Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why is the cost of my Bill of Material (BOM) so much higher than last week? The Orwellian doublespeak answer: Quantitative Easing

Have you noticed that price of all of your components, for your Embedded Systems, have been on what seems to be an exponential rise of late?

Alas only about one in a thousand realize that the price of the parts has not gone up, but the value of money has gone down. At my favorite site for Frugal Living tips, (living within ones means, rather than spending more than you have) had a good introduction to inflation by Rick Kahler:

"A country has four tools to retire its debt: raise taxes, cut spending, declare bankruptcy, or debase the currency through inflation.

Of these options, bankruptcy is the most unpalatable. It would most likely mean the country goes through a gut-wrenching depression and is unable to borrow for the foreseeable future.

Almost as unpalatable to politicians are spending cuts of any kind. Taking away something the electorate views as a "right" or an "entitlement" is akin to ending your political career.

Raising taxes is somewhat more appealing, especially in countries where the majority of the voters don't pay taxes or the increases apply primarily to those the electorate perceives as "the rich." The risk here is that if taxes increase too much it reduces the incentive to work and the whole economy crashes. This means gross tax revenues fall, which in the end actually increases the country's debt problem as the government must increase borrowing to keep from making any spending cuts.

That leaves inflation. A slow, chronic inflation is the most politically palatable way of reducing the debt in a manner that is somewhat unnoticeable to the electorate."...

The Federal Reserve uses the term, in Orwellian doublespeak, Quantitative Easing when they speak of inflation.

Over at SIGTRAP, the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, we find the official definition of Quantitative Easing:

Quantitative Easing: Monetary policy used occasionally in which the Government increases the money supply by buying Government or other securities from the market. Quantitative Easing aims to increase the money supply by flooding financial institutions with reserves in an effort to promote lending and liquidity. Such actions are conducted through OMOs [See Open Market Operations].

You can read the official reasoning behind making us spend more 'money' to build our products here: Aiding the Economy: What the Fed Did and Why. Then you can read why this is a bad idea here:

"This month, the Federal Reserve announced another round of quantitative easing, through which the central bank will print an additional $600 billion to purchase U.S. Treasury securities. Congressman Culberson has serious concerns that the Federal Reserve will not be able to withdraw this monetary injection before the dollar's value is critically eroded and commodity prices skyrocket."

--- Another Round of Quantitative Easing by Congressman John Culberson.

It comes down to The Man is printing more money, driving down the value of each dollar, to make the stock and commodity markets look attractive to investors, and to force people and companies to borrow 'money'. You see the whole fiat monetary system is based on debt. If there is no borrowers to create debt then the system implodes.

The best place to start learning about how 'They' have sold us out in order to further 'Their' own greed is to watch the historical, three and half hour long non-fiction, documentary The Money Masters :

"The Money Masters - How International Bankers Gained Control...
The powers of financial capitalism had a far-reaching plan, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole...Their secret is that they have annexed from governments, monarchies, and republics the power to create the world's money..."

The next item requires a trip to your local Library for the book The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve by G. Edward Griffin.

Request it via Inter-Library Loan if they don't have it on the shelf.

Now with that education under your belt, we turn our attention to a speech given before the National Economists Club in Washington, D.C. on November 21, 2002 by Ben S. Bernanke :

"What has this got to do with monetary policy? Like gold , U.S. dollars have value only to the extent that they are strictly limited in supply. But the U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost. By increasing the number of U.S. dollars in circulation, or even by credibly threatening to do so, the U.S. government can also reduce the value of a dollar in terms of goods and services, which is equivalent to raising the prices in dollars of those goods and services. We conclude that, under a paper-money system, a determined government can always generate higher spending and hence positive inflation." - Ben S. Bernanke current chairmen of the Federal Reserve .

So we can see that as long as eight+ years ago it was already in the planing stages for 'Them' to put the screws to you and I!

Riddle me this Batman when was the last time the Federal Reserve was independently audited? H.R.1207 Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2009 tries to force the Fed to be audited, so we find out where all of that interest on our national debt actually goes! Get your congressman or congresswomen to support it in the next Congress.

Someone that does explain what is really going on today is Bob Chapman's site The International Forecaster , that is updated a couple of times a week.

What can you and I do?

  • Live a frugal life style by reading The Dollar Stretcher weekly news letter on frugal live tips.
  • Get over your spending addictions , nothing that you buy externally will make you feel better internally.
  • Get yourself out of all debt, Dave Ramsey's site is a good place to start. You will never be free as long as you owe 'Them' interest.
  • Stock up on non-perishable food, and learn what you can eat in your environment like Edible Weeds . I've never understood why people have it in for Dandelions , they might be your next meal, or wine, someday.
  • Get out an vote! Get rid of all of the incumbents that have gotten us to this point, of us vs 'Them', rather than them representing us. Forget this party crap, when was they last time 'They' invited you to one of their parties?? Remember that the Founding Fathers tried, and unfortunately failed, to prevent the party system because of what they saw happening in their day between the "Wigs" and "Hats", the Republocrats and Demipubs of their day. When exactly did our elected Representatives become our leaders???
  • Lastly stock up on ammo... Soap Box -> Ballot Box -> Ammo Box...

For a couple of closing thoughts find out What Will Hyperinflation in the U.S. Look Like?, and historically these financial problems end with a significant war, which International Monetary Fund director Dominique Strauss-Kahn agrees:

"The [banking/financial] crisis will push millions into poverty and unemployment, risking social unrest and even war, and urgent action is required, Dominique Strauss-Kahn IMF Managing Director said."

Now that you are totally depressed watch this hilarious video: Pain at the Pump, and enjoy life while being thankful for what you have today.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Emergency Broadcast Alerts coming to your Cell Phone, baning of Mobile Cell Phones, baning of parental rights...

This week I noted a couple of different items that are a good example of the right hand of the Government not knowing what the left hand of the Government is doing, in the headlines this week. The first being that the Government is establishing a system to push Emergency Broadcast Alerts to our Cell Phones and other electronic widgets. The second is the banning of using Cell Phones while in a vehicle, so we could not get them while moving.

As the first item has some technology relevant to embedded systems I'll cover it first. Over at The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) we find the following announcement:

"... announced the adoption of a new digital message format for the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), the nation's next generation emergency alert and warning network. The new digital message format being adopted by FEMA is the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) v1.2 Standard. This open standard will enable alert messages to be easily composed by emergency management officials for communication with citizens using a much broader set of devices to reach as many people as possible. The three documents defining the FEMA IPAWS technical standards and requirements for CAP and its implementation are: (1) OASIS CAP Standard v1.2; (2) IPAWS Specification to the CAP Standard (CAP v1.2 IPAWS USA Profile v1.0); (3) CAP to EAS Implementation Guide."

First leaving one to wonder what is the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), and where to find the Common Alerting Protocol Version 1.2 standard.

OASIS, Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, is a not-for-profit consortium that drives the development, convergence and adoption of open standards for the global information society. OASIS is a good place to look before you go off and invent yet an other new standard; "The great thing about Standards, is everyone can have their own." OASIS has an Emergency subdivision where we find out the details about CAP.


"The Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) is a simple but general format for exchanging all-hazard emergency alerts and public warnings over all kinds of networks. CAP allows a consistent warning message to be disseminated simultaneously over many different warning systems, thus increasing warning effectiveness while simplifying the warning task. CAP also facilitates the detection of emerging patterns in local warnings of various kinds, such as might indicate an undetected hazard or hostile act. And CAP provides a template for effective warning messages based on best practices identified in academic research and real-world experience."

The OASIS open standards consortium ... announced approval of the Emergency Data Exchange Language (EDXL) Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) version 1.2, a message format for exchanging emergency alerts and public warnings over all kinds of networks. Advanced via an international collaboration of the public and private sectors, CAP 1.2 is now an official OASIS Standard, a status that signifies the highest level of ratification.

EDXL-CAP allows a consistently well structured message to be disseminated simultaneously over many different warning systems. The standard is simple to understand and easy to implement. Its all-hazard, all-media format means it can provide notifications via radio, television, cell phones, email, and other media. The new version of CAP delivers digital signature support, which offers added security and authentication for next-generation alerting systems.

--- OASIS News Augest 12, 2010.

As an aside, the "Earthquake Report" example in the CAP v1.2 Appendix, reminded me of something I wanted to pass on. Check your home owners insurance to see if you have Earthquake Insurance. Unless you live in someplace like California, your house insurance does not cover Earthquakes without an additional rider, which is generally fairly inexpensive. Check with your insurance agent, because the insurance is cheap in places that don't normal have them. However in the history of the North America Continent the biggest Earthquakes happened in places that did not normally have Earthquakes. If you wait till you have even a miner tremor before investing in this cheap insurance, you'll have to wait a month or more before the policy would take effect.

I also came across Alcatel-Lucent's announcement of their new Broadcast Message Center solution to help service providers turn mobile phones into life savers. While I'm sure there is a connection to this and the FEMA announcement above, finding a tangible link to cite eludes me at the moment.

I just hope they don't make me pay for these incoming messages, Cell Phone Spam is a distraction we do not need. What happens during Rush Hour when everyone gets the same message at the same time and no one is looking at the road??

That brings us to the second item I mentioned in the opening of this Blog entry, Cell Phone Distractions.

The Internet rummer mill has miss quoted U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood as saying the Government is working towards preventing Cell Phones from working in moving vehicles, because of the distractions that they cause.

Over at the official blog of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, we find out what he actually said about Setting the record straight on technological solutions to distracted driving:

"There's a lot of technology out there now that can disable phones and we're looking at that. A number of [cell technology innovators] came to our Distracted Driving Summit here in Washington and presented their technology, and that's one way. But you have to have good laws, you have to have good enforcement, and you have to have people take personal responsibility. That's the bottom line."

The new Government run site Distraction shows some graphic examples of how Distracted Driving kills.

"U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Monday, September 20, 2010 announced that distracted driving-related crashes claimed 5,474 lives and led to 448,000 traffic injuries across the U.S. in 2009. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research, distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009 - the same percentage as in 2008."

Perhaps the right hand group and the left hand group, should spend some time over at the University of Minnesota's HumanFIRST: Human Factors Interdisciplinary Research in Simulation and Transportation project?

"The HumanFIRST (Human Factors Interdisciplinary Research in Simulation and Transportation) Program employs the tools and methods of psychology and human factors engineering to improve scientific understanding of driver performance and cognitive functions."

In the Law of Unintended Consequences the site Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute, tells us in their September 28th, 2010 report that, Texting bans don't reduce crashes; effects are slight crash increases because the Texter is trying harder to hide what they are doing, becoming even more distracted.

Never rely on politicians and bureaucrats to understand what they are doing...

A good example of the good intentions of politicians that turn out badly is Article #2, among many other sections, from the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by its State parties. Ratified by all nations except the United States and Somalia. Which is something that some in our current Lame Duck Congress what to change before the end of the year. For our international readers, a Lame Duck in this context is a member of Congress that lost their reelection bid, but still has the power to make law until their new replacement is sworn in at the first of the New Year. Since they lost, Lame Ducks are considered the most dangerous kind of politician of all, because they are no longer answerable to their constituents.

Article 2:

"...2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents, legal guardians, or family members."

Have you ever meet a child or teenager that did not need disciplined? Sending your Teen to their room for a week for Texting while driving might just cause Lawyers, or worse, to show up at your door...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The 2010, GCC Developer Summit

On October 25th–27th, 2010 this years GCC Developer Summit was held in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Even if you don't develop GCC, and just use GCC you might find some of the papers and the proceedings of interest.

For example When smart programmers write bad code. John Regehr had an interesting paper: Exposing Difficult Compilers Bugs With Random Testing.

A couple of papers on Google's Go Language, which I keep wonder how well it could be made to work on Embedded Systems, as it has issues of concurrency designed into the language?

Check out the papers if you are interested in the internals of GCC, where GCC is headed, or how you might improve your own code when you use GCC.

Scientists, Politicians Take Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Threat Seriously. Human Exposure to EM Fields.

Damage to electronic devices, and nation wide infrastructure collapse, due to Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) from Natural or Man-made sources has been in the open press a few times in the last several months. For example Britain vulnerable to space nuclear attack or 'solar flare' storm, conference told, Scientists, politicians take the threat of an electromagnetic pulse very seriously, and Researchers work to protect, restore vulnerable networks.

It is hard for me to judge how many readers of this blog have any knowlage of EMP, so over at the Ask A Scientist Physics Archive, part of the Newton Project to help students with their homework, we find 16 year old Michael asking about EMP:

Question - When's there's a nuclear blast, how does it create the EMP? - Michael

When a nuclear blast occurs, a number of things happen at once. Manyhigh-energy photons (x-rays and gamma rays) are produced. These photons collide with electrons in the bomb debris or the surrounding air and strip them from their nuclei. This causes a movement of the electrons away from the atomic nuclei. This separation of charges generates an electric field, and the motion of the charged particles (electrons) also induces a magnetic field. Magnetic and electric fields that change with time are all you need to generate electromagnetic radiation.

Because of the high energy of a nuclear explosion and the high temperatureof the fireball, these electromagnetic pulses pack quite a whallop. The frequency of the radiation in an EMP is fairly low, just in the range that electronic devices are sensitive to. Susceptible electronic circuits act as receivers, and pick up damaging voltage and current surges. The electronic components overheat, and that's the end of the device.

Richard Barrans Jr., Ph.D.

If we move up the knowledge scale, in what can be found with simple Internet Searches we find over at the Air University, specifically the Air War College (AWC), on Maxwell Air Force Base, in Montgomery, Alabama, we come across some class training material:
Electromagnetic Pulse Threats in 2010 by Colin R. Miller, Major, USAF; from the Introduction:


Current U.S. military transformation strategy centers on information dominance, network-centric warfare, and expeditionary operations. Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom demonstrated a spectacular evolution of capability in these key areas. Certainly, adversaries learned from Saddam's poor decision to face American forces head-on and will increasingly employ asymmetric attacks to defeat U.S. forces in the future. Electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons represent one of the most likely and potentially devastating opportunities for this type of attack in the near future. Ranging from sophisticated intercontinental nuclear weapons specifically designed to generate EMP effects to relatively crude and cheap electromagnetic bombs, these weapons can destroy all electronic devices within a target area as small as an automobile or as large as the continental United States. As U.S. forces continue to modernize and rely on electronic systems for effectiveness, it will become increasingly probable that an adversary will use EMP to strike at America's Achilles' heel. This paper addresses the threat EMP weapons will pose to U.S. expeditionary operations in the near future in terms of their ability to deny access to foreign soil, level the playing field in theater wars, and/or attack the U.S. homeland as a retaliatory or preemptive strike. It begins by discussing the nature of EMP and its effect on vulnerable systems, and then outlines the different methods of generating EMP while categorizing them by probability of use, lethal range, types of (electronic) targets they affect, and who is likely to use them. The paper considers three near-term scenarios for adversary use of EMP and recommends cost-effective response measures. It proposes a diplomatic policy to levy drastic consequences on the perpetrator of an EMP attack, rapid establishment of an EMP-hardened expeditionary force, hardening critical elements of civil infrastructures, integration of EMP attack response in large-scale training scenarios, and congressional action to establish and mandate compliance with EMP hardening standards for future military and civilian systems...

Electronic Circuit Vulnerability to EMP

Electromagnetic pulses damage electrical and electronic circuits by inducing voltages and currents that they are not designed to withstand. To understand how this occurs, it is necessary to understand both the characteristics of electromagnetic pulses and the circuits they offend. An electromagnetic pulse is defined by its rise time (measured in volts/second), its electrical field strength (measured in volts/meter (v/m), and its frequency content (measured in Hertz [Hz]). These factors combine to determine the threat EMP pose to a given system.

Rise time (how long it takes the pulse to reach
peak amplitude) is primarily a factor for protected systems, such as those employing surge protectors. When rise times are less than a few thousandths of a second, protection circuitry often cannot react in time. Field strength defines the amount of energy available to transfer to the target system, and frequency determines the efficiency of that transfer. Electric field orientation is also critical but, for the sake of simplicity, is not considered in this paper. EMPs are typified by fast rise times, high field strengths, and broad frequency content—factors that combine to make them lethal to electronic systems.

EMP induce large voltage and current transients on electrical conductors such as antennas and wires as well as conductive tracks on electronic circuit boards. When pulses enter a system through a path designed to gather electromagnetic energy, such as an antenna, they are said to have entered through the 'front door.' In contrast, when they enter through an unplanned path, such as cracks, seems, trailing wires or conduits, they have entered through the 'back door.' The efficiency of the energy transfer from pulse to system depends upon the frequency compatibility between the pulse and the entry path and on the conductivity of the material. When system characteristics match the offending EMP pulse, higher levels of damage occur. In general, sophisticated integrated circuits with short signal paths are susceptible to high frequency pulses while large electrical systems, such as commercial power characterized by long transmission lines, are vulnerable to low frequency EMP. It follows that a broadband EMP weapon threatens a greater number of systems than a narrowband weapon, though the power requirement for a broadband weapon is much higher.

Regardless of how EMP enters a system, it damages components simply by overloading them. For example, high density metal oxide semiconductor (MOS) computer chips, which rely on extremely narrow internal 'wires' {Bond-wires internal to the IC's.} to connect densely packed components, are permanently damaged when exposed to more than tens of volts or a few tenths of an amp. While it is extremely difficult to calculate the minimum field strength required to induce signals of this magnitude for all cases and systems, testing has shown that pulses of 10 kV/m are sufficient to cause widespread damage.

Ten kV/m could induce electrical charges a billion times more powerful than systems were designed for, not just burning them out, but in some cases melting critical components. As a result, unhardened computers used in data processing systems, communications systems, displays, industrial controls, military systems (including signal processors and electronic engine and flight control systems), telecommunications equipment, radar, satellites, UHF, VHF, HF, and television equipment are all vulnerable to the EMP at and above this level...

In 2009 Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen published the paper A Single Nuke Could Destroy America; a few of the quotes from the paper:

A rocket that can carry a satellite into orbit can also drop a nuclear warhead over any location on the planet in less than forty-five minutes.


An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a by-product of detonating an atomic bomb above the Earth’s atmosphere. When a nuclear weapon is detonated in space, the gamma rays emitted trigger a massive electrical disturbance in the upper atmosphere. Moving at the speed of light, this overload will short out all electrical equipment, power grids and delicate electronics on the earth’s surface.


One small nuclear weapon, delivered by an [Inter Continental Ballistic Missile] ICBM can, in fact, destroy the United States by maximizing the effect of the resultant electromagnetic pulse upon detonation.


Within weeks after such an attack, tens of millions of Americans would perish. The impact has been likened to a nationwide Hurricane Katrina. Some studies estimate that 90% of all Americans might very well die in the year after such an attack as our transportation, food distribution, communications, public safety, law enforcement and medical infrastructures collapse.

Less you think the above is nothing but paranoia, on June 9th 2010 the US House of Representatives passed H.R.5026, know as the "GRID Act":

Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense Act or GRID Act - (Sec. 2) Amends the Federal Power Act to authorize the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), with or without notice, hearing, or report, to issue orders for emergency measures to protect the reliability of either the bulk-power system or the defense critical electric infrastructure whenever the President issues a written directive or determination identifying an imminent grid security threat.

Requires either the President or the Secretary of Energy to notify specified congressional committees promptly whenever the President issues such directive.

Instructs FERC, to the extent practicable in light of the nature of the grid security threat and the urgency for emergency measures, to consult with certain governmental authorities, including Canada and Mexico, regarding implementation of such emergency measures.

Prescribes: (1) implementation procedures; and (2) related cost recovery measures affecting owners, operators, or users of either the bulk-power system or the defense critical electric infrastructure.

Directs FERC to require any owner, user, or operator of the bulk-power system in the United States to implement measures necessary to protect the bulk-power system against specified vulnerabilities.

Directs FERC to order the Electric Reliability Organization (ERO) to submit reliability standards to: (1) protect the bulk-power system from a reasonably foreseeable geomagnetic storm event; and (2) require entities that own or operate large transformers to ensure their adequate availability to restore promptly the reliable operation of the bulk-power system in the event that any such transformer is destroyed or disabled as a result of a reasonably foreseeable physical or other attack or a geomagnetic storm event.

Directs the President to designate for FERC the domestic facilities that are: (1) critical to the national defense; and (2) vulnerable to an electric energy supply disruption.

Directs FERC to require an owner or operator of defense critical electric infrastructure to implement measures to protect it against any vulnerability that has not been adequately addressed.

Directs FERC, before promulgating a rule or issuing such order, to request and consider recommendations from the ERO.

Directs the Secretary to establish a program to develop technical expertise in the protection of systems for the generation, transmission, and distribution of electric energy against either geomagnetic storms or malicious acts using electronic communications or electromagnetic pulse.

Exempts the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Bonneville Power Administration for 11 years from any requirement under this Act pertaining to emergency response measures or measures to address Grid security vulnerabilities (except for a requirement addressing a malicious act using electronic communication).

(Sec. 3) States that the budgetary effects of this Act shall be determined by reference to the latest statement titled "Budgetary Effects of PAYGO Legislation" for this Act, provided that such statement has been submitted prior to the vote on passage.

The bill now awaits US Senate action.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, is an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil. FERC also reviews proposals to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and interstate natural gas pipelines as well as licensing hydropower projects. Per the FERC 'About', FERC is the enforcer that oversees environmental matters related to natural gas and hydroelectricity projects and other matters through imposition of civil penalties and other means.

EMP does not have to be cause by Mankind, it could be caused by Solar Storms. A repeat of the Carrington Event in our modern technical society will be devastating, beyound the belief of most people today.

So devastating in fact that The Electric Infrastructure Security (EIS) Council hosts international initiatives to coordinate infrastructure protection against electromagnetic threats, in partnership with government representatives, NGOs and corporations. They just hosted a conference on Solar Flares, about taking out the electric grid, and our collectivly poorly designed Embedded Systems in the name of cost savings.

Are your designs ready for EMP, ESD, or even EMC/RFI?

You can test out your design to see if has even a remote hope of surviving an EMP event with an Avalanche Generator. Avalanche Generator create extremely fast rise time pulses. I don't mean to imply that a simple Avalanche Generator is in any way going to have the same energy level as a real EMP event, but if your circuit doesn't make it through a AG test run, there is no hope for EMP survival. Do note that Avalanche Generator have enough energy to kill you! If you have no experience with high energy circuits this is not the place to start!

Some application notes to get you started:

While many see the above as paranoia, a few people do serious research into related areas such as Louis Slesin of Microwave News, check out his new column Short Takes. Among the recent posts are:

  • ICNIRP's stunning rejection of precautionary policies for power-frequency EMFs.
  • An Australian TV video on a brain tumor victim who blames her glioma on heavy use of a mobile phone. The piece includes an interview with Interphone's Bruce Armstrong.
  • Another video on the latest EMF scam.
  • The New York Times' outlook on EMF/RF health risks (with a link to Mike Repacholi's WHO EMF Project).

I can not stress enough that anyone interested in the medical research field and/or the effects of our ever increasing exposure to EMF's, must read The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life by the late Robert Becker and Gary Selden. All research in the field starts here. One key point worth mentioning is that Becker's research showed that low power signals of the same frequency had biological effects that higher power levels of the same signals did not have.

Even the International Electrical Congress (IEC) is getting into the act with their new Assessment of the compliance of low-power electronic and electrical equipment with the basic restrictions related to human exposure to electromagnetic fields (10 MHz to 300 GHz); IEC 62479:2010. Do note that Beckers research was at much lower frequencies.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Test Driven Development Embedded C with James Grenning *Canceled*

Recently I wrote:

It is rare that anyone of interest comes to the Pittsburgh/Cleveland region to speak, on any subject at all. They might make Philadelphia, but never Pittsburgh, sadly for those who live in this part of the world.

Nick Barendt has gotten James Grenning to give a three day class at The Lean Dog boat in Cleveland Ohio, November 30-Dec 1, 2010, on Test Driven Development for Embedded C.

$1495 After 11/11/10. $1195 Early Bird Price until 11/11/10. Register here.

I covered James upcoming new book Test Driven Development for Embedded C [Nov./2010] in my blog about Makefile tip #0 on automatic serial numbers to be embedded in C code.

Test Driven Development is a powerful technique for building embedded software. This hands-on course teaches the practice of Test Driven Development in the challenging environment of C. In this course you will learn how TDD helps overcome some of the challenges embedded developers face including: unpredictable schedules, poor quality, and the problems that follow. In addition, embedded software developers must conquer the realities of concurrent hardware/software development, scarce target hardware availability, long download times, high deployment costs, as well as the challenges of testing embedded C.

TDD leads to better designs, towards more object oriented approaches to C. In this call you will also learn some of the design principles that can help to guide engineers to better designs.

Most of you have existing legacy code. In this class you will learn valuable techniques for dealing with legacy code. You will see incremental approaches to getting control of the legacy code with tests making improvements to the design less risky.

Test-Driven Development, a key agile practice, helps software developers improve schedule predictability and product quality and can do the same for embedded developers. TDD is valuable even outside of agile development methods.

This course describes the problems addressed by TDD, as well as the additional challenges and benefits of applying it to embedded software. You will learn the test driven techniques as well as specific design approaches to make your C code to testable today, maintainable tomorrow, and ready for a long useful life.

This course will get you and your team well on the way to applying TDD for Embedded C in your development efforts.

Today I'm sorry to say that James's class has been canceled due to lack of interest. Not enough people signed up to make it worth his wile to come to Cleveland. Makes me wonder why so few are interested. No one wants to come to Cleveland, or Pittsburgh? Few are interested in improving their skill set? That is a sure way to be out of a job in this industry. There is little interest in Test Driven Development specifically? What do you think?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Microsoft Open Sources F#. Will Functional Languages save us?

Michael Barr recently [September, 2010] wrote a column on The Sad State of Embedded Software Process, which tells us that the first embedded system was done about forty years ago, and we still are doing a collectively poor job at building them.

The VDC Research Report What languages do you use to develop software?, tells us that after those forty years 81.9% of our Embedded Systems are still using the language 'C'.

Perhaps there is a connection to using a forty year old language,with not having any great improvements in reliability after forty years?

Why can't any modern language gain significant traction in the Embedded Space? Whom has the clout to develop and promote a new, safe, language for limited resource hard real time (dead line can not be missed without catastrophic consequences) Embedded Systems that will actually gain traction?

I do not have those answers. I'm sure I could come up with a language, as I'm sure you could too, but how to get it used is the question?

Some of the 'safest' languages don't even make VDC's list, unless they are perhaps grouped into the 'Other' category of 11.5%, languages like Esterel and Erlang for example.

To me Esterel seems to be the most obscure language that is used in the most safety critical applications such as flight controls and railroad safety. Esterel has the company Esterel Technologies behind it, as well as an Open Source implementation of an Esterel Compiler. To get a feel of what it is like at the top end of the Safety Critical scale check out some of the Webinars such as Software and Hardware Foundations for Safety Critical.

Next in my obscure list of safe languages would be Erlang. Erlang runs a large percentage of the worlds telephone network, and is considered a 'soft' real time system (dead line can be missed without catastrophic consequences). There has been no larger and longer running networked system than the telephone company. I'm always amused to see such things as 'new' networking technologies rediscovering and reinventing problems and solutions that Erlang solved over a decade ago.

Because Erlang almost has what I'm looking for such as being small (in the sense of running on small micros), and meeting hard real time deadlines, Erlang is the one Functional Language that I play with the most, but does not meet those two criteria.

Functional Languages, in contrast to Procedural Languages like C, take a different approach and mind set to creating safe code.

WikiPedia details the concepts behind Functional programming, the two most important concepts being:

  • Functions have no side effects; a function can not change a global variable for exmple.
  • Data is immutable. Variables are single assignment; Variables don't change value after being set the first time.

Eliminating side effects can make it much easier to understand and predict the behavior of a program, because you are never asking yourself questions like "What is the value of X right now?", X can only be assigned once, so you always know its value.

Professor Stephen A. Edwards whom is a tenured associate professor in the Computer Science Department of Columbia University, once told me that freshman students to his class that had no programming experience picked up Functional Languages, and languages like Esterel quickly, while people that had experience with programming languages such as 'C', struggled to make the transition. Variables that never vary their value can be tough to get your mind around at first, if you programmed in 'C'.

Professor Edwards has put fourth his paper High-level Synthesis from Functional Languages proposing that Functional Languages can be directly compiled to FPGA hardware.

Functional Languages where destined to live in obscurity until this week [Nov. 5th, 2010] when Don Syme of Microsoft announced that the F# Compiler plus Library Source Code is now available as a free download.

While F#,which has its roots in Objective CAML, has little hope of running on a microprocessor based Embedded System, Functional Languages just got a big push in to being more main stream with potential integration to things like Visual Studio. It is my hope that soon there will be a micro friendly Functional Language, that gains widespread adoption.

Will Functional Languages save us? We can only hope.

In closing it is worth mentioning that UML comes in at 5.8% on the VDC report, so I thought I'd mention Miro Samek's new graphical modeling tool QM, that I'm just starting to learn myself. The QM tool is available now for a free download and free, unrestricted use.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Software Safety enters spotlight in Oil and Gas industry

E&P magazine that covers the upstream oil and gas industry, published an introductory article Software safety enters spotlight by Don Shafer, to Software Safety. Introductory in the sense that Software Safety is a new concept to the readers of the magazine in that industry. An industry that is use to hydraulics and motors rather than firmware and micros.

Back in July [2010] I covered the Testimony of Mike Williams Deepwater Horizon Incident, Gulf Oil Spill, where Mr. Williams explains what happens when Software Safety is not given proper consideration.

Mr. Shafer's article points out that software guidelines and regulations will be coming to the Oil and Gas Industry per David Reid of the International Association of Drilling Contractors.

My own house sets atop the Marcellus Shale and the deeper Utica Shale deposits. Not much activity beyond marketing is happening here in the Oil City area, where the Oil Industry started 150+ years ago, yet. However in the regions where a lot of drilling has started a few have gotten rich beyond their imagination overnight, while others have had their water wells ruined dropping their property values to nothing.

Introducing the Lithium Ion *Capacitor* and yet more burdensome battery regulations

At last, a bit of new energy technology on the scene.

Taiyo-Yuden has introduced the new Cylinder Type Lithium Ion Capacitor.

This new style of component is a hybrid of Lithium-Ion Battery and Electric Double Layer Capacitors (EDLC) more commonly known as SuperCaps or BoostCaps, depending on who's trade mark you want to infringe.

They operate in the voltage ranges of 2.2V to 3.8V. Higher than your typical EDLC and lower than your typical Lithium Ion battery when charging, so it makes using most existing controllers problematic for either type.

Three capacities are offered at 40 Farads (LIC1235R 3R8406), 100 Farads (LIC1840R 3R8107) and 200 Farads (LIC2540R 3R8207).

Alas the data sheet is a bit vague in many places, as I don't think anyone really knows how these might work over the long term. The data sheet is also perplexing in some places with comments like this in the footnotes:

  • #7 Consult us about the discharging current.
  • #12 Consult us about cleaning condition when cleaning circuit-board after soldering. Cleaning may affect lithium ion capacitor. Consult us about cleaning conditions beforehand.

I did consult the Midwest Sales Office and they had no idea what those meant, and I'm still waiting for their reply back from the factory. The Sales Office told me that DigiKey and other distributors had been given pricing that was in the $50 class before distribution markup. Expensive for a LiIon Battery, and low for a EDLC. Hopefully these don't have the hazards shipping charges like I covered last week.

With charge currents in the two to five amp range it will be interesting to see how fast these can be charged up. On the discharge side things are a bit whimper showing that these would be good for LED Flash Lights or memory backup rather than arc welding. Can't wait to get my hands on some to play with.

Now that we have covered the really exciting stuff that keeps you and I in this field, we have to cover the depressing stuff that wants to drive us all screaming from the field, yet more regulations.

UL is warnings us that even more onerous regulations will be coming to batteries in Developments in Battery Research Lead to New Safety Standards as detailed in their new White Paper Safety Issues for Lithium-Ion Batteries (Alas registration is required so that the UL may spam you).

While I'm sure UL does make the world a safer place, I detest that it is an entity that continually creates high price documents that I must purchase and comply to so that they profit and I don't. It is a really good gig if you can figure out how to create such an industry for yourself.

Have you ever actually tried to get a UL1642 test report from a battery manufacture? They don't want to give them up because the say things like "Flamed but did not ignite Cheesecloth". Statements like that kill using that product in places like Coal Mines where Intrinsic Safety is required. Saft Batteries are probably our best hope for such and environment right now.

Ever wonder where some of these hideous laws and regulations come from? Read Shaping State Laws With Little Scrutiny by Laura Sullivan, and you will be appalled, but probably not suprized.

What will the next new energy technology be? Can't wait to find out...