Garden Rakes Revisited: The Hall of Shame

Jason Sachs April 12, 2014

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!

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...


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...


Efficiency Through the Looking-Glass

Jason Sachs December 8, 20134 comments

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)

Jason Sachs December 4, 2013

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)

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...


Another 10 Circuit Components You Should Know

Jason Sachs October 30, 20131 comment

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?

Jason Sachs October 19, 20132 comments

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?

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...


Signal Processing Contest in Python (PREVIEW): The Worst Encoder in the World

Jason Sachs September 7, 20136 comments

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...


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”...


How to Analyze a Differential Amplifier

Jason Sachs April 13, 2014

There are a handful of things that you just have to know if you do any decent amount of electronic circuit design work. One of them is a voltage divider. Another is the behavior of an RC filter. I'm not going to explain these two things or even link to a good reference on them — either you already know how they work, or you're smart enough to look it up yourself.

The handful of things also includes some others that are a little more interesting to discuss. One of them is this...


Linear Feedback Shift Registers for the Uninitiated, Part XIV: Gold Codes

Jason Sachs April 18, 2018

Last time we looked at some techniques using LFSR output for system identification, making use of the peculiar autocorrelation properties of pseudorandom bit sequences (PRBS) derived from an LFSR.

This time we’re going to jump back to the field of communications, to look at an invention called Gold codes and why a single maximum-length PRBS isn’t enough to save the world using spread-spectrum technology. We have to cover two little side discussions before we can get into Gold...


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

Jason Sachs March 12, 20181 comment

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...


Implementation Complexity, Part I: The Tower of Babel, Gremlins, and The Mythical Man-Month

Jason Sachs June 9, 2013

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 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...


Linear Feedback Shift Registers for the Uninitiated, Part XII: Spread-Spectrum Fundamentals

Jason Sachs December 29, 20171 comment

Last time we looked at the use of LFSRs for pseudorandom number generation, or PRNG, and saw two things:

  • the use of LFSR state for PRNG has undesirable serial correlation and frequency-domain properties
  • the use of single bits of LFSR output has good frequency-domain properties, and its autocorrelation values are so close to zero that they are actually better than a statistically random bit stream

The unusually-good correlation properties...


Modulation Alternatives for the Software Engineer

Jason Sachs November 8, 20111 comment

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...


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

Jason Sachs December 20, 2017

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 1983

When 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...


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

Jason Sachs September 9, 2017

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...