10 Electronics Things to be Thankful for in 2010

“Do they have 4th of July in Canada?”

The Thanksgiving holiday is upon those of us here in the United States. It’s been a bummer of a couple of years for a lot of the electronics world, but there’s still plenty to be thankful for — and I think it’s getting better. Well, “better” is a relative term, I guess. We at Screaming Circuits have gone from feeling the effects of the recession to being overwhelmed with work as people get back to designing stuff.

Here’s my recommendations on what to be thankful of this holiday season. Feel free to come up with your own list. I won’t look down on you if you don’t use my exact list.

#10: SIlicone. Because, while germanium is a semiconductor, silicon works much better. Germanium can’t stand the heat and had to get out of the fire.

#9: Flip chips. They’re so tiny and cute. And they have better thermal transfer properties than wire-bonded chips, not to mention improvements in inductance. And you can jam a whole lot more into the same space with little flip chips than you can with SOIC chips. Plus, if you run out of pepper, you can season your mashed potatoes with a bunch of spare flip chips. Just make sure they’re lead-free.

#8: HASL. Yes. It’s still around. And while it’s not the best solution for the aforementioned flip chips, it is one of the most robust, easiest to store, handle and use when dealing with larger geometries. It’s the way to go when hand soldering.

#7: ENIG and immersion silver. HASL may be my preference for hand soldering, but when using big BGAs or lots of small components, the bumpy surface of HASL can cause problems. That’s when a nice planar surface such as ENIG or immersion silver makes life a lot easier.

#6: Open source hardware. Open source has been helping out the software industry fore quite a while. It’s about time hardware folks benefited from the concept. In some ways it seems a bit exploitative of the designers, but as long as they are doing it voluntarily, I guess it’s okay. Open source hardware gave us the Arduino, which seems to have made microcontrollers a lot more accessible. It gave us DIY Drones, which seems to be proving that autonomy isn’t just for big-iron.

#5: mBed. This nice little ARM development board has taken a new approach to dramatically reducing the barriers to entry. With a complete online IDE and extremely easy startup and use, it will help a lot of people learn about advanced microcontrollers and will help a lot of people move from 8-bit up to the 32-bit ARM world. I don’t think you could make it any easier than this.

#4: FTDI. They made USB easy to implement on just about any design. Cool.

#3: The Beagleboard-xM. Speaking of open source hardware, the Beagleboard came about a few years ago as the first (as far as I could tell) seriously powerful open source hardware platform. It brought open source out of the hobby garage and into corporate America. The New xM has made the design even more powerful and indicates Ti’s commitment to the project.

#2: Quickturn PCB fab and assembly houses. Like Screaming Circuits for assembly and our buddies at Sunstone for the PCB fab, so you can get your prototypes built up a lot faster. Yes, I know this one is self-serving. But, you know, these guys pay my salary and I really believe in what we do here.

#1: Drum roll please…

#1: Caffeine. It helps us keep designing into the wee hours of the night. Then it helps us get back to designing early in the morning when we should be sleeping because we stayed up to late the night before. Caffeine is the fuel that powers our economic engine, so that’s my #1 thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. There is a part of me, however, that suspects that due to caffeine, we might just be doing this all wrong. Maybe we should, instead, try actually sleeping the proper number of hours per night. Just a thought.

Duane Benson
Wikipedia says caffeine is a natural pesticide. Hmmm…
Well, at least it’s natural.


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