Screaming Circuits: Events and activities

ESC Robot Attendees

ESC Boston 2011 016 cr (Medium) We've been hanging out in Boston at the ESC show. Yesterday was a busy day with lot's to look at and lot's of folks at our booth. Some human, some not. The Freescale people, just a few booths down, brought along a tele-presence robot.

The little guy wanderd here and there a bit. It's a cool concept, but I think it didn't quite live up to it's potential. They really should have registered it as an attendee. It did have a little card hanging around it's neck, but I don't see why it couldn't have had a genuine show badge. If it were me, I would have had it actually stopping by booths, talking to people and collecting goodies.

Still, it was a fun demo and, presumably, an example of Freescale chips in action.

Duane Benson
I salute our new robot tradeshow overlords

Loooooooow Power

ESC Microchip clock 001 (Large) It's not quite grape power, but over in the Microchip booth, the EverReady folks were handing out little digital clock demos. Nothing sounds the least bit interesting about that, except what they're really showcasing is a little Microchip step-up DC-DC converter, the MCP1640. They're using that little chip and an Energizer 1.5V AAAA cell to power the chip at 3.3 volts. ESC Microchip clock 003 (Large)

Looking a little closer, it's a PIC16LF1933. On the other side of the battery, there's a set of six unpopulated pads labeled J1. I'm guessing that's the ICSP port. I do have MPLAB on my laptop here and I have my hand, dandy PicKit 3 with me as well. What I don't have with me is a soldering iron and a spare header... Actually, now that I think about it, I do have some six-pin headers down here with me. I might be able to put in into the PicKit and then just hold it tight to the solder pads. I'll probably sleep tonight though instead of staying up and writing something fun for this to do. I'd probably spend most of the night just trying to get the fuse bits figured out. A project for another day.

Duane Benson
It's a little big to strap on my wrist

Blackout at ESC

There's always excitement at ESC. Almost always, anyway. I think in 2009, it was mostly just spooky quiet. If I remember correctly, the theme for that year was: "but I'm not dead yet..."

Our booth, 823, is across from LeCroy this year. They do cool test equipment. I visited them a few years back to get humiliated by Guitar Hero on the Wii. I didn't play guitar hero this year, but I did get to watch the line for their beer cart and the longer line to get the little robots from Atmel, also near us.

Being mostly stuck in my booth, I haven't been able to get out and about much to see what else is here, but  Blackout fortunately, some of the excitement came to me. At approximately 4:36, the hall went dark in black out. As you can see from the photo, it was completely out except for the occasional dim glow of a laptop here and there. Me and my booth crew considered doing some looting, but we couldn't agree on who would pick up a chair and throw it through a window or a monitor.

Half a minute later, we had some emergency lighting and about ten minutes after that, the main lights started coming back on with the convention center's generators. The power stayed out for the final 45 minutes of the show. As frequently happens, stories of unknown legitimacy started flowing around. The best was that the power was our from Gilroy to just South of San Francisco. Record heat was given as a reason in one case. I'm not sure that 80 degrees should qualify as record heat, but who knows.

Back at the hotel, the elevators were running slowing on generator power. I chose to take the stairs. After a brief stop in our rooms, we were going to go out and hunt down a wild beast to cook on the open fires in the street, but the power came back on and we couldn't find any open fires.

Duane Benson
Tomorrow we we eat ham and jam and Spam a lot.

Something Free at ESC

My post title rhymes. I'm a poet and don't even know it.

So, what about that free thing at ESC? And is there a catch? Of course there's a catch. There's always a catch. This is a good catch though.

If you are an electrical design engineer and are at ESC this coming May, come to our booth and see if you make the cut. The first 50 qualified electronic design engineers will get one of these things. Yes, I'm being non-specific about the details. That's a technique. It's supposed to make you more curious. That's what they tell me anyway.

The details:

Embedded System Conference, Silicon Valley
McEnery Convention center
San Jose, CA
Expo is May 3-5

We're in booth 823.

Duane Benson
Robots for world domination!


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 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 ( suggested a design contest centered around the old stalwart 555 timer. Chris ( 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 "" 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.

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.