Archive for October, 2015

WE ASSUME CONTROL: SPI AND A DIGITAL POTENTIOMETER

In the last video I demonstrated a Universal Active Filter that I could adjust with a dual-gang potentiometer, here I replace the potentiometer with a processor controlled solid-state potentiometer. For those that are too young to remember, we used to say “solid-state” to differentiate between that and something that used vacuum tubes… mostly we meant you could drop it without it breakage.

The most common way to control the everyday peripheral chips available is through use of one of the common Serial Protocols such as I2C and SPI.  In the before-time back when we had only 8 bits and were lucky if 7 of them worked, we used to have to memory map a peripheral or Input/Output (I/O) controller which means we had to take many control and data lines from the microprocessor such as Data, Address, Read/Write, system clocks and several other signals just to write to a couple of control registers buried in a chip.

 

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HOW TO BUILD A THERMOCOUPLE AMPLIFIER

A Thermocouple is a terrific way to measure temperature. The effects of temperature change on dissimilar metals produces a measurable voltage. But to make that measurement you need an amplifier circuit designed for the thermocouple being used.

Linear Technology LTC 1049 Low Power Zero-Drift Operational Amplifier with Internal Capacitors
Linear Technology LTC 1049 Low Power Zero-Drift Operational Amplifier
with Internal Capacitors

While researching “Zero Drift Amplifiers” as a follow-up to my video on Instrumentation Amplifiers I noticed the little schematic the front page of the LTC1049 datasheet which is shown here. I thought it was an ideal example of an analog application where some gain and some “gain helper” were needed to accomplish our useful little application of amplifying a thermocouple probe.

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Thermocouple Temperature Response

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DIRECT DIGITAL SYNTHESIS (DDS) EXPLAINED BY [BIL HERD]

One of the acronyms you may hear thrown around is DDS which stands for Direct Digital Synthesis. DDS can be as simple as taking a digital value — a collection of ones and zeroes — and processing it through a Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) circuit. For example, if the digital source is the output of a counter that counts up to a maximum value and resets then the output of the DAC would be a ramp (analog signal) that increases in voltage until it resets back to its starting voltage.

This concept can be very useful for creating signals for use in a project or as a poor-man’s version of a signal or function generator. With this in mind I set out here to demonstrate some basic waveforms using programmable logic for flexibility, and a small collection of resistors to act as a cheap DAC. In the end I will also demonstrate an off-the-shelf and inexpensive DDS chip that can be used with any of the popular micro-controller boards available that support SPI serial communication.

All of the topics covered in the video are also discussed further after the break.

 

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BIL HERD: COMPUTING WITH ANALOG

When I was young the first “computer” I ever owned was an analog computer built from a kit. It had a sloped plastic case which had three knobs with large numerical scales around them and a small center-null meter. To operate it I would dial in two numbers as indicated by the scales and then adjust the “answer” by rotating the third dial until the little meter centered. Underneath there was a small handful of components wired on a terminal strip including two or three transistors.

Science Fair Analog Computer
Science Fair Analog Computer

In thinking back about that relic from the early 1970’s there was a moment when I assumed they may have been using the transistors as logarithmic amplifiers meaning that it was able to multiply electronically. After a few minutes of thought I came to the conclusion that it was probably much simpler and was most likely a Wheatstone Bridge. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t multiply, it was probably the printed scales that were logarithmic, much like a slide rule.

Analog slide rule on digital calculator
Old meets new: Analog and digital computation

Did someone just ask what a slide rule was? Let me explain further for anyone under 50. If you watch the video footage or movies about the Apollo Space Program you won’t see any anyone carrying a hand calculator, they didn’t exist yet. Yet the navigation guys in the first row of Mission Control known aptly as “the trench”, could quickly calculate a position or vector to within a couple of decimal places, and they did it using sliding piece of bamboo or aluminum with numbers printed on them.

 

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INTERACTIVE SOFTWARE TO SOLVE CROSSTALK PROBLEMS

A link to this video demonstrating PCB cross-talk ended up in my mailbox the other day as I tend to stay on the mailing lists of the some of the high end CAD companies. There are some really interesting and powerful “mega-tools” that do things like plot noise density for decoupling analysis and extremely high speed timing analysis, though the costs of these tools are commensurate with their capabilities. This one is part of the Mentor Graphics PCB Simulation software.

The tool shown does the math needed to predict the induced voltage noise (cross-talk) generated by the proximity of noise sources to the noise susceptible elements, and the tool does so interactively. This is remarkable… in the past we would calculate some examples of trace width, spacing, and the type of signals involved, and then generate some rules of thumb that we tried to apply during the layout process. It was an educated guess that was sometimes not as close as we would have liked.

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HOW CMOS WORKS: MOSFETS, JFETS, IGFETS AND MORE

CMOS opened the door for many if not most of the properties needed for today’s highly integrated circuits and low power portable and mobile devices. This really couldn’t happen until the speeds and current drive capabilities of CMOS caught up to the other technologies, but catch up they did.

Nowadays CMOS Small Scale Integration (SSI) logic families, I.E. the gates used in external logic, offer very fast speeds and high current drive capability as well as supporting the low voltages found in modern designs. Likewise the Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) designs, or Very Very Large Scale if you like counting the letter V when talking, are possible due to low power dissipation as well as other factors.

HOW CMOS IS DESIGNED

CMOS, which means Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor, is based on combining two polarities of MOSFETS; Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistors.

BJTRegular transistors, known as Bipolar Junction Transistors (BJT) meaning that they are made from junctions that have a positive and a negative (PN) junction utilize current as the input and create gain by controlling output current. As all of these current flows add up it means that at the end of the day there is a lot of current flowing which results in power being dissipated which ultimately results in heat.

JFETThe Junction Field Effect Transistor (JFET) utilizes voltage instead of current on its Gate input, somewhat like the Base on a Bipolar Transistor, to control the output voltage. Since the Gate is not insulated from the other terminals, known as the Source and Drain, there is a leakage current in JFETs that would not be present if the Gate was insulated from the Source and Drain.
Enter the Insulated Gate FET (IGFET) which is the basis for most of the transistor devices found on large scale integrated chips today. Looking at the diagram, the MOSFETs all show a distinct space between the Gate and the rest of the structure. The other two pins are the Source and the Drain.

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polaritySCR-Mechanismcmos-voltagescmos-ttl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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COMMVEX 2015: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN COMMODORE USERS GATHER

I’m not getting any younger, in fact I’m getting older by the day.  This fact along with the fact that this year is the 30th anniversary of the Commodore C-128 and the original Commodore Amiga prompted me to attend this year’s CommVEx in Las Vegas lest I not be around for the next significant anniversary. For those that don’t know me, I designed the C-128 at the ripe old age of 25 back in 1984-85, though I would ask that you not hold that against me as it was a very long time ago.

Also this year Dr. Leonard Tramiel, son of Commodore’s founder Jack Tramiel, was able to swing by which was an unprecedented and unforgettable event.

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GATES TO FPGAS: TTL ELECTRICAL PROPERTIES

On the path to exploring complex logic, let’s discuss the electrical properties that digital logic signals are comprised of. While there are many types of digital signals, here we are talking about the more common voltage based single-ended signals and not the dual-conductor based differential signals.

Simulated "Real Life"
Single-ended Logic Signal

I think of most logic as being in one of two major divisions as far as the technology used for today’s logic: Bipolar and CMOS. Bipolar is characterized by use of (non-insulated gate) transistors and most often associated with Transistor Transistor Logic (TTL) based logic levels. As CMOS technology came of age and got faster and became able to drive higher currents it began to augment or offer an alternative to bipolar logic families. This is especially true as power supply voltages dropped and the need for low power increased

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MAKING THE CES SHOW… THIRTY YEARS AGO

This year’s CES has dredged up some memories. I had assumed that as one becomes old they are supposed to become used to memories of a young vigorous person that shared their body and memories leaving little else except some scars and some old stale socks lying around plus 2 or 3 pictures to prove it was in fact not a series of hallucinations. Turns out you don’t get used to it, you just endure.

scan00011

30 Years ago was our CES: Commodore had the reputation of showing something new every CES and this was a time when a Home Computer meant a Consumer Computer. I have written before about how we endeavored to make sure other’s failures didn’t become ours and we did in fact make it, just in time, to the ’85 CES with what became our flagship computer, at least for the next 4 days.

 

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WIRE WRAP 101

You might notice that many of my writings start with “Back in the day”. Not wanting to disappoint I will say that back in the day we used to use wire wrap technology when we needed a somewhat solid, somewhat reliably assembly. Given a readable schematic a good tech could return a working or near-working unit in a day or two depending on the completeness and accuracy of the schematic.

thumb2

Properly done a wire wrap assembly is capable of fairly high speed and acceptable noise when the alternative option of creating a custom PCB would take too long or not allow enough experimentation.  Wire wrap is also used in several types of production, from telco to NASA, but I am all about the engineer’s point of view on this.

My first wire wrap tool and wire wrap wire came from Radio Shack in the mid 1970’s.  I still have the wire, because frankly its kind of cheap wire and I use it when it’s the only thing I can reach quickly when I need to make a jumper on a PCB. The tool is still around also, given the fact that I can’t find it at the moment the one shown here is my new wire wrap tool which is good for low quantity wrapping, unwrapping and stripping.

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