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An open request for microcontroller type equality

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Ian P08/12/2016 14:18:03
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I know there are other current forum threads on Arduino based projects but I would like to suggest to the magazine and website editorship that they should remain impartial in recommending/promoting/criticising/comparing/favouring one microcontroller type over another. (not that might ever happen!)

All systems have their pro's and con's and I do not want to start a war or even discuss the merits of one over another, all I am suggesting is that all the systems are treated fairly. By fairly, I dont mean that each one has to have the same number of column inches but rather that one micro is not promoted as being the only or right way of making projects incorporating microcontrollers.

Ian P

Martin Kyte08/12/2016 14:30:55
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I will second that. PIC's are a lot easier than everyone makes out.

Martin

Ian P08/12/2016 14:37:24
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Posted by Martin Kyte on 08/12/2016 14:30:55:

I will second that. PIC's are a lot easier than everyone makes out.

Martin

Martin

That is exactly the sort of reply that I did NOT want to elicit.

Your statement might be true, but its also true that there are other products that are easier than PICs so where does it stop.

Ian P

daveb08/12/2016 14:40:18
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I don't see any promotion going on. The magazine published articles from contributors who used the device in their project. A mention was made a while ago of a school project using Arduino. The editor tells us what he has done with his telescope positioner. The device appears to be low cost and relatively easy to use. You can always use a different device for your own project, write it up and submit to the editor.

Dave

John Rudd08/12/2016 14:44:59
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Any advocates for the trusty 8051 series? cheeky

The battle for pic v avr supremacy continues.....

The argument for one v the other has caused stirring on many internet boards.....

Edited By John Rudd on 08/12/2016 14:47:20

Russell Eberhardt08/12/2016 15:12:55
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They all have their merits depending on the application. They are all low enough cost for the cost to be irrelevant for one off home projects. The cost will be swamped by the other parts of the project. Some use an interpreted language so are easier to program and understand. Others use a programming language which needs to be compiled but runs faster.

Of course people have their favourites but that depends on the individual.

Russell

SillyOldDuffer08/12/2016 15:26:45
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Posted by Ian Phillips on 08/12/2016 14:18:03:

I know there are other current forum threads on Arduino based projects but I would like to suggest to the magazine and website editorship that they should remain impartial in recommending/promoting/criticising/comparing/favouring one microcontroller type over another.

...

Ian P

I don't think Neil will have much problem with that!

I wrote my Arduino based effort back in June and sent it, unsolicited, to Neil. I didn't know when the article would be printed, if at all. I didn't know that Carl was also writing an Arduino article, or that the two would appear in the same issue. Neil never indicated an editorial preference in favour of AVR to me, and I don't think my personal choice of microcontroller mattered much.

Engineers should always be careful to avoid product bias. At the end of the day, we are about solutions, not flag waving. So I'd be delighted to read about other microcontrollers in the magazine. I'm not sure I have the energy to write about a different microcontroller though, I'm far too lazy.

Dave

Neil Wyatt08/12/2016 16:11:53
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I have every problem!

Was it Djikstra who said "It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to PICs as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration."?

In all seriousness, I( can only publish what I am offered.

As Arduinos seem to be the weapon of choice for workshop projects, then I can expect to receive more offers of Arduino-based articles.

If users of other types of microcontroller want to share their experiences, then I'm open to offers.

My preference is for projects built around modules with downloadable code examples.

But please, no PICs*

Neil

*For the uninitiated, their is along-standing rivalry between PIC and AVR - the main bones of contention being that early PICs were rather hard to use because of the way their memory was organised whilst AVR had much less in teh way of tools and reliable datasheets etc. to support hobbyists. Both these things have changed.

Neil Wyatt08/12/2016 16:13:12
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How do you confuse a Model Engineer?

Show him a row of Arduinos and tell him to take his PIC.

cheeky

John Rudd08/12/2016 16:17:23
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Very good Neil, and your last job was a comedian?cheeky

You make a better editor....yes

SillyOldDuffer08/12/2016 16:32:21
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Good old Edsger also said "The tools we use have a profound (and devious!) influence on our thinking habits, and, therefore, on our thinking abilities."

This is so true of me since buying a lathe - mentally I go round and round in circles, get overheated, produce lots of mistakes, and make a whining noise.

Ajohnw08/12/2016 17:10:39
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Posted by Neil Wyatt on 08/12/2016 16:11:53:

I have every problem!

Was it Djikstra who said "It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to PICs as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration."?

Neil

Statements like that always cause me some annoyance. What he should say is his style of programming. His is bound to be the only one that should be used of course and no others under any circumstances what so ever.

frownIn the real world say embedded systems things aren't always so simple - C etc has helped a lot in that respect 'cause it's been ported to be used on just about anything. The truth is though that assembler still leads on size and speed and once that is used people tend to stick to the same techniques for a while even when there is a complete change of architecture. One answer to that has been near full risk processors that are so fast that C can still be used but writing code in assembler on these can prove to be nigh on impossible.

I've used a tiny pic on a job for the simple reason that it's cost was a few pence in volume. Also a 4bit thing for similar reasons. Cheap and could do the job - in assembler.

Really it's simple - pick a part to suite and use it. Arduino does seem to have a big cost and things available for it advantage so I'd guess many would lean that way. If your a PIC man blame the Chinese and other market forces. Search pic on ebay and just about all of the distinct pic things are processors.

John

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Frances IoM08/12/2016 18:02:59
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my complaint is that such misquotes can gain credence in this post truth era - the actual quote delivered in 1975 was "It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration." found in a typical Djikstra diatribe that IMO goes somewhat over the top but with a large kernel of truth.
Neil Wyatt08/12/2016 18:29:10
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Posted by Ajohnw on 08/12/2016 17:10:39:
Posted by Neil Wyatt on 08/12/2016 16:11:53:

I have every problem!

Was it Djikstra who said "It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to PICs as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration."?

Neil

Statements like that always cause me some annoyance. What he should say is his style of programming. His is bound to be the only one that should be used of course and no others under any circumstances what so ever.

Of course, that's exactly what Djikstra meant, and he wouldn't have been shy76 about agreeing with you!

Although he was,famously, talking about BASIC

Neil

SillyOldDuffer08/12/2016 19:31:26
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Djikstra knew what he was talking about. In EWD498 "How do we tell truths that hurt?" (1975), he attacked most of the main computer languages. EWD498 included the statement "The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offence." Unlike BASIC, COBOL has few fans, so I'm probably on safer ground putting the boot in.

Now I wrote a lot of COBOL in early seventies and can confirm that Djikstra was absolutely right. But remember he was talking about the state of the art nearly 50 years ago, mostly before Djikstra's ideas about structure had become pervasive. In 1975 I had to write and maintain 'spaghetti' code. It was error prone and very expensive because something important was missing from the language. BASIC had similar issues, plus a shower of other disadvantages.

BASIC really became problematic in the 70's because students were turning up to be taught programming at University with their heads full of line numbers, GOTOs and preconceptions. We all know how hard it is to break bad habits.

BASIC was designed to introduce programming to non-professionals. It made simple programming possible - you did not need much training to use it. But that simplicity made the language unsuitable for professional use. BASIC didn't support team working, batch working, data processing, system programming, or non-trivial scientific computation. Even worse there was no way of selling programs written in BASIC without giving away trade secrets. The lack of structure made it unpopular in academia, and, perhaps the final straw, the world was flooded during the 80s with incompatible BASIC dialects.

In 2016 many of these issues have been addressed, but BASIC is still unloved when it comes to real work. It's not because BASIC is irredeemably flawed, rather it's because there are so many better alternatives, most of them well-established.

None of that means BASIC can't or shouldn't be used to program microcontrollers or other personal projects. Just don't expect to paid to do it, or to be rewarded with big smiles!

Dave

 

Edited By SillyOldDuffer on 08/12/2016 19:32:22

Edited By SillyOldDuffer on 08/12/2016 19:33:32

JA08/12/2016 19:40:51
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Three letter acronyms - what are PICs and AVRs? I suppose I should look on the internet.

I have just done so and am really none the wiser. I have used computers all my working life and try to follow these things. I know what Raspberry PI and Arduino are but nothing about other minicomputers and microcontrollers.

I think this thread started off with good intentions but very rapidly moved off into the general unknown. Like a lot of people I need educating. Would a general article in one of the magazines on these devices be sensible?

JA

Ajohnw08/12/2016 19:41:36
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I don't know Frances. I've written professionally in several languages. This includes basic - several styles, fortran, cobol, c, several different assembler languages and others. There are bad "styles" in all of them. Having had to find bugs in other peoples code at times I reckon the problem is usually down to the over all structure not the language it's written in which ever it is.

Seeing another post since I started this one and the mention of cobol. One interesting aspect of that language is that it stuck to it's guns and was implemented in a way that prevented programmers for doing the "tricks" that can be done in some other languages. Few do over long periods of time as it interferes with productivity.

Basic - well if that's all a machine or a piece of equipment has there isn't much choice other than to use it. I would also wonder just how many applications are still written in visual basic. It used to be a lot in certain quarters - cheap - and probably still is.

John

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Edited By Ajohnw on 08/12/2016 19:47:40

Ajohnw08/12/2016 20:27:58
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Can't agree with some of that in respect to Basic Dave. It's perfectly capable of doing all sorts of computations. The catch is that there is a need to know the basic math that what ever it is uses. Writing decent code in it does need rather a lot of self discipline but that is true of many.

Having said that though my initial use of "computing" was pure dartmouth basic. Not my favourite by any means but for computational purposes my conclusion is that it's the most concise instruction set on the planet. While it may not say have type complex or do polar to rectagonal conversions or anything else like that or worse it's not a problem if the person writing it knows the maths - that can really be a problem as can the increased code complexity.

I've had lectures off all sorts of pundits. Serious ones in their field. The message is simpler really. It often boils down to programmers do this and they make mistakes so stop 'em from doing it and all will be well. It never is but advances in languages have de-skilled the task to a certain extent by forcing a certain style of structure on people. Still leaving the problem of the over all structure - what's done when and how. C++ came about because of structure issues and compiler problems - these days it's mostly a method of increasing productivity rates - inheritance and etc. The basic ideas behind object orientated programming have gone. It's too hard for many people to do and not an easy idea to grasp.

LOL - you may have gathered it's a subject that interests me.

I bought a copy of Visual Studio once. It included a training video. They used word as an example adding that this isn't what they chose to write it in. While I don't like it I must admit I do admire Gates idea of a business model.

John

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Edited By Ajohnw on 08/12/2016 20:29:56

Neil Wyatt08/12/2016 21:34:44
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> Would a general article in one of the magazines on these devices be sensible?

If anyone's volunteering, let me know. 4-6,000 word overview of popular microcontrollers and the tools/boards available for them: Perhaps PIC, AVR/Arduino, Propellor,BASIC Stamp, Beaglebone. Perhaps these days we should even include ARM and single board Linux (like the Rasberry Pi).

I would leave out the more limited things like the microbit.

...

I think Richard Russell's BBC BASIC for Windows is well worth looking at. It implements things like procedures and structures and allows much better structured programming than feeble M$ basic. It also allows pretty much unlimited access to all of Windows system calls (i.e. you can write what looks like a typical windows program in it). Although the useful stuff is well documented the brave (not me) can delve into the Windows SDK and do just about anything. It even allows inline assembler just like the original BBC BASIC. (IMHO it is everything Python wants to be with the advantage it was a written by a single focused mind rather than a committee).

COBOL was written by accountants for accountants - I say leave it to the accountants

The only language I really 'fell in love with' was Pascal which was like a blast of fresh air after the syntatctic-straight-jacket-from-hell that was F0RTRAN and the half-finished mess called Algol.

Neil

Ajohnw09/12/2016 00:48:11
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It always amazes me that people think that things like Python have a committee. There is a sort of guiding light with Python but the truth is that just about all open source is worked on by people who want to do something. That may mean doing something from scratch or modifying something that already exists. The man who came up with Python has the title of benevolent dictator - for life but I doubt if he has much control in practice. People who work on this and other things come and go. Even on Linux itself where changes are looked at rather carefully.

People generally regard structure as just being the use of certain constructs and if used all is ok. They might dismiss languages on the the basis that they don''t have them. Bad mistake because as the constructs became flavour of the month just about all languages gained them even Basic. There might even be a Fortan about with them. The same constructs can be used in assembler. They don't look precisely the same but serve exactly the same purpose.

One thing for certain though is that there has only been one wide scale usage language designed right from the word go for modern systems such as a PC and that's C++.

COBOL actually was a business orientated language. I didn't like it as it wouldn't let me do all sorts of things. Seems it went object orientated in 2002. I used a variant called DIBOL that would let me do these things. They are all things that pundits reckon shouldn't be done yet seem to appear eventually in all languages. Personally I didn't enjoy what could be called business programming at all. Fortunately I didn't have to do much of it and was moved onto something far more interesting.

John

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Edited By Ajohnw on 09/12/2016 00:49:39

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