Electronic Design

A Frustrated Reader Gets A Chance To Critique IFDs

Welcome to our annual Ideas for Design issue, which gives us a chance to highlight one of the most popular departments in Electronic Design. You’ll find more IFDs here than in our regular editions, along with an expanded selection of contributed Design Solutions.

Also in this issue, we’re introducing a new feature called Anoop’s Analysis. Earlier this year, Electronic Design reader Anoop Hegde sent me an e-mail to express his frustration about perceived quality issues with our IFDs.

Anoop’s Opinion
“I have been reading Electronic Design for more than 10 years now and have often benefited greatly from the Ideas for Design column. However, I have noticed several problems with these ideas, or things that could be improved,” he wrote, noting that he wondered about our validation process for guaranteeing that the designs really worked—or at least worked in theory.

Anoop also noted that according to our guidelines, we often reject ideas that use a commercially available IC as the key element while the surrounding circuitry simply supports its typical operation.

“However, I keep seeing many such circuits that are straight from application notes from chip vendors. These are often submitted by application engineers of the companies that make these chips. How come these get accepted and published? And what value do they provide to users?” he asked. “We could have gotten that information from application notes for the IC.”

Next, Anoop said that some of these IFD circuits include mistakes that will prevent them from working, like reversed diodes. Many of these mistakes should have been obvious to anyone after looking at these circuits for a few minutes, he said. Furthermore, some circuits may include 20 to 30 discrete components and cost a lot more than a solution using a single microcontroller and almost no discretes.

“And the authors say the solution does not cost much, while forgetting that a circuit using discrete components and op amps and transistors ends up using more board space and costs more in terms of the PCB (printed-circuit board) eventually,” he said.

Additionally, he said, some IFD circuits feature excesses, such as a circuit that consumes a few milliamps of current with a full-wave rectifier and a 1000-µF capacitor. These kinds of IFDs led Anoop to believe that sometimes “things are apparently done blindly for the sake of doing.”

Finally, he said, “Some ideas do not explain how the circuit works, and some do not even say clearly what problem they are trying to solve.” He then asked if we could improve our IFDs with a better review process before publishing them. Well, be careful what you ask for, Anoop.

A Better Process
I asked Anoop to give me some examples of flawed IFDs, and he was happy to oblige. He also said that after he thought about it more, Electronic Design was much better in screening its IFDs than one of our competitors with a similar section. That was encouraging, at least!

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I then asked Anoop if he would be interested in critiquing our IFDs before we publish them, and he said he would be honored to do so. Anoop has been working in electronic design—analog, digital, and micro-based—as a professional engineer for almost 25 years and felt sure that he would have something to contribute.

Three of the IFDs in this issue have Anoop’s analysis alongside them. Of course, we aren’t publishing any of the IFDs that didn’t pass muster with him or with our own editorial staff. The ones that we’re publishing here and in the future will have the stamp of approval from Anoop and one of our editors. But we’ll be relying on Anoop’s expertise to give us further insight.

Not all of the IFDs that we publish offer the same level of quality. Anoop might approve a circuit with a narrow function and then show how he might expand on it. Or he might say that the circuit works as advertised before offering a cheaper way to implement it. This type of information is instructional, and readers will be able to see some of the tradeoffs involved in good design technique.

We don’t plan on publishing Anoop’s Analysis in print in the future, though. Instead, we’ll post his comments with the online versions of the IFDs at www.electronicdesign.com. We also hope that you’ll respond with your own comments and insights, adding to the conversation.

Ever Hear Of A Modder?
The average person sees an electronic device and thinks it’s cool. A “modder” sees the same product and says it isn’t cool enough. The growing universe of modders—people who for fun modify hardware or software to perform differently, better, or for a purpose never originally intended—moved a little closer to the mainstream with the kickoff of a new TV series called The Ben Heck Show, hosted by Benjamin J. Heckendorn, a game console modder.

I happened to catch this show the other day when I was browsing the Internet with my new Aspire Revo connected to my HDTV. The show really caught my attention. The episode I saw, the first in the series, showcases Ben’s mod of an Xbox 360 game controller for an avid gamer with a disability who required a one-handed game controller. I found it on a site called Revision3.

The show is sponsored by element14, which is an online community of modders and professional engineers. The show takes a lighthearted, fun, and slightly irreverent approach to modding. 

Additional shows in the biweekly series will highlight projects that are inspired by the modder community, from mods for a particular need to gadgets that help electronic enthusiasts work and play faster. More information about Ben and the show can be found at www.element-14.com/community/docs/DOC-24096/l/ben-heck-media-room.

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