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Embedded Muse 223 Copyright 2012 TGG April 2, 2012

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EDITOR: Jack Ganssle, jack@ganssle.com


- Editor's Notes
- Quotes and Thoughts
- The Demise of ESD
- How Hard Are You Working?
- Tools and Tips
- Joke for the Week
- About The Embedded Muse

Editor's Notes

Are you happy with your bug rates? If not, what are you doing about it? Are you asked to do more with less? Deliver faster, with more features? What action are you taking to achieve those goals?

In fact it IS possible to accurately schedule a project, meet the deadline, and drastically reduce bugs. Learn how at my Better Firmware Faster class, presented at your facility. See https://www.ganssle.com/onsite.htm .


Quotes and Thoughts

"Walking on water and developing software from a specification are easy if both are frozen." - Edward V. Berard


The Demise of ESD

Since the last Muse I have been informed that Embedded Systems Design magazine, too, is kaput. It will end with the May issue, and I'm told there are no plans for an on-line version. Instead, the focus will be on enhancing the companion web site, embedded.com.

I flipped through the last issue and, using the rate card, totaled up the probable ad revenue. It's clear that the print issue simply isn't sustainable. But it's sad to see it go.

ESD started as Embedded Systems programming in 1988. It immediately caught on as a lot of people were working in obscurity in the firmware field, and ESP was the first (at least in the USA) magazine targeted at those folks. Over the years it had its ups and downs. The dot-com recession dealt a blow it never recovered from. Just prior to the collapse company valuations had climbed to "irrationally exuberant" levels, and some outfits used that wealth to acquire, well, pretty much everyone. One result was that the magazine lost the advertisements of all of those newly-acquired firms. It never really recovered. The stampede to on-line ads slowly dealt it the final, mortal, blow.

Ironically, I believe that most of us have done a pretty good job of learning to ignore those on-line ads. With just a flick of the wrist we dismiss that page that ties to block access to a site for 30 seconds, never noticing what some company was trying to sell. The flashing sidebars, the embedded video clips, and all of the other marketing propaganda screaming for attention gets ignored. In print we look at the half-page infomercial and often learn something; on-line, the ad contains far less information, and we hesitate to click to learn more, not sure which forms of cookies and other tracking contagion will contaminate our machines.

So, while ESD's termination comes as no surprise, it's a loss for the embedded community. The very first issue is archived here: www.ganssle.com/misc/firstesp.pdf . I'm told they are scanning in all of the back issues, which will be on embedded.com in the not-too-distant future.

How Hard Are You Working?

When I was a young engineer my boss measured our progress by checking in at night to see who was there. Utterly capricious schedules meant we were always late; slipping a delivery was the company's entire zeitgeist. But the boss knew we were working hard if we were working late.

But that was then, we were all young, unmarried, no kids, and generally free of responsibilities.

Real life is a lot more complicated. Bills, school transportation, soccer-moming or dading, calling the insurance company, schools and doctor eats a chunk out of the work day. Most of these are activities that simply cannot be done during non-business hours. So (duh!) we sneak a few minutes here and there, because these activities simply cannot be ignored.

Perhaps in the old days of the stay-at-home mom things were different. Dad could essentially shrug off all roles except that of breadwinner. Of course, back then Dad was so divorced from his parenting role he could hardly remember the kids' names, so any nostalgia for the Camelot years of Ward and June Cleaver is surely misplaced.

Fact is, we simply cannot stay 100% engaged all the time. We drift in and out of a state of flow, that period where we're one with the project, when C code flies from our fingertips to the keyboard. But sometimes we're daydreaming or distracted. Or there's only 5 minutes till the next meeting, certainly not enough time to crank some more code, so, well, what's new on Slashdot?

On tenant of extreme Programming holds that developers may not work overtime two weeks in a row. XPers observe that tired people make mistakes. It's amazing how many spacecraft have been lost at least in part due to the developers putting in months of 60 to 80 hour weeks. A single-bit error slips through, only to surface months later, millions of miles away from the nearest engineer.

Fred Brooks claims developers spend 55% of their day actively working on a project. That's 22 of the 40 hours in a normal work-week (or 44 of the 80 hour norm at software sweatshops). The rest of the week passes spent in non-project meetings, adminstrivia, taking care of personal business and rehashing the Superbowl's halftime show by the water cooler.

A Zen saying recognizes the inevitability of real life: "First enlightenment. Then the laundry."

Do you work much overtime? Are you compensated for it?

Tools and Tips

When my son was in high school he somehow managed to get a really nice Fluke VOM. Not bad for a kid; me, a working engineer, I was mostly using a crummy Radio Shack meter.

The same was true for soldering irons, though I had an OK Weller, but it wasn't temperature controlled. Eventually I upgraded to a Weller WESD-51, which can be had from Amazon for about $135. It's a nice unit. The tip comes up to temperature in almost exactly one minute. The LED temp display is very bright and a single knob sets it to any value between 350 and 850 degrees. It comes with interchangeable tips. With a 1/64" tip it's not too hard to solder small SMT parts. At least after the coffee buzz has worn off. Recommended.

Joke for the Week

Note: These jokes are archived at www.ganssle.com/jokes.htm.

Thanks to Bob Koblish for the following:

Did you happen to hear the "As It Happens"' interview the other night of a British professor who's written a piece on "Murphy's Laws, Explained"? The two that I recall most vividly are:

1. Why does a piece of toast land jelly side down? The good Doctor has calculated the dynamics of a piece of toast that slips off a table or plate at the heights that humans normally have them, and concludes that it *will* land jelly side down most of the time, because the toast in sliding off the edge acquires a spin (angular velocity) such that it has spun 180 degrees, plus or minus 90 degrees, by the time it hits the floor. Ergo, jelly side down. If we humans were taller, it might have time to do a 360 before landing jelly side up.

2. Why does *my* queue at the supermarket usually move the slowest? You compare yours to the ones on either side. The odds of yours being the fastest are 1 in 3 if you compare yours to the immediately adjacent queues, 1 in 5 if you look at two lines on either side, etc. If you want to feel better about it, join the queue all the way on the end and you'll have fewer others against which to measure.

About The Embedded Muse

The Embedded Muse is a newsletter sent via email by Jack Ganssle. Send complaints, comments, and contributions to me at jack@ganssle.com.

The Embedded Muse is supported by The Ganssle Group, whose mission is to help embedded folks get better products to market faster. can take now to improve firmware quality and decrease development time.