# scope of Electronics and Robotics

I am very pleased to see the Electronics & Robotics site go live. I am not so pleased, however, to see it seeded with the content from chiphacker.com, because that content had a marked bias towards the hobbyist end of electronics.

Stackoverflow has a fairly nice balance of rigorousness / accessibility; you can post both basic programming questions and serious computer science questions and both will be answered, so there's enough critical mass on both ends of the spectrum. The same goes for photo.stackexchange.com and math.stackexchange.com. (although I think the latter tends a little towards the academic end of the spectrum; it morphed a little bit from the way it started which was more balanced)

I would really like to see this site have some rigor of how to do things the right* way. While the "right" way has different meaning in the professional sense and the hobbyist sense, because of cost + other logistical issues, if this site biases towards the hobbyist perspective, I think it will shift markedly towards that end.

How can we keep this site balanced in scope to attract both hobbyists and career electrical/electronic engineers? (Or should we?)

edit/addendum: *there is not one single "right" way. I said "right" way(s) in opposition to wrong ways. I have seen many bad circuits in publications like EDN -- without the ability for the community to describe why a circuit is bad, a circuit with errors perpetuates itself among the community as a whole. I've also posted a follow-up as an answer below.

• Can you give some examples? – endolith Sep 30 '10 at 3:12
• I've found it very helpful to see both hobbyist and professional answers on chiphacker. As a hobbyist with no engineering background, I sometimes find it hard to determine which answers are for me. I would find it helpful if professionals were less modest with their profession, either in their Bio or just a few words in the answer, "In industry" or "A professional solution must...". – Jack Schmidt Sep 30 '10 at 3:18
• I agree with Jack. I'm a hobbyist and Chiphacker has been a great resource and a way for me to get answers to "stupid" questions that would probably be pooh-poohed in a strictly professional forum. – blalor Sep 30 '10 at 10:06
• It shouldn't be strictly professional, that's really bad. – Jason S Sep 30 '10 at 12:23
• @endolith: it's hard to do so w/o quoting dozens of questions (individual questions aren't biased, it's the site), but it seems to me like many of the questions are of the "____ on Arduino" or "how do I use sensor/actuator X with my microcontroller" or "how does a oscillator/amplifier/BJT/MOSFET/... work". Which is fine. But I don't see too many detailed questions. – Jason S Sep 30 '10 at 12:44
• @Jason - I disagree that "how do I use X with my microcontroller" has any hobbyist bias. The others are beginner questions, and parallels can be found on any SE site. Can you please give an example of questions that either could have been answered professionally but weren't, or exhibit a hobbyist-only bias when they shouldn't? – Kevin Vermeer Sep 30 '10 at 20:51
• Oh, hey....just went to Area51: area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/… and read some of the comments...I didn't realize that there was such a hobbyist bias in the creation of the site, but I agree that any such bias would detract from the site. Some (but not all) of the sample questions are expert-compatible. – Kevin Vermeer Sep 30 '10 at 21:24
• Would the two downvoters care to share why they downvoted? – Kevin Vermeer Oct 2 '10 at 14:15
• There ya go, I've swapped my down vote to an up vote, I stand corrected! – Jim Oct 4 '10 at 14:21
• Just because you see a wrong answer does not mean you cannot go back and downvote the answer and add a proper one. – Kortuk Oct 4 '10 at 21:08

As a hobbyist myself (and a very new one at that), I hope that e&r will welcome some beginner level questions.

However, as a professional software developer I hope that the answers I receive will recognise the need to do things 'the correct way' and not just promote a stack of bad practises that I may not even be aware of.

To keep the pro's here, we probably need to encourage some level of harder pro-level questions. (In fact, to the the pro's that are already here - make sure you ask some of your tougher questions too, don't just go round answering but not asking)

• In the past when I have asked a question that needed an expert answer people have assumed I meant the simpler answer, we will see if this changes. – Kortuk Oct 4 '10 at 21:14

I agree that we need to attract professionals. I'm a senior Electrical and Computer Engineering student, so I can answer some questions authoritatively. However, I've only been in co-op for 6 months, and so have little industry experience.

You wrote:

I would really like to see this site have some rigor of how to do things the right way. While the "right" way has different meaning in the professional sense and the hobbyist sense, because of cost + other logistical issues, if this site biases towards the hobbyist perspective, I think it will shift markedly towards that end.

I disagree that there is a right way for a hobbyist, and a right way for a professional. Perhaps this is due to my internship being in the test division of my company, where, for instance, FCC testing and 10-year supply chains aren't an issue. In my experience, we have a lot of users in the middle - Professors building 30 kits for their students, hobbyists trying to get their designs to market, etc.

The only place this will look different (in my mind) is in tooling and supply issues. If you're a professional, you should be able to select your own tools, and your company should probably provide you with a stockroom. This might be different for manufacturing as well, i.e., BatchPCB is a poor choice for making 500 boards, and components from Sparkfun carry too much overhead if you need 1k+ quantities (or 10+ quantities, for that matter, but that's not the point). However, I tend to think that questions will likely indicate these categories if necessary.

Problems with code and circuit design should by definition be right for both groups. Arduino questions are admittedly different, but SO and SF have their share of beginner questions, and SU has even more. The presence of beginner questions does not make this a beginner site.

What, besides the tooling and supply questions (which are plentiful, I admit), and the presence of beginner questions (which is not an indicator) gives you the indication that this is a hobbyist or beginner site? Or, what are some questions that you'd like to ask as a professional that you feel would be inappropriate for the audience?

The only changes that I feel would be necessary/appropriate are

1. Ask that questions oriented specifically for hobbyists or professionals include that in the text and use a tag created for the purpose (like beginner),
2. Rephrase the text

Electronics and Robotics - Stack Exchange is for electronics and robotics hardware hacking enthusiasts - topics that include robotics, electronics, physical computing, and even those working with an Arduino.

to something more like

Electronics and Robotics - Stack Exchange is for designers and engineers of electrical and embedded systems. If your question is about...

• Programming Microcontrollers or FPGAs
• Electric circuits
• Robotics
• Physical computing

...you're in the right place!

...we hope you find the answer, but this isn't the right place. Try one of the linked sites.

• @Amos, I had it in fake <quote> tags because I didn't like the way the markdown removed the spacing after the lists. Just went over to meta.SO to report the bug, but it didn't work there! Is the markdown parser different? Do we report bugs like that here? – Kevin Vermeer Oct 1 '10 at 17:30
• I spent ten minutes trying to get it to add a line. – Amos Oct 3 '10 at 20:54
• +1. I think the word "hack" was the thing that did it for me, but I couldn't put my finger on it. It has some negative connotations for quality. – Jason S Oct 4 '10 at 14:31
• I understand what you mean, but for many people an affordable way to build devices for themselves is to buy something that is already mass produced and hack out the pieces they need. It is not a high quality device, but if done properly could be. – Kortuk Oct 4 '10 at 21:02
• I think it makes sense to include those types of questions here. I have had to do it before to save a lot of money for something I needed at work. I do worry about specifying the site as for designers and engineers. I think hobbyist need a home and they are best asking professionals. Sometimes tinkers find interesting ways to do thing also. – Kortuk Oct 4 '10 at 21:04
• I think that many professionals would be familiar with the Jargon file definition of hack: catb.org/jargon/html/meaning-of-hack.html and would not be averse to the term. They'd hesitate to call their products hacks, but I hope that they'd refer to themselves as 'chip hackers'. – Kevin Vermeer Oct 4 '10 at 23:39

I have many personal opinions on what is being discussed here. But for me there is one overall thing to look at.

If a hobbyist asks a question they are going to accept the answer that helps them get the job done.

If a professional asks a question they are going to accept the answer that helps them get the job done.

To each person the correct answer varies, we just have to do a good job of upvoting questions that are spot on, downvoting ones that are wrong. not voting for questions that we do not know the correct answer to, or that have it right and you do not agree with their explanation.

I may be missing the mark with what is being discussed. I think attempting to stop the influx of people, regardless of background, is a bad idea. Just need to let people know when they ask a question that has already been asked and so forth.

Here's my follow-up (as an "answer"):

About 12 years ago, I subscribed to the PICLIST mailing list. (At the time I had 2yrs career experience.) It was a email list with a lot of noise and not much useful information. The straw that broke the camel's back, and caused me to unsubscribe, was when someone posted a thread about erasing OTPs (one-time programmable microcontrollers) and someone else responded about using an X-ray machine from a dentist. Through the magic of technology, 12 years later, you can actually still read this thread from the PICLIST archives.

Is it wrong to use X-rays to erase an OTP? Well, in a strict sense, no. Maybe you're desperate, and you just need one blank microcontroller right now. But think about it: if you have the resources to use an X-ray machine, don't you think you have the resources to buy blank OTP microcontrollers, or to buy one or two UV-erasable microcontrollers and a UV lamp? At the time, I think you could get 2 UV-erasable PICs and a UV lamp for about $$50 total from Digikey. And even if it made economic sense, there is great risk in damaging the part. A part that is damaged dead isn't so bad, but one that is only slightly damaged is worse: it can be unreliable and cause you no end of grief, certainly more than$$50 worth of grief.

We have a society that depends, every second of every day, on engineering technology. We drive complex computer-controlled automobiles over bridges, we rely on GPS navigation and cellular telephone communication, we use automatic defibrillators and heart monitors. The involvement of technology in everyday society is increasing. It is important that we know how to design electronics well and reliably, whether we are doing it as part of a large company or as a hobbyist.

All I wish to see is that we strive for high-quality information in this forum.

• Even professionals get it wrong tho, just look at all the cases of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota cars, many people died before that electronics problem was addressed. I agree you should strive for high quality info, but that should be the case even if your an amateur or hobbyist. – Jim Oct 4 '10 at 13:47
• Sure. Read my post again (this answer), I make no divide between amateur or professional, just that we should get high quality. – Jason S Oct 4 '10 at 13:52
• maybe quality could be improved if the votes of individuals with high reputation had more power? That would stop a Trog from just signing up and down voting a load of stuff they don't know anything about. – Jim Oct 4 '10 at 14:09
• you need a bit of rep before you can downvote. We just need to be pickier with our votes. High rep individuals getting higher counting votes does not work as in each area we have our own abilities. – Kortuk Oct 5 '10 at 1:01
• I see, I think your right Kortuk, proportional rep is better, I'm not so sure there's an issue here at all - maybe this concern is born out of the uncertainty caused by the recent amalgamation? - shock horror we're bigger now! is the content up the scratch, will we even be able to answer the questions properly!?!?!? – Jim Oct 5 '10 at 12:34
• I occasionally see people up vote answers because they are a good attempt, not because they are correct. This worries me, as soon enough they look like experts to unknowing community. This is not a serious issue, as most people that get votes this way only attempt answers occasionally and the amount of work it takes to gain a large amount of rep with pity votes is quite substantial. – Kortuk Oct 11 '10 at 3:37

Hey Jason, here's my IMO speech,

I am not so pleased, however, to see it seeded with the content from chiphacker.com, because that content had a marked bias towards the hobbyist end of electronics.

With regards to the above comment - I find it hard to see why you wouldn't be pleased to assimilate more content on the basis that it's generated by or for hobbyists.

Electronics is a vast subject, the professional and amateur application of this subject is not entirely incompatible, I believe that - in this day and age the lines between the two (professional and amateur) are increasingly blurred, sometimes.....people just get hired on the basis of their skill, without regard to whether they have been working in a professional or amateur realm, the same goes for solutions and ideas.

To be honest I think your comment is a bit moot, I mean no disrespect by this, I simply propose - if you feel the content has a marked bias which is to the detriment of the quality of said content (phew!!), then.....why not talk about increasing the amount of content you feel is relevant? - presumably by attracting more material written by professional EEs, unfortunately this means that if you can't attract more material by professionals, content for and by the hobbyists has essentially won-out.

Anyway, what does it mean to be professional, to do stuff for money? with money at the centre of all your considerations? - Welcome to capitalism, we all have to live with it..... even the hobbyists!

Remember the wise words of Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost In The Shell -

Over specialise and you breed in weakness, it's slow death

Or - you could just say you think the Chiphacker content is irrelevant and a load of badly written rubbish......only kidding! :)

@Reemrevnivek - BTW, I'm one of the down voters, because of the afore quoted comment.

REVISION: @Reemrevnivek, I've reconsidered my down vote, although I disagree with much of the comments in Jason's question - it has sparked other interesting and valid comments, and far be it for me to down vote something that sparks debate!

• Well - I'd like to reconsider my down vote, but the GUI won't let me....harumph! It's locked my vote until the question is edited....what a load! – Jim Oct 2 '10 at 14:45
• "Anyway, what does it mean to be professional, to do stuff for money?" None of us should care about money w/r/t this forum; it's about quality... "unfortunately this means that if you can't attract more material by professionals..." It's not feasible for one person to do this; it takes the community. – Jason S Oct 4 '10 at 2:31
• We all care about money, everyone has a budget, you can't live outside capitalism, I agree it should just be about the quality, but unfortunately it's not. – Jim Oct 4 '10 at 13:52
• Hooray - down vote removed! Thanks for the decent debate Jason :) – Jim Oct 4 '10 at 13:56