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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.


Milling About: CNC Routing a Circuit Board Mike Parks
Breadboards are fantastic for experimenting with a circuit design and testing components. Eventually, you will want to move to a more robust solution for a circuit that is intended to escape the confines of laboratory and bravely venture into the real-world.

STEM Scouts: Boy Scouts of America’s New STEM Initiative (That’s for Girls Too!) Mike Parks
Science. Technology. Engineering. Mathematics. The STEM Movement, along with the Maker Movement, have been transformative forces in our modern society. Both have rekindled a spirit of “can do” optimism and excitement for exploring the unknown that has lain dormant for many of us. The Maker Movement has retaught us that getting your hands dirty and having a do-it-yourself mentality is not just pragmatic or thrifty, it is also just plain fun.

Rock You Like a Hurricane: Why Diversity Matters in STEM Mike Parks
Have you ever noticed that there isn't one fixed hurricane prediction model? Those “cones of error” represent that wide array of assumed courses from many different hurricane models. Each of those models comes with different parameters, algorithms, and input data that leads to different outputs. No model is ever 100% right, but when you discount outliers and find trends among the remaining model, you can get a good enough idea to start making some rational decisions.

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.

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