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 November, 2015

A while back, I wrote about a topic that had been preying on my mind. I was concerned about choice and suggested that we, in the Western world generally, have too much of it. I was mainly thinking about the situation in a large supermarket, where I am presented with a dizzying number of options, which I find stressful. My reaction to this is to use smaller shops.

A couple of things have occurred recently that have kept this topic in my mind … Read the rest of this entry »

23 November, 2015

My latest article over at has just been published:

Embedded email

As with any technical endeavor, the selection/development of technology for communicating with an embedded system should be done with a view to standards compliance, to aid interoperability, and to avoiding “reinventing the wheel” – i.e. reuse a previous development instead of starting from scratch – to reduce costs.


In this article, some creative uses of well established email protocols are outlined. This approach enables some quite imaginative functionality to be added to devices with minimal effort and cost

Of course, this approach may be taken with any RTOS, but you should ensure that the email software is designed specifically for embedded applications, as is the case with Nucleus.

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19 November, 2015

I will start off by saying that I am definitely not a superstitious person. I believe that everything that we experience has a rational explanation and coincidences happen. However, the events of last Friday almost make me question my perspective.

I am not talking about the terrible events in Paris. My heart goes out to the friends and families of the victims and I am delighted to see that, for the most part, the intended result of the atrocity failed. It was supposed to turn everyone against the Syrian refugees, but, instead, the result seems to have been to bring the UK and other European countries closer to France than ever, which is wonderful. I even heard a number of our MPs speaking messages of support in French – the sentiments were excellent, but the accents were terrible.

The overall goal of terrorists is to change the behavior of their target group – to make us change the way we lead our lives. I am determined not to submit to that demand in general. And in particular, I am fine with talking about the relatively trivial [but I hope somewhat interesting] bad events in my own life on that day … Read the rest of this entry »

16 November, 2015

When I write an article, I am generally talking about how to do something or how something works in embedded software. I try to look at all the angles and consider the starting point of all possible readers. I do my best, but it is inevitable that I will fail. That is OK. The result is that people write to me and ask questions or request that I fill in the blanks. I am always pleased to receive questions by email or via social media, so keep them coming.

Recently, I posted about the publication of an article on Endianness. I thought that I had covered all the angles, but it seems not … Read the rest of this entry »

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12 November, 2015

From time to time, I write about 6 favorite things in a particular category. I find it interesting to ponder what is important to me. We almost all have too much stuff and a consideration of what we own that is useful, or that gives us pleasure, provides an opportunity to cut back. On this occasion, I am looking at my top 6 “personal items” – artifacts that contribute to the efficiency and comfort of running my life on a frequent, maybe daily, basis … Read the rest of this entry »

9 November, 2015

Last week, I attended the Embedded Conference Scandinavia – ECS – which takes place every year in Kista, the high-tech city near Stockholm. The event was celebrating its 10th anniversary and I have have been a contributor to the conference program for a good many of those 10 years. Like most technical conferences, ECS rides on the back of a small trade show. Unusually for a properly vetted conference, attendance is free of charge, which may explain why all four conference tracks seemed to be well subscribed …

I only attended the first day of the 2-day event and was impressed by the overall attendance and the good buzz on the trade show floor. As I mentioned, the conference was well attended too and I was pleased to have a very good sized audience at both my presentations: Read the rest of this entry »

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5 November, 2015

I do not believe in magic. I contend that everything has a rational explanation and, if science has not yet explained something, it will only be a matter of time. I am surprised by my realization that my view is not as universal as I thought. There are actually many people who do believe in magic. I am not taking a side-swipe at religious beliefs. I am thinking about the casual way that many people use technology, with little or no idea how it works … Read the rest of this entry »

2 November, 2015

My latest video blog, where I discuss language standardization and use of language extensions, has just been published and may can be accessed here or here:

Of course, using professional grade development tools, like Sourcery CodeBench from Mentor Embedded helps address these issues fully.

I am very interested in feedback and suggestions for future topics. Do get in touch by email, comment or via social media.

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29 October, 2015

We are all subjected to marketing – all day every day. According to a book that I just read [The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz – a very interesting read] the average American sees around 3000 advertisements per day! [I guess that I avoid such exposure by not reading magazines or watching TV and not being American.] This is an inevitable consequence of the world that we live in. Everyone is vying for our attention and, ultimately, our money.

Marketing is an inexact science, but I find it curious how people can so easily get things wrong and miss the point … Read the rest of this entry »

26 October, 2015

Yet another in my series of article at has been published:


For most programmers, details of computer architecture are of no interest or importance. Even embedded developers, who normally do concern themselves with details, when programming in a high level language, ignore matters like cache configuration. Factors like memory location and size do matter, when looking at the project as a whole, but even these parameters do not influence day to day coding.


The order in which bytes are stored in a word – the endianness – of the CPU in use can often also be ignored. However, once in a while, an appreciation of this matter is critical. The same consideration applies to transmission of data; what order are bytes sent down a serial line or over a network? This article reviews exactly what endianness means and how it affects embedded software.

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19 October, 2015

My latest article has been published:

The simplest possible UI

It is very easy to think that all embedded systems are complex devices, with powerful CPUs – maybe more than one – and a rich array of peripherals. This might include a display screen, on which extensive user information may be displayed. However, there are many systems that are the other end of the complexity scale. Deeply embedded systems typically have no user interface, which is a challenge to the software designer who needs to communicate some simple information to the user. A common solution is the provision of a simple LED indicator. This article reviews how such a humble “UI” can be used to good effect.

Of course, for many systems, something a little more sophisticated is required. A full UI needs rather more code and the UI solutions from Mentor Embedded give the opportunity to get to the market quickly.

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12 October, 2015

A couple of weeks back I spent the entire weekend working with embedded systems. Having got to the attention my of my boss, I want to share some experiences I had at a recent event, at which I was volunteering. I learned about weather forecasting and spent a lot of time talking about programming a weather station … Read the rest of this entry »

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8 October, 2015

In this edition of my occasional series of posts, in which I look at some of my favourite stuff, I am going into the kitchen. In our house, the kitchen has an ill-defined identity. It is a very social place – we hang out and entertain guests there mostly, instead of using the living room. This is partly because a lot of our entertaining is based around food, and the kitchen is where we eat, but also it tends to be the warmest room in the house, as there is an 8kW wood burning stove, which we use a lot from Fall to Spring.

The kitchen is also, to some extent, my domain, as I do a lot of cooking. I enjoy preparing food and the pleasure is at its best when I have the right equipment … Read the rest of this entry »

1 October, 2015

There is an old saying: “A change is as good as a rest.” Although I am sure that it has often been used to avoid giving someone a well-earned rest, it does have some intrinsic truth, in my experience. On more than one occasion, I have been on a very active vacation, with lots of walking etc., where I ended every day physically tired. Yet I came home feeling refreshed and renewed.

Having said all this, most of us are rather resistant to [voluntary] change … Read the rest of this entry »

28 September, 2015

In a similar way to blog posts here, I often endeavor to address a specific technical matter, that is pertinent to embedded software, in articles I publish elsewhere. Sometimes the topic is a matter where a developer does not need a detailed knowledge on a day-to-day basis, but an understanding of what is going on “under the hood” may be useful. My latest article on is a good example … Read the rest of this entry »

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24 September, 2015

80606CD5-FFAF-430A-A7B4-3D0C036B5F2ESome weeks ago, I wrote about my planned transition to Mac. Well, that is now history. My iMac, with its beautiful 5K display, is my new Best Friend. I successfully transitioned all the software/activities from Windows to Mac in one of three ways:

  • I simply installed the Mac equivalent of the Windows software. Examples are MS Office, which works beautifully, and Adobe Lightroom, which required care to transfer [I could do it more easily knowing what I know now], but is now in its element.
  • I found other apps to replace some things I needed.
  • I looked for other approaches to achieve my goals. These rethinks mainly seemed to result in a better solution than I had before.

The process has not been without pain, but it was worth it. Apple computers are not perfect, but my day to day hassles are now reduced drastically. I am not going back!

Yesterday, I had reminder of the car crash that is Windows on a bad day … Read the rest of this entry »

21 September, 2015

Embedded systems, much as we know them now, have been around since the early 1970s, when Intel released the first really practical microprocessor. In those days, the term “embedded systems” had not been coined – that did not come along for another 20 years. I wrote a book, which was published in 1986. There was a long list of possible titles, but the word “embedded” did not appear. It was finally called “Programming Dedicated Microprocessors”.

I have always had trouble explaining what I do professionally. People understand that I work with software, but are confused when I cannot necessarily help them make their PC work better. I have to explain what an embedded system is. The description I use is something like this: Inside almost all modern electronic devices are tiny computer chips called microprocessors. They run a fixed program to provide the required functionality to the device. That is an embedded system … Read the rest of this entry »

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17 September, 2015

They say that a vacation is beneficial because “a change is as good as a rest”. I think that there is something in that, as I can go away somewhere and do lots of stuff, but still feel rested and refreshed. Having said that, I believe that there are benefits to be had from doing not very much. Go to any of the warm Mediterranean countries – and I have just spent a few days in that kind of area – and you notice that the people lead their lives at a slower pace. I have noticed, in recent years, that when two people meet, their dialog might start off with something like: “How’s it going?”, “Good. Very busy.”

I am not sure that this is necessarily good or healthy … Read the rest of this entry »

10 September, 2015

When I was a kid, I tasted some beer and found out that I did not like it. It was too bitter – I much preferred sweet things. In an ideal world perhaps, I would have left it like that – simply labelling beer in my brain as something I did not like. However, I wanted to like it as it seemed to me to be a very grown-up kind of drink for a man to imbibe. I persevered and eventually grew to enjoy almost any kind of brown liquid in a glass. I do not reject other possibilities. I am OK with cider; I very much enjoy wine; I do not really bother with strong liquor. Beer has always been there, in numerous forms and continues to interest as well as refresh me.

The whole culture of beer makes choosing the “best” six challenging, but I will give it my best shot … Read the rest of this entry »

4 September, 2015

When I was a kid at school, I thought that history was a waste of time. What was the point of learning about stuff that has been done and cannot be changed? I could see the sense in understanding recent stuff, but all those kings and queens and battles …

As I have grown older, I have gradually understood how we can learn from history and avoid making the same mistakes. Often we simply repeat those mistakes anyway, but that is just human nature. Just recently I have been pondering how some recent history could have turned out very differently … Read the rest of this entry »

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