The Colin Walls Blog

This blog is a discussion of embedded software matters - news, comment, technical issues and ideas, along with other passing thoughts about anything that happens to be on my mind.

26 February, 2015

On a previous occasion, I suggested that it was time for change. I feel strongly that our calendar – 7 day weeks, which do not fit properly into months of apparently random length or into the 365/366 day year – does not really work well in the 21st century and we could do better.

This came into my mind of late when I realized that we cannot even use the calendar we have properly … Read the rest of this entry »


23 February, 2015

In the United States, this is National Engineers Week. This annual event is aimed at raising awareness of science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM] and the great contribution that workers in this area contribute to society. As a strong supporter and enthusiast for STEM subjects, even though I am not located in the US, I am very keen to participate in the activities this week.

With this in mind, I wanted to pose a question: Are you an engineer? … Read the rest of this entry »

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19 February, 2015

Continuing my theme of looking at six favorite things in various categories, this time it is a topic very close to my heart: food. I am lucky as I do not have a tendency to over-eat, but I do like a wide variety of food. In fact there are very few things that I just will not eat. Some stuff I might only eat if it is given to me; I would not specifically choose it. Annoyingly, in recent years I have developed a mild intolerance to oily fish – I get a slight sore throat after eating it – which is a shame, as I do enjoy the odd pilchard or trout. I tend to avoid these foods, as I fear that my reaction might become more severe.

Narrowing my choice down to six favorites was quite a challenge … Read the rest of this entry »


16 February, 2015

The largest event in the world of embedded systems takes place in Nuremberg, Germany on Tuesday-Thursday next week. Embedded World is an annual trade show with a highly-regarded technical conference. This is an annual pilgrimage for me, as I generally have papers in the conference. This year is no exception … Read the rest of this entry »

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13 February, 2015

In the UK, it is well known that an early sign of being old is making the observation “don’t the policemen look young”. As I am an advocate of the “60 is the new 40″ concept [even though I have a couple of years to go], I like to think of myself as being up to date on most things. However, there are some areas of life that challenge me. Clothes fashion is one [that has always been the case – nothing to do with age!]; social networking is another … Read the rest of this entry »

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10 February, 2015

Although I doubt that many engineers habitually view things this way, marketing folks like to divide the world into sectors. So, embedded systems might be in telecoms, medical, automotive, consumer, mil-aero, or industrial. There are probably others that I have not thought of. Each sector has its own characteristics and may or may not sound interesting to be involved in. Automotive is quite high profile just now, as the amount of electronics being packed into cars is increasing daily. Medical is important to us all and is also growing fast. Mobile telephony is a kind of merger between telecoms and consumer and has a certain appeal for many engineers.

But I have something of an affection for industrial systems … Read the rest of this entry »

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5 February, 2015

As I have written about before, I have always been interested in numbers and mathematics. Although my formal studies of the subject have not gone beyond the courses that I needed to attend for a science degree, my fascination with the beauty of mathematics and numbers has been life long. I have found, on a number of occasions, that I encounter a simple idea or set of rules, then find that, years later, it is still easy to bring to mind. This is a contrast to my memory for many everyday things – names, phone numbers, dates … – where is am very forgetful.

I clearly recall a visit from a friend one evening in the late 1970s … Read the rest of this entry »


2 February, 2015

SI ExifMy friend and colleague Richard Vlamynck has proposed another guest posting and I am more than happy to accommodate him. Apart from helping me and doing the rest of his day job, Richard puts in time, as I do, trying to assist people on various social networking sites. This can certainly be challenging, as, while many posts are genuine pleas for help from engineers who need to tap someone else’s experience in a specific area, others seem to be from people who expect all their work to be done for them.

Richard suggested that I might like to share an example … Read the rest of this entry »


29 January, 2015

When I was in my early teens, I was an avid science fiction reader – I still dabble in the genre today. My two favorite authors were Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. Asimov was an incredibly prolific author, publishing well over 300 books in his lifetime on a variety of subjects. He actually wrote more science fact books than science fiction. His writing style and very clear way of explaining complex ideas was a fine example.

Asimov also fancied himself as a futurologist … Read the rest of this entry »

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26 January, 2015

I have almost completed the job of cataloging my articles that have been published at embedded.com Here are another four, which address some key development topics: the sharing of code between multiple threads of execution; accessing low level device registers in C; selecting an operating system; making use of non-volatile memory … Read the rest of this entry »

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22 January, 2015

Like most people nowadays, I use a computer for lots of purposes. Using a computer is all about using software. If a particular program does the job for you, to a large extent it does not matter what kind of computer you have, so long as it supports the chosen software. Along with the operating system, which, in my case, is Windows, there are a number of “standard issue” business programs that most people use – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook etc. – and we may or may not have an opinion about these, but they are a given.

Other software we get to choose and that is what I am pondering today … Read the rest of this entry »

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19 January, 2015

I am not a great fan of video, as a medium. If I want to learn something, I am more likely to turn to the printed word. It is only when something is intrinsically visual that I turn to YouTube. Like the time I unexpectedly needed to gut some fish – there I was, working in the sink with two slippery fish and a sharp knife, with my wife holding an iPad showing a video of a rugged looking man doing the job more proficiently than I aspired to.

I think, however, that video may feature more strongly in my life this year … Read the rest of this entry »

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15 January, 2015

I am sure that you, like me, make extensive use of the Web [otherwise you probably would not be reading this – doh!]. I access numerous websites on a given day, but there are, of course, a handful that I utilize all the time – maybe multiple times a day. As I have been using the Web for just about 20 years now, I have observed some interesting changes in what is available, how it is used and what I access myself … Read the rest of this entry »


13 January, 2015

I always welcome contributions – guest blog posts – from my colleagues and associates. After all, that reduces the amount of work that I need to do – how could I refuse? But seriously, I think that a different “voice” from time to time is refreshing. My colleague Richard Vlamynck has appeared here before. He has an interesting perspective, sitting right on the cusp of hardware and software – definitely an embedded “Renaissance” man. Today Richard is musing on what actually constitutes a microcontroller … Read the rest of this entry »

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8 January, 2015

My Christmas present to my wife was a long weekend away in a luxury hotel. I had got what seemed to be a good package of the hotel and flights, and the travel company threw in a rental car too. I decided to keep the destination a secret, as my wife quite likes surprises. I told her enough about the climate etc. so that she could pack sensibly. We took the trip a few weeks before Christmas – I thought that it would enable us to brace ourselves for the holiday season. The destination remained a mystery up to and including the point that we were sitting in the departures lounge watching the list of flights for a gate announcement. I had even had to remind Libby not to look at her boarding pass as she waved it about on the entry to security. Finally, the destination was revealed: Jersey … Read the rest of this entry »


5 January, 2015

Although I regard the New Year as a time to look forward, I am continuing my catch-up process of cataloging embedded software articles that I have had published on embedded.com in the recent past. This time they cover medical systems, C function parameters, the basics of multitasking and the Forth language… Read the rest of this entry »

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23 December, 2014

For most of my adult life, I have been a regular visitor to the United States. Even though I have never lived there, I generally feel that I know a lot about the place – the people, the culture, the language … I often joke that I am bilingual: I speak English and American. But I still get caught out. The other day I used the term “off piste” in a metaphorical sense and was not understood. I am reminded of the famous description of the relationship between the UK and the US: “Two great nations divided by a common language.”

When it comes to holiday customs in general and celebrating Christmas in particular, I thought that I really understood matters … Read the rest of this entry »


18 December, 2014

I am sure that most people, like me, enjoy doing Good Things – helping others in one way or another. I am not sure that such activity is true altruism, which would imply no reward, because the pleasure one can gain is immense and unique. However, I have often felt that I do not really make a difference in the world; maybe the odd person’s life is changed a little, but nothing particularly noteworthy. Once in a while I come across somebody who really does change lives. That is interesting when I read about it, but much more exciting when it is someone that I know in person.

Today, the person whom I have in mind is Martine. Her husband, Roger, is my wife’s mother’s cousin, so I can just about claim to be related! Martine and Roger live in Vancouver in Canada – a country I really must get around to visiting. I have met them quite a few times and enjoy their company. In numerical terms, they are not young people – they are in their 70s, but they are living examples of the philosophy that age is a state of mind and I find them quite inspiring. I would have said that before Martine’s latest venture, but now words almost fail me … Read the rest of this entry »


16 December, 2014

As embedded systems become even more ubiquitous and complex, there is an increasing concern about security. The term means different things to different people, but I am thinking of the requirement for systems to be less vulnerable to tampering. Security measures are aimed at preventing, deterring or delaying the work of a hacker, who is trying to change the functionality of the device in some way. This might be to extract data from it or change its operation. In any case, the goal is likely to be theft or malevolence of some kind.

If a system really needs to be bullet proof, industrial grade encryption is called for. This normally requires specific hardware support, which, whilst readily available, might be considered overkill for an application where such high security is not necessary. In such cases, there are other options … Read the rest of this entry »

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8 December, 2014

I am often asked where to get in-depth information about embedded software development. Commonly, the query comes from a student who thinks that it sounds like an interesting career option. Typically they ask how I got started, but, although I am willing to share my story, I am not at all sure that the details are still relevant – that was then, this is now. Maybe they are after advice on which college course to take; perhaps they want to know about helpful websites; but, more often than not, they are after a reading list. Which books should they read? … Read the rest of this entry »


4 December, 2014

Sometimes I have an idea for a product, technology or business, which I think is really compelling, but is outside of my area of expertise to progress. In some cases, the idea is fanciful and just makes for a good conversation topic; others actually have potential. The other day, inspiration hit me. I have a killer idea, but no real means to implement it. So, if you want to pick it up, go ahead. If you make a fortune, please remember that you heard it here first … Read the rest of this entry »


1 December, 2014

I am continuing my catch-up process of cataloging embedded software articles that I have had published on embedded.com This time they cover the influence of software on power management, using a memory management unit, all about the C/C++ keyword static and the basics of multicore … Read the rest of this entry »

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27 November, 2014

If I am at an event where they are serving beer, I commonly make the joke that it is my favorite kind. People often question that statement and I have to explain that my favorite kind of beer is free beer. Everyone likes free stuff. But I am a firm believer in the TANSTAAFL principle – there is always a cost somewhere.

In the world of computer software, free stuff is definitely popular, but may not always be the best choice … Read the rest of this entry »


24 November, 2014

The Internet of Things [IoT] is a topic that appears in almost every news story or article in the world of embedded software right now. And it goes far beyond our immediate business – right across the electronics industry – as it is very much an encapsulation of hardware and software technologies. I wrote about IoT on this blog recently and someone suggested that I was rather dismissive of the whole IoT concept. That was not really the case – I am excited about IoT, but realistic at the same time … Read the rest of this entry »

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20 November, 2014

It is now four and a half years since I first got an iPad. With my first one, it was love at first swipe and I used the device for two years solid – all day, every day. The iPad 2 did not seem to offer enough to make me upgrade, but, the iPad 3 with significantly improved performance and the wonderful retina display won me over. My old iPad went to my mother-in-law (who never wanted computer, so we did not tell her that this is just what an iPad is!), who has been happily using it ever since … Read the rest of this entry »

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Meet Colin Walls

I have over twenty-five years experience in the electronics industry, largely dedicated to embedded software. When not working, I enjoy photography, books and music. Learn more about me, including my go-to karaoke song and the best parts of being British.

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    February 24-26: How to Measure RTOS Performance; Self-testing in Embedded Systems