Greatest Hits from Tech Support!

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You guys might appreciate this, received almost 2 months after posting a bug:


Customer is suggesting we shouldn't use Freescale (NXP?) in future;
Kinetis parts may go away in product rationalization...

See ya, Dave

Re: Greatest Hits from Tech Support!
On 2/17/2017 8:57 AM, Dave Nadler wrote:
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(sigh)  Clearly folks who don't understand the question(s) being asked/issues
being presented -- ditto the referenced SO post  :<.  (/caveat emptor/)

"In no case is returning a pointer outside the heap acceptable"

"NXP examples should set sensible default heap size"
Meh... heap size should be appropriate for the *example*, nothing more.

"a trap on out-of-memory would be better"
Not possible with all platforms.  I'm not fond of having to rewrite
code because it relies on specific "undocumented" behavior.

My _DEBUG version of malloc/free aggressively examine all I/O's.
I rely on dynamic allocation extensively (e.g., support multiple
arenas, allocation strategies, etc. concurrently).  So:

      ptr = malloc(...)

is ALWAYS safe -- even if ptr == NULL.  But, attempting:

      ptr = malloc(...)

will trigger an invariant and stop the program in its tracks
(because the memory free'd in the second call isn't allocated
at the time of the call -- an extra condition I impose on free()
that the standard library doesn't)


       ptr = malloc(HEAP_SIZE+1)

is guaranteed to return NULL (and tickle another invariant in -DEBUG) and:

       ptr = malloc(0)

provides an effective way of knowing that the heap *is* exhausted.

[This is subtle as it relies on the caller knowing the memory available for
their use, for a non-NULL return value, is constrained to [ptr,ptr+size) ]

The standard allows no other way of "returning an error" so if you don't
like the arguments, you have to return NULL.

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Why?  Because they are wary of the quality of the support available?
Farming your tech support out to users is always a dubious business strategy!

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Because the expected support will be better?

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Re: Greatest Hits from Tech Support!
On Friday, February 17, 2017 at 12:54:16 PM UTC-5, Don Y wrote:
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Don, sorry if the context wasn't entirely clear.
Freescale/NXP provide many dozens of examples.
Typically a good place to start when using a new tool chain!
I pared down one of their examples show that they've misconfigured
memory management and heap size for their examples...

In the context of their examples, typically run under a debugger,
traps would be very helpful to sort out configuration issues.

I'm quite astonished at the answer though:

"It's really OK that malloc returns a pointer outside the heap,
because in my blinky example it didn't cause a problem..."

It gets worse though.
Their examples for FreeRTOS are misconfigured so that:
- they will blow the heap,
- the FreeRTOS-aware debugger crashes,
- newlib isn't set up compatibly with FreeRTOS memory management,
- etc.

See ya, Dave

Re: Greatest Hits from Tech Support!
On 2/17/2017 12:29 PM, Dave Nadler wrote:
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Yes.  I'd expect part of the example to HIGHLIGHT the differences
in the execution environment.  E.g., "need big heap to support
the allocations in this example (other example doesn't need ANY heap, etc.)"

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I usually start with crt0.s and the "helper routines".  This removes
a lot of uncertainty from "what I'm seeing" (no need to wonder what lies
UNDER the examples) as well as gives me a general idea as to what the
vendor THINKS that I will be doing.

And, as I'll inevitably have to tweek these things for the OS that will
be supporting the executables, I can nail down those customizations
sooner rather than later (I like to have an OS up and running from day one)

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I think you are being generous saying "misconfigured".  While I can't
see how all these parameters are defined/established (code elided),
I can't imagine any way that the result (0x20005c0 IIRC) can rationally
come from the start/end/request of your example.  Were you able to
track down the source of the error?

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The invariants give me a (portable) hook to a debugger and/or run-time
exception handler.  Redefine the macros/ftns and I can "throw" the
error in a variety of different ways as well as take a variety of
different remedial actions.  (kill the application, suspend the offending
task, log to a blackbox, etc.)

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fsub(subtrahend, minuend) {
     result = subtrahend * 3 + minuend / pi
     result = 2
     return( result )

"Works fine -- cuz subtrahend is always two less than minuend in
my examples!"

I found the MISRA "excuse" even more alarming -- I didn't see any
indication that it even APPLIED (i.e., as a constraint imposed by a

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because FreeRTOS makes demands that can't be met (and doesn't verify
that they HAVE been met)?  Or, because of bugs like the above (that
FreeRTOS can't do anything about)?

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Sounds like the folks who pieced together the support didn't do
a very thorough job.

IME, the folks who write the app notes (hardware/software) and these
sorts of "examples" aren't typically a "cherished resource".  Perhaps
summer interns, fresh hires, etc.  Company is focused on selling silicon,
not software.  Only pays grudging lip service to the software in order
to get the hardware sold!

[Nowadays, even worse as so many chip designs are pieced together]

I had a client show me his first pass of a hardware design to give me
an idea of where his project/product was headed.  It was hard to
politely say, "This will NEVER work!" (it wasn't like it could be
tweaked A LITTLE to be viable).

After gently pressing for details of portions of the circuitry, ("So,
what are you trying to do, here?") he eventually folded and said he'd
pieced it together from app notes.  (OK, maybe he transcribed things
inappropriately or made unfounded assumptions at the boundaries of
each sub-design).

When I later examined the "source app notes", the flaws were present
there, as well.  I.e., no one had apparently ever BUILT the circuit that
was published!  AND, no one had ever proofread the document with even
a rudimentary understanding of the material presented (lest they would
have found the errors before making it into print).

I learned that when I document things, I have to cut and paste the
ACTUAL source materials into the final/formal document -- to ensure
no transcription errors AND that the design/circuit/code is EXACTLY
as I'd implemented.

I try to "own" all of the IP in my designs so I *know* how they all work
as well as how they are likely to interact.  E.g., my standard libraries
were crafted before the "reentrant" versions of the functions that
have internal state (e.g., strtok()) came to be.  So, they magically
work when hosted by any of my OS's -- because my OS's are integrated
with their implementations (and automagically handle the thread-specific

The bottom line is that I can have a real application running on bare metal
very quickly -- I just need to get the interface to the target up and
running.  Fewer unknowns, fewer surprises.

[They're TOOLS.  They're supposed to FACILITATE, not HINDER!]

Returning to my final queries:  is the reason the client wants to move
to Kinetis/FS parts because of the "support quality" on the NXP parts?

Re: Greatest Hits from Tech Support!
On Friday, February 17, 2017 at 8:40:03 PM UTC-5, Don Y wrote:
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And you will be sadly disappointed.
I would love to see this in all examples,
but even partial notes like this are pretty rare.

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The problem in this instance (and similar), is that there
are many other parts of the puzzle...

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There is no excuse for this kind of error.
"Misconfigured" because this error is a combination of errors in ALL of:
- linker file
- library configuration (newlib)
- external hooks provided as required to support library
- overrides in project files for things like heap and stack size
- unwitting use of library routines that use free storage
- etc.

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Of course, I had to get something working to the customer
months ago! I will try to put together a web page explaining
the components, and providing working examples for:
- bare
- FreeRTOS

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Now you are being extremely charitable ;-)

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In this case the support operation appears to be Chinese.
Race to the lowest cost, quality be damned...

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I'll raise you one: I've seen the all of the above in a shipping product!
Best app note blunder I've seen: serializer-deserializer note said the
parallel lines had to have equal length traces!
Think about that one for a bit. Witless non-engineer designed a board
using low-end free CAD trying to do this...

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And deliver the PDF component spec sheets with annotations appropriate
to the part usage in the design...

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newlib also contains thread-aware malloc family for this purpose.
In the Freescale/NXP case here, they failed to properly set these up.

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A combination of factors: tools and documentation not updated for 2+
years, bugs everywhere, extremely poor examples, miserable support,
and worries about the future of Kinetis product line after years of
Freescale austerity, NXP merger, and upcoming potential Qualcomm merger.
Utter disarray with the tools: Freescale started with their "Processor
Expert" component system, discontinued it for a new SDK, released an
updated SDK with numerous undocumented incompatibilities, the examples
and documentation do not use the current tool set, etc.

The hardware is extremely capable, but challenging to use with the
above issues... NXP is threatening to release support based on their
Expresso Eclipse (replacing the Kinetis Development System Eclipse),
and rationalizing their tool support this spring. We'll see how that
goes. I did a couple products using NXP Cortex M0 a few years ago
and had good experience with the NXP tools (and support when their were
tool issues)...

See ya, Dave

Re: Greatest Hits from Tech Support!
On 2/20/2017 7:38 AM, Dave Nadler wrote:
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I wouldn't doubt it.  Rather, I'm indicating how examples can be used
*effectively*.  Every (virtual or otherwise) "call to tech support"
bears a cost -- for the provider AND consumer!  And, while consumers
ultimately pay all of the costs they "impose" on the provider, the
reverse is also true:  providers eventually end up paying the costs
that they've forced/coerced on their consumers (in terms of product
satisfaction, loyalty, etc.)

Its not hard to create good examples -- it just requires the attitude
that there is intrinsic VALUE in the examples.

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I'm a hardware person, by nature.  So, I immediately look at the lowest layers
of the software system to see what I can/should "expose" of the hardware and
what I should deliberately obscure.  (e.g., in some cases, exposing the
underlying page size of the MMU is a win; in others, a useless detail).

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Undoubtedly "misconfigured".  But, the code could have SCREAMED of this
instead of letting you "trip over" it.

     // success
     ASSERT( allocation != NULL )
     ASSERT( allocation >= heap_start )
     ASSERT( allocation+allocated_size-1 <= heap_start+heap_size-1 )
     return( allocation )

This reinforces the module's contract with the caller (in ways that are
a lot more precise and explicit than a verbose textual "SYNOPSIS").
*And*, acts as a pair of watchful eyes during development ("How the
hell did *this* happen??")

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The above sort of defensive coding would probably have rendered the
problem moot.  But, if you're not the author/owner of the module...

One advantage to "owning the IP" is that you can impose this sort of
consistency on *everything*.  So, if (when!) you reuse an algorithm,
you don't worry (as much) about these sorts of subtleties biting you.

[How would you document the requirements that malloc imposes on the
linker, support library, etc.?  And, in a way that a new developer would
be sure to notice and implement?  I.e., my solution is to let the
code do it for me lest some detail be overlooked (or unmaintained).
Esp valuable as you can "specify" lots of constraints when you have
a programming language available to you!  :> ]

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Who is there to act as a "check" on them?  The fab line, no doubt, has
inspectors ensuring the quality of the components they are producing.
Where is the equivalent for their documentation/support?

(Ans:  user community.  And, is anyone/corporate actively watching the
community's grumblings as a crude indication of the quality of the support
THEY are providing?)

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There can also be an impedance mismatch -- folks focused on building silicon
may not have the skillsets to understand *using* it!

We were car shopping, recently.  The quality of the "tech" in modern vehicles
is abominable.  You have to wonder how a "professional" could produce such
crap -- regardless of the hardware/cost constraints!

Obviously, the car manufacturers don't have that expertise and farm it out
to a third (fourth?) party.  OK, that's understandable and likely makes good
business sense.

*But*, because they don't have the skillsets to understand what is possible,
they can't adequately evaluate the quality of the resulting product!  And, the
chosen vendor (assuming he is NOT being unscrupulous) can rationalize away
any behaviors as LOGICAL consequences of the problem addressed.

E.g., I recently "misplaced" the local JCPenney store; couldn't recall on
which of several parallel streets it was located.
     "Ah!  Let the car's GPS give me the address -- no need for 'directions'
     once I know which street its on!"
Type in JCPENNY [sic] and select from the menu presented... but, the street
names are all wrong!
     "What the hell did I do wrong??"
Long story short (_Clue_: "Too late!"), the locations found were located in
OH (I'm in AZ).  There's a difference between JCPENNeY and JCPENNY and the
search algorithm isn't smart enough to think:  "What are the chances that
he really is looking for a destination 1500 miles away?"

Had this been demoed to an auto executive, the implementation would look
*perfect* -- it FOUND the "JCPENNY" that the user specified!  Would the
auto executive have had the initiative to suggest this would likely
NOT have been what the user sought?  Would he have thought of imposing
some sort of distance/travel time criteria on the result to check for
     "No results (JCPENNY) found within 100 miles.  Expand search:  Yes/No?"

[Or, better yet, a SOUNDEX implementation?]

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I watched an engineer design a ~8x10 multilayer board covered with DIP switches
to configure his product (which was another board) -- in a MICROPROCESSOR
CONTROLLED DEVICE (didn't it occur to him that the processor could do this
stuff *for* him and improve the UX?)

"Impedance mismatch"

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I approach that by creating a "circuit description" document.  This lets me
speak less formally -- but more specifically -- about what I did and why I
made specific design choices.  Often, The Next Guy may not have the focus to
think-ahead to all of the potential issues that he (now "his" product) may
encounter.  Having a forum where I can speak to him avoids his faulty
"optimization" of my design  (i.e., removing things whose purpose he doesn't
immediately  grasp)  :>

Of course, the same is true of software:  "Here, there be dragons" *should*
ratchet-up the reader's attention!

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So, you're (they're) unhappy with the *provider*, not the *product*.
But, mainly from the support side of the picture (i.e., its not like
you're having a hard time getting parts or defects in the parts

I.e., why buy from Walmart when you can buy from Costco?

Sad as they *could* fix this by throwing some resources at the problem.
But, until they see a cost to NOT doing that, it is unlikely that they
ever will!  :-(

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I'm pretty much "stuck" having to roll my own tools as my execution
environment isn't typical (distributed multiprocessors, task migration,
etc.).  So, I lose a lot of "pretty" (that would be available in fleshier
toolsets) but gain a lot of "essential" (that would have been absent, for
my environment, in those verysame toolsets)!

[Eventually, I'll have to make this stuff "ready for primetime" but that's
low on the priority list... only so many hours in a day!]

Re: Greatest Hits from Tech Support!

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The community is a forum for users, the fact that sometimes people from Fre
esc...ehm NXP answers is not granted.
If you want a fast and detailed answer you need to send an email to the sup

The community is not very good, answers from NXP (usually from Alice_Yang)  
are usually not very useful.
2-3 years ago I found a very nasty bug in the Processor Expert [1] I2C driv
er: if you shorted to ground the SDA line the driver got stuck in an infini
te loop, a reset was needed.
Spoke (through community) with a bunch of people, and a certain point also  
a guy from Freescale (supposely the guy who wrote the driver): for him it w
as OK because the short to GND could never happens...
Don't know if they solved the issue in the next update.

[1]: yes, I know, but I had to put together something very fast, so...

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Mmhh not sure, some are in the longevity program (the EA family for automot
ive as an example). And in any case the kinetis are far better for motor co
ntrol than the LPCs. Also the IDE seems to be in active developement so who

Bye Jack

Re: Greatest Hits from Tech Support!
On Monday, February 20, 2017 at 3:03:22 AM UTC-5, Jack wrote:
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NXP "encourages" posting to the user group first.
I've had tech support tickets responded to equally slowly.

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One of the worst I've seen...

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Alice is truly special. Usually fails to understand the question,
and often just says "re-install all the software and maybe it will work".

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We're not doing motor-control.

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KDS will be replaced with NXP's Expresso shortly...

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