Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thankful for Family, NI, and Sarcasm

It's the season to be thankful. So in the spirit of the season I want to say what I'm thankful for.

First, of course, I'm want to thank God for all my blessings. Next, I want to thank my family. My Mom and Dad for giving me a good foundation and work ethic and encouraging me to go to collage in spite of their very limited education. I'm thankful for my kids for keeping me grounded through a bunch of tough years and for putting up with me and my warped sense of humor the rest of the time. And I'm even thankful for my hard driving have-to-be-right brother and sweet sister.

I'm Thankful for my really good friends who helped me get past my shyness, helping with my introversion, and helping me get through my tough years. They are fun to hang out with when I don't have a date. In other words, we always hang out.

I'm also thankful to National Instruments for making it easy to do my job. LabWindows CVI is a great tool for Test Engineers and makes it easy to develop code for test sets and for easy to use hardware. I'm also thankful for all the helpful people I've met and worked with there at NI like Joel, Wendy, Santiago, and Conan. I especially thankful for NI Week and the Wednesday night party they throw, maybe happy they do it than actually "thankful". And, yes, I'm even thankful for LabVIEW, it's a good language and most likely a piece of the future of software.

I'm also thankful to both of the Directors I work for, especially JT. They believe in me and know that I'll work hard to do a good job for both of them.

[Start Sarcastic Voice]
I'm also thankful for the boss who said I couldn't follow a process. Now that I've helped deveop our companies processes and reach CMMI level 5, you proved how well you know people. To the same boss who said I would never work in software at our company again. She was right, I'm not in the software group, I'm Test Engineering doing much more and fun software.

I'm thankful to Electrical Engineers. Since most of you guys don't think I can tell the difference between a resistor and an FPGA, you make it very easy to impress you. Especially, to they lead EE guys who couldn't find the problem between the IMU and GPU on LOSAT. You made it easy for "Just a software guy" to find the 25ns glitch that was reseting the IMU with just a schematic and an OScope.

I'm also thankful to the boss who believes that software is just a passing fad. You make everyone else seem so much smarter.

I'm also thankful to the place I work. [insert almost any sarcastic comment from Dilbert and it applies. I'm pretty sure he works where I work]

[End Sarcastic Voice]

The reality of it is I have a lot to be thankful for and I know that I am truly blessed.

Thank you

Sunday, November 23, 2008

NI Help

Since I work a lot with different instruments and don't have the luxury of completely learning the ins-and-out of one product, I rely on a companies help functions to get my job done.

Lately I've been integrating some Agilent RF equipment into a test set. I now have a much better appreciation of NI help. I've always felt like NI has some of the best technical help around, examples, and documentation but I've come to appreciate it even more.

I'm trying to use TestStand to control an automated test on an RF Signal Generator, RF Power Meter, and an RF Switch, all from Agilent but having trouble. Agilent really is trying to help but still have a really long way to go to get close to NI help. When I had problems I entered a couple of on-line help requests but received no responses. I had to call the local sales rep to get the e-mail of a tech rep. I have been e-mailing him and he has been helpful in a limited way. I did get the manual web sequence to control the RF Switch, but for automated tests, that doesn't mater.

The RF signal generator was easy because I've used it before and figured out it's quirks. The examples for the RF Power meter had nothing to do with actually reading power, hmmm. When I made calls to the driver functions, they came back with error messages that gave no hint at what was needed. The funcion panel help gave no hint at what the parameters were looking for. I wound up using some low level SCPI commands in combination with the driver functions. I couldn't get it to work with all SCPI or all driver functions.

As for the RF Switch, the examples seem to include calls to driver functions for many different switch types. For my RF switch, the driver functions generate a lot of "Not supported" error messages. But it was very hard to figure out what is supported or what calls I could make. Also, once I loaded the Agilent IO Drivers (which are required for the system to even see their switch) the Pickering switches disappeared from the PXI chassis, at least from a logical standpoint. I still haven't figured that one out.

It's been a week and a half trying to get the RF interconnections to work. I think I'm close but compared to the NI instruments, it's taken way to long.

Using Agilent instruments has given me more of an appreciation for how good NI help, discussion boards, phone help, and e-mail help really are. I especially want to thank Joel Garner, NI Sales Engineer extraordinaire, for his help.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


I've found that the Test Engineering group is misunderstood, at least where I work. Most of the engineering groups have an identity. The Electrical Engineering group builds the hardware, the Mechanical Engineers builds the moving parts, Software Engineers write the software to control the hardware, and the Systems Engineers glue it all together.

It seems what Test Engineering does is a mystery to the other groups. We are called in late in projects because Project Managers don't know why they need us until they realize they need to make more than one widget (or whatever it is they're making). Then they realize their widget (or whatever it is they're building) was designed in a way that makes it incredibly hard to test.

It's too late but that's when they figure out they needed us to begin with.

We're trying to educate the programs on what we can do for them. We can do is:
- We do hardware and we do software.
- We develop systems (Test Systems)
- We can help them design their widget so it can be tested.
- We can make their tests automatic and repeatable.
- We can help with developmental testing
- We can make sure the widget is built correctly
- We can test your system in the field or on the production line

...Bottom line is we can help.