Fish Fry Meets Software Freedom Conservancy
Once in a while, we all need some help. When the vast landscape of our next software project makes our head hurt, we need a place to go to hang out and throw our ideas around. So - where do we go? Software Freedom Conservancy, that's where. My guest this week is Bradley M. Kuhn - Executive Director of Software Freedom Conservancy. Brad and I chat about what Software Freedom Conservancy is all about, how we can participate, what projects they are working on, and I even slip in little question about New York City. Also this week, I check out the Tiny Engineer Superhero Emergency Kit and reveal how this tiny but mighty kit can impress your friends and family.
SNL’s “Weekend Update” Has Nothing on the Software Industry
Programmers, call off your drug pushers.
I know, I know… you think you’re helping. But really, you’re not. You think you’ve got my best interests at heart. You don’t. Your marketing people have convinced you that you’re “providing a service” to your customers. That you’re “ensuring quality.” Here’s where you can stick your quality, fellah.
I’m talking, of course, about automatic forced updates to my software. That’s right, I said “my software.” Not “your software,” and not “the software you created.” Once I lay my money down and get a copy of (excuse me: a license for) the software your company sold me, it’s not yours anymore. And the fundamental rules of property ownership that our society has observed for millennia make me responsible
Head Out on the Highway with NXP’s LPC1500 Motor Controller
One of the definitions of an “embedded” system, as opposed to a “computer,” is, “anything that uses electronics to replace a previously mechanical device.” Programmable thermostats are embedded systems because they replace two dumb pieces of bent metal with a microcontroller and some software. Antilock brakes are embedded systems because they use MCUs instead of hydraulics to control skidding. And pretty much anything with an electric motor in it is an embedded system, because motors are all computer-controlled these days.
That presents a juicy market opportunity for the guys who make motors, and for the guys who make control-control ICs. Guys like NXP. Guys, meet LPC1500, your newest embedded motor-control microcontroller.
New Pathways and Ambiguous Terms
Those of you in the sensor world are deeply involved with the low-level nuances and intricacies of your devices. How accurate, how linear, how to connect, how to read data, how to fuse data… – there’s so much to think about if you put your mind to it.
Of course, the people you’re doing this for – users of phones and tablets and medical devices and industrial sensors – couldn’t care less about that stuff. They want to sleep soundly knowing that, by hook or by crook, those sensors are detecting their assigned phenomena accurately, and the system is correctly reading those data and munging them into whatever form is necessary to provide a simple, meaningful result at the application level.
And, in between you and that user lies, among other things, the operating system (OS). And OSes are now wise to the ways of sensors, and they’re laying down some rules of the road.
Bogus Tech Support and a Statistical Rorschach Test
I finally got the call.
My phone rang, and the caller at the other end said, “This is Microsoft Technical Support. We’ve detected—”. I cut him off right there. “No, you’re not. You’re a %&@# scammer and should be in jail,” and hung up on him. (I sometimes miss old telephones where you could slam down the receiver.)
I’d heard about this scam before, where someone claims to be from Microsoft (it’s never Dell or Lenovo or Samsung) offering to help you clean up “infections” they’ve somehow detected on your computer. All you have to do is visit their helpful website and download their remote diagnostic tool… You can guess what mischief transpires from there.
In this week’s Fish Fryin’ electronic engineering podcast we're talking about love - the love of cold storage, the love of analog components, and the love of integrated design environments. First, we get comfy and cozy with cold storage and open computing with Scott MCDonald (Rorke Global Solutions). Next, we revel in our desire for analog components and sensor-based applications with Sean Long of Maxim Integrated Products. Finally we round out today's EE love-a-thon with a look into our continuing infatuation with integrated design environments. Come join us for this week's Fish Fryin' EE love fest!
Microsemi Inserts Man-in-the-Middle to Encrypt Boot-up
Security wonks talk about the “root of trust” for computer systems, and for good reason. If you can’t start from a known-good position, everything that happens afterwards is potentially suspect. Building castles on sand, and all that.
Since every computer and embedded system has to bootstrap itself from cold metal, the boot-up process is necessarily the root of all subsequent trust. If the boot ROM is compromised… well, there’s no telling what mischief may follow.
That’s the concept behind Microsemi’s new “secure boot reference design.” Lock down the bootstrapping process first, and you can then start building a secure system on top of it. A lot of companies have made token efforts to secure their respective processors’ firmware.
Reference Kits Abstract the Details
New technology follows an arc. If it’s something really new and different, then it typically starts with an inspiration or an insight into how to do something really hard. The focus of all effort is then on doing whatever hard thing makes the New Technology possible.
Users of the New Technology tend to be early adopters – folks that can take a novel data sheet, figure out what it all means, and design whatever is necessary to integrate the New Thing into a system.
For sensors, you might imagine the original ur-sensors (many, many years ago) as providing only analog data. And the sensor maker is heads-down perfecting how that data is acquired, how accurate it is, and how stable and resilient the sensor is. Everything else – converting the data
How Much Better Does “Better” Have To Be?
Let’s say you’re shopping for a new car. (Congratulations.) You head down to your town’s Auto Row and start browsing all the dealerships. There’s the Ford dealer; next door is the Toyota dealer. Across the street you see the BMW dealer, the Chevy dealer, the Kia/Hyundai dealer, and so on. They all make fine cars, and you spend some time at each place, kicking the tires and slamming the doors.
Then, down at the very end of the street, you notice something different. There, under the overpass, is a man living in a cardboard box, holding up a hand-made sign that says, “Dmitiri’s Cars.” He gestures you over.
New Technologies Raise New Fears
Two news items made the rounds last week. Both involved hacking, and both are (probably) bogus. I think the news says more about us as users of technology than it does about the technology itself.
First, bloggers were wringing their hands over the planned wind-down of Windows XP. After 13 years, it’s time for XP to ride off into the sunset, and so Microsoft warned users that it would stop developing new fixes and new patches for XP. No big deal, right?
Within hours of each other, nearly a dozen different blogs were keening about security risks at bank ATMs. Seems many, if not most, of the automated teller machines installed in the U.S. use Windows XP as their operating system. (You’d never know it, because the user interface is covered by bank-branded replacements.) “ATMs