Book Review: "Turing's Cathedral"

Jason Sachs November 20, 20146 comments

My library had Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe by George Dyson on its new acquisitions shelf, so I read it. I’d recommend the book to anyone interested in the history of computing.

Turing’s Cathedral primarly covers the period in early computing from 1940-1958, and bridges a gap between a few other popular books: on the historic side, between Richard Rhodes’s

Important Programming Concepts (Even on Embedded Systems) Part IV: Singletons

Jason Sachs November 11, 20142 comments

Other articles in this series:

Today’s topic is the singleton. This article is unique (pun intended) in that unlike the others in this series, I tried to figure out a word to use that would be a positive concept to encourage, as an alternative to singletons, but

Second-Order Systems, Part I: Boing!!

Jason Sachs October 29, 2014

I’ve already written about the unexciting (but useful) 1st-order system, and about slew-rate limiting. So now it’s time to cover second-order systems.

The most common second-order systems are RLC circuits and spring-mass-damper systems.

Spring-mass-damper systems are fairly common; you’ve seen these before, whether you realize it or not. One household example of these is the spring doorstop (BOING!!):

(For what it’s worth: the spring...

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,...

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:

Slew Rate Limiters: Nonlinear and Proud of It!

Jason Sachs October 6, 2014

I first learned about slew rate limits when I was in college. Usually the subject comes up when talking about the nonideal behavior of op-amps. In order for the op-amp output to swing up and down quickly, it has to charge up an internal capacitor with a transistor circuit that’s limited in its current capability. So the slew rate limit \( \frac{dV}{dt} = \frac{I_{\rm max}}{C} \). And as long as the amplitude and frequency aren’t too high, you won’t notice it. But try to...

You Will Make Mistakes

Jason Sachs September 28, 20141 comment
</scorpion>: FAIL

Anyone out there see the TV pilot of Scorpion? Genius hacker squad meets Homeland Security in a fast-paced thriller to save hundreds of airplanes from crashing after LAX air traffic control software upgrade fails and they didn’t save a backup of the old version (ZOMG!!!) so thousands of people are going to die because the planes… well, they just can’t land! They just can’t. Even if the weather is sunny and calm and there could quite possibly...

Important Programming Concepts (Even on Embedded Systems) Part II: Immutability

Jason Sachs September 14, 2014

Other articles in this series:

This article will discuss immutability, and some of its variations in the topic of functional programming.

There are a whole series of benefits to using program variables that… well, that aren’t actually variable, but instead are immutable. The impact of...

Important Programming Concepts (Even on Embedded Systems) Part I: Idempotence

Jason Sachs August 26, 20144 comments

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of subtle concepts that contribute to high quality software design. Many of them are well-known, and can be found in books or the Internet. I’m going to highlight a few of the ones I think are important and often overlooked.

But first let’s start with a short diversion. I’m going to make a bold statement: unless you’re a novice, there’s at least one thing in computer programming about which you’ve picked up...

Someday We’ll Find It, The Kelvin Connection

Jason Sachs July 28, 20142 comments

You’d think it wouldn’t be too hard to measure electrical resistance accurately. And it’s really not, at least according to you just follow these easy steps:

  • Choose the item whose resistance you wish to measure.
  • Plug the probes into the correct test sockets.
  • Turn on the multimeter.
  • Select the best testing range.
  • Touch the multimeter probes to the item you wish to measure.
  • Set the multimeter to a high voltage range after finishing the...

Stairway to Thévenin

Jason Sachs December 31, 2011

This article was inspired by a recent post on reddit asking for help on Thévenin and Norton equivalent circuits.

(With apologies to Mr. Thévenin, the rest of the e's that follow will remain unaccented.)

I still remember my introductory circuits class on the subject, roughly as follows:

(NOTE: Do not get scared of what you see in the rest of this section. We're going to point out the traditional approach for teaching linear equivalent circuits first. If you have...

Ten Little Algorithms, Part 5: Quadratic Extremum Interpolation and Chandrupatla's Method

Jason Sachs November 11, 20154 comments

Other articles in this series:

Today we will be drifting back into the topic of numerical methods, and look at an algorithm that takes in a series of discretely-sampled data points, and estimates the maximum value of...

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.


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...

Complexity in Consumer Electronics Considered Harmful

Jason Sachs October 1, 20111 comment

I recently returned from a visit to my grandmother, who lives in an assisted living community, and got to observe both her and my frustration first-hand with a new TV. This was a Vizio flatscreen TV that was fairly easy to set up, and the picture quality was good. But here's what the remote control looks like:

You will note:

  • the small lettering (the number buttons are just under 1/4 inch in diameter)
  • a typeface chosen for marketing purposes (matching Vizio's "futuristic" corporate...

Lost Secrets of the H-Bridge, Part II: Ripple Current in the DC Link Capacitor

Jason Sachs July 28, 2013

In my last post, I talked about ripple current in inductive loads.

One of the assumptions we made was that the DC link was, in fact, a DC voltage source. In reality that's an approximation; no DC voltage source is perfect, and current flow will alter the DC link voltage. To analyze this, we need to go back and look at how much current actually is being drawn from the DC link. Below is an example. This is the same kind of graph as last time, except we added two...

How to Include MathJax Equations in SVG With Less Than 100 Lines of JavaScript!

Jason Sachs May 23, 20146 comments

Today’s short and tangential note is an account of how I dug myself out of Documentation Despair. I’ve been working on some block diagrams. You know, this sort of thing, to describe feedback control systems:

And I had a problem. How do I draw diagrams like this?

I don’t have Visio and I don’t like Visio. I used to like Visio. But then it got Microsofted.

I can use MATLAB and Simulink, which are great for drawing block diagrams. Normally you use them to create a...

The Other Kind of Bypass Capacitor

Jason Sachs January 3, 20173 comments

There’s a type of bypass capacitor I’d like to talk about today.

It’s not the usual power supply bypass capacitor, aka decoupling capacitor, which is used to provide local charge storage to an integrated circuit, so that the high-frequency supply currents to the IC can bypass (hence the name) all the series resistance and inductance from the power supply. This reduces the noise on a DC voltage supply. I’ve...

Ten Little Algorithms, Part 6: Green’s Theorem and Swept-Area Detection

Jason Sachs June 18, 20172 comments

Other articles in this series:

This article is mainly an excuse to scribble down some cryptic-looking mathematics — Don’t panic! Close your eyes and scroll down if you feel nauseous — and...

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:


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...

Linear Feedback Shift Registers for the Uninitiated, Part I: Ex-Pralite Monks and Finite Fields

Jason Sachs July 3, 20174 comments

Later there will be, I hope, some people who will find it to their advantage to decipher all this mess.

— Évariste Galois, May 29, 1832

I was going to call this short series of articles “LFSRs for Dummies”, but thought better of it. What is a linear feedback shift register? If you want the short answer, the Wikipedia article is a decent introduction. But these articles are aimed at those of you who want a little bit deeper mathematical understanding,...