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January 22, 2010

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RFID Programming Course

September 9, 2009

The University of Houston College of Business has an RFID lab which offers some great courses, you can view the course notes, slides, presentations and some great overview videos even if you are not a student using the links below…

It’s certainly not the most in-depth technical tutorials but I found the link to using Winsock Control in VB programming helpful for a current project.

Making the Most of Your IEEE Membership

June 23, 2009

The Industry for Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE) offers some great benefits, many of which are not well known or seldom taken advantage of.  If you’re not currently a member you can review the benefits and get enrolled at the IEEE website.


One of the newest benefits is called memberNet; according to the IEEE website:

IEEE memberNet is an online search and networking tool that allows members to connect with technical and engineering experts worldwide.  This tool can be utilized by members seeking peers who share a common technical interest, membership, or affinity.

In addition they offer some great insurance programs including group rates on medical; very useful for those of who do not have insurance offered through an employer. They also offer discounted life, liability and disability insurance plans.

For those of us on the go, the IEEE also has a great travel service through World Travel, Inc. that includes a “Lowest Airfare Guarantee” – how about that! It can be used for personal or professional travel by IEEE members. I enjoy not spending the hours checking airfares, hotel and car rental. Speaking of car rental,  you get a car rental discount at most major car rental companies as well, regardless if you reserve through World Travel or not.

There are a number of other discounts such as:

I invite you to explore them all. I have saved hundreds every year as a small business owner by taking advantage of my IEEE membership discounts, I encourage you to do the same.

Why LXI?

June 16, 2009


Why go LXI? Why not? It costs money; is it worth it?

While most major Test and Measurement companies are members of the LXI Consortium; there are a couple notables missing: Tektronix and Anritsu. Interesting in that these two work to offer solutions which solve timing and synchronization issues – especailly Tek with their latest triggering feature set in the RSA6100A Real Time Spectrum Analyzer.

Yet, you don’t hear much about users rallying for LXI so I’ve got to wonder what it really brings to the table. The consortium will only be five years old in September so maybe it’s too early to expect much.

I still often end up pointing users I consult with to good ol’ GPIB, actually GPIB+ with higher speed, especially in applications that are simply controlling instruments and returning simple data (and not much of it). The overhead required in LAN can actually slow down testing and instrument control in some cases.

What are your thoughts on LXI; is it a “must-have” on your list of test equipment specs?

Most Common Measurement Errors – Probing, VNA

June 10, 2009

As the consultants in my company and I go about helping clients with making more accurate and efficient measurements, we see a number of common mistakes over and over across all applications (Data I/O, RF/Wireless, etc.). Very often the errors are controllable and require only some simple solutions but yet have cost the operators hours of frustration and the company thousands in wasted development or test time. Here are the top two we’ve seen and how to prevent them…
1. Problem: Inaccurate jitter results due to improper probing
Proper de-skewing is key! Be sure to use the correct signal for your reference; also, any wires used to facilitate probing need to be short and equal in length. Be sure to use the grounding pin or lead which is nearest the signals being probed.

For devices with have differential inputs/outputs (i.e. DDR) then it is critical to measure and take into account the static phase offset which will be present as shown below.

Calculation of Static Phase Offset in a Differential DDR Circuit

Calculation of Static Phase Offset in a Differential DDR Circuit

Each instrument will have a different approach to implementing this so be sure to understand it if you want accurate measurements. One last word on jitter, realize that you really need to utilize a variety of tools if understanding jitter in your device is critical. Spectrum Analyzers, Oscilloscopes, BERTs and Time Interval Analyzers all give you a different view and insight to the various jitter parameters; don’t buy into the “one tool does it all” approach.

2. Problem: Inaccurate or non-repeatable Vector Network Analyzer phase measurements

Vector Network Analyzers (VNAs) are the workhorse of many test labs yet I repeatably see incorrect techniques being used especially in regards to phase measurements which include Group delay and AM/PM Distortion. I had a client spending many hours and thousands of dollars on sophisticated algorithms to reduce Spectral Regrowth which were primarily a result of the additive nature of the signal phases. These were not being correctly measured due to the incorrect calibration and measurement techniques used on the VNA, specifically, the lack of, or improper use of, Phase Equal Insertable (PEI) adapters. Anritsu has a great application note on this and other techniques (de-embedding and port extension). Once this issue was corrected, the spectral regrowth issue was quickly addressed using a fairly straight-forward waveform clipping and FIR filtering approach.

Also highly misunderstood are group delay measurements on VNA, specifically, proper Video Bandwidth (VBW), Aperture, Averaging and Smoothing settings. A proper phase reference calibration is critical for Group Delay measurements as is using the proper settings for the actual measurement. Have your local Field Application Engineer (FAE) from the VNA manufacturer spend some time going through these fundamentals, even if you consider yourself a seasoned RF professional, instrument advances are such that you may learn a trick or two. If getting an FAE onsite is not feasible, contact me to see about some some of our remote training or consulting solutions which over 90% of our clients said immediately saved them time and frustration immediately on their very next measurement.

Broadband – Enabled Planes Take Flight

June 8, 2009

Nearly 800 planes will get in-flight broadband service in 2009 according to a report from In-Stat. “This is a significant increase from the current 25 enabled planes,” says David Chamberlain, Principal Wireless Analyst at In-Stat.
According the report “Delayed Departure: Will In-Flight Broadband Take Off?”, the in-flight broadband market is still emerging and will grow beyond $1 billion annually by 2012 and that in-flight broadband equipment revenue will nearly double between 2009 and 2013.

Where’s My Bailout?

June 3, 2009

OK, so chances are neither you nor your company are going to get a check from the U.S. Treasury for billions of dollars but there are ways you can benefit from the economic stimulus plan (formally titled American Recovery and Reinvestment Act).

Yahoo has actually set up a web page entitled Stimulus Job Watch which highlights and updates resources as they become available. The article highlights specific careers which types of jobs will be in demand, the top one being Electrical Engineers (with median annual salaries provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics):Electrical engineers ($79,240).

To be qualified for many of these engineering jobs, you may need to be a certified “Professional Engineer” or PE.The requirements vary from state to state; here is a link to a directory to find the requirements in your state and a direct link for those of us in Oregon.

Here is a highlight of some of the career fields which economists agree are poised to see a boost as a direct or indirect result of the stimulus. These include:

Energy and Utilities. A key part of the stimulus plan is the modernization of the nation’s electrical grid. “Smart grid” jobs will include regulators hired by public utility commissions, in addition to load management engineers, meter manufacturers and systems control center operators. You can read more about the specifics of smart meters and the opportunities for engineers on my post The Short, Smart Play.

Medical Information Technology. The stimulus bill includes $19 billion for updating health information technology. This will likely create opportunities for hardware and software companies as the wireless infrastructure is updated and expanded. I certainly am seeing an increase in interest from engineers in the biomedical technology field needing to do more spectrum management as they implement wireless patient monitoring, asset location and tracking services and WiFi access while still maintaining legacy paging and radio systems in the face of new interference sources such as High Definition Broadcast Television which definitely caused problems for Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. In fact, some companies such as Anritsu, have already developed products and training courses which focus on interference analysis in a hospital environment.

Education and Training. Many states have made cuts in their education budgets, but the stimulus plan calls for a $53.6 billion state-stabilization to help states avoid further cuts and layoffs.  The stimulus also sets aside funds for modernization of schools which are more often adopting the corporate model of utilizing e-learning. While sales leads at my company, T&M Consulting, for instructor-lead training are down slightly, the interest in developing and maintaining e-learning is growing. Specifically, there is significant interest in using inexpensive and flexible open-source tools to develop interactive product training, which is an area of expertise for our training consultants.

History and numerous studies have shown that the individuals and companies who make a strong move toward learning and growth as the economy pulls out of a recession benefit from significantly more growth then those who wallow in despair and inactivity while waiting for the “economy to stabilize”.

Feel free to share your thoughts or let me know how I can help.