Suppliers and other helpful links

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email addressPlease don't hand this address to anyone else.  We don't like spam, and you'd be suprised how many (nearly all of them) supposedly reputable firms somehow leak their email lists.  We guess this is not anyone's official policy, but it does happen; probably some employee augmenting their income.  Using honeypot email addresses, we've found an awful lot of leakers and have traced them back to the actual sources.  It seems no one is immune, and the big corporations have the most trouble with this.


This is not a listing of everyone we deal with -- that list would be too long, and would include some local businesses that wouldn't do you any good.  You have to be really really good to get on this list.  We've dealt with all of these guys for years with an unhandled-complaint level of zero, and we almost never have to complain at all.  You won't go wrong with any of these folks.

DigiKey supplies all manner of electronic parts.  They are a good source for small quantities of things, where the big distributers sort of don't really want your piddly business.  Not the lowest prices that can be found, but they are very reliable, very fast, and nice to talk to.  In the relatively rare case they have to backorder something, we usually avail ourselves of the pre-pay option, in which case DigiKey picks up the additional shipping costs when the item comes in.  If you don't like talking to the extremely pleasant Minnesota girls (time is money), you can order via email and have them call to get your CC number.  This saves lots of time if you have lots of different parts in your order.  Here we log all our parts orders for future reference in text files, so a simple cut and paste into an email makes sure everything matches.  Browsing the orders.txt file later saves a lot of time looking through the catalogs and ensures we reorder the same parts when that's what we want to do.

JDR Microdevices Sells computers, computer-building parts, and just plain parts.  For electronic components, the prices are usually better than DigiKey, although the selection is nowhere near as broad.  It can be worth looking in both places, for example finding a db9 for $6.80 at DigiKey (Amp) and for $0.35 at JDR.  For computer mobos and suchlike, the prices aren't quite the best you can find, but the support IS.  We once had a modem destroyed by lightning, called to order another (we didn't figure they owed us one), the representative noticed I was duplicating a year-old order, asked, and they decided to replace our modem with a better one, free.  Various other support issues have gone quite well, these guys really stand out in a business where the support usually stinks.

McMaster-Carr supplies all sorts of mechanical things, and more.  Their web page/catalog is a little intimidating until you learn to use the search function rather than trying to browse around.  there is just so much stuff here it's hard to believe.  They more or less insist you have an account with them, but in turn make getting one very painless and easy.  This also makes ordering on the web much safer than anything involving a credit card, at least so far.  Usually the order comes immediately, stunningly quick, and the bill a few days later.  They give a discount if you pay fast.  If you've not seen this site, go there now.  You'll want to change your text zoom to read all that tiny print. (Am I giving away my age, and you punks can really read 2 point type, or do they just need a new web page designer?  Well, there is quite a lot there, and maybe the tiny print helps it fit.)

AP Circuits makes printed circuit boards, right, fast, and cheap.  You have to do your part in this, by supplying correct gerber files, drill file and order form.  This is how they can do what they do for so little money -- they don't check your files to see if they make sense, they just make whatever you sent them.  What goes in comes back to you in about 2 days as hardware, it's simply amazing.  We've been doing business with these guys for quite awhile, and it's made us more or less forget we can do this inhouse too.

Alpha Aesar supplies chemicals and metals in high purity.  They are good to deal with.  Beware, however, that nowdays nearly everything is on some sort of DHS or DEA list (including a number of things readily available, and cheaper, at Wal-Mart and Lowes), and make sure you have your bona-fides set up before even trying to get most things.  Else you'll get on a list yourself, and the results of that can be quite unpleasant -- we know from experience.  A good source for  things like nichrome or tungsten wire, electrodes, and anything else you're allowed to buy.  The catalog is useful on its own as a source of basic information on lots of substances.

Other stuff:

Anodizing Aluminum  If you ever wanted to try this, go here and get Ron's book and starter kit.  The stuff really works.  I got fairly decent results from the information on the page alone, but having the book, which contains a few more key bits of information, is a good thing.  Also, some dyes are better than others, and the stuff from here is the best -- Rit and some food coloring dyes are sort of marginal.  His page also links to Caswell Plating, which looks like a good outfit, but we've not dealt with them as yet, so we can't say much about them.  Much of the metal finisning business is structured guild-like with some attempts to exclude the newbies, as in "take your problem to one of our paid advertisers".  This is good advice in many cases, actually.  But there are a few firms that will help you get set up for minimal costs.  Yes, they will charge you $50 for $.10 worth of chemicals sometimes, but they have laboriously worked out various proprietary additives in PPM amounts that really do make the difference, and do deserve to make a profit for their work.  The stuff they sell you isn't the expensive part anyway, unless your time has no value whatever.

Sam Barros' PowerLabs!  You have to admire this guy.  Frank and Doug, along with another friend, did most all of this stuff when we were about the same age (and got some of it working a lot better), some of it a little later, because for example, it's hard to obtain some chemicals in the states, harder now even than it was then.  It's just amazing what's now on the DHS/DEA lists these days, WallMart and the hardware store are serious violators.  Look at this beautiful website and excellent self-promotion.  Heck, we never talked anyone (other than our parents) out of free parts for our projects (back then)!  But there was no world wide web on which to publicly thank the supplier, either.  Heck, we want this guy to work here once he gets a little experience!

Favorite books:

In this business, one ends up owning quite a few books, maybe even a whole building's worth, and we do (actually, they pack 3 buildings).  This makes it hard to pick out the very best, but here goes a try at it.  There's no good way to order these, so don't think the first one is best or the last is worst.  We've not regretted one dime of the purchase price of any of these.

Signal Processing Algorithms in Fortran and C, by Samual D. Stearns and Ruth A. David ISBN 0-13-812694-1
In showing you how to use the supplied code, the authors just happen to give a pretty decent DSP tutorial.  We've rewritten this code to modern standards and optimized for the x86  and some DSP's and have made an embarrasing amount of money with it.

Active Filter CookBook, by Don Lancaster ISBN 0-672-21168-8
No real electronics engineer would be without this one.

Numerical Recipes in C, Second Edition, by William H. Press et al, ISBN 0-521-43108-5
Don't know if there's a later edition of this or not.  Valuable information and some suprises for the general coder just learning numerics and signal processing.  A bit quirky in some ways, the authors tried to rewrite some C behaviors to make it act more like Fortran, and as they say, if you don't like that, shame on you.  Certain of the code actually takes advantadge of the fact that some array index cannot go to zero for example -- be really careful if you try to rewrite it as normal C or C++.

Practical Neural Network Recipes in C++, by Timothy Masters ISBN 0-12-479040-2
One of our all time favorite books.  A mathemetician who can write and code!  Go ahead and tickle your intellect even if you don't see any need for neural networks right now.  Any book by this author is a must-read.

Signal Processing of Speech, by F.J Owens, ISBN 0-07-047955-0
Excellent compendium and tutorial of this specialty.  Probably out of print, worth the effort to find if you need this sort of knowledge.

Electronic Filter Design Handbook, third edition, by Arthur B. Williams et al, ISBN 0-07-070441-4
We sort of hesitate to recommend any hundred dollar book.  But if you need the copius detailed design information for filters of all kinds this book provides (including digital), you'll be glad it's on the shelf.  Doesn't see much action here, but each time it's needed, it pays for itself again.

Linear Applications Handbook, National Semiconductor, circa about 1980.  Hard to find.  If you steal someone elses, be prepared to defend your life.  Memorize this cover to cover and be the envy of every analog designer out there.  Almost enough to become one from scratch.  There are some errors in these schematics, and extra credit points to those who notice them.  All the same rules still apply, although the parts are getting ever better.  So, design for crappy old parts, then use the better new ones, and have truly outstanding results.

Subsection for general computer programming:

The C++ Programming Language, Special Edition, 
Bjarne Stroustrup, ISBN 0-201-70073-5
From the horse's mouth, and it doesn't get any better.  Even the philosophy is dead on.

Internetworking with TCP/IP, Vol 1, by Douglas E.Comer, ISBN 0-13-216987-8
THE book on this topic, and the author even has a cool first name.  Every SysAdmin should read this, and if you own a computer, you're a SysAdmin whether you do a good job or not.  Reveals the evolution of networking, and the fact that security wasn't even thought about in the days of "just make this flakey old hardware work".

Linux Programming Unleashed, by Kurt Wall, et al ISBN 0-672-32021-5
We normally avoid anything with "unleashed" in the title, but this one's good, honest.  The perfect jumpstart for any windows programmer making the switch.

MultiTool Linux, by Michael Schwarz et al ISBN 0-201-73420-6
A good jumpstart for any SysAdmin making the switch.  "How to get it to do what you want."  See also O'Reilly's titles.

Any O'Reilly book on a specific Linux topic.  No losers here so far, at about 3 feet of shelf space.  That's quite a record.

MFC with Visual C++ 6, by Mike Blaszczak, ISBN 1-861000-15-4
Another "from the horse's mouth".  If you simply must program for windows, and many of us do, this is the book for you.  After a painful (it's just huge, not evil) learning curve  MFC truly rocks!  Productivity with this toolset can be utterly outstanding.  Heck, some of Mike's jokes might even make you laugh.  And hey, this stuff will all still work long after .NET is forgotten.  And you'll have it working before learning all the new workarounds .Net needs to acomplish much.  Hint: Statically link the MFC libs to your apps, and all install issues sorta go away.

MicroC/OS-II, The Real-Time Kernel, by Jean J. Labrosse, ISBN 0-87930-543-6
We would not go so far as to call this THE real time kernel, but the book is a truly good tutorial on the issues involved.  Much of what we do could not afford the overhead implied by a kernel this big.  Some of the "features" merely encourage beginners to try multithreading when it's not appropriate and get themselves in trouble.  But it's a good read, and if your problem matches this solution, a very good deal.

I'm sure some of you will complain about us leaving out classics like Knuth's series, or Design Patterns.  We have them too, of course, and now we've mentioned them.  Hey, I didn't even mention my own book.  It's only really good.  This is a list of the very best.

Open Source:

We're fairly big believers in this without being religious fanatics about any particular model.  Please don't flame us about the comment that anything free is worth less than you paid.  It's true, like it or not.  You pay for "free software" or "open source" one way or another, just perhaps not very much.  We've been contributing to the freeware world for quite awhile, in various ways.  Doug's book has an entire CD of such for Windows(tm), and it's good stuff, and there are NO restrictions on its use/distribution whatsoever.  Here's another little tidbit.

ComSpy.tar.gz This is a serial communications program for Linux that grabs a port and uses it to listen in on whatever it's wired to.  Dumps what it hears in hex and ascii, with timestamps, and can put content into a log file.  Two instances can be used with special cables to listen in on both sides of a serial conversation for debugging or reverse engineering.  This was built using Visual SlickEdit, which we like a lot, even though it's not free, and the project files for that are included in the tarball.

Web safety tips:

First, don't use IE or Outlook at all, and you'll automatically avoid 99% of the problems.  Get some freeware replacements; here we use Mozilla and Ximian on Linux, RH8, and now Ubuntu.   The main difference is the lack of the Microsoft Windows (tm) "feature" making it easy or automatic to run foreign code.  If you've just got to have Windows(tm), make some sort of dual-boot machine.  Never order from anyone who keeps your CC number in a database, period.  Ask, tell them that it's costing them your business, and then order from someone else.  We've been hacked twice on that one, again, probably some employee augmenting their income.  In one case, apparently someone just borrowed the DB backups to get a bunch of CC numbers to sell -- there are leaks beyond simple web hacking.  The results can be quite painful especially with a debit card that has payroll amounts of money behind it.  We suggest getting one of these, however, and only keeping the right amount of money in the account to satisfy current purchases.  This takes a little discipline, but do it. Do use a firewall, and block every port other than http, ftp, and email.  We use WinProxy here, and the White Hat crackers we've invited to give it a go have never gotten in.  As far as they can find out, we are our ISP, and everything seems to bounce for them from there, even when we let them run mild exploit code here that reports details about our internal LAN.  Starband is GOOD.  The latency is lousy for online gaming, but we don't do that, and don't reccomend you do either from any machine that matters, and do turn off the rest of your LAN while doing it, at least.  This won't save you from some things that keep looking for a LAN to infect unless you never have both on at the same time.  We were shocked to find that Civ III wormed its way out of and into our network from the Inet while playing a supposedly local game -- suddenly we were in a global chatroom, not good at all -- what else might come through that tunnel?  The only way to be safe with things like that is to physically unplug the WAN connection during play.  If you have a website, don't put your email out there in plaintext, and even the dodge we're using here, an image file, probably won't work forever.  I suppose that the next steps are to distort the image so that it's hard to OCR, naming the file something other than "email.jpg" and so on.  Security is a process.  It's never a done deal!  Go here (Bruce Schneier's page) and read a few years worth of back issues.  It's the straight skinny on security in general.