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12/02/2010

Into the wild blog yonder…

Christopher Marki headshot3
 





Christopher F. Marki received his B.S.E.E. from Duke University in 2002 and his M.S.E.E. and Ph.D. from University of California, San Diego in 2004 and 2007, respectively. While in graduate school, Christopher studied high speed fiber optics and consulted for San Diego start-up Ziva Corporation. Following graduate school, Christopher decided to forego a life in Photonics and opted, instead, to work with his father at Marki Microwave and learn the “family business” of microwave mixers. While at Marki Microwave, Christopher has served as Director of Research and has been responsible for the design and commercialization of many of Marki’s fastest growing product lines including filters, couplers and power dividers. Dr. Marki has authored and co-authored numerous journal and conference publications and frequently serves as an IEEE reviewer for Photonics Technology Letters and Journal of Lightwave Technology.   This blog is part of Microwave Journal's guest blog series.

To comment or ask Christopher a question, use the comment link at the bottom of the entry.

 

 

December 2, 2010

Marki 

 

 

 

 

 

Ever since I began learning science and engineering at Duke, I was always struck with the sullen reminder that engineers are generally viewed by laymen as outcasts who know strange things and behave in even stranger ways. I’ve always hated this mischaracterization because I find, almost invariably, that scientifically minded people tend to be some of the most amazingly well rounded and talented people I know. I began writing this blog to dispel some of this bad press and to provide some “engineering-centric” content along the way. Ultimately, my goal was to provide a forum where real engineers could express their thoughts about both absurd and important scientific issues, free of the pressures of selling products and services.

As my time with mwjournal.com has now come to an end, I am proud to say that this gambit has been well worth the trouble. As the traffic has proven, I am not the only one interested in things like patents, the World Cup, or Fantasy Football. Our shared interest in many of these topics fostered some excellent discussions and I would like to thank all the readers who joined me in the discourse, even the ones who disagreed with me!

So now what? Well, I’ve thought about this extensively, and the only reasonable solution I can muster is to join forces with other bloggers. Yeah, I think my column is ok, but I am just one man with one opinion, and writing articles doesn’t pay the bills (mixers do). The logical solution, therefore, is to join up with other engineers in the industry, all bonafide experts and authorities on their own, and share in the mind-meld, so to speak.

So with this last Microwave Journal blog, I am pleased to announce that I am joining a new online community called rfblogger.com where I will blog alongside other industry leaders and experts and continue what mwjournal.com has so graciously helped me to start. By joining rfblogger, we will be able to leverage the expertise and opinions of many great minds, and hopefully create thought-provoking and entertaining content for the RF and microwave community as a whole.

The website has launched with contributions from the oscillator gurus at Wenzel Associates and the instrumentation wizards at Holzworth Instrumentation. I am constantly in awe of the talents of these engineers and I look forward to creating great RF-centric content with them. The long term goal is to gather a full stable of RF experts to contribute regularly to the rfblogger website such that we can create a knowledge base of information for the industry. I hope you’ll follow me to rfblogger.com, I can’t wait to see what kind of crazy ideas we come up with…

 

09/16/2010

Who’s better: Tom Brady or Steve Jobs?

Christopher Marki headshot3
 





Christopher F. Marki received his B.S.E.E. from Duke University in 2002 and his M.S.E.E. and Ph.D. from University of California, San Diego in 2004 and 2007, respectively. While in graduate school, Christopher studied high speed fiber optics and consulted for San Diego start-up Ziva Corporation. Following graduate school, Christopher decided to forego a life in Photonics and opted, instead, to work with his father at Marki Microwave and learn the “family business” of microwave mixers. While at Marki Microwave, Christopher has served as Director of Research and has been responsible for the design and commercialization of many of Marki’s fastest growing product lines including filters, couplers and power dividers. Dr. Marki has authored and co-authored numerous journal and conference publications and frequently serves as an IEEE reviewer for Photonics Technology Letters and Journal of Lightwave Technology.   MarkiMicrowave.com

To comment or ask Christopher a question, use the comment link at the bottom of the entry.

 

September 15, 2010


Marki 

Who’s better: Tom Brady or Steve Jobs?

 

                During the World Cup, I wrote a blog entry about technology in football (i.e. soccer). Owing to the popularity of that light-hearted techno-babble and the excitement surrounding the start of the NFL regular season, I have decided to write another (silly) article about another (fruitless) pastime of mine: fantasy football. I have done a lot of thinking about fantasy football (for those of you unfamiliar, fantasy football is detailed here), and my conclusion is that it is a superior waste of time.

Is it reasonable for grown men and women (usually men) to justify spending several hours a week shuffling starting lineups and agonizing over opponents and matchups in hopes of winning what usually amount to about $500 (a.k.a. compensation equivalent to about $2.34/hour invested) for the champion? Of course not! But, as a self-admitted (committed?) fantasy addict, I have to admit it is fun, it makes Sundays more enjoyable, and it has me thinking…what about Fantasy Engineering? Is it possible to come up with the Engineering equivalent of fantasy football where we can pick a few categories for engineering skills, such as intellect, or creativity, or work ethic and score them on a points system? I don’t think Fantasy Engineering would be very fun, but it has me thinking about how to evaluate the mostly subjective skills of engineers, and relate them to quantifiable metrics.

My main focus is to evaluate the various engineering positions. What are the specific traits of these engineering positions, and how would you quantify the relative value of the person filling that position? In football, Tom Brady is clearly more valuable than Alex Smith. Therefore, it is reasonable to argue that in the real life engineering trenches, some people are more valuable than others. I’ve looked at past and present scientists and engineers, and tried to come up with my list of the top ranked “players” in each position. To stay in the football theme, I am going to create an engineering team which is analogous to a typical fantasy football team setup: Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Kicker. 

Quarterback

Engineer Equivalent: Project Manager/Team Leader.

Key Attributes: Charismatic, Superior Communication Skills, Motivating, Organized, Level-headed Temperament, Broad Technical Understanding, Forward Thinking/Visionary 

Description: Just as in football, no engineering team can be successful without a charismatic leader. The project leader must be able to organize his team with a calm, clear, and collected approach (think Joe Montana during the 49er glory years). The team leader can have inferior technical skills to the other engineers, but this is compensated for with visionary thinking and the ability to absorb and evaluate a broad range of technical details. I have worked with PMs with this ability and it is impressive: you know they cannot do the work themselves, but they tend to have an uncanny ability to immediately understand the implications of the technical data. Moreover, the best PMs can take the data, and see how the results impact the future direction of the company/technology. Most engineers don’t think with this futurist/opportunist mentality, this is why a good PM is essential; they don’t handcuff their minds with excuses for why something won’t work.

Power Rankings:

1.       Steve Jobs—Does this really need an explanation?

2.       Richard Feynman—The gregarious genius knew more about more topics than just about anyone to ever live. He foresaw the nanotech revolution, and dabbled in field far beyond Physics. Read his autobiography or his Caltech Lectures and you’ll immediately understand why he is, in my estimation, the most well-rounded scientist to ever live.

3.       J. Robert Oppenheimer—Oppenheimer oversaw the most ambitious scientific project in the history of modern science: the Manhattan Project. Say what you will about the negative impact of the research, you can’t help but admit that the challenges Oppenheimer faced were immense, and the historical impact of the success of this project changed human history. Imagine if we could assemble a similar team of scientists, headed by Oppenheimer, to solve our energy issues! That’s why he’s #3 on my list.

Running Back

Engineer Equivalent: Lead Engineer.

Key Attributes: Brilliant, Hard Working, Focused, Instinctual, Intuitive, Fearless 

Description: In football, a great running back is a quarterback’s best friend because he takes the pressure off by keeping the defense honest. In engineering, the project manager’s best friend is his lead scientist. The lead engineer and the project manager tend to have complementary skills. What the PM lacks in technical ability is more than made up by the lead engineer. The lead engineer doesn’t necessarily need good communication skills because the only thing that matters is results.

Power Rankings:

1.       Leonardo Da Vinci—If I had to pick one mind upon which to make a company, it would be Leonardo Da Vinci. Some might argue that Tesla is a better pick (listed #2), but Da Vinci lived hundreds of years before the Industrial Revolution. His mind was so creative and prolific, I can’t imagine what he could have conceived of with modern conveniences like computers and CNC machines.

2.       Nikola Tesla—Look at his resume, its remarkable!

3.       Thomas Edison—Despite his achievement of giving us the light bulb, I cannot in good faith let anyone who would promote DC power distribution be any higher than #3. Nevertheless, the man was a genius and responsible for countless advances in technology.

Wide Receiver

Engineer Equivalent: Specialist/Theorists.

Key Attributes: Smartest guy in the room…and knows it!

Description: Terrell Owens. Chad Ochocinco.  Michael Crabtree. This list goes on…Wide receivers are gifted athletes, and they’ll tell you that any chance they get. In engineering, I find that the theorists are the “know-it-alls” because they can figure anything out with a pen and paper and they don’t even need to perform the experiment. A great theorist can tell you the answer long before you make the measurement, and they love to brag about this fact long after the result confirm the prediction. Ok, I’m embellishing somewhat, but you get the idea. In fairness, the best theorists need to be a little arrogant because they have to make authoritative statements without the aid of experiments. To me, that is a scary existence, I prefer to let experimentation determine if I’m wrong or right. If you are going to survive as a theorist, you have to brave, cocky, and smart!

Power Rankings:

1.       James Clerk Maxwell—The following statement is 90% true: every upper level undergraduate and graduate course I took while at Duke and UCSD began with a review of Maxwell’s Equations. I could have skipped the first 2 lectures of any grad-level class and missed absolutely nothing. Learning microwave? Start with Maxwell’s Equations. Learning optics? Start with Maxwell’s Equations. Learning Shakespeare? Start with Maxwell’s Equations…

2.       Albert Einstein—I could be wrong, but I think Maxwell has been more valuable for our particular field of Microwave Engineering than Einstein. But, Einstein’s contributions and abilities speak for themselves. Plus, I give extra credit to anyone who could do Physics while improvising solos on a violin.

3.       Isaac Newton—Here is my problem with high school science: most “facts” you learn in high school Physics and Chemistry turn out to be wrong, at least in part. This is why Newton is #3--his so-called Laws are in fact special cases of the actual way Nature is. Hence, Einstein > Newton.

Honorable Mention: Victor Veselago

Tight End

Engineer Equivalent: The guy who builds stuff.

Key Attributes: Skilled in all aspects of design and manufacturing

Description: In football, the tight end tends to be a player gifted in all aspects of offense. They have to block, they have to catch, and they have to understand defensive strategy to pick up blitzes. The engineering tight end is the guy who likes to get his hands dirty. While the lead engineer and theorist are likely to have Masters or PhD degrees, the best tight ends have a blue-collar background. In the world of company-building and widget making, the engineering tight end is absolutely critical helping you make products that are as robust as they are elegant. The engineering bourgeois like to focus on electrical performance, but sometimes packaging and manufacturing tricks are what matters more. Teams can get away with sub-par tight ends, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Power Rankings:

1.       Jamie Hyneman—If you watch enough Mythbusters, you’ll learn to appreciate Mr. Hyneman’s skills. Jamie is a “man’s man” kind of engineer. If you were stranded on a desert island, you would make Jamie your leader because he’d be your best chance of survival. Only a true blue-collar type engineer would sport such an ambitious mustache.

2.       Adam SavageIn keeping with the Mythbusters theme, I make Adam Savage my #2 rank for tight end. While I agree that Adam has superior skills to most, I think he is a “poor man’s” Jamie. Sorry Adam. If it makes you feel better, you wear cool shirts.  

3.       Ferenc Marki—Yes, I’m biased because he is my father, but I’d put his manufacturing know-how up against anyone. Little known fact: my father was a professional jeweler in his teens and early 20’s. The knowledge my dad gained in metallurgy and 3D construction are clearly evident in the products that Marki Microwave offers today. I’m sure anyone who looks under the hood of a Marki T3 mixer would agree.

Kicker

Engineer Equivalent: Old curmudgeon engineer

Key Attributes: Experience, Experience, Experience

Description: My first blog was about the engineering “grey beards.” These are the engineers that have been around forever and know just about everything. While they don’t use all of the modern software and design techniques to do their job (that is left to the youngsters), these old curmudgeons always have a way of bailing out the team on 4th down. The old curmudgeon might not be used on every play, but they are absolutely vital because they possess valuable information that cannot be learned in books or simulations—they have true wisdom. The last second contributions of the designated Grey Beard can make a marked difference in the outcome of the project.

(Fictional Character) Power Rankings:

I respectfully decline to name real people; we have all met a few of them. My advice: do what you can to learn from them.

1.       Yoda

2.       Prof. Dumbledore

3.       Gandalf

 

 

 

08/25/2010

A Case Against Patents

Christopher Marki headshot3
 





Christopher F. Marki received his B.S.E.E. from Duke University in 2002 and his M.S.E.E. and Ph.D. from University of California, San Diego in 2004 and 2007, respectively. While in graduate school, Christopher studied high speed fiber optics and consulted for San Diego start-up Ziva Corporation. Following graduate school, Christopher decided to forego a life in Photonics and opted, instead, to work with his father at Marki Microwave and learn the “family business” of microwave mixers. While at Marki Microwave, Christopher has served as Director of Research and has been responsible for the design and commercialization of many of Marki’s fastest growing product lines including filters, couplers and power dividers. Dr. Marki has authored and co-authored numerous journal and conference publications and frequently serves as an IEEE reviewer for Photonics Technology Letters and Journal of Lightwave Technology.   MarkiMicrowave.com

To comment or ask Christopher a question, use the comment link at the bottom of the entry.

 

August 26, 2010


Marki 

   

People often ask me how many patents Marki Microwave owns. The answer: zero. “What? But you’re a technology company, how can this be? Aren’t you worried that someone is going to steal your idea?” Well, not really, and I will try to explain the logic behind this position. Some will read this and disagree, I have no doubt. I actually think patents do have important benefits given the right set of circumstances, but I think for small tech companies like Marki Microwave, patents do not provide as many benefits as is often assumed. I believe it is false to assume that a good idea should always be patented, here’s why…

 

1.   Patents create a false sense of security. In general, I’m opposed to people trying to lay claim to scientific discoveries and innovation. I know many engineers who spend most of there time writing patents, re-writing patents, and conceiving of ways to get around other’s patents. To me, this is a sub-optimal strategy for success. There is a difference between “patent competition” and “technological competition”. Patent competition is the act of performing a metaphorical patent land-grab, this is not necessarily useful for the greater good of society. Technological competition, however, is supremely good for society and the economy. Most people are motivated by adversity. Therefore, when you have a technological competitor, regardless of whether they own a patent or not, you are forced to innovate beyond your current means. The patent owner, however, might be tempted to believe he is safe from copy-cat technologies. I believe this complacency is a very dangerous mindset to have in a competitive marketplace. You can’t control whether your competitor will leap-frog your technology and render your patent useless. No technology company can survive forever without constantly improving their “wheel”, a patent does not provide us reprieve from this fundamental Truth.

 

2.   Trade secrets are more important than patents.  I love when my competition writes patents because they give me insights into the thought process of the inventor. I have read several patents that were so novel in their approach that they actually triggered new ideas for me, which I subsequently used for my own applications. Did I violate the patent? No. In fact, my idea was for something totally different. However, the patent described the technical details in such a way that served as a sort of creative inspiration. Had the inventor never written the patent, I doubt I would have come up with the same idea in such a short amount of time. I believe that trade secrets are more powerful than patents because they foster many more questions than answers for the competition. If you are a small tech firm, it is perhaps more valuable to develop your “secret sauce” in private and let your competitors try to reverse engineer your product later. In my area of hardware, the money is in the packaging details. In other words, I can give a Marki mixer to a competitor, but they still might not be able to copy it due to the fabrication complexity and assembly subtleties. However, if I write the patent and describe the function and detailed embodiment of the design, then they are more likely to understand the meaning behind my design choices. This is dangerous, and the single biggest reason Marki does not write patents for mixers.

 

3.   Would you really sue over patent infringement? The best argument I have ever heard for why a small company should own a patent is that it gives you a legal precedence to continue to sell your product. In other words, you don’t patent something so you can sue someone when they violate it, you patent something so they can’t sue you when they try to steal your idea by patenting it themselves. It is backwards logic, but it makes sense. Moreover, how many small companies have the financial power to litigate potential patent infringement? Not many. Even the most air-tight patent can be circumvented with a few clever strokes of the pen, or an equally intimidating legal department. 

 

4.   A patent is NOT a product. I know many brilliant engineers who believe that if they patent all their ideas, that they will eventually become rich. In some sense, they treat their patents like lottery tickets; if they hold enough tickets, eventually their number will be called. Ultimately, the end game is to sell their ideas and corresponding IP for a huge lump sum and retire happy. I have found that many smart scientists use this strategy when they form start-up companies. Many of the tech start-ups I’ve dealt with in my career have a business plan that looks something like this: have a great idea, acquire funding either through venture capital or DOD, develop an IP portfolio, sell company to highest bidder and cash out. In other words, the product of the company is…the company! I don’t believe this is a good or bad thing, I simply believe that it is strategy with a low probability of success. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but a company makes money by providing goods and services to their customers, not by acquiring IP that may or may not be useful some day. There is a reason that tech start-up companies are so risky, and I think worshipping patents as false products adds to this risk. Of course, there are many famous companies who have successfully made the transition from start-up to juggernaut, but this tends to be the exception, not the rule. We can’t all be Google or Intuitive Surgical, so should we all try to be?

 

Google is an interesting example actually. The most valuable asset in all of Google is their search algorithm, and specifically the relevance calculator. While it is true that the “PageRank” concept is a licensed patent from Stanford, the actual weighting of the various search factors are secret. Marketing people make entire careers out of trying to optimize websites to fit Google’s algorithm, but no one knows with absolute certainty how it determines rank…this is a fantastic trade secret indeed! If someone could figure out how to decrypt the Google search algorithm with quantitative accuracy, I suspect they would be rich beyond words, maybe I should write a patent…

07/26/2010

Breaking My Own Rules With Shameless Plugs

Christopher Marki headshot3
 





Christopher F. Marki received his B.S.E.E. from Duke University in 2002 and his M.S.E.E. and Ph.D. from University of California, San Diego in 2004 and 2007, respectively. While in graduate school, Christopher studied high speed fiber optics and consulted for San Diego start-up Ziva Corporation. Following graduate school, Christopher decided to forego a life in Photonics and opted, instead, to work with his father at Marki Microwave and learn the “family business” of microwave mixers. While at Marki Microwave, Christopher has served as Director of Research and has been responsible for the design and commercialization of many of Marki’s fastest growing product lines including filters, couplers and power dividers. Dr. Marki has authored and co-authored numerous journal and conference publications and frequently serves as an IEEE reviewer for Photonics Technology Letters and Journal of Lightwave Technology.   MarkiMicrowave.com

To comment or ask Christopher a question, use the comment link at the bottom of the entry.

 

July 27, 2010


Marki 

    When people ask my advice about pursuing a career in Engineering, I tell them the following:

If you can go 30 days of the month without good news or good results, only to find on the 31st day that your project works perfectly, and this good news puts you in such a euphoric mood that you can forget about all the previous frustrations, then you are going to be a great engineer. If that sense of personal accomplishment isn’t good enough to make you happy, then you should consider doing something else.

Today is the 31st day of my month, and I am happy to share with you some good news, both about some of our newest products, and about the fact that Marki Microwave is looking to hire some ambitious and talented new employees. (I promised myself I wouldn’t use this blog as a platform to advertise Marki Microwave explicitly, but sometimes I just want to talk about some of our newest designs, especially when they’ve been in the development pipeline for so long.)

 For quite some time, I have been trying design Wilkinson power dividers with (nearly) unlimited bandwidth. I didn’t really have a customer requirement forcing me to do so, but I was looking for a complementary power divider line to our popular broadband directional couplers and 3 dB quadrature hybrids. The challenge has always been twofold: I wanted to avoid using multi-layer stripline geometries to make the power dividers, and I wanted a way to make them work well beyond 26 GHz. Avoiding stripline would make the part cheaper to build by reducing complexity and assembly time, and making power dividers above 26 GHz would enable me to meet higher frequency requirements to 65 GHz.

I am happy to announce that after our metaphorical 30 days of hardship in lab and 3D computer simulation, we now have a design technique that enables us to build power dividers from below 400 MHz to 65 GHz. These new power dividers are based on a novel approach to making Wilkinson power dividers that eliminates the costly stripline assembly while also minimizing the deleterious effects of line discontinuities in conventional multi-section Wilkinson designs. The first released power dividers using this new construction offer bandwidth ratios of approximately 40:1 including the PD-0R413 (400 MHz to 13 GHz), the PD-0R618 (600 MHz to 18 GHz) and the PD-0140 (1 GHz to 40 GHz).  Typical isolations exceed 20 dB with outstanding amplitude and phase balance. It is important to point out that these designs are totally symmetric between the output ports meaning that the overall balance of the circuits is superior to other vendors’ solutions that employ asymmetries which severely limit the performance at higher frequencies. In the coming weeks, we will be announcing additional power dividers which can cover 65:1 bandwidth. If you would like to be kept up to speed on these and related product releases, please sign up for Marki Microwave’s monthly newsletter by clicking here.

As I mentioned above, I am also excited to announce that Marki Microwave is hiring. We are currently looking to fill an opening for a Technical Marketing Engineer. This role requires someone with some engineering background but wants also can excel in a Sales/Marketing position. If you, or someone you know has this skill set and is looking for employment, please send a resume to hr@markimicrowave.com. 

07/15/2010

“Datasheet” is a bad word

Christopher Marki headshot3
 





Christopher F. Marki received his B.S.E.E. from Duke University in 2002 and his M.S.E.E. and Ph.D. from University of California, San Diego in 2004 and 2007, respectively. While in graduate school, Christopher studied high speed fiber optics and consulted for San Diego start-up Ziva Corporation. Following graduate school, Christopher decided to forego a life in Photonics and opted, instead, to work with his father at Marki Microwave and learn the “family business” of microwave mixers. While at Marki Microwave, Christopher has served as Director of Research and has been responsible for the design and commercialization of many of Marki’s fastest growing product lines including filters, couplers and power dividers. Dr. Marki has authored and co-authored numerous journal and conference publications and frequently serves as an IEEE reviewer for Photonics Technology Letters and Journal of Lightwave Technology.   MarkiMicrowave.com

To comment or ask Christopher a question, use the comment link at the bottom of the entry.

 

July 15, 2010


Marki 

After the long and sometimes strenuous journey one takes in the product development cycle, the inevitable final stage can be the most challenging: the making of the datasheet. 

    As an engineer, I dislike making datasheets. I loathe the idea that I am required to summarize the macroscopic workings of my “babies” (i.e. new products) with bold, unforgiving numbers that can never fully represent the “inner beauty” of the product. For me, the datasheet is a wholly inadequate creature that almost always fails to capture the many nuances of the product. Seriously, am I expected to describe all the workings of my new products in a few tables and graphs in .pdf format? Unfortunately, yes. So it looks like I’ll just have to accept the truth and adapt accordingly.

    Complaints aside, datasheets cannot be underestimated in their importance. When I put on my Marketing Hat (I wear many hats at Marki Microwave, it goes with the territory), I am forced to acknowledge that datasheets are the all-important first impression; they are the lens through which my company and product lines are initially judged. Therefore, we place much emphasis on making our datasheets as clean and precise as possible. Through my experiences with using other vendor’s datasheets and in creating my own, I have formed some opinions about the “correct” way of making, displaying, and using datasheets. I concede this is a subjective area, so I’ll try to be as objective as possible.

1.    Minimum and Maximum specs are guarantees, Typical specs are not. For vendors, the delta between Min/Max and Typical is our breathing room. At Marki Microwave, we use typical specs to describe the average performance of the part across the band. Therefore, if the Conversion Loss of the mixer is 7 dB (typ.), then that is about what the measured value will be on most units, over most of the band. That doesn’t guarantee the number won’t be 7.5 dB near the band edge, just that the statistical average is close to 7 dB. Choosing Min/Max/Typ is not a perfect science, but honest vendors work extremely hard to identify these values as accurately as humanly possible, trust me. Moreover, most vendors will even do a few extra measurements for you, you just have to ask nicely. Remember, measurements = reality, datasheets = quasi-reality. (The caveat, of course, is that I am assuming the measurement is performed correctly, but that is a different topic for a different time). 

2.    Product tables are not datasheets. Some vendors do not make datasheets available on their websites, only product tables. These tables display key information (insertion loss, return loss, etc), but not in any detailed format that is quickly confirmed with included measurement data. As a designer looking for a product, I dislike product tables for two reasons: the numbers are too ambiguous, and they make me think the vendor is hiding something. When it comes to product performance, I like to see curves and graphs. For example, if an amp has 15 dB gain, I want to see how that gain changes with frequency. This information can be critical to my application. More importantly, when it comes to choosing parts for my designs, I tend to feel very skeptical of vendors that only provide me with tables of numbers and no actual measured plots—it makes me worry that the vendor is hiding some kind of flaw or glaring weakness. I have actually heard rumors that there exist companies, past and present, that “create” new products simply by adding new rows to their product tables without ever having built the widget. Such horror stories always leave me with a sense of caution when choosing my suppliers. From a marketing point of view, the solution is obvious: be as transparent as possible and provide as much information as possible. This will yield brand loyalty and help to make your customers successful, my main priority.

3.    Never require a customer to “sign in” or provide personal information in order to download a datasheet. If you are going to announce to the world that your company offers a certain product, don’t pull a bait-and-switch by subsequently forcing me to give you my email address. It can be optional, but please don’t require it! There are certain companies and product areas where this is common practice, and it always leaves me frustrated (as an engineer and potential customer) and dumbfounded (as a Sales/Marketing person). This is the era of Google, YouTube, HD On Demand, and Wikipedia. Modern culture demands that information be freely disseminated without someone having to remember their password. Therefore, why hide your datasheet? I understand the argument (security, competitive advantage, marketing information, etc), but frankly, I think it is difficult to justify because it leaves customers with memories of a negative website experience…problem. Plus, your competitor might be willing to give out datasheets without the hassle…bigger problem.

These are just a few rules of thumb I try to follow when it comes to datasheets and website maintenance.  If you have any suggestions or want to share your own opinions and experiences about the world of spec’ing and datasheets, I’d love to hear them.

.

07/01/2010

A Technologists Guide to the World Cup

Christopher Marki headshot3
 





Christopher F. Marki received his B.S.E.E. from Duke University in 2002 and his M.S.E.E. and Ph.D. from University of California, San Diego in 2004 and 2007, respectively. While in graduate school, Christopher studied high speed fiber optics and consulted for San Diego start-up Ziva Corporation. Following graduate school, Christopher decided to forego a life in Photonics and opted, instead, to work with his father at Marki Microwave and learn the “family business” of microwave mixers. While at Marki Microwave, Christopher has served as Director of Research and has been responsible for the design and commercialization of many of Marki’s fastest growing product lines including filters, couplers and power dividers. Dr. Marki has authored and co-authored numerous journal and conference publications and frequently serves as an IEEE reviewer for Photonics Technology Letters and Journal of Lightwave Technology.   MarkiMicrowave.com

To comment or ask Christopher a question, use the comment link at the bottom of the entry.

 

July 2, 2010


Marki 

I love soccer (i.e. football for my international readers). I grew up playing the sport and consider it one the most character-defining experiences of my life. For me, the World Cup is the greatest sporting competition around. Now that I am in the technology area, I am dumbfounded at FIFA’s insistence on ignoring modern technology to improve the officiating. Just like the rest of the world population, I find FIFA’s stoicism ridiculous and alarming when the fate of entire nations (and millions of dollars) rests in the hands of one or two terrible refereeing mistakes (hello England vs. Germany, U.S. vs. Slovenia, Mexico vs. Argentina, etc).

 

With Sepp Blatter’s recent announcement that FIFA will “re-evaluate” the use of goal line technology, I have started to imagine how technology could transform the officiating of the world’s game. I am no futurist, but this thought experiment provokes some interesting questions as to what is currently feasible with modern technology, and what still requires some R&D.  The following analysis follows similar guidelines to the way I evaluate new product development and directions at Marki Microwave.

As one might expect, the low-difficulty, low cost solutions are the areas that FIFA should adopt first. The blue-sky areas (high difficulty, high cost) might never be considered for any sport, but are interesting talking points that would make any Venture Capitalist salivate.


 

Sideline/Goal-line Technology

Difficulty: High School Science Fair

Cost: Minimal

Technological Requirements: This is a no-brainer. All you need is an array of cameras, some image recognition software that already exists (such as the Hawk-Eye system in Tennis), maybe a few RFID tags embedded in the ball, and a big red light that flashes when the ball cross the line (like in my other favorite sport, Hockey). The fact that these technologies already exist in other sports but have been stubbornly ignored by FIFA has nothing to do with science, I’ll let the bureaucrats fight this one out. 

 

Automatic Offsides

Difficulty: Undergraduate Research Project

Cost: Minimal

Technological Requirements: I would love to see this employed. It seems that as long as there are a few cameras at high enough angles in the stadium, real time software can easily determine the position of the forward most attacking player at the instant the ball is played. Amazingly, TV broadcasters are already using a variant of this technology (albeit after-the-fact) to determine whether the call was correct or not. If we really wanted to get elaborate, we could use an antenna array and RFID chips to triangulate the exact position of the ball and players. We could then place an accelerometer in the ball to determine the exact moment the ball is played. All of these technologies would be synced to some kind of central processor that could easily determine if the player was offside or not at the exact moment of impact. This can be done with off-the-shelf products (I’m guessing for less than the cost of a plane flight to South Aftica). If I were a college professor, I would make this a senior design project for my students.

 

Diving Detection

Difficulty: PHD Dissertation

Cost: Moderate

Technological Requirements: For me, the most unappealing aspects of soccer are diving and injury faking. Compared to other sports like Hockey, where diving is rare and playing through injury is commonplace, soccer is full of primadonna stars that don’t like to get their shirts dirty (did someone say Cristiano Ronaldo?).  Nothing makes me happier than when a player is carded for diving in the penalty box. It appeals to my sense of justice.

 

    How can technology be used to clean up the game? This is a difficult question because computers are not good at subjective decision making. In many cases, diving does involve some amount of contact with a defender. Therefore, a first requirement is that we would need a good array of cameras to follow the play from multiple angles to determine how much contact is made. We could then use some kind of  physics modeling engine (like those used in video games) to predict reasonable outcomes from the contact. In the cases where totally unreasonable outcomes occur (like when a player clearly dives without being touched), the computer could notify the referee that an unpredicted or unreasonable result occurred based on the forces involved in the tackle.

 

The hardest part, however, is that diving is often contextual. Players tend to dive in certain parts of the field, and some do it more than others. We then require that the software learn to incorporate some kind of learning algorithm such that it can develop a “soccer sense”. For example, we know that Cristiano Ronaldo is likely to dive when he dribbles straight into 3 defenders. Programming soccer sense would be one of the most difficult problems for computer scientists. Conveniently, governments, corporations and universities are interested in this kind of computer learning and decision making because we increasingly rely on software to predict our moods and behavior given a set of initial conditions. The ability to “train” computers to understand and interpret human behavior is incredibly important for many fields including Marketing, Security and Investing, so I’d imagine one can extend it to Sport.

 

Human-less Officiating

Difficulty: Manhattan Project

Cost: Millions in Venture Capital

Technological Requirements: Given enough resources and the right collection of experts in computer science, robotics and networking, this might be possible in a few years. It all comes down to the software’s soccer sense algorithm. A human referee must account for many conflicting variables during a game: score, time left, emotional state of the players. It is the nuances of the game that make it so entertaining. Sometimes the correct decision is to allow the game to be more physical, sometimes not. Sometimes a card is warranted, sometimes not. The decision making is contextual, I suspect this would be difficult to teach to a computer without significant R&D. But, it is not impossible. It would just take lots of patience and even more calibrating and tweaking. For all we know, someone at Google or IBM is already doing this…

It looks like the goal line technology is quickly on its way to adoption based on public outcry. However, I don’t see FIFA making any other changes any time soon. As a fan and technologist, I just want to see an equitably called game free from referee tampering. The U.S. was admittedly lucky to not be haunted by the mystery Slovenia call thanks to Landon Donovan’s injury time heroics against Algeria. Unfortunately, the English and the Mexicans can’t say the same.

06/21/2010

Engineering Tips and Tricks—Episode 2: Take Your Work Home

Christopher Marki headshot3
 





Christopher F. Marki received his B.S.E.E. from Duke University in 2002 and his M.S.E.E. and Ph.D. from University of California, San Diego in 2004 and 2007, respectively. While in graduate school, Christopher studied high speed fiber optics and consulted for San Diego start-up Ziva Corporation. Following graduate school, Christopher decided to forego a life in Photonics and opted, instead, to work with his father at Marki Microwave and learn the “family business” of microwave mixers. While at Marki Microwave, Christopher has served as Director of Research and has been responsible for the design and commercialization of many of Marki’s fastest growing product lines including filters, couplers and power dividers. Dr. Marki has authored and co-authored numerous journal and conference publications and frequently serves as an IEEE reviewer for Photonics Technology Letters and Journal of Lightwave Technology.   MarkiMicrowave.com

To comment or ask Christopher a question, use the comment link at the bottom of the entry.

 

June 21, 2010


Marki 

successful family dinner = happy guests and circuit diagrams left on my coffee table. happy father's day to my favorite engineer!” --My sister’s Facebook post following our Father’s Day dinner last night

 

    Among the many characteristics one must possess to be a successful engineer—intelligence, creativity, resourcefulness—one common trait stands out among the rest: passion. I am talking about the engineers that love talking about their work with anyone who will listen. These are the people that I want to work with (and hire) because they take their work home with them.

 

    In this context, I am defining passion as an unwavering obsession with problem solving. At the core of my argument is that very little separates most engineers in terms of innate talent. Yes, some people go to Caltech while others struggle through the bloated lecture halls of large state schools, but fundamentally, we are all comparably intelligent. This is essentially a Nature versus Nurture argument. In my estimation, Nurture (i.e. hard work and passion for the job) always trumps Nature (i.e. innate intelligence and creativity) in the sciences. I am reminded of a quotation from one of my professors in grad school, “The PHD does not tell the world how smart you are, it simply tells everyone that you have a stomach for pain.” Grimly, I must agree. To first order, we are all created equally, successful science boils down to sleepless nights and lots of elbow grease.

 

    Passionate problem solving is equal parts motivation and ownership of a problem. Problem solving without direction is a meaningless exercise.  To generate any kind of enthusiasm, we should have a darn good reason why spending time, money and energy of a problem is a good investment (for more, see my first Tips and Tricks Episode 1 ).  Usually, the motivation is the easiest part because there are lots of good reasons to solve problems (e.g. it might make you rich, you might cure cancer, you might solve the world’s energy crisis, etc).

 

The difference between motivated problem solving and passionate problem solving is that the engineer assumes a sense of ownership of the problem. The most successful engineers and scientists carry their problems around with them like a sack of bricks. Solving the most difficult problems requires a significant amount of mental energy. I believe that it is therefore unreasonable to think that real breakthroughs can be timed between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM, Monday through Friday (excluding holidays). Our brains don’t solve problems linearly, anyway. In fact, problem solving and creative thought is incredibly nonlinear. Good problem solving often occurs in the most inauspicious places: the shower, the coffee shop, the car, my sister’s house. If we (my father and I) confined our problem solving exclusively to the halls of Marki Microwave, I doubt we’d have a viable business. Our passion for our craft and our unrelenting drive to push our technology, at home and at work, keeps our business vibrant and full of creative ideas.

 

So take your work home. Eat it. Drink it. Sleep it. Your spouse might complain a little, but your customers won’t. In fact, your own children might even love you more for it. Happy Father’s Day, pop.

 
 

06/03/2010

IMS 2010 Recap: The New Microwave Era

Christopher Marki headshot3
 





Christopher F. Marki received his B.S.E.E. from Duke University in 2002 and his M.S.E.E. and Ph.D. from University of California, San Diego in 2004 and 2007, respectively. While in graduate school, Christopher studied high speed fiber optics and consulted for San Diego start-up Ziva Corporation. Following graduate school, Christopher decided to forego a life in Photonics and opted, instead, to work with his father at Marki Microwave and learn the “family business” of microwave mixers. While at Marki Microwave, Christopher has served as Director of Research and has been responsible for the design and commercialization of many of Marki’s fastest growing product lines including filters, couplers and power dividers. Dr. Marki has authored and co-authored numerous journal and conference publications and frequently serves as an IEEE reviewer for Photonics Technology Letters and Journal of Lightwave Technology.   MarkiMicrowave.com

To comment or ask Christopher a question, use the comment link at the bottom of the entry.

 

June 02, 2010


Marki 

It appears we are in the dawn of a New Microwave Era. As Sherry Hess wrote about last year during the dark days of the Recession, the down economy will ultimately cause Creative Destruction for our industry. I am impressed how this creation-by-necessity has lead to some very innovative thinking.

 

Forget about all the shiny new gadgets launched conspicuously in time for IMS 2010, this does not speak to the relative health of our industry. This happens every year, rain or shine. However, if you dig a little further to notice who is doing what and where they are doing it, you would see that that IMS 2010 marks the beginning of a paradigm shift for the RF/microwave industry. The times they are a-changing, here is how:

 

1.   Small companies are providing the enabling technologies of the New Microwave Era. In talking with many other small companies at IMS, it seems that the large companies are increasingly reliant on specialist companies who can provide a competitive advantage based on performance and technical support, not price. Because quality and performance is so highly coveted in this environment, the brightest engineers have been able to prosper and develop their ideas and companies into agile, efficient and irreplaceable entities.

2.   The younger generation is coming online…quickly. What is most impressive is not just the sheer numbers of young people who attended this year, but the fact that they are already making contributions to the field. My dad, for one, is excited to see the new influx of creativity and enthusiasm. He was seeing the industry becoming boring and stagnant, not anymore. The partnerships and rivalries of the next 30 years are being forged before our eyes.

3.   “Made in USA” still means something. Many American companies are still able to turn healthy profits without having to outsource manufacturing. This means two things: the commodity wireless business isn’t the only sector in which to make money, and people are putting a premium on quality made goods. I am not saying quality products can’t be made outside the USA, I am saying that the making of high quality products requires the watchful eye of the design engineer. As we continue to see a flight to quality and performance, in house manufacturing will continue its Renaissance.   

 

With respect to these trends I’ve identified some bold, and not so bold, predictions for the coming year:

 

1.   Nonlinear performance metrics like 1 dB compression and two-tone intercept will continue to dominate new system requirements.  Dynamic range is still king.

2.   We are entering the Decade of Phase Noise. (My father predicted this 10 years ago and appears to have been off by a decade.) Clean oscillators, amplifiers, multiplies and mixers will receive increasing amounts of attention.

3.   Nonlinear simulations and X-parameters will continue to dominate headlines, and yet most practicing engineers will not use them. X-parameter data will not be commonly available from component vendors for at least 3 more years.

4.   Small companies will begin to form “think-tank” consortiums (both formally and informally). Experts in their respective fields will begin to collaborate openly in order to advance their art in synergistic ways. Significant technological contributions will result from these partnerships.  

5.   Seeking to model the success of the small business consortiums, larger companies will recommit to funding their own research labs for advanced technology development.  

 

 

04/29/2010

The Mixer 10 Commandments

Christopher Marki headshot3
 





Christopher F. Marki received his B.S.E.E. from Duke University in 2002 and his M.S.E.E. and Ph.D. from University of California, San Diego in 2004 and 2007, respectively. While in graduate school, Christopher studied high speed fiber optics and consulted for San Diego start-up Ziva Corporation. Following graduate school, Christopher decided to forego a life in Photonics and opted, instead, to work with his father at Marki Microwave and learn the “family business” of microwave mixers. While at Marki Microwave, Christopher has served as Director of Research and has been responsible for the design and commercialization of many of Marki’s fastest growing product lines including filters, couplers and power dividers. Dr. Marki has authored and co-authored numerous journal and conference publications and frequently serves as an IEEE reviewer for Photonics Technology Letters and Journal of Lightwave Technology.   MarkiMicrowave.com

To comment or ask Christopher a question, use the comment link at the bottom of the entry.

 

April 29, 2010


Marki 

I’m the first person to admit that mixers are confusing. Even drawing a mixer schematic can be challenging—what with all the crossing over of lines and the 4 and sometimes 8 diodes configurations. For better or worse, the complexity of mixers means (a) most companies don’t want to design mixers, and (b) Marki Microwave’s customers sometimes need a lot of coaching and advice. To put things in perspective, there are literally hundreds of texts relating to RF and microwave amplifier design, and about 3 relating to mixer design. It is not your fault you are confused!

   

To help you, I have come up with a list of “The Mixer 10 Commandments”. If you can follow these simple rules, I promise they’ll help to make your life a little easier when it comes to using mixers.

1.    Thou shalt not starve the mixer of LO drive.

2.    Thou shalt not blame conversion loss ripple on VSWR problems when reflective filtering is present at the IF and/or RF ports.

3.    Thou shall carefully follow the recommended solder reflow temperature profile when mounting surface mount mixers.

4.    Thou shalt not measure phase noise using mixers made using GaAs devices (FETs, diodes, or otherwise). Silicon schottky diodes are preferred for phase noise measurements.

5.    Thou shall phase lock your synthesizers to a reference oscillator when making mixer measurements.

6.    Thou shall test mixer performance in a broadband 50 Ohm system.

7.    Thou shall place the LO driver amplifier as close to the mixer as possible when laying out a PCB.

8.    Thou shalt not provide attenuation on the LO port unless it is absolutely necessary.

9.    Thou shall assume mixer simulations are always wrong, unless corroborated with measured data. This is especially true when simulating mixer nonlinear performance (i.e. single tone and multi-tone IMD). (This is subject to change as nonlinear modeling matures in the coming years).

10.   Thou shalt not starve the mixer of LO drive.

Here’s a hint, #1 and #10 are by far the most important. Too often engineers believe they are saving board space, power and money by under-driving the mixer, only to find later in development that they have unintentionally caused catastrophic penalties in terms of conversion loss, isolation and IMD. If you add up all the time and money wasted in order to correct this relatively straightforward mistake, you quickly find that the safest, fastest, most economical approach is to drive the mixer at the recommended LO level. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t expect an amplifier to work properly if you don’t bias it to the manufacturer’s recommended DC levels, so why should you expect the mixer to “turn on” with too little LO drive?

To learn more about how mixers work and how to use them, check out our Mixer Tutorial.

 

 

04/19/2010

Engineering Tips and Tricks – Episode 1: Your first slide needs work!

Christopher Marki headshot3
 





Christopher F. Marki received his B.S.E.E. from Duke University in 2002 and his M.S.E.E. and Ph.D. from University of California, San Diego in 2004 and 2007, respectively. While in graduate school, Christopher studied high speed fiber optics and consulted for San Diego start-up Ziva Corporation. Following graduate school, Christopher decided to forego a life in Photonics and opted, instead, to work with his father at Marki Microwave and learn the “family business” of microwave mixers. While at Marki Microwave, Christopher has served as Director of Research and has been responsible for the design and commercialization of many of Marki’s fastest growing product lines including filters, couplers and power dividers. Dr. Marki has authored and co-authored numerous journal and conference publications and frequently serves as an IEEE reviewer for Photonics Technology Letters and Journal of Lightwave Technology.   MarkiMicrowave.com

To comment or ask Christopher a question, use the comment link at the bottom of the entry.

 

April 20, 2010


Marki 

In my experience, practical engineering knowledge cannot be found in a textbook. Truth is, textbook understanding is antiquated. Technology inevitably moves too fast to be accurately captured in a textbook snapshot. In fact, most of the course-work covered in universities is at least 5 years old (more like 20) and renders any newly minted college graduate effectively useless in the real engineering trenches. In an effort to help my fellow engineers gain some practical knowledge (and help them justify reading my blog on the company dime!), I will share some of my favorite engineering tips and tricks in the coming months to help you bridge the gap between what you already know, and what you need to know. For the first “Tips and Tricks” entry, I want to share with you the best advice I was ever given: Your first slide needs work!

 

During my grad school days, I made a lot of presentations. I made presentations for my advisor, I made presentations for conferences, I made presentations for DARPA, I even made presentations about my presentations. For the first 3 years of grad school, my advisor insisted I send him the draft of my slides for him to edit. I would spend days upon days making very detailed slides focusing on the nitty-gritty of my research. By the time I sent the draft to my advisor, my presentation was, literally, a technical roadmap of all the work I had accomplished since the last presentation. Every measurement, success, and failure was cataloged to demonstrate my superlative scientific rigor. Like any good engineer or scientist, I was proud of my work, and darn-it, I was going to prove why others should be in awe of my accomplishments. Inevitably, my professor would send back the presentation within minutes with one simple comment: “Your first slide needs work”. Based on the comment (and his superhuman response time), it was clear that he hadn’t actually read the presentation. He simply opened it, read the first slide or two, and rejected it! I was furious.

   

This algorithm—I make a detailed technical presentation, and my advisor bounced it back with “your first slide needs work”—repeated itself for about 3 years. Until one day, I let him know of my displeasure for his disrespect of my glorious work. With a brash calmness, he explained to me, “Chris, I have no doubt that the technical details of your presentation are fine. Your problem is that you don’t see the big picture. You don’t understand that no one cares about your work! You need to justify to doubters, in the first slide, why they are going to spend their valuable time listening to you. Whether you like it or not, an engineer must always be their own best spokesperson. My best advice is: whenever you are making a presentation of your work, make the presentation for your boss’ boss. Your boss’ boss doesn’t want the details (and probably wouldn’t understand them anyway), he wants to understand why your work matters.”

   

My advisor was a wise man, and had clearly had this conversation with students before. Looking back, this advice was pivotal in developing in me the ability to keep my work relevant. Instead of just keeping my head down and solving problem after problem, I finally began asking harder questions. Why should anyone care? What is the impact of my work? Would someone actually buy this solution? When I freed myself of the arrogant approach of showing off my technical prowess, I began to learn how to sell my work to my boss’ boss. This was the single greatest lesson I learned in grad school…and now I’m giving it to you for free.

 

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