Flutter

If there was a lot of tweeting going on, I think I’d call it “flutter.” I could call it “a bunch of Twitter tweets,” but that’s too long and awkward, so I’m good with flutter. Probably because it’s short and rhymes with clutter. If there’s really a lot, then we could call it flutter clutter.

Regardless, I’m still in my quest to determine if Twitter really does have a use that matches up with something I might need or find useful. I’ll just take a few examples. What I’m finding is, in addition to the “I ate a Cheeto” noise, there seems to be useful information. I regularly pass through a fair number of websites, but there are more that I would like to keep up on.

If the website owner does a good job, I can keep posted on their doings and I can know when I need to pop over for more detail. Adafruit is a good example of that. I’m not currently in the market for anything they sell, but they are one of the most influential members of the open source hardware community. By following them on Twitter, I can just glance at their announcements quickly and quickly jump over if I want more detail. That works pretty good for keeping up with the OSHW folks. I have a number others that I follow for similar purposes..

I also like to keep up with the mood and mindset of the engineering community. I read the trade magazines (or their websites) but there is more to it than that. I don’t follow many periodicals because the volume of tweets tends to be too high. I have few (SilconFarmer, Chris Gammel, Mighty Ohm and freaklabs) that I follow specifically for that purpose. That’s useful.

MaxMaxfield (AKA Max the Magnificent) always has interesting things to say. Some just his own thoughts and some teasers for interesting articles he’s written over on the eeTimes website. And he posts just about the right amount. Enough to be worth following but not so much as to become noise. Mike Buetow over at Circuits Assembly magazine does a very good job of keeping me informed about what’s going on in the EMS industry. Very valuable.

Okay, so that’s not everyone I follow, but it’s three different types of Twitter streams that I follow and find useful. I think that means that whether I like it or not, I do seem to be finding use in all of the flutter clutter. I won’t call myself completely sold yet, or even a Twitter fan, but I may be getting there. I still do my best to avoid the “Cheerios are good” crowd.

That’s three uses. Any other good uses for it in the technical community that I’ve missed?

Duane Benson
Burmashave

http://blog.screamingcircuits.com/

Twitter, What is it Good For? Absolutely 555contest

I follow a few people on Twitter. A few people follow me on Twitter.

A number of websites have engaged their readers in debates about the usefulness of Twitter (and other social media) to engineers. In general, these debates are talking about hardware engineers. A lot of software engineers pretty much live on the Internet and will embrace or invent any new thing.

The overwhelming majority of the responses that I’ve read put Twitter in the class of “a waste of time.” Not everyone feels that way, but there’s quite a few who do. I’m still in study mode. I can see how it can take up a lot of time if you don’t exercise some self-control and it has a weird, semi-voyeuristic aspect.

If I’m following, person A and person B, I’ll see any conversation they are having. Most discussions are undertaken with that in mind, but some start to lean toward the personal side. Now, if person C gets in the conversation with one or both of A and B, and I’m not following C, I end up 723px-NE555_Bloc_Diagram.svg seeing part of the conversation. It’s a bit like listening to someone talk on the phone and hearing only their side. It’s odd.

It can lead to interesting activity though. Recently, one tweeter, Jeri (twitter.com/jeriellsworth) suggested a design contest centered around the old stalwart 555 timer. Chris (twitter.com/Chris_Gammell) picked up the ball with her and in about three days, just over Twitter, they organized it, other tweeters chimed in, sponsors offered prize money and they’ve set up a website for it. Fascinating.

If you’re on Twitter, search for “555contest” to see the conversation in action. In any case, if you’re a fan of the now 368 year old 555 timer, you might want to dig into the recesses of your brain for entry ideas. You can also follow Screaming Circuits on Twitter at “twitter.com/pcbassembly” and see for yourself if it’s useful or too loaded with mindless drivel.

Duane Benson
Huh! Yeah!

http://blog.screamingcircuits.com/

Modularity and Standards

Eons ago, (well, it seems like eons) when IBM designed its original PC, it took note of the success of the Apple II with it’s modular expansion system — easily accessible card slots with loads of clear documentation — and added its own variety of modular expansion system. By doing so, the cost of accessories to consumers stayed low, the cost of installing or replacing said accessories stayed low and a whole new industry emerged to create compatible accessories.

I just read a Twitter Tweet (“Tweet” sounds too cutesy to me, so I’m never quite sure what to call those; maybe a “Twoot”?) from Mike Buetow that linked to an article about the latest Toyota recall. It seems that there are a couple of specific solder joints prone to cracking in the ECM (Engine Control Module) of certain models.

The last time I had any real data on the cost to replace an ECM, it was on the order of $1,500. Just scanning around the Internet, I found numbers ranging from $1,000 to $2,000. I’m guessing (I am speaking from near complete ignorance) that maybe two or three hours of that are labor at $90/ hour. That’s a lot of cost in the electronics as well as labor hours that can’t be used for billable hours. With so much of new cars being electronic, this issue is only going to become more extreme.

So, why can’t the auto industry take a cue from the PC industry? Create a standard, easily accessible, electrical bus with standard, easy to manipulate mechanical attributes. Even if they were just standard within each manufacturer, it would still be a big improvement.

Consider this scenario: Buy a Toyota mid-size-car ECM at the local auto parts store. Take it home, plug it into a USB port on your home computer. It auto-runs a link to a specific web site. Enter your car’s VIN number and the site loads firmware that matches the ECM to your car. Take the ECM outside, open your hood, flip a few latches on the water-tight electronics box, pull the old one out and plug the new one in. There you go. Done.

Instead of what is pretty much a massively expensive dealer-only operation, you have half a dozen standard bus ECMs to choose from and about 15 minutes of work that’s not much more difficult than installing a new printer on your PC. And, you’d have less expensive aftermarket options as well. And, a new industry would emerge to design and build those aftermarket options.

Duane Benson
Sadly, not in my lifetime, Batman…

http://blog.screamingcircuits.com/

Want Data

So, I tried to participate in this SparkFun “free day” this morning. They were giving out $100 worth of goodies free per customer (up to a combined total of $100,000), starting at 9 am MST (8 am PST here in Oregon).

I was pretty excited about it and had decided to get a new PIC programmer and some pre-assembled jumper wires. I hate crimping those little things by hand. I put it on my calendar for the night before and again for that morning. Then, I found out that I had forgotten a dentist appointment at 8 that morning. Bummer.

Just in case it would take more than an hour to burn through that $100,000, I went ahead and got ready. I logged in and put the items in my cart. I left the browser sitting there waiting. All I had to do was click the “Place Order” button when I returned after getting my teeth scraped.

But, alas, when I got back, the site was timed out and not accessible. I refreshed, tried a different browser, refreshed again, etc. I did once get enough of the site to load to see that they had only sold through about $19,000 thus far. Okay, that’s not so bad. I could finish making my latte and get in to the office. Maybe try there.

Then, at the office, I was never able to get anything at all from the site to load. All full up. I had to go to a meeting at 10 and I thought that if they stayed at around $20,000 per hour, I might just have a chance of getting through when the meeting was over. But, it was not to be. When I checked in again at 11:30, all $100,000 was sold through. My guess is that so many people were trying in the first hour that the servers only had enough bandwidth to process $20,000. After that, enough people gave up trying that the hardware could get the final $80,000 through in the next 44 minutes and 50 seconds.

Now here’s where my quest for data comes in. I was never able to get more then one click into the process. If all connections were equal, I would presume that everyone would have had the same results. Even if by random chance, someone found a pause long enough to get one page loaded, the chances of each subsequent step would drop astronomically. So, what is it about the Internet that gives some people priority over others? I’d love to see a geographic overlay of the folks that got an order placed combined with their distance from a backbone. Is it distance from a backbone (in hops or in miles) or is it distance from the SparkFun server?

In any case, good for them. It was a fun idea and great gesture of “thanks” Bummer for the inability to handle the load. Here’s a Twitter quote from Chris Anderson on the subject: “Google’s servers can’t keep up with Nexus demand; Free Day brings down Sparkfun. It’s 2010 — why do we still have these scaling problems?”

Ironically, when I first went to Twitter to copy that quote, Twitter was reporting overcapacity and I had to wait awhile for all the tweets to come back.

Duane Benson

If only my packets were more aggressive.

http://blog.screamingcircuits.com/