Archive for October, 2013


Letting go of old angst

October 21, 2013

Yesterday, I went to this conference, nervous due to my normal social anxiety and uncomfortable with my identity as I sporting a “Press” badge.

The first person I interacted with is the one guy at the whole conference that I’d hoped not to see. Of course.

I’ve never been to this conference but this guy is involved with everything IEEE, at least locally so I was concerned he’d be there. Let me explain why I had hoped to avoid him. Because maybe I’m wrong and I’m finally willing to have someone say “cut the guy some slack” or “let it go”.

My book came out two years ago. Just about that time, I decided to upgrade my membership from IEEE member to IEEE senior member. There was a member upgrade night, to meet senior members who could provide the recommendations necessary for upgrade. Soon after I walked in, I found a guy who said my background and resume were so good, he’d be willing to sponsor me as well as write a recommendation. That meant I got to skip a step. Sweet.

I met another senior member who was willing to write a recommendation.

I wanted a third person because I’m an overachiever (and a big believer in backup plans). Though the organizer (we’ll call him Fred as there will be more about him) said two was enough. Since the process had all gone very quickly and they weren’t busy, Fred offered to look over my application and resume. I handed over my papers.

He made some comments on my resume. They were ok, they didn’t really fit with how I present myself. My resume is targeted toward hiring managers, busy people looking for high level information and probably only willing to drill deeper in a few spots. I was proud it was two pages. While the other recommenders liked my resume as it was, Fred felt strongly that I should submit a longer CV with my application. He had specific suggestions for what I should do.

Happy for the help, I re-added the projects and papers I’d clipped. I made sure my CV showed growth in my careers: college, junior engineer, senior engineer, technical lead, manager, director, business owner. I added descriptions to my juried papers and to my magazine articles. I made sure my book and patents were prominent. It was a lot of bragging. And a lot of pages.

A month passed. While my sponsor came through, the other recommendation writer bailed so I needed to find someone. Since I’d already interacted with Fred, I emailed him. I thanked him for his help, describing the changes I’d made, asked if he’d write the second recommendation for me.

Fred emailed back and suggested more changes. Ooooookaaaay… I’d already put in more work than I’d expected but it seemed silly to stop when another hour of fussing would lead to the (tiny) senior member payoff.

I made the changes he requested. As I did it, though, I wondered if my application was so iffy that I needed to do more highlighting of instances success. But the committee gets a lot of applications and I want to make the choice easy for them (Fred’s reasoning but I bought it), so I made the changes.

I re-sent my packet to Fred. He wanted more changes before he’d write a recommendation.

At this point, my opinion was “to hell with them”. I didn’t know why Fred kept putting up more hurdles, what he found lacking in me.

The bar for senior member status isn’t that high: at least ten years in a related career with definite growth shown over five of those years. These are checkboxes. I suppose there is some subjectivity regarding what growth means but I’d say title changes count. I was actually pretty depressed that my new super-CV couldn’t show that I’d met those requirements. I couldn’t really imagine what more he’d want and I didn’t have time to fuss more.

I emailed back to him and said that he’d sufficiently discouraged me, that if my application was so borderline that three passes were needed, I’d wait until I was less borderline. I did not thank him for his help. I was polite (and brief).

About a month later, I got email from a guy I knew from other things, that I’d done a favor for. When I realized he was senior member, I got a recommendation from him. Easy peasy. He said my application rocked. My membership was upgraded with no questions from the committee.

Fred is the guy here at the conference. I don’t know if he recalls this interaction or not. Whenever I see his name on an IEEE ballot, I wince and fail to vote. Part of me knows that he really was trying to help, in his own way. Part of me is angered that he’d put me through so many hoops that I was willing to give up. I don’t know why I was so special or if he does this for everybody.

It isn’t like IEEE senior membership gets me anything: it isn’t even something anyone cares about on my resume. I was only willing to give up a little of my valuable time getting an upgrade that has no value. I ended up spending far more angst and time than I wanted. Apparently, there is still some angst.


Where to start?

October 16, 2013

I got a message from someone who read my book. He said he enjoyed it (yay!) but  was disappointed it was mostly theoretical (boo!), and didn’t recommend a specific chip and give some tutorials on how to start using it. He asked if a $500 class would be a good way to get started. His background is software (I’d suggest different things for a hardware engineer but that’s a different post).

This seemed like a neat question so I answered and I figured I’d tell you my answer too, with a few only a few mods:

The chips change so fast that a book would be out of date before it was published. The class might be a good way to get started though, really, I’d say spend $50 on an Arduino board and build yourself a fancy Christmas light (or, if you’ve got time now, a Halloween scar-ifier of some ilk).

Arduinos have Atmel chips, usually the Atmega, a line of chips that is used in many shipping products. The community is huge so you won’t be learning alone. And the accessories for ti are amazing. You can start out in their C++ environment but strip it down to a microprocessor system and your own drivers if/when you are ready.

Another good source of software-to-embedded boards are the ones from They cost a little more but do some of the underlying drivers for you (and don’t make you fuss with cross compilers). They have more processing power (a lot more) so you’d get to see the ARM Cortex-M0 and Cortex-M3 which are the hot processors in the 32-bit space.

Maybe look at Electric Imp. They’ve got a neat system that lets you hook wifi and cloud services to lots of things. They do some embedded and it isn’t necessarily something you could build a career on but to stick your toe in, well, hooking your oven to the internet has never been easier. 🙂

Finally, lots of people love Raspberry Pi (and Beagle Bone Black). I see those more as Linux computers with a few limitations than proper embedded platforms. But maybe that is a good way to transition.

Circuit Cellar Ink is a good magazine. So is MAKE. They both will let you see what processors people are talking about and using in hobby stuff. Or look on the, or tutorials pages.

For more professional development (less hobby fun), contact TI, ST, Atmel or NXP and ask when they’ll have training in your area. Many times the training is free (and they give out dev kits!)… essentially you are letting them brainwash you to use their parts. But they all have good processors so no harm done. The embedded systems conference (DesignWest) isn’t until March 2014 but that is a good place to see all the vendors in one place (San Jose, CA).

Does that give you enough places to start?

I have a podcast (, some of the shows cover how to get started with one thing or another though, again, those are starting points, not in-depth discussions.

Let me know how you get on.

And if you, dear reader of my blog, use any of this advice or want to suggest other things, please let me know.



BART strike leads to train jokes

October 10, 2013

In an SF office email list, there was the warning that with a BART strike possible, people may want to make sure they can work from home.

Someone suggested working in a bar, I replied that a meeting there might help an ongoing problem. Another person piped up “I like this train of thought.”

Was the pun intended? (BART… train, see?) I don’t know but it reminded me of another train joke, once told me to over three days (an hour a day).

There was a guy who always wanted to drive trains, to be the railroad engineer. But he came of age in the 1960s, the job was dying out. Over the course of the next twenty years, he got laid off by Amtrak and then by Union Pacific. He moved his family to San Francisco and drove the trolleys, yelling “All aboard!” for the tourists. But, inevitably it seems, he was laid off of that job too.

His family was kicked out of their apartment and had nowhere to go. Our train enthusiast had no more options so he turned to a life of crime. He robbed a bank. The first one went ok. The second ended in disaster as an accomplice shot a police officer and then cut a plea deal with the district attorney.

Our engineer got the death sentence: the electric chair. He went through the standard appeals but felt so guilty he didn’t put much heart into it. It was terrible. On the night of his execution, he asked for his wife’s macaroni and cheese.

But when they pulled the lever, nothing happened. Back to his cell he went.

They tried again a week later. This time, as a final meal, he had his wife’s mac and cheese, with lobster bits.

The electrician had been to increase the juice to the chair. When they pulled the lever, a city block worth of lights went out, but nothing happened. Back to his cell he went.

A week later, he enjoyed his wife’s mac and cheese, with lobster bits and an excellent glass of red wine.

The electrician had been, and again increased the juice to the chair. When they pulled the lever, the whole city’s lights went out, but nothing happened. This time, the governor granted a stay of execution, releasing the man saved due to divine intervention.

When released, the press asked what had happened, how was this possible? He gave a simple press statement: I was never a very good conductor.