Electronic Design

What's All This Web Stuff, Anyhow?

Once upon a time, the world was a simpler place. There was no Internet; there were no Web Pages. While I am in favor of simplicity, I will not argue that we should (necessarily) all go back to a simpler age. But there certainly are some amazing things going on-and not all very useful or good.

YES, I do have a website. You could look it up yourself if you go to: http://www.national.com/design. My home page there is cleverly hidden as "good stuff." The actual site is http://www.national.com/rap. There are about 7 categories of good stuff there. More later.

My first interaction with the Web was about a year ago, when my column on "Speaker Cable Stuff"had just come out. One of my friends drew my attention to a Usenet News Group, where some fellow had made comments about my ideas on speaker cables. He said that he was "ROTFL" about some of the things I had said. I figured out this meant "Rolling On The Floor Laughing." He tried to say: "Ha, ha." But he must have held down his "ha" key too long, and he said "ha" 76 times.

At that point, I tried to figure out why he thought it was so funny.

He claimed that since I had said that you could make a low impedance cable by connecting several cables IN PARALLEL to drive from an amplifier to a load, such as a speaker, I was stupid and full of baloney. He observed that if you parallel several cables, you do not get a low impedance cable, you just get a disastrous and impossible-to-analyze mess.

I tried writing to this guy. I tried to explain that if you have one signal driv-ing through a length of coax cable (such as 50- cable) into a resistive load (such as 40 or 50 or 60 ), then you can easily make a reasonable estimate of what will happen at the far end. Now, if you have (for example) 10 such coax cables, each independently driv-ing a resistive load, the voltages will not change. THEN if you tie together the far ends of the ten 50- cables each driving a resistive load-such as ten 50- loads-still, nothing changes. The voltage response remains the same, but the cable's impedance IS effectively 5 , and it's good for driving a 5- load. It is NOT hard to analyze, not a mess. So, paralleling several cables to form a low-impedance cable that can drive a low-impedance load, with low phase shift and low reflections, is NOT an insane exercise, but actually a fairly simple, high-performance circuit to analyze-by symmetry.

I sent a note of explanation to the "ROTFL" guy. He never replied. He never gave any acknowledgement that I had a valid answer. So, if that is the way that the Internet works, then I am not impressed that this is a fair game.... people "flame" you with no provocation, and there's almost no defense against it. But, what did you expect in a domain where most of the information is HaTeMaiL?

I've looked at several good websites, and a few dozen mediocre ones, and some bad ones. I went to the "useless" site: http://www.go2net.com/internet/useless, and checked out a few of their "useless" websites. Yeah, there sure is a lot of useless information. For example, I am amused by the story of the coffeepot at CERN in Geneva Switzerland, that has its own website: http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/coffee/coffee.html. If you work at CERN and you want to know if there's enough coffee in the pot to justify a long walk to the coffee room, then for you, it's useful, because you can see if the pot is full. For everybody else, useless. A friend urged me to look at the images from the Slug Video Camera at the Dream Inn from the Image Processing Lab at University of California, Santa Cruz: http://sapphire.cse.ucsc.edu/SlugVideo/dream-inn.html. Impressive, but not very useful. If you tell me about INTERESTING websites, I'll be interested.

I tried to access a site for old orphan computers, as mentioned in a letter we published in Electronic Design a few months back. Apparently that site was discontinued, but Brian Mork found the new location, at: http://www.pas.rochester.edu/~tgpt/orphan. They discuss several kinds of obsolete computers, but not the Tandy Model 102 or the ADAM.

On the other hand, there are some new sites that are virtually impossible to access. Some of the Anglophiles in our neighbourhood recommended the new site of the Queen of England at http://www.royal.gov.uk. I tried 10 times. I even tried at midnight when one would not expect them to be "too busy." I never did get in until I tried at 2:15 a.m. The site was very stately and classy-as you would expect.

But Pease, why are you wasting your time looking for the little mouse under the Queen's chair? Personal waste of the company's computer time? Not really. If I find something done nicely or properly, it may be useful in my next website. On the other hand, if I find annoying or objectionable features, I'll try to avoid them. If I find obsolete, out-of-date, or out-of-order sites-of which there are many-I'll try to learn from the experience.

I've checked out a few other good sites, and I'd like to mention them here. If you are interested in some vigorous hiking or trekking in Nepal, check out Peter Owens? site at: http://www.Instantweb.com/p/peterowens. It has the same basic information about hikes that you could get by mail, plus extra information about the travel. And you can easily request detailed info on any particular hike-which will be delivered to you by e-mail. No waste of trees nor postage.

Wilderness Travel in Berkeley has gone online with their own site: http://www.wildernesstravel.com. I have not seen it yet, but they are pros in the travel business, and I've enjoyed trekking with them.

I really don't spend too much time at the Doctor Science site at http://www.drscience.com, but I have used the correct form at that site to request a daily hit of humor, which is delivered in my e-mail. I did send a question to the good Doctor:

"Dear Dr. Science: I just got to work and checked out your Questionable Hall of Fame, and at the end, the note said, 'Return Home.' So I did. And now my boss is mad at me. And my wife is mad at me. Why do you send me messages like that, Dr. Science?" Questions like that, I send to [email protected]

On a professional note, I can recommend the site of Kimmel-Gerke Associates: http://www.emiguru.com. As I say on my lecture tour, "These guys are as good at getting you out of trouble above 1 MHz as I am below 1 MHz."

Similarly, I recommend you take a look at DAC/I Associates: http://www.cyberspy.com/daci for worst-case analysis of circuits. They have some good old Design Analysis Newsletters posted, too.

When it comes to product planning and business ideas, I regularly go to John Trudel's website: http://www.trudelgroup.com.

Don Lancaster has a lot of good write-ups on the topics of self-publishing and printing-on-demand. And electronics. And he has posted many links to Pseudoscience, Paranormals, and the Skeptics who try to rebut the flakey guys with the bad science. Start in at http://www.tinaja.com.

I found a guy promoting his new historical novel on the Web-check it out at http://www.goodamerican.com. I don't think I'll buy his book, but I agree that his advertising and promotional tactics make good sense. You can get a free peek at several pages of his book, and see if you want to buy it. I plan to do that with my books.

I have checked out Amazon Books, which has a very broad selection of books and some truly riotous book reviews by readers. Start at: http://www.amazon.com. I recommend the site of Rich Hanson, the purveyor of the venerable Tandy Model 102 Laptop Computers: http://www.the-dock.com/club100.html.

Also see the site of the other little Word Processor with 128k of memory: http://www.alphasmart.com.

Note to aficionados of guitar folk rock: I have recently become enamored of the sounds of "Babes with Axes," a group of 4 women who play guitars and sing and write their own songs. Their site has some music samples-not that I can tune in. Their site is at: http://www.efn.org/~gordon_k/babes.shtml.

I am still learning how to navigate on Netscape. I often crash and burn. The computer still gets locked up occasionally. And our Web Expert Gary still gets amazed at the way I get into trouble. When some guys wrote me messages at my website's response page, I tried reading some of them, and each message consisted of the first half of one message and the last half of the previous message. He had never seen that before. Fortunately, the next day, the problem went away.

One day, all my bookmarks went away. The next day, they all came back. Gary agrees that sometimes, the computer just doesn't seem to like me. It can tell who is sitting in front of it, and it does nasty things just because it knows it's me. Meanwhile, I keep threatening it, if it doesn't behave, I'm gonna throw it off the roof. If I hadn't just paid my tax bill, I could write a check and buy this insolent workstation-and throw it off the roof....

There are still all sorts of amazing things out there in "cyberspace," and some of them come and camp on your doorstep. One guy sent me a picture of a computer that caught fire. Since I didn't know what it looked like before it caught fire, it wasn't very educational. I could not guess why or how it caught fire. But it took me several minutes to erase the picture-all 17,000 lines.

Back on the subject of my website. What's in it? A good set of recent columns. So, if you need to look up a recent column, we'll try to keep a good set posted. We're still working on that. We have 18 columns in there, but we are not caught up yet. There's also a set of older applications information that have NOT been published recently. The first one was a good set of info on the Dielectric Absorption (or "soakage") of capacitors that was first printed in 1982. Several people have already said that they found it useful. The next is a reprint from IEEE Micro Magazine: "Third Thoughts on Fuzzy Logic." I confirmed several old opinions, and made some new positive observations. I'll print more stuff there. There is a link to my lecture: http://www.national.com/events/peasetour.html-and it is complete with a list of the topics I am likely to be discussing, and the form to use to sign up for the lectures.

There's a link to Electronic Design at http://www.elecdesign.com. Several people have pointed out to me that it had a neat page that you could use to sign up for a free subscription to the magazine. When you're all done, you looked for the link to hit to send it. There wasn't any!! You were supposed to print out this form and mail it or fax it in. Fortunately, this is being fixed. But when I mentioned this situation at my lectures, it always got a good laugh! There are a few "horrible" pictures. I'll have to add more.

There's a page that makes it very easy to send e-mail to me: [email protected] (I probably shouldn't have admitted that, but it's true.)

After I spent a while driving around to various web sites, I began to appreciate more of what Gary had done for me: In a lot of places, when you click on a page, you wait 15 or 25 (or more) seconds, and finally some eye-popping scene pops up. Apparently, a lot of guys think that if you can do snazzy, blinking, bouncing graphics, then you should. Yeah, but I find it annoying that so little information wastes so much time. Yeah, I know that "a picture is worth a thousand words." It may cost you 10,000 words worth of information, and when you get it, after a long wait, you discover that you don't want it.

When you hit on my home page, the text comes up in about 4 seconds. Then while you are reading the text, about 7 seconds later, the graphics pop up. I like that a lot better than waiting 10 or 20 seconds before you can see anything. I'm glad Gary did that right.

What else should I put on my website? What do you think? You tell me.

For example, what if I told you that you could get a full 20 seconds of video of RAP throwing 3 computers off a roof?-or a 30-second lecture on op amps?? This would take minutes to get all the bytes into your computer. So, you set the command, and hit the receive file button when you leave work at night, and when you get in to work the next morning, the bytes are all ready for you. After all-why should your computer be finished with work just because you quit and go home?

What can I say about the Web? It drives me crazy. It's the slowest way to do some things, and a pretty good and quick way to do other things. It's fun and frustrating. It encourages people to send me questions that I cannot answer. But I'm a big boy, and I'm learning to live with that, and I've learned some work-arounds. At first, when I wanted to send a reply to a question, the response got sent-but the person's e-mail address got left off. Not very helpful. Fortunately, I did not erase any of the messages before I discovered this. I had to find an alternate Reader, so I could read a message and send a note back, and not erase the vital information. Never a dull moment!

P.S. I nearly forgot to say this, because it's easy to get enthusiastic about the Web: I forgot to include real phone numbers and real addresses for the companies with the good WEBSITES. Not nice. I really don't like to discriminate against guys who don't go on the Web.

So. (1) If you DO go on the Web, you can look up these addresses and phones in the new section on LISTS.

(2) If you CAN get on e-mail but NOT on the Web, send me a message at [email protected] and I'll e-mail the LIST to you.

(3) If you CAN'T get on e-mail, just mail me a letter, and I'll send you that LIST.

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

Mail Stop D2597A
National Semiconductor
P.O. Box 58090
Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090

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