Does Anybody Really Care?

The upside of a visible identity is that people see you can might possibly care and understand. The downside, is that people can find you. Today, I'm sort of treading the line between the two.

I'm testing out some Twitter ads right at the moment. As someone that has a service to present, I have to do things like that. Ideally, it won't be intrusive and will just give information, but that's not the point.

One of the steps in putting together a Twitter ad is to select categories of Twitter users that might be interested in what I do. The process of picking those categories reminded me of something that's almost always annoyed me when I have to pick my categories for anything. Namely, my categories aren't there.

This particular ad, is sending people to eBay to buy (hopefully) a coffee mug with the Sputnik 1 transmitter schematic on it. We're doing it to help out our local FREE GEEK place. (Yikes! Three links in a row) Again, that's not the point here.

I'm thinking that electrical engineers would be interested, as would space fans. Well, those categories don't really exist. The have a major category: "Business." The closest sub category in Business is "Technology." That's somewhat close, but do engineers really want to be classified as in the business world?

 "Careers"; nothing close in the sub categories. "Education"; nothing close. "Events" has "Tech Tradeshows" as  a sub-category, but as with business, it's not really where I'd look.

"Hobbies and Interests"? Nope. They have "Astrology", but no hobby electronics.

There's the category "Science", but its subs look like chapter headings in a sixth-grade science book.

Wait! There's "Technology and Computing"! That looks promising... But... No. It's pretty much software and IT.

And, that's it. I see this sort of thing all over the place. Software, IT and businessy stuff get categories, but electronics design, embedded computing, robotics... Other than in the direct EE press, these types of categories just don't seem to exist.

Duane Benson
What time it is?

National High Voltage AC month

N_TeslaIn honor of Nikola Tesla, hero to engineers', birthday (July 10, 1856), Screaming Circuits has declared this to be National High Voltage AC Month.

For those of you who don't know Nikola Tesla... Never mind. If you don't know who he is, you're probably not an actual engineer. If you are an engineer, but still don't know, I challenge you to use your powers of self-education, and spend a little time learning about the person who pretty much made the modern world possible.

Part of our homage comes in the form of a free T-shirt. Every customer who places an order before August 10, 2014, 5:00 PM, PST, will have the opportunity to get a Free "National High Voltage AC Month" T-Shirt, designed by local graphic artist, Kyle DeVore.

T-shirtLook for instructions via email on how to get a free T-shirt after your next order (provided the order is placed between today and on or before August 10). If you place an order between now and then, and promptly respond to the email, you can get one for free.

But, what if you don't have anything to order? Well, you can still celebrate life threatening high voltage induction by buying a T-shirt from our page on teespring.com. (link here).

Any profits from the sale of the shirts will be donated to the Tesla Museum at Wardenclyffe.

How Teespring works: Orders can go in during a 21 day window. If you buying one, you don't get charged until the closing date. After that, they send you the shirt about a week or so after. They send any profits we made on the shirt directly to Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe; a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization registered with the State of New York.

If you're a recipient of one of the free shirts, you won't pay anything. Your shirt will be mailed at about the same times as the paid shirts.

Born of Fire

There are a lot of places suitable for running an electronics manufacturing plant. Ours is in Oregon, USA – the Silicon Rain forest, if you will. The slower pace of life here, the proximity to recreation and wilderness, the rain soaked green hills; all help to create a healthy and invigorating environment. That’s a healthy environment for those of us that work here and that helps us to deliver dedicated service and quality product on time.

Deep in the woods of Oregon - up at an elevation of about 3000 feet, tucked behind soaring trees in a remote corner of the West-central Cascade foothills lays an alluring, mystifying volcanic remnant, known as Clear Lake.

Snow melt from nearby Mt. Washington and many of its Western hillsides, plus a series of complex underground springs, fill it with extremely cold, ultra-pure water. This creates an average temperature in the lake that is so low that comparatively little algae growth, or other biological activity that would otherwise obscure entering sunlight is able to thrive. Scuba divers are drawn to the exceptionally clear waters to see, with their own eyes, the remains of the ancient forest dispersed along its bed, still preserved in frigid stasis from the time the lake was formed.

Clear_Lake_with_Mount_Washington 500Just to stand on the shoreline and gaze into the slowly rippling turquoise-blue waters, which allow for visibility of up to of 100 feet below the surface, can create a dreamlike feeling of wonder in the observer. Don’t get too comfortable, however… because a miles-long sleeping giant who carries the secret of how the lake originally formed rests motionless, just a few miles to the East.

The Sand Mountain Volcanic Field towers another 2000 further vertical feet above Clear Lake’s shoreline, yet is just a few miles away. It is a massive alignment of 23 cinder cones, sitting dormant, interspersed with 42 distinct vents.

Around 3000 years ago, lava eruptions from vents within this volcanic field flowed downhill and blocked a river, drowning its valley. This immense flow of lava formed Clear Lake and created the relic of standing trees still visible in its depths today.

Porous volcanic rock and soils within these hillsides capture snow melt and other moisture for a gigantic naturally occurring filter. It will be an estimated 2-10 years before it reemerges at Great Spring, on the North East end of Clear Lake.

When the lake water exits over the centuries-old lava flow, the cascading deluge becomes the headwaters of the McKenzie River - and the highest permanent source of its clean, fresh water. The river then flows downhill towards the cities of Springfield and Eugene nearly 75 miles away, providing over 200,000 with their sole source of drinking water.

For 8,000 years – until the early 1800’s – peoples of the Molalla, Sahaptain, Chinook and Kalapuya tribes traveled, hunted, and lived along the McKenzie River. Very little has survived from their culture, but it’s interesting to wonder about what they contemplated when standing on the beautiful shores of Clear Lake, and as they witnessed firsthand the extraordinary events which created it.

You can find this gem for yourself, on Oregon state highway 126 (The McKenzie highway) - just two hours and 20 minutes from your pc boards being assembled at Screaming Circuits. 

Audie Stoehr

Friday the 13th. Should You Worry? No.

So, here in Oregon, USA, it's Friday the 13th - and, we have a full moon, to boot. In many societies, both of those would portend of doom. Baseball players tend to be a suspicious lot, so if you're a baseball player, you should stop reading now. Everyone else, keep going and I'll explain why there's nothing to worry about.

Well, the first reason that there's nothing to worry about, is that superstitions are really a bunch of hooey.

DFB full moonBeyond that, it's important to note that we speak hexadecimal here. That means it's really not Friday the 13th. It's actually Friday, the 0x0D. It won't be the true 13th until next Thursday, and there's no superstitions that I know of about Thursday, the 13th.

As far as the full moon goes... There does seem to be a certain amount of anecdotal evidence suggesting that there's more looniness when the moon is full. However, looniness isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you're an officer of the law and your job is to protect the world from 2:00 am two-beer-heroes, then most certainly, extra care must be taken.

On the other hand, in fields requiring creativity, a little looniness can actually help the cause. Tesla clearly had his looniness, and look what he did: pretty much invent the modern world. Einstein? Yeah; a good kind of loony too.

So there you go. Revel in the potential for extra creativity. Don't worry about Friday, the 13th, because it's not the 13th. And, don't worry about the full moon either, because, why worry?

Duane Benson
I'm certainly happy I live in a split-level head

Corporate Cats

Here at Screaming CIrcuits, we're all busy making sure to get everyone's assembly orders shipped off on time so here's a picture of one of our corporate kitty cats.

COrporate kitty

We have a pair that live on campus here. They seem to be quite content to buzz about the parking lot and surrounding hedges all day while we build things. That's for the best because we do keep them off our production floor. Cats can cause static electricity and that would be bad.

Duane Benson
Make sure the dip with your chips is lead free before eating it

How Do You Know?

This isn't a Thanksgiving blog. It is Thanksgiving day, and if it were a Thanksgiving blog, I would have to be working today, but we're shut down for the holiday, so I'm not working. I just woke up pondering what it would be like to do business with us (or anyone like us) and decided that I wanted to hear myself speak (metaphorically) for a bit. A word of warning though; I'm in a long-winded rambling mood today.

Take an example; the Beagleboard. I use that because it's a complex board that's open source, so I can freely talk about it. It was originally put together by Gerald Coley and Jason Kridner. I don't know how Beagleboard face onlong they spent designing it, but according to a UBM study, a typical product design cycle is about a year.

So, what we're really talking about is a year of a couple of engineer's lives. It can be a lot of cash money too. When ordered in large quantities, the Beagleboard and it's progeny are inexpensive enough to be sold for quite a decent price. However, when purchased in small quantities - say five - it can cost several thousand dollars.

When the Beagleboard was new, we built a few just to kind of show off. We took the open source files and ordered all of the parts. We tried to get some PCBs fabbed, but in that quantity, they would have cost us $1,200. Instead, I posted a request on the Beagleboard.org forum and found someone with some bare Beagleboard fabs.

I got those boards and the parts and ran them through our system. Had a customer quoted the build, it would have cost somewhere (if my memory serves correctly) around $800 per board for assembly. That would be $10,000 for a set of prototypes. That may seem like a lot for a board that retails for $150.00, but that's the difference between ordering hundreds of thousands and ordering five.

That cost comparison isn't the point. If you're in this business you know that getting small quantities of complex stuff in short notice is expensive in direct dollars, but more than worth it in time and effort saved. The point is that, while we build a lot of sub-$1,000 orders, we are frequently given orders that are valued at $10,000 or more. Sometimes CONSIDERABLY more. We've seen projects where parts alone are tens of thousands of dollars. I've seen a single FPGA cost several thousand dollars alone. Yikes!

You've spent a year of hard labor on a design. You hit "Save" for the last time. If you're like me, you want nothing more than to get a working board into your hands. The gap between that save and a fully built board is painful for me. But the prospect of shelling out $20,000 to some unknown company for the purpose of turning that year of my life into a physical product is positively terrifying.

Well, if you don't already do business with us, we are that "some unknown company." That makes me wonder how this all happens. I design boards myself - not the big ones, but I do design a fair number of them. Right now, I have four boards I'm actively working on and about that many that I've shelved for a few months. I understand a bit of the fear of handing a design off. Of course, I have an unfair advantage. I can just send some boards through our shop and get them done just about any time.

It's easy for me to trust us. I got a job here and I know that I take the stewardship of that big check and year of your life very seriously. I treat it like it were my own. I also know that I don't work for companies that don't share that philosophy. I've tried, out of necessity, twice in my career, working for companies that didn't treat customers they way I would and I ended up pushing my agenda so hard that I got fired. It wasn't pretty.

I've established that I (as in me) trust us. How do you get to the point that you can give us (or anyone else) the same trust? The Beagleboard guys didn't know us enough to do so. We built some of their boards on our own. Plenty of people do know us well or are somehow willing to make that leap. We quite literally* have built things that have gone up into space, down into the ocean and everywhere in between. It's pretty fun to look through our customer list and see so many names of companies doing really cool stuff.

All of the marketing mumbo-jumbo I spit out is designed to somehow convince you to let us take care of your design. But those are just words. Words are meaningless without the deeds. It's what all of the other people in my company do that really counts. I spill out glurge. They do their best to treat your project with the same respect and care that you do. I'm thankful for that, because if they didn't do that, I wouldn't want to work here. If they didn't do that, my job would be meaningless and stupid. Hey - this did turn out to be a Thanksgiving post!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Duane Benson
* The word "literally" is terribly misused these days, but I'm actually using it by the correct definition. Well, okay, the "everything in between" isn't quite literal, but "space" and "under water" are. And it's comprehensive a representative sample that I'm in the spirit of "literal."

Designing The Future: The Automobile

Here's a small glimpse into the future of the automobile. Granted,these guys had to take the dash off and hard wire in, but imagine this with a not-secure-enough wireless access.

 

Duane Benson
And... some of us here are helping to make this happen...

Canada's Singing Astronaut

If you're going to exit, you may as well exit in style and I can't think of a better example than Commander Chris Hadfield's "good by" from the International Space Station on Monday (May 13). Thank you, Astronaut Hadfield.

Since this is my  electronics blog, I've got to tie it into electronics design and assembly, so, like um... If you're building electronics for space, you might need to better insulate your PCB traces or put wider gaps in because otherwise you might get arcs and stuff. And be sure to shave your tin whiskers.

Duane Benson
Please sir. May I have some more

What?

Usually, these days, I seem to hear the word "what" as a part of a "Wait... What?" statement, as in a short-cut for: "That sounds good" - pause - "No, it doesn't. It doesn't even make sense." It can be funny in that context, but I think it's wearing a little thin at this point. My prediction is that the expression has another year. Two at most.

But that really has nothing to do with this blog post.This blog post is about what we can do for you. Obviously, we are a company that wants to be profitable and stay in business. I would assume that most companies want to do that. But what's important is the way we become profitable and stay in business. It's not a matter of being profitable no matter what. There are a lot of ways to be profitable and stay in business that I really don't like and don't want to have anything to do with. For example, bank robbery is not allowed here (actually, to be precise, no kind of robbery is allowed here). Being a pirate isn't allowed either.

It's also not about never making mistakes. While we aspire to that, I have yet to find someone that doesn't ever make mistakes, and if I do find that person, I'll probably be too intimidated to talk to them. So, it's not about profit at all costs and it's not about never making mistakes. What then, is our purpose?

Tactically, our purpose is to put parts on PC boards. We can buy the stuff or you can send it to us, but that's fundamentally the physical activity that we perform: we put parts on boards. "We put parts on boards." Five words. Not a lot to think about. But, since that's not a lot to think about, what else do we fill our brains with?

Sometimes we fill our brains with Dr. Who or with motorized wireless beanie cap networks. When we're on the job though, the word "what" comes into play. As in: "What can we do for you?" What can we do for you?

  • The purpose of our website is to make it as easy as possible for you to get your work done and be happy with the part of it that we do for you. It has no other point.
  • The purpose of this blog is to pass on bits of information that might be helpful to you or anyone in the electronics industry. Non-electronics people can read it too, but it likely won't make much sense.
  • The purpose of our people is to make all of that happen.

What we want to do is make you happy that you did business with us, happy that you read this blog and learned something, happy that you referred someone two us, happy that it didn't snow last night - things like that.

If it's not helping you, then there's really no point - I'd just stay home and re-read "The Lord of the Rings" for about the 20th time. If for some reason, what we've done isn't helping you, then it's a good idea to let us know. You can call us, comment on this blog, email us, knock on our front door, send us a message on Twitter, whatever the case, as long as you get the message to us. Flying a plane overhead with a banner behind it probably won't do the job though because we're in Oregon. It's usually raining and cloudy, so we couldn't see it on, maybe, 302 days out of the year.

Duane Benson
I leave you with this thought:
How can you tell if an introvert likes you?
He or she is staring at your shoes instead of their own.

Fun With QR Codes

Does anyone remember the CueCat? I think it came out in 1999 or something like that. It was a system that involved putting bar codes in print articles, advertisements and such. Users would buy a CueCat scanner and could then scan the bard codes which would send their web browser to a specified URL .

Chart2011-10-25 Chart2011-11-28Kind of cool and a bit ahead of it's time, but really? Who's going to spend a hundred dollars to buy something that makes it easier to look up advertisements? That reminds me of a job interview I had around that same time. The gentleman interviewing me had invented a system that would push advertisements to cell phones via text message for businesses close by. The idea was that phone owners would sign up for the service by giving their number to the company. Other companies like grocery stores, coffee shops or insurance agents would also sign up for the service and would send ads or coupons to people close by. Again. Really? Someone's going to sign up to get ads on their phone? And that was back when most phone plans still charged per text message.

Chart2011-12-21Well, today, we have QR codes to more or less do the same thing. They're square bar codes that can contain information such as an electronic business card or a URL. The big difference now is that you don't have to sign up for anything or buy anything. Most smart phones can read them with a free app.

That was a long, round-about way of saying that I'm trying the system out. All of the QR codes here link to a blog posts of mine. There are no advertisements in these and none of them will sign you up to visit a timeshare sale pitch. I just like these particular posts. Get out your phone and try it out.

Duane Benson
Fight Uni!

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