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The Peanut Butter Days

The Peanut Butter Days

| 4/6/2012 10:19:23 AM

Peanut butter is magical stuff. It will get gum out of hair or carpeting. It will remove adhesive labels. You can use it to lubricate a push mower or bait a mousetrap. And, if you're a young man who keeps emptying his piggy bank in the quest to get more power out of a Yamaha RD350, I happen to know that you can eat peanut butter for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a very long time, or at least until your financial situation improves.

Those RD350s were pocket rockets. They were only 350cc, but they routinely humiliated triples and fours twice their size on racetracks all over the country. Stock models produced up to 35 HP and were already very quick machines. Being young, I figured I could do even better. So I tinkered. Sadly, my big ideas often led to shattered pistons, money down the drain and another bout with the aforementioned peanut butter diet.

I learned a lot of what I knew about motorcycles the hard way: through trial and error. But my mistakes only cost me a few hundred dollars per pop. Professional engineers and business people are playing for far higher stakes. Yet in my roles in engineering and business I continually meet people who insist upon educating themselves by trial and error, just I as used to do. As I hear their stories and watch the consequences unfold I can't help thinking that they would surely be better off if they had only owned an RD350 and learned to look before they leap.

For example, I'm astounded by the shortcuts I see in testing. People blithely assume that devices will be compatible and it later turns out that they aren't. People fail to review use cases with the actual users, and -- sure enough -- the important ones are overlooked. People make simple misses that take entire businesses offline. (And when a system has already been deployed it's one heck of a lot harder to figure out the problem and deploy a fix.)

After the problem occurs, of course, more energy is typically consumed in finger pointing and CYA tactics than in actual diagnostics. We've sent engineers all over the globe this year to help customers solve system design problems that could -- and should -- have been avoided in the first place. So here are some tips:

Choose your technology carefully. That's a challenge when you're deploying systems with an expected service life of five to ten years or more. Technology changes quickly. In electronic-years you could be talking about five generations, and that's far beyond the reach of anyone's crystal ball. So, when in doubt, follow the money. If you need to choose a wireless technology, for example, pick something that's used in hundreds of millions of devices, not hundreds of thousands. Volume-driven, standards-based technologies are where the bulk of the R&D and manufacturing technology is being applied. The chips may change, but you'll be able to count on a continuous upgrade path.

Go IP. IP-based networking is here to stay. When you're connecting devices and sensors, convert the connections to an IP protocol. Tools like our Ethernet Serial Servers will make the job easy. There are endless benefits in using IP, starting with reduced vendor dependency and common tool sets.

Get wireless-savvy. Wireless can't replace every wired connection yet, but it's already a part of many. And wireless technologies are advancing rapidly.

Remember that wireless technology isn't magic. No matter what the vendor says, every wireless device on the market has to obey the same laws of physics. If you forget that, you're going to have a bad experience. If you haven't reviewed The 10 Commandments of Wireless recently, go give it another quick read. I have numerous conversations every month with folks who are struggling with wireless and it turns out that every one of them has broken multiple commandments. Do your homework before you spend money on deployment.

Plan ahead. Think before you act. Granted, that isn't as exciting as blowing a piston on a hairpin turn -- but there will be fewer peanut butter sandwiches waiting for you on the other side.

Happy Connections,

Mike Fahrion

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