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A question for senior techs out there

This forum exists for the purposes for discussing service monitors (This includes but is not limited to Motorola, HP, Aeroflex, GD, etc). Additional topics allowed include test procedures, interpretation of test results, where to find information about specific tests, antenna VSWR, return loss testing, duplexer and filter alignment, etc.

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Wowbagger
Aeroflex
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A question for senior techs out there

Postby Wowbagger » Mon Jun 08, 2009 11:09 am

I have a question for all you senior techs out there - if you are the guy who gets handed a new radio or piece of test equipment and gets told "work out how to test with this, and write it up for everybody else" then you are the person to whom I wish to talk.

I'm in the middle of discussions about how to make our equipment more "friendly" without making it any less powerful. One of the general ways to do that is to add layers of automation software on top of the basic functionality - that's how we've rolled since the 1200, and it's worked out pretty well for us.

However, expecting you senior techs to learn whatever scripting language we are using in the instrument (TMAC for the 1600, TCL for the 2975, and possibly Python moving forward) isn't viewed as "reasonable". So I've been kicking around ideas to allow for you to help automate testing without learning a scripting language, and I want to bounce some ideas off you.

What I am envisioning is:
1) Give you the ability to embed a text document in the instrument: this would replace the dog-eared spiral-bound notebook of test procedures with data stored in the instrument.
2) You could then drag setups into that document, so instead of "Now, set the instrument up: step 1 of 1000 set the SINAD meter like this, step 2 set the generator like this...." you can say "Recall <this setup>". (setups will be "lockable" so the cannot be accidentally overwritten).
3) You can also drag "decision" objects in, and then drag meter readings to them, to say things like "if this meter is overrange, go to this step".

This won't quite be the level of AutoTest (hey, we have to sell you SOMETHING, right?) (and you can always write your own scripts if you want to) but the question is, do you think it would help you, the Senior Tech, make things easy for the Junior Techs?
This is my opinion, not Aeroflex's.

I WILL NOT give you proprietary information. I make too much money to jeopardize my job.

I AM NOT the Service department: You want official info, manuals, service info, parts, calibration, etc., contact Aeroflex directly, please.

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Astro Spectra
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Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby Astro Spectra » Wed Jun 10, 2009 1:36 am

This is not going to be an attempt to give you a direct answer but I hope you get something useful out of it:

Our organization uses HPV to extensively implement "guided testing" (not full auto test) for everything from tuning duplexers to aligning equipment. Saves heaps of time and gives consistent, auditable, results.

Typically the tech logs in on his PC, fires up Internet Explorer, and goes to a test setup web page on our tech intranet which directs him to a page specific to the particular test needed. The relevant web page(s) shows pictures of the test set up, maybe a picture of where the probes need to be connected, a picture of the proper RF adapter required, shot of the torque wrench setting, etc, that sort of thing. The web pages also have text with any basic cautions or must do instructions. We have like almost 100 of these kind of tests.

The tech then reads the agency bar code of the unit under test with a wand (keyboard wedge) which goes into the web page in the S/N field (and like everything, the UUT, internal modules, power attenuators, even analyzer test cables, etc, are bar coded). The bar codes allow exact offsets or corrections to be loaded for pads, lossy cables, and other stuff which keeps everything accurate and able to be audited.

When the tech is ready he clicks a button and the web pages causes an HPV program already on the PC to run which sets up all the test gear (um ... I guess using HPV you can tell we are basically an Agilent account). But the key is that the tech only interacts with web pages so it's easy to have hyperlinks to more documentation pages (normally PDF docs) and he doesn’t need a lot of training on how to use the program itself - everyone can surf. When the test is completed the results are sent by the PC to a SQL data base (we log everything) and a nice pass/fail test report is printed by the PC.


Now taking this idea on board for your test kit, it's so easy these days to have an embedded web server in a product (hey a lot of products these days run with Windows or Linux inside them, probably so are you if you're using Python) and this makes it pretty easy to add documentation material IF you make the web pages able to be loaded into the instrument for later display. So if the test instrument has a good color LCD this documentation could show up on your gear or maybe a customer's laptop could be connected using Ethernet. You’d have a DHCP server running in the box too – again trivial.

So the customer’s senior tech would develop essentially a mini web site off-line on a normal PC using an easy to use content management tool (CMS), even MS Word will do. It doesn't need to be all fancy just text, links, and pictures will do for a start. This is then up loaded into your instrument via FTP upload (again you'll have that anyway) or even a USB stick if you're being cheap.

Now for the really cool part - if you do this right with say Java (maybe Ruby on Rails?) support, then while the bulk of customers might limit themselves to developing simple mini web based documentation suites (like you described) advanced customers will be able to automate some test using interactive Java applets, perhaps even controlling the instrument if you enable SNMP or whatever you use for your instrument remote control protocol.

I know it sounds kinda complex but to the user it’s hidden magic. Product development might baulk at first but you and your IT guys will yawn at how simple the components are. And it's not like you’re short of space in today’s products either - you've already got a hard drive in the 2975, must be standard issue in newer desktop product.

Oh and by the way make certain your product group considers the new solid state SATA hard drives as an option - some agencies look a bit askance at the idea of embedded rotating media! No hard drive? Make a hatch in back to hold a customer supplied USB stick with the web site files on it.

Enjoy...
Last edited by Astro Spectra on Wed Jun 10, 2009 11:22 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Wowbagger
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Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby Wowbagger » Wed Jun 10, 2009 3:55 am

Thanks for the response. I can't go into a lot of depth on this just yet, but I can say I am taking all what you said to heart.
This is my opinion, not Aeroflex's.

I WILL NOT give you proprietary information. I make too much money to jeopardize my job.

I AM NOT the Service department: You want official info, manuals, service info, parts, calibration, etc., contact Aeroflex directly, please.

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Astro Spectra
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Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby Astro Spectra » Wed Jun 10, 2009 11:36 am

Good luck - I fixed a couple of typos you may have noticed.

BTW I looked at the 3500A Radio Test Set at IWCE and, hate to be critical, but the monochrome LCD was such a dissapointment! While engineers are supposed to focus on the RF performance specs everyone falls in love with color like on the N9330A and N9340B.

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Wowbagger
Aeroflex
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Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby Wowbagger » Wed Jun 10, 2009 11:58 am

Astro Spectra wrote:Good luck - I fixed a couple of typos you may have noticed.

BTW I looked at the 3500A Radio Test Set at IWCE and, hate to be critical, but the monochrome LCD was such a dissapointment! While engineers are supposed to focus on the RF performance specs everyone falls in love with color like on the N9330A and N9340B.


Remember that the 3500 design was started some time ago, and had some pretty stringent power requirements (color displays as a rule burn more power than monochrome) and temperature requirements - and we were targeting military as well as civilian requirements.

But again, you comment has been noted....
This is my opinion, not Aeroflex's.

I WILL NOT give you proprietary information. I make too much money to jeopardize my job.

I AM NOT the Service department: You want official info, manuals, service info, parts, calibration, etc., contact Aeroflex directly, please.

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d119
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Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby d119 » Thu Jun 18, 2009 8:52 pm

Just don't get too overboard with it to the point where it starts costing us senior techs our jobs... :)

Other than that, I was very impressed with the 3500. Makes me wonder whats next down the road.

cablemonkey
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Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby cablemonkey » Fri Jun 26, 2009 5:53 pm

The 3500 is a nice tool. I think it's like a swiss army knife - good at many things, but not really excelling at any of them. It will never replace a bench set, but for a rugged field-portable unit, you're not going to find anything as useful this side of a 1200S with a Return Loss Bridge ;) I looked at the first version a few months ago, and apparently there's been an upgrade already. What would make that thing a giant killer would be the ability to handle 50W input power. I understand why it can't, I'm just saying that it would be nice.

We still love our 2975s. The customizability and flexibilty of that tool are great. We have a 3920 in the shop right now and I have to say that I'm pretty disappointed with it. It's crashed twice, and has refused to boot twice in 4 days of testing. Not very encouraging. Plus, no DC input or volume and squelch knobs? I can't wait to find out what the rationale behind that decision was.

I still haven't seen a working R8000, and apparently no P25 on it until late fall.

As to your customization scripting, I think that could be useful. Auto tune for Daniels would be much more useful for me, at the moment.

tvsjr
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Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby tvsjr » Fri Jun 26, 2009 6:52 pm

cablemonkey wrote:I still haven't seen a working R8000, and apparently no P25 on it until late fall.


I've seen the first privately held unit in the US, and it's a pretty impressive box. No P25, but it does do TRBO (thus why it was purchased). I've got pix of it somewhere...

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Wowbagger
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Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby Wowbagger » Sat Jun 27, 2009 6:28 am

cablemonkey wrote: Plus, no DC input or volume and squelch knobs? I can't wait to find out what the rationale behind that decision was.


No DC in was due to the power requirements (lots of amps at 12V, most car lighters don't supply enough, plus voltage drop would mean you either hard-wired in or you would have to have the car running all the time), and when we talked to customers most had AC available. The cost of building in DC input vs. the cost of an inverter from WallyWorld was a non-starter - if you want to run from your car buy a cheap inverter and hard-wire it in.

No knobs other than the spinner was a cost-of-manufacturing issue.

cablemonkey wrote:Auto tune for Daniels would be much more useful for me, at the moment.


I cannot comment on specific projects in development before they are announced, but I can say we have agreed to work with Icom, and would work with any other manufacturer who was willing to give us the needed information. If you want Danels to give us the data, talk to them.
This is my opinion, not Aeroflex's.

I WILL NOT give you proprietary information. I make too much money to jeopardize my job.

I AM NOT the Service department: You want official info, manuals, service info, parts, calibration, etc., contact Aeroflex directly, please.

cablemonkey
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Joined: Wed Feb 06, 2008 11:23 am

Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby cablemonkey » Mon Jul 06, 2009 6:51 pm

Thanks for the reply Wowbagger.

More than half of my work is at solar powered mountain top sites. No AC to be seen unless we bring an inverter or a genny to stuff some coulombs into the batteries. One more thing to pack into the helicopter.

A high current DC connector on the back like a power pole would be a Good Thing.

So the knobs were a cost of manufacturing issue, hey? Oh well. I know this sounds kind of weak, but I really dislike pressing two keys then moving the spinner to adjust the volume or squelch.

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Wowbagger
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Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby Wowbagger » Tue Jul 07, 2009 7:24 am

cablemonkey wrote:So the knobs were a cost of manufacturing issue, hey? Oh well. I know this sounds kind of weak, but I really dislike pressing two keys then moving the spinner to adjust the volume or squelch.


Personally, I agree with you - I don't like the way the 3900 does volume either - and I am keeping that in mind on future designs.
This is my opinion, not Aeroflex's.

I WILL NOT give you proprietary information. I make too much money to jeopardize my job.

I AM NOT the Service department: You want official info, manuals, service info, parts, calibration, etc., contact Aeroflex directly, please.

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Elroy Jetson
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Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby Elroy Jetson » Thu Jul 23, 2009 1:05 pm

I'm a big fan of the "record, edit, playback" school of thought for something like this. Set up your first test, record it as step one, with a range of acceptable parameters displayed for the benefit of the test technician, (graphically is ideal), then set up the second test, same deal, then the third test, same deal. It's not necessary for me
to try to explain this in exhaustive detail but at this day and age, there is no reason to not have the capability of having the test gear graphically guide the test technician
through the entire process, from basic cabling and equipment connections to actual alignments using generated test signals and reading the output right there on the monitor.

Using a learn mode with settable ranges of acceptable and optimal performance parameters, and an effective graphical user interface, there isn't any reason for any
marginally competent test technician to align a radio to a lower standard than a really picky engineer would achieve.

And let me contribute this: People like analog gauges and meters. That swinging needle on my HP 435B power meter is a FAR more effective and easily interpreted display than the multi-digit seven segment LED displays on my newer HP 436A power meter. With appropriate attenuation, I use the 435B every day for every power measurement up to 200 watts. The 436A is just there as a backup system.

Analog style meters and gauges are the best. They should be emulated in the software.

I'd also give a big thumbs up to a service monitor that you can plug your computer monitor into. And maybe a keyboard and mouse, too. Why not? PC-type functionality in a service monitor wouldn't be an unwelcome feature.

If you're looking at a touch screen type interface, take a good look at the interface on an iPhone or iPod. You wouldn't be hurting yourself to emulate it. I've never
seen an interface that is more intuitive even for older, non-technically oriented people to use.


Elroy

tvsjr
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Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby tvsjr » Thu Jul 23, 2009 2:22 pm

Elroy Jetson wrote:I'd also give a big thumbs up to a service monitor that you can plug your computer monitor into. And maybe a keyboard and mouse, too. Why not? PC-type functionality in a service monitor wouldn't be an unwelcome feature.

You mean like the last two major iterations of the Aeroflex service monitors (2975 and 3900)? Hell, Wowbagger's posted a picture of a 2975 running Firefox, displaying the Batboard.

Elroy Jetson wrote:If you're looking at a touch screen type interface, take a good look at the interface on an iPhone or iPod. You wouldn't be hurting yourself to emulate it. I've never
seen an interface that is more intuitive even for older, non-technically oriented people to use.

I don't know about that... go research the numerous patents Steve Jobs and Apple hold on "multifinger gestures". Apple is pretty possessive - I doubt Aeroflex wants to be looking down the barrel of a 7-8 figure lawsuit.

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Elroy Jetson
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Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby Elroy Jetson » Thu Jul 23, 2009 2:43 pm

True, but such things can occasionally be licensed for a reasonable fee, if you're a good negotiator.


Elroy

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Wowbagger
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Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby Wowbagger » Thu Jul 23, 2009 5:17 pm

tvsjr wrote:You mean like the last two major iterations of the Aeroflex service monitors (2975 and 3900)? Hell, Wowbagger's posted a picture of a 2975 running Firefox, displaying the Batboard.

Actually, it wasn't Firefox, but rather just the internal help browser system (which is a HTML renderer albeit a limited one). Porting Firefox to VxWorks wouldn't be trivial. Now, the 3900 could easily run Firefox as it is RedHat 9 at the core.

But thanks - methinks Elroy forgot that I lead the design team on the 2975, and worked closely with the design team on the 3900.

tvsjr wrote:I don't know about that... go research the numerous patents Steve Jobs and Apple hold on "multifinger gestures". Apple is pretty possessive - I doubt Aeroflex wants to be looking down the barrel of a 7-8 figure lawsuit.


Most people don't understand how truly narrow most patents really are, and how easily they can be worked around. But yes, suffice it to say anything like that would be run by Legal as needed.
This is my opinion, not Aeroflex's.

I WILL NOT give you proprietary information. I make too much money to jeopardize my job.

I AM NOT the Service department: You want official info, manuals, service info, parts, calibration, etc., contact Aeroflex directly, please.

tvsjr
Posts: 4118
Joined: Fri Nov 28, 2003 9:46 am

Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby tvsjr » Thu Jul 23, 2009 6:19 pm

Wowbagger wrote:Actually, it wasn't Firefox, but rather just the internal help browser system (which is a HTML renderer albeit a limited one). Porting Firefox to VxWorks wouldn't be trivial. Now, the 3900 could easily run Firefox as it is RedHat 9 at the core.

Ah, ok... it's been awhile - I've slept since then!

Wowbagger wrote:Most people don't understand how truly narrow most patents really are, and how easily they can be worked around. But yes, suffice it to say anything like that would be run by Legal as needed.

I read an article a while back that addressed this exact issue... they (Apple and Jobs personally) hold numerous patents on that particular technology. The UI is the one thing that makes the iCrap work better than other devices... they may not be the best technically (the iPhone RF deck certainly bites compared to Blackberries...) but the UI is a big reason why people buy iPhones anyway. Of course, with the Elan lawsuit, it may get even more entertaining...

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Elroy Jetson
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Re: A question for senior techs out there

Postby Elroy Jetson » Thu Jul 23, 2009 7:15 pm

This is my second attempt to reply here. I've noted that in the past two days, two of my replies have gone missing. I suspect that one or more of the mods
isn't thrilled with me. Well, the feeling might be mutual.


Anyway...
methinks Elroy forgot that I lead the design team on the 2975, and worked closely with the design team on the 3900.



No, I didn't forget. I just never knew it until know.


Impressive! I respect real skill and ability and you're way above my level, that's for sure!

I use 'em, I don't design 'em. Sometimes I fix 'em, but designing? Forget it. Not my forte'.


Elroy


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