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.

25 May, 2015

It is hard to believe that it is almost 20 years since Mentor Graphics started to build a presence in the embedded software world by acquiring Microtec Research [and getting me as a result]. There has been much development and numerous other acquisitions [most notably Accelerated Technology] since then and the Embedded Systems Division [a.k.a. Mentor Embedded] has gone from strength to strength.

However, the worlds of embedded software and electronic design automation [EDA] have remained surprisingly separate … Read the rest of this entry »

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21 May, 2015

For me, it is always a pleasure when a number of my interests become aligned – sometimes the resulting whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This happened with digital photography, for example. For years I had used film and I had worked with and enjoyed computers; now they have come together nicely. Just recently, I heard about something that promised to yield the same kind of benefit … Read the rest of this entry »

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18 May, 2015

The Internet of Things – IoT – continues to be a subject that sparks conversation, publication and numerous activities in the world of embedded software. Recently, I was at ESC Boston and IoT featured widely in presentations there. At the same time, some colleagues of mine were at another dedicated IoT conference in California. Going forward, there are a lot more IoT things happening … Read the rest of this entry »

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14 May, 2015

There is an old cliché, which says that the point of traveling is not to reach a destination, but to experience the journey. And I think there may be a lot of truth in that. This is the reason why driving a car is my least favorite way of getting around. When driving, almost all one’s attention is needed to control the car, so there is little opportunity to look around. Public transportation [bus, train, airplane or even taxi] is better because someone else is doing the driving. The best way to fully appreciate an environment is to walk – and I do a lot of that. However, there are limits to the distance one can cover in a limited time. So, the ideal compromise, IMHO, is a bicycle … Read the rest of this entry »

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11 May, 2015

When somebody asks about what I do for a job or what I enjoy doing [which can amount to much the same thing], I am likely to answer that I am a communicator. I enjoy writing and do lots of it. I enjoy speaking to an audience at a conference or whatever and I do a fair amount of that too. To date, this has all gone quite well for me. But maybe that will change … Read the rest of this entry »

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7 May, 2015

As anyone who knows me will be aware, photography is my main hobby. Seeing, taking and sharing my pictures gives me a lot of pleasure. Some time ago, I started a project to blog a picture every day for a year. There was no intention that the picture was to be taken on the day of posting; I was just looking for a vehicle to show some of my work. The project has about a month to run now and you can follow it at www.DrawingWithLight.com

I thought that I would choose 6 of my favorite pictures for my “Six of the Best” series of blog postings. In order to focus my choice, I decided that the images should all be new, so I have only considered pictures shot since 1 January 2015 … Read the rest of this entry »


4 May, 2015

A while ago, I concluded that it might be useful to highlight the publication of online articles, that I had written, here. So, I made a series of postings to catch up, listing articles that have appeared regularly on embedded.com over the past couple of years. That catch-up process is now complete and I can now provide a notification as and when publications occur … Read the rest of this entry »

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27 April, 2015

The first Embedded Systems Conference [ESC] took place in San Jose back in the early 1990s [if I recall correctly]. The annual conference quickly became the key event for learning about embedded systems and spawned other, similar events at various other US locations and abroad. In recent years, there have been changes of ownership and lots of rebranding – every year the conference seemed to have a new name!

But, in 2015, it is time to return to terminology we all recognize and there are a number of ESC events scheduled. The first is next week in Boston, MA … Read the rest of this entry »

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23 April, 2015

A wise person once said “Getting old is hard, but the alternative is worse.” and I am not about to argue with that. There are days when I feel old, but most of the time I regard my age is just a number. I have a busy, fulfilling life and I’m mostly healthy. For this, I am grateful. In 2014 I attended no less than 3 funerals. One was for my elderly mother-in-law; she’s was in her 90s – that was OK. The other two were friends in their early 60s and that was not OK. It made me think about how I live my life and spend my time.

It also made me think about my Dad … Read the rest of this entry »


20 April, 2015

This past week, medical systems have been on my mind. It is not because I am sick – at the time of writing I am nursing a heavy cold, but that does not need medical intervention. It was my annual visit to my ophthalmologist that started me thinking about medical instrumentation. Most people have sight checks every 2 years, but as my father is Type 1 diabetic and suffered glaucoma many years ago, a more frequent check on my eyes seems prudent. This is why I got to experience all the medical electronics.

I was given a thumbs up – nothing to worry about with my eyes – which is always a relief, but, as I said, it left me pondering all the technology that was brought to bear … Read the rest of this entry »

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16 April, 2015

It was not long ago that I wrote about driving slowly and I should say that, most of the time I am OK with that. However, I am excited about an ongoing project to set a new land speed record. The current record, which is just over the speed of sound [about 760mph], was set way back in 1997 by Andy Green, a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force.

But Andy is now back to make an attempt to beat his own record … Read the rest of this entry »


13 April, 2015

In a number of different fields – notably medical, military, avionics, industrial and automotive – there is an increasing focus on safety and security, which results in a higher demand for certification of systems. Such certifications include FDA 510K [medical], DO-178C [avionics], IEC 61508 [industrial] and ISO 26262 [automotive].

Certification of software is a big subject, requiring specialist expertise and often a large budget. But all embedded developers would be wise to have a grasp of the basics … Read the rest of this entry »

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6 April, 2015

I am a strong advocate for not “reinventing the wheel”. Doing something from scratch, unless you really have a novel approach that will yield some improvement over what has been done before, is rarely sensible outside of an educational context.

But sometimes it can be useful to understand some of the underlying principles of something that you plan to utilize … Read the rest of this entry »

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30 March, 2015

Nowadays, all computer users just take USB for granted. Plug a device in and it just works. Those of us who remember the Bad Old Days – i.e. before USB – probably appreciate it rather more, as we can remember the challenges involved in adding the simplest of peripherals to a PC. Another angle on USB is the embedded software perspective, where the underlying complexity is laid bare. To me, that is more interesting.

USB does not stand still and its evolution is continuing apace … Read the rest of this entry »

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26 March, 2015

Do you know the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”? The Emperor is very vain and could not resist when a dishonest salesman offers him some unique clothing. It is unique because it is made from fabric that can only be seen by very wise people; to others, it is invisible. The Emperor cannot see it, but does not want admit to any lack of wisdom. Of course, all his staff take the same view and soon the news of the Emperor’s new clothes spreads across the land. The Emperor is wearing his new clothes at every opportunity – i.e. he is wandering around naked. Nobody says anything until, one day, a young boy, exhibiting the clear honesty that comes with youth, in a crowd calls out “Why is the Emperor naked?” The moral of the story is clear enough: be true to yourself and do not just accept other people’s ideas and opinions.

Not so long ago, I came across this kind of situation in real life … Read the rest of this entry »


23 March, 2015

Most of the software that most of us use most of the time is obtained as a binary executable. The program may be run and does what it does, but the user has no knowledge of its inner workings and no opportunity to modify its functionality. And all of this is fine. For example, I am writing this posting on my PC using a Windows program. Later, I will probably review it on my iPad using the corresponding app. The two programs are probably written in different languages by different teams. Do I care? Nope. The important thing to me is the data [my text] and what the software does with it.

In the world of embedded software, things are a bit different … Read the rest of this entry »

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19 March, 2015

I enjoy talking – standing up in front of an audience and making a presentation. I am very lucky in having a job that affords me many opportunities to do just this. I am told that I am good at it. There is often a connection between what people enjoy and what they are good at, in my experience. I still feel that I have more to learn in order to get better.

In fact, I have two other, somewhat connected activities that particularly bring me enjoyment: reading and learning stuff … Read the rest of this entry »


16 March, 2015

Software is an interesting kind of product. The most complex artifacts that humankind has ever made are items of software. Mechanical machines do not even come close. The most complex machine ever made, with about a million moving parts, was the Space Shuttle orbiter. The “moving parts” of software are bits of data; a program that includes a billion bits is not uncommon.

This complexity means that software development is eye-wateringly expensive. On the other hand, compared with other manufactured goods, the manufacturing, warehousing and distribution of software [and other electronic IP] is very cheap – maybe even free. This leads to some interesting results in the marketplace … Read the rest of this entry »

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12 March, 2015

If you read this blog with any frequency, you will know that, like many of my colleagues, I travel quite a lot on business. And that travel mostly involves flying, which is a tedious, tiring and stressful activity. We all accept the way that it is mostly because we have no alternative. Some airlines try to be innovative, but it is a very competitive business and being “different” can be risky and expensive. But I really feel that some rethinking is necessary … Read the rest of this entry »


9 March, 2015

I have finally caught up and this is the last aggregation of recent articles. From now on, all being well, I’ll post to alert readers of new material being available. This time the articles cover measuring RTOS performance, the use of open source tools, memory use optimization and approaches to debugging … Read the rest of this entry »

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5 March, 2015

Some time ago, I wrote about my participation in the Eggheads TV quiz show [here and here]. We recorded the program about a year ago and the broadcast was in November. My team was very successful. We did not win the money. There was £6000 on the table and it was still there when we left; it was £7000 for the next team to play and somebody told me that they did go home richer.

But I said that my team was successful? That was because our objective was to have a good time and we definitely did that. Interestingly, when we finished our recording, we saw the next team heading for the studio. One was in tears and another was shouting. The producer commented that some teams take it rather seriously. I am glad that we did not. And the fun continues … Read the rest of this entry »


2 March, 2015

Each Fall, just before the weather becomes too horrible, I get to attend ECS [Embedded Conference Scandinavia] in Stockholm, Sweden. It has become a good event for embedded developers in that area and I am pleased that my paper submissions seem to result in a couple of acceptances each year.

This year, I assume ECS will be in 6 months or so, but the organizers are inaugurating a new event … Read the rest of this entry »

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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 »


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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