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March is Oscilloscope Month — and at Tim Scale!

Jason Sachs March 6, 2014

I got my oscilloscope today.

Maybe that was a bit of an understatement; I'll have to resort to gratuitous typography:

I GOT MY OSCILLOSCOPE TODAY!!!!

Those of you who are reading this blog may remember I made a post about two years ago about searching for the right oscilloscope for me. Since then, I changed jobs and have been getting situated in the world of applications engineering, working on motor control projects. I've been gradually working to fill in gaps in the infrastructure...


Bad Hash Functions and Other Stories: Trapped in a Cage of Irresponsibility and Garden Rakes

Jason Sachs January 28, 20141 comment

I was recently using the publish() function in MATLAB to develop some documentation, and I ran into a problem caused by a bad hash function.

In a resource-limited embedded system, you aren't likely to run into hash functions. They have three major applications: cryptography, data integrity, and data structures. In all these cases, hash functions are used to take some type of data, and deterministically boil it down to a fixed-size "fingerprint" or "hash" of the original data, such that...


Efficiency Through the Looking-Glass

Jason Sachs December 8, 20134 comments

If you've ever designed or purchased a power supply, chances are you have had to work with efficiency calculations. I can remember in my beginning electronic circuits course in college, in the last lecture when the professor was talking about switching power converters, and saying how all of a sudden you could take a linear regulator that was 40% efficient and turn it into a switching regulator that was 80% efficient. I think that was the nail in the coffin for any plans I had to pursue a...


Understanding and Preventing Overflow (I Had Too Much to Add Last Night)

Jason Sachs December 4, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving! Maybe the memory of eating too much turkey is fresh in your mind. If so, this would be a good time to talk about overflow.

In the world of floating-point arithmetic, overflow is possible but not particularly common. You can get it when numbers become too large; IEEE double-precision floating-point numbers support a range of just under 21024, and if you go beyond that you have problems:

for k in [10, 100, 1000, 1020, 1023, 1023.9, 1023.9999, 1024]: try: ...

How to Estimate Encoder Velocity Without Making Stupid Mistakes: Part II (Tracking Loops and PLLs)

Jason Sachs November 17, 201312 comments

Yeeehah! Finally we're ready to tackle some more clever ways to figure out the velocity of a position encoder. In part I, we looked at the basics of velocity estimation. Then in my last article, I talked a little about what's necessary to evaluate different kinds of algorithms. Now it's time to start describing them. We'll cover tracking loops and phase-locked loops in this article, and Luenberger observers in part III.

But first we need a moderately simple, but interesting, example...


Another 10 Circuit Components You Should Know

Jason Sachs October 30, 20131 comment

It's that time again to review all the oddball goodies available in electronic components. These are things you should have in your bag of tricks when you need to design a circuit board. If you read my previous posts and were looking forward to more, this article's for you!

1. Bus switches

I can't believe I haven't mentioned bus switches before. What is a bus switch?

There are lots of different options for switches:

  • mechanical switch / relay: All purpose, two...

Short Takes (EE Shanty): What shall we do with a zero-ohm resistor?

Jason Sachs October 19, 20132 comments

In circuit board design you often need flexibility. It can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to respin a circuit board, so I need flexibility for two main reasons:

  • sometimes it's important to be able to use one circuit board design to serve more than one purpose
  • risk reduction: I want to give myself the option to add in or leave out certain things when I'm not 100% sure I'll need them.

And so we have jumpers and DIP switches and zero-ohm resistors:

Jumpers and...


Fluxions for Fun and Profit: Euler, Trapezoidal, Verlet, or Runge-Kutta?

Jason Sachs September 30, 20132 comments

Today we're going to take another diversion from embedded systems, and into the world of differential equations, modeling, and computer simulation.

DON'T PANIC!

First of all, just pretend I didn't bring up anything complicated. We're exposed to the effects of differential equations every day, whether we realize it or not. Your car speedometer and odometer are related by a differential equation, and whether you like math or not, you probably have some comprehension of what's going on: you...


Signal Processing Contest in Python (PREVIEW): The Worst Encoder in the World

Jason Sachs September 7, 20136 comments

When I posted an article on estimating velocity from a position encoder, I got a number of responses. A few of them were of the form "Well, it's an interesting article, but at slow speeds why can't you just take the time between the encoder edges, and then...." My point was that there are lots of people out there which take this approach, and don't take into account that the time between encoder edges varies due to manufacturing errors in the encoder. For some reason this is a hard concept...


Lost Secrets of the H-Bridge, Part III: Practical Issues of Inductor and Capacitor Ripple Current

Jason Sachs August 24, 20133 comments

We've been analyzing the ripple current in an H-bridge, both in an inductive load and the DC link capacitor. Here's a really quick recap; if you want to get into more details, go back and read part I and part II until you've got equations coming out of your ears. I promise there will be a lot less grungy math in this post. So let's get most of it out of the way:

Switches QAH and QAL are being turned on and off with pulse-width modulation (PWM), to produce an average voltage DaVdc on...


Linear Feedback Shift Registers for the Uninitiated, Part XI: Pseudorandom Number Generation

Jason Sachs December 20, 2017

Last time we looked at the use of LFSRs in counters and position encoders.

This time we’re going to look at pseudorandom number generation, and why you may — or may not — want to use LFSRs for this purpose.

But first — an aside:

Science Fair 1983

When I was in fourth grade, my father bought a Timex/Sinclair 1000. This was one of several personal computers introduced in 1982, along with the Commodore 64. The...


Implementation Complexity, Part I: The Tower of Babel, Gremlins, and The Mythical Man-Month

Jason Sachs June 9, 2013

I thought I'd post a follow-up, in a sense, to an older post about complexity in consumer electronics I wrote a year and a half ago. That was kind of a rant against overly complex user interfaces. I am a huge opponent of unnecessary complexity in almost any kind of interface, whether a user interface or a programming interface or an electrical interface. Interfaces should be clean and simple.

Now, instead of interface complexity, I'll be talking about implementation complexity, with a...


Return of the Delta-Sigma Modulators, Part 1: Modulation

Jason Sachs May 28, 2023

About a decade ago, I wrote two articles:

Each of these are about delta-sigma modulation, but they’re short and sweet, and not very in-depth. And the 2013 article was really more about analog-to-digital converters. So we’re going to revisit the subject, this time with a lot more technical depth — in fact, I’ve had to split this...


Linear Feedback Shift Registers for the Uninitiated, Part III: Multiplicative Inverse, and Blankinship's Algorithm

Jason Sachs September 9, 2017

Last time we talked about basic arithmetic operations in the finite field \( GF(2)[x]/p(x) \) — addition, multiplication, raising to a power, shift-left and shift-right — as well as how to determine whether a polynomial \( p(x) \) is primitive. If a polynomial \( p(x) \) is primitive, it can be used to define an LFSR with coefficients that correspond to the 1 terms in \( p(x) \), that has maximal length of \( 2^N-1 \), covering all bit patterns except the all-zero...


Linear Regression with Evenly-Spaced Abscissae

Jason Sachs May 1, 20181 comment

What a boring title. I wish I could come up with something snazzier. One word I learned today is studentization, which is just the normalization of errors in a curve-fitting exercise by the sample standard deviation (e.g. point \( x_i \) is \( 0.3\hat{\sigma} \) from the best-fit linear curve, so \( \frac{x_i - \hat{x}_i}{\hat{\sigma}} = 0.3 \)) — Studentize me! would have been nice, but I couldn’t work it into the topic for today. Oh well.

I needed a little break from...


Linear Feedback Shift Registers for the Uninitiated, Part V: Difficult Discrete Logarithms and Pollard's Kangaroo Method

Jason Sachs October 1, 2017

Last time we talked about discrete logarithms which are easy when the group in question has an order which is a smooth number, namely the product of small prime factors. Just as a reminder, the goal here is to find \( k \) if you are given some finite multiplicative group (or a finite field, since it has a multiplicative group) with elements \( y \) and \( g \), and you know you can express \( y = g^k \) for some unknown integer \( k \). The value \( k \) is the discrete logarithm of \( y \)...


Implementation Complexity, Part II: Catastrophe, Dear Liza, and the M Word

Jason Sachs June 16, 2013

In my last post, I talked about the Tower of Babel as a warning against implementation complexity, and I mentioned a number of issues that can occur at the time of design or construction of a project.

The Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1563 (from Wikipedia)

Success and throwing it over the wall

OK, so let's say that the right people get together into a well-functioning team, and build our Tower of Babel, whether it's the Empire State Building, or the electrical grid, or...


Racing to Sleep

Jason Sachs December 30, 2019

Today we’re going to talk about low-power design.

Suppose I’m an electrical engineer working with wildlife biologists who are gathering field data on the Saskatchewan ringed-neck mountain goat. My team has designed a device called the BigBrotherBear 2000 (BBB2000) with a trip cable and a motor and a camera and a temperature sensor and a hot-wire anemometer and a real-time clock and an SD card and a battery and a LoRa transceiver. The idea is something like...


Linear Feedback Shift Registers for the Uninitiated, Part IV: Easy Discrete Logarithms and the Silver-Pohlig-Hellman Algorithm

Jason Sachs September 16, 20174 comments

Last time we talked about the multiplicative inverse in finite fields, which is rather boring and mundane, and has an easy solution with Blankinship’s algorithm.

Discrete logarithms, on the other hand, are much more interesting, and this article covers only the tip of the iceberg.

What is a Discrete Logarithm, Anyway?

Regular logarithms are something that you’re probably familiar with: let’s say you have some number \( y = b^x \) and you know \( y \) and \( b \) but...


Supply Chain Games: What Have We Learned From the Great Semiconductor Shortage of 2021? (Part 1)

Jason Sachs December 31, 20215 comments

So by now I’m sure you’ve heard about the semiconductor shortage of 2021. For a few complicated reasons, demand is greater than supply, and not everybody who wants to buy integrated circuits can do so. Today we’re going to try to answer some hard questions:

  • Why are we in the middle of a semiconductor shortage?
  • Why is it taking so long to get my [insert part number here]?
  • Did this shortage suddenly sneak up on everybody? If not, what were the signs, and why...