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, 20145 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 wikiHow.com: 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...

10 Items of Test Equipment You Should Know

Jason Sachs June 22, 20143 comments

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...

Musings on Publication — and Zero Sequence Modulation

Jason Sachs May 30, 20141 comment

Perhaps you don’t think about it, but in order for you to read these articles, someone has to do something.

And I don’t just mean writing them. Stephane Boucher has set up this website so that it’s automatic, for the most part — at least from my end of things, as an author. When I get an idea for an article, I open up a new IPython Notebook, write my article, save it in a Mercurial repository, run a Python script to convert from IPython Notebook format to HTML, open...


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...


First-Order Systems: The Happy Family

Jason Sachs May 3, 20141 comment
Все счастли́вые се́мьи похо́жи друг на дру́га, ка́ждая несчастли́вая семья́ несчастли́ва по-сво́ему.

— Лев Николаевич Толстой, Анна Каренина

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

— Lev Nicholaevich Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

I was going to write an article about second-order systems, but then realized that it would be...


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...


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...

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...


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...


Important Programming Concepts (Even on Embedded Systems) Part VI : Abstraction

Jason Sachs June 16, 20153 comments

Earlier articles:

We have come to the last part of the Important Programming Concepts series, on abstraction. I thought I might also talk about why there isn’t a Part VII, but decided it would distract from this article — so if you want to know the reason, along with what’s next,


Linear Feedback Shift Registers for the Uninitiated, Part VII: LFSR Implementations, Idiomatic C, and Compiler Explorer

Jason Sachs November 13, 2017

The last four articles were on algorithms used to compute with finite fields and shift registers:

Today we’re going to come back down to earth and show how to implement LFSR updates on a microcontroller. We’ll also talk a little bit about something called “idiomatic C” and a neat online tool for experimenting with the C compiler.


Thoughts on Starting a New Career

Jason Sachs July 22, 20127 comments

I recently completed a 16-year stint at an engineering company. I started there fresh out of college in June 1996. This June I just started a new career as an applications engineer in the area of motor drives at Microchip Technology in Chandler, Arizona. The experience I had in switching jobs was a very enlightening one for me, and has given me an opportunity to reflect on my career. I want to share some of that reflection with you.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this and other blogs...


Voltage Drops Are Falling on My Head: Operating Points, Linearization, Temperature Coefficients, and Thermal Runaway

Jason Sachs January 19, 2015

Today’s topic was originally going to be called “Small Changes Caused by Various Things”, because I couldn’t think of a better title. Then I changed the title. This one’s not much better, though. Sorry.

What I had in mind was the Shockley diode equation and some other vaguely related subjects.

My Teachers Lied to Me

My introductory circuits class in college included a section about diodes and transistors.

The ideal diode equation is...


Trust, but Verify: Examining the Output of an Embedded Compiler

Jason Sachs September 27, 2015

I work with motor control firmware on the Microchip dsPIC33 series of microcontrollers. The vast majority of that firmware is written in C, with only a few percent in assembly. And I got to thinking recently: I programmed in C and C++ on an Intel PC from roughly 1991 to 2009. But I don’t remember ever working with x86 assembly code. Not once. Not even reading it. Which seems odd. I do that all the time with embedded firmware. And I think you should too. Before I say why, here are...


Optimizing Optoisolators, and Other Stories of Making Do With Less

Jason Sachs December 14, 20144 comments

It’s been a few months since I’ve rolled up my sleeves here and dug into some good old circuit design issues. I started out with circuit design articles, and I’ve missed it.

Today’s topic will be showing you some tricks for how to get more performance out of an optoisolator. These devices — and I’m tempted to be lazy and call them “optos”, but that sounds more like a cereal with Greek yogurt-covered raisins — are essentially just an LED...