A Note From the Editor

Our November editor’s note talked about analog design as an art form. That notion seemed to resonate (pardon the engineering pun) with quite a few of our readers out there. Jack Memishian, Analog Devices Fellow (1980), sent me an email saying that the note reminded him of a piece that he wrote a while back for a middle school teacher friend of his, to explain to the class what electrical engineers do for a living. I found it to be a fascinating explanation, so I’m including an excerpt here:

Jack wrote:

“I am an artist. Not in name, it’s true: the sign on my cage would identify the beast within as an electrical engineer but that’s a misleading label. As a society, we've finally gotten past the notion that engineer means a bandana-toting driver of locomotives, but the term still conjures a left brained, techno-geek sort of person whose work is both devoid of human feeling and incomprehensible to others. Worse, it’s procedural—a step below ‘craft.’ ...

Then, too, electrical engineer covers a lot of ground. Fortunately, my small piece of that world is circuit design, the marshaling of assemblages of electronic components according to well-known laws of electric circuits to form some sort of useful device: one creative corner of a somewhat dusty field. Over the years the useful devices I’ve designed have varied tremendously both in function and underlying technology—50 years in the business will do that—but exactly what I’ve created isn’t the point of this little screed.

What is important is the fact that all those products were created. Creation of something concrete from an abstract concept of what would be a useful device and a set of rules and properties that govern the behavior of components is not an act of drudgery, or of following rules (quite the contrary!), or of mindless activity, nor is it sterile: it is, as the word creation says, an act of bringing into being, inherently a very personal statement about the order of things and the way they should be. It contains dynamic tension in its trade-offs, subtle expression in its structure and in its details, deeply felt aesthetic values in the way it is portrayed and documented, and a totally unique point of view in every aspect of its being: no one else would have or could have done it the same way or even thought about it in the same way. It is an original and personal statement not only of the form that something should take, but also a statement of the singular style and foundational beliefs of its creator. In my case, it proceeds from my entire history as a designer, even as it extends that boundary: it’s an expression of me and what I believe as I pass through that moment. In short, it is a work of art.”

Definitely some engineering food for thought—many thanks for sharing that piece, Jack!

And now, back to our regular programming. Interestingly, one of this month’s feature articles is also concerned with art in engineering—namely, the “black art” of RF engineering design. Dave Frizelle and Frank Kearney provide clear explanations of some of the key aspects of the often mystifying field of RF design—in particular the amazing advances in the use of zero-IF architectures in complex RF mixers, as applied to next-generation SDR transceivers. In our second feature article, Miguel Usach addresses the more down-to-earth (and life-critical) topic of functional safety and explains how critical it is in industrial system design. He shows how to analyze the safety function requirements of a system and utilize some features integrated into a precision Σ-Δ ADC to help meet those requirements. Hope you enjoy the issue and find some valuable design ideas and information. As always, we encourage your feedback and comments!

Best regards,

Jim Surber, editor