Virtual-PCB

Drop by Virtual-PCB on Tuesday, March 8, 2011, to join into my group moderated chat session: "DFM: From the Assembler's Perspective."

Registration is free. The session is accessible by logging on to Virtual-PCB.com and selecting my chat room from the VPCB foyer. It's at 3:30, Eastern Standard time, 12:30 Pacific Standard time and lasts for 30 minutes.

Duane Benson
Come for the information. Stay for the donuts.
Wait... No donuts (unless you supply them)

Twitter, What is it Good For? Absolutely 555contest

I follow a few people on Twitter. A few people follow me on Twitter.

A number of web sites have engaged their readers in debates about the usefulness of Twitter (and other social media) to engineers. In general, these debates are talking about hardware engineers. A lot of software engineers pretty much live on the Internet and will embrace or invent any new thing.

The overwhelming majority of the responses that I've read put Twitter in the class of "a waste of time." Not everyone feels that way, but there's quite a few who do.  I'm still in study mode. I can see how it can take up a lot of time if you don't exercise some self control and it has a weird partial-voyeur aspect.

If I'm following, person A and person B, I'll see any conversation they are having. Most discussions are undertaken with that in mind, but some start to lean toward the personal side. Now, if person C gets in the conversation with one or both of A and B, and I'm not following C, I end up 723px-NE555_Bloc_Diagram.svg seeing part of the conversation. It's a bit like listening to someone talk on the phone and hearing only their side. It's odd.

It can lead to interesting activity though. Recently, one tweeter, Jeri (twitter.com/jeriellsworth) suggested a design contest centered around the old stalwart 555 timer. Chris (twitter.com/Chris_Gammell) picked up the ball with her and In about three days, just over Twitter, they organized it, other tweeters chimed in, sponsors offered prize money and they've set up a website for it. Fascinating.

If you're on Twitter, search for "555contest" to see the conversation in action. In any case, if you're a fan of the now 368 year old 555 timer, you might want to dig into the recesses of your brain for entry ideas. You can also follow Screaming Circuits on Twitter at "twitter.com/pcbassembly" and see for yourself if it's useful or too loaded with mindless drivel.

Duane Benson
Huh! Yeah!

What's Missing?

LED cathode There is something about this PCB that will likely cause trouble for anyone assembling it. The first three people to correctly identify the issue get a Screaming Circuits 1GB USB drive.

I know, this day and age, 1 GB doesn't sound like much. But you can still put a bunch of pictures on it. More importantly, you can use it to back up your CAD files just in case disaster strikes your workstation.

This issue is, unfortunately all too common . It's probably a case where the designer knew exactly what he or she was intending and could easily build it up without any problems. However, when sending it out to a third party for assembly, that "in the head" knowledge doesn't help much. If you've got a PCB that you've been assembling yourself and later send out for assembly, make sure you aren't assuming that the assemblers can derive what's hidden in your brain.

Duane Benson
Beware the monsters from Id.

Four Years and Blogging

The Screaming Circuits blog celebrates its fourth year blogging today (September 14, 2010). In that time, it has had 447 (448, including this one) posts and 250 reader comments (more if you count the spammy ones I deleted).

Popular subjects have been:

A year ago, I noted that the blog had 311 posts, or about 100 per year. That gives 137 posts this last year, Ant_wideweb__430x317 so apparently, I've picked up the pace a little bit. Some other likely non-interesting statistics: that's about 140,000 words, a million key presses and 459 images. My fingers must be tired. Maybe bruised on the tips. Only four of them should be sore though. I skipped all the typing classes and came up with my own variety of modified two-finger hunt and peck using just the index and middle fingers of both hands.

For the most part, all of those images, key presses and words have been attempts at passing on useful information and some diversionary blathering with hopefully not too much self-serving drivel. I think I've avoided getting into any political discussions during that time. Nothing controversial. That's probably best given that this blog is the voice of Screaming Circuits, not the voice of me. Maybe one or two of my tep-ten lists may have come close though.

Duane Benson
Live long and preserve all raspberries

ESC, Day 2

It's day two here at the ESC show. Yesterday was so busy, I didn't have time to write, walk around or do much more than talk and breathe.

Mbed etch Today has been pretty busy too, but I did get around a bit. I was able to stop by the ARM booth and take a look at what's going on with the mbed. They have it running an etch-a-sketch. Too funny.

I haven't had a chance to stop by the Texas Instruments booth yet to see what's new with the Beagleboard but I did at least get a passing glance as I sped by to a meeting. I think I saw Ethernet connectors on the board, so the new version must be up and I didnt sticker running.

One thing that made me laugh just came up here at the table I'm writing this blog post from. There's a little stack of stickers here. The stickers have a note on their back directing people to our Circuit Design ECOsystem partner, National Instruments; presumably for a survey. Made me laugh.

Duane Benson
Warning: There is no actual substance in this blog post

ESC is near

The Embedded Systems Conference, Silicon Valley, is less than a week away and Screaming Circuits will be there in booth 827. I've been getting prepped all week (well, actually a lot longer than just all week) and that drives me a little crazy.

I ran across this diagram on XKCD that does a good job of explaining what value I get out of going to the ESC show. And, it conveniently points out the location of our booth.

Circuit_diagramm
Given that I'm posting this on my work blog, I feel compelled to include the warning that XKCD has on their website. "Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)" And the note that he licenses his work under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

I hope to see all of you there. Yes. ALL of you.

Duane Benson
No. This is not the algorithm either. Not even close.

Screaming Circuits is going to ESC

ESC sm logo Screaming Circuits will be exhibiting at the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose this April. The ESC exhibition runs April 27, 28 and 29 and Screaming Circuits will be in booth 827.

As usual, the show will be held at the McEnery Convention Center in downtown San Jose, California. More information can be found at the show website.

Last year, the mood was pretty subdued due to the economic uncertainties. I'm hoping for more optimism and excitement rolling through the show this year. And maybe even some strudel. Myself, I'll be keeping an eye out for new developments with the Beagleboard and mBed.

Duane Benson
Embedded in my head.

Tradeshow Bowling

Last week, I went to the SMTA show to give a talk on ways to get more out of your resources in tough times. The talk went well, but I walked the show floor and was really surprised at how slow the floor traffic was. Mike Buetow from Circuits Assembly seems to have made the same observation.

The ESC show last month was a little slow too, but nothing like this. I'm wondering if it really just is, as Mike suggested, too many shows on the same subject. ESC speaks more directly to engineers, so it is a bit of a different audience. Regardless, I certainly hope things pick up soon for some of these shows. Or maybe some consolidation would be a good thing. I've been in the set of exhibitors during slow shows and it hurts. If it keeps hurting, they won't come back.

Duane Benson
Can you take down a 7/10 split?

SMTA Conference

SMTAI_25th_logo_150x43

Hey there -

Next week, if you happen to be down in San Diego, I'll be talking at the SMTA conference. I speak on October 7, at 3:30. I'm in session EMS2, in Royal Palms 1-2. My talk is called "Strengthening Your Downsized Design Teams Through a Strong Prototype Partner"

Duane Benson
It's a long, long way to San Jose
And even further to San Diego

Over, But Not Out

Well, not out yet. I hope I'll be out when I take to the skies soon. Out sleeping anyway. Not out on the wing. Brrrr. I am out of Empty airportthe show and occupying space in a mostly empty airport terminal. I left the floor just a little early to catch a flight home tonight and I still have about an hour before boarding.

I didn't get to explore much of the show this time. In fact, I barely got out of my booth. I guess that's a good thing. I did get to talk to quite a few folks, including a number of people from colleges and Universities.

Some of these chats were actually a little disturbing. In almost all cases, the students and professors said pretty much the same thing: They limit most of their design education to components that can be hand-soldered. While I do understand the economics, that theme gives me a lot of concern. So many of the new chip designs are being produced only in super-small packages. Who's going to create new advanced designs if our students are being taught in thru-hole and old, large smt? It sounds like they're getting prepared to take design jobs in 1984.

It's not always possible to learn on a thru-hole version and then later in professional life, just move to the tiny parts. Many of the new chips don't have thru-hole versions. And with the small parts, there's a whole slew of things that need to be considered that just might not matter with big parts - paste stencil patterns, via-in-pad, escape routing, cap and inductor proximity, and on and on.

I'm not sure what the solution is. We'll have to ponder on it for a bit, but it seems like a pretty important problem to knock off.

Duane Benson
We don't need no thought control, but we might need some frequency-drift control