Analog Angle Article

Component-function taxonomy is truly taxing

Engineers like to organize data into sensible structures. After all, there has to be an underlying basis for the things we do, and the way things are connected, literally and metaphorically.

I am reminded of this because, recently, I was again asked to help out with a seemingly modest project of developing a “taxonomy” of IC and passive component functions. (Note: A taxonomy is a well-organized, linked structure which shows the relationship among constituent parts, a sort of family tree which starts from the general and breaks down into ever-more specific categories. Biologists use it for flora and fauna, of course.).

The impetus this time was to improve and structure the development of key words, so critical for search engine optimization (SEO). Seems like a reasonable request, right?

Well, no, it's not. I have been around the track several times before with this sort of well-intentioned, yet ultimately intractable, idea. The problem is that it falls into one of the several classes of nasty problems, in this case, “problems without a solution” (another class is “problems whose solutions are bigger than the problem itself”).

Why is this such a challenging and apparently unsolvable problem? There are several reasons:

  • We use different words for the same basic function, such as analog/digital converter and codec; or driver and buffer
  • And the opposite is the case, as well: the same word can mean very different things, such as “buffer”, which can be a software buffer, a hardware (memory) buffer, or an analog-signal buffer, for example
  • We are not consistent in basic names: ADC, A/D converter, analog/digital converter
  • And, of course, we sometimes identify things by their function, and other times by their end application, such as analog signal conditioner versus ultrasound front end.

And these are just a few of the reasons! A lot depends on where we are coming from; as they say, where you stand on the matter depends on where you sit.

So, if anyone ever approaches you about this sort of project, resist the temptation to get involved. And if you are feeling too calm and mellow mentally, just take on this challenge and soon you will feel like the subject of this 1942-1947 painting by the surrealist Max Ernst, click “Young Man Intrigued by the Flight of a non-Euclidean Fly”!♦

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