Web-assisted Engineering and the FUD Factor
Bringing up hardware and software for the first time always gives me the heebie jeebies, even if it's a hobby project in my basement workshop. The same is true when I tackle a new job, such as this one at the EN-Genius Network. I'm the new kid on the EN-Genius block, as Technical Editor in charge of test-and-measurement (t&mZONE), interconnect technologies (connectorZONE), passive and not-so-passive components (rlcZONE), and PC and workstation tools (toolsZONE).
Let me briefly tell you about a direct digital synthesizer project I've been working on. It’s a case in point about the anxiety some engineers feel when bringing up a circuit for the first time. My board runs an Analog Devices AD9951 DDS chip, driven by a Microchip Technology 16F876 flash-equipped PIC microcontroller.
Whenever I finish the labor of design and board layout, etching, drilling, soldering, and shorts/opens testing, that moment of truth always comes when dc power must be applied. Needless to say, fear, uncertainty and doubt weigh heavily, and although I've been at the electronics game for over four decades, my palms always get sweaty, and my heart rate always increases when it comes time to initially flip on the lab supply. I'd be willing to bet most of you suffer similar "FUD Factor" symptoms.
In the case of my RF synthesizer, I calmed down pretty quickly after determining the DDS circuit was up-and-running, with working firmware and no smoke released from the hardware. At that point I sat back and admired my handiwork, marveling at how accessible and low-cost much of today's power-packed technology really is. Even my dog, Smokey, seemed relieved, as he looked up at me and yawned.
I must point out that getting my RF synthesizer project working was really a cooperative effort, with software available from an overseas friend in the form of source code as well as PIC hex files. Other engineering friends around the world, communicating daily on an e-mail reflector, helped me as well.
When my system's display was erratically counting up and down, a buddy pointed out the folly of my ways. I hadn't connected my custom optical encoder yet, so the PIC I/O was reading noise. Other Web pals assisted me in setting up and mastering the intricacies of Microchip’s IDE, testing my buffer’s low-pass filter, and getting a somewhat touchy Butler reference oscillator to lock.
In my new role as Technical Editor on the EN-Genius Network's editorial team, I expect a new family of friends will likely come to my rescue from time to time, too, easing my personal FUD. I'm especially looking forward to hearing from you.
Like integrating hardware and software, melding ideas and viewpoints is essential to good engineering, so I solicit your inputs. Please let me know what projects you're working on, or what you’re hoping to design. Do you have a war story to tell about some product you’ve selected, or vendor you’ve dealt with?
Give me your point of view, and what you like -- and dislike -- about my ramblings, reviews, and stories. Let me know if there’s anything you would like to share with other designers, or perhaps get off your chest. Together we can make the EN-Genius Network pages an even greater resource -- and perhaps diminish your own FUD Factor in the process. You can reach me by e-mailing amm at en-genius.net.