Didn’t we have a loverly time the day we went to Intech…

October 15th, 2010

Wired Wessex, a local advice, news, support and networking group, held a meeting at the INTECH Science Centre near Winchester on 30 September 2010.

After drinks, nibbles, and networking, Dr Andy Stanford-Clark, IBM Futurist, Distinguished Engineer and Master Inventor, gave an excellent talk entitled, “Innovation for a Smarter Planet”

Andy Stanford-Clark’s “day job” at IBM is with their “Smarter Planet” initiative: http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet – hence the title of his talk! The Big Idea here is instrumenting everyday objects, connnecting them so that they can communicate, and applying intelligence to the resulting data to make things “Smarter” – and, hence, more efficient, greener, etc, etc,…

IBM’s work, of course, does this on a corporate scale; but Andy illustrated his talk with his own “home-made” gadgets controlling and monitoring things in his own house – like the fountain in his pond, and his mousetraps!

It was a very interesting, entertaining, informative and thought-provoking presentation.

This was the first time that Wired Wessex had sought sponsorship for one of their events. After Googling Andy Stanford-Clark, I thought that he seemed to be into just the kinds of things that Antronics Ltd is doing these days – so decided make this our first ever sponsorship deal. I was glad to be joined by my good friend Clive Andrews of Aleka Design as co-sponsor:

Andy Neil, Andy Stanford-Clark, Clive Andrews

The meeting was well attended with plenty of interest in our displays during the networking times:

Antronics Ltd display

I would certainly recommend this to anyone considering such an opportunity.

Modem Diagnostics in Windows-XP

October 15th, 2010

Windows-XP (among others) can maintain a log of all commands sent to a modem, and responses received from a modem. This can be very useful in diagnosing problems with dial-up networking, etc

Start by locating the modem in Device Manager:

Device Manager

Right-click the required modem in the list:

Modem right-click menu 

Choose Properties to open the modem properties:

Modem Properties - General

Note that the Troubleshooting button here is not what we want – instead, go to the Diagnostics tab:

Modem Properties - Diagnostics

Check Append to log to enable logging of all commands sent to the modem, and all responses received from the modem.
The View Log button, as the name suggests, can be used to view this log (note that it’s just a text file – once you know where it is, you can view it with any application you like)

The Query Modem button sends a number of commands to the modem, and captures the responses (if any).
While this is happening, the following message is displayed:

Modem Diagnostics - Communication in progress

When complete, the commands sent & responses received are shown:

Modem Properties - Diagnostics (with responses)

These will also have been recorded in the log – press the View Log button to see:

Modem Diagnostic Log

(for details of the commands and responses and their meanings, you will need to consult the particular modem’s documentation).

Now, as long as you leave the Append to log option checked, all commands sent to the modem, and responses
received from the modem, will continur to be recorded in the log. Therefore, if you get any error messages from Dialup Networking, etc, you can look at the log to see exactly what happenned…

Note that the log only records modem commands & responses in creating and clearing connections – it does not record the data passed through the modem once the connection is established.

Happy New Year!

January 9th, 2010

Welcome to 2010!

This is the first time in around 30 years that we’ve actually had a white Christmas here in South-East England:

White Christmas?

I wonder what other surprises the year will hold…?

So What’s All This “Firmware” Stuff, Anyhow?

November 5th, 2009

Most people who have any contact with a computer these days will probably have come across the terms “hardware” and “software”:

“Hardware” is physical stuff – things you can touch, and see, and would hurt if you dropped them on your toe!

If you need to change “hardware” it means getting out screwdrivers and the like, and fiddling with cables, plugs, and other such mechanical & electrical stuff.

“Software” is more nebulous; in the old days, it at least came on a disk (or disks) in a box with a big manual (that you never read); but, nowadays, you can just download it – so it has no physical existence at all.

“Software” can be changed – added, removed, reconfigured – with just a few clicks of the mouse; no effort or tools required at all! It is this ease of changeability that gives rise to the “soft” in “software”

So where does “firmware” come in? “Updating firmware” is a topic that sometimes appears in the obscure pages at the back of the instructions for some high-tech gadgets; or, if your gadget is misbehaving, you might be asked about its “firmware version”…

As the name might suggest, “firmware” is a kind of hybrid; somewhere in between “hardware” and “software”.  Firmware is a special type of software that is fixed into a piece of hardware.  Thus it is not so easy to change (or update) as software, but easier to change (or update) than hardware; to put that another way, it is “harder” than software, but “softer” than hardware!

Firmware is usually associated with Embedded Systems (see previous blog entry), as they tend to lack the interfaces and storage of a “normal” computer for loading & storing software in the “normal” manner – hence their operating programs (or “software”) have to be fixed into the hardware as “firmware”!

All clear now?


Beware that your spell-checker doesn’t accidentally change your firmware into
formwork – which is something completely different…!

So What’s All This “Embedded System” Stuff, Anyhow?

October 18th, 2009

When people ask me what I do, if I mention “embedded systems”, it usually just produces a blank look!

So let’s start this blog with a plain-words description of what an “embedded system” means.

It has been said that there is more computing power in your car today than was used to put men on the moon in the Apollo missions – but you wouldn’t think of  your car as a computer, would you?

This is the key to an embedded system: it is something that provides computing power, but is hidden – or “embedded” – within something that is not a computer!

So, back at the car, where is this “not-a-computer” hiding? Where is it “embedded”? In fact, there is not just one – there are many! The key one, central to the operation of the car itself, is the engine management computer; another one manages the anti-lock brakes; one for the air conditioning; one for the central locking; one in the radio; and, probably, several more…

These days, embedded systems are increasingly taking over things that used to be done by mechanical controls: washing machines; central heating timers; etc, etc…

Quite possibly, the free toy with the kids meal from a hamburger restaurant contains a tiny embedded system to flash the lights and play the annoying tune!

Hopefully this has given some meaning to the term “embedded system”. They can be big, they can be tiny; they can be essential, they can be trivial – but they are all around us in the modern world!

So long for now,


Antronics Ltd – Embedded Systems Specialists

Hello world!

October 15th, 2009

Well, it seems that having a blog is the thing to do – so here goes!

I’m not intending to have a regular schedule – just as & when something comes up.

The content will generally be to do with embedded systems & software/firmware development – but I may throw in the odd “general interest” topic from time-to-time.

We’ll see…


Antronics Ltd – Embedded Systems Specialists