticket and ask us to close the ticket for you.

Let’s say that you later determine that you have more questions about the same issue. You don’t want to create a new ticket because you would lose the continuity of the earlier discussion. Instead, you can simply go back to the ticket in the Portal (which you can do if you have registered on the Portal) and reply to it again. The ticket is automatically reopened.

 

We are excited about how our new Portal helps us to help you! We encourage you to register if you have not already done so.

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New Feature: Use the 9103 Picoammeter to Automatically Read microCMA Target Current

The latest software releases of Actuel for the 9103 Picoammeter and CMapp for the microCMA now support the ability to automatically read target current when acquiring data.

To use this feature, you must (of course) have a 9103 Picoammeter running RBD’s Actuel software.

Run CMapp for the microCMA, select Hardware Properties from the System menu, and check the option “Use 9103 Picoammeter to read target current.” You only have to do this once.

Turn on the 9103 Picoammeter, run Actuel, and measure your target current as usual. Leave Actuel open. It doesn’t matter whether the 9103 is sampling, but keep in mind that your current settings (sample rate, etc.), will be used.

Now, whenever you take an acquisition (except for an alignment), the target current will be measured at the beginning of the acquisition and displayed with the other electron gun settings when the acquisition is complete.

If you don’t have a 9103, you can still manually enter a value for the target current in the acquisition dialog.

Download the latest release of Actuel for the 9103 Picoammeter here.

Download the latest release of CMapp for the microCMA here.

 

Resolving USB Conflicts with Virtual COM Ports

If you run multiple USB devices that operate as virtual RS232 COM ports (the ubiquitous serial port standard) on Windows, you may have run into problems with conflicts between devices. An application may connect to the appropriate device when it’s the only one connected, only to “get confused” if there is another device sharing the PC. Happily, there are a few simple things you can try that will often resolve the problem.

9103s and Arduinos Playing Nice Together

9103 and Arduino USB Devices

A 9103 Picoammeter and Arduino

To most Windows applications, virtual COM ports (VCPs) all look the same. An application can open a port and and attempt to communicate with the connected device, but since there’s no fixed protocol – each device speaks its own “language”, any message sent can have undetermined effects if the device you’re communicating with is not the one your were expecting. Some applications simply connect to the first COM port available, other’s may provide a way to select the COM port your device is connected to – but you’re still responsible for figuring that out.

When manufacturers produce hardware for PCs they can apply for unique vendor ad product IDs for their device, and there are ways for applications to safely query these. But that only solves part of the problem. Many devices use third-party USB chips and drivers from companies like FTDI, so they share the same IDs. These devices look the same to a Windows client application, or to a person perusing the Device Manager in Control Panel.

RBD’s own 9103 Picoammeter utilizes FTDI’s popular USB VCP chips, as do many versions of the popular Arduino microcontroller boards, so these two sets of devices can be confused by client applications when used on the same PC. And s it turns out, they are often used together. Here are a few tricks for getting these device to play nice together.

Solution 1: Connect Each Device and Run Each Client in Order

Many applications require you to specify the port for the selected device. Others (like Actuel for the 9103) poll the COM ports in numerical order and check and connect to the first available. If these devices first check the vendor and product ID (like the 9103), they will at least skip ports that do not match. But they cannot distinguish between two devices using the same USB chip (like FTDI’s). Setting up a device connection / application order can solve this.

In the case of a 9103 / Arduino conflict, remove all other devices, then plug in the 9103 and power it on. Next run the Actuel software. The software will find and take control of the 9103 port, and once assigned, you can safely plug in the next device and run its client.

Another order might make more sense for your particular application. Experiment with your configuration, and there are more than two devices, try getting two working first. Document the process and just make sure it’s followed anytime you reboot / power-on.

Solution 2: Change the COM Port Number for a Particular USB Port

You can force Windows to use a different COM port number than the one automatically assigned. This may help with applications that select the lowest numbered port.

For example, if the 9103 is connected to COM4 and another FTDI device is on COM3, the 9103 client software may incorrectly select the device on COM3. Setting the 9103 to COM2 may allow you to now connect the devices and run the client applications in any order, depending on how those other devices / applications behave. Some experimentation may be necessary.

With the 9103 connected and turned on, run Control Panel / Device Manager, and find the selection for “Ports (COM and LPT)”, click and you should see an entry for “USB Serial Port (COM4)” (the COM# may be different of course). Double-click for properties.

The COM port settings for the 9103 USB VCP

The COM port settings for the 9103

Now select the “Port Settings” tab, and click the “Advanced…” button. From this window you can select a new COM port assignment:

Choosing a COM port for the 9103

Choosing a COM port for the 9103

Keep in mind that plugging a device into different USB port will change the COM port assigned to it.

More Info

Of course, you’ll want to ensure you have the latest drivers installed. For FTDI, they can be found here:

http://www.ftdichip.com/FTDrivers.htm

If you’re thinking of programming your own serial port application, here’s a quick tutorial at the API level. Many popular languages include code for VCP programming, and third-party libraries are available:

http://xanthium.in/Serial-Port-Programming-using-Win32-API