Screaming Circuits: General interest


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!

Chart2012-04-24 Chart2012-06-13

 

 

 

 

Chart2012-06-27 Chart2012-07-05

Screaming Circuits introduces new Cordwood assembly service!

Tired of all those small parts? Can't figure out how to route traces to all 1,900 balls on that hot new FPGA? If 0201 passives have you running scared and the thought of 0.3mm pitch parts has you on the floor, Screaming Circuits has the answer.

Take a few steps back and use our new Screaming CordwoodTM assembly process. It'll feel good to put your hands on a honk'n 2-Watt, through-hole resistor again. No need for fancy, multi-headed SMT assembly robots with Screaming Cordwood. No need for precision anymore. Just put those parts a quarter inch apart and you'll be suckin amps just like the good old days. And if you don't think it's high-tech enough; consider that Cordwood construction has taken man to the moon and back. You can't say that about surface mount!

5498264788174

Duane Benson
He likes both of me and I like both of him 'cause I live in a split-level head

Robots on Mars!

Msl5_PIA15973-br2And tSuperLaser_reasonably_smallhe Curiosity Rover has landed! People can be so cool when we set our minds to it. Touchdown at 10:14:39 Earth Pacific Daylight Time.

 

 

Duane Benson
One small step for A robot. One giant leap for the rocket that got it there.

Retrospective

The other day, I needed just a few things at the grocery store which, given the small town I'm in, should have been a quick no-stress fifteen minutes. But, some kids were sitting in the middle of the first intersection I came to and didn't seem to want to move out of the way of my five thousand pounds of rolling danger. Traffic at another intersection was backed up due to a train. On the next block, I had to follow someone, likely looking for an address, at about ten miles per hour. Then there were pedestrians crossing the street far slower then human body mechanics are designed for. In the store, it seemed like every isle I tried to go down was blocked by carts or people. The "short line" at check out turned out to be short because a customer and checker were having payment issues. The drive home was much like the drive in. In short, there was nothing short about the trip. Nor was there anything low-stress about it.

But this is a blog about electronics stuff. It's not a shopping blog or a driving blog. The point is, that trip reminded me of projects I've been involved in years ago. Someone changes a spec after that part of the design is complete. The only version of a key component on the approved vendor list has a 12 week lead time. It's Friday, at 4:00pm, the board files have to be shipped off by five, but there's still several hours of double checking left to do. While placing the prototype parts order, you keep getting distracted by loud talking in the background.

Ugh. Not only is such a thing blood pressure raising, but it also can lead directly to problems any of us would never dream of letting out the door. Like these here:

Too little time can cause problems. So can too much stress and distraction. There's not always a good solution, but anything to reduce stress and agravation while doing final checks is probably a good thing.

Duane Benson
Is there "lab rage" like there's "road rage"?

Ode to Competition

Thanks to Theodore Roosevelt, we almost all have competition of some sort or another. I'm not a big fan of the statement made so often: "We welcome the competition, It validates the market." or similar such sentiments. You usually hear that from a spokesperson when a new competitor enters the market. My guess is that most people who say that are probably thinking to themselves: "Yeah. In a pig's eye" while stating it.

Theodore RoseveltI'm also not a big fan of the phrase so often heard in start-up companies: "We don't have any competition." To me, that's a warning sign. You might not have much competition, but you always have some. At minimum, other companies (maybe even with non-competing products) are competing for the same dollars. If someone thinks they don't have competition, I would suggest they look a little closer at what their customers need and are doing.

The number three statement that I'm not a big fan of: "Imitation is the fondest form of flattery." I do understand it. If someone is copying you, that must mean that you're doing something right (the possibility of the blind leading the blind not withstanding). In a business context I do believe that all three of those statements are a form of saving face. You can't stop competition from showing up, but you can pretend to be noble and welcome it. It's not always possible to stop people from copying you, but you can pretend it's a complement.

Here's what I think about competition: It's my job to give you better value than our competition. Plain and simple. If you come to me for business and I give you better value: What you want, when you want it at a fair price, then I have earned your business. If a competitor gives you better value, it means that I'm not doing my job right. We are all in this to make money, but we're in this to make money in such a way that we are the best value for you. Not the lowest price, but when you add up our reliability, quality and technical capabilities, doing business with us should save you time, aggravation and money.

So why the maefesto? It annoys me when competitors place comments on our blog linking to their website. Especially when they don't identify themselves. Yes, it means that they believe that we are doing things right. Yes, it means they think we have enough customers that it's worth trying to lure some away from us. So, in a sense, it is validation that they think we're doing a good job. I don't really see that form of "validation" as being worth much though. What I really care about is that the people who give us money think we're doing a good job and that they get their money's worth.

Duane Benson
We are with you, sire! For Sparta, for freedom, to the... to the... Um...
to the sucess of your project!

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!

Zzzzzzzap!!! Static be Bad

Engineers these days have so many issues to worry about just in component handling alone:

  • Do my parts need baking to get the moisture out before reflow soldering?
  • Are my parts in stock?
  • Are my parts real or are they counterfeit or secretly remanufacturerd?
  • Are my parts really lead free?
  • Are my passive components small enough to make it out of the holes in my salt shaker so I can put them on the PCB?
  • Are my parts too small form my manufacturer to handle?
  • Are my parts too complex for my manufacturer to assemble?
  • Have my parts been zapped by static electricity either before or after assembly?

Static electricity is really something that no engineer should have to worry about these days. We know how it gets created. We know how to artificially create it and we know how to guard against it. There's really no excuse - especially from those that an engineer entrusts to build his or her designs.

Tesla_colorado_adjusted 500

People can carry around a static charge anywhere from several thousand volts to more than ten thousand volts; just by walking around. Joe Volta would be proud. Touching an electronic component or assembly the wrong way at the wrong time can discharge much of that through the electronics. Yes, most chips are better able to handle static electricity than the old 4000 series CMOS that could get zapped just by being looked at harshly, but pretty much any active component is susceptible to static damage to some degree. What makes it so Anti stat shoesinsidious is that the damage may be done in handling or in assembly but might not show up until the unit fails in the field.

The whole world knows how to keep electronics safe (that's an exaggeration, but at least most people in the Industry know how), and the whole industry understands the risks, so why would anti-static handling or packaging be an extra cost option? If it's you're own stuff, then fine. It's up to you. But someone you're paying? I don't get it.

Take a close look at the picture on the right. If you ever get a tour through Screaming Circuits, you'll see a lot of this. The floor is conductive. The bright green straps on the shoes are not a fashion statement. They're grounding straps. The blue jacket is conductive. Parts and PCBs are protected from static through these means and others all the way in and all the way back out to the customer. It's the right thing to do and the healthy way to do it and it doesn't cost extra. It shouldn't cost extra. Follow good static mitigation procedures yourself and make sure that whomever is assembling your parts does the same. That's my two cents worth.

Duane Benson
Frankenstein was grounded through his neck bolts, so he's okay.

 

Thanksgiving - Real or Manufactured?

A decade or so ago, PC (political correctness) was the phenomena of the day. People talked about it. People implemented it. People balked at it. The end result was good, but the period was kind of a mess as some people went too far, some refused and everything in between. Today, I think it's "AHC" or Alleged Historical Accuracy.

I say "alleged" because most of these things happened way before anyone alive today was around, and back when record keeping was spotty at best and often as much fiction as fact. In the Soviet Union, they did a lot of revisionist history. This isn't that, but it's along the same lines. With AHC, sometimes 640px-Embarkation_of_the_Pilgrimsthere is a lot of truth, sometimes not, and, again, everything in between. The latest victim of AHC is Thanksgiving.

Way back in grade school (those of us in the US) were taught that Thanksgiving originated with the pilgrims and was a celebration of a good harvest and friendship with the native population or something like that. Hollywood tells us that a pilgrim is a friend of John Wayne's, but that's completely unrelated. I've recently read that Lincoln started Thanksgiving, turkeys weren't part of the original one, the Spanish started thanksgiving and a bunch of other newly reveled possible facts.

Personally, I don't think it matters. A lot of things change over history with original meaning being obscured in the fog of the past. Bleach was once used for whitening teeth. Now we know that using it for that will destroy your teeth so we don't do it any more. Listerine has been used as a floor cleaner but now we put it our mouths. The Listerine, not the floor. (I hope)

What matters most to us though is what we use it for now. History does have its place and accuracy in history is very important, but unless something is inherently bad, there's no need to call out something as wrong just because its used differently now or our original view of its start has changed. Personally, I'm thankful for a great job doing work I'm proud of and for family and friends. There's lot's of other stuff too, but this is enough for the purposes of this post. I'd write more but I'm going go buy groceries and then write some test software for a robot board.

Duane Benson
And I'm thankful that most people don't like the nice crispy turkey wings as I do

40 Years of 4004

I'm assuming eight pages excerpted out of 142 qualifies as fair use. I had forgotten that I had this thing buried in a box in my garage. I have a lot of old junk hidden in boxes out there, but this one piece seems most appropriate today.

  4004 005 4004 006 4004 007 4004 008

4004 009 4004 011 4004 012 4004 013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This user's manual covers the 4004 and the chip set that went along with it. It also has some pretty detailed information about a couple of computers based on the 4004; such as the SIM4-03, MCB4-20 and Intellec 4. I didn't get this new. I found it in a garage sale back in the early 80's. I wish the unit had been there too.

Duane Benson
4 bit data bus, anyone?