Analog Angle Article

Be prepared for “dangerous” words

When I say “dangerous” words, I don't mean words which are inflammatory, breathless hype, or even politically incorrect. I mean words which have multiple or ambiguous meanings in our technical niche. As the recipient of many press releases and one-on-one product announcements, I often have to stop and ask: “what did they mean by that word in this context?”

One of my favorite such word is “programmable”, used in the sense of “that function/parameter is programmable.” Does that mean the device is software programmable, via a SPI or I2 C connection? Or, does it mean it is programmable using an external, user-supplied resistor? Or is it programmable via basic, physical pin-strapping of its leads? You have to ask, to make sure.

Another dangerous word is “complete” as in “it provides a complete such-and-such function”. OK, so that means it just needs a power supply, right, and nothing else? Well, maybe it needs some external resistors or capacitors, and maybe it even needs some I/O buffers or amplifiers.

Which leads me to my next dangerous word: buffer. A buffer can be almost anything you want. It can be a software (memory) buffer; it can be a circuit function in the IC at its I/O for protection, or to boost/isolate a signal; it can be a physical IC which is interposed between point A and point B, among other possibilities. One person's discrete buffer is another person's allocated block of memory.

The point is to not assume an intended meaning when you hear words which you know have multiple connotations. While the correct or intended meaning is sometimes discernable from the context, that is often not the case. Don't hesitate to ask for clarification. Knowing what it really means is better than assuming incorrectly and therefore misunderstanding the broader, actual message.

Other dangerous words are “universal” and “flexible”. Of course, there are many more; which ones do you worry about? ♦

0 comments on “Be prepared for “dangerous” words

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.