6/27/2006

MicroChip Samples: Are Freebies Good or Bad?

The best things in life are free. Or in my case, it's great to get component samples from MicroChip.

When was the last time you got something free, especially from a large international corporation? For me, that was yesterday morning when the FedEx truck came around and dropped off another batch of component samples that I ordered from MicroChip, but when will this "gravy train" end?

The only requirement anyone needs to order component samples is a valid, non-generic email and a valid postal address so the FedEx truck can make the drop-off. So that means, the gravy train won't stop as long as I have both!

But what about the bigger picture? I get my samples which is fine and dandy but what about MicroChip or whatever large corporation is sending out the samples? What happens to them? On a small scale, the corporation loses maybe $50 to $100 everytime they send an order of samples. These samples are usually used to help prototype a commercial, industrial, or military product. Once a suitable prototype is designed, tested and reviewed, the prototype then moves into large scale production. Large scale translates to big money being spent to purchase large amounts of components for the products. So, the company that sends out samples isn't really losing money but they're using the samples as part of their marketing campaign.

But what about the companies that don't send out samples? Do they lose out and a potential customer goes to a different company that provides samples? Maybe. From the consumer end, if you find a source of free samples, you would have very little reason to pay for the same product from a different source. But this might be at the sacrifice for convenience since sometimes it's easier to buy the product if you obtain it faster than waiting for the the sample especially if you're under a strict dead-line to finalize a prototype.

I know this is an extremely biased opinion since I work with this stuff, so let's hear what kind of experiences you have with freebies.

6/21/2006

Taking Bao's Blog Advice and Convocation (Another Non-Engineering Post -> ANEP)

After some thought, which was most like 30 seconds, I have to admit that Bao's right and not everybody is interested, nor as enthusiastic as myself in engineering stuff. So, with Bao's blogging advice, I'll post a variety of topics here and mark then ANEPs.


Convocation

Some of you might be in the dark but I've finally graduated from Ryerson and perhaps I'm now ready for bigger and greater things. On Monday (19th) I had my convocation ceremony, but what does it mean? Is it just another day? For the souls who have slowly withered away and died long before might feel nothing about their convocation. Or perhaps convocation is finally the shower of cold, fresh water that will revive these withered souls.

For me, convocation was a time for reflection that I could have done better on a particular test or assignment or report or something else. But perhaps I should first mention a particular speaker attending the ceremony.

Pierre Lassonde is the President of Newmont Mining Corp and he was receiving an honorary doctorate. An honorary doctorate is bestowed upon a person for their contributions to society, their achievement in the use of an interdisciplinary approach to university education and a lot of wonderful and amazing required criteria.

Anyways, the most significant thing that Pierre Lassonde spoked about was your passion in doing whatever you want to do is the most important thing in your life. As long as you're doing what you love, you would feel like you've never done a minute of work.

Some of you will disagree but Pierre Lassonde is absolutely right. Artists, poets, and philosophers have sung, painted, and argued as to what is "love" and how do we know we've found it? Love is one life aspect that you'll know it when you see it because it will hit you in the face like a freight train.

For myself, I think I've finally found my first love and she calls herself Godiva and she rides nude upon a white horse. (For the non-engineers, I'll find the link to the "Godiva" song and post it.)

6/14/2006

Mobile Computing... With A Twist!

Yeah, I know it's been a month since my last post but I think posting something interesting is better than posting something nonsensical. But then again, nonsensical posts tend to have more comments.

After work, Bao, David (one of the guys in the Tech Support group) and I were talking about random stuff. I was rummaging through a box and was looking at various abandoned pieces of computer hardware when David makes the suggestion that if I can fix whatever junk is in the box, I can keep it.

NOTE: For those of you who do not know, I'm now working at WinMagic as a junior developer. =)

I'm sure David was joking about this but he remarked how in a week are two, he might see computer towers whizzing around the office. I won't go into the boring details of the conversation but it converged to an idea of what it might take to put a computer tower on wheels and control it remotely!

I know I haven't started on the RC Car Hack but I have to pay off my student loan before I can purchase the necessary lab equipment (oscilloscope, wave gen). And hopefully while I'm working on the RC Car Hack project, I'll post pictures and stuff here.

Anyways, here's my idea for the Mobile Tower:
1. Using an available Wi-Fi connection, I can form an ad-hoc connection from a host computer (the computer I'm sitting at) and the client computer (the mobile tower). The Wi-Fi connection will allow me to give the Mobile Tower instructions and also allow a web cam to send a video feed to the host computer.

2. The Mobile Tower will provide a simple chassis to attach motors (with wheels!) and a mounting area for a microcontroller to control the motors. The microcontroller would have to control a minimum of three motors: two to allow the tower to move, and one to control a motor to rotate a camera. Obviously, the more actuator points available on the microcontroller, the more stuff I can mount on the tower.

3. I'll obviously have to consider my power source since it would be very impractical to tether the tower to the wall with an incredibly long extension cord. The easiest solution is to replace the tower with a laptop. But I suppose the added challenge would be to design and build a 3-phase inverter and then find a suitable battery. I'll need one or several small deep-cycle batteries like lithium ion. Some of you might suggest car batteries but those are "shallow"-cycle batteries.

Tech Talk: A deep-cycle battery are any type that discharges current over a long period whereas "shallow"-cycle batteries, like a car battery, discharges its current over a short period. I've place "shallow"-cycle batteries in quotes because I can't remember their proper name. Although car batteries hold a large amount of current, it discharges its current quickly to help a car engine turn over. While you're driving, the alternator recharges the battery so that you can start the car the next time you drive.

As I've already mentioned, replacing the tower with a laptop would be the easiest solution. And since I have two laptops at home, I suppose I have one to spare. But the whole idea here is to make the mobile tower as "crazy" as possible so we'll have to go back to the tower. Plus, using a tower has the advantage of it already being a suitable platform to add hardpoints and stuff. The less physical fabrication required, the better!

So, if anybody has suggestions, suggest away!