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Open-source hardware and other stuff

October 15, 2013 9:47 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

More than half (56%) of professional engineers are more likely to use open source hardware such as Arduino and BeagleBone in 2013. Among hobbyists, that figure jumps to 82%. 52% of professional engineers and 81% of hobbyists report being more likely to use open source software in 2013.

Peer review is fatally broken

October 7, 2013 1:46 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

"Nobody reads journals," says science publisher Vitek Tracz, who has made a fortune from...

Can software save Moore's Law?

October 3, 2013 4:49 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

I came across this short video, Can...

Literature finds the brain

September 20, 2013 3:42 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

Being a supposedly semi-literate engineer and a writer to boot this article on the intersection...

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Everything you need to know about picking the right circuit protection

September 11, 2013 3:33 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Articles | Comments

When it comes to circuit protection, the first line of resistance is resistance. Resistance limits current flow and resistance, in conjunction with capacitance, slows the rate of increase of voltage, giving other protection measures in the circuit time to act. But, resistance has its drawbacks. If the current through the resistance is significant, it wastes power....

Hire the autistic

August 20, 2013 9:00 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

Tech giant SAP plans to hire a lot of autistic people. Why? People with autism have an alternate view of the universe. Me? I'm a little like that. My social skills, though, have risen some over the years. I'd estimate that I have risen from the bottom 5% to the bottom 25%. And I'm difficult to manage. Maybe SAP has a job for me? Nah. I'm happy just where I am.

I am among the most and least trusted professions in America

August 12, 2013 11:24 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

I just came across this Yahoo article about the most and least trusted professions in America. It turns out the most trusted occupation is the military. They get a 78% trust rating. Having been a military man once, I can relate. Not too far down the list are engineers at a 63% trust rating.

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The models were wrong

August 8, 2013 9:12 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

The models explaining what everyone knew about sugar uptake in bacteria are fundamentally flawed. New models correct those flaws. It turns out that bacteria regulate their sugar uptake mechanism not just by looking at the sugar available. The old models said that if sugar was scarce, bacteria made more sugar processing mechanisms to go after more of the scarce resources.

Battery harvesting versus energy harvesting

August 6, 2013 3:06 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Articles | Comments

Should you use primary batteries or energy harvesting for your low power isolated from the grid application? Are primary batteries better or worse than energy harvesting? Can you use one or the other or do you need both? Neither? It is an interesting question depending on the application, the power required, and the costs involved.

Odds and ends

August 5, 2013 9:59 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

Here are some things I recently found interesting and useful. You might like them too. NXP customer service. They are a little hard to reach but they do get back to you pretty quickly by e-mail and the service is outstanding. I needed some help getting LPC1114FDH28 samples.

Engineers killed Detroit

August 1, 2013 11:01 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

Since Detroit pleaded bankruptcy, we have been hearing all kinds of things about what killed Detroit. For one thing, high labor rates in Detroit have been touted. Another theory is that the government of Detroit killed Detroit. But the theory I like best is that engineers killed Detroit.

Solving wind energy storage problems

July 31, 2013 8:41 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

When it comes to alternative energy, I have been a big fan of storage. Alternative energy will not be viable for large-scale power delivery to the grid without storage. My friend Clyde knows of my obsession with storage. He suggested I look into GE's new wind turbines that come with storage attached.

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New kind of optical storage could last a million years

July 22, 2013 9:34 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

A new kind of optical storage is being developed. With this new technology a DVD sized optical memory could hold 360 Terabytes and the memory would be good for about a million years. Longevity and capacity are the key factors to consider in terms of data storage, but existing options are limited.

The truth about test and measurement

July 16, 2013 2:41 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Articles | Comments

Test and measurement starts with standards. You have to have standards for mass, distance, charge, and time (plus a few others) so all standards refer back to those fundamental unit standards. But you don't measure volts in units of amps, kilograms, meters, and seconds, that requires something more convenient (i.e. measuring volts in volts).

Accurate clocking

July 11, 2013 2:55 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

I'm interested in time and frequency. In order to generate accurate time ticks you need accurate clocks. Cell phones are a major user of accurate clocks. And vibrating quartz has been the standard for such clocks for a very long time. But there is a new kid on the block. Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) oscillators made by Silicon Labs.

Secret courts enable electronic surveillance

July 10, 2013 1:57 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

We now know - due to some intrepid leakers - that Big Brother is watching just about everything that can be electronically monitored. It is commonly accepted that this watching is a result of the Patriot Act. But there is something that predates the Patriot Act that is the real enabler - Secret courts.

Smart Grid: The future of energy

June 12, 2013 11:23 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Articles | Comments

The Smart Grid is coming. It is needed in order to raise or lower prices for consumers depending on the time of day. It is needed to control consumer loads to better integrate intermittent alternative energy into the grid (industrial loads are already demand controlled by the grid operator depending on the type of service contract they have).

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DIY hot-air iron

June 5, 2013 10:20 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

A while back, I wrote a column on fine-pitch soldering. Several commenters noted that a hot-air soldering iron was the hand tool of choice when it came to fine pitch soldering by hand. So I decided to look up the tools and found that they were out of my price range. I still wanted one.

Rice's breakthrough in carbon nanotubes

June 3, 2013 9:49 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

Rice University has been making considerable progress in devising methods to manufacture carbon nanotubes (CNT) for use as electrical conductors. The breakthrough came in 2003.Rice’s breakthrough stems from the fact that the researchers are using a wet method to produce the CNT thread.

Designing for heat

May 21, 2013 9:53 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Articles | Comments

I want to start off with a look at the four methods of cooling: conduction, convection, radiation, and pumping. What? They don't teach the four methods of cooling in physics class? Only the first three? The fourth method is a combination of the first three with the addition of pumps.

Fire human resources

May 20, 2013 10:31 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

Management Consultant Dave Logan at CBS Moneywatch is warning companies to avoid falling in love with company policy. He talks about a company that wanted to hire a very disruptive genius. But HR said it wasn't possible because they had no job description for the function envisioned. And besides the guy was obviously a poor fit and a possible cause for resentment by the rest of the employees.

Low noise power

May 9, 2013 3:28 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

I recently designed a low power, low noise, power supply for digital work. The nominal output voltages as designed are +5 volts and +3.3 volts. One hundred and fifty milliamps each. With a lightly regulated five volt supply for powering LED back lights.

The green death

April 30, 2013 3:45 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

Being "green" has gone from a technical effort to economically reduce energy use and avoid waste where such avoidance makes sense to actively reducing our effectiveness to show how committed we are to the Green Religion. And there is so much of this going on. In my opinion we would be much better off worshiping trees. Or cows.

Management techniques: After-action reports

April 23, 2013 8:03 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

CBS News Money Watch has a great post up on how to improve management effectiveness. That includes both self and corporate management. The technique is common in the military but not so common in the corporate world. It is the after action report.

Fine-pitch soldering

April 22, 2013 9:18 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

I hand-solder. I hand-solder surface-mount devices. So far, my standard practice is to use parts no smaller than 0603s (inch), and for ICs I get them with pitches no smaller than 0.65 mm. This causes problems when I need a component that is too small for me to solder on a board with techniques I have been comfortable with up to now.

How to manage creative types (with a minimum of fuss)

April 17, 2013 1:14 pm | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

The First Mate and I were discussing this Harvard Business Review article the other day, and I noticed a lot of allusions to myself. The article is about how to manage creative types. There are seven main points (numbered), but I'm only going to comment on a few.

Data pirates

April 5, 2013 9:23 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

As if we didn't have enough to worry about with government tracking and collecting information on our every move, we also have to be on the lookout for data pirates. Although, if the pirates get their hands on the government databases, the problem begins to look like a single problem with diverse parts.

Top 10 must-read posts from March

April 3, 2013 10:47 am | by Kasey Panetta, Managing Editor | Blogs | Comments

Here’s a rundown of the most read, most popular, most awesome articles on the web. Take a look at what you missed the first time around or check up on an old favorite to see the conversation in the comments. Keep checking out the Lead at www.ecnmag.com and follow us on Twitter @ecnonline for our most up-to-date articles.

More thought required: The simplest designs aren’t so simple

April 3, 2013 9:29 am | by M. Simon, Technical Contributor | Blogs | Comments

I'm in the process of designing an I2C system that uses telephone cable to route the signals around. It uses standard four-conductor cables with RJ-11 type plugs on the ends. For my system, it is important that there be no twists in the cable. Getting the signals reversed (clock and data) is not too bad. It will just prevent the system from working.

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