Top Ten Things To Do In 2012

Mayan_glyphUnless you've managed to live off the grid for the last five years, you know that the Mayan calendar has predicted the end of the world on December 21, 2012. Ignoring all conventional wisdom, centuries of scientific knowledge and the fact that the Mayan community doesn't even believe it, I feel compelled to list key electronics things that everyone should see or do in this last year before the end of the world. Because, you know, just in case...

Here are the top ten things to look into or do in 2012 before the end of the world on December 21, 2012:

0b0000.0000: Build something open source. It's amazing what is available. Back in the heyday of hobby electronics, it was easy to find projects in magazines such as "Popular Electronics." You could get kits from Heathkit or RadioShack. But, for the most part, all of those things went away. With Open Source, you can build an almost unlimited variety of gadgets. What's more, you can taylor your build to your experience level. If you want to do it all, just get the files, fab your boards, buy your parts and solder it up. If you're less ambitious, buy a complete kit. If you're even more ambitious, mod the design and post it up for the community.

0b0000.0001: While you're out fiddling with Open Source, get ahold of a Beaglebone. It's Ti's second take on open source hardware. The original Beaglebard was and is a great way to get to know their OMAP processors, both in therms of programming it and in terms of designing a PCB for it. The Beaglebone is an easier to use, easier to expand, but not quite as powerful adjunct to the Beagleboard.

0b0000.0010: Try out some new CAD software. Sunstone released PCB123 version 4 in 2011 and Element14 released EagleCAD version 6. Check them out and see if they do what you need. Both are good economical ways to get into circuit design and layout. PCB123 doesn't cost anything initially. It sends your boards through Sunstone and they earn their rent that way. Eagle has a tiered pricing model, starting at a small non-commercial version for free and stepping up to a full-feature professional system.

0b0000.0011: Try out some newer technology. I'f you've always been intimidated by QFN or micro BGA packages, go ahead and give it a try. They're more difficult at first, but once you've got the tricks down, you get access to a slew of new components that only come out in those form factors. Check out some guidelines on QFN use.

0b0000.0100: Look at space pictures. There are a number of probes up running around our solar system these days, and one on the verge of leaving it. Hop on over the nasa.gov or space.com and see what's going on. There's a probe orbiting an asteroid, new ones off to Jupiter and Mars, one orbiting Mercury, some new space telescopes and more. There's just a lot going on out there right now. You can even leave your computer, go outside and look up at the sky for real.

0b0000.0101: Try and make something really, really small. For my part, I'm taking a little two-motor robot brain I've built and an trying to see just how small I can make it. You have to think differently when size is a prime consideration. Factors that didn't matter much suddenly become design critical. It might be an opportunity to freshen your brain up a bit (although, if the world is ending on 12-21-12, having a fresh brain may not be all that important).

0b0000.0110: Go back in time. Get a 2N2222 or 2N3907, or both. See if you remember how to build basic common base, common emitter and common collector amplifiers. No. Don't go to Wikipedia. Try to do it from memory. I'm sure you built all of them waaaay back in your school days. Next try to build some basic logic gates with transistors. After you've done that, see if you can build up a RSIC processor and a 512 Mbyte RAM block using only discrete transistors and passives. As your final assignment, use the computer system you built to calculate the first 100,000 prime numbers.

0b0000.0111: Take your most recent resume and replace all of the letters, spaces, tabs and line ends with their hex values. Submit it in that form for your dream job. Then sit back and wait for the hiring manager to bow down to your superior skills. Since the world is ending, it really won't matter that the first person to see the resume thought it was gibberish and round-filed it.

0b0000.1000: Introduce your kids (if you have them) to robots. Get them started down the technical path early; both boys and girls. And, if you have daughters, make sure they don't get discouraged by peer pressure or whatever pressure. If they are interested in a technical career, don't let the world around them pressure them out of it. If you don't have kids, build some robots yourself and introduce your pets to them. See who ends up chasing whom around the house.

0b0000.1001: Finally, ignore all of this. Come on. Really? The Mayans knew when the world would end? Even I don't know that. Although, there was that John Cusack movie. And I've read about it on the Internet and everyone knows that if you read it on the Internet, it must be true...

Duane Benson
See you all on the other side

Screaming Circuits and Element14

Screaming Circuits has entered into a partnership with electronics distributor Newark/element14 to offer PCB assembly services through its online engineering community, the knode.

As support staff, schedules and components shrink, design workload stays the same or increases. The Knode on element14 is an intelligent online search and knowledge tool that helps to quickly find the right solutions for all phases of the design cycle. It saves time by centralizing unbiased information, components, advice and services in one common location.

With this agreement, Screaming Circuits’ pcb assembly services are now available via the Knode. This provides a one-stop shopping experience that can deliver machine assembled prototypes in as little as 24 hours, in quantities as few as one.

“The addition of Screaming Circuits extends our commitment to providing engineers access to a full range of design solutions from the best suppliers in the industry,” said David Shen, Group Senior Vice President and Global Head of EDE and Technical Marketing of Premier Farnell, parent company of Newark/element14. “We are pleased to add direct access to instant quotes for these PCB assembly services to the Knode on element14 to augment designers’ choices for doing on-line research and sourcing of best-in-class design solutions.”

Duane Benson

Sardines Seven Miles High

Being in the electronics industry means working on cool projects with cool people, but it also means other things. Like plane travel. I love flying. Not necessarily in an airplane though. I mean, I do prefer to be in an airplane when I'm flying. I'm more likely to have a subsequent flight if I first actually fly in an airplane rather than not in one. It's just these "big" commercial airplanes that we get stuffed into these days. Most of the complaints I read about relative to commercial flying have to do with the TSA or being stuck on a runway for six hours with overflowing toilets, but I haven't had those issues.

In point of fact, I don't think I've run into a TSA person that hasn't been polite. Especially in Portland. Still, even if they're nice people, I really don't like the idea of a choice between being nuked or groped. For the record, I chose to be nuked when I had to make the choice. I'm sure the government sanctioned groper wouldn't like it any more than I would, so I did us both a favor and stepped into the radiation chamber. I don't feel any worse for the rays. Maybe they were nice rays.

So, I don't have any complaints about the TSA. The crowds sometimes get me down, but all things considered, they aren't all that bad. What does get me is the straight jackets that they call seats these days. I'm in a motel in Milwaukee right now. I'll be heading home tomorrow. First in a mosquito plane to Chicago and then, probably, a 737 to Portland. I like the 737 in concept. It's a good plane. I just like being able to breath a little. It's natural to not have any room in the micro plane that I'll take to Chicago. It's not much bigger than my truck and will have twenty people crammed in it. You expect to be folded like a pretzel and spam crammed into one of those.

But a 737 is a big airplane. I can stand up in it and I'm not short. It's not like a little micro car. It's like my pick up truck (just not like it with 20 people in it). In the olden days, I preferred window seats for the view. Then I went for the isle seats for easier access in and out. Never the middle seat. Now, though, they keep taking leg room out so I'm not so sure. The seats get smaller every time I get on a plane.

If I take the window, I'm stuck for the duration of the flight with my knees just about in my face. Leg room in the isle seat is narrower so when I put my laptop bag down there I can't even wedge my feet under it to steel an extra few inches. Now that they charge for checked baggage, everyone brings their luggage as carry on and there isn't room to put both my suitcase and my laptop up in the overheads. I think they have the sky marshals throw you out the back window if you try to put both of your carry on's up top.

And so it goes. I'm just going to take whatever random seat I get and hope for the best. And I'll feel like a king if they grant me the supreme luxury of an entire 12 ounce can of warm soda pop.

Duane Benson
Curse you Red Baron!

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