The Least Interesting Circuit in the World

Jason Sachs October 7, 20185 comments

It does nothing, most of the time.

It cannot compute pi. It won’t oscillate. It doesn’t light up.

Often it makes other circuits stop working.

It is… the least interesting circuit in the world.

What is it?

About 25 years ago, I took a digital computer architecture course, and we were each given use of an ugly briefcase containing a bunch of solderless breadboards and a power supply and switches and LEDs — and a bunch of

Servo Troubleshooting notes

Ed Nutter October 4, 2018

Servo Troubleshooting


Forcing a servo to rotate when off can damage it.

Malfunction:Servo makes a grinding noise or acts erratic

Probable Cause

Corrective Action


Examine gears for broken teeth

Replace gears


Malfunction:Servo Jitters

Probable Cause

Corrective Action


Dirty potentiometer


Linear Feedback Shift Registers for the Uninitiated, Part XVIII: Primitive Polynomial Generation

Jason Sachs August 6, 20182 comments

Last time we figured out how to reverse-engineer parameters of an unknown CRC computation by providing sample inputs and analyzing the corresponding outputs. One of the things we discovered was that the polynomial \( x^{16} + x^{12} + x^5 + 1 \) used in the 16-bit X.25 CRC is not primitive — which just means that all the nonzero elements in the corresponding quotient ring can’t be generated by powers of \( x \), and therefore the corresponding 16-bit LFSR with taps in bits 0, 5,...

Sensors Expo - Trip Report & My Best Video Yet!

Stephane Boucher August 3, 20183 comments

This was my first time at Sensors Expo and my second time in Silicon Valley and I must say I had a great time.  

Before I share with you what I find to be, by far, my best 'highlights' video yet for a conference/trade show, let me try to entertain you with a few anecdotes from this trip.  If you are not interested by my stories or maybe don't have the extra minutes needed to read them, please feel free to skip to the end of this blog post to watch the...

R1C1R2C2: The Two-Pole Passive RC Filter

Jason Sachs July 28, 20181 comment

I keep running into this circuit every year or two, and need to do the same old calculations, which are kind of tiring. So I figured I’d just write up an article and then I can look it up the next time.

This is a two-pole passive RC filter. Doesn’t work as well as an LC filter or an active filter, but it is cheap. We’re going to find out a couple of things about its transfer function.

First let’s find out the transfer function of this circuit:

Not very...

Linear Feedback Shift Registers for the Uninitiated, Part XVII: Reverse-Engineering the CRC

Jason Sachs July 7, 20181 comment

Last time, we continued a discussion about error detection and correction by covering Reed-Solomon encoding. I was going to move on to another topic, but then there was this post on Reddit asking how to determine unknown CRC parameters:

I am seeking to reverse engineer an 8-bit CRC. I don’t know the generator code that’s used, but can lay my hands on any number of output sequences given an input sequence.

This is something I call the “unknown oracle”...

Making a connection 1

Ed Nutter July 3, 20182 comments

In order for your system to control devices, you must be able to connect it to those devices.

Besides different sizes based on wire size, there are a few different styles of connectors that can be used.  There are also weather-resistant terminals that can be used if needed.


(Parks, 16)

- used for circuits that you don’t want to become easily disconnected

- ground wire attached to a stud


- can be used on relay terminals

(Parks, 18)

- could be...

Linear Feedback Shift Registers for the Uninitiated, Part XVI: Reed-Solomon Error Correction

Jason Sachs June 19, 2018

Last time, we talked about error correction and detection, covering some basics like Hamming distance, CRCs, and Hamming codes. If you are new to this topic, I would strongly suggest going back to read that article before this one.

This time we are going to cover Reed-Solomon codes. (I had meant to cover this topic in Part XV, but the article was getting to be too long, so I’ve split it roughly in half.) These are one of the workhorses of error-correction, and they are used in...

Troubleshooting notes from days past, TTL, Linear

Ed Nutter June 19, 20181 comment

General Troubleshooting

  • Follow safety precautions.
  • Always think “what if”.
    • Analytical procedures
    • Precautions when probing equipment
    • Insulate all but last 1/8” of probe tip
  • Learn from mistakes
  • Don’t start with electronic test equipment, start with analytical thinking.
  • If you get stuck, sleep on it.
  • Many problems have simple solutions.
  • Whenever possible, try to substitute a working unit.
  • Don’t blindly trust test instruments.
  • Coincidences do happen, but are relatively...

Linear Feedback Shift Registers for the Uninitiated, Part XV: Error Detection and Correction

Jason Sachs June 12, 2018

Last time, we talked about Gold codes, a specially-constructed set of pseudorandom bit sequences (PRBS) with low mutual cross-correlation, which are used in many spread-spectrum communications systems, including the Global Positioning System.

This time we are wading into the field of error detection and correction, in particular CRCs and Hamming codes.

Ernie, You Have a Banana in Your Ear

I have had a really really tough time writing this article. I like the...

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...

PID Without a PhD

Tim Wescott April 26, 201611 comments

I both consult and teach in the area of digital control. Through both of these efforts, I have found that while there certainly are control problems that require all the expertise I can bring to bear, there are a great number of control problems that can be solved with the most basic knowledge of simple controllers, without resort to any formal control theory at all.

This article will tell you how to implement a simple controller in software and how to tune it without getting into heavy...

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...

Lost Secrets of the H-Bridge, Part IV: DC Link Decoupling and Why Electrolytic Capacitors Are Not Enough

Jason Sachs April 29, 20147 comments

Those of you who read my earlier articles about H-bridges, and followed them closely, have noticed there's some unfinished business. Well, here it is. Just so you know, I've been nervous about writing the fourth (and hopefully final) part of this series for a while. Fourth installments after a hiatus can bring bad vibes. I mean, look what it did to George Lucas: now we have Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and

BGA and QFP at Home 1 - A Practical Guide.

Victor Yurkovsky October 13, 20133 comments

It is almost universally accepted by the hobbyists that you can't work with high-density packages at home.  That is entirely incorrect.  I've been assembling and reflowing BGA circuit boards at home for a few years now.  BGAs and 0.5mm-pitch QFPs are well within the realm of a determined amateur. 

This series of articles presents practical information on designing and assembling boards with high-density packages at home.  While the focus is on FPGA packages, most of...

Implementing State Machines

Stephen Friederichs January 18, 20145 comments

State machines are a great way to design software but they can be difficult to implement well.To illustrate this I’ll develop a simple state machine then increase the complexity to demonstrate some of the difficulties

We’ve all washed dishes before - it’s easy isn’t it? Scrub, rinse, dry, scrub, rinse dry. Scrub the dish until all of the gunk is off of it, rinse until the soap is off, put it in the drying rack. If you want to design software to implement this you have options. You...

From Baremetal to RTOS: A review of scheduling techniques

Jacob Beningo June 8, 201617 comments

Transitioning from bare-metal embedded software development to a real-time operating system (RTOS) can be a difficult endeavor. Many developers struggle with the question of whether they should use an RTOS or simply use a bare-metal scheduler. One of the goals of this series is to walk developers through the transition and decision making process of abandoning bare-metal thinking and getting up to speed quickly with RTOSes. Before diving into the details of RTOSes, the appropriate first step...

Which MOSFET topology?

Jason Sachs September 1, 20119 comments

A recent electronics.StackExchange question brings up a good topic for discussion. Let's say you have a power supply and a 2-wire load you want to be able to switch on and off from the power supply using a MOSFET. How do you choose which circuit topology to choose? You basically have four options, shown below:

From left to right, these are:

High-side switch, N-channel MOSFET High-side switch, P-channel MOSFET Low-side switch, N-channel...

How to Build a Fixed-Point PI Controller That Just Works: Part II

Jason Sachs March 24, 20122 comments

In Part I we talked about some of the issues around discrete-time proportional-integral (PI) controllers:

  • various forms and whether to use the canonical form for z-transforms (don't do it!)
  • order of operation in the integral term: whether to scale and then integrate (my recommendation), or integrate and then scale.
  • saturation and anti-windup

In this part we'll talk about the issues surrounding fixed-point implementations of PI controllers. First let's recap the conceptual structure...