When All Else Fails, Read the Instructions
“The fault… is not in our stars, but in ourselves…” – Cassius, Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)
Paperwork – you gotta love it. There’s some evidence that nowadays, in the age of the “paperless office,” we create (and fill out) more paperwork than at any other time in history. This dreary fact demonstrated itself to me just the other day.
A nice man with whom I was doing business handed me a three-page form to fill out. How quaint! Because this is the 21st Century and because I am not Bartleby the Scrivener, I scanned the document into Acrobat and let the software convert all the printed boxes into fill-in fields. From there, I could just click each box in turn and type in my information. Click, click, done. I printed out the completed form for a signature (which I could also have done electronically, had the other party been willing to accept it).
Radio Shack Goes From 50-in-1 to None
My fingers trembled and my heart pounded. I carefully bent spring terminal #35 and inserted the tinned end of the final wire. I was confident that I had double-checked every connection, but I still felt unsure.
As I slowly turned the knob labeled “variable condenser,” I thought I heard a hiss or some static. Then, suddenly, Merle Haggard singing “Branded Man” boomed through my tiny earphone. I jumped! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I hated country music, and it was the most beautiful sound my seven-year-old ears had ever heard.
Some Are New, Some Are Not
It started with mentions of two new (at least to me) standards in conference presentations: I3C and LoRa. I made a note to learn more about them.
But as I dug in, I kept finding other protocols – some open, some proprietary – being leveraged in an IoT way. Granted, some predate the IoT and were conceived simply as machine-to-machine (M2M) or smart-home protocols before the cloud and the IoT buzzwords were such a big deal. But they are part of the picture, so giving them some daylight seems useful. For the moment, then, I decided to focus on summarizing some of these standards here; I’ll come back with more detail on I3C and one or two others shortly.
Intel Goes for Notoriety, IoT Goes for a Catchy Tune
I’ve had a month to mull over CES 2015 and read much of the breathless coverage. I’ll get my own ball rolling with Intel, the company that had a VERY large footprint at CES with one of the largest, flashiest and most expensive booths in the entire show. Before you jump to the “well OF COURSE a company of Intel’s size would have a gigantic booth” conclusion, do keep in mind that a modest little company called Microsoft has not had ANY booth at CES for the last few years. And last time I checked, Microsoft had a far larger consumer (that’s the ‘C’ in CES) business than Intel.
Intel had a cornucopia of announcements at CES, from real products to coming-soon products to WHAT THE?!?! concepts. Peruse Intel’s CES page for a high-level summary and, if you have the time, watch Brian Krzanich’s keynote: partially for the scope of the spectacle and mostly for the elements that Intel felt were important enough upon which to shine the spotlight.
Lattice Introduces iCE40 UltraLite
There has been a lot of chest-beating over the years about who had the biggest, fastest FPGA in all the land. Countless press releases, PowerPoints, and posters have touted 30% better this and 4x more that. Each time a competitor leapfrogged the other, we lapped up the LUTs with renewed glee.
Lately, however, Lattice has been pushing the other end of the envelope, proudly proclaiming that they make the very smallest FPGAs. These FPGAs are so small, power-efficient, and cheap that they completely rewrite our notion of FPGAs. Literally everything you probably thought you knew about FPGAs is busted by these devices. Ask the average engineer and you’ll probably hear that FPGAs are big, expensive, power-hungry, and useful mostly for prototyping. They’ll generally continue that FPGAs would not work in mobile or battery-powered devices, aren’t useful for space-constrained designs, and would never-ever be found in a smartphone teardown.
Leveraging the Biology of Tactile Sensation
Kids goof around with all kinds of things, not knowing what will occur. It’s how they learn how the world works, and it’s why they can learn novel electronic user interfaces so much more easily than adults (which we mistake as intuition). Well, in one such bout of goofing about on our apple orchard, I was monkeying with balloons over the opening of a bottle of apple cider.
You see, my dad had this thing where he’d poke a few needle holes in a balloon and then place it over the bottle opening. Fermentation would start, inflating the balloon, which opened the little holes and let the CO2 escape. When the process completed, the balloon deflated and the holes closed, blocking oxygen from reaching the inside – and preventing a continuation of the process that would otherwise lead to vinegar.*
Adventures in Unclonable Function Technology and Project Ara Development
Ready. Set. Authenticate. This week’s Fish Fry investigates how Microsemi FPGAs are changing the cyber-security landscape one PUF (Physically Unclonable Function) at a time. My guest is Tim Morin from Microsemi. Tim joins Fish Fry for the first time - discussing the zeros and ones of PUF technology, explaining why it's so important to today’s IoT products, and revealing what it's really like to own fourteen (whoa) horses. Also this week, I unveil some seriously cool news from the most recent Google Project Ara Developer’s Conference.
Have We Lost The "Wow" Factor?
At a recent semi-social, semi-business function, I was asked what I thought the highlights were in electronics in 2014. I was stumped. Not only could I not think of a highlight then, I still can not think of anything that really stuck out in the year.
I've sat through many new product presentations and press briefings and received many more press releases, and there is a lot of creative thinking and very good solid engineering going on, resulting in good solid products that are meeting customer needs. I've written about some of them and hope to write about more some time later in the year. There have also been some things that have been a complete waste of time – but I have been moderately successful in trying to wipe those from my memory.
Telecom Company Turns its Attention to Games, Cars, and Tablets
Conexant is one of those companies that used to be big. Like Polaroid, Pan Am, Commodore, Westinghouse, or Life magazine, it carries a once-proud brand name that belies its current station. The company was spun off from mighty Rockwell International 15 years ago during the height of the networking boom, and it has steadily decimated itself since. A string of divestitures capped by a complete Chapter 11 reorganization two years ago have seen the one-time telecom darling reduced to a private firm with about $120 million in total sales.
That’s not to say that Conexant isn’t successful. And with over 300 employees drawing a paycheck, Conexant is no hole-in-the-wall outfit. But it’s not… y’know… a big deal.
Microsemi Introduces FPGA-based Hardened PUFs
Security used to be the purview of the select few - those working on defense projects, financial systems, or other “high-security” devices and platforms. Today, however, with IoT, wearables, connected cars, smartphones, tablets, and so forth, everything is connected to everything, and practically every device owned by every human on earth is able to make safety- and financially-critical transactions. That means security has become important in just about every system we design today.
Unfortunately, security has to be designed into our systems from the ground up. There’s no such thing as a padlock and chain we can throw on top of our existing system-level design to shore it up. And, for real security, we need features built into the hardware itself, rather than relying solely on software to keep the fort safe.