2019-09-04 (Wednesday)

Today, I learned that:

There is finally something really BIG happening in the world of serial communication between electronic devices. Last Thursday, 2019-08-29, was officialized the release of a new version of the popular USB interface, version 4, USB4 to be short, with a maximum data rate of 40 Gbit/s. See also reference #1 below.

From RS-232 to USB4

So, what is so special with this version then? Well, it seems that we now, almost 60 years after the RS-232 serial protocol was introduced, have returned to only one standard, regardless of the brand of the device.

It all started in 1960, when the American industry organisation EIA (Electronic Industries Association) introduced the RS-232 standard, initially to be used between electromechanical teletypewriters as DTEs (data terminal equipment) and modems as DCEs (data circuit-terminating/communication equipment). According to today’s standards, it was extremely slow, maximum 20 kbits/s.

RS-232 had some successors, such as RS-422 and RS-485, where both the speed and maximum cable length had been improved. For example, RS-422 is specified for a maximum bitrate of 10 Mbits/s and a maximum cable length of 1500 m.

We now jump to the 1990s, when the emerging personal computer (PC) industry found that maintaining the RS-232 communication was not feasible. There were then started two different initiatives to make communication between a PC and its peripherals much easier and faster. On January 1, 1996, was released the first version of the universal serial bus (USB). It had been developed by a consortium of companies such as Compaq, DEC, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, NEC, and Nortel. The data rate of USB 1.0 was 12 Mbits/s, which was improved to 480 Mbits/s with version 2.0 in 2001 and 5 Gbits/s through USB 3.0 in 2014, 10 Gbits/s by USB 3.1 in 2014, and 20 Gbits/s specified by USB 3.2 in 2017.

As you can see above, Apple did not participate in the USB consortium. Instead they had decided to develop their own communication interface, and attracted other companies such as Sony, Panasonic, Philips, LG, Toshiba, Hitachi, Canon, Thomson, and Texas Instruments. This group developed what came to be known as FireWire 400, aka standard IEEE 1394-1995. The data rate of this version was a maximum of 400 Mbits/s in half-duplex mode. It was followed by FireWire 800, which reached the speed of its name in 2006. However, Steve Jobs declared that FireWire was dead in 2008 when many camcorders were still using USB 2.0, instead of the faster FireWire.

Intel, which as you saw before already was a leading force in the USB consortium, now started to develop a new hardware interface together with Apple. It was dubbed Thunderbolt, and the first version appeared on MacBook Pro computers in 2011. Sony also used it in a Vaio line of notebooks in 2011. It was later followed by Thunderbolt 2 in 2013, with a maximum data rate of 20 Gbits/s.

And then, in 2016, Thunderbolt 3 was introduced, and as of now we can see that both standards are coming closer to each other, because they share the same USB-C connector. Intel decided in April 2019 to release the Thunderbolt without charging royalties from the companies who would use it, and that was the signal to finally use Thunderbolt 3 as a starting point for the specification of USB 4.

Will this mean that there is now unanimity in the electronics industry to start using only USB 4? Let us hope so, and that we will see the concrete result starting to appear in about a year or so.

There is much more to be said about this interesting topic of data communication, please see references # 2 through 7 below for details.

If you can’t beat them, join them!

A big problem in the crazy traffic in major cities around the world is of course that so many different categories of people on the move need to share the same physical space. Maybe the most troublesome is when motorbikes try to squeeze their way through in the small corridors between the cars. In 1997, when the most recent Brazilian Code for traffic was published, it permitted that they could do so, contrary to safety measures. And as a consequence, every day quite a few of those bikers are involved in severe accidents, even deaths.

If you can’t beat them, join them! In order to reduce the conflict between cars and motorcycles, in the largest avenues in São Paulo have been implemented a buffer zone, exclusive to the bikers, in front of the pedestrian crossing. That way, they can race off without messing with the cars. Photo taken at Avenida Ipiranga on 2019-08-08.

However, one of the ways to mitigate somewhat this conflict was created in 2013 in São Paulo. You can see it in the photo above, taken downtown on 2019-08-09 at Avenida Ipiranga. It shows that motorbikers and other bikers, as well, have a privileged zone in front of the cars, when they need to stop for a red light. That way, when the light turns into green, they can speed away without needing to negotiate space with the car drivers. This method is called “Frente segura”, which means ‘Safe front’. More about it can be seen in reference #8 below (in Portuguese).

That’s what I learned in school !

Refs.:

1: USB4 Specification merges Thunderbolt 3 and USB with transfer speeds up to 40 Gb/s

2: RS-232

3: RS-422

4: RS-485

5: USB

6: IEEE 1394

7: Thunderbolt

8: Frente segura

*: What did you learn in school today ?

2017-10-15 (Summertime)

Today, I learned that:

On the Southern hemisphere, we are moving on towards the brightest season of the year. One of the signs of that is the adoption of daylight saving time, a.k.a. summer time, when the clock advances one hour instantaneously. However, the Brazilian government continues to make that happen at midnight, moving ahead to 01:00. Although this might not be a big obstacle right now, when moving back to standard time in February, 2018, it will occur once more at midnight, jumping back to 23:00. I think that the European model, where the change occurs at a time when much less people are active, involving 02:00 and 03:00, is much better, and its also does not involve two different dates. References #1 and 2 remembers that wonderful time of the year, seen through the hands and voice of George Gershwin and Janis Joplin.

And for the following people, in jail because of corruption, summer time may be some sort of relief:

Relief

Cartoon from Folha de S. Paulo today:
“-We managed to reduce your stay! -How much? -One hour. Summer time is about to start.”

In my post of 2017-09-29, I mentioned the word infinitesimal used in a broadcast from Radio National, Australia. In the same interview is also remembered the old commercial from Esso, “Put a tiger in your tank”, which can be answered by “What is the use of a tiger in tank, if there is a jackass at the steering wheel?” (See also the transcript in reference #3 below).

As a parallel, watch the two videos in references #4 and 5 below. So what is the use of high speed automated routing system for packages when they are treated so badly at the destination?

But everything in Brazil is not as pessimistic as it may seem from the examples above. The Swedish-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce (Swedcham) just published its annual survey of the business climate in Brazil for 70 Swedish companies. Despite the Brazilian recession, 36% of the companies say that they are satisfied with the present business climate. You can read the complete report in reference # 6 below.

Finally, here are two interesting examples of how AI (artificial intelligence) is helping out in the fields of health and beauty:

  • In an eye clinic in the Aravind hospital in Madurai, India, AI is examining photos taken of the eyes of diabetic patients. If they are not treated in time, there is a risk that they may go blind. So together with Google, the hospital has developed a computer program to examine the photos of the retinal fundus of the eye. Tests have shown that the program has the same accuracy as the professional ophthalmologist, up to 90 %, and in much less time. See references # 7 and 8 below.
  • Intel has developed a mobile application (named Face It) that uses computer vision to acquire data about a user’s facial structure as well as machine learning to determine the user’s face shape. This information is then combined with manually inputted information to give the user a personalized set of hair and beard styles that are guaranteed to make the user look his best. A personalized list of tips are also generated for the user to take into account when getting a haircut. See the screenshot and reference # 9 below.

FaceIt

Example of tips generated by Face It

That’s what I learned in school !

Refs.:

1: Summertime

2: Janis Joplin – Summertime, Live 1969

3: Micropayments could amount to large sums for conservation

4: Shipping Warehouse Robots

5: Flagra de funcionário dos Correios jogando encomendas

6: Swedish business climate in Brazil 2017

7: AI räddar synen för diabetiker

8: Ophthalmoscopy

9: Face It – The Artificially Intelligent Hairstylist

*: What did you learn in school today ?