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).