Merging modern software development with electrons and metal
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Category — General Commentary

Summer is over, and so is my blogging vacation

For a variety of reasons, I’ve taken a break from blogging over the summer.  Now that it’s fall, it’s time to get back.

My plan is to concentrate first on improving the site a bit, including posting updates on my progress, along with some normal posts.  For example, I need to look at the theme which hasn’t changed in a long time, I might switch to a secure website (https) now that’s more affordable, and I’ll probably replace subversion with git (possibly hosted somewhere else such as gitlab).

I’ll also try to get back to regularly posting notes and micro-reviews on Instagram (mostly stationery related, but some automation tools, too).

But my first priority is to update my wiki, most likely moving from trac to Redmine.  I feel that trac made a lot of sense which I choose it eons ago, but it’s development has been glacial and I’ve found it’s hard to update or move.

I will do my best to provide weekly updates on my progress in modernizing Factory Software Blog.

October 6, 2016   No Comments

Blog Notes – July 2016

My apologies for not posting much – and it might continue for another month or two.

Partly I think I might be a bit burned out; I haven’t felt excited about blogging recently, so a little summer break will help.

Also, as I’ve said before, I’ve been pretty busy.  On the industrial side, I’m doing some research on PLCs (which will hopefully lead to some blog posts) and I’ve been playing with some new connectors because they’re interesting, I might use them at work, and I might write about them here.

July 21, 2016   No Comments

Factory Software Blog Is Back!

My apologies for the down time – I did a transition from 32-bit to 64-bit hosting, which screwed up WordPress.  I should’ve been better prepared, but I’ve never had an issue with WordPress before, so given my inexperience in WordPress maintenance plus my normal lack of time, it’s taken a while and some learning to get things back.

I’m still not sure everything is perfect on this site, plus it could use some more updates, so my plan is to check over everything and make some more improvements before getting back to regular (or semi-regular) new blog posts.  Update yes, I have some work to do — none of the links to older blog posts work.  I’ll try to fix this within a day or two.

Also, the trac site has some issues with browsing the subversion repository, and needs some updates.

6/27/2016 – links to older blog posts now work.  There are still some issues to fix, such as extra characters.

June 21, 2016   No Comments

New: FactorySwBlog on Instagram

I’ve setup a factoryswblog account on Instagram.

My primary goal is still to provide unique, longer form content; I’m still not interested in participating in real time online arguments (been there, done that, too old for that now).

However, creating new posts typically takes a lot of time, so my plan is for the Instagram account to provide more frequent updates.  It’ll probably be more biased towards my personal interests such as pens, but I will try to include a mix of topics.

Companion Site Summary

I now have four companion sites.  I am still figuring out what works best in what format.  Also, by the summer I hope to revise this blog’s look a bit – I think it’s a little too busy, and I want to add an Instagram widget.  The sites are:

  • The trac wiki and repository viewer.  I’m using it for directories, reference information, and repository viewer.  Sometime not very soon, I will look at moving it to Redmine, since trac’s development has been pretty slow (and in my experience, it’s a pain to upgrade).
  • The subversion repository.  It holds my PCB design files and source code.  I may eventually move it to git.
  • My Youtube channel for videos.  It currently only has 1 video, but I have a few more planned.  Note that if your workplace has blocked Youtube, let me know.  If blocking Youtube is a significant problem, I’ll look for alternatives.
  • Finally, of course, my brand new Instagram account for more frequent updates with photos and a bit of text.

January 30, 2016   No Comments

New Year Resolutions

My New Year’s resolution for blogging is obvious: catch up on blogging this year.

I was fully occupied in December by trying to get some new machines shipped at work and by all the Christmas activities at home, plus some computer issues, added to all the normal stuff.

My wish list for the coming year including:

  • Writing about embedded and maker topics.  I’ve been interested in embedded systems for a long time, and I have a couple Arduino projects ready to be written up.
  • Write some more pen and paper posts, with an emphasis on affordable products.  Although I still enjoy the, I’ve noticed that the average cost of the items mentioned has gone up substantially.  So I will try to highlight affordable, yet high quality, products that I’ve found.
  • Include more stories about my automation experiences.
  • And, of course, I plan on continuing my automation posts, which remain the core of this blog.  I have a number of partially finished posts, including some on AS-i and I haven’t forgotten about robots.

January 1, 2016   No Comments

DDoS Downtime

Unfortunately, this blog was collateral damage from a large scale DDoS attack the last few days (that attacked a whole subnet of addresses, including this blog’s host).  It took a few days for my hosting service to restore service, and even then there have been occasional problems.

If you’re interested in more details, please see this blog post.

July 14, 2014   No Comments

7 Years And 250 Posts

It’s been a slow journey, but I’ve blogged my way to 250 posts over 7 years.  I am trying to post more frequently, but it’s not easy.

I recently did a guest post on Panasonic PLCs for a blog which is always worth checking out, the Automation Primer.

I promise I’ll be getting back to my Robot Primer series soon; I’ve been learning a lot, having fun with the Denso WinCaps III simulator, and learning to do simple movies.

In the fall, I plan on doing multiple posts on two topics:

  1. Practical advice and tips on Panasonic PLCs
  2. Test drives and comparisons of ARM Cortex-M4 boards.

I’d like to be able to do some other automation and embedded posts (like PCB tools for automation professionals, some fun servo motor stuff, and maybe even some Arduino motion topics), but it will be challenging to find the time.


May 30, 2014   2 Comments

Notes from the EE Live! 2014 Exhibition

In early April I managed to sneak off work for a day and wander down to the San Jose Convention Center for the EE Live! 2014 Exhibition (formerly known as the Embedded Systems Conference).  The ESC has had its ups and downs, going from the San Jose Convention Center (which I like a lot) to the Moscone in SF (bigger, but not better), back to the SJCC, and next year, down to the Santa Clara Convention Center (which is a pretty nice setup, but not the location for major shows).

I skipped ESC last year, so I was surprised how much the show has shrunk.  On the plus side, there was a lot of exhibition floor training sessions, and all the ones I saw were well attended.  In fact, NXP skipped the product booth and only did training.  Since I do enjoy harassing talking to sales dudes and want to encourage companies to come back, I spent most of my time at the vendor booths.  Here are my show notes, which reflect my interests (which tend towards industrial applications, MCUs, and DSPs):

  • I was surprised at the size of the x86/x64 contingent: Intel, AMD, and a trio of motherboard manufacturers (Asrock, Supermicro, and MSI).  There were also several flash vendors.
    • I have to put in a plug for ASRock, because my desktop PC has an ASRock motherboard, and when it had a minor problem (PS/2 ports quit working), ASRock’s service was quite good.  However, the industrial division is separate (and much smaller), selling compact industrial motherboards direct or through distributors such as Logic Supply.
  • TI had a pretty big booth, showing off their more embedded-oriented lines (no C6x DSPs or analog), including the BeagleBone and the various LaunchPads.
    • TI’s EE Live! 2014 videos are available on Youtube.
    • TI still did their tool swap, so I traded an old Philips 8051 CAN dev kit for a shiny new Tiva Connected LaunchPad, which I have since donated to an eLua volunteer.  TI said the Connected LaunchPad was very popular.
    • I had fun discussing industrial safety (standards, light curtains, safety PLCs, and such) with the Hercules guys – and verified that the RM48 Hercules MCUs do indeed support double precision floating point.
    • It’s always fun to see motors run, and TI was demonstrating their InstaSPIN techology with a conveyor.  I had fun complaining about too many serial encoder protocols (Biss, EnDAT. SSI, Panasonic, Tamagawa, etc).
  • Microchip had a pretty big booth, with a wide array of products.  The new PIC32MZs are pretty impressive, but what I wanted to see was their metal-over-cap button technology.  Microchip has been improving it; this year they showed off metal dome capacitive buttons (my favorite, since they had good tactile feedback) and backlit buttons.
    • Microchip App Note AN1626 [PDF] has lots of interesting information on how to design and backlight metal over cap buttons.
    • The backlit buttons were a demo of Demmel’s metalLight technology.
    • The tactile buttons were a demo of grafos steel’s Click-Inox technology.




  • ST ran a lot of in-booth seminars;  I listened to the mbed presentation for a while (and now want to learn more).  I didn’t spend much time looking at their products since I’m pretty familiar with them.
    • ST was giving out STM32F401 Nucleo boards if you were lucky enough to get a goody bag (I managed to snag the second-to-last bag).  This Nucleo includes the sweet STM32F401 MCU, Arduino headers, and mbed compatibility (SDK (Software Development Kit) and HDK (Hardware Development Kit)).
  • Atmel didn’t have a booth: instead they had their roadshow trailer.  The coolest demo was a 3D printer, powered by Atmel of course.
  • NI had a booth showing off LabView and their hardware, including a motion-and-vision demo featuring Kollmorgen drives and motors.  I spent most of my time there discussing industrial applications with a guy from Xilinx who is interested in industrial applications (such as real time Ethernet) for FPGAs.
  • I took a class from Rhode & Schwarz on oscilloscopes basics, and received a free Digital Stimulus Board for my time.  My big take-away from the class: short, good grounds are critical (long, looping ground wires can be great antennas).  Their oscilloscopes are impressive and fun to play with, but quite a bit more advanced than I need.
  • I stopped by Pico Technology briefly to see what was new.  Pico makes what are probably the highest end USB oscilloscopes.  Some of the newest models support USB 3.0.  Another series has variable resolution (you can trade slower speeds for increased resolution).  Most of them are fairly large.  I asked about USB latency; the salesman said they used some tricks, but noted that they perform a lot of processing in the scope using a FPGA, so the USB connection isn’t as critical.
  • Vision Components was showing off their OEM smart cameras, so I stopped by as always to see what was new.
  • I stopped by Acces I/O and chatted about industrial Ethernet protocols and data acquisition.  Their USB-DA12-8A is one of the more affordable options if you need a precisely timed DAC output.  And they might have some good stuff coming in the Ethernet DAQ arena.
  • I talked briefly with Sealevel Systems; they make a variety of industrial grade computers, serial interfaces, digital I/O, and analog I/O.
  • Trinamic was showing off their stepper and DC motor drive chips, boards, and enclosed drives.  Although they’re not the best fit for my current requirements, they’re worth checking out, and have some low cost models (especially for the chips and boards).  Some models support CANOpen or EtherCAT.
  • Silvertel was showing off a variety of PoE modules, with prototypes up to 200W.  They claim their module pricing is cost-competitive with rolling your own up to medium volumes (say 1000’s or 10,000’s per year).

April 23, 2014   No Comments

Bloglist Changes and Other Notes

I’ve made a few changes to my blog list:

  • I’ve removed Deelip’s blog since he’s been updating infrequently.
  • Although Gary Mintchell’s Feedforward blog is no longer being updated, I’m leaving it for now, partly because of its automation blog list.  I plan on removing it on my next blog list update.
  • I’m also keeping Evolving Excellence for now, even though updates are infrequent, because of the many good interesting posts in the past.
  • I’ve added Bill Waddell’s new home, The Manufacturing Leadership Center.  Bill was previously on Evolving Excellence.
  • I’ve added Gary Mintchell’s new site, The Manufacturing Connection.
  • I’ve added links to my two companion sites (for trac and subversion) so they’re easily to find.  The trac site is kind of a notepad for me, but it does have a lot of useful information.
  • I’m adding a special mention here to Walter Russel Mead’s Via Media blog.  Since I avoid politics almost all the time here because I think too much is already politicized, I’m not adding it to my blog roll, but Via Media is a thought-provoking non-partisan blog that’s well worth reading.

Sometime (hopefully next year) I’ll look at updating the theme, but right now I want to concentrate on getting more content written.  I hope to have my next Robot Primer post up within a week, and have too many other post ideas.

November 14, 2013   No Comments

What Happened To Ergonomics?

I can remember back in the 1990’s when ergonomics was a big deal.  Companies were pushing ergonomic chairs, ergonomic monitors (adjustable, etc), ergonomic keyboards, ergonomic mice, ergonomic mice alternatives (such as trackballs) and so on.

You can still find ergonomic equipment, but it’s definitely not “hot”, and a lot of it (like Kensington and Logitech trackballs) looks like it hasn’t been updated from the 1990’s…

I think it’s the smart phone and tablet revolution: they’re what’s hot, and, just like in the dot-bomb bubble, everything was “on the web”, now everything is supposed to be mobile or in “the cloud”, whether it makes sense or not.

Yes, tablets and phones have their place, and I own both, but they’re not very ergonomic for any kind of extended use if you’re creating content.  Normal, cheap keyboards are crappy enough, but they’re great compared to typing on glass.

I value my long term comfort and health, and I like to create, so ergonomics still matter to me.  I’ve started a major C# programming project; I find having two 24″ monitors really boosts my productivity.  I can’t imagine trying to do this project on a tablet (ugh!) or phone (yuck!!!!).

My Unicomp keyboard is much better than average, but I’ve ordered a mechanical keyboard.  After I’ve used it for a while, I’ll post a review.

February 25, 2013   No Comments