An Analog IC Design Book Draft

[Jean-Francois Debroux] spent 35 years designing analog ASICs. He’s started a book and while it isn’t finished — indeed he says it may never be — the 180 pages he posted on LinkedIn are a pretty good read.

The 46 sections are well organized, although some are placeholders. There are sections on design flow and the technical aspects of design. Examples range from a square root circuit to a sigma-delta modulator, although some of them are not complete yet. There are also sections on math, physics, common electronics, materials, and tools.

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Mini Library For Kids Gets Blinky Lights And Solar Upgrade

Reading is big in Québec, and [pepelepoisson]’s young children have access to a free mini library nook that had seen better days and was in dire need of maintenance and refurbishing. In the process of repairing and repainting the little outdoor book nook, he took the opportunity to install a few experimental upgrades (link in French, English translation here.)

The mini library pods are called Croque-Livres, part of a program of free little book nooks for children across Québec (the name is a bit tricky to translate into English, but think of it as “snack shack, but for books” because books are things to be happily devoured.)

After sanding and repairs and a few coats of new paint, the Croque-Livres was enhanced with a strip of WS2812B LEDs, rechargeable battery with solar panel, magnet and reed switch as door sensor, and a 3.3 V Arduino to drive it all. [pepelepoisson]’s GitHub repository for the project contains the code and CAD files for the 3D printed pieces.

The WS2812B LED strip technically requires 5 V, but as [pepelepoisson] found in his earlier project Stecchino, the LED strip works fine when driven directly from a 3.7 V lithium-polymer cell. It’s not until around 3 V that it starts to get unreliable, so a single 3.7 V cell powers everything nicely.

When the door is opened, the LED strip lights up with a brief animation, then displays the battery voltage as a bar graph. After that, the number of times the door as been opened is shown on the LED strip in binary. It’s highly visual, interactive, and there’s even a small cheat sheet explaining how binary works for anyone interested in translating the light pattern into a number. How well does it all hold up? So far so good, but it’s an experiment that doesn’t interfere at all with the operation of the little box, so it’s all good fun.

Books You Should Read: The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind

For many of us, our passion for electronics and science originated with curiosity about some device, a computer, radio, or even a car. The subject of this book has just such an origin. However, how many of us made this discovery and pursued this path during times of hunger or outright famine?

That’s the remarkable story of William Kamkwamba that’s told in the book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Remarkable because it culminates with his building a windmill (more correctly called a wind turbine) that powered lights in his family’s house all by the young age of fifteen. As you’ll see, it’s also the story of an unyielding thirst for knowledge in the face of famine and doubt by others.

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Code The Classics Is Coming

We feel sorry for youth of today. If you spend a few hours playing a modern video game and decide you want to write your own, there’s a big job ahead of you. Games now are as much performances as programs, with cinematic 3D renderings, polyphonic sound and music tracks, and detailed storylines. That wasn’t true 40 years ago, when you could play Pong and then think about writing your own version. The Raspberry Pi people must agree as they are taking preorders for a book called “Code the Classics.” In it, they interview designers of several classic arcade games and then show Python versions of the games you can run — and hack — yourself. You can see their video about the title, below.

The code is from Raspberry Pi founder [Eben Upton] and as you might expect the games aren’t necessarily faithful reproductions but inspired by the old arcade standards.

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Unix Tell All Book From Kernighan Hits The Shelves

When you think of the Unix and C revolution that grew out of Bell Labs, there are a few famous names. Dennis Ritchie, Ken Thompson, and Brian Kernighan come to mind. After all, the K in both K&R C and in AWK stand for Kernighan. While Kernighan is no stranger to book authorship — he’s written several classics including “the white book” for C and Unix — he has a new book out that is part historical record and part memoir about the birth of Unix.

Usually, when a famous person writes a retrospective like this, it is full of salacious details, but we don’t expect much of that here. The book talks about Bell Labs and Multics, of course. There’s serious coverage of the first, sixth, and seventh editions with biographies of people integral to those releases.

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A Raspberry Pi Grimoire For The Command Line Wizard

Who says there’s no such thing as magic? Not anyone who knows what a Unix pipe is, that’s for sure. If you do some of your best incantations at a blinking cursor, this scratch-built Raspberry Pi Zero “Spellbook” laptop created by [Calvin] might be just what the apothecary ordered. Lucky for us, he was kind enough to document the design and construction of this penguin-powered tome for anyone else who wishes to dabble in the GNU Dark Arts.

In the series of videos after the break, viewers have the opportunity to watch a project go from idea to final product. The first video was uploaded nearly a month before the project was completed, and goes over some of the design elements of the project as well as different ideas [Calvin] had in terms of things like component placement. Throughout the video, he illustrates his ideas in TinkerCAD, which might not have been our first choice for a project this complex, but it does go to show what’s possible in the free web-based CAD package.

By the second video, [Calvin] has printed some parts and now has the hardware coming together. The general idea is that the outside panels of the “book” are made out of steel cut from the side panel of an old computer, with the 3D printed components taking the form of spacers between the electronic components. These plastic “pages” are not only easier and faster to print than a complete case, but help sell the appearance of the book when viewed from the sides.

[Calvin] has shared his TinkerCAD design so that others can print out the necessary components for the book, though you’ll have to source your own steel plates. He also breaks down all the principle components he used and gives links to where you can buy them, from the display and keyboard down to the screws and standoffs. He went with the Pi Zero and sticks to mainly console work, but if you want something with enough power to throw around a graphical environment, he says there’s room in the case for a Pi 3.

Hackers seem to enjoy hiding hardware inside of books, PLA or otherwise. We’ve recently seen an iPad nestled snugly into a notebook, and of course no house would be complete without a book doubling as a hidden switch.

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Software: It Is All In The Details

Who’s the better programmer? The guy that knows 10 different languages, or someone who knows just one? It depends. Programming is akin to math, or perhaps it is that we treat some topics differently than others which leads to misconceptions about what makes a good programmer, mathematician, or engineer. We submit that to be a great programmer is less about the languages you know and more about the algorithms and data structures you understand. If you know how to solve the problem, mapping it to a particular computer language should be almost an afterthought. While there are many places that you can learn those things, there is a lot more focus on how to write the languages,  C++ or Java or Python or whatever. We were excited, then, to see [Jeff Erickson] is publishing his algorithms book distilled from teaching at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign for a number of years. The best part? You can read the preprint version online now and it will remain online even after the book goes to print.

When you were in school, you probably learned math in two ways: there was the mechanics (4×4=16) and then there were the word problems (Johnny has 10 candy bars and eats 4, how many are left?). Word problems are usually the bane of the student’s existence, yet they are much more realistic. Your boss has (probably) never come in your office and asked you what 147 divided by 12 is. If she did, you could hand her a calculator. The real value comes in being able to synthesize the right math for the right problem and — if you are lucky — gaining intuition about it (doubling the price will only increase profit by 10%). Software is pretty much the same, for example no one rushes into your cubicle and says “Quick! We need a for loop written!” You get a hazy set of requirements if you are lucky, and you then need to map that into something that computers can do. For that reason, we’ve always been more of a fan of learning about algorithms and data structures rather than specific language features.

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