## Garden Rakes Revisited: The Hall of Shame

A little while ago, I wrote about what I call the “garden rakes” syndrome in software, where there are little bugs or pitfalls lying around like sloppy garden rakes that no one has put away, and when you use these software programs, instead of zooming around getting things done, you’re either tripping over the garden rakes or carefully trying to avoid them. Either way, you lose focus on what you’re really trying to work on, and that causes a big hit in...

## March is Oscilloscope Month — and at Tim Scale!

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

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

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)

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)

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

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?

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?

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

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...

## Real-time clocks: Does anybody really know what time it is?

We recently started writing software to make use of a real-time clock IC, and found to our chagrin that the chip was missing a rather useful function, namely elapsed time in seconds since the standard epoch (January 1, 1970, midnight UTC).Let me back up a second.A real-time clock/calendar (RTC) is a micropower chip that has an oscillator on it that keeps counting time, independent of main system power. Usually this is done with a lithium battery that can power the RTC for years, so that even...

## 10 Items of Test Equipment You Should Know

When life gets rough and a circuit board is letting you down, it’s time to turn to test equipment. The obvious ones are multimeters and oscilloscopes and power supplies. But you know about those already, right?

Here are some you may not have heard of:

Non-contact current sensors. Oscilloscope probes measure voltage. When you need to measure current, you need a different approach. Especially at high voltages, where maintaining galvanic isolation is important for safety. The usual...

## Modulation Alternatives for the Software Engineer

Before I get to talking about modulation, here's a brief diversion.

A long time ago -- 1993, to be precise -- I took my first course on digital electronics and processors. In that class, we had to buy a copy of the TTL Data Book* from Texas Instruments.

If you have any experience in digital logic design you probably know that TTL stands for Transistor-transistor logic (thereby making the phrase "TTL Logic" an example of RAS...

## Reading and Understanding Profitability Metrics from Financial Statements

Whoa! That has got to be the most serious-minded title I’ve ever written. Profitability Metrics from Financial Statements, indeed. I’m still writing Part 2 of my Supply Chain Games article, and I was about to mention something about whether a company is profitable, when I realized something that didn’t quite fit into the flow of things, so I thought I’d handle it separately: how are you supposed to know what I mean, when I say a company is profitable? And how am I...

## Supply Chain Games: What Have We Learned From the Great Semiconductor Shortage of 2021? (Part 4)

Today we’re going to look at what’s been going on this past year in the chip shortage, particularly in the automotive markets. I’m going to share some recent events and statements that may shed some light on what’s been happening.

In Part Three we went through a deep dive on some aspects of Moore’s Law, the semiconductor foundries, and semiconductor economics, and we looked at the game Supply Chain Idle. We touched on a couple of important points about the...

## Lessons Learned from Embedded Code Reviews (Including Some Surprises)

My software team recently finished a round of code reviews for some of our motor controller code. I learned a lot from the experience, most notably why you would want to have code reviews in the first place.

My background is originally from the medical device industry. In the United States, software in medical devices gets a lot of scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration, and for good reason; it’s a place for complexity to hide latent bugs. (Can you say “

## Have You Ever Seen an Ideal Op-Amp?

Somewhere, along with unicorns and the Loch Ness Monster, lies a small colony of ideal op-amps. Op-amp is short for operational amplifier, and we start our education on them by learning about these mythical beasts, which have the following properties:

- Infinite gain
- Infinite input impedance
- Zero output impedance

And on top of it all, they will do whatever it takes to change their output in order to make their two inputs equal.

But they don't exist. Real op-amps have...

## Hot Fun in the Silicon: Thermal Testing with Power Semiconductors

Here's a trick that is useful the next time you do thermal testing with your MOSFETs or IGBTs.

Thermal testing?!

Yes, that's right. It's important to make sure your power transistors don't overheat. In the datasheet, you will find some information that you can use to estimate how hot the junction inside the IC will get.

Let's look at an example. Here's a page from the IRF7739 DirectFET datasheet. I like this datasheet because it has almost all the thermal stuff on one page,...

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

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 1983When 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...

## Another 10 Circuit Components You Should Know

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...

## Linear Feedback Shift Registers for the Uninitiated, Part XIII: System Identification

Last time we looked at spread-spectrum techniques using the output bit sequence of an LFSR as a pseudorandom bit sequence (PRBS). The main benefit we explored was increasing signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) relative to other disturbance signals in a communication system.

This time we’re going to use a PRBS from LFSR output to do something completely different: system identification. We’ll show two different methods of active system identification, one using sine waves and the other...

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

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...

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

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 1983When 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

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...

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

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 \( y \)...

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

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

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...

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

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 wallOK, 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

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...

## Supply Chain Games: What Have We Learned From the Great Semiconductor Shortage of 2021? (Part 4)

Today we’re going to look at what’s been going on this past year in the chip shortage, particularly in the automotive markets. I’m going to share some recent events and statements that may shed some light on what’s been happening.

In Part Three we went through a deep dive on some aspects of Moore’s Law, the semiconductor foundries, and semiconductor economics, and we looked at the game Supply Chain Idle. We touched on a couple of important points about the...