* Posts by Electronics'R'Us

453 posts • joined 13 Jul 2018


Too little, too late: Intel's legacy is eroding

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Re: "Diversity will destroy this company"

I have had to deal wit this problem in the past.

At $COMPANY in the deep south in the 90s, the director of operations (and a lot of the local males) considered females to be inferior; I am sure you know the type. That is not my view as I have met many women in engineering and other professions who were clearly superior to many, if not all, of their male colleagues.

There was an opening for a supervisory position in the repair department which was a bit top heavy with females (low pay and all that) so I talked to the CEO (my direct boss at the time) and he agreed I could completely anonymise any applications.

Given that I was guiding the technical operation, I was rather well placed to know the strengths (and the areas in which they struggled) of each potential candidate.

The applications were all handed to me directly and I then made new applications with the titles Candidate A, Candidate B and so forth. The operations director was livid because he could not see the names but we had done an end run around that.

Each candidate interviewed with an outside expert in management (some management skills were necessary) and that was written up with scoring.

I did the technical scoring. It had been agreed that the candidate with the best overall score (somewhat weighted as both technical and management skills were required - the solution was to multiply the scores). There were some other things such as attitudes to others and so forth - the last thing we wanted was a psychopath [1].

Now the entire process was explained to the candidates individually who all agreed it was fair and above board.

This objective method yielded a very clear winner who happened to be female. I am still amazed we managed to keep it all secret.

The operations director grumbled but there really wasn't anything he could do about it.

One of the male crew (who really wasn't that good) said he wouldn't work for a woman so he was told to not let the door hit his ass on the way out.

I am certain that had that process not been followed one of the male candidates would have been chosen.

The person chosen was the best choice from all the candidates, which is as it should be.

[1]. Certain psychopathic traits are actually a good thing. The good psychopath's guide to success is both fascinating and a pretty good read although a lot of it is in the vernacular.

Engineers on the brink of extinction threaten entire tech ecosystems

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So many reasons

There are a lot of reasons we don't see EEs that much (well, you do if you are in the right place).

When someone who fixes a washing machine using a fault finding handbook calls themselves an 'engineer' it rather colours the perception of young people. I had an amusing altercation when my washing machine broke (in warranty) some years ago.

Me: Washing machine pops the breaker

Them: We will arrange for an engineer to visit

Me: I need it fixed, not redesigned

Them: <silence>

That aside, universities don't give enough hands on experience and unless they get a decent mentor they are lost and drift away from the EE side.

Universities don't give analogue the attention it needs; it is an analogue world and if you want to interface sensors, you will very probably need skills in this arena. Want to do high speed (multi gigabit links)? You will need all manner of analogue skills. Mixed signal (fast digital and sensitive analogue) is challenging and needs in depth analogue skills.

At the physical layer, every signal is analogue (until you get to Planck quantities anyway) as EMC testing proves on a daily basis.

I have met many EE graduates who think EE is a matter of getting a RPi or Arduino and flashing LEDs.

A microcontroller is used more often than is strictly necessary, in my view (ymmv) and I blame the Universities for that.

A lack of 'getting them young'. The spark starts early and it has to be interesting enough to keep them engaged. Talking about engineering (of any description) only after they are 13 or 14 is way too late.

There is a lot of electronics design done and built in the UK where I have been a part of it. I can't trust the Chinese suppliers to use the correct grade of PCB material (the glass transition temperature matters a lot in some designs and when it comes to controlled impedance forget it).

I do electronics hardware and usually write my own software for embedded stuff (often bare metal) - RTOS's are overused and where you need deterministic behaviour they suck.

In "The Art of Electronics" the authors say that electronic design is "a few laws of physics, a few rules of thumb and a large bag of tricks" (might be paraphrased)..

Sticking around long enough to learn those tricks and rules of thumb can be daunting when young grads don't have decent mentors or managers to say nothing of an inadequate education.

Software is often seen as the cool area, but software needs something to actually run on and it usually is not a desktop or laptop in many many cases. To echo someone else on this thread, digital sampling of signals is a science in its own right and is totally different to continuous time (analogue) techniques and it is not simple at all. Why that is not made clear is beyond me (unless the lecturers / professors don't know. of course).

I do not have a degree; I look at my career as a self directed apprenticeship. It also helped that I went to the USA after leaving the Royal Navy where the attitude (in stark contrast to the UK at the time which could be very elitist) was 'can you do the job'

Yes, there is a lot to learn, but that is part of the attraction for me; not sure how youngsters see it in a world where instant gratification and 'everyone should get a prize' seems to be the expectation.

Big Tech bosses call for computer science to be taught in all US schools

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I am all for teaching problem solving skills but different people approach it differently - one size does not fit all.

That brings the question of aptitude into this mix; given that logical problem solving typically requires a particular type of mindset, are we going to saddle some children with a subject they will come to detest?

Case in point: when I was much younger (and dinosaurs roamed the earth) the teacher we had for logarithms (never forget it) went on about the exponent and the mantissa endlessly as if it was the answer to life, the universe and everything. While those are indeed both part of the notation it failed to get to the point or actually explain what a logarithm actually is. It didn't help that the teacher had a very strong Spanish accent (I have no problem with the Spanish but a dialect closer to the target audience is usually better). Totally put me off the subject.

Once I decided to look at it again because so many of the things I was being taught in avionics had logarithms, I looked closely and realised that logarithms can be defined in a way that takes one line:

If x = log(base a)y, then a^^x = y. The elegance of that appeals to me, incidentally.

There is an important part here; not everyone learns the same way or at the same rate so a 'standardised' approach is going to be a nightmare (as our education system already is) with two groups getting to detest the lessons:

1. The ones who pick things up very quickly. They will be bored o tears.

2. The ones who require at least 10 iterations to grasp a concept. They will find it such heavy going that they may just give up on it.

Having taught post secondary for some years, I can assure you that those groups exist, to a larger or lesser extent in every class.

Apart from the base problem solving, this should be an elective.

FYI: BMW puts heated seats, other features behind paywall

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In some markets...

This approach makes sense.

Test equipment (and I am not talking about cheap multimeters) can be very expensive. I specified a new oscilloscope about 10 years ago capable of measuring signals up to 12 GHz and the price (with $KeyAccount discount) was about £120K - the probes alone were over £20K.

Not everyone needs all the features that the hardware supports so some of the more esoteric features are not enabled - you need to buy a licence (or in some cases a small card that fits in a slot) to get those features.

For older kit, there would be empty slots within the chassis that you could populate to get added features.

The hardware in many high end test instruments is capable of a great deal but if you don't need those features you don't pay for them although the option to enable them is usually available.

I can buy an oscilloscope good to 200MHz for less than £200 but if I need a certified device (full calibration records) as I do in a great deal of my work that just won't cut it.

Lab grade precision multimeters can set you back over £10K.

Test equipment (particularly high end oscilloscopes) are hardly mass produced items so it makes sense for the manufacturers to have a couple of base designs where features are turned on and off with a licence key.

For this market, such a scheme makes sense. Cars not so much.

Systemd supremo Lennart Poettering leaves Red Hat for Microsoft

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Re: I couldn't be happier ...

Many years ago (early to mid 80s) I was at Raytheon in Virginia Beach.

The chief engineer got a request from a government department for a reference for a person he had fired.

He wrote that 'the Commonwealth of Virginia and <name> deserve each other'.

I think the same sentiment applies here.

Intel to sell Massachusetts R&D site, once home to its only New England fab

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DEC Ethernet devices

The DEC ethernet PHY line of devices were owned by Intel in 98.

I was working with those devices and Intel issued a revised device that did not meet the PCI spec and which caused a great deal of pain for the company I was with at the time.

That was in the days prior to automatic PCN (product change notices) being issued. I found out after managing to find a blurb (via google when they were still a 'do no evil' company) that stated the problem.

That line was probably offloaded to Intel prior to the main company being sold.

Linus Torvalds says Rust is coming to the Linux kernel 'real soon now'

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Re: Seriously, are programmers that bad?

I have been doing embedded C for over 30 years for various microcontrollers; the only real difference is the number of peripherals actually on chip. One or two back then, dozens or more now.

The first one I used with embedded peripherals (not my first microprocessor plus peripherals which was an 8080) was a 65121 from California Micro Devices which was based on the 65C02 which was admittedly written in assembly.

I completely agree that it is perfectly possible to write safe object oriented code in C (and probably any language we care to name, although there the question might be why).

Among other things some of my projects require true hard real time performance such as ADC and DAC interfacing (without that, the standard DSP equations break) so the concept of task and time windowing becomes very important. Deterministic performance is not difficult to get, but apparently some find it too difficult.

Sometimes I even use a small microcontroller that is dedicated to the task of actually doing the interfacing with DMA upstream to simplify the application layer.

I have used Rust a bit and I find the syntax a bit arcane but I can live with it.

I have seen many a C macro fu for device dependencies; those 'families' of devices aren't always as close as the vendors try and tell you.

Will optics ever replace copper interconnects? We asked this silicon photonics startup

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Re: The medium is the messenger

The velocity of propagation for electromagnetic fields in copper are typically 0.5c for most PCBs and about 0.67c in coax cables.

It is down the relative permittivity of the materials involved.

Strictly speaking, the permeability (magnetic part of this) should be considered but the relative permeability of copper compared to a vacuum is within parts per million.

Buoyant tech sector bucking the UK trend, says consultancy

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New skillsets?

RSM UK economist Thomas Pugh said that labour shortages in the media and tech sectors are due to the relatively new skillsets the industries require.

In my experience, it is older skill sets that are in demand especially in electronics.

There is a worrying trend at some universities to minimise lab time and teaching analogue electronics, both of which are critical skills.

If someone is really skilled in analogue they can deal with digital circuitry quite easily [1] but the other way around not so much.

It is an analogue world (at least until you get to the Planck energy level) and it is necessary to interface to it, which has many pitfalls for the unwary.

[1] Designing a modern piece of kit with anything resembling fast edge rates (and that is a lot of stuff) requires a decent knowledge of transmission line theory which is as analogue as it gets.

UK opens national security probe into 2021 sale of local wafer fab to Chinese company

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Re: Process nodes

If you look at what Newport are into, it is not an ordinary CMOS foundry.

They are making compound semiconductors which are at the core of a lot of very new stuff(such as high power distribution in electric vehicles and RF power amps for 5G base stations) and they are also the basis for some advanced photonics.

Totally different process and applications and definitely extremely useful to say nothing of being a very attractive IP target.

The world of electronics is far larger than just microprocessors and memory devices on sub 5nm processes.

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Re: More technical details

For microwave, GasAs (Gallium Arsenide), GaAlAs (Gallium Aluminium Arsenide) and SiGe (Silicon Germanium) are common compounds.

Photonics also uses compound semiconductors.

There are other areas where various compounds are displacing Silicon (or providing a capability that cannot be provided) such as GaN (Gallium Nitride - extremely efficient Si MOSFET replacements that provide very high efficiency switch mode power supplies for instance) and Silicon Carbide (SiC) which excels at high voltages and is often used in multi kV power.

So the post is totally correct.

Semiconductors are not just Silicon.

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Process nodes

A common misconception, which is alluded to in the article, is that only the shiny 2, 5, 7nm nodes and so forth are the cutting edge.

The Newport fab are experts in power MOSFETs (a critical component in many applications) and are part of the Compound Semiconductor Consortium.

For every shiny new processor / ASIC / <new shiny du jour> there are dozens to hundreds of support components; the global supply chain problems in the automotive market are more for these support components than processors.

Compound semiconductors are (currently) somewhat niche but it is a very fast growing area.

Please remember that the very small geometry nodes are actually a relatively small part of the electronics industry.

Beware the fury of a database developer torn from tables and SQL

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Literal translations

Many years ago I was a member of a Fleet Air Arm squadron (F-4 Phantom II aircraft) and the powers that were wanted to get 'up to date' and have the squadron motto in English rather than latin (as many were at the time).

The motto was 'Strike Unseen', but the literal translation was 'Lash out blindly'.

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Lost in translation

Many years ago, some of the Japanese semiconductor vendors would provide (translated) datasheets in English.

Those suffered (in an amusing way, although it could be frustrating) from precisely this effect; one that comes to mind is NJR (now part of Nisshinbo apparently).

I think they now employ properly trained translators.

Start your engines: Windows 11 ready for broad deployment

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No local account is a killer

At $Company, there are some machines that will never be connected to a network so I am getting replacement kit with Win10 Pro for some really old laptops where I can still make a local account. They run dedicated tests (written in VB6) and have no need at all for network access. Besides, $Customer insists on no network access.

In the future, I might just migrate the tests over to Linux (must check to see if they will run under Wine) but if not, they are not that complex.

A little pain, but nowhere near the mess I would encounter with Win11.

GPL legal battle: Vizio told by judge it will have to answer breach-of-contract claims

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Digital protocols

Digital protocols do not require a microcontroller to render them; it just makes it a bit easier.

It could conceivably be done in discrete hardware (not that I would, but it is certainly feasible).

I have designed video systems where the only reason for the processing was to switch sources, destination and select the appropriate decoder.

All that said, the low cost of modern electronics (current supply woes notwithstanding) means it is pretty simple to add all that in (mostly) general purpose hardware.

Open-source leaders' reputations as jerks is undeserved

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Prety broad brush

I know and work with some people on the autistic spectrum (they have been diagnosed by suitably qualified people and $COMPANY has a rather inclusive attitude as they are really good in some positions).

They are all pretty unique and I cannot state any single (or even multiple) traits that they share.

I am not on the spectrum but I can honestly say there have been times (many years ago) when I have sent a 'rocket' usually after having to explain for the N(th) time how something operates.

Had such a diagnosis been around when I was young, I would probably have been tagged as ADD / ADHD which can show up as impatience with those who don't pick up concepts particularly quickly (apparently many people are diagnosed with it when in reality they are somewhat different. That doesn't mean it is not a real condition though).

I now follow the advice of my grandmother 'Honey catches more flies than vinegar' (although I am not sure I desire to catch flies, but you get the drift). Being decent to others is something we can all do in my view.

I am not convinced that such diagnoses are larger in tech than other industries, though.

Cisco warns of premature DIMM failures

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The article mentions that OS functionality can 'hide' the errors, so clearly these have ECC which is usually correct one, detect two (which may cause the platform to go TITSUP)

Depending on various settings (SDRAM interfaces of all types have literally dozens of registers with hundreds of settings) the OS could trap the error and use the performance counters but whether that is done or not is up to the OS itself.

The problem is unlikely to actually be a silicon issue; far more likely is that a support component (resistor or capacitor) is acting up. It could even be the PCB itself for a few reasons.

FAA to airlines: 5G-sensitive radio altimeters have to go

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RF levels

<Puts on RF designer hat>

Although the 5G transmitters are within their specification, RF radiation does not suddenly stop at an arbitrary frequency.

There will still be some 5G transmit energy in the radio altimeter band, and although that level is fairly low, most radio altimeters (regardless of the method used, either pulsed or frequency swept which are the primary techniques) have a receiver sensitivity of around -100dBm.

Put that in perspective; that is 100 femtowatts which is not enough to warm a gnat's behind.

Adding filters won't really help the affected devices very much. All that will do is reduce the resolution of the device and although that may be ok,, it is a material change of specification of a safety critical item which requires re-qualification to level A (failure can result in catastrophic loss of life).

So whether a new piece of equipment or an update to existing equipment is done, there is an expensive piece of work to be done.

The 5G antenna could be adjusted to not point at the sky, of course, which would also solve the problem.

Heresy: Hare programming language an alternative to C

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Array bounds

From The Ten Commandments for C Programmers:

5 Thou shalt check the array bounds of all strings (indeed, all arrays), for surely where thou typest ``foo'' someone someday shall type ``supercalifragilisticexpialidocious''.

I have never found it particularly difficult or onerous to check against the actual size of any container in C; admittedly it does require one to do it oneself.

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Re: No moving targets

On a thread I watch on a $DifferentPlatform, one commentard believes that many of the more recent additions to C++ have been driven by mathematicians more interested in esoteric constructs rather than useful day to day enhancements.

Move semantics come to mind.

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No moving targets

The language is designed to stabilize and remain largely unchanging

That is a very good thing; one of the issues with some languages is they are continually changing. One of the strengths of C (I am aware of the many pitfalls) is that it is not being 'updated' every few years (I'm looking at you, C++).

I will have to take a look.

UK competition watchdog probes school software contract revisions

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Market share...

So, they have between 70% and 80% market share and yet they claim ESS told us in November that lengthier agreements are "standard practise" and that SIMS had been "very much the anomaly" in the sector.

That market share means that others would have been the anomaly if they were only offering multi-year contracts (single year contracts may be a major factor in why they have had that level of market share).

The PR droids aren't very good at logical reasoning.

Could a leaky capacitor be at fault on ESA's Sentinel-1B?

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Power supply failures

It depends on the specifics, but here is my list of things that go wrong that are caused by capacitors. It is not just the capacitance, though. The parallel leakage resistance and effective series resistance are also critical design considerations. Effective series inductance is not usually an issue with regulators.

Soft start. Virtually every regulator that feeds a capacitive load (just about all of them) either have a soft start or short circuit sense inhibit at power up. For many of the switch mode devices that soft start is defined by a capacitor. If that device has become a smaller capacitance (a very common fault mode for ceramic devices), then the soft start won't be as soft and a start up short circuit would be detected, which can stop the start up process.

Loop compensation. All regulators require loop compensation to prevent them being oscillators (which can often let the magic smoke out of the regulator itself). This can be tricky to get right as a dynamic load transient that is not corrected quickly enough (over compensated) can be just as bad as too fast (under compensated). Those compensation networks are made from resistors and capacitors.

There are several poles and zeros in a typical regulator which all interact and a fault may not be apparent immediately for various reasons. Note that even linear regulators require loop compensation although some are easier to implement than others.

Output ripple filters. This is an interesting one because the ripple filter is often part of the loop compensation network (or more properly, the loop compensation network compensates for the output pole and zero for a particular topology). If there is excessive output ripple, then downstream devices may not work properly, which might trigger a shutdown.

A typical regulator has a dozen or more components depending on the details and a passive component is more likely to fail than the silicon controller device(s).

Lots of possibilities.

In IT, no good deed ever goes unpunished

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Test time

Many years ago, the company I was at went from making 1000 units a month to making (at first) 10,000 and then 20,000 after we got a couple of nice contracts. As we were selling them at about $1000 a pop there was an incentive to reduce expenses as we clearly had to buy all the parts well over 2 months before receiving the money for them.

That put us into volume manufacturing for the first time (I realise that smart<x> devices make millions of units a month but this was in those halcyon days a billion years ago in internet time, as Jake would say).

Even though the tests were automated, one of the authors did not understand the cost of test time, so I instrumented the code to record the test result data in text files, which I would copy onto a floppy on my visits to the contract manufacturer.

The various engineers said they would transcribe the data into a spreadsheet (we were in the middle of using Lotus 123 and Excel) and I just kept quiet.

At the time I was honing my C skills (and in particular the graphics package that came with Borland C).

I made a master index of pass / fail criteria and then wrote a (relatively simple in hindsight) program that read the records and produced histograms of results and also a report that showed the percentage of units failing a test. The histograms were actually very useful in finding some systemic problems with a couple of parts.

It turned out that about 25% of the tests never failed (this was based on 25000 test records) and those tests took a total of about 4 minutes of test time per unit.

At the time, automated (supervised, unskilled) test time was about 50 cents / minute, so the unnecessary tests were costing $2 per unit. Now that might not seem much, but when you are making 20,000 a month it adds up (to $40,000 per month, as I am sure others can work out).

So long before the rest of the engineering staff had even got the first 1% of records entered, I already had the answers I needed which led me to re-arrange [1] what tests were done. This was presented to my direct boss (the CEO) who loved it but he then proceeded to ask the other engineers why they had not thought of such a thing. Very embarrassing for them but as I was now saving the company a fair chunk of expense there really wasn't much they could do.

As we were on a profit sharing scheme they got more money anyway (as did I).

[1] The tests were run on the first item on the line and a random sample of <1% of the rest as those tests could really conceivably fail due to a batch issue with parts.

Uni team demo algorithm to shield conversations from eavesdropping AI

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Linear predictive coding?

Also Adaptive Delta PCM. That has been around for a long time (for compressed voice channels - the actual input is compared to the predicted input and only the difference is sent).

So predict the output (in real time, as we did with analog electronics some, what, 40 years ago) and modify it slightly.

On a slightly different note, Shannon came up with a method to calculate the entropy of the English language. Might be another useful concept to use...

British motorists will be allowed to watch TV in self-driving vehicles

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You make a good point about sensors, but a wider question is about just what sensors should we be using.

Visual (cameras); lots of them but have numerous drawbacks. Degraded performance in poor visibility being the obvious one. In the USA (or any other place that can get quite hot) the rising air from the tarmac distorts the image significantly. Whether that is a problem or not is not something I know.

Lidar. Performance degrades in wet weather (rain circularly polarises electromagnetic radiation). At short ranges probably not an issue but thick fog might be a different kettle of fish.

mm Wave RF. Suffers significant attenuation depending on weather and is susceptible to multipath fading. Even using beamforming techniques, there is still quite a wide -3dB angle and sidelobes need to be taken into account. Anything beyond a few metres might be problematic.

A mixture of all of them might be better but then there would also need to be redundancy (how many people get a duff brake light fixed? I expect broken sensors would get the same level of attention).

Then there is the matter of stitching all that data together to get a coherent 'view' of the surroundings.

My take is there is a long way to go (and good luck on the country lanes in Cornwall and many other places in the UK).

I have to drive a minimum of 1.5 miles (depending on which direction I leave the village) to get to a 'proper' road and even the road to the village is a single track lane. I am not sure the existing level of processing could figure out what to do if another vehicle suddenly pulls into view (sometimes it is necessary to reverse a bit for a suitable 'passing' area).

Brave, DuckDuckGo to unplug Google's AMP where possible

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Re: Heres a suggestion

I have a subscription to a national daily newspaper.

The site is only useable with NoScript. I am not so much referring to graphics, but to the huge list of 'advertising partners' where a script pulls them in and then those pull even more in.

When I look at blocked scripts for the top level domain, there are 5 or 6, but if I allow scripts, then the list grows to well over 50 and sends the cooling fan into overdrive.

All ads that suck bandwidth and power.

Departing Space Force chief architect likens Pentagon's tech acquisition to a BSoD

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You are correct that hardware sourcing is the real issue here.

Having designed quite a lot of equipment for fast jets (among other things) I can say that most modern equipment can use industrial / automotive grade parts; the key is at the PCB / box level to ensure that the bits are properly thermally managed.

In a safety critical design (I can think of quite a few) the designer has to show that a single component failure will not cause a failure of the system (there are actually metrics for this) but a very important consideration is that complex parts (microprocessors, microcontrollers, memory devices and so on) must have a track record, with no new errata for (preferably) years.

That means they will not be new parts (particularly in civil avionics).

The qualification process is quite arduous - vibration, shock, thermal shock, temp / altitude testing, gunfire vibration (particularly tough), lightning protection (it can be done), temp/alt/humidity (not quite the same as temp / alt) to name but a few of the tests.

There is, quite simply, no way to speed that cycle up if you need proof that the thing (whatever it is) will work, and continue to work in harsh environments.

There are a few application where the more specialised mil grade parts are required (the wing pylons where you can hang weapons and / or fuel tanks come to mind).

Infosys noncompete clause sparks complaint from labor rights org

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Re: Non Competes

In the early to mid 90s, I was working for a company in Florida that made smart payphones (acted like a phone, based on a microcontroller).

The technology used was ancient, even by the standards of the time (the microcontroller was based on the 6502) and 2 wire to 4 wire conversion has been around since telephones were invented. There was also some voice playback.

When I left (I was let go), I went to a startup doing much the same but with up to date technology with features not present on the old stuff (2400 bps modem for updates, for example, which is surprisingly difficult to achieve in discrete components) and I received a snottogram from the previous company lawyers (who were actually investors in the company - no conflict of interest there, then).

Basically tried to tell me that the non-compete (which I had signed) prevented me from working within the industry for 2 years. I will always remember the final line "conduct yourself accordingly".

I consulted a friendly lawyer (one of the investors at the startup) and it turned out that (at the time), non-competes could only be enforced for very limited reasons. In the technology area, they would have to show that they taught me some super proprietary knowledge I could not have attained elsewhere, which, given the technology they were using, meant they didn't have a leg to stand on.

So they got a snottogram back from the my lawyer stating that rather the reverse was true; I had brought knowledge to them that they did not previously have, that the technology they were using was decades old and therefore well known in the industry in general and that the fundamental operation of the device was dictated by having to connect to a phone line. Just for good measure, the letter ended "conduct yourself accordingly".

Never heard from them again.

Russian media watchdog bans Google from advertising its services

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Witty comment

I saw this [1] on a site earlier today.

To: V. Putin

Subject: Personal invitation

Most esteemed V. Putin. you are personally invited to attend (at our expense) a Special Awards Ceremony to be held in your honour. You are invited to bring your most senior staff as they too are deserving of such awards, although not as prestigious as yours.

The location is The Hague, Netherlands.


The Organisers

[1] Expanded a bit to stroke his ego...

Buying a USB adapter: Pennies. Knowing where to stick it: Priceless

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Cassette tapes

Remember those?

The cheap tapes (which was all of them that were purchased pre-recorded) would leave some of their gunk on the tape deck tensioning rollers which then chewed up tapes.

I used to fix them (this was in the 70s and 80s); the interesting thing was that unless I took the unit away and held onto it for a day the various clients (friends of acquaintances) would never believe I had actually done anything.

The actual fix was simple once I disentangled the chewed up tape (which I could often fix even if it had snapped as I had a tape splicer although the music tempo might not be right due to stretching).

Some rubbing alcohol on a wipe to clean the rollers was all that was required and took perhaps 5 minutes but as noted above, I kept the item for a day before giving it back (I would clean up the outside of the thing as well).

I made quite a bit of beer money doing that.

Rivals aren't convinced by Microsoft's one-click default browser change

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Condescending messages

At my current $EMPLOYER, we have both Teams and Skype (I know, I know...)

I have to start Teams before Lookout (other terms are available) because it makes itself the default messaging application for Office but then I cannot see others status (as set in Skype) in emails so that check box gets unchecked. (I disable autostart as it tries to connect to the teams server before I have an actual connection as I work remotely to a great extent).

Great interoperability there...

Teams also gives me the message:

You're all set. Enjoy using Teams! Condescending asshats.

Until the latest update it would also start edge (ack) and connect to Microsoft when I started a Teams meeting even though we are using a local server.

If you fire someone, don't let them hang around a month to finish code

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Re: Unhelpful comments

Some years prior to that, we had Heathkit (remember them?) educational boards when I was teaching electronics.

The only way to program them was to input the actual opcodes using a hex keypad (most were based around the 6800 series parts IIRC). The location of the code had to be reachable via the reset vector.


Do a flowchart (maybe).

Write the assembly code.

Hand assemble the code (in those halcyon days the opcodes were listed in the datasheet).

Set an address, load a byte. Repeat at next memory location until done.

Point the reset vector at the start of your code.

Not something I would do today but it certainly gives insight into just how a microprocessor actually operates.

A favourite saying from the time: "The processor will execute the code, not the comments which may not actually do what you wanted it to do".

Icon cos ancient history.

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Unhelpful comments

Many years ago (early 90s), I was working with a codebase written in assembler (6502 for those who are interested).

The primary author of the original code was brilliant [1] but the comments were utterly useless.

A typical line might look like:

BNE <label>; not zero, go to label.

There was no comment on just what meaning the item being tested for zero actually had.

Fortunately, the labels had a tiny bit of meaning so we were able to work out what the code did, but it took several months.

[1] Brilliant in the sense that the code he wrote was excellent in functionality. My personal view is the person was not a particularly good software engineer. As the article noted, assembly needs proper comments to make sense of it.

10x prices, year-long delays... Life as an electronics engineer in global chip shortage

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Re: Counterfeit chips

Counterfeit devices are big business, particularly in the high reliability market where equipment is expected to last for decades.

Given that prices for such parts are often very high (and are necessary for repairs) the rewards are also high for counterfeiters.

It should be no surprise that anti-counterfeiting measures are also extensive.

I can't find it right now, but one supplier to the USAF (who do a lot of their own repairs) was found guilty of providing counterfeit parts (re-labelled from commercial to industrial temperature ranges).

Most new military equipment uses industrial temperature range parts; we only use mil-spec (-55C to 125C) where that is really necessary.

C: Everyone's favourite programming language isn't a programming language

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Parallel C

Many years ago (the turn of the current century) I was writing diagnostics for a massively parallel video on demand system.

Massively parallel then is not what we think of today, but being capable of over 2000 simultaneous streams of MPEG2 was quite an achievement.

The system itself had up to 320 parallel processors arranged as 5 cores in each processor (4 + parity) and 5 disk drives for each. (The system could rebuild a swapped drive on the fly).

Programming this beast was interesting as we had a bespoke compiler. The system itself was SIMD.

The compiler introduced the conditional keyword where; if it evaluated true, the core in question would execute the instruction stream - otherwise it would execute NOPs.

An interesting design decision for the compiler was that the default storage class for variables was static which caused no end of hilarity.

One of my colleagues was trying to debug a particular function which had the statement:

int x = 0;

He was trying to understand the very weird results and suddenly the light hit me - the variable needed to be initialised at each function call, so I made the trivial edit:

int x;

x = 0;

All was well after that.

A very interesting piece of kit to work with.

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Re: Some incorrect assumptions

I have used Allman style indents and braces for over 30 years.

It is less prone to bugs (ymmv) and in many editors the matching brace (being at the same indent level) can be clearly highlighted.

Just one of the things I like about the Barr group coding standard.

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As we used to say...

"Rust and Swift cannot simply speak their native and comfortable tongues – they must instead wrap themselves in a grotesque simulacra of C's skin and make their flesh undulate in the same ways it does."


Would you like some cheese with that w(h)ine?


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Some incorrect assumptions

The new argument goes something like this: for almost any program to do anything useful or interesting, it has to run on an operating system.

That really isn't so; there are hundreds of thousands (quite possibly more) of microcontrollers running bare metal and doing very interesting things. Even where an OS is desirable, many microcontroller architectures (including ARM based devices) map very neatly to C. I know that from several dozens of projects where they were a mixture of bare metal / various OS and the code was written in C simply because it was the best choice for the task.

That also debunks the myth that C hasn't matched (bare metal) processor architectures since the 1970s; it demonstrably does so to this day. I am not saying it maps to all processor architectures because it doesn't at the bare metal level.

I would be the first to admit that C has its issues (as does every language) and there are parts of it to steer clear of especially if portability for either the target architecture or compiler is important, but the use of a decent set of rules avoids the vast majority of problems.

There are places where C really is the best choice and others where a different language may be a better fit, but to try and argue that it is not a programming language is rather over the top and smacks of 'language elites'.

There is no single programming language that is appropriate to every task.

C is widely used for a lot of reasons; every language choice is a trade-off for a given project.

File Explorer fiasco: Window to Microsoft's mixed-up motivations

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Office 365

I have recently been lumbered with this on the company laptop and it is truly an abomination; it really has reinforced my opinion of Microsoft products [1].

Meeting invitations - the meeting notice takes half the screen vertically and cannot be hidden or reduced.

'To' fields are unnecessarily large, again reducing useable screen real estate.

Slow startup (even slower than the previous versions and that is saying something) and other 'usability features' that look like they have brought in the 4 year olds and armed them with crayons male the whole thing a really good reason to not 'upgrade' anything on my personal equipment to this detritus.

Admittedly, I am now dual booting the laptop that has access to the network (and very glad I have taken that step).

[1] Which wasn't very positive even before this.

Unable to write 'Amusing Weekly Column'. Abort, Retry, Fail?

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Not forgetting

The Alderson loop.

The only way out was to kill the program (which may have required a three finger salute).

Half of bosses out of touch with reality, study shows

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As already mentioned, the 'in the office' or 'at home' is a false dichotomy.

I work from home the vast majority of the time (the last time I was physically in the office was December 2021) but there may be occasions I need to go to the office a few days in a row. That is only if I need to for some reason such as to physically test / repair / commission some equipment.

Some people need to be at the workplace (production crews, for example) and some others prefer to be there for other reasons (young graduates flat sharing comes to mind) and others need their workday to be very flexible (people with young kids or older dependents fit here).

I am fortunate that where I work, this type of flexibility has been supported from the top and was the direction my particular division of the company was going even prior to Covid.

It is even good for the planet - far fewer vehicle emissions, less fuel use (a little more home electricity, admittedly).

In terms of meetings, my experience is that there are no more on teams (which we have made work quite well*) than when physically present.

Rather than focusing on time in the office, they should focus on what gets done.

* The teams I am part of have an agreement that unless the 'do not disturb' notification is on, we are free to call at any time if we have questions or comments.

The right to repairable broadband befits a supposedly critical utility

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Lightning Protection

Protecting equipment from lightning is somewhat complex; there are standards for this that vary by industry.

One of the primary issues is that the circuitry can get quite complex quite quickly and the testing can be difficult.

I have had models (SPICE) for devices commonly used that had little resemblance to reality (the model predicted clamping within picoseconds but the reality was about half a microsecond which is ancient history in electronics). Another issue is that full clamping may only limit the surge to twice the rated voltage of the protection.

Protecting data carrying ports (such as modems) is very complex.

Failure modes vary from immediately dead to (as the author found) malfunctions over a period of time (this is the same problem as even a mild static discharge).

Transient protection for consumer goods (i.e. inexpensive) is not likely to survive a very localised hit, and things downstream may get the hit as well, depending on the specific 'protection'.

Disclaimer: I have designed flight control computers that are required to be protected against lightning strikes.

Reg reader rages over Virgin Media's email password policy

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(In)famous last words

10 characters is ample enough to keep the password secure. What? In 2019?

Some years ago (2012 IIRC) the master password generator key for RSA (used in many security dongles for VPN access) was stolen (cracked the server).

On the Monday after it was revealed, I went to work to find that everyone's login password had been reset whether we were remotely using the VPN or not (reasonable I suppose as someone could potentially have been sniffing around the network).

The new rules:

Minimum length = 15 characters

Must include: upper case, lower case, numbers and special characters.

My current $CORPORATE login is 16 characters and meets the above requirements.

Why Nvidia sees a future in software and services: Recurring revenue

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Re: OTA updates?

I was not necessarily referring to the owner licensee of the vehicle.

Bad actors might well be interested in 'updating' the code.

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OTA updates?

Whatever could go wrong?

Keys cracked in 5,4,3....

Fujitsu: Dumping older workers will wipe out quarter of forecast profit

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Skills and experience

As others have mentioned, these are things that the 20 somethings lack for the most part, but are essential for a company that wants a long term future.

I currently work with some very old equipment (radar, RF, 8051 style microcontrollers and discrete analog and digital circuits such as quad gates up to 4 bit counters and the odd PLD); the younger parts of the team are (well, were) totally clueless as to how to troubleshoot this stuff from first principles (there are some automated tests but that only tells you if it works, not what has gone wrong).

Other things of interest are stripline inductors (just a length of copper track) and other such RF trickery, which was incredibly useful when I was doing high speed design (10Gb interfaces for example).

I was hired for the fact (among other things) I have all that domain knowledge as well as a lot of diagnostic code behind me although I am hardly a spring chicken (68 last month); there are not many people with all those skills and more (I rattled off well over a dozen logic families I have worked with over the years at the interview).

Using age is the wrong metric; capability should be the metric.

I recently did an updated design of an interface board used in automated test that was riddled with problems (I wonder how I knew they were problems…) and it was fairly simple - 6 layers. The rest of the team were 6 layers?!; $DEITY help them when they have to work with 20+ layers.

So although quite a few over 50s may well be past it, I know a lot of under 50s who never achieved it.

Very short sighted of them, no age pun directly intended.

Proprietary neural tech you had surgically implanted? Parts shortage

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Some years ago (not that long really) I was using public transport for my (total of 3.5 hours per day) commute.

On occasion there would be someone, where even at the other end of the bus / train carriage, I could hear the loud tinny noises from their earpieces.

Having an excellent relationship with some electronics vendors, I got a set of free samples for 2.5GHz transmitters and a small FPGA board.

The end result was a battery powered transmitter controlled by a simple button, that generated white noise across a several hundred kHz bandwidth into a directional antenna (so I could minimise power usage).

To those who may not know, all that is necessary to demodulate such a signal is a non-linear circuit with an antenna; behold, the audio is on wires and is attached to an amplifier. An antenna with a non-linear circuit!

I have very fond memories of pushing the button and seeing the miscreant with their very loud antisocial 'music' rip the earplugs out and look at their device with disbelief at which point I would release the button to stop transmitting. As soon as they reinserted the earplugs and fired up their 'music' at levels to rival a military aircraft engine, I would press the button again.

Such fun; rather gives 'messing with their head' new meaning.

Details of '120,000 Russian soldiers' leaked by Ukrainian media

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Re: The best way to eliminate an enemy is to make them a friend.

Ukraine is a former Russian province occupied territory of the USSR.


Hardly surprising that although a lot of Ukrainians have ties to Russia they are hardly welcoming Vlad and his invading army, although for welcoming one might look at the effectiveness of the anti-tank weapons the UK sent them.



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