Sunday, March 28, 2010

Survival is Not Mandatory, Right the First Time, in an environment of Penguins; free eBooks

Flex007 has started to offer free eBooks that you can download:

To get the first five click on the "Download Now" link from the above links, you are then offered the selection of books that you can chose to download. For the BGA book, simply click on the link above. Both sites will request your name and email address, where they will send you a download link.

Even if you only do the software in Embedded Systems, these books are at least worth a quick skim. Doing so might give you some insights to better communicate to the hardware designer why you think the system problem is their hardware, and not your software. It is unfortunate that we even have to get into finger pointing issues in some companies. You could be fortunate, like me, to do both the hardware and the software, that way any system problem is your fault either way. :-)

The newest of the books is:

"Right the First Time: A Practical Handbook on High Speed PCB and System Design by Lee Ritchey [*], President of Speeding Edge. Ritchey, one of the world's foremost authorities on high-speed design, first published the hard copy of Right the First Time in 2003. Today, Ritchey, BR Publishing and their sponsors are making this updated, how-to guide available to all PCB and system designers at no cost.

With 48 chapters, this comprehensive guide includes chapters on Electromagnetic Fields, RF/Microwave versus Analog, Time and Distance, Inductance, Capacitance, Resistance, Impedance, Reflections, Signal Integrity, Crosstalk, Differential Signaling, Noise and much more. This high-speed design handbook is an essential tool for any designer."

The book Survival is Not Mandatory covers process, rather than hardware or software specifically, so it applies to both. Being written a few years ago Steve Williams holds up Toyota as the "Gold Standard" to follow. Today I'm sure we might rethink that idea, at least as far as denying that a problem exists, or blaming the user for the problem.

What I have found frustrating with design books of this type in general, is they do not address the overall system design, all the way up to outside of the box. None of our systems work in isolation. For example what if you are designing a system to be used in Gars O'higgins Antartica?

The Penguin Cam pictures are updated live every fifteen minutes. Something the whole family will find of interest.

* This Lee Ritchey is not related in anyway to the Lee Ritchey that was co-founder my former employer, Matric Limited, the "ric" part of the name.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Politicians replace Air Traffic Control RADAR with GPS

You know what is scary? When politicians start making technical decisions involving the safety of aircraft, see some of their quotes below. They plan on replacing the air traffic control system with GPS. With GPS signals originating in space their signals they are low in signal strength. They are also easy to jam and easy to spoof with higher power signals.

Recently there has been discussions of both GPS jamming and spoofing potentials on the Time Nuts Mailing List. Time Nuts is where people with an interest in precision time/frequency standards and measurements hang out. These are the people that try to put Atomic Clocks on their back, and hike to the top of mountains to check Relativity. GPS is a daily topic.

GPS is also prone to future interruptions from Solar Storms. A repeat of the Carrington Event in our modern technical society will be devastating.

Who will be the first Bad Guy to spoof a plane into the ground? We have covered in the past about automated systems in planes overriding the judgment of pilots.

Today, March 23rd 2010, Senate passed H.R. 1586, Tax on Bonuses Received from Certain TARP, as amended. The relevant amendment to us is: H.R.1586 - An act to modernize the air traffic control system, improve the safety, reliability, and availability of transportation by air in the United States, provide for modernization of the air traffic control system, reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, and for other purposes.

Some quotes from the Congressional Record pages S1790 to S1810:

"Rockefeller (for McCain) Modified Amendment No. 3527 (to Amendment No. 3452), to require the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration to develop a financing proposal for fully funding the development and implementation of technology for the Next Generation Air Transportation System. Pages S1790, S1805, S1807"
On the committee, we decided we were going to get into it in a very big way. The Next Generation Air Transportation System, called NextGen that is what we call it-will save our economy billions by creating additional capacity and more direct routes, allowing aircraft to move more efficiently. Why? Because it will be GPS, it will be digitalized, and it will be real-time streaming of where airplanes are. It will help the ground controllers. They will have to put equipage in the airlines themselves so the pilots and the ground-control people will know exactly where they are at all times. That means maybe they will be able to bring planes closer together and can land more often or fly a little closer together things that cause the whole system to purge itself of inefficiencies, but not unsafely but safely because you are using a digitalized system which the rest of the world is already using. --- March 22, 2010 CONGRESSIONAL RECORD-SENATE page S1795.
The bill will also modernize our airtraffic control system. Our air traffic control system is using technology that is probably based back in the 1960s. It is time for us to have a satellite-based system. This is going to be expensive. Having the startup of this NextGen system is essential for our country to stay in the forefront of efficient use of our air traffic control system, and also eventually, hopefully, when it is all in place, we will also be able to open more airspace so we can better utilize our air traffic control system. --- CONGRESSIONAL RECORD—SENATE March 22, 2010 page S1796.
Finally, I want to say on the issue of modernization, this too is so important. It relates to safety, but it relates to other things. It relates to the reduced use of fuel, more direct routing, better timelines for trips for passengers, because they will get to their destination more quickly; less spacing between airplanes in the sky. That is because, rather than fly to the old ground-based radar system, where you know about where an airline is, you only know about where it is when the transponder flashes a dot on that screen in front of the air traffic controller, and the next 7 or so seconds that airplane is somewhere else. Well, using the GPS system which all of us, or at least some of us—I do not have, but many people use it in their car, use it on their cell phone. The common use of the GPS is all over the world these days, except we do not use it, by and large, for commercial airlines, and we should. --- March 22, 2010 CONGRESSIONAL RECORD—SENATE Page S1809.

On the upside what kind of experiments can we corrupt into being "weather" related?:

AMENDMENT NO. 3525, AS MODIFIED At the end of title VII, add the following: SEC. 723. PLAN FOR FLYING SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS ON COMMERCIAL FLIGHTS. (a) PLAN DEVELOPMENT.—Not later than 270 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation and the Secretary of Commerce, in consultation with interested representatives of the aviation industry and other relevant agencies, shall develop a plan and process to allow Federal agencies to fly scientific instruments on commercial flights with airlines who volunteer, for the purpose of taking measurements to improve weather forecasting. --- CONGRESSIONAL RECORD—SENATE March 22, 2010 page S1808.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Firmware Engineers of Northeast Ohio. Event Announcement: Security in Embedded Systems. March 30th, 2010

Do you and your regional Embedded System Brethren have any kind of physical get-togethers? Social Media is fine, but sometimes interaction with people who are actually completely present (not talking on their Cell Phone or playing with their computer, iPxD, etc ["Where ever you are be there"]), can be far more educational, because the conversations go in completely unexpected directions. It is also an excellent place to practice your soft skills, because someone there is going to have soft skill development issues similar to your own.

In the Cleveland Region, with some overlap in to nearby sections of Northwest Pennsylvania, Bob Scaccia, has put together the Firmware Engineers of Northeast Ohio.

I [Bob Scaccia] am very excited to announce our next joint FENEO (Firmware Engineers of Northeast Ohio) and IEEE Computer Society, Cleveland Section Event! I will be sending out the flier with all the details shortly. Please note that our membership has grown since our last meeting and we are now 78 strong in FENEO alone! I hope you will be able to join us! The last meeting was very well received and I'm sure this event will be another positive step for the firmware and computer engineering communities in the Northeast Ohio region!

Event Date: March 30, 2010
Event Time: 5:45pm
Event Location: Lean Dog!
Event Sponsors: FENEO, IEEE, LeanDog, Actel, Mocana, and Victory Sales
Food & Parking: All compliments of LeanDog and IEEE Cleveland!
RSVP: Please send your RSVP to bob [ A T ] Please RSVP by March 28, 2010 to be sure to reserve your seat!

Event Description:

As embedded devices become more sophisticated the possibility of hacking and other nefarious actions become more possible. It is estimated that there will be between 15 and 20 billion devices (small embedded devices) with a $900 Billion USD market which is growing twice as fast as the PC market. Accordingly, this joint meeting of FENEO and IEEE Cleveland Computer Society will cover two topics in this broad area of embedded device security.

In the area of programmable hardware a representative of Actel, a FPGA manufacturer will be presenting security in programmable logic.

In the area of embedded firmware security Mocana will be discussing security standards.

The first presentation will be starting at 6:00 p.m. in order to finish both presentations at a reasonable hour. Seating is limited and the last presentation had the maximum number of people who could attend. Please reserve your place for these presentations.

LeanDog’s 'floating' office
1151 North Marginal Road Cleveland, OH, 44114
-parking is free at location.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
One (1) Credit Available
Bring your flyer for credit

Are Embedded System Engineers more adulterous than other Engineers? Webinar March 26 Soft Skills

You are undoubtedly asking why I would even ask such a question as "Are Embedded System Engineers more Adulterous than other Engineers?" right?
On the drive into the office the Talk Radio DJ brought up a survey done by the controversial dating website Apparently this dating site is intended for married people. That is just wrong on so many different levels.
What caught my attention was that "Engineer" was listed in the survey of people most likely to have an affair. Out in the vast wasteland of Government Pork there probably really is someone willing to fund a study to answer the question we posed above.
Normally when I hear such things on radio or Internet I do my best to find the original source of the information. In this case we know that the source is Ashley Madison. However to actually see the survey you must register with the site. "Honey, I only signed up to that site to do research for my software safety blog". No I don't think I'll go do that road, and instead point you to a secondary source: Who Cheats? Docs and Stay at Home Moms!; Ever wonder what professions top the list as the most guilty of infidelity? We were shocked by the answer!.
Some of the comments to the article are interesting in themselves:
"Yes, an engineer will pursue an affair so that the wife and the mistress will think he is with the other woman so he could sneak to the office to catch up on work."
"The president and founder of Noel Biderman notes these top professions are often high stress and require many to work long hours."
Alas in this industry we do seem to work hours that are far to long, in high stress environments (If our products screw up people may die, how higher stress job can you get?), where Dilbert seems to be a documentary rather than a cartoon.
If we are not carefully we can lose the focus that our products are ultimately designed to be used, either directly or indirectly, by people. So being able to interact with people is important skill to have. Having a well developed set of Soft Skills helps to understand things like having to hold a gear shift lever in a position for three seconds makes sense in the cold sea of design cubicles, but makes no sense in the real world.
Just as a race car driver does not get into the race car to drive, he gets into the race car because he is driven. People in our field tend to be driven to the field, usually at an young age. We certainly did not get into it for the fame or the money.
In my personal experience the best designers that I have worked with over the years have shared one or more of these traits:
  • Apophenia; The experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.
  • Dsylexia; Interchange letters and numbers, leading to problems with spelling and mathematics.
  • Pareidolia; Finding of images or sounds in random stimuli.
  • Tend to be "Hands On" Tactile Learners.
To the last point our schooling systems tend to develop Auditory and Visual Learners well, while failing miserably with Tactile Learners. Try taking the Learning Style Inventory yourself, and have your children take it.
Also, at least in our early years, as a group we tend to fit the stereotypical image of Nerd: "A person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests that are age-inappropriate rather than engaging in more social or popular activities. Therefore, a nerd is often excluded from physical activity and considered a loner by peers, or will tend to associate with like-minded people".
Speaking strictly for myself the movie Revenge of the Nerds was a documentary of my public school experience, and made be become an advocate for Home Schooling, and self-teaching.
We may be driven to this field by the seeming cold hard logic of it, and our fears of social interactions. Alas this is counter productive to designing products for use by people.
In the Soft Skill development area are couple books my wife has added to my pile of reading material:
While I've added these to her pile:
both published by Earth Pulse Press.
Do not be so quick to dismiss those titles last two titles in our discussion of Soft Skills. Having a well developed intuition is a good skill to have while debugging, and when trying to divine missing requirements, from incomplete information we are usually given to design products. The traits of Apophenia, Dsylexia, Pareidolia usually seen as a problem in general society can also be a significant strength in troubleshooting.
Also as a bit is aside, the area of "Anomalous Human Potential" is one of those new areas of Embedded System design that is virtual unknown outside of deep military circles. If you want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes, start here: The Mind Has No Firewall by Timothy L. Thomas. From Parameters, Spring 1998, pp. 84-92, US Army War College.
What do you recomended for developing Soft Skills? Perhaps a good Webinar (Ironic isn't it)?
The Pittsburgh Section of the American Society for Quality has started a series of Lunchtime Webinars.
Fitting in with our theme of Soft Skills is the one coming up March 26, 2010, 12pm-1pm (Eastern Standard Time), Getting Things Done as a Quality Professional presented By: Brien Palmer, Principal InterLINK Management Consulting.
Do you find yourself frustrated as a Quality professional? Do you find it difficult to get management hear your ideas? Then plan on spending lunch hour of March 26th in an immensely valuable webinar.
Most of us are very skilled in the analytical areas of logic, use of data, formal problem-solving processes, statistics, and so forth. We are trained in these areas, we use them constantly, and we are inclined by temperament to think of them as the only way of thinking. However, this way of thinking -this temperament- represents only a small part of the general population, and other people can consider us a bit odd.
In fact, we analytical types often lack what can be called "complimentary" skills, such as people skills, communication skills, assertion, presentation skills, political acumen, business knowledge, ability to managing change, etc. Because Quality professionals often lack these skills, we can get marginalized in organizations. Ideas get lost, management goes un-convinced, Quality takes a back seat, companies get in trouble, and so forth.
This cycle can be frustrating, but it doesn't have to be inevitable. In fact, analytical people are fast learners when they set their minds to it. When analytical people focus on non-analytic skills, they experience vast improvements in personal and organizational effectiveness.
This program will introduce Quality professionals to some immediately-applicable complimentary skills.
Cost: Participant pays $25 for voice-over-the-internet (VOIP) webinar presentation. Invite your company for Pizza Friday at no additional charge! Need speakers on computer to hear Presenter and speakerphone to ask a question to the Presenter, otherwise the chat function can be used.
To Register: Call 412-261-4300, upon payment participant will be registered for the webinar. If you have any problems with registering, please contact Robin Dudash.
Re-Certification Units (RU): Gain 0.1 RU under the Professional Development category.
Speaker Bio:
Brien Palmer is a management is a management consultant specializing in leadership development and quality management systems. In twenty-five years as a consultant, he has served a broad spectrum of clients, from large, internationally known companies such as Commonwealth Edison and Ontario Hydro to smaller, family-owned businesses. He has produced significant business results in a wide range of business settings, including high technology, manufacturing, public utilities, financial services, construction, and non-profit organizations.
Brien is a senior partner in InterLINK Management Consulting, a small, Pittsburgh-based consultancy (
Brien serves on the Board of Directors of the American Society of Quality (ASQ). He is an ASQ Certified Quality Auditor, and has written many articles for Quality Progress magazine. He is the author of one of a Quality Press' best-selling books: Making Change Work-Practical Tools for Overcoming Human Resistance to Change. He also created ASQ's first internet-based "virtual seminar", which is still in production: The Case for Quality: Taking it to Management.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Internet-Based Communications General Licenses

On February 28th, 2010 posted the article US Gov't. Ending Its Hands-Off-the-Internet Stance, which you can read for yourself if interested.

Now on March 8th, 2010 we find that the United States Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Asset Controls (OFAC) is issuing Internet-Based Communications General Licenses:

"On March 8, 2010, the Office of Foreign Assets Control amended the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations, 31 CFR part 538, and the Iranian Transactions Regulations, 31 CFR part 560, to add general licenses that authorize the exportation to Sudan and Iran, respectively, of certain services and software incident to the exchange of personal communications over the Internet, such as instant messaging, chat and email, and social networking. Amendments being made to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 CFR part 515, similarly authorize by general license the exportation of such services to Cuba (the exportation of goods and technology, including software, to Cuba must be separately licensed or otherwise authorized by the Department of Commerce). To qualify for these authorizations, such services and software must be publicly available at no cost to the user."

While I recognize this particular text deals with countries that are hostile to the US, and is meant to help the people of the countries that are hostile to its own citizens, it does demonstrate that the Government already has an Internet licensing process precedent in place. On the upside, from the last line, it seems they are supporting Open Source Software and services.

I wonder what kind of muddled mess it will be to get licenses for Embedded Systems from a government bureaucrat that does not know what an Embedded System does, should this ever come to pass?