by Bryan Bergeron, Editor by Bryan Bergeron, Editor
Getting Out of Your
I consider myself in decent physical shape — I bike
daily and have a regular lifting routine. Whenever I visit
my younger sister on the west coast, she pulls out some
DVD on advanced yoga or pilates or Bulgarian bag
training, and puts me to shame.
The trouble is — without external nudging — I tend
to stay in my comfort zone at the expense of learning
something new. With neuromuscular training, if you
don’t mix it up, you won’t grow.
It’s the same with technology. After I’ve spent
months or years with a given microprocessor, I can
usually do what needs to be done — even if it requires
a few tricks here and there. Why invest the energy
learning something new? In my case, it’s simple. I need
to keep up with the latest wave of microcontrollers,
sensors, and other devices to do my job as editor.
It turns out that getting out of my comfort zone
inevitably introduces me to techniques that I can bring
back to my favorite microcontroller or analog chip set.
What about you? Lacking external pressure to leave
your comfort zone puts the motivation completely in
your own hands. If you’re proficient at cranking out
circuits with discrete logic chips, why bother learning to
program the PIC or a Raspberry Pi? Conversely, if you’re
a wiz at the Arduino, why bother with stand-alone A/D
converter chips and high performance analog chips?
Well, I’m confident that you’ll likely learn something
worthwhile as you grope around uncharted technology
Continuing with the example of an onboard A/D
converter in microcontrollers, let’s say you want to
create an effects filter for a microphone or instrument
pick-up. You could simply feed the audio signal to the
A/D port of an Arduino. Once you’ve captured the
signal, you could devise any number of digital filters to
enhance or distort the signal before sending it out to an
Of course, your filter design would be limited by the
processing power and memory of the microcontroller.
You might waste much of your microcontroller’s filter
capabilities by creating the equivalent of a low-pass filter
— something easily and inexpensively done in the analog
world with a capacitor and resistor.
Or, if you’re after a distortion sound effect, you
could do most of the work with a diode and resistor on
the input of the A/D converter.
There’s also the issue of noise.
Laying out a microcontroller board
doesn’t take much forethought if
you’re making a blinking LED
controller. There’s input and output
and power. Most often,
experimenters with limited analog
experience pay little attention to
how the signals get where they’re
supposed to go.
However, if your expertise
includes analog audio circuits, you
know that signal routing is critical to
minimize noise pickup — whether
from the 60-cycle power mains, a
poorly regulated power supply, or
from capacitive coupling of the
signal output to the input.
Someone versed in analog
audio circuit design will consider
adding a ground plane in the form
of, for example, a third layer in a
printed circuit board to keep input
and output coupling to a minimum,
6 October 2013