Electronic Design

What's All This Technical Reading Stuff, Anyhow?

Recently a young engineer, Barrett L. of Poughkeepsie N.Y., wrote me a letter. He not only ordered one of my books, but he asked my advice and opinion: "I'm a recent E.E. graduate, and if you could please supply me with a list of suggested reading (i.e. books, periodicals, columns) it would be greatly appreciated." Well, I had to reply:

"Dear Mr. L.--Darn it, you are the second person this week to ask me this question, and while I was stupid enough not to get the message the first time, I won't miss the message twice. Fortunately, there are several good books I can recommend.

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You have not gone wrong in ordering my book on Troubleshooting Analog Circuits1. I try to keep things light and breezy, with REAL examples. And I also try to minimize the platitudes, as you have noted that nothing gets me TICKED OFF faster than meaningless platitudes. I think real engineers get their education from EXAMPLES, and I try to write accordingly.

A second related book, from the same publishers, is Analog Circuit Design2, edited by Jim Williams. It consists of about 33 chapters from 23 authors. It, too, is educational in terms of EXAMPLES. Some of the chapters are so-so (in my opinion) and then they get better and better, up to great. The chapters by John Addis and Derek Bowers are great. I wrote two good chapters.

NOW, if you laid hands on this book you might decide that you wanted to buy it, OR you might read a few chapters and then put it back on the shelf. So get your librarian--your town librarian or your company librarian--to order it. If you ain't on good terms with your librarian, you should be. After the librarian buys it, it can be shared by a good number of people.

Nextly, there's Horowitz and Hill's The Art of Electronics3. Any bookstore will order it for you. It's in its second edition----very popular, fun to read, good insights. Your company librarian would be wise to buy this one if there are more than six engineers in your company. Maybe you have read this already. It's a good reference book. If there are older engineers who went through school before this book came out, or technicians, they may find this of high value.

At this point, I gotta ask you, Barrett, where are you coming from? What good electronics books have you read? Did you take a lot of electronics courses? How many analog, how many digital, how many software? I can assure you, I can give you ZERO advice on software. I have written a couple of successful chunks of BASIC, but my opinions are worthless. I can't give you much advice on digital circuits, and books thereon, but I'll ask my friends.

Next question for you--in which direction do you think you are going?? Analog, ADCs, or systems? Low power? High speed? Lotsa processors and a little analog? Just trying to get a broader education? That will make some difference. Or, if you're not sure where you're headed, well, the broad perception from reading a lot will be good for you.

OF COURSE you gotta keep reading Electronic Design. It gives you a good clear presentation of some of the newer ideas, circuits, concepts, and trends, with intelligent guys from the industry trying to make good explanations----trying to play teacher. One item of advice: Read and mark the hell out of any stories that are interesting. Xerox or cross-index the stories that are of good interest, but don't throw the magazines away for at least five years. You can go back in several years and see what's interesting, what's trivial, and what's pass‚. Note, a five-year stack of ED just fills two "Xerox-paper boxes," about 2.5 cubic feet....

Read hobby magazines ----Popular Electronics5 or similar publications. Some of the stuff is trivial, but that's OK----sometimes it's good to read stuff where you're smarter than the authors, and you can see if they're doing something stupid.

James Roberge of MIT wrote an excellent book about op amps in general, and about the LM301A in particular.The first half explains how the '301 chip was engineered; the second half goes into how you can apply a '301. I asked James and he said it's still in print. It's a very good read.

The advanced, expert book on op amps is by Jiri Dostal----Operational Amplifiers (second edition)7 . I'm selling these for $53. This used to sell for $113 from Elsevier Scientific, and was worth it. Now at $53, it's a bargain. Serious, thoughtful. NOT your FIRST primer on op amps, but any serious user of op amps should read this about once a year. You'll learn something new every time. However, that statement is true for almost every one of these books: All of these books are well worth rereading every year or two.

Now, darn near your first primer on op amps is Tom Frederiksen's Intuitive IC Op Amps.Heck of a fine book. Where is it sold? Tom still has some to sell. If you want to use op amps, you want to do it intuitively. No fancy formulae, no matrices, no Taguchi optimization. Just common-sense engineering with good intuitive insights. Tom's an excellent teacher for that.

The NEXT primer on op amps is NSC's linear databook on op amps.The history of op amps was written there.

NOW, Analog Devices' op-amp databook might be almost as good as NSC's, but they usually don't include device schematics. If you want an AD databook, call them up.10 You can request and study databooks from anybody in the whole electronics industry, but I find the ones that do include schematic diagrams (of the devices themselves) are the most useful and educational.

NEXT, NSC's Linear Applications Handbook.11 Some of the better early linear IC applications breakthroughs have gone into there. It's indexed pretty well, so you can find what you want.

NSC's databook on regulators and power ICs12 is quite good----a useful basic reference book. Also falling into that category is the Data Acquisition Databook13, which covers DACs, ADCs, voltage references, and temperature sensors. Another is the Linear Applications-Specific ICs Databook,14 which includes several strange but useful ICs.

The list price for these NSC handbooks is usually about $10 or $15 each. But our marketing guys agreed that we ought to make a special offer to readers of Electronic Design----serious engineers. If you want any or all five of those linear databooks, just call and ask for the set.15 Not a bad deal.

If you ever have to do "optimization" or quality problem-solving, buy the books that cite "Taguchi" in them the fewest number of times. I just got around to reading Keki Bhote's book16, full of excellent common sense. I started out skeptical, but eventually decided I really liked his style and common-sense approaches. Hans Bajaria has a good book.17 So does Forrest Breyfogle.18 And Diamond's book19 is good, too. Just keep away from books by Genichi Taguchi, and all his friends who tell you how great it is to use orthogonal matrices to solve any problem and you don't have to think... (if you know what I mean, and I think you do).

Recently, I was introduced to a new book by Dennis Feucht, Handbook of Analog Circuit Design.20 It really covers lots of the things a designer needs to know about analog circuits. I'm favorably impressed, and I recommend it. It has good chapters on wideband amplification, precision amplification, feedback circuits, frequency compensation, signal-processing circuits, etc. There's some overlap with Hill and Horowitz, but that's good, not bad.

Another good new book is High-speed Digital Design, by Howard Johnson, subtitled A Handbook of Black Magic.21 I thought it was pretty good, so I loaned this to one of our best digital/mixed-signal designers. I was a little surprised when he returned it right away. He said that was because he had gone out and bought several copies for the guys in his group. It treats the gray area between signals that are digital, and the analog aspects that are so important when you want your digital buses to behave at higher and higher speeds----not a trivial task. This book is there to help, with serious advice and good philosophy. You ain't gonna get much of that anywhere else these days.

One of my old fans, Reg Neale, recommended a book on ESD, ESD from A to Z, by John Kolyer.22 I discovered the book in our library, read through it, and found a number of thoughtful observations. Just as my book is the "best" book on Troubleshooting, so this book may well be the "best" on ESD, and partly for the same reason----it's the~ only one.

When I wrote about Ground Noise in June, I recommended the excellent book by John Barnes, Electronic System Design,23       and I still do. Also, a friend recommended Noise Reduction Techniques in Electronic Systems, by Henry Ott.24. Its second edition just came out, and it, too, covers many topics that aren't taught in schools. If you work with RFI and EMI in real systems, you'll probably profit by buying and reading both of these books.

Recently, Barrett, a reader asked me what book can I recommend to teach about designing printed-circuit boards? I asked several friends----no ideas, no recommendation. Maybe some of our readers can recommend a book? There ought to be something beyond the literature of the pc-board-design software people...

Also, you and other readers who recall the question and debate of the value of a Bachelor's Degree versus an Associate's Degree in Electronics Technology may be interested in a new book by Joel Butler, High-Technology Degree Alternatives.25 He observes that you don't have to go to school at night for a dozen years, nor drop out of work and pay tuition for four years. He has several suggestions on how you can get credit for school courses and work you have already accomplished. He recommends a list of a few dozen schools where you can apply by mail. This sounds kind of unlikely, except Mr. Butler points out that these schools actually are ACCREDITED, which isn't a trivial statement.

One last "book," actually some stories on floppies, was sent to me by Geoff Harries, a reader located in Munich, Germany. They are Science Fiction, sort of high-tech and time-travel, and good historical stuff, too. He's still trying to get a publisher. Meanwhile he gave me permission to sell you his book, ChronDisp I (about 700 kbytes) on a high-density IBM-type floppy for about the same price as a paperback book. I will repatriate all proceeds to Geoff. I enjoyed the book, and I recommend it to you, too. It's kind of fun to sit there in the evening, hitting "Page Down," again and again, reading Geoff's stories.26     

Well, there is my list. This may not be a DEFINITIVE list, but it's a good start. Ask your buddies. Borrow some of their hobby magazines. Also, you will probably want to read one or two general-purpose science magazines. I used to read Scientific American,27 but a year ago I gave up on them and changed over to Discover.28 Maybe Sci Am is coming back, but I still think Discover is excellent. Try Machine Design.29 You can spend a lot of time reading this, but it's fun and educational. You'll see several kinds of good engineering.

Ah----yes, let's not overlook the obvious. You should also read your own company's catalog or data sheets. Look at what it says to your customers, and look at the circuits "behind the front panel." I don't know what your company does or makes, but let's assume there are PRODUCTS somewhere. When I joined Philbrick in '61, I studied the heck out of all its schematics and data sheets, op amps, and analog computing products. Then I would say to myself, "Why did they do that?" I surely couldn't understand everything, but by asking all questions that came to mind, I got a heck of an education.

Similarly, when I came to NSC in 1976, I studied all of the op amps, data sheets, schematics, AND layouts. I'm sure you will agree that in an IC, the layout can be even more important than the schematic. In my first year at NSC, I spotted a philosophical error in the layout of a popular amplifier. The changes I suggested caused the yield to go up on the LF356, the LF256, AND the LF156, by a factor of 2, EACH. That yield improvement paid for my first couple years' salary, even if I had done nothing else.... So, read your own company's literature, and the serious art (schematics, layout, software, or whatever) that's behind the scenes.

NOW you can plainly see that I have written a whole column around your request, for pity's sake! I hope I have answered the question for you and for many other guys who are just out of school and trying to get going----up the LEARNING CURVE. So, read books and think of good questions. When you have answered as many as you can, and you have asked your colleagues, and there are still some you cannot answer, write down some notes and ask one of your Senior Engineers. He'll probably be flattered to get thoughtful questions from a serious student. If you ask reasonably, he/she may provide some (priceless) mentoring. Have fun, Barrett!!"

All for now. / Comments invited!  RAP / Robert A. Pease / Engineer


1. Troubleshooting Analog Circuits, 3rd Printing, Robert A. Pease, 1992, 208 pages. Butterworth-Heinemann. Order from Robert Pease, 682 Miramar Ave., San Francisco, CA 94112. NOW in PAPERBACK----NEW LOW PRICE----$25.95 including tax & shipping.

2. Analog Circuit Design: Art, Science, and Personalities, edited by Jim Williams, 1992, 222 pages. Order from Robert Pease, (see address in reference 1) $47.95 includes tax & shipping; or order it from the publishers, Butterworth-Heinemann, Stoneham, MA; (800) 366-2665 or (617) 438-8464.

3. The Art of Electronics (2nd Edition), Paul Horowitz and Winfield Hill, 1989, 800 pages. About $60. Cambridge University Press, NY; (914) 937-9600 or (800) 872-7423. In NY, (800) 227-0247.

4. Electronic Design, Penton Publishing. To apply for a free subscription, write to Electronic Design, Reader Service Dept., 1100 Superior Ave., Cleveland, Ohio 44197-8132.

5. Popular Electronics, about $19 per year. Call (800) 827-0383 or (516) 293-3000.

6. Operational Amplifiers: Theory and Practice, James Roberge, 1975, 678 pages. About $71. Wiley/Krieger. Call (407) 724-9542.

7. Operational Amplifiers (Second Edition), Jiri Dostal, 1993, 555 pages. Butterworth-Heinemann, Stoneham, MA. Available from Robert Pease for $53, including tax & shipping. (see address in reference 1)

8. Intuitive IC Op Amps, Thomas M. Frederiksen, McGraw-Hill, 1988, 352 pages. Order from Thomas Frederiksen, 24705 Spanish Oaks, Los Gatos, CA 95030; $25.00 including tax & shipping.

9. Operational Amplifiers Databook, National Semiconductor Corp., 1993. Publication No. 400061.

10. Analog Devices Inc., Literature Dept. (617) 461-3392.

11. Linear Applications Handbook, National Semiconductor Corp., 1994. Publication No. 400043.

12. Power ICs Databook, NSC 1993. Publication No. 400062.

13. Data Acquisition Databook, NSC, 1993. Publication No. 400033.

14. Linear Application-Specific ICs Databook, NSC 1993. Publication No. 400060.

15. Set of 5 NSC linear databooks----items 9, 11, 12, 13, and 14 above----call the NSC Customer Response Center, (800) 272-9959 or (817) 468-6811.

16. World Class Quality: Using Design of Experiments to Make It Happen, Keki R. Bhote, AMACOM, 135 W. 50th St. NY, NY 10020; (518) 891-5510 About $25.

17. Statistical Problem Solving----A Team Process for Identifying and Resolving Problems, Hans Bajaria & Richard Copp, 1991, 300 pages. About $45. Multiface Publishing Co., Garden City, MI; (313) 421-6330.

18. Statistical Methods for Testing, Development, and Manufacturing, Forrest Breyfogle, John Wiley & Sons, 1992; (908) 469-4400.  About $65.

19. Practical Experiment Designs for Engineers and Scientists, William Diamond, 1981, 347 pages. Van Nostrand Reinhold, NY. About $55. Call (800) 842-3636 or (606) 525-6600.

20. Handbook of Analog Circuit Design, Dennis L. Feucht, 1990, 685 pages. About $65. Academic Press/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, San Diego, CA; (800) 782-4479 or (407) 345-2500.

21. High-speed Digital Design (A Handbook of Black Magic), Howard Johnson and Martin Graham, 1993. About $47. PTR Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ; (206) 556-0800.

22. ESD from A to Z, John Kolyer and Donald E. Watson, 1990, Van Nostrand Reinhold, NY; (800) 842-3636 or (606) 525-6600. About $47.

23. Electronic System Design: Interference and Noise-Control Techniques, John R. Barnes, 1987, 144 pages. About $48. Prentice-Hall, NY; (800) 947-7700 (out of print).

24. Noise Reduction Techniques in Electronic Systems, (2nd edition), Henry Ott, 1988, 426 pages. About $65. John Wiley & Sons, NY; (908) 469-4400.

25. High-Technology Degree Alternatives, Joel Butler, 1994, Professional Publications, 1250 Fifth Ave., Belmont, CA 94002; (415) 593-9119. About $22.

26. ChronDisp I: The Gun From The Past, Geoff Harries, 1993, Munich, Germany. Can be ordered on a high-density IBM-compatible floppy disk for $4.00 (including tax & shipping) from Robert A. Pease, 682 Miramar Ave., San Francisco, CA 94112.

27. Scientific American, about $36/year. Call (800) 333-1199 or (515) 247-7631.

28. Discover, Family Media, NY. About $27/year. P.O. Box 420105, Palm Coast FL 32142; (800) 829-9132.

29. Machine Design, a Penton Publication. Write on letterhead to 1100 Superior Ave., Cleveland Ohio, 44114-2543.




Dear Mr. Pease:

A couple of things for your checklist:

1) Samsonite and American Tourister suitcase keys. Every Samsonite key fits all Samsonite suitcases and it is the same with American Tourister. Most hotels are willing to provide a hammer and chisel to forgetful guests, but they haven't yet figured out that two keys will open 90% of all lockable suitcases. You get to be a good Samaritan more often than you'd expect.

2) An eyeglass repair kit.

3) A length of telephone cord with a plug adapter. The hotel gives you a table and chair, but they are usually across the room from the telephone.

4) A styptic pencil.

5) Shoelaces.

6) A small flashlight. I never carried one until lightning hit the transformer in front of a Holiday Inn where I was staying in Florida. They had to evacuate the place in the pitch dark. There was no emergency lighting and the management passed out matches. When you need a flashlight, you really need a flashlight.

7) Rubber bands, safety pins, cable ties, and Band-Aids.


Medfield, Mass.

Sometimes a candle is as good as a flashlight----if it doesn't melt. Thanks for your excellent ideas.----RAP


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