Analog Electronics

The Rock Stars of Analog

Over on The Amp Hour, I’ve been known to call ham radio operators, “The Rock Stars of Analog“. This is meant for the ones that are out there making their circuits using the dead bug method or otherwise. Jason Milldrum from has confirmed this belief with a picture in his latest posting about his RF kit making business:

Project X Prototype

I mean would you LOOK at that thing??? It’s awesome! Plus it transmits radio signals, so it’s just that much more magical. I know the theory behind RF, but I still geek out whenever I think about radio stuff. Anyway, thanks to Jason for posting the picture on his site and on Flickr. Check out his blog for more info as it comes available!


Same Show, Same Time, Different Location

We finished recording the 3rd installment of our newly-named radio show–“The Amp Hour”–last night. The show focused on a couple different topics, we were trying to stay a little bit more focused than we had been previously. Anyway, be sure to click the link above to get to the podcast/radio show, I don’t plan on putting the audio on this page anymore. I would also suggest that you try out the RSS feed on The Amp Hour, it’s the easiest way to get up to date info on the program; plus I’d like to discontinue posting that there is a new episode up on both that site and this one.

Speaking of this site, I realize there hasn’t been much writing lately as I’ve kind of sidetracked into the audio side of things. If I was being completely honest, I’d say it’s easier to just spout what I think about a subject than to sit down and write out a coherent article. But I really plan to get back into that in the near future. The theme is finished for the new site, we’re all set up to stream or feed podcast readers and our show content seems to kind of evolve over the course of the week. All this hopefully points to me having a little more time for writing about analog and random other things. Thanks for hanging in there, if you happen to be.

Analog Electronics Interview

A Talk With A Science and Engineering Journalist

In this continuing series about the electronic food chain, I thought it would be interesting to hear the perspective of  someone who writes about leading edge technologies on a regular basis. We’ve already heard from an RF analog chip designer, an EDA software consultant and an electronics industry analyst. There will be more interviews to come in the future and suggestions are always welcome.

How do most engineers get information about projects they aren’t working on directly? I often hear it is from technical magazines. I have also been told by my mentors the benefit of keeping up to date on innovation that might eventually become the new standard. Just think, one day however many years ago, they were discussing WiFi in magazines–even though it was not widespread. And now it’s so standard that I’m using it for free in an airport while writing this post! The point is, keeping up on technology is important. But who gathers all this information for us to later digest?

Dr. Sunny Bains is a journalist and editor who covers many different scientific and engineering topics. You’ve probably seen some of her pieces in magazines like EEtimes, The Economist, Wired and many other large scale publications. I first found her site while looking around the internet for more writings on analog topics. She is very interested in both the use of analog information in electrical and biological systems and how these might advance computing power in the future.

Chris Gammell: What kicked off your desire to study these subjects?

Dr. Sunny Bains: Actually, the first thing I fell in love with was holography: I saw my first hologram when I was about 9 when I went to visit my dad in Canada and we took a trip to the Ontario Science Centre. They also had a laser show there, and between the two I got hooked on the technology. Science fiction also helped: I remember being inspired by various shows and movies: Star Trek, Blakes 7, Tron, 2001… Being a girl, I think I was a bit behind my male colleagues in doing actual practical stuff. A number of my male friends got their first computer when we were about 13 (ZX81). My younger brother had computers all through high school. I only got one when I had been at college for a year and decided to start a magazine about holography.

Holography took me towards lasers and optoelectronics, optical computing and signal processing, and then more widely to machine intelligence and vision.

CG: What made you decide to then pursue journalism?

SB: I always knew that writing would be part of my scientific future. I imagined myself sitting in my office doing work and writing articles when people asked me to. I don’t know why… I wasn’t a huge writer when I was in high school. But I actually started applying for science-journalism related jobs when I was still in high school.

CG: I see that you’re a lecturer and researcher at Imperial College in London . What kind of work do you target? Is it still holography?

SB: My favorite subject for some time has been neuromorphic engineering: building analog circuits with brainlike structures. However, I’m still interested in all sorts of things in the area of emerging computing technologies, machine intelligence, optoelectronics and displays.

My PhD (you can see the introductory stuff on my website) was about physical computation and embodied artificial intelligence. Basically, I’m interested in analog information, and using physics rather than digital algorithms to do processing. That theme often comes through in the writing I do these days on my blog.

CG: How about the work you do now?

SB: These days I focus on three things work wise…my company, my teaching (communication skills for engineers) and my writing. Although I will say, it’s hard to write in a recession: advertising budgets are slashed, the number of editorial pages go down, and freelancers like me are cut. Since my PhD I haven’t done any research in the science/engineering sense of actually doing my own work, just in the journalism sense of finding out what others are doing.

CG: Do you think this neuromorphic type work will lead to a singularity, a la Ray Kurzweil?

SB: I hated Ray Kurzweil’s book… you can see my review on my blog.

CG: If a student were to want to go into a field like neuromorphic engineering, should they focus on the analog side of things or the biological side of things?

SB: I think it’s MUCH more important for students to focus on analog electronics side of things. All that math is really hard, but once you’ve mastered it you can do anything. The biology you can pick up by osmosis I think. Anyway, you’re often focusing on some very small system in very great detail, and you’d have to learn all that at the time anyway. In some ways I wish I could be a neuromorphic engineer: I’ve got a fair bit of knowledge and a lot of interest. But I think being an engineer is the most important thing to make progress. That’s not to say that pure biologists don’t play a crucial role… it’s just that they can’t do much to create device: just find things/build models for the engineers to copy and, in some cases, do experiments to determine how well the engineers have done. Of course, I live in an Electrical and Electronic Engineering department, so I would say that…

CG: I’d be more interested in hearing more about your typical day, both as a publisher and a scientist. What is your typical day like?

SB: No such thing as an average day I’m afraid. From mid-September to mid-March I’m pretty busy with teaching and spend the most of the rest of my time running my company. If I’m lucky I write the odd piece if I have time. In the summer I try to work on other projects. That could be writing, research, or something for the company. This summer I’m working on a book about technical communication for engineers and physical scientists, and a new project for the company. As such, I don’t really have time to work as a scientist now; I only really did while I was doing my PhD (although that was for a long time). However, I think it’s quite likely that I’ll go back to scientific research at some stage as I tend to go back and forth between my various areas of interest.

CG: How do you first find out about the topics you write about? It seems like you often break stories that are very leading edge.

SB: I get my ideas from three main sources: conferences and other events (like one-off talks, workshops etc.), lab visits (where you just go to a lab and let them show off what they think is cool), and journals. I used to love going to the university libraries in the various cities where I lived and looking at all the new issues… Of course this is all done electronically now (no photocopying, hooray!). I’ve got some great stories by just seeing patterns in papers over a period of time. I do wish I could go back to writing regularly again. I know I could write more on my blog, but it was always supposed to be a byproduct of my freelance work, not a substitute for it.

CG: Do you have any predictions on the future of analog (since your articles are often very forward looking)?

SB: I am convinced that analog is the way to go for applications that are heavy in signal processing, and especially AI. Unlike with symbolic information, the “meaning” of signals does not always translate well into bits. Probably the story in the past that I’ve covered that exemplifies this best concerns Leon Chua’s cellular neural network. But the whole of neuromorphic engineering is built on the same idea: don’t break things into bits if you can just as easily use physics to do the computation for you.

Many thanks to Dr. Sunny Bains for taking the time to talk about her line of work. I was actually surprised when I first learned that she had so much exposure to neuromorphic engineering, a topic someone had previously suggested on the skribit portion of this site. It’s interesting how those futuristic ideas seem to dovetail with much of the analog knowledge of today; that often the most effective signal processing is still done in analog. Hopefully we’ll continue to see this trend and I’ll be able to write about it here.

If you have questions for Dr. Bains, please leave them in the comments!

Analog Electronics Digital Electronics Life Politics

The Digital Switchover and Why It’s About People

The Digital Switchover.

Not me. I almost did that a while back, but no. Not me.


Normally I wouldn’t write about it. A digital television standard is long overdue and in the end this will be a good thing. When you compare Analog vs Digital, there are many more benefits on the digital side of things: lower power for transmission, better bandwidth of signal, more bandwidth usage over the spectrum. All of these are good things. I can even talk about how those digital signals still have lots of analog components as they’re transmitted over the airwaves: multipath, signal loss, power calculation, reception problems, etc.

But no. I’d rather point something else out:

Technology adoption is driven by human nature. It must be adopted before it can help people.

Sure, the digital signals will be great. High Definition pictures and you don’t have to give a dime to those lovely cable companies. Lower power generation required to transmit the signals will help save the environment by lowering the carbon footprint. But until the switch actually happens (today…maybe), no one gets the benefits. The switchover has been delayed to now from this past February. Lawmakers deemed the country unready to make the switchover at that time. I mean, if people can’t watch TV, how will the politicians get their message out to the masses?

No matter how many new devices are introduced into the marketplace and no matter how available they make DTV switcher boxes, people still will not change until pushed. They will not go out and get the digital box or call their local politician until one day they turn on their television and the signal is not there. That is what will drive the final changeover. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a little bit more leeway from politicians before stations are officially told to shut off the analog transmitters.

This problem isn’t exclusive to television. This has happened for the past 30 years in conservation and renewable energy.  Regardless of how many times climate change experts point out we’re killing the planet, nothing moves until there is a scare that oil is running out (it is) or natural gas won’t always be available (it won’t) or coal is filthy (it is) or the power just goes out. Then people change their tune; they change gears and start thinking about buying that solar array or that home wind turbine. They start recycling again because they think it will start to help (it will, but what about the past 10 years of bottles you put in the landfill?). But the thing is, you need to think about buying the solar cells now, when there isn’t a 6 month backlog of installation requests and prices are jacked up due to demand. And Solar might even already be an affordable option for you.

I’m sure people will say there’s an economic aspect of it for DTV and that the people that use analog signals the most can’t afford the converter boxes. Perhaps that has some truth to it. But the point remains that no matter the technology, until that last group resistant or indifferent to change decides to go out and do something about it, those people can’t be helped.

What about you? Have you made the switchover yet? If not, why? Leave a note in the comments.

Analog Electronics Digital Electronics Engineering

When To Use Analog Vs. Digital

Analog. Digital. Continuous. Discrete. Choices abound.

Well, not really.

In reality you will deal with both kinds of signals when working on just about any electronics these days. A simple example is in a switching regulator. These devices are meant to take input power from a wall plug or something providing a relatively constant voltage and then the regulator will ensure that the voltage is always the same when leaving. Internal to the circuit, a “digital” signal (on or off) determines when to let in incoming power go from the input to the output. The “digital” signal translates into an “analog” voltage at the output, hopefully the voltage you programmed.

From there, systems become increasingly complicated, translating real world data to digital format, processing the digital data and spitting it back out again. The guts of the systems have infinite internal combinations and options, but in the end just about every hybrid system looks like this:


The remainder of this post will be devoted to explaining situations that are either contained within the above system or situations that benefit from looking nothing like it; some of these situations mandate analog or digital implementation but more importantly, some are best implemented as analog or digital.

To start, what is the definition of analog? We’ll consider it a continuous signal that has infinite bandwidth and complete spectral information. Analog in the context of this site usually refers to the circuitry used to operate on those continuous signals, but we also use the word “analog” interchangeably to describe the signals. Which situations are best suited to using analog components and circuitry?

  1. Continuous filtering — Filtering a signal is necessary when it has frequency components included that you do not want. Some filters are digital and are extremely accurate at removing one signal while retaining others (FIR). However, if you are dealing with a continuous signal and you want to filter ALL possible frequency content (and not be limited by the sampling frequency you used when converting to digital), then you need a continuous analog filter. There are many options available that can also help to push your filtering towards accuracies similar to digital filters but they become increasingly complex (multi-pole active filters). The main advantage to an analog filter here is that it is simple, less expensive (usually) and beyond your roll-off frequency you know that all information is being removed (whereas it might still be hidden in a sampled signal).
  2. Pre-A/D and Post D/A — Hybrid systems require both analog-to-digital converters and digital-to-analog converters to switch between continuous and discrete data. However, the sampling frequency must be at least twice the frequency of the highest frequency component contained within the signal, as explained by Nyquist’s Theorem. In order to ensure that the Nyquist Theorem is fulfilled, you can filter (see above) any signals that are inadvertently included in the original signal so that it does not create noise and artifacts after sampling. Since the signal is not yet digital, you HAVE to filter the signal with an analog filter (convenient, right?). Once you are done operating on a signal digitally and you convert it back to analog, all processing must once again be done with analog components and circuitry (see picture above). I usually think of an iPod after the signal has gone through the DAC. You need to control the gain (volume) and shape the frequency components (tone). Some post DAC activities can be done in the processor, but are often more efficient (read: cheaper) to do in simple analog components after the DAC.
  3. High power — While digital measurement and control is possible for high power systems, having a digital signal that switches between 0 and 400V would not be efficient. In either AC or DC systems, analog components are responsible for transforming and transmitting signals (although there may be digital control of those analog components at some point in the system). The continuous nature of power delivery mandates analog components that are well characterized and durable.
  4. Gain Control/Signal Conditioning — Say you want to measure the amplitude of a 4000 V signal. You decide that you want to use a computer to do so, so you shove your signal into an A/D converter. But wait, where the heck do you find an A/D converter that can convert a 4000V signal? Sorry, they don’t exist (yet). You instead have to condition the signal to fit into a range of 0V to +2.5V, or whatever is the input range of your specific ADC. You can do so with a simple resistive divider (passive, simple) or an inverting amplifier (active, more difficult).
  5. Control systems — While digital control systems are possible and are becoming more and more prevalent, analog systems can be simpler. One of the simplest examples is an inverting op-amp configuration. The load of the op amp is the plant, the op amp is the controller and the resistors are the feedback paths to the summing node. There are some delays in the system, but in general, the signal can handle a wide range of frequencies without complicated circuitry and the system can adjust to however the input changes. In a similar digital system, the feedback resistor would be replaced with an ADC, some kind of computing machine (microcontroller) and a DAC to convert the data back to analog to push into the summing node. The system is dependent upon the technology and speed of the components, whereas the analog system is dependent on resistors and the nature of the load (plant). Digital control systems are becoming more popular as DACs and ADCs become faster and more accurate but as of now, analog control systems remain simpler in some of the more common instances.
  6. Sensors — These devices are meant to help convert real world information that isn’t necessarily electrical, into a format that is recognizable by a computer or embedded system. Oftentimes these are not taking real world (analog) data and directly turning them into digital signals. Instead, the sensor (sometimes known as a transducer) first creates an analog signal that can later be converted. Converse to the high voltage systems, sensors are often very low amplitude and require some signal conditioning to increase the value of the signal to better utilize the full range of an ADC.
  7. Fidelity/Data loss — Some people just love analog stuff, especially when it comes to music. Even though audio systems containing ADCs and DACs are making very good analog equivalents these days, you will have to tear the record players and the tube amps out of the hands of the most die hard audiophiles. So instead of converting back and forth between digital and analog media, they prefer to keep the signal continuous all the way throughout the process. Starting from the air pressure variations emitted from Louis Armstrong’s trumpet that are then captured by a microphone and then amplified and pressed into a record, then touched by a needle and amplified again by a transistor or tube amp to recreate the sound as it is pushed out of your high end speakers. And even though there are processes to mathematically capture all of the data that is present to sample and perfectly recreate the original signal, some people won’t touch the stuff. Since I can’t afford the high end equipment audiophiles claim is necessary, I will sit on the sidelines for this argument. However, I enjoy that there is still so much interest in preserving audio fidelity in analog formats and don’t mind that it keeps analog engineers employed.

I feel a little silly explaining digital advantages because they seem to be flaunted at every opportunity by media and digital chip makers. Still, let’s go over some of the more important places to use digital as opposed to analog.

  1. Computing — Again, I know it sounds silly, but digital has emerged as the better way to compute numbers. How did they compute mathematical sums before the advent of the microchip and digital logic? Why, operational amplifiers of course! That is actually where the name comes from, since there are many different possible operations for incoming signals.  If you have two incoming signals, one at 2 volts and the other at 1 volt, you can: add them (summing amplifier), subtract them (differential amplifier), integrate them or differentiate them. While this can and still does work quite well on a large signal DC basis, using operational amplifiers in the computing machines today would be a bit unruly. Just to start the power usage and the offsets would pose enough problems to make you run out and buy ADCs, DACs and micro-controllers. If you have a big math problem to do, follow that urge. However, if you do have a simple math operation you need to do on two signals and you don’t want the overhead of a digital section, op amps can still do the trick nicely; with their fast reaction and the complete lack of sampling issues you won’t miss those ones and zeros for a second.
  2. Counting — In analog systems, counting can be a difficult task. Instead, using integrators to “sum up” signals is a way to figure out where you might be in a process. Discretizing a signal and then counting how many times it happens can have many uses in control systems, measurement systems and a range of other applications.
  3. Memory — Storing analog signals would be difficult. For even a simple 0-1V signal, you would have to be able to store an infinite number of values. If you have 4 bits to represent the range from 0 to 1 volt, then you instead only need 16 places to store values. In control systems and other places that require memory, the old way to “store” values was to sufficiently delay them and feed them back so as to combine them with a newer signal. Using memory now allows for interesting systems and use of state machines to determine what to calculate or execute next based on current and past input data.
  4. High noise environments — If you are trying to transmit an analog walkie-talkie signal (5Vpp sine wave) in a field that happens to have a white noise generator transmitting (2V) at the same frequency you are using, it is likely that whoever is on the receiving end of that signal will also get a good bit of white noise in their signal (think static). If you instead use a digital signal (varying between 0 and 5V) your friend who has a digital transceiver will be able to discern your transmitted highs (5V) and lows (0V) even if they also have noise added to them. Once the digital data is received and decoded, the original signal (5Vpp sine wave) can be reconstructed on the receiving end.
  5. Signals Transmission – As stated above, there are advantages to transmitting digital signals as opposed to analog. Most notable is the lower power spectral density of the digital signals and that less power is needed to transmit those signals. In current events, we see TV transmission changing from analog to digitla because of the lower power required to transmit the signal and the possibility for multiplexing signals on specific frequencies in order to get more channels transmitted in the allowable spectrum.
  6. Data storage — To use the mp3 example again from above, data is best stored in a digital format (easy there audiophiles, records are alright for some people too). True, some information is lost, but only information above the Nyquist Sampling rate. In audio signals, most people cannot hear above 20 kHz, so there isn’t too much to worry about beyond that (perhaps the harmonics that some people claim to hear and desire in their recorded works).
  7. RF — Digital Signal Processing (or DSP) is one of my favorite digital topics. There are so many cool things you can do with a Radio Frequency (RF) signal once it is sampled and put into a powerful processor. In fact, this process makes your cell phones and Wi-Fi connections possible. FIR filters, CIC filters, baseband shifting and so many other interesting topics make it possible. Hell, maybe some day I’ll start “Chris Gammell’s DSP Life“. Anyway, can’t we do this stuff in analog? Well yes, we can. But with RF, it comes down to precision. With the filters listed above, you can trade off processor time/power for a more precise filter. In analog systems, you instead need more and more precise components and increasingly complex systems to achieve similar results. In DSP there is also reconfigurability, either through logic rework (FPGAs) or coding (in DSP chips), so long term investment usually will favor DSP over analog RF solutions. Finally, there is more efficient use of bandwidth with digital systems, so you can shove more data into the same frequency space. All of these things have helped to push the RF areas towards digital processing.

I think one of the most interesting things when reviewing this list is that it’s possible to implement solutions in myriad ways. Oftentimes cost and tradition (or past work) determine which way a solution will eventually lean (digital or analog). And although I hope to expand upon it in future posts the most interesting thing to me is that analog and digital begin to merge at the extremes: do analog signals really exist if energy is explainable by quantum mechanics? Will digital signal continue to only have two logical states when there is so much data storage capacity available between 0 and 1?

Please comment on the above lists–right or wrong–and let me know a situation or two that you think benefits from analog or digital.

Analog Electronics Learning Life Work

What is an engineer?

I’ve been having what some would call an identity crisis. How, you ask? I’ve been working on digital electronics.


I found out that in the early 90s and even earlier, analog engineers routinely switched from working in the analog domain to the digital domain…because it was paying really great. Not only that, most analog engineers had the expertise to do what most early digital engineers were doing (basically stringing together a lot of digital gates in DIP packages). It wasn’t until later that digital engineers started acting more as programmers and VHDL/Verilog experts.

So why do I bring this up? Because I’ve been thinking about the versatility required from engineers in general, not just analog or digital engineers. Routinely engineers are asked to switch modes or tasks or careers in order to get a job done. It’s not that other professions are never asked this; it’s just that the chameleon-like requirement placed on engineers seems to define the profession. Allow me to explain.

What is an engineer?

An engineer puts theories into practice using available devices and elements. They create new products and pass on knowledge through design iterations and trial and error. Their work should be directly applicable to the real world (sometimes in the form of an end-product, sometimes not) and hopefully able to be reproduced successfully in the same form for multiple parties (mass manufacturing). Engineers are often rooted in math and science but require a wide range of skill-sets in order to properly construct an end product.

I think it is important to note that an engineer is different from a scientist, although the line can often be blurred (especially when looking back at the inventors of the early 20th century). In modern times a scientist is usually tasked with pushing the barrier and finding new theories and concepts. This means that the concept will not necessarily be available in product form right away (although this is not always the case), as the product form must be iterated upon and improved for production.

Another interesting point is how the above definition manifests itself in higher education. When I was in school, the focus was definitely on making engineering scientists, that is engineers who are taught to research new methodologies and concepts with the final product in mind. There was much less focus on using existing products (i.e. discrete transistors) to create something new or to solve a problem. I do not think that it is a huge problem, as some of my classmates went on to work on their Master’s degrees or to work in research labs. The rest of us trying to break into industry were a little more strapped on what is expected from an engineer. Let’s go over what some of these things might be.

  1. Flexibility — This could be a theme of this article. Engineers have to be flexible and think on their feet. Again, I’m not saying scientists and other professions do not have to do this, only that it is required for many engineers. I went into my first job (working in a fab) as an electrical engineer student and ended up looking at chemical reactions and doing process engineering. The company I worked for didn’t want an electrical engineer, they wanted and engineer, someone they could teach their methods to and who could pick up the nuances as quickly as possible. I think it’s also important to note that they didn’t just hire engineers, they also hired scientists (don’t worry, I like scientists).
  2. Science and math knowledge — No surprise here, you have to know the basics in order to really get going in the field. However, I think that the interesting thing is that the basics is usually the majority of what you need. I used Ohm’s Law more often in practice than I use the knowledge of how to do the third integral of a sphere.
  3. Design re-use and not trying to re-invent the wheel — This was actually the reason I wanted to write this post, to point out that engineers often enter the field thinking they will be designing every piece of a system from the ground up. First off, this is irresponsible. The industries would never have standards if every engineering firm was trying to redesign a buck-boost converter everyday. Instead, engineers use optimized solutions available from vendors. Not only does it help standardize, it saves time.
  4. KISS — This directly relates to the above point. You have to keep it simple, because there are only 24 hours in a day. I have claimed to be a system designer before (or at least will be). To design a full system, you have to look at the simplest and fastest solutions because they are often the best and most elegant solutions. Not only that, if you don’t do it as fast and simple as possible, someone else will, and then you’ll lose out on a customer, contract, etc.
  5. Learning is pain — Even though continual learning is one of the main reasons I got into engineering, it’s not always fun. It’s not a great feeling when someone asks you to do something and then you have to slink away because you have no clue how to do it. Hopefully you’re slinking to go learn about it and not running away, but that is dependent on the person. The point is, learning is a difficult process and we really learn the most when we’re in situations that stretch us to the limits. In my experience, I always learned more in classes where I worked to get a C than in the ones where I breezed by and got an A.

Engineering is a field I entered because of the myriad things I could work on throughout my career. I did not switch to the digital domain for the money. I switched to digital work because I was asked to and it has been really interesting so far. Programmable logic is something I’ve worked on in the past and something I’m sure will become more prevalent in the workplace as design requirements become more stringent and timetables get shorter. If you are an engineering student or an aspiring engineer reading this article, I would highly suggest the profession (just make sure you note the above points). If you’re an experience engineer, please feel free to leave your experience in the comments. Thanks for reading.

Analog Electronics Life Work

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!