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Published 8/13/2007

Woodworking friends have long told me "You have <i>got</i> to watch Norm Abram's show!"

Not being much for TV it took a long time for me to take this advice. Last weekend I tuned into his New Yankee Workshop program on the DIY channel, which is the only channel that brings his show to Baltimore County.

Yuk. The show itself looked pretty interesting. But it was presented in two to three minute segments, each blocked off by twice as much advertising. The half hour program aired maybe ten minutes of Norm time and twice that of ads.

We're inundated with advertising. Billboards mar scenic highways. Every web site seems saturated with `em, sometimes to the point of making the site so slow and cumbersome it's hardly worth the time to dig through the fluff.

Magazines thrive on ads. So many of the technical rags we get are free - they're completely supported by advertisers. Engineers' eyes may glaze over when reading pages of pitches, but we do need - desperately - the information presented by these advertisers. That's one of the ways we keep up with products and services that are essential for us to make our products.

An awful lot of the technical ads are simply, well, awful. Digikey's typical full-page ad tells me nothing useful. And, in my opinion, their web site is worse. Mouser does a much better job. Yet I find Digikey a great place to buy all sorts of useful parts.

But some ads are great. Some I look forward to reading. For instance, recently Analog Devices has been running their "Rarely Asked Questions" page. It's a stupid name (why would I be interested in rare events?) but the text is an always interesting, always enlightening exploration of a strange behavior of some analog component.

Then there are the ads with schematics. National Semiconductor pushes their low dropout regulators with a simple schematic that reeks "easy to use!" Linear Technology and Maxim do the same, and Linear often has a two page cardboard insert that is a detailed and useful app note about a particular product.

I'm really drawn to National's inserts, 8 page supplements that go into technical detail about a variety of subjects. Practically a magazine in a magazine, these, though pushing their products, are useful designer guides. Analog Devices and others have taken the same tact. Expensive? You betcha. But I, for one, read them.

TI does a wonderful job of running product or application-specific ads. The latest issue of EDN has a full-pager for their ZigBee products, and another for bus drivers. Short, pithy headlines grab one's attention if it's a product of interest. In Embedded Systems Design TI runs a page pushing their MSP430, a very cool part that they've brilliantly positioned and marketed.

Tektronix has been running ads with very sexy pictures of their scopes. Yeah, we engineers might get turned on by strange things, but I'd sure like to fondle some of those controls. BitScope, too, pushes their low-cost scope solutions using nice pictures of their products with super screen shots.

So what do I like in ads? It seems the analog advertisers get more of my mind-share than most other pitches! Schematics are cool. Big blocks like 500 pin logic elements make for boring schematics, which is perhaps partly why the analog schematics are so much more compelling. But it also seems few of the digital companies have mastered the art of the providing app notes in insert form that make for such interesting reading.

Pictures of hardware tools, like scopes, always get eye-time. Like a centerfold, a picture is worth a thousand words.

What sort of ads do you like?