Thursday, April 17, 2008

The NMRA and NMRAnet - a broken standards development process

Unless you know me, you wouldn't know that I love model railways and I have been playing with them one way or another since the early 70's. A couple of years ago I developed for myself a concept of hardware mimicking the object oriented software approach. In theory it works nicely. So I went in search of a networking technique to support what I wanted.

I am not sure how, but I teamed up with a guy from New Zealand (a professional programmer and accomplished embedded software developer) and one from British Columbia (a medical Doctor of all things with a CS degree before his time in medicine and a life long interest in modelling too. Turns out they also had some ideas about this sort of thing too. Then we got hijacked. Some other people started to participate in the list and decided that cheap, simple, unscalable and ready tomorrow technology is all that the model railroad industry and hobby needs.

Then someone tried to float a standard into the National Model Railroad Association (of the USA) to create an NMRA approved standard. So a working group was established. Sheesh! What an experience.

Since its founding just over 12 months ago the group has been a shambles to say the least. One group, form the UK with some USA participation, has gone off to develop things their own way. Others have been unhappy with the behaviour of some members. Now one participant with a very clear idea of what is needed (his proposal) has managed to get the Chairman sacked and he has been appointed in his place! Two weeks ago the working group had I think 18 members. Yesterday, after my departure it had ten and of those only three or four have made any contribution at all to the discussion and it seems that two of those are not happy with what is happening either!

So the group is going well and moving forward by all accounts of the new chairman. I suppose he has nobody left to argue with him and he seems to have perfected the "management of the standards process by attrition". Oh well, back to the grindstone. After twelve months of sniping, back biting, and a lot of ill feeling we can now get back to work!

Our little group seems to be re-forming. We are talking comfortably about where we see something going and about the uses of modern technology. A far cry from what we had been putting up with for the last year.

Atmel Xmega - they just keep on doing it.

Over the last year or two Atmel have updated their AVR line with a 32bit machine (AVR32), new small processors with lots more features, picoPower technology to keep things cool, and now - ATXmega.

Take an ATmega, add multiple DMA channels, an event handler system, four SPI ports, four TWI ports and EIGHT USARTs in a 100 pin chip! Talk about packing it in! Oh, did I tell you that without losing ANY of the specialist ports, it can also access up to 16mb of RAM, and has an SDRAM controller built in?

Things have come a long way since the AT90S8515!

Look at Atmel or AVRfreaks for more information

Is it really that long?

I just looked at the last entry here and find it was nearly five months ago! How time flies when you are having fun!

Does a new job, a week in hospital, seemingly endless trips to the cardiologist and a long winter sound like fun? Well it hasn't been too bad, really! But now I am back. And maybe we can have some electronics fun.