## The Other Kind of Bypass Capacitor

There’s a type of bypass capacitor I’d like to talk about today.

It’s not the usual power supply bypass capacitor, aka decoupling capacitor, which is used to provide local charge storage to an integrated circuit, so that the high-frequency supply currents to the IC can bypass (hence the name) all the series resistance and inductance from the power supply. This reduces the noise on a DC voltage supply. I’ve...

## How to Succeed in Motor Control: Olaus Magnus, Donald Rumsfeld, and YouTube

Almost four years ago, I had this insight — we were doing it wrong! Most of the application notes on motor control were about the core algorithms: various six-step or field-oriented control methods, with Park and Clarke transforms, sensorless estimators, and whatnot. It was kind of like a driving school would be, if they taught you how the accelerator and brake pedal worked, and how the four-stroke Otto cycle works in internal combustion engines, and handed you a written...

## Round Round Get Around: Why Fixed-Point Right-Shifts Are Just Fine

Today’s topic is rounding in embedded systems, or more specifically, why you don’t need to worry about it in many cases.

One of the issues faced in computer arithmetic is that exact arithmetic requires an ever-increasing bit length to avoid overflow. Adding or subtracting two 16-bit integers produces a 17-bit result; multiplying two 16-bit integers produces a 32-bit result. In fixed-point arithmetic we typically multiply and shift right; for example, if we wanted to multiply some...

## Scorchers, Part 1: Tools and Burn Rate

This is a short article about one aspect of purchasing, for engineers.

I had an engineering manager once — I’ll leave his real name out of it, but let’s call him Barney — who had a catchy response to the question “Can I buy XYZ?”, where XYZ was some piece of test equipment, like an oscilloscope or multimeter. Barney said, “Get what you need, need what you get.” We used purchase orders, which when I started in 1996 were these quaint forms on...

## Padé Delay is Okay Today

This article is going to be somewhat different in that I’m not really writing it for the typical embedded systems engineer. Rather it’s kind of a specialized topic, so don’t be surprised if you get bored and move on to something else. That’s fine by me.

Anyway, let’s just jump ahead to the punchline. Here’s a numerical simulation of a step response to a \( p=126, q=130 \) Padé approximation of a time delay:

Impressed? Maybe you should be. This...

## Margin Call: Fermi Problems, Highway Horrors, Black Swans, and Why You Should Worry About When You Should Worry

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns — there are things we do not know we don’t know.” — Donald Rumsfeld, February 2002

Today’s topic is engineering margin.

XKCD had a what-if column involving Fermi...

## Ten Little Algorithms, Part 5: Quadratic Extremum Interpolation and Chandrupatla's Method

Today we will be drifting back into the topic of numerical methods, and look at an algorithm that takes in a series of discretely-sampled data points, and estimates the maximum value of the waveform they were sampled from.

## The Dilemma of Unwritten Requirements

You will probably hear the word “requirements” at least 793 times in your engineering career, mostly in the context of how important it is, in any project, to agree upon clear requirements before committing to (and hastily proceeding towards) a deadline. Some of those times you may actually follow that advice. Other times it’s just talk, like how you should “wear sunscreen when spending time outdoors” and “eat a diet low in saturated fats and...

## Trust, but Verify: Examining the Output of an Embedded Compiler

I work with motor control firmware on the Microchip dsPIC33 series of microcontrollers. The vast majority of that firmware is written in C, with only a few percent in assembly. And I got to thinking recently: I programmed in C and C++ on an Intel PC from roughly 1991 to 2009. But I don’t remember ever working with x86 assembly code. Not once. Not even reading it. Which seems odd. I do that all the time with embedded firmware. And I think you should too. Before I say why, here are...

## How to Read a Power MOSFET Datasheet

One of my pet peeves is when my fellow engineers misinterpret component datasheets. This happened a few times recently in separate instances, all involving power MOSFETs. So it’s time for me to get on my soapbox. Listen up!

I was going to post an article on how to read component datasheets in general. But MOSFETs are a good place to start, and are a little more specific. I’m not the first person to write something about how to read datasheets; here are some other good...

## The Other Kind of Bypass Capacitor

There’s a type of bypass capacitor I’d like to talk about today.

It’s not the usual power supply bypass capacitor, aka decoupling capacitor, which is used to provide local charge storage to an integrated circuit, so that the high-frequency supply currents to the IC can bypass (hence the name) all the series resistance and inductance from the power supply. This reduces the noise on a DC voltage supply. I’ve...

## Isolated Sigma-Delta Modulators, Rah Rah Rah!

I recently faced a little "asterisk" problem, which looks like it can be solved with some interesting ICs.

I needed to plan out some test instrumentation to capture voltage and current information over a short period of time. Nothing too fancy, 10 or 20kHz sampling rate, about a half-dozen channels sampled simultaneously or near simultaneously, for maybe 5 or 10 seconds.

Here's the "asterisk": Oh, by the way, because the system in question was tied to the AC mains, I needed some...

## Lazy Properties in Python Using Descriptors

This is a bit of a side tangent from my normal at-least-vaguely-embedded-related articles, but I wanted to share a moment of enlightenment I had recently about descriptors in Python. The easiest way to explain a descriptor is a way to outsource attribute lookup and modification.

Python has a bunch of “magic” methods that are hooks into various object-oriented mechanisms that let you do all sorts of ridiculously clever things. Whether or not they’re a good idea is another...

## Oscilloscope Dreams

My coworkers and I recently needed a new oscilloscope. I thought I would share some of the features I look for when purchasing one.

When I was in college in the early 1990's, our oscilloscopes looked like this:

Now the cathode ray tubes have almost all been replaced by digital storage scopes with color LCD screens, and they look like these:

Oscilloscopes are basically just fancy expensive boxes for graphing voltage vs. time. They span a wide range of features and prices:...

## Lost Secrets of the H-Bridge, Part II: Ripple Current in the DC Link Capacitor

In my last post, I talked about ripple current in inductive loads.

One of the assumptions we made was that the DC link was, in fact, a DC voltage source. In reality that's an approximation; no DC voltage source is perfect, and current flow will alter the DC link voltage. To analyze this, we need to go back and look at how much current actually is being drawn from the DC link. Below is an example. This is the same kind of graph as last time, except we added two...

## Margin Call: Fermi Problems, Highway Horrors, Black Swans, and Why You Should Worry About When You Should Worry

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns — there are things we do not know we don’t know.” — Donald Rumsfeld, February 2002

Today’s topic is engineering margin.

XKCD had a what-if column involving Fermi...

## Fluxions for Fun and Profit: Euler, Trapezoidal, Verlet, or Runge-Kutta?

Today we're going to take another diversion from embedded systems, and into the world of differential equations, modeling, and computer simulation.

DON'T PANIC!First of all, just pretend I didn't bring up anything complicated. We're exposed to the effects of differential equations every day, whether we realize it or not. Your car speedometer and odometer are related by a differential equation, and whether you like math or not, you probably have some comprehension of what's going on: you...

## Stairway to Thévenin

This article was inspired by a recent post on reddit asking for help on Thévenin and Norton equivalent circuits.

(With apologies to Mr. Thévenin, the rest of the e's that follow will remain unaccented.)

I still remember my introductory circuits class on the subject, roughly as follows:

(NOTE: Do not get scared of what you see in the rest of this section. We're going to point out the traditional approach for teaching linear equivalent circuits first. If you have...

## Lost Secrets of the H-Bridge, Part III: Practical Issues of Inductor and Capacitor Ripple Current

We've been analyzing the ripple current in an H-bridge, both in an inductive load and the DC link capacitor. Here's a really quick recap; if you want to get into more details, go back and read part I and part II until you've got equations coming out of your ears. I promise there will be a lot less grungy math in this post. So let's get most of it out of the way:

Switches QAH and QAL are being turned on and off with pulse-width modulation (PWM), to produce an average voltage DaVdc on...

## Donald Knuth Is the Root of All Premature Optimization

This article is about something profound that a brilliant young professor at Stanford wrote nearly 45 years ago, and now we’re all stuck with it.

TL;DRThe idea, basically, is that even though optimization of computer software to execute faster is a noble goal, with tangible benefits, this costs time and effort up front, and therefore the decision to do so should not be made on whims and intuition, but instead should be made after some kind of analysis to show that it has net...

## Important Programming Concepts (Even on Embedded Systems) Part III: Volatility

1vol·a·tile adjective \ˈvä-lə-təl, especially British -ˌtī(-ə)l\ : likely to change in a very sudden or extreme way : having or showing extreme or sudden changes of emotion : likely to become dangerous or out of control

— Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Other articles in this series:

## 10 More (Obscure) Circuit Components You Should Know

The interest in my previous article on obscure but useful electronics parts, "10 Circuit Components You Should Know" was encouraging enough that I thought I would write a followup. So here are another 10:

1. "Ideal Diode" controllers

Load-sharing circuits use diodes tied together at their cathode terminal to take the most positive voltage among the sources and connect it to a load. Works great: you have a DC/DC power supply, a battery, and a solar cell, and it will use whichever output is...

## Tolerance Analysis

Today we’re going to talk about tolerance analysis. This is a topic that I have danced around in several previous articles, but never really touched upon in its own right. The closest I’ve come is Margin Call, where I discussed several different techniques of determining design margin, and ran through some calculations to justify that it was safe to allow a certain amount of current through an IRFP260N MOSFET.

Tolerance analysis...

## Someday We’ll Find It, The Kelvin Connection

You’d think it wouldn’t be too hard to measure electrical resistance accurately. And it’s really not, at least according to wikiHow.com: you just follow these easy steps:

- Choose the item whose resistance you wish to measure.
- Plug the probes into the correct test sockets.
- Turn on the multimeter.
- Select the best testing range.
- Touch the multimeter probes to the item you wish to measure.
- Set the multimeter to a high voltage range after finishing the...

## Real-time clocks: Does anybody really know what time it is?

We recently started writing software to make use of a real-time clock IC, and found to our chagrin that the chip was missing a rather useful function, namely elapsed time in seconds since the standard epoch (January 1, 1970, midnight UTC).Let me back up a second.A real-time clock/calendar (RTC) is a micropower chip that has an oscillator on it that keeps counting time, independent of main system power. Usually this is done with a lithium battery that can power the RTC for years, so that even...

## Ten Little Algorithms, Part 6: Green’s Theorem and Swept-Area Detection

Other articles in this series:

- Part 1: Russian Peasant Multiplication
- Part 2: The Single-Pole Low-Pass Filter
- Part 3: Welford's Method (And Friends)
- Part 4: Topological Sort
- Part 5: Quadratic Extremum Interpolation and Chandrupatla's Method

This article is mainly an excuse to scribble down some cryptic-looking mathematics — Don’t panic! Close your eyes and scroll down if you feel nauseous — and...

## Linear Feedback Shift Registers for the Uninitiated, Part XVIII: Primitive Polynomial Generation

Last time we figured out how to reverse-engineer parameters of an unknown CRC computation by providing sample inputs and analyzing the corresponding outputs. One of the things we discovered was that the polynomial \( x^{16} + x^{12} + x^5 + 1 \) used in the 16-bit X.25 CRC is not primitive — which just means that all the nonzero elements in the corresponding quotient ring can’t be generated by powers of \( x \), and therefore the corresponding 16-bit LFSR with taps in bits 0, 5,...

## Fluxions for Fun and Profit: Euler, Trapezoidal, Verlet, or Runge-Kutta?

Today we're going to take another diversion from embedded systems, and into the world of differential equations, modeling, and computer simulation.

DON'T PANIC!First of all, just pretend I didn't bring up anything complicated. We're exposed to the effects of differential equations every day, whether we realize it or not. Your car speedometer and odometer are related by a differential equation, and whether you like math or not, you probably have some comprehension of what's going on: you...

## 10 Items of Test Equipment You Should Know

When life gets rough and a circuit board is letting you down, it’s time to turn to test equipment. The obvious ones are multimeters and oscilloscopes and power supplies. But you know about those already, right?

Here are some you may not have heard of:

Non-contact current sensors. Oscilloscope probes measure voltage. When you need to measure current, you need a different approach. Especially at high voltages, where maintaining galvanic isolation is important for safety. The usual...

## The Other Kind of Bypass Capacitor

There’s a type of bypass capacitor I’d like to talk about today.

It’s not the usual power supply bypass capacitor, aka decoupling capacitor, which is used to provide local charge storage to an integrated circuit, so that the high-frequency supply currents to the IC can bypass (hence the name) all the series resistance and inductance from the power supply. This reduces the noise on a DC voltage supply. I’ve...