Saturday, November 14, 2009

The goalposts keep moving!

The microprocessor has been with us for some time now, on my radar since 1974 with the release in April 1974 of the Intel 8080 which I first applied only a few months later. So I grew up and was 'educated' before the microprocessor. In those early days the choices were minimal, Motorola introduced the 6800 a little later in 1974. Despite protestations to the contrary that one or the other had some great technical or architectural merit it was really a matter of religion which path you followed. You could make a choice then being comfortable that it would hold good for a few years.

More recently the same religious fervour is evidenced by the proponents for the Freescale (formerly Motorola) 6800/6802/6809 ancestored chips versus Microchips PIC and Atmels much newer 'C' code optimised AVR and megaAVR. Each has its benefits, but logic defies any choice other than the one that I like!

But now the game has a completely new set of rules. ARM, of Cambridge UK, has turned the world upside recently with the introduction of the Cortex-M3 IP core. In a very carefully staged collaboration with Luminary (now part of TI) we saw the introduction of the Luminary Stellaris parts - the first M3's. Now everybody is on the band-wagon! Atmel (ATSAM3 is Cortex M3 based), TI through the acquisition of Luminary, NXP with the LPC17xx series, ST Microelectronics STM32, Toshiba and a new Norwegian startup - Energy Micro. All good viable companies, and don't count Energy Micro out, although only 2 years old they have some well experienced talent from Chipcon (now part of TI) and Atmel.

So now we don't get each manufacturer offering us a new architecture - we get them offering us different customisations and peripheral mixes all based on the same CPU core and interconnection fabric.

Oy vay!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

So so so long!

Has it really been that long? Have I really been that busy! In a word, yes. My current major project has taken enormous amounts of time and effort over the last 6 months or more, so anything else has been sidelined. Those out there who know me will understand just what has been going on.

ENGINEERs and the recession.

Of course for many of us the last 12 months or so have been a tough time. Many jobs have been lost and new openings not always easy to identify. Fortunately I was not amongst the job losers, in fact my employer didn't shed any jobs, the factory and admin staff went onto Jobshare (work 4 days a week paid and then get one day of EI) but the professional staff were presented with a nice 10% salary cut "for the duration". The duration turned out to be April to October. But at the same time we were asked to work harder than ever, during this period I worked a number of weekends and I still haven't had my "summer" vacation. At the same time we are asked to be our most productive many of our employers also cut back on capital investment and even on things like software tools. In an era when engineering salaries are under attack by everyone from transit operators (say a streetcar or subway driver) to local librarians we are being asked to take more responsibility and work work longer hours as many in society are heading the exact opposite direction.

For many years it was the skilled tradespeople and the factory workers who need to work a second job to make ends meet. To that list we can now add engineers. More and more of the engineers I speak to are seeking "contract" work to gain the extra income they need. Of course, this doesn't help the situation of the contract designers already out there does it. It will be interesting to see how the situation of the engineer plays out over the next year or two.