Analytic Systems

When I was young I fancied technology. I could imagine, not the Internet, but some things such as they have become. There are surprising developments to come, I’m certain, most people simply have no idea. Unfortunately there is a great deal of menial technology in the world, and menial technology that yet needs to be developed for the fanciful future. One of these, maybe even the most menial type of things is power supplies.

And so first thing in the morning Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, 1994, Jim Hargrove calls me to come in for an interview. To date this is the only place I’ve ever worked the days between Christmas and New Year’s. Personally I don’t care about official holidays at all, if I could take time when I needed it that’d be great, thanks.

In those days, Analytic Systems didn’t make power supplies exclusively, but we only designed power supplies, so that anything that wasn’t a power supply would eventually go away. And we made many different types and sizes of power supplies. The main one was the true sine-wave inverter, which converts battery power to the what you’d get if you had access to a wall socket. Most of these were designed for marine applications, boats, but could also be used for RV’s or remote locations with only generators or solar cells for power. The first version was 600W, which was later increased to 1000W. Some time after I left they hired some a marketing person and called this the PureSine IPS600 and IPS1000.

We also made quasi-sine inverters, because they were cheaper. The sine-wave inverter was intended to power computers, to provide glitch free power which wouldn’t cause grief, sort of like a UPS, but you could use the quasi-sine for a computer. I wrote a Windows program in Delphi to display the status of the battery power, but there wasn’t really any other need for software there. You can see in the photos there are serial port connectors on the fronts of both the PureSine and quasi-sine models. I’ve always enjoyed writing software, as I do have a knack for it, but most of my career I have not had any opportunity to develop that talent.

We made DC-DC converters, AC-DC power supplies, and battery charger versions of both. The mainstay product was a DC-DC converter which, before the marketing, was called 7604 since it was one of the earliest products designed way back in 1976. The redesign of that product was the last thing I worked on in 1996 and it was called 9604 then. As I write this it is 2014, and at least on the outside it doesn’t look like any of the products have changed much, but I’m sure the electronics inside are all totally different of course. It just seems strange that my design work there left such a major legacy.

Most of the products were custom made for specific applications. Out of all the places I’ve worked, Analytic was the most prolific. We seemed to come out with a new product every two to three months. We did contracts for Samlex, Charles Industries, Soltek, and others. It’s funny because I occasionally see these products around, for example Xenex had an Analytic Systems brand converter, and RP Electronics sold Samlex brand desktop power supplies we designed in their store.

Some of the products were designed for the U.S. military. This little one was originally designed to power appliances in Hum-Vees. I remember one of the inverters was considered to be used on the international space station, but I don’t recall if it actually went up there or not.

I learned so much from this experience that I’ve carried with me throughout my career, I couldn’t possibly explain it all. But it is the core experience of a good engineer, to really solve problems, not try to cover them up, rather to look for causes in places where others tell you not to look.

After a half a year of this stalemate that you abhor,

a woman’s nuclear knife won’t work any more.

Hober Mallow, Isaac Asimov, Foundation, p.290


Coast Micro Systems

In those days, in those far-off days, in 1993 after finishing college, Ken Lord of Coast Micro Systems hired me to help develop plotter controls and sign lighting controls. Coast Micro was the manufacturing arm of a group of companies which are now known as Precix Router Systems, but then included Omnicad, Luminart, and Kinetic Precix.

Half of the business was manufacturing controllers for Gerber plotters, the same company responsible for the Gerber file format for fabricating circuit boards. These controllers plugged into card slots inside Gerber plotters and converted HPGL to Gerber plotter control codes so that anyone could “print” to a Gerber plotter using the generic HP plotter driver included with Windows. These plotters either had no computer interface at all or required very expensive proprietary software and proprietary fonts from Gerber, so Gerber didn’t like us very much. The market for this hardware was driven mainly by Scanvec who wanted to sell their software, but you could technically use any vector drawing program such as CorelDraw or Adobe Illustrator. Since this was more than twenty years ago, it isn’t easy to find any pictures of these products.

The other half of the business was OEM sign-cutting tables, which also used HPGL, but Coast Micro designed and manufactured the motion control hardware. The tables themselves were quite large and early on these were built by Luminart and Precix, but gradually these activities were consolidated.

Luminart’s tables were intended to dispense their proprietary UV sensitive luminite, while Precix tables were intended to cut foam in 3D shapes. This has an appearance of neon, yet doesn’t require a high voltage inverter or anything special, just a blacklight.

In addition, we also designed a controller for sign lighting to generate flashing sequences. These were capable of runway effects on colored neon tubes wrapping around complex interior designs of shopping malls and casinos, or so I was told. I just designed the electronics and wrote the firmware. It was capable of dimming neon, but really just caused it to flicker since you need a high frequency inverter to dim neon smoothly.

All of these products had 8051-based microcontrollers with firmware written in assembly language. I designed schematics and PCB layouts in OrCAD STD for DOS. I designed sheet metal enclosures using AutoSketch which surprisingly was a very usable Windows drafting program compared to AutoCAD.

There was a fish tank behind my desk in the office. Half the water had evaporated, but one fish still clung to life.

In those days, in those far-off days

–the title of Akkadian poem which provided a reference for The Epic of Gilgamesh