Ten Things for an Engineer to consider now that summer is here

Now that summer is here...

I should caveat that a bit. Summer just started last week here in the Pacific Northwest. It's been one of the wettest and coldest springs in quite some time. I should caveat that too. "cold" here in the Pacific Northwest means like 40 degrees. I realize that some places don't really consider it to be cold unless it drops below 255.3722, but we're a little more weather intolerant than that around these parts. Now I have to back out of my recursive caveats. </CAVEAT #2> </CAVEAT #1>. That would have been much shorter in C - 22 characters shorter at just } }.

RCA12ax7_sq_arms Now that summer is here, what can an engineer do to keep productive despite all of the distractions outside? I've got a couple of suggestions. Mostly things that roll through my head when the mercury rolls up.

X - Contemplate global warming and question whether we should try to do something about it. In my mind, there is no dispute that global warming is happening. The problem is that the difference between causality and correlation has been politicized. That means that it's very difficult to find any real information that isn't biased based on someone's personal agenda. So, we have a number of questions to muse on: Is it human caused? If not, is it human exacerbated? If it's primarily human caused, is it too late to stop it? If it's primarily a natural phenomenon, should we try to mitigate it? If we try, will we just make it worse? Can we ever get past the politics and agendas and really examine all the facts using the scientific method?

IX - Decide if hybrid vehicles really help or if they are currently designed in such a way as to really help. Taking an economy box that could reasonably get 40 MPG with an efficient gas or diesel engine and simply giving it more power at the same MPG doesn't really help with the fossil fuel problem. On the other hand, if you take a large vehicle that gets 10 MPG and increase that to 15 MPG by turning the combustion engine off while stopped and using an electric motor to re-start and accelerate through the least efficient first few miles per hour could save 15 billion gallons of fuel per year (based on some quick very rough calculations). That's a lot of french fries.

VIII -Think energy storage and retrieval. Petroleum is just about the most compact energy storage medium and the most that is currently practical to use in small quantities. The problem, of course, is that it's easy to get the energy out, but it's a one way trip. We won't really replace petrol until we can find another storage medium that's at least 70% as efficient in terms of energy extraction and can be refilled just as easily.

Linux-penguin-big_origpreview VII - What about locomotion in general? The bicycle is just about the most calorically efficient method of transportation ever devised. It's use can be practical in many situations, such as cities designed to accommodate large numbers of bikes, but is woefully impractical in other situations - hills, long distances, cargo. Can we take anything from the bicycle and apply it to other forms of transportation?

VI - How can we take our economy back from the money grubbers? Profits built this country, but at various times in our history, the unrestrained pursuit of profit above all else has nearly destroyed it. It's a repeating cycle and I think that at the moment, we're in one of the eve-of-destruction points. Even in recovery, the financial institutions, to the best of my knowledge, seem to be more interesting in finding new quick-flip money making loop holes than in creating a strong foundation for the future. Teddy Roosevelt busted the big monopolies. Ten years of great depression and WWII busted the cycle a few decades after that. How can we break this cycle of ruin without a real depression and war?

V - Can we remain free in an increasingly tight surveillance society? We have technology and resources that would have made Orwell's Big Brother drool and that technology isn't going away. It will only get cheaper, smaller and more pervasive. The technology itself isn't inherently bad, but the misuse of it tends to be incredibly tempting. Being a good steward of things that can be used for good or for ill takes a lot of work and a lot of personal and group-think restraint. Are we mature enough a society to maintain our humanity in the face of such tools?

IV - What do we do about the impending loss of fun and adventurous careers like being a pilot? Knights of the air - the fighter pilot has long been the ultimate in high adrenalin jobs, but even today, outside of training, it's more button pushing than envelope pushing. It won't be long before it's all robot drones. In the civilian world, my bet is we have less than ten years before most cargo flights are unpiloted and passenger flights won't be far behind.

III - Speaking of robots, when will someone build something that's actually practical for consumers to use? I know there's the little robot vacuum, but that's just the tiniest of entry points into the consumer world. We're at 1979 in terms of the evolution of the personal computer. Let's get moving and get some real-world personal robots going.

II - What's left to put embedded computing into? Microcontrollers are into just about everything already. But there have to be a few good killer embedded applications left that we haven't run across. Figure those ones out and build another industry. Start your own company to do it and create some good jobs.

I - And, finally, where's my flying car? Okay, this one is really dream-world until we can figure out the energy storage and retrieval problem (see VIII above). If you think it's inefficient to push a car around on the ground, add fuel for lift generation into the equation. Ugh. Fix that problem Batman and then we'll be somewhere.

Duane Benson
Help us Barry McGuire

My Top Ten Electronics Predictions for 2010

White crystal ball Yeah, yeah. Top ten predictions for the new year really need to be out in either the last week of the prior year or the first week of the new year. But I'm late. It's because my oatmeal is lumpy and I've just been trying to decide if I should have a top predictions for the new year or for the decade. Some people would say that we're still in the old decade, because, you know, 1 - 10. But I say, it's only analog jockeys that say that. Digital drivers go from 0 - 9 (or 0 - 1 or 0 - F or 0 - 7... now I'm confused again. Not many go 0 - 7 these days). For the purposes of this document, I'm claiming to be more digital than analog, so the new millenia started in 2000 and this new decade starts now. Or, does that mean that the new millenia should start in 2048? Or, rather 0x800? Crud. That's not a thousand. Okay, I don't want to wait until 4096. I might be dead by then. Fine. It's the year 3732. I have my handy 74LS90 and I'm going to count out my top ten predictions.7490 block

Starting at count 0, with Qa = L, Qb = L, Qc = L and Qd = L:

0000: By the end of the decade, 50% of all passives will be embedded passives and 20% of all PCBs will have 90% or more of their passives embedded.

0001: By the end of the decade, Quad stack POP (package on package) will be commonplace.

0010: By the end of the decade, Each individual human will have their own IP address. Several of us will have more than one. That way, we can jury rig accelerometers into our hands and feet so we can wirelessly know where each of our extremities are at all times. Cats will have them too.

0011: By the end of the decade, solder paste will be used less often than not when assembling components on to PCBs.

0100: By the end of the decade, nearly all hydraulics and pneumatics in new motor vehicles will have been replaced by electrics.

0101: By the end of the decade,the first semi-autonomous passenger vehicle will be on display on the auto-show circuit. Hobbyist built semi-autonomous cars will already be on the road.

0110: By the end of the decade, "airline pilot" will generally be a really, really, really boring job. That's a bit of a problem.

0111: By the end of the decade, most military "foot action" will consist of two soldiers in command of a squad of robots and those two soldiers will as likely be in Fort Lewis, Washington as in the combat zone.

1000: By the end of the decade, the president of the US will be promising health care reform as the highest priority.

1001: By the end of the decade, routine bioengineering will be, well, routine. Very scary.

1010: By the end of the decade, the 2019 recession will be looming large and all of the people that have forgotten about the 2009 recession and the 2001 recession and the 1985 recession and the 1975 recession... will be freaking out again.

1011: By the end of the decade, lead will be gone from 98% of new electronics. Bummer.

1100: By the end of the decade, four of the substances that replaced the substances removed from electronics due to ROHS and similar regulations will have been found to be significantly more harmful to the environment and the people recycling the materials than are the substances that they replaced.

1101: By the end of the decade, the world of intellectual property will be in even more of a mess than it is today. Virtually everything will be accessibly for easy theft and cheap replication. (this is pretty much a big "duh")

1110: By the end of the decade,building your own mutli-purpose robot will be as easy as building your own PC was in 1988. Hardware components and operating systems will be off the shelf, but standards will be pretty loosely defined, interoperability will be more theory than reality and applications will be sketchy and buggy.

1111: By the end of the decade, still no flying cars and personal jet packs, dadgummit!

Duane Benson
Sorry. I didn't have a 74LS90. I only had a 74LS93

My Screaming Favorites from 2009

Years ago, it seemed like the last two weeks in December were just full of retrospectives on the year. It was all over the media all the time. I don't really hear so much of that any more, which might be a good thing, because it kind of made me a little sick at times. Certainly many lists are around, but it just doesn't seem to be such a big deal. Or maybe, I just don't pay attention anymore.

I'm in just that kind of a mood though, so I thought I'd put out my own little retrospective. It's not really a top-ten list, but close enough.

Trade shows: Still got to be the Embedded Systems Conference. I love engineer shows. Years ago, I used to go the Comdex and CES. Way, way back, I went to the West Coast Computer Faire (I was there when the Mac was first shown). Comdex and CES all so glurgy and more about hype then real stuff. At ESC, most of the companies are there showing things that I like and most of the attendees are there to actually learn. It's just cool.

It was kind of sad to see such a sharp decline in companies participating both in San Jose and Boston this year. I think we saw about the same number of folks wandering the show floor as past years, so that at least was good, but I do hope this show remains strong.Ti_beagle_board_top2 (Small)

Embedded dev boards: This is a three-way tie between the Beagleboard, from Ti, the mbed, from NXP /  Arm and a PIC based board that I made myself. 

The Beagleboard really sets a new standard for power and accessibility in the embedded development world. As far as I can see, it's a game changer in those terms. Really fine work and making it affordable and open source has made it accessibly to a huge community that would likely have not jumped were it positioned as a high-cost closed development system.

Mbed-microcontroller-angledThe mbed does for ease of programming and learning what the Beagleboard does for power and features. mBed is truly amazing in terms of how easy it is to get up and running with a 32 bit processor. Again, I don't think I've seen this big of a leap in ease of development ever.

I could list the Arduino here, and it's a viable contender in the 8-bit class, but I'm876-CTRL_rev2.1 001 g more of a PIC guy and I'm a little biased toward mine because, well, it's mine. The Arduino gets enough attention in other places anyway. Mine is of a similar caste as Arduino, was first designed in 2005 and has gone through a number of iterations since. It has IMHO a better I/O structure and a little bus to easily connect to some small motor controllers I've designed.

New chip packaging: Package on Package (POP) has been around for a while, but I think it's just finally starting to come in to its own this year, and we've just started assembling it this year. It's a pretty cool way to chomp some more size out of a small little embedded design. The Ti OMAP (used in the Beagleboard) isn't the only POP that we've assembled here at Screaming Circuits, but it's probably the most visible example.

Consumerish thing: I'd have to say electronic ink, as used in the Kindle and other electronic book readers. I haven't spent a whole lot of time with any of these, so I'm not totally sure it's ready for prime time yet, but I think it's very cool and very promising.

Movement: This is a pretty easy one. The open source hardware movement (I hope). Open source has been serious business in the software world for a long time, but until recently, the hardware community hasn't jumped on the concept. Now we have Beagleboard, Arduino and a gazillion others. There are even a number of web sites pretty much devoted to open source hardware and related subjects like circuit bending.

My only concern is that the hardware folks may get overwhelmed and go back into hiding. Over on the Beagleboard Google group, though it's supposed to cover both HW and SW, the topics are virtually all software related. A few HW exclusive discussion boards (like chiphacker.com) have popped up and may get traction, but there's a lot of catching up to do.

My honorable mention in the movement department would be the closely related "after hours hardware" community. This includes hobbyists, circuit benders and hackers (of the good sort). I think the barriers to entry to starter hardware development are lower then any time since the early 1980's. That's a good thing. The more people involved in electronics as a hobby, the more we will have heading down that career path and the more new small businesses we will have start up. All a very good thing. Certainly a lot of creativity going on in this arena.

That's all I've got for now. So I'm calling the list closed. Maybe more later. Maybe

Duane Benson
Merry Christmas, Yo, Ho, Ho Green Giant and A Bottle of Rum

Top Ten Electronic Things To Be Thankful For in 2009

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It's that time of year again when we take stock of what's good in our little worlds. Since I'm writing this on my work blog, I'll keep my top ten items focused on work-related thingys.

Number 10: Allocation!? Well, maybe. Nobody likes parts shortages and allocation, but maybe, just maybe, it means that we're seeing the light at the end of the recession tunnel.

Number 9: The mighty QFN. Yes, I know the package can be a pain to layout properly, but the size reductions we can get with it are pretty cool. It used to take something like a TO-220 or D2Pak to drive an amp of current drain, but some of these new devices can do it in a little QFN (properly laid out, of course) form-factor.

Number 8: 99.47% on-time delivery in the last year. That's less then one job late per month - and remember, if we're one day late, the assembly is half off and if we're two day's late, the assembly is free.

Number 7: The Beagleboard being open source. It's really opened up the world of high-end non-i86 embedded processors to a very large segment of the industry that just couldn't quite get there before. Well done Beagleboard folks!

Number 6: The Internets. Back in the olden days when I was burning my fingers soldering up discrete transistors and plain TTL and such, I had a shelf of data books. I think I may still have an old purple National Semiconductor TTL data book buried in a box somewhere. It was always cool to page through those data books, and, of course, I didn't need to be online in order to find what I needed, but heck, I can find it all now and even more without getting up and walking across the floor to my book shelf. In fact, I pretty much don't have to move at all anymore thanks to the Intertubes.

Number 5: Google translator. Earlier today, I got an email written in German. Before online translators, I wouldn't have been able to do anything with it and I would have missed a very big opportunity. The email was from a barrister in the tiny country of Togo. Apparently, he's been looking for an heir to pass an inheritance to and can't find one. He said that he went to the American embassy and they suggested me. If not for the Google translator, I would have missed out on this wonderful opportunity to get seven million dollars transferred right into my bank account.

Number 4: Level translators. It's still a pain to deal with interfacing signals at different voltage levels; like a 5V I2C device to a 3V I2C bus to a 1.8V GPIO, but it was way more of a pain before easy to use level translator chips became widely available. Especially the bi-directional chips. Much more convenient.

Number 3: Better static protection built into chips. Yes, we still religiously use static ground straps. We have a conductive floor and wear foot straps and anti-static jackets and have anti-static stuff all over the place, but chips are so much more robust then they used to be. I can remember the old 4000 series CMOS chips. It almost seemed like if you breathed wrong, they'd get zapped.

Number 2: The LGA form-factor package. Just kidding. LGAs are annoying. Sure, there are some redeeming qualities: low profile, a RoHS part can go both leaded and unleaded, decent heat transfer. But, they also don't flex as well as a BGA and the pads have the disdvantages of both BGA and QFN packages. Basically, they're just annoying.

Number 1: And the number one electronic thing that I'm thankful for are these little Flash 8-bit microcontrollers like the PICs (that I use) and Atmels (like the Arduino uses). Holy mackerel, they make life a lot easier. All that GPIO, no support chips. And, self programmable flash. Ahhhh... Anybody out there still have a UV EPROM eraser?

Duane Benson
Embedded in my head

Top Ten Reasons Electronics is Like The Flu

Frequently when I go to a tradeshow, I come back with a cold virus. I was bound and determined not to with this last trip to ESC, and I almost did or mostly did. I got back home last Wednesday night and I was fine until this Monday. Now I'm all virused up. I sit in a back corner cube so the chances of me infecting everyone else is probably fairly low. And I don't have a fever assuring that it's not the Bovine Flu, so here I am at the office regardless.

Packed in tight

In my semi-repressed-brain state - there's not a lot of activity going on upstairs at the moment - I keep drifting from actual work to strange thoughts, like chips and viruses (as opposed to chips and salsa). Mmmmm Salsa... Software, is of course susceptible to it's own form of virus, but what about hardware? It's not the same thing. But maybe the hardware is more like the virus rather then being the victim of the virus?

#10. The number ten reason that electronics is like the flu: Just when you think you've got it nailed, it all changes. Think the project is done? Oops, there's a bug or some feature creep and you're suddenly sucked back into it again.

#7. Even the same part can come in a large number of different variants and each of those in a large number of different packages.

#6. One vaccine to cure them all? People ask us about stocking standard parts. Like: "don't we have a standard set of passives that we can just pull from because everyone uses the same basic set?" That's a bit like asking why one vaccine doesn't cure all flu types. Let's just look at a .01uf cap. Pretty standard stuff. Right? Well, Digi-Key lists hundreds of varieties of .01 uf cap. What's the voltage? What's the temperature range? What's the tolerance? What's the ESR? What's the package? It's pretty simple - if WE wanted to tell you which cap is best for your design, then, okay, we'd do that. But, we don't know your design. Only you do, so we can't make that decision. We can get the parts here overnight, but we'll only get the exact parts that YOU want us to get.

#5. You need a microscope to see it. Well, we're not quite at the virus size-scale, but it seems to be Flu_und_legende_color_cgetting closer every year. 20 nm etch processes and all. Even the parts are getting close to being not visible by the naked eye. All these 01005 passives and super-micro chip scale BGAs don't look like much more then dust and dust can certainly irritate the respiratory system.

#4. They both make you sweat. Yeah, the old influenza virus will jack up your body temp and make you sweat and ache. So will a tough design on tight deadline. One week to go and you need that proto built up, tested, verified and put into the marketing geek's hands for the press event - that'll cause cold sweats in just about any design engineer just as quick.

#3. Dim the lights. If you've got the flu, you need your rest, so turn off the lights and stay focused on getting well. Staring at your monitor all day, swimming in schematic or PCB layout, all those lights in the background and the glare can make your headache worse. A lot of engineers that I know like to work with the lights down for just that reason.

#2. Drink lot's of fluids. Dehydration is never a good thing. Whether it's dehydration due to the effects of a virus raging through your body or dehydration due to inattention to physiological needs while deep into some VHDL morass. I've heard urban legend of gamers starving to death because they didn't want to drop their guard. I don't know of any stories of design engineers doing the same, but I know how long hours can pass without leaving the chair when stuck on a particularly challenging design problem. Get something to drink! It will keep your mind fresh.

#1. And the number one reason why electronics is like the flu... Full immersion. When you've got the flu, your whole being is immersed in getting through it and giving the virus the boot. When you're deep into a serious electronic design cycle, you're fully immersed into it. The outside world pretty much ceases to exist until you get past the current tough spot.

Duane Benson
I know. I've done the Octal thing before. It's an old joke, but that's what I've got today

Top-ten ways to get a jump on the nearing economic recovery

I have no evidence in reality if the economy is starting to get better or still has more sinking to go, but I do hear some predictions that we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, to be a bit trite, it could always be an oncoming train. But heck, why not be an optimist and assume the worst is over. If it's any indication, we're sailing along fine here now.

So, let's talk about what we should do in anticipation of and in preparation for things getting better:

#10. First, it's mood change time. All summer long, we complain that it's too hot and all winter long, we complain that it's too cold. The world's been complaining that business is too slow for a while so all you folks should get a jump on things and start complaining now that you've got so much business that you don't know what to do with it.

#9. With that mood change comes consumption change too. To keep up with all of that rediscovered demand, we need more caffeine. Sleep is for wimps. Just triple up on the lattes and start running around like a maniac gerbil.

#8. All three of you that took my advice (see #7) can now do Octal math without a calculator and without first converting to decimal or hex or anything. Now is the time when you discover that no one does anything with Octal anymore. Oops. Sorry.

#7. If you've been looking for work, by now you're pretty danged discouraged. Stop it. Pretend like you're starting over. Toss out the old resume and start over from scratch. It'll give you a chance to remind yourself about all the good things you've done and you'll see any holes you might still have that can be plugged with some night classes or on-line study. But, no. You can't list your six months of flipping burgers as "entropic bovine-protein thermal engineering."

#6. Read some more. Go read every bit of tech news that you can find. Figure out what's changed in the last year and what you need to be talking about (if you're looking for a job) and what you need to be designing with (if you still have one). It'll remind you of how fast technology moves and how easy it was for you to get out of date.

#5. Take a break. Have a soda. Watch a video. Snack on some chips and salsa. Kick back and chill for a bit. Enjoy the reasonable workload because you'll be back to the 60 hour work weeks before you know it.

#4. Get out your Deming, Tom Peters and Geoffrey Moore books and start reading up because as soon as you no longer have time for it, you can bet that all those quality, time management and other efficiency classes will get stuffed into your calendar. And you can spend some "quality time" rhetorically asking yourself "why didn't the company do that stuff when we all had the time for it?"

#3. If you've been out of work, lay rusty nails and broken glass all over the floor at your house. That way you'll get used to wearing shoes again, which are generally required in job interviews.

#2. Juggle hot soldering irons. I'm guessing you're a little out of practice so all of those burn marks us solderers have are now healed up. Tossing hot soldering irons around (and catching them) will give you a nice distribution of fresh little burn marks that will make it look like you've been busy all of this time instead of just drinking soda and watching movies like you have been doing.

Drum roll please... And the number one thing we should do to get a jump on the impending economic recovery...

#1. Go back to sleep. Either you're going to be trashed-busy soon enough and won't have time for good sleep anymore or we've got another year of this recession crud so it just doesn't matter.

Duane Benson
Boil that dust spec. Boil that dust spec
Boil it, boil it, boil it!

Top-Ten Ways to Get Through a Lousy Economy

So the word in the news is that the country's been in a recession for a year now. Hmmm. We built a 800px-Gdp_real_growth_rate_2007_CIA_Factbook whole lot more boards in 2008 then we did in 2007. If that's a recession, then maybe recession isn't such a bad thing. I know the tough times have hit in a lot of places though, but we built a lot more boards because you folks needed a lot more boards built. I think we'll keep doing that.

Okay. What do you do if you have been hit. What happens if you've lost your job or lost some of your support staff? What happens if your technician is gone or your documentation clerk is gone now? Well, first, in all seriousness, I offer my condolences. I have been laid off in the past and I know it's not fun. But I also know that I did survive. I survived and ended up with a great job in an awesome company (I'm talking about ending up in Screaming Circuits, in case that's not clear). So let's wish a great rebound for those who have been let go and focus on getting through to better times ourselves.

Here are my suggestions for the top-ten things to do to get through the lousy economy:

#10. Is it still politically correct to say "get drunk"? I probably shouldn't say that. I think that's bad form these days. So, don't do that - but if you do, make sure you can walk home or get a cab. And if you do walk home, wear a warm coat. Mythbusters proved that while alcohol may make you feel warmer, it will actually help your core body temperature drop really fast. That's not a good thing. Especially in Minnesota.

#7. If you were one to be laid off, use the time to refresh some skills. Learn a new language. Practice Octal math. Study up on new design techniques.

#6. Become a marketing guy. You've heard the line: If you can, do. If you can't, market. Well, give it a shot. It's not so bad. Scott Adams isn't right about all of us. Just remember to keep telling the truth and you'll be just fine.

#5. If you're a pure digital engineer, get some analog and mixed signal knowledge. The West all but abandoned analog back in the '80s and '90s but it's coming back with a vengeance. Get some skills here and make yourself more marketable.

$3. Eat some chocolate. Maybe some ice cream too. It's the world's most perfect food, you know. Need I say more?

#3. And like #5, if you don't do firmware - start. Almost everything's got a little MCU in it now. Learn how to program the little PIC things or Atmel jobbies. That's a good place to start. Maybe you can be really ambitious and look at the new ARM32 processors. Whatever. Just learn to do some software/firmware.

#2. (Warning! Company plug coming up) If you find yourself with the same workload but less help, send your prototypes to Screaming Circuits and have us do a turn-key build for you. We're offering a 35% discount off our standard price for parts and PCBs for turn-key orders through December 31. We'll get your boards from Sunstone.com and parts from DigiKey and just deal with the whole thing for you.

#1. And the number one thing we can do in sucky economic times: Just do what you did the last three times it was the end of the world.

Duane Benson
Breath. Breath deep...

Top-Ten reasons to use Screaming Circuits

Hi all -

I've been a bit swamped lately and haven't been posting as regularly as I would like to. Hopefully I'll be getting more useful tidbits out there again soon. In the meantime, I'll through out a little marketing glurge just so I can feel like I'm doing something semi-productive here.

So, drum roll please. Here are the top-ten reasons to use Screaming Circuits.

Whyscsketch_3 10: Shrinking parts - Dem parts just keep getting smaller and smaller and smaller. Micro BGAs and QFNs were the rage for a while but those are starting to seem big with the increase in 0201s and chip-scale and wafer-scale packages.

I'm seeing 1 Amp power components in silicon wafer scale packages at 2mm x 3mm. That's really hard to do by hand and more components in these form-factors just keep coming.

Whyscsketch_4 01: Shrinking schedules - I can remember having three weeks to get some pc boards in and assembled. I can remember the boss asking the team to bring the schedule in a couple of weeks. Well, here you go. 24 and 48 hour turns can do just that.

We can help you turn weeks into days or hours by building the stuff up here for you. Well, actually, we won't be turning the weeks into day, but something that may have taken weeks will now take days.

Whyscsketch_5 00: Shrinking support staff - The poor folks in documentation and purchasing are either way too busy or have been downsized. Too many engineers now have to not only design the circuit, they have to lay it out, get it built and get it tested. And with all of this other work, they haven't lost any of the rest of their duties. It's just get it done, get these other things done and get it done faster. Yikes!

So, there you have it. 10b2 good reasons to use Screaming Circuits

Duane Benson
I need a nap now

Top-Ten Reasons to Ship Us Your PCBs in December

Yes, Christmas is near, as is New Years. Some companies shut down for the holiday week. Some don't. Some rush to spend remaining budget dollars before the end of the year, while some don't. Regardless, there are quite a number of reasons to send your prototype off to Screaming Circuits for assembly before the end of the year.

#10. You can come back on January 2nd to a clean desk.

#F. Or you can come back on January 2nd to a freshly assembled PCB, ready to be probed by that big expensive scope you convinced your boss to let you buy.

#E. Get those obnoxious marketing geeks off your back: You can show them the assembled boards and say: "See, your stupid prototype will be ready for the CES show in January. Now quit bugging me so I can do my job."

#D. As suggested in the opening to this post, you can squeak out some more budget dollars before the close of your fiscal year.

#C. Skiing! Send us your kit, sneak out early and hit the slopes for a long weekend. Skis or boards?

#B. Surprise the family. Start with #C, but instead of running off to the slopes with your ski bum buddies, build a snowman with the kids. Heck, build a whole snow family. Maybe do a "Calvin & Hobbes"

#A. Okay, if you live in Oregon, you probably won't be able to do the snowman thing, but you can leave early and do some singing in the rain! Singing in the cold, dreary, miserable, incessant rain that won't stop. It just keeps raining and raining and it never, ever stops...

#9. By getting the boards assembled now, you will know how many extra FPGAs you will have left over and you can take those spares and hang them on your tree as decorations.

#8. See #A, above. Get the proto assembly off your desk so you can silently wallow in your SADs without getting further behind schedule. Then get facilities to buy you some of those outdoor spectrum florecent lights that are supposed to help.

#7. That other project team that always seems to be on schedule... Get a jump on them with a 24hour turn here. You can tell them about us later.

#6. It's fun and entertaining.

#5. Stick it to your competition by beating them to launch.

#4. Help with your Christmas shopping - get the assembled boards back and wrap them up as presents to put under your tree. Okay that one's pretty lame, I admit, but it's hard to think up 10b16 things for a top-ten list and not have a few lame ones. #6 was pretty lame too.

#3. Sleep. Send us the project to assemble and stop stressing. You need some good sleep. Holidays are stressful enough without an unassembled proto hanging over your head too.

#2. Don't forget turn-key. have us order the parts and boards for you and save yourself even more time.

#1. And the number one reason to send us your board for assembly before the end of the year: It will make us work longer hours and cut into our holiday time. That's a little bit of payback for all of those annoying marketing message we keep sending your way.

Duane Benson
And a very happy holiday to you too!

Top-ten Reasons for Via in Pad

Okay, so it's really just a top-seven. I hope you don't feel cheated. If you do, then go here and read more about via-in pad.

Now, here are the top-seven reasons for putting vias in pads:

#7.  Grounding the center flag pad on a QFN. All those little electrons might need a quick and easy way home - (or is it the holes that need a quick and easy way to go to work??)

#6.  Cooling the QFN center flag pad. If light can be both a wave or a particle, why not heat? All the little Kelvonic particles will run down the via and hide on the other side of the PCB. Kelvons are better than Photons because Kelvons have feet.

#5.  Greater BGA routing flexibility. Put the via in the BGA pad (make sure your board house fills it and plates over it) and you can run traces between the pads. Then your signals can have races on the traces.

#4.  Keep all that messy solder off the top side of your board. It's easier to inspect a pcb assembly, especially underneath a BGA, if all the solder gets sucked down through a via to the other side of the board. As long as the circuit doesn't actually need to work...

#3.  Promote tombstoning with small passive parts. Put a via in one pad on a small passive and take bets on whether the part will pop up like a tombstone in the other pad. Wyatt Earp can be PN# 478-1051-1-ND and Ike Clanton can be PN# 478-1055-1-ND. No unauthorized component substitutions, please.

#2.  Presents for friends and family of PCB fab company executives. Doing it right by filling and plating over costs money. As we say in the marketing bizz, that service is a "high-margin accessory". Of course, doing it wrong, costs even more money.

... and ...

The number one reason to put vias in pads is:

#1.  Get revenge on your manufacturing folks for all of those annoying documentation requirements they keep throwing at you.

Duane Benson
Via la Screaming Circuits!