Archive for April, 2008

Snipe Hunt

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Last weekend I got to do something I had not done for a long time.

Go to camp!

The local YMCA Adventure Guides organized a weekend camping trip up to a place called Camp Whittle outside of Big Bear Lake, CA. So Joyce and I packed up the kids (actually, Joyce did most of the packing), dropped Mookie off at the kennel, and drove the 3 hours to the camp site on Friday afternoon. I expected a very rustic non-heated cabin with outdoor “facilities”, but it turns out they had remodeled and the cabins were more like small cottages with central heat and indoor plumbing. Things were looking good already :-)

At 5:30 AM on Saturday morning I was awakened by the voices of several 6-8 year olds.

“I saw my dad’s private parts”.

“I saw my mom’s”.

“I saw my sister’s”.

OK…time to get up. We had split into boys and girls groups, so I got to spend time with our 4-year old son Nate while Joyce got Kiara, our 6-year old first grader. There were planned activities, but campers were also free to do anything they wanted. Here’s just a little bit of what we did all in one day…

petting zoo … breakfast … archery … arts and crafts … foosball … ping-pong … basketball … lunch … built a dam on a muddy stream out of branches … hay ride … climbing wall … baseballfootball … dinner … skits … pudding

Phew!!! By this time it was 8:30 and we were all very tired, so we started heading back to our cabins to collapse.

Snipe Hunt!!!”

About 30 screaming kids and their exhausted parents gathered in the open area between the cabins while one of the Adventure Guide leaders described the lore and rules of the snipe hunt.

“You gotta be real quiet … the snipe like to hide in the bushes … when you see one, yell out and everyone shine your light on him … look for a small yellow and purple furry animal about the size of a small dog … there are two types, the long-tailed snipe and the short-tailed snipe … we almost caught one last year, but it got away”.

Armed with flashlights, we trekked out into the woods in search of the elusive snipe. “There’s one”, shouted one of the parents, pointing furiously towards a bush. The kids swarmed to the bush like bees on a hive, shining their flashlights as they tripped along. “Darn, he got away”.

“I got one here”, yelled a father. Again, the kids swarmed over to catch the snipe, but he got away again.

This frenzy continued for about half an hour (and we didn’t even lose a single child in the pitch black). Several of the campers saw the snipe and even touched it as it ran by, including Kiara and her new friend CJ. We came teasingly close, but we never did catch the snipe. “I’ve been doing this for 28 years, and this is the closest we’ve come”, said Chad, the veteran leader of the snipe hunt. “You guys are the best snipe hunters I’ve had the pleasure of snipe hunting with”.

Sunday morning nobody got up until about 7:30.

“Ethan farted”.

“No I didn’t”.

After breakfast we gathered together as a group and they had the parents go around and tell what they thought of the weekend. When it came to me, I recalled how much this reminded me of when I was a small kid at camp growing up. All the simple innocent games and how much fun it was just to be in the fresh air and make new friends and have all this unstructured time.

These days, our kids’ time is totally structured. A friend in Silicon Valley, Carolann, who is a 3rd grade teacher, told me that kids in her class go to Kumon tutoring right after school. They take classes all summer. She told me of one instance where a little girl came to her crying because another boy told her, “you’re grammar is bad so you’re not going to get into a good college”. Whatever happened to childhood?

At least for one weekend … we got a little of that childhood back.

Please tell me about your camp memories……..

harry the ASIC guy

Breaking News … Accellera Verification Working Group Forming

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

On her Standards Game Blog  today, Karen Bartleson announced that Accellera is forming a subcommittee to define a standard for verification interoperability.  That is, to try to settle the VMM / OVM war.  As I have stated before in comments on JL Gray’s Cool Veification Blog, this is the right move because it give us input into the process, rather than just the EDA vendors controlling the process for their own benefit.  Also, as I argued in a previous post entitled “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, the influence and pressure of the verification community and especially the Cool Verification Blog were at least in part responsible.

Of course, Synopsys will tell you that they are just doing the right thing :-)

It’s not clear how Cadence and Mentor will respond.  Hopefully they’ll join the effort.  Let’s keep the pressure on.

The Contrary ASIC Designer

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Last Saturday night I went to a family Seder to celebrate the first night of Passover. You know, like in The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston. As part of the Seder, we read a story of 4 sons, one wise, one contrary, one simple, and one unable to ask a question.

This got me thinking about some of the contrary ASIC designers I’ve worked with through the years … you know the type:

1. If everyone else wants to take road A, he wants to take road B.
2. If everyone else wants to take road B, he wants to take road C.
3. If you’ve got a plan, he’ll tell you why it won’t work.
4. Once he takes a stand on an issue, he’ll never give up.
5. He doesn’t really care what others think about him.
6. Every battle is worth fighting … to the death.

The contrarian ASIC designer can sap the energy and optimism out of a design team with all his negativity. Obviously, not good. So, why would anyone want to work with a contrarian?

Well, I’m here to tell you that the contrarian gets a bad rap and he can be a critical member of the team. First, some background…

Most law schools use a method of contrarian argument based upon the Socratic Method, that goes something like this:

• A legal decision to consider is chosen
• One student or the professor argues one interpretation
• Another student is assigned to argue the opposite position.

It does not matter what the individuals actually believe. They need to argue their assigned position as vigorously as they can. The goal is not for there to be a winner or loser in the argument. The goal is for the students to get the most complete and thorough understanding of the issue under consideration as possible. And only by giving both sides equal status can this be done. In the end, the law students emerge better prepared.

So, again, why would anyone want to work with a contrarian? In short, because the contrarian keeps the rest of us honest.

Consider the 6 behaviors of a contrarian that I mentioned earlier. Viewed within the context of law school argument, the contrarian is simply holding up his end of the bargain, to represent the opposite viewpoint. He’s the one most likely to find the holes that would otherwise eventually kill the project. Sure, he may find 9 holes that are not real for every real hole. But the one real hole he finds probably never would have been found by anyone else. In that sense, the contrarian is actually the ultimate optimist, because he’s the one trying the hardest to protect project success.

So, when you see that Contrarian on your project the next time, give him a hug…well, maybe not.

Airbags and Global Warming

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Back in the early 90s, I worked for TRW on a project to develop new technology for airbag sensors. The airbag sensor is the device in the car that decides whether or not to fire the airbag. Obviously, this is a pretty important, potentially life-saving decision. False negative … someone might die. False positive … someone might get unnecessarily injured by the airbag, not to mention the cost of reloading, which was about $2000.

The goal of the project was to migrate from mechanical sensors in the bumpers to electro-mechanical sensors under the gear shift to save wiring cost and improve reliability. An HC11 Motorola processor with a built-in accelerometer and A/D was used to measure the deceleration. The processor would evaluate the acceleration data and decide whether or not to fire the airbag.

Sounds simple enough. Since the integral of acceleration is velocity, add up the acceleration data and that is your change in velocity. The greater the change in velocity, the more likely a crash worth firing the airbag.

The guys in Michigan crashed up several different classes of cars to provide us with raw acceleration data files. Some of the raw data files had names like “30 MPH 50 lb Pig Left Front”. I can only imagine what they used to get this data :-o . In any case, we had to run this data through our algorithm and make sure the airbags fired on real crashes but not on the others.

Easier said than done.

As it turned out, hitting a 50 lb. pig at 30 MPH is a pretty decelerating event. In the short 30 milliseconds required to make this decision, the algorithms had a hard time deciding what to do correctly.

Airbag Tough Call

It was only after 60ms or more that the algorithms started to reliably distinguish between a real crash and roadkill.


Airbag Misfire

The critical issue was this … the timeframe was too short. There was no reliable way to differentiate all the possible “fire” scenarios from the “no fire” scenarios with just 30 ms worth of data. You just have to get more data. As it turned out, they redesigned the airbag to inflate faster, thereby allowing 60 ms to make a decision, which was just enough time.

It seems to me that we’re in the same boat with Global Warming.

We have a few decades of temperature data for an Earth that is 4.6 billion years old. Looking within those few decades, it looks like we might be heading for catastrophe.

Last 160 Years

Or, it might just be a normal temperature cycle.

Temp Last 160,000 years

Just as with the airbag sensor, we don’t have enough data to make a reliable decision one way or the other. And just as with the airbag, the cost of being wrong is great. False negative … we experience catastrophic climate shifts. False positive … we unnecessarily impose costs upon ourselves and developing countries that can cause social catastrophe.

Personally, I don’t know which is the right answer. And I don’t know how anyone else can know with certainty that they have the right answer. I wish that both sides in this discussion had a little more humility and they would acknowledge that they don’t know more than they do know. And that they could be wrong.

Or maybe these experts are just like the airbags … full of hot air.

harry the ASIC guy

My Favorite SNUG Presentation

Monday, April 14th, 2008

I spoke in previous posts about Aart DeGeus’ keynote address and the VMM/OVM controversy at SNUG 2008 San Jose. In this post, I’d like to share my thoughts about my favorite presentation at SNUG, what made it so compelling, and what lessons we can take away as presenters.

Michael Keating, Synopsys Fellow and co-author of the Reuse Methodology Manual and Low Power Methodology Manual, presented a Tuesday afternoon (right after lunch!) Vision Session entitled “The Future of Low Power”. If you can access this presentation, great. Even better, Synopsys recorded the presentation and will hopefully make it generally available on their Website, much like a similar talk at the 2007 ARM Developers’ Conference.

So, what made this presentation so special compared to the others? Mike followed some of the basic rules of great presentations:

  1. Be Relevent – Design for low power and functional verification are the top issues facing designers in the next 5-10 years. There are new techniques and methodologies in play and also new science (even nanotech). This made for a topic that had a lot of interest to all ASIC designers.
  2. Know Your Stuff – It was obvious that Michael was personally very experienced in the technology of which he spoke. It would have been equally obvious had the case been otherwise.
  3. Relax – Easier said than done when addressing hundreds of your customers and peers. Michael seemed very at ease and that probably helped him to focus on the message.
  4. Talk Like a Real Person – It felt the same speaking to Mike up-front after his presentation than it did listening to him deliver his presentation. The audience was comfortable with his conversational style of presentation and that gave him a lot of credibility (compared to over-the-top marketing pitches).
  5. Use Visuals to Aid Your Message – This is the key point I wish to make. The slides were not the message and did not contain the message, as is too often common in PowerPoint presentations. How often do we see slides that have bullets that the presenter will read, hence making him superfluous? Instead, Mike delivered his message talking to the audience and the slides served to support and reinforce his message.
  6. Make Room for the Audience – Ideally, impromptu audience interaction allows the audience to be part of the discussion and to stay more connected. The constraints of the presentation … a large hall with hundreds of attendees … did not allow for that kind of interactivity during the presentation. So, Mike allowed plenty of time at the end for questions and comments and he welcomed them, even if dissenting opinions were expressed.

So…what was a great presentation that you attended, at SNUG or elsewhere? … What are your top presentation tips or presentation no-nos? … Your pet peeves?

harry the ASIC guy

Next Post: What do Airbags and Global Warming Have in Common?

OSU - Open Source University

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Below is a video presentation that was given in 2006 by Rice University Engineering Professor Richard Baraniuk at the TED conference in Monterey, CA. Professor Baraniuk is founder of Connexions, a free, open-source, global clearinghouse of course materials that allows teachers to quickly “create, rip, mix and burn” coursework — without fear of copyright violations. Think of it as Napster for education. I think this is well worth 18 minutes of our time, since we all have an interest in education for ourselves, our children, and our peers. When you’re done, a challenge.

Now for the challenge … I’d like you to consider what this approach would do for the ASIC Intellectual Property industry, if we could all collaborate to create, rip, mix, and burn design IP under user friendly legal terms such as Creative Commons.

What do you think?

harry the ASIC guy

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised!!!

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

My friend Ron has a knack for recognizing revolutionary technologies before most of us. He was one of the first to appreciate the power of the browser and how it would transform the internet, previously used only by engineers and scientists. He was one of the first and best podcasters. And now he’s become a self-proclaimed New Media Evangelist, preaching the good news of Web 2.0 and making it accessible to “the rest of us”.

Most of us are familiar with mainstream Web 2.0 applications, whether we use them or our friends use them or our kids use them. Social and professional networks such as My Space, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Podcasts in iTunes. Blogging sites on every topic. Virtual worlds such as Second Life. Collaboration tools such as Wikipedia. File sharing sites such as Youtube and Flickr. Social bookmarking sites such as Digg and Technorati. Open source publishing tools such as Wordpress and Joomla. Using these technologies we’re having conversations, collaborating, and getting smarter in ways that were unimaginable just 5 years ago. Imagine, a rock climber in Oregon can share climbing techniques with a fellow climber in Alice Springs. And mostly for free, save for the cost of the internet connection.

When we think of Web 2.0, we tend to think of teenagers and young adults. But this technology was invented by us geeks and so it’s no surprise that the ASIC design world is also getting on-board. Here are some examples from the ASIC Design industry:

Social media is networking ASIC designer to ASIC designer enabling us to be smarter faster. But that’s not all. Many forward looking companies have recognized the opportunity to talk to their customers directly. About 6 months ago, Synopsys launched several blogs on its microsite. Xilinx also has a User Community and a blog. It’s great that this is happening, but does it really make much of a difference? Consider what I believe could be a watershed event:

A few months ago, JL Grey published a post on his Cool Verification blog entitled The Brewing Standards War - Verification Methodology. As expected, verification engineers chimed in and expressed their ardent opinions and viewpoints. What came next was not expected … stakeholders from Synopsys and Mentor joined the conversation. The chief VMM developer from Synopsys, Janick Bergeron, put forth information to refute certain statements that he felt were erroneous. A marketing manager from Mentor, Dennis Brophy, offered his views on why OVM was open and VMM was not. And Karen Bartleson, who participates in several standards committees for Synopsys, disclosed Synopsys’ plan to encourage a single standard by donating VMM to Accellera.

From what I’ve heard, this was one of the most viewed ASIC related blog postings ever (JL: Do you have any stats you can share?). But did it make a difference in changing the behavior of any of the protagonists? I think it did and here is why:

  • This week at the Synopsys Users Group meeting in San Jose, the VMM / OVM issues were the main topic of questioning for CEO Aart DeGeus after his keynote address. And the questions picked up where they left off in the blog post…Will VMM ever be open and not just licensed? Is Synopsys trying to talk to Mentor and Cadence directly? If we have access to VMM, can we run it on other simulators besides VCS?
  • Speaking to several Synopsoids afterwards, I discovered that the verification marketing manager referenced this particular Cool Verification blog posting in an email to an internal Synopsys verification mailing list. It seems he approved of some of the comments and wanted to make others in Synopsys aware of these customer views. Evidently he sees these opinions as valuable and valid. Good for him.
  • Speaking to some at Synopsys who have a say in the future of VMM, I believe that Synopsys’ decision to donate VMM to Accellera has been influenced and pressured, at least in part, by the opinions expressed in the blog posting and the subsequent comments. Good for us.

I’d like to believe that the EDA companies and other suppliers are coming to recognize what mainstream companies have recognized … that the battle for customers is decreasingly being fought with advertisements, press releases, glossy brochures, and animated Power Point product pitches. Instead, as my friend Ron has pointed out, I am able to talk to “passionate content creators who know more about designing chips than any reporter could ever learn”, and find out what they think. Consider these paraphrased excerpts of the cluetrain manifesto : the end of business as usual:

  • The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized.
  • People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors.
  • There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
  • Companies that don’t realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.
  • Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.

In short, this ASIC revolution will not be televised!!!

harry the ASIC guy