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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

Bench Talk

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Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics


Michael Parks, P.E. is the owner of Green Shoe Garage, a custom electronics design studio and technology consultancy located in Southern Maryland. He produces the S.T.E.A.M. Power podcast to help raise public awareness of technical and scientific matters. Michael is also a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Maryland and holds a Master’s degree in systems engineering from Johns Hopkins University.


MultiSIM BLUE and the Homebrewed Circuit Board Mike Parks
It’s a great time to be an electronics engineer and an even better time to be a weekend warrior tinkerer. The line between these two worlds is rapidly evaporating as the tools that enable circuit design plummet in cost and skyrocket in capability. The most important thing that a product can do for us is to streamline our workflow while still delivering high quality results.

How Technology Companies Can Help Build a “Can Do” Generation Mike Parks
“Young people in Britain have become a lost generation who can no longer mend gadgets and appliances because they have grown up in a disposable world.” I recently came across this quote in an article from the U.K. publication ‘The Telegraph’ in a story that discussed the lack of ‘fix it’ ability in younger generations. This notion is attributed to Danielle George, a Professor of Radio Frequency Engineering at the University of Manchester. I certainly agree that, in concept, as electronic devices have gotten smaller, more robust, and cheaper, we as a society (not just 'young people') have collectively bought into the ‘replace-not-repair’ mindset. In addition, we live in an era where like clockwork a new iPhone is delivered every 12 months. We sometimes choose to replace an older broken device for a new one simply to gain access to new features only available in the newer models. Has this coalesced into a generation that can’t repair anything that breaks? Perhaps.

Build Your Own MSP432 BoosterPack Mike Parks
A little while ago, Texas Instruments (TI) launched their new MSP432 family of microcontrollers. Along with the new silicon, there is also a new LaunchPad development kit. Continuing the tradition from the MSP430, the new chips are very affordable while packing in professional grade features and very impressive energy sipping performance.

It's The Little Things: Searching for the Home Automation “Killer App” Mike Parks
Our pursuit of modern home automation can be readily observed if one looks at the archives from the various World Fairs dating as far back as the 1930s. While tantalizing possibilities have captured our imaginations, in practice the mass adoption of home automation technologies has yet to really take-off. Costs and lack of a common, interconnected protocol are often attributed as the root cause for the failure of home automation to launch. Perhaps though, home automation just hasn’t found it’s “killer app” yet. What might be needed is one must-have product that, while it stands alone in its first iteration, will drive people to adopt then demand more devices that interact with each other.

A Tale of Two Automation Strategies Mike Parks
Much has been written about the trials and tribulations associated with the adoption of home automation technologies. The lack of mass consumer appeal is often attributed to high costs and lack of a simple, universal protocol. For the technically savvy, the idea of giving in to “vendor lock” by adopting a single company's product line has been too much to bear. However, for more affluent consumers this idea is not a problem as most of the time they rely on 3rd party installers to install and maintain their systems. This has left the DIY crowd to resort to more “hackable,” although way more complicated solutions, such as X10 products. In the end we have grown an ecosystem unsuitable for mass adoption. The niche market of affluent consumers is just lucrative enough for companies to continue to peddle proprietary solutions. The equally niche Maker- and DIY-market has been strong enough to attract those with the skills to homebrew a custom solution. Neither are good enough for the mass market.

Watch the Feedback: An Introduction to Operational Amplifiers Mike Parks
Operational amplifiers (op amps for short) are one of the workhorse components of circuit design. They can be used in wonderfully simple but also incredibly complex ways, including audio pre-amplifiers, small signal sensor amplification, filters, and digital-to-analog converters (DAC) to name a few. Notice that these are all analog signal examples, not digital signals (i.e., not a stream of 0s and 1s.) analog signals are real-world, continuous signals that have, theoretically an infinite resolution.

Tesla PowerWall: A Backdoor for the Mass Adoption of Home Automation? Mike Parks
On April 30, 2015, Elon Musk announced to the world the Tesla PowerWall. In its first week alone, Tesla brought in $800 million dollars for their new PowerWall. Powerwall is a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery pack that will store energy for when you need it, or to use as a backup power supply during an outage. Unlike a generator, it doesn’t require fuel and creates no noise. What’s interesting is that the backlog of customer orders is already winding itself well into the second half of 2016. This is a sign that demonstrates there is a market demand for rethinking how we power our homes both from the perspective of lead-shifting and backup power. With a little speculation, it is also a product that just might serve as a backdoor to the mass adoption of smarter, more automated homes.

5 Tips for Getting Started In Electronics Mike Parks
Electronics is an amazing profession and hobby. The notion that one can harness the forces of nature and bend them to one’s whim is immensely satisfying. With the resurgence of the DIY spirit and the evolution of the Maker Movement, getting started in electronics has never been easier. Embedded open source platforms such as Arduino and BeagleBone provide a fantastic jumping in point for learning electronics and software. I could only have dreamt of the resources we have today when I was first starting out. With that in mind, here are my five tips for getting started in electronics based on what I’ve learned over the last 20 years.

Memristors: The Circle is Now Complete Mike Parks
Charles Duell, the commissioner of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at the turn of the 20th-century was once misquoted as saying, "Everything that can be invented has been invented." Thanks to an intrepid librarian it was later discovered that Duell actually stated, “In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.”

Why Open Source Hardware Creators Win Mike Parks
For many makers finding a product idea that is feasible to manufacture, as well as desirable by would-be consumers, is a lesson in design by trial-and-error. That means a lot of blood, sweat, tears, time (and money) invested in a project that many hopes are poured into. So if you’re using open hardware/software and hoping to transform your side project into a commercial product, how do you protect your product from being ripped off by a competitor?

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