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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

Bench Talk

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Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics


Barry Manz is president of Manz Communications, Inc., a technical media relations agency he founded in 1987. He has since worked with more than 100 companies in the RF and microwave, defense, test and measurement, semiconductor, embedded systems, lightwave, and other markets. Barry writes articles for print and online trade publications, as well as white papers, application notes, symposium papers, technical references guides, and Web content. He is also a contributing editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense, editor of Military Microwave Digest, co-founder of MilCOTS Digest magazine, and was editor in chief of Microwaves & RF magazine.


Weird RF Part 2: Removing Obstacles to Space Travel Barry Manz
Bounce radio signals off the moon? Unthinkable! Well it certainly was in 1945, when scientists at the U. S. Army Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth (Wall Twp., NJ) resuming trying (after World War II ended) to pierce the Earth's ionosphere with electromagnetic energy. Hardly anyone knew much about this program called “Project Diana” (named for the Greek goddess of the moon), and many still don’t today. This is a shame, as the project and its key participant removed one of the greatest obstacles to space travel.

Tek Ups the Bar in USB-Powered Spec Analyzers Barry Manz
USB-powered spectrum analyzers aren’t new and some are truly tiny -- just a bit bigger than a flash drive. Some have surprisingly good performance over very wide frequency ranges. The least expensive of these “instruments in a stick” is less than $100. However, every once in a while one comes along that reshuffles the deck, and the latest is the RSA306 from Tektronix. While I rarely extol the virtues of any signal product in these blogs, this one has some features that make it very interesting and suited for applications that are way beyond what instruments like this are typically used for.

Weird RF Part One: HAARP Barry Manz
When it comes to strange applications, the “ether” arguably has more than its share. To prove it, in my next few blogs I’m going to look at a few that have caught my attention over the years, and one that definitely meets the criteria for “Weird RF” is the Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), a program administered by the Office of Naval Research and funded by U.S. Air Force and Navy, and DARPA, and located in Gakona, AK (2010 census: population 218). Work began in 1990 and it was made fully operational and instrumented in June 2007. The prime contractor was BAE Systems Advanced Technologies.

The Open Microwave Design Initiative Gets a Kick in the Pants Barry Manz
Welcome to the world of microwave systems, or at least those destined for service in defense systems. Owing to the unique requirements of radar, electronic warfare, and other applications, as well as politics, and a “stovepipe” mentality, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is the owner of a broad array of systems designed for a single platform and incompatible with others. It’s a bit like building “one-off” washing machines for each customer.

A Day at the Beach – on 10 Meters Barry Manz
If you’re a ham and haven’t been active for a while, I have the just the ticket: Get involved with someone who just got the bug (no pun intended), and is ecstatic about making his or her first contacts. I speak from experience here.

See the History of RF Engineering in this Large Old Magazine Archive Barry Manz
On Oct. 31, 2013, Broadcast Engineering, a publication I’ve been reading for 20 years, closed its doors. The company chose to throw in the towel rather than retreating to “digital only”, typically the last gasp before the grave. I learned this not from the company itself but from my colleague Lynnette Reese who sent me a link to back issues (of which there are 340) on a site her Ham dad found: americanradiohistory.com. She blogged about it too, but I had to take a description of this site a step further, as it is absolutely every bit the “gem” she described. It’s also hardly a secret as Alexa ranks it 147,429 in the U.S., placing it above most trade journal sites, but it was a revelation to me.

Last Call for Magnetron-Powered Microwave Ovens? Barry Manz
When in 1945 Raytheon’s engineer Percy Spencer accidently discovered the potential of RF energy for heating food (or in Spencer’s case, for melting a chocolate bar in his pocket), the device generating that energy was a magnetron. Sixty years later, this venerable “vacuum electron device” is still powering everyone’s microwave ovens, making it the only consumer product still using a vacuum tube rather than a semiconductor for any purpose. However, this last bastion of vacuum tubes in consumer electronics may soon be relegated to history now that RF power transistors have achieved the required RF output power, efficiency, and ruggedness required to replace them.

Samsung’s 60-GHz Wi-Fi Announcement Deciphered Barry Manz
Perhaps, lost amid the recent uproar about new smartphones and phablets for the holidays, was Samsung’s announcement that it has revolutionized Wi-Fi by operating at 60 GHz. That and the enhancements Samsung says it has made allow performance using the IEEE 802.11ad protocol to deliver massive speed increases over existing Wi-Fi –transferring a 1-Gbyte file in less than 3 seconds. This obviously sounds like a Samsung-only accomplishment, and in some ways, it is. But it helps to get the whole picture.

One Size Fits None Barry Manz
If you work in or follow the defense industry, you may have sensed a trend toward multifunctionality in U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) thinking – that everything it deploys in the future should perform multiple functions. It’s a logical concept when money is scarce, but it rarely works, especially if the functions to be combined are very different from each other. Smartphones, which today do everything but keep you healthy (that’s coming in iOS8), are a rare exception.

RF Power Transistors and the Mystery of Video Bandwidth Barry Manz
If you use RF power transistors, you may have come across a new term of late on the datasheets: video bandwidth (VBW). Now, anyone who uses spectrum analyzers knows about this key metric, but I’ve been poring over power transistor datasheets for years, and this one seemed to appear out of nowhere.

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