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 ?

2016-02-07 (Sunday)

Today I learned, that:

There are many ways to enjoy life, and today in Brazil is of course a special Sunday, in the middle of Carnival, when many people forget about their daily chores and go wild to feast during what many of them consider being the most important event of the year.

Besides New Orleans, carnival does not attract so much attention in the USA, and furthermore today is Super Bowl 50, featuring Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers. For many people in the USA, this event is as important as any carnival celebration could ever be, with betting, gathering family and friends, and having a party! Let me give you some remarks and opinions about my experience of NFL:

cropped-falcons1994.jpg

The photo above was taken at Georgia Dome on September 11 (!), 1994, when Atlanta Falcons played their first home game of the season against Los Angeles Rams and won the game with 31 – 11. I was accompanied by two fellow Brazilians, Claudeir and Keiser, and of course we had a good time.

I have not been in the US during a Super Bowl game, so I cannot give personal reflections about that party, but I left Atlanta two days before Super Bowl XXXIII in January, 1999, when the same Atlanta Falcons ended up losing to Denver Broncos (already a team in the finals back then), much to the disappointment of my colleagues at Philips in Norcross. So far, it has been the Falcons’ only participation in a Super Bowl game, let us hope they will come back and win some time in the future.

All Super Bowl games are using Roman numbers, last year was XLIX and in 2017 it will be LI, but today it is 50 in Arabic numbers, how come?

Despite being considered underdogs, I believe that Denver Broncos will raise their third Super Bowl trophy tonight, leaving Carolina Panthers still without any championship title, but in sports anything can happen, so let us see…

Update 2016-02-08: Life is wonderful, Denver Broncos won against all odds, as I had anticipated above, inverting the old saying ‘the best defense is a good offense’ to ‘the best offense is a good defense’ !

Finally, calling a sport Football, when the only time that the ball is kicked on purpose by a foot are the occasional scrimmage and free kicks, seems to me quite overly exaggerated. The most import actions are of course the ones when the ball is carried by an offensive player inside the opponents’ end zone, thus scoring a touchdown. But that naming occured already 140 years, in 1876, see reference 1 below, so we are stuck with it!

… That’s what I learned in school!

Refs.:

1: American football

2: Atlanta Falcons season 1994-1995

3: Super Bowl champions

+: What did you learn in school today ?