Tenderfoot: Embedded Software and Firmware Specialties

Matthew Eshleman August 20, 201710 comments

Once upon a time (seven years ago) I answered a question on Stack Overflow. Then Stephane suggested I turn that answer into a blog post. Great idea! This post dives deeper into the original question: “Is it possible to fragment this field (embedded software and firmware) into sub-fields?”

This post represents a detailed and updated response to my original Stack Overflow answer. I hope this post provides guidance and useful information to the “tenderfoots” in the...


Embedded Toolbox: Source Code Whitespace Cleanup

Miro Samek August 5, 2017

In this installment of my "Embedded Toolbox" series, I would like to share with you the free source code cleanup utility called QClean for cleaning whitespace in your source files, header files, makefiles, linker scripts, etc.

You probably wonder why you might need such a utility? In fact, the common thinking is that compilers (C, C++, etc.) ignore whitespace anyway, so why bother? But, as a professional software developer you should not ignore whitespace, because it can cause all sorts...


Embedded Toolbox: Windows GUI Prototyping Toolkit

Miro Samek July 7, 20172 comments

In this installment of my "Embedded Toolbox" series, I would like to interest you in the free Windows GUI Toolkit called QWin for prototyping, developing and debugging embedded C or C++ code on Windows.

If you work on devices with non-trivial user interfaces consisting of LCDs (segmented or graphic), buttons, LEDs, etc., QWin could be just the tool for you. It has improved my productivity in such projects dramatically. I personally consider it a gem in my "Embedded...


Tenderfoot: Recommended Reading

Matthew Eshleman June 28, 20171 comment

Twenty years ago I read Code Complete by Steve McConnell. And then read it again. And again. And again. Of all the books I have read during my career, I believe this was the book that catapulted me from a young electrical engineer to a young and aspiring embedded software engineer. So to all the ‘tenderfoots’ embarking upon an embedded systems and especially embedded software and firmware career, this entry is for you.

First, I would certainly recommend that all engineers read and read...


Embedded Toolbox: Programmer's Calculator

Miro Samek June 27, 20178 comments

Like any craftsman, I have accumulated quite a few tools during my embedded software development career. Some of them proved to me more useful than others. And these generally useful tools ended up in my Embedded Toolbox. In this blog, I'd like to share some of my tools with you. Today, I'd like to start with my cross-platform Programmer's Calculator called QCalc.

I'm sure that you already have your favorite calculator online or on your smartphone. But can your calculator accept...


Tenderfoot: Introduction to Magic (Numbers that is...)

Matthew Eshleman May 10, 20173 comments

Once upon a time, while participating in a source code review, I stumbled across the following C code in a header file:

struct Foo { //various structure fields char string_buffer[45+3]; //buffer requires about 45 bytes };

My right eyebrow raised, I took a note, and continued with the code review, only to later stumble into this line of code in the body of a C function:

char * temp_string_buffer = (char*) malloc(45+3);

Again, I took a note on this function, and continued...


Donald Knuth Is the Root of All Premature Optimization

Jason Sachs April 17, 20172 comments

This article is about something profound that a brilliant young professor at Stanford wrote nearly 45 years ago, and now we’re all stuck with it.

TL;DR

The idea, basically, is that even though optimization of computer software to execute faster is a noble goal, with tangible benefits, this costs time and effort up front, and therefore the decision to do so should not be made on whims and intuition, but instead should be made after some kind of analysis to show that it has net...


Zebras Hate You For No Reason: Why Amdahl's Law is Misleading in a World of Cats (And Maybe in Ours Too)

Jason Sachs February 27, 20171 comment

I’ve been wasting far too much of my free time lately on this stupid addicting game called the Kittens Game. It starts so innocently. You are a kitten in a catnip forest. Gather catnip.

And you click on Gather catnip and off you go. Soon you’re hunting unicorns and building Huts and studying Mathematics and Theology and so on. AND IT’S JUST A TEXT GAME! HTML and Javascript, that’s it, no pictures. It’s an example of an


Favorite Tools: C++11 std::array

Matthew Eshleman February 26, 20172 comments

Many embedded software and firmware projects must be developed to high standards of reliability. To meet these reliability requirements, firmware project teams will consider many design tradeoffs. For example, an engineering team may avoid or outright ban the use of dynamic memory allocation, a feature typically accessed via the C library call "malloc" or the C++ allocator "new". When authoring software under such...


Vala applications on Embedded Linux: maybe a clever choice [part 1]

Felipe Lavratti December 19, 2016

Vala is a sexy, open source, high level programming language that appeared in 2006, it counts with a modern typing system, is object oriented, compiled and statically typed, it has a almost identical syntax to C# and is maintained by GNOME. The language was created as a power abstraction of the GLib and GTK libraries, two considerably lightweight and powerful libraries written in C, and it is used in projects such as GNOME Clocks, Shotwell, GXml and Elementary OS.

namespace...

Lessons Learned from Embedded Code Reviews (Including Some Surprises)

Jason Sachs August 16, 20152 comments

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 “


Best Firmware Architecture Attributes

Dr. Tayyar GUZEL June 4, 20166 comments

Architecture of a firmware (FW) in a way defines the life-cycle of your product. Often companies start with a simple-version of a product as a response to the time-to-market caveat of the business, make some cash out of the product with a simple feature set. It takes only less than 2-3 years to reach a point where the company needs to develop multiple products derived from the same code base and multiple teams need to develop...


The CRC Wild Goose Chase: PPP Does What?!?!?!

Jason Sachs October 23, 20142 comments

I got a bad feeling yesterday when I had to include reference information about a 16-bit CRC in a serial protocol document I was writing. And I knew it wasn’t going to end well.

The last time I looked into CRC algorithms was about five years ago. And the time before that… sometime back in 2004 or 2005? It seems like it comes up periodically, like the seventeen-year locust or sunspots or El Niño,...


Cortex-M Exception Handling (Part 2)

Ivan Cibrario Bertolotti February 1, 20169 comments

The first part of this article described the conditions for an exception request to be accepted by a Cortex-M processor, mainly concerning the relationship of its priority with respect to the current execution priority. This part will describe instead what happens after an exception request is accepted and becomes active.

PROCESSOR OPERATION AND PRIVILEGE MODE

Before discussing in detail the sequence of actions that occurs within the processor after an exception request...


Using XML to describe embedded devices (and speak to them)

Martin Strubel October 12, 20111 comment

This article discusses one of the typical development cycles in embedded device and communication design and presents a possible, light weight solution using the free DClib/netpp framework.

The challenge

Assume we're faced with the design of an embedded device, be it a simple SoC unit or a more complex, uC controlled engine with various attached peripherals. From first prototype to the market, the following development cycle is typically walked through:


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...


Donald Knuth Is the Root of All Premature Optimization

Jason Sachs April 17, 20172 comments

This article is about something profound that a brilliant young professor at Stanford wrote nearly 45 years ago, and now we’re all stuck with it.

TL;DR

The idea, basically, is that even though optimization of computer software to execute faster is a noble goal, with tangible benefits, this costs time and effort up front, and therefore the decision to do so should not be made on whims and intuition, but instead should be made after some kind of analysis to show that it has net...


Favorite Tools: C++11 std::array

Matthew Eshleman February 26, 20172 comments

Many embedded software and firmware projects must be developed to high standards of reliability. To meet these reliability requirements, firmware project teams will consider many design tradeoffs. For example, an engineering team may avoid or outright ban the use of dynamic memory allocation, a feature typically accessed via the C library call "malloc" or the C++ allocator "new". When authoring software under such...


Coding Step 2 - Source Control

Articles in this series:

When I first started out in programming, version control was not an introductory topic. Not in the least because it required a 'server' (ie, a computer which a teenaged me couldn't afford) but because it seemed difficult and only useful to teams rather than...


Important Programming Concepts (Even on Embedded Systems) Part III: Volatility

Jason Sachs October 10, 2014

1vol·a·tile adjective \ˈvä-lə-təl, especially British -ˌtī(-ə)l\ : likely to change in a very sudden or extreme way : having or showing extreme or sudden changes of emotion : likely to become dangerous or out of control

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Other articles in this series: