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Articles from 2006 In January


Help Wanted

Help Wanted

Help Wanted
So many jobs, so little time
Help wanted
So many jobs, so little time
Paul Sharke, Senior Technical Editor — Design News, December 5, 2005
 

I thought I was pretty sharp back in '82 with my new engineering technology degree. Here I am world, I thought. As singer Rod Stewart put it once: "Look how wrong you can be."

According to this graph, http://rbi.ims.ca/4402-538, unemployment in those years hovered around 10 percent, meaning that if you were a graduating engineer you had to be pretty good for a company like GE to notice you. I remember the company's post outside the NJIT placement office: No Engineering Technology Majors, or something to that effect. It was nothing personal, of course, just a buyer's market. But what did I know then of the business cycle?

I still walk right on past the GE appliances at Home Depot. It's nothing personal, of course.

At any rate, I learned about want ads and adjusted my dream of a career to the more pedestrian version: finding a job. And eventually, I did. To this day, I look at want ads with nearly the same fervor that others read the sports pages. Every few Sundays or so I'll read through the classified listings for engineers. Window shopping, really.

I was recently struck by how many engineering jobs were listed in the New York Times. Two or three column's worth, I recall. Through the years, NYC seemed a better place to go if you were in advertising or finance (or an editor, God help you) than if you were an engineer. The paper's classifieds usually reflected that. If you wanted real engineering work you'd stick to ads in, say, the Newark Star-Ledger.

I have it on good source that classified ads are up too in another engineering publication. Could the boom times be here, again?

If they are, then here's my idea for helping you engineers out there with honest-to-goodness careers take your next step.

They're called RSS feeds, something the editors here at Design News have been asked to look at lately. They are one of the Web's latest inventions, supposedly an easy way to monitor the coming of new materials onto your favorite websites.

Wouldn't it be cool if the jobs you qualified for came to you? Let's say you wanted to work at Boeing and had specific experience in—I don't know—radar imaging. You'd set up your RSS feed to filter the Boeing employment site as well as any others you were interested in monitoring. The whole process could be quick and painless and you'd no longer have to spend Sundays thumbing through the broadsheets.

Of course, the generic employment sites already do this. At monster.com, for example, you can subscribe to an RSS feed here, http://rbi.ims.ca/4402-539, and be apprised of all the engineering jobs in the Dallas area, say.

My problem with these sites is that they seem like factory trawlers: wide nets looking to scoop up everything in the sea. As a job seeker, I'm more apt to bite on a single hook hanging off a solitary line.

I'm looking for a company that has real work and needs someone qualified for doing it to come on staff right away. So this goes out to you hiring firms out there. Post your specific jobs on an RSS link. We've got engineers that can actually do what's been promised, after all the lunches and dinners have been expensed and the contractual arrangements worked out through legal: you know, guys who actually design things and build them and make them work.

They may not be particularly good at networking, any social skill they had having been wrung from them in engineering school. Just make it simple for them to find you. From my money, that's RSS. What could be easier?

Compliance makes you competitive

Compliance makes you competitive

In his paper entitled, “Green Compliance: Yes, It’s a Competitive Advantage,” Eric Karofsky, analyst at ARM Research, quotes former GE VP in the Wall Street Journal saying, “Law and regulation, ironically, can be market enhancing because then all regulated entities face the same obligations under the law and the smartest corporations will find a way to comply completely with imagination and less cost.”

Karofsky agrees, citing several examples of companies that have met their compliance obligations while enhancing their competitive position:

·GE spent $1.5 billion on Ecomagination. The effort helped address the company’s spotty environmental past and transform its image to an environmental leader.

·IBM multibillion dollar GARS unit collects 20,000 end-of-lease machines each week and resells, refurbishes or dismantles them, thus contributing less than 2 percent of its old machines to landfill.

·Sun’s CoolThreads technology increases the performance of its servers five-fold while reducing energy consumption, thus creating ROI for its customers.

Heart of LEDs

Heart of LEDs

One of the requests we received after publication of the Christmas Star was "can you do different shapes?" Well, with Mother's Day coming up soon, we thought a heart would be appropriate. Now you can have something different to give to that special Mum or Grandmother. Or you may be able to redeem yourself if you forgot St Valentines Day! Either way, the Heart will certainly last a lot longer than the traditional bunch of flowers!

For those who don't like microcontroller projects, pretend the micro is a dedicated LED driver IC that just happens to have been designed to control 30 LEDs in the shape of a Heart (what a stroke of luck!). And it won't be declared obsolete just after publication like a purpose designed IC might be!

As the design is derived from the Christmas Star, those readers who saw that article will notice that the schematic is very similar. The major differences between the Heart and the Star are in the physical layout of the LEDs and in the software.

Why use a Microcontroller?

Using a PC parallel port to control external devices is a popular approach these days but imagine the response when you present Mum with a flashing Heart attached to an umbilical cable running into the next room! No, self- contained is better. The answer is to use a small microcontroller. They are cheap and easy to use. And if the software doesn't work first time (when does it?), you simple change the program and re-program the micro.

Also, you can easily create something using a micro that is the equivalent of many discrete logic chips. In this case, the circuit is simple enough to build on VeroBoard (TM) though it is much easier to use a printed circuit board. To do the Heart in discrete logic would be a 'challenge' (pronounced nightmare)!

Given a few inexpensive software tools, a microcontroller such as the Atmel AT89C2051 should be just as easy to use as a handful of 4000-series CMOS chips. In my experience, the micro is usually easier and results in a more flexible design!

Another reason for using a micro is that micros are the future of electronics. While it is useful to know how to design with 4000-series logic, most new products require more than can be easily done in discrete logic. Virtually all the electronic gadgets that we now rely on (microwave ovens, mobile phones, TVs, VCRs, video cameras, fax machines, etc) use micros to perform their tasks.

So what's in a '2051?

The Atmel AT89C2051 is a relatively recent derivative of Intel's "industry standard" 8051. It includes the following features:

  • 20 pin skinny-DIP plastic package

  • 2k bytes of Flash program memory

  • 128 bytes of RAM

  • 15 programmable I/O lines

  • on-chip oscillator (24MHz max)

  • two 16 bit counter/timers

  • six interrupt sources

  • a full duplex serial port (UART)

  • the I/O pins can sink 20mA for directly driving LEDs

  • two I/O pins are connected to an on-chip analogue comparator

As the program memory is re-programmable Flash with 1000 erase/write cycles, the annoyance of erasing EPROMs no longer exists. Software development is now that much more convenient.

Here is a fun project that you can give to that "someone special".
How about Mother's Day or did you forget St Valentine's Day?

The Hardware

The heart of the hardware is, of course, the Atmel '2051 micro. To make it start predictably, we need a reset circuit consisting of C7. D2 forces C7 to discharge quickly when power is removed. To set how fast it thinks, we need an external crystal X1 and associated capacitors C1 and C2. Note that the specified crystal could be replaced by a ceramic resonator or crystal in the 10MHz to 12MHz range without any significant change in performance. If you use a resonator with built-in capacitors, omit C1 and C2. At 12MHz, the '2051 will execute an instruction every 1 or 2us.

As you can see from the schematic, the 30 LEDs are connected in an X-Y matrix. Why 30 LEDs? Engineering is full of compromises. I wanted two 'concentric' hearts as more interesting patterns would be possible. I achieved equal LED spacing with 16 LEDs in the outer Heart and 14 in the inner one and this "looked about right". More LEDs may have looked better but would have pushed up the cost and needed a more complicated PCB.

We can drive 30 LEDs from only 11 I/O pins using a process called multiplexing. The appropriate combination of LEDs in a column is switched on for a short time (about 2ms in this case). This process is repeated for each column in turn taking 10ms for a full cycle. Provided the multiplexing is done quickly enough, the persistence of the human eye "fills in the gaps" and we see any combination of LEDs on without any flicker. The minimum practical multiplexing frequency is about 100Hz which is the frequency used by the Heart.

The power supply uses a common 7805 three terminal regulator with bypass capacitors C4 and C5. Diode D1 provides insurance against a reverse polarity power supply. The maximum current drawn by the star is about 140mA with all LEDs on but less than about 50mA for most patterns. The maximum temperature rise of the 7805 when the star is run from a typical 9Vdc unregulated plug-pack is less than 30 degrees which is quite acceptable. It gets a little warmer when run from a 12Vdc unregulated plug-pack though it does not require a heatsink if bolted to the PCB..

Battery Operation

One question asked about the Christmas Star project was "can I run it on batteries?" Of course you can but you have to be careful depending on the actual batteries (and the voltage) used. Four alkaline cells will give about 6V which is fine if you remove the 7805 regulator and fit a wire link from it's input to it's output (outside 2 pins). Four NiCd cells are Ok too. Depending on their charge, the voltage will be between about 5.4V and 4.8V. Be very careful with SLA (Sealed Lead Acid) batteries which will charge to about 7V. Remove the regulator but use a 1N4002 diode instead of the link. Do not remove diode D1. The maximum operating supply voltage for the microcontroller is 6V (absolute max is 7V).

The Software

As with the Christmas Star, we are making the basic source code for the Heart available for free (you may download it from our Web site)! An extended version that uses the EEPROM for storage may be available (if I get enough spare time!). Or maybe a reader would like to try. The software is written in the C language using the low cost Dunfield Development Systems Micro/C compiler. There is nothing particularly "smart" or "tricky" about the software - it was written to be easy to understand and to encourage use of small micros. Consequently, there are no interrupt routines and no use of the counter/timers, the UART or the comparator though Micro/C can make use of these resources.

The software is table driven. This means that the display patterns and sequences are determined by data stored in a table (an array of bytes). There is a simple interpreter that scans through the table to perform the specified operations. The defined byte values are listed in the following table. Note that the software for the Heart is a little smarter than for the Star - so it can do more complex pattern sequences.

Byte value or range Operation
01 to 30 (0x01 to 0x1e) Turn on LED 1 to 30
33 to 62 (0x21 to 0x3e) Turn off LED 1 to 30
64 to 94 (0x41 to 0x5e) Turn on LED 1 to 30 and do current delay
97 to 126 (0x61 to 0x7e) Turn off LED 1 to 30 and do current delay
128 to 159 (0x80 to 0x9f) Define a subroutine
160 to 195 (0xa0 to 0xbf) Call a subroutine
196 (0xc0) Go back to byte after loop start
197 to 207 (0xc1 to 0xcf) Loop start, count = byte & 0x0f
208 (0xe0) Delay (use last delay count), each count = 50ms
209 to 239 (0xe1 to 0xef) Delay, count = byte & 0x0f, each count = 50ms
252 (0xfc) Return from subroutine
253 (0xfd) All LEDs on
254 (0xfe) All LEDs off
255 (0xff) End of table

Please note that this table is quite different from the published article because the software "evolved" much more than I expected after the publication deadline. Ahh, the joys of microcontrollers....

Note that there are still quite a few undefined values so future expansion is possible.

Putting it all together

Assembly is quite straight forward. You will need a soldering iron with a fine tip, preferable temperature controlled to about 600oF or 320oC. Carefully check for shorts between tracks and broken tracks. Fit the lowest parts first - the wire links and resistors and diodes. Next, fit the crystal (or resonator) and the IC sockets for the micro and EEPROM (if used). Fit the transistors, capacitors and LEDs. Pay particular attention to the orientation of the LEDs - they all point the same way but they don't work when installed backwards! Finally, install the regulator and power socket.

Do another close visual inspection looking for solder bridges especially on the transistor pads.

Connect power and check for 5Vdc (4.8V to 5.2V) from U1 pin 20 (+) to U1 pin 10 (-). If all is OK, remove power, plug in the micro and turn it on.

The hole near LED2 may be used to hang the heart. If you hardwire the power supply, you may be able to use this hole as a strain relief and hang the Heart on the power wires.

Finally, the appearance of the Heart may be enhanced by placing a piece of red cellophane over the front.

Fault finding

5Vdc not present: Check the applied power polarity - the centre pin of SK1 must be positive. Check that D1 is correctly fitted. Check tracks from SK1 via D1, the 7805 to U1 for breaks or shorts.

One LED does not work: It may be inserted backwards or it may be shorted.

One group of adjacent LEDs does not work: Check circuitry and soldering around the appropriate 'column' drive transistor.

Several individual LEDs do not work: Check the corresponding 'row' drive circuitry.

Remember, faulty components are rare, soldering problems are not so rare!

The future

The Heart is still evolving. That is part of the attraction of using a micro - it is so easy to change the behaviour by changing the software. Sometimes it is difficult to know when to stop... And what about that EEPROM? Well, an enhanced version of the Heart would read its data from the EEPROM for much longer sequences. This development will depend on available time so there are no guarantees! To check out the latest version of the software, log in to our Web site at http://www.grantronics.com.au or find us via the Silicon Chip web site. If you don't have Internet access, send us a stamped ($1) self addressed envelope with an IBM format 3.5" disk and we will send you the current software files. Finally, I would like to thank the nice people at BEC Manufacturing who rushed the prototype boards through in time for publication.

We hope you have as much fun building the Heart and playing with the software as we did creating it. Enjoy!


Parts List
Quantity Description
Hardware
1 PC board type HEART
1 "DC" connector, 2.1mm (SK1)
1 12MHz crystal or ceramic resonator (X1)
1 8 pin IC socket (optional)
1 20 pin IC socket
1 9Vdc 150mA plug pack power supply (eg, Jaycar MP-3003)
Semiconductors
1 AT89C2051 (programmed) (U1)
1 7805 (or LM340T-5) regulator (U2)
1 24C16 EEPROM (U12) (optional, enhanced version only)
30 Red LEDs (LED1-LED30)
5 BC557 or similar PNP transistor (Q1-Q5)
1 1N4002 power diode (D1)
1 1N4148 or 1N914 diode (D2)
Resistors (0.25W, 5% tolerance)
5 2k2 (R1-R5)
6 120R (R6-R11)
Capacitors
2 27p ceramic (C1-C2)
3 100n monolithic (C3-C5)
1 4.7uF 16VW+ RB electrolytic (C7)

Note: The LEDs should be relatively bright diffused types (about 50mcd).


Download the Heart software source code.
Download the Heart schematic (18k PDF).

Please note that the enhanced version of the software as mentioned in the Silicon Chip article using the EEPROM is not yet available.

To compile the software, you will need a C compiler such as Dunfield Micro/C.

To program the AT89C2051 microcontroller, you will need a suitable programmer such as our GP-AT.

A kit of parts for the Heart is available from Jaycar Electronics stores for $29.95.

America's High-Tech Quandary

After a recent story about America's engineering crisis, we were deluged by mail from readers expressing unhappiness with the way the corporate world treats engineers. Read some of the most recent letters below. If you're interested, we also invite you to weigh in with your opinions.
To view the original story, "America's High-Tech Quandary," click on the link below.
/article/CA6286283.html
–Chuck Murray

China RoHS will be delayed

China RoHS will be delayed

China’s recently announced law banning the six hazardous materials included in the European Union’s (EU) RoHS legislation will apparently be delayed until January 1, 2007. Originally the law was set to go into effect on the RoHS deadline of July 1, 2006.

The delay is apparently tied to the late arrival of the final draft of “The Administration on the Control of Pollution Caused by Electronic Information Products,” which is expected to be released in January. Important components, such as the catalogue that will define the electronics products covered by the law, are still not available.

When we’ve asked what products are likely to be exempt from China’s regulations, we keep hearing, “There won’t be any exemptions” or “Maybe some medical equipment will be exempt.” More and more, it looks like China’s RoHS laws will differ from EU regulations enough to put many OEMs in the awkward position of creating products specifically for the Chinese market.

Newark InOne launches RoHS quality assurance

Newark InOne launches RoHS quality assurance

Chicago-based distributor, Newark InOne has introduced a quality assurance policy to help customers reduce risks associated with the RoHS directive. The program comes in response to statements from United Kingdom (UK) RoHS enforcer agency, the National Weights and Measures Laboratory. The agency recently noted that producers shipping product to the UK after the RoHS deadline of July 1, 2006 will need to show more than certificates of compliance from the supplier whose components make up the product. The producer will also need to demonstrate that it has taken “reasonable steps” to confirm the accuracy of the documentation it receives for the parts designed into or assembled into the finished product.

To meet this requirement, Newark InOne and its sister European distributor, the UK-based Farnell InOne, have developed a 10-step quality assurance policy that includes due diligence procedures designed to offer customers confidence in the RoHS-compliance of parts received from the two distributors.

Wednesday, Jan. 18

Wednesday, Jan. 18

It's Wednesday, Jan. 18

Is It Really So Bad?

Is It Really So Bad?

When I graduated from college almost 30 years ago, I told a friend who was attending law school that I was interviewing for engineering jobs. "So what do engineers do?" he asked me. "Fix refrigerators?"
A few days ago, I vividly recalled that moment while culling through the hundred-plus e-mails I received after Design News published a long story about a potential engineering crisis in the U.S. For those who missed it, the story detailed China's national drive to crank out a million engineers a year, and contrasted it with the United States' struggle to boost its engineering grad numbers to just 75,000.

Going through the e-mails, I expected to hear voices of concern from the engineering community. And while I did hear that, I also found a larger contingent of frustrated engineers who felt Corporate America neither values nor understands them. To hear them tell it, an effort to crank out more engineers would be futile because American corporate heads no longer have a feel for the engineering profession nor the once-respected college engineering degree.
"As an engineer, it has been blatantly obvious that the typical corporate culture is anti-engineer and has been for some time," wrote one reader. "Engineers are seen as a liability, not an asset.'" Added another: "There is no glamour, no riches, nothing but a barely adequate living for engineers now. Mostly, we are one of the biggest expenses on the books." And yet another: "Starting pay for an engineer is close to that of a rookie policeman. Engineering productivity has vastly outstripped engineering compensation. Career paths outside of management are unremunerative and advancement is slow." We received so many of these kinds of e-mails, and so many containing similar despairing messages, that they became impossible to ignore. Combine those with recent surveys showing that 60 percent of American adults don't even know what engineers do, and it's not surprising that some corporate heads may be strikingly ignorant of the roles of their own engineering staffs. Before we indict all of Corporate America, however, let's stop to look around us. We're a society that successfully builds skyscrapers, massive telephone, electrical, radio, water, and sewer infrastructures, not to mention millions of reliable cars, trucks, computers, televisions, cell phones and myriad other products. Clearly, engineers are still succeeding. The wheels haven't fallen off yet. So what's the real problem? Is it that a small segment of Corporate America believes, like my law school friend, that engineers are glorified refrigerator repairmen? Or is it more widespread than that? We'd like to hear from you. Tell us how widespread you think the situation is. And then tell us how engineers should be treated. Tell us how you think you should be compensated. In particular, if you're an engineer who's in a good job situation, tell us why it's good. Who knows, maybe our concerned corporate heads can learn from you.

Reach Sr. Technical Editor Chuck Murray at [email protected].

UK WEEE deadline delayed

The UK’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) announced last week the deadline for the European Union’s (EU) Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive will delayed beyond its June 2006 deadline, which was already extended beyond the original January 2006 deadline. A new deadline has not been set, but it will almost certainly stretch well beyond the previous June 2006 target date.

Malcolm Wicks, the UK’s Energy Minister, said there will be a major review of the WEEE legislation that will consider the details of retailer take-back services and the development of a network of collection facilities where customers can take their WEEE-affected products. “We have listened to the concerns expressed by both the business community and other stakeholders over the implemented process and have decided that more time is needed to get the implementation right,” said Wicks.

Industry watchers noted that more time is needed because of concerns over he scale and the cost burden that will be placed on the local authorities that are required to dispose of WEEE materials that are collected separately from other refuge. The DTI already stated it will meet any costs to local authorities for arranging the treatment required for TVs and PC monitors that contain cathode ray tubes and fluorescent lamps that much be collected separately and sent to a hazardous waste landfill. The new review, however, will reconsider this area of responsibility.

The UK delay is expected to draw criticism from the European Commission that originally passed the WEEE directive. The commission announced last July that it would take legal action again a number of EU countries – include the UK – that have yet to enact the WEEE legislation into law. Anticipating condemnation from the European Commission, a DTI spokesperson said, “They are there to make sure the legislation is implemented on time, but in this instance, the decision was taken that we are simply not ready yet.”

Community groups in the UK asked for compensation because of the delay. One of the groups leading the demand for compensation, the Furniture Re-use Network, claimed that every additional month of delay in the WEEE implementation will require nearly $1 million in expenses from recycling groups. When WEEE is implemented, the producers of electronic products will take over the cost of recycling.

Cutting the Cord Clutter

If you design machinery, you probably have to contend with tangles of industrial cables and hoses, carrying power, control signals, water, and air. So you may have little sympathy for consumers who have to manage a few cords for their computer equipment and related gadgets. But look under almost any computer desk nowadays, and you’ll likely see just how tough they have it. Power bricks jockey for position in crowded power strips. USB cables from all the peripherals form cable dreadlocks that fall behind the desk. In short, it’s a mess.At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month, a few clever solutions to cord clutter emerged. Two take a mechanical approach and one truly cuts the cords.

PowerSquid Surge Protector

Anyone who has tried squeeze a transformer plug onto a powerstrip will immediately appreciate the PowerSquid’s design, which places the female plugs on flexible electrical cords. Inventor Christopher Hawker came up with his “cephalopod design” after noticing that rigid powerstrips couldn’t accommodate as many power bricks as they have open plugs. The first PowerSquids were simply power multipliers that connected up to five cords to one grounded outlet. Now, Flexity has developed advanced models that offer surge protection. They retain the squid form factor but also “have all the features you’d expect from a premium surge protector,” says Hawker. These include MOVs with joule ratings from 1020 to 3280 joules, EMI/RFI filtering, and protection for coaxial cables andphone lines. The flagship Calamari model also features two neon glowing outlets, an audible alarm, and a 360 degree rotating flat-profile male plug.For more information, visit www.flexity.net. Or visit Hawker’s design firm at www.trident-design.com for a look at his other products.

Two kinds of Cableyoyo

Cord management products often suffer from two problems. They’re bulky. And they’re ugly. The Cableyoyo from Bluelounge Design is neither. Measuring only 9 mm thick and 80 mm square, Cableyoyo works a lot like a spool of thread. Users simply wind the cord around its central hub. Once wound, the cord coils neatly within the product’s square exterior shell, which emanates from the top and bottom of the hub. This low-profile cord management system, molded from ABS, also includes a separate mounting attachment, an adhesive-backed post that snap fits into the Cableyoyo’s hub. It handles low-voltage cords up to 5 mm in diameter and comes in a variety of colors to match the aesthetics of various computer systems. Dominic Symons, who designed the Cableyoyo, has now created a brand new version designed for mobile electronics and headphone wires. At just 56 x 40 x 12 mm Cableyoyo POP fits on the back of many MP3 players, phones, and other portable electronics. It, too, works on the spool principle. But here the spool consists of a thin thermoplastic top shell and an elastomeric component that forms the hub and a suction cup that attaches the POP to the electronic device.A variety of decorative stickers are available to dress up the POP’s top surface. For more information, visit www.cableyoyo.com

Belkin CableFree USB Hub

What’s the best way to manage cables? Get rid of them. And that’s exactly what the Belkin’s CableFree USB Hub does. This wireless USB hub requires no cable to connect to the computer, thanks to thanks to its use of ultra-wideband (UWB) technology from Freescale Semiconductor. This variant of USB over UWB allows data transfer rates of just over 110 Mbps and works with existing USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 devices. When it ships early this spring, the CableFree USB Hub, the first based on Freescale’s UWB chipset, will give desktop computer users the freedom to place their USB devices anywhere in the room without running long cables. Laptop gain the ability to roam wirelessly with their laptop around the room while still maintaining access to their stationary USB devices. Belkin will initially offer a four-port hub that will enable connectivity for USB devices without requiring additional software. For more information, visit www.belkin.com or www.freescale.com