Challenges abound when you’re dealing with computers and trying to get something done—and computers are everywhere these days, from cell phones to light switches. Occasionally, these flaws may be a design oversight. In other cases, the barriers may be by design.
Recently, I was trying to get some MP3 ringtones onto my new LG VX9900 EnV by using a free tool called BitPIM (see the figure). But my provider, Verizon Wireless, otherwise limits ringtones to the downloads it offers, which aren’t so free. Besides, I didn’t like Verizon’s choices. I ran into some Bluetooth issues, but they were easy to get around.
The more frustrating part of dealing with the VX9900 EnV is its inability to build playlists for MP3s that weren’t downloaded using Verizon Wireless’ V-Cast. I still haven’t found a way around this obstacle, which definitely puts the company on my less-than-desirable list.
Sometimes, challenges are simple. I was helping out at a swim meet last season, printing reports and award labels. The “new and improved” version of the meet management software tool eliminated the ability to specify the printing margins. Unfortunately, the alignment between the labels and printer was off by a fraction of an inch, splitting the printout across the label boundaries.
I solved the problem by using the opensource PDFCreator to generate a PDF file. I opened the file in Adobe Illustrator, moved the text down a quarter inch, and hit print. It wasn’t an elegant solution, but it worked. What I really needed was a tool that would fit between the application and the printer to massage the data. That’s what pipes allow on platforms like Linux.
Features like these are rarely exposed in ways that make them easy to use for people without a geek degree. Embedded designers usually have it better. While COTS stands for commercial-off-theshelf, it typically means custom-off-theshelf. COTS boards, modules, and systems are normally just the starting point, and vendors do a much better job of trying to please the customer—at a price.
deliver the same version of a part to all customers since it’s cheaper that way. Options often are a bit better than the printer filter on my wish list. Boardbased systems can be extended easily with custom boards while retaining standard backplanes and support boards— typically single-board computers.
The module approach offers an alternative, with a custom carrier board while something like a COM Express board is a standard COTS part. Of course, this approach has been around for decades. It’s simply the standards and products that have been changing. Still, new things keep cropping up.
FPGAs are moving into the COTS mainstream. Once relegated to high-end signal processing, low-cost FPGAs are turning interface cards into single boards with an FPGA on them. FPGA tools have a way to go to address this area of COTS, where options are preferred over the ability to import RTL. So, doing what you want may be getting a little easier.