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Yesterday at the park...

Posted 13th June 2011 at 01:48 AM by abraxalito
Updated 8th September 2011 at 03:13 AM by abraxalito

I've been in China for over six years now and had a few ideas about opening my own business. Initially I was giving serious thought to opening a training school. Then after a stint at a travel company for a couple of months I had a great idea about a new kind of travel service. For both of these notions I got domain names registered but I subsequently got more interested in other things (not just women I hasten to add).

Well finally, I've found it. The business opportunity that I've been building up to all my life. I announced it at the public English Corner yesterday to a handful of people as I was curious to gauge their response. Overall, very positive and despite being a kind of business they'd not previously encountered they really seemed to get the message quite quickly.

This isn't strictly speaking a business in the traditional sense of being a company. Its more a network of interested and passionate individuals - cells in a super-organism if you prefer. The name I've chosen for this mound of individuals is 'Tarmites'. The name is a play on 'termites' which are a social species known for their destructive power when engaging human-built structures. In the wild though they're creative. The letter change from 'e' to 'a' reflects the use of the ARM architecture in their creatively destructive mission.

For those who haven't come across the thinking of Joseph Schumpeter, or more recently Andy Grove and Clayton Christensen perhaps the term 'disruptive innovation' is opaque. I'm not going to spell it out here so if you're interested pick up either Andy Grove's 'Only the Paranoid Survive' or 'The Innovator's Dilemma' by Christensen. In essence disruptive innovation works by being 'good enough' but considerably cheaper than established products in a particular market. Or by offering something that established product lines cannot - digital vs film cameras is but one example.

The particular disruptive innovation I've identified is ARM's Cortex M0 processor. In the past ARM has charged quite a relatively hefty license fee for the privilege of manufacturing their designs, but as I understand it the M0 is considerably cheaper. Its certainly good enough as I've been playing with it for the past few months and am well impressed with the bang-for-buck. Not just the bang for the buck but also the bang for the milliwatt. This puppy sips power like its going out of fashion (which incidentally it probably is).

One of the great strengths of China historically has been its shared written language. Even though different areas speak different dialects people are always able to communicate by writing characters - everyone recognises these. The lingua franca I'm introducing is ARM M0 assembler. If you can read and write this, you're automatically a tarmite. I guess for Hong Kong and Taiwanese Chinese the M3 assembler will be better suited - the M0 is a considerable simplification of that instruction set, requiring the learning of a mere 56 opcodes.

Cortex-M0 Processor - ARM
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  1. Old Comment
    Say some more. I thought Arduino is there already
    Posted 13th June 2011 at 01:50 PM by glt glt is offline
  2. Old Comment
    abraxalito's Avatar
    Originally Posted by glt View Comment
    Say some more. I thought Arduino is there already

    Well Arduino is rather a kind of hobby interest thing but I'm seriously thinking here there's the chance of people running their own businesses doing M0 developments in both hardware and firmware. Arduino is mostly software based and uses bought in boards designed by others. This is more free-form. The M0 is also vastly more powerful than Arduino - can do DSP applications for example. Lastly Arduino is a bit sanitized and uses C, whereas for this market I feel assembler is the best choice. Then people will share assembler amongst themselves and the installed code base will grow rapidly.
    Posted 13th June 2011 at 05:00 PM by abraxalito abraxalito is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Hello again,

    Indeed, Arduino's attractiveness has a lot to do with its software. I have looked at leaflabs ARM based kit, and the pic-based chipKit. They are certainly more powerful that the 8-bit AVR of the Arduino, but looking at the number of members in their respective forums, they are waaaay behind the 40+K members in the Arduino forum.

    I have no doubt you've done your research, but Assembly (in my mind at least) seems a big barrier for the "common tarmite" :-)
    Posted 16th June 2011 at 06:27 PM by glt glt is offline
  4. Old Comment
    abraxalito's Avatar
    Good points. ARM has certainly been slow to be taken up by the hobby end of the market - this looks to me because they've not actively encouraged it by making the tools cheap and making information freely available. This does certainly look to be changing now. Hence hobbyists have flocked to Atmel because that's been the path of least resistance. Now there's a choice I'm convinced ARM will grow and grow fairly quickly. Arduino's been going over six years now? Just imagine how it will look in another six....

    About assembly - I'm really targeting this at the local people first and foremost. I found assembly far more attractive than higher level languages as a kid (I learned BASIC but my main passion was for assembler). I think its to do with dislike of abstraction - for some reason my thinking has always been rather concrete. If I were to sum up what's gone wrong with computing in one word, that word would be 'abstraction'. Having abstraction tends to remove the immediacy of the feedback - delaying the psychological satisfaction known as 'closure'. People here are very concrete thinkers just like me it seems to me they will warm to software that does something straight away.

    As a teacher I've found that people learn best by doing. I can't imagine teaching C to the Tarmites because its too far removed from actually doing anything. Whereas when I come to teach assembler, I can just type in two or three opcodes and the students will see some LEDs lighting. My first assembler program just copied some toggle switches to a row of red LEDs in a loop - I had to write it in binary too, assembled by hand. The feeling of satisfaction was immense seeing the switches reflected in the LEDs
    Posted 17th June 2011 at 12:03 AM by abraxalito abraxalito is offline
    Updated 17th June 2011 at 12:12 AM by abraxalito
  5. Old Comment
    OK, I think you are referring to the "lower Level" of the S/W, i.e. below the user interface and such. Having a bit of experience with Arduino controlling some DACs I realize that the register manipulation is trivial compared to coding the user interface, so at the level where "things happens", assembly is fine. So what ARM0 kit and tools are you using?

    I get the feeling you went to China not just for the food :-)
    Posted 17th June 2011 at 05:03 PM by glt glt is offline
  6. Old Comment
    abraxalito's Avatar
    Yes, definitely I'm not thinking of coding user interfaces in assembler. I agree that's crazy. But then even C is not really a high enough level of abstraction, wouldn't something with a 'Visual' in the title be a better fit? Embedded systems don't usually have graphical user interfaces - they might be controlled by IR remotes for example and just flash LEDs to give feedback.

    At the moment I'm just using the software that came with a board that I bought. Being China of course they just 'rip off' someone's software - in this case, Keil. But I'm intending in the longer term to use the free software from:

    Free and open ARM Cortex M3 and Cortex M0 embedded development tools

    The M0 board I'm using is this one:

    ARM Cortex-M0 LPC1114

    I didn't come to China primarily for the food, the #1 attraction was definitely the girls Good food is the icing on the cake.
    Posted 18th June 2011 at 12:05 AM by abraxalito abraxalito is offline

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