Chris Gammell's Analog Life

Analog electronics and everything else between 1 and 0

Month: July 2008 (page 2 of 3)

Great resources for learning about analog electronics

I am absolutely floored by the internet every single day. I often wonder to myself if given the proper linking, guidance and mentoring, whether schools are even necessary any more (maybe the different methods are exactly what we need). This would of course also require some strong drive to learn and a whole lot of time on your hands, not to mention eyes that can bear reading computers screens all day. But I think it is possible; Some schools have even offered up their entire course catalogs online.

Me? I’m an information glutton. I will get 10 books from the library just because I get so excited about them, even if I only have time to read 2. As such, I thought I would clue everyone in to the absolute wealth of information on analog technology on the web. Most of the information you are going to find will be in the form of application notes (basically a cookbook on how to use a particular circuit). But sometimes you will find actual courses and training. I’ll be sure to list these first.¬† If you know of any other great resources, please leave them in the comments section! Enjoy!

National Semiconductor – The Analog University. Forget saving the best for last, this is by far the best resource I have found to date. There are full length courses that would make MIT blush.

Texas Instruments – This site has information on the entire spectrum of design from learning a concept, picking parts, creating the design and then simulating it.

Linear Technology (link 2) РThese are app and design notes from one of the more robust companies out there.  There are also some great articles, some by none other than the great Jim Williams. See other work by Jim here.

Analog Devices (link 2) (link 3) – Analog devices is a monster supplier and has a lot of resources at their disposal. This allows for some great learning content. The links listed include the AnalogDialogue, a nice forum for analog discussion.

Here are some others with mostly app notes, but don’t discount them:

Maxim Semiconductor

ON Semi

Silicon Labs

NXP Semiconductor (formerly Philips Semiconductor)

That’s all I have for now in terms of online resources. I think I’ve maybe gone through about 2% of everything available, so I’ve got some reading to do!

On a side note, I’d like to welcome readers from the Motley Fool! Thanks for coming and feel free to take a look around!

Inventions for the future

I was talking to my friend the other day about ways to become rich and famous. Surprisingly, blogging was not on the list :-). The best I could come up with for an engineer like me was to invent something and sell it. Even better, invent one thing, manufacture it, use the profits to invent something else, and so on.

Then I started thinking about it and the thoughts of money and fame kind of melted away. Sure, that’d be nice, but what does the world really need invented? What could change the world? What could start the next revolution (i.e. industrial, technological, etc)? Where is the future taking us and most importantly where are WE taking the future?

  1. A new method of propulsion for air travel
    • There is no doubt that the world is dependent on fossil fuels. And for all the talk of renewable energy and even all the progress of it, there are still some things that will be dependent on fuel. In 2004 alone 7.2% of the oil consumption came from air travel/military airplanes. That same link also mentions that there are some other ideas in the work for using hydrogen, but that is a ways off (and still has a significant environmental impact). I have also seen biofuel options, and even the government is in on the idea. Unfortunately, oil and biofuel are the most energy dense option option. Until we have significant advances in energy technologies, using fuel cells or batteries will not be possible. Perhaps renewable energy for travel is not viable by air at all? Maybe electric trains or boats will be the most efficient way, but these things need to be discovered. Of course, there have already been some…um…interesting ideas.
  2. A new method for energy storage
    • There’s a lot of chatter about this lately (see above). Batteries just don’t seem to be doing the job they need to, so people are looking to other options. In fact, the doozy of an article I reference happens to be on this very subject (hint: it’s not a positive article).
    • We need to develop high efficiency, low cost storage devices because renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, cow farts, etc) do us no good unless we can transport that power. We could try to make hydrogen, but that’s not exactly the safest way to transport energy. Long term, I think electricity is our best bet in terms of delivering power to devices, even if that’s not the safest option either (I’m not so sure there will be one). Some might say I’m a little biased on the whole idea of electricity though. To electricity’s benefit, a lot of the infrastructure is in place, as are the devices (i.e. electric motors).
  3. A new method for space travel
    • OK, maybe I’ve watched Star Trek and Star Wars once or twice in my life. But just because I have seen that and dreamed about it doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. Long term, the earth isn’t going to cut it for us. Either some wacko will finally set off a bunch of nukes, we won’t figure out a solution to global warming, we’ll run out of non-oil natural resources or medical technology will extend life to the point where population is unreasonable. So we’ll have to get out there and poke around, find a new hang out. It’s not exactly a short bike ride, either: The closest star system is Alpha Centuri, a short 4.22 light years away. What we need is some way to either approach the speed of light or find another way around (wormholes, improbability drives, etc). The point remains, the whole take a bunch of rocket feul and shove it out the back of a space ship just isn’t cutting it anymore. I like the idea of ion engines, but we need to see some more progress.
  4. A universal translator
    • Every time I think about world events, I think how lucky I am that I speak English. There’s no other language in the world that people are more eager to learn. I mean, I worked at an international company for 2 years and only learned 4 words in their native language! (hello, thank you, beer, please) That includes spending 8 weeks in Korea bumbling around hoping others would speak English (they did).
    • Imagine it though. Imagine if there was a way that all people could instantly communicate at least on a low level (aside from hand gestures). It would open new pathways to business, travel and most importantly international relations (especially tense ones). I had heard rumors that there were some people working on such a device, but could not find any further information on it. If this ever became commercially viable, it would change the world…and then Rosetta Stone would get very angry.
  5. Memory/Cognitive enhancers
    • This could come in one of two forms. The first would be a drug/supplement induced type, where we take what the human mind has to offer and then improve it by offering more resources (oxygen, nutrients, etc) or whereby we stimulate¬† the memory center to work harder or faster (think caffeine, but healthier, hopefully). The other method would be more radical, but I could see becoming a viable option in the future. That would be neural implants (think matrix) whereby our brains interact with computers/electronics. There are tons and tons of ethics questions surrounding such a device, but it will be possible someday. I envision this kind of device allowing ease of access to information and even better access to communication between people hooked to such as system. Who needs a universal translator when you speak binary?

Sure, there’s other stuff that would be great to invent or even just see invented. Even better, there’s some really silly ideas out there that are fun to laugh about. I think it’s important to dream about these kinds of things though. For those interested, I would highly suggest that you look into the work of futurists such as Ray Kurzweil or inventor Dean Kamen. Both of these guys have driven some amazing inventions and will continue to do so. Plus Kurzweil has been pretty accurate on his predictions before, so trying to fulfill some of his predictions probably isn’t a bad idea if you want to invent something. I’ll let you know when I’ve come up with something.

Analog Definition

I have been working on a doozy of a blog post for about a week now. It’s almost there and I will definitely release it this week. However, in the interim I have been thinking about my blog and my (analog) life and realize I’ve never really defined it for many people. And like some others, I get questions about it:

What is Analog? What is my definition of Analog?

Analog is everywhere. Analog is the opposite of digital. It is continuous. It is real. Analog are the sights we see and the sounds we hear. Analog is the beauty of a symphony and the complexity of a transistor.

OK, maybe that last part is a little out there. But let’s get down to it. When I say that I am an analog engineer, what does that mean? It means that I work on devices that are primarily in the analog realm. As an example: If I made an electronic circuit that counted to five, there would be many different ways to do it. However, I think there are two basic definitions when it comes to circuits. I could create a circuit that counts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. This would be a digital circuit, because there are only 5 values, and they are not continuous. However, an analog circuit would count something more like 1.00000, 1.00001, 1.00002, 1.00003… 4.99999, 5.00000. There would technically be an infinite amount of information in between 1 and 5, and the precision would be infinitely more that what I have shown. However, as humans, we decide to define numbers to explain the world in finite amounts, either because of time constraints (it would take a very long time to count otherwise) or because of simplicity (we all learn to count to ten because most of us have ten fingers).

Alright, so that’s a good start. Analog = continuous, digital = not continuous.

So why did I choose analog? Well to be completely honest, I didn’t. I got lucky and was presented with an opportunity to work on analog. It seemed to fit many of my goals and it was a welcome change of scenery, not to mention that analog engineers are pretty scarce (and therefore being one has inherent value). However, the best part is that every day I discover something new about it. The weirdest thing I find though, is that I am working on problems that have been around for 50 years. There are people working on the newest digital devices at the bleeding edge of technology, but that stuff doesn’t really interest me. I like the problems that have been around because there need to be more succinct and elegant solutions. Plus, I think the most interesting stuff actually happens when you take all that digital information in the form of 1’s and 0’s and try and put it back into analog. Or vice versa, getting analog signals into digital form isn’t easy either.

Ok, one last example then I’m done. Here’s a decent way to think about what I do. Say you have an iPod. You hit the play button to turn on your favorite track. What happens? Well to start with, all the digital electronics pulls the data off of the flash memory. Then it says: “OK, I have 1’s and 0’s, now what?”. It pushes these 1’s and 0’s into a digital to analog converter (DAC). Now it’s a tiny little sound wave (but an analog signal, yay!). Ok, so now the iPod says “What volume did they want?”. So it takes the volume you select and it amplifies the signal so it will come out of your headphones at the proper volume (not too loud, kids) and you can walk down the street boppin and groovin. Everything from the DAC forward, is similar to what I work on (I don’t do audio, but the ideas are the same).

So there’s my analog definition. I hope it helps and I will reference and revise this post as my career and life change. Cheers!

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