Analog Angle Article

Watching our words

We're all aware that the English language, like other languages, has its quirks, inconsistencies, and idioms. Think, for example, about the significant differences in meaning among the similar and seemingly simple phrases break up , break down , break in , and break out , or burn up , burn down , burn in , and burn out . And what about the difference in the plural versions of the simple word die ? For ICs, say die ; in gambling, it's dice ; and in a machine shop, it's dies .

The language confusion and differences are not just with just regular, non-technical words, either. We all have heard about the supposed chasm in language between the technical community and the non-technical public. But even technical terms, with their potential for clarity and precision, cause confusion: think about the many meanings of basic words such as buffer or converter. Then there's my personal favorite for confusion: programmable .

When I talk with vendors or read a data sheet with that word, in connection with an analog or mixed-signal IC, its actual meaning is often left unclear. Does it mean factory programmable, field programmable, or user programmable? And how is that programmability implemented? Is it software programmable, resistor programmable, or pin programmable, or something else? Just saying “programmable” leaves a lot of room for misunderstanding.

Just as we have to make sure we are clear when having a conversation with a non-engineer, we should make sure we are making ourselves unambiguous even when talking to our fellow engineers. Don't assume that they have the same perspective as you do; they may be coming at the topic from a different angle. Sometimes we are so close to our topic that we don't realize that even knowledgeable audiences may be unknowingly confused, or worse, making a wrong assumption.

Speaking of words, check out the Planet Analog web site to see the top articles for 2007, just click here. You may be surprised to see the topics and treatments that resonated the most with the analog audience.

And speaking of even more words, check out this new book which I just received: Power Sources and Supplies: World Class Designs , edited by Marty Brown, (Newnes, ISBN 978-0-7506-8626-6). It has lots of good, useful information from several well-known authors, covering all aspects of supply design and components. Among the topics are switchers, LDOs, magnetics, thermal analysis, isolated and nonisolated designs, and PFC.

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