Archive for June, 2008

Verizon Sucks! Oh…Did I Mention Verizon Sucks?

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

(When Seth Godin posted this today, I knew I needed to add my voice to the discussion).

This past Sunday was already a bad day.

My 4 year old son had decided this was the day he would be “age appropriate” and assert his independence. (I won’t capture the details here, lest some day he decide to run for President, only to have this post show up on CNN and derail his campaign). As a result, he was no longer going to Mathew’s party, and Joyce and I weren’t going to get that 2 hour break we needed.

Instead, while Nate pouted in the other room, I tried to catch up on writing my blog post for Monday. I was halfway done when the little green DSL light started to blink and the Internet light went dark. At first, no panic. I had become used to these intermittent outages, usually lasting 2-3 minutes. Time to grab a Cherry Coke Zero, check on Nate, and all would be well when I came back.

Not exactly. The lights were still out. After about an hour, I decided I needed to prepare myself for the ordeal that is “Verizon customer support”. I’d called Verizon about half a dozen times with similar issues and knew my day was not going to get any better.

1st: The dreaded Voice Response System. After 30 years of using a touch tone phone, I know where the keys are, and so do most people. But instead of getting my customer info from my CallerID and routing met to a real person, I had to speak my way through 7 levels of voice response.

“No”.

“My phone number”

“Yes”

“Repair and Tech Support”

“DSL”

“Yes”

“Windows”

2nd: The dreaded wait on hold while listening to really bad music. The only break in the music was the voice interrupting every 20 seconds to tell me that my wait would be less than 10 minutes. Oh, and that I could get online support at the Verizon Web site. Duh!

3rd: 25 minutes later, a real person, who needs to once again verify my phone number and identity. After explaining the problem, he insists that I reboot my modem before he continue. Of course, having used Verizon before and being a hardware designer, that was the first thing I did. But he would not proceed unless I gave it one more try.

4th: “Do you have filters on the other lines?” “No, my filters somehow magically removed themselves from where they were a few hours ago”. I was getting annoyed now.

5th: “Maybe it’s your jack”. I knew it was not, but he was not going to help me until I went through the motions. So he had me crawl under the desk and disconnect the modem and reconnect in the living room to another jack. This took me 5 minutes…no difference. Then another 5 minutes to put the modem back where it was.

6th: “Could it be a problem on Verizon’s end?” I asked. “We’d know immediately if we had a problem in your area and there is no problem”.

7th: “We’ll send a technician out tomorrow. Please hold while I get dispatch on the line. It will be about 5 minutes”.

8th: 15 minutes later, “the dispatch computer system is down, so I can’t put you in touch with them. I’ll put this in as high priority and you’ll be called back within half an hour to schedule an appointment”

9th: 2 hours later, I get a call that someone will be out between 8am and 5pm. Yah, like we’ll sit home waiting all day. I ask them to call ahead and they say they’ll call half an hour before they come.

10th: 15 minutes later I get an automated call telling me that my issue was resolved. I look at the blinking DSL light and the black Internet light and say “NO”. OK, they’ll still come out.

11th: Late afternoon Monday, Joyce, who is trying to launch a new business (shameless plug), calls to see where they are. (See 1-3 above, except add in talking to someone in India who evidently had never heard numbers spoken out loud). “They came by at 12:10 and nobody was there”. Not true, she was there. In any case, they had determined that the problem was on Verizon’s end, despite their original assurance to the contrary (see #6), and it was fixed. Indeed, solid green lights.

12th: Since Monday, the outage seems to have been resolved, but it’s back to the 2-3 minute intermittent outages. So I call up again and this time speak to Derrick. He reads or recites from memory the standard excuses:

“It could be thunderstorms”.

“This is LA…we have 2 thunderstorms a year.”

“Could be that we were doing an upgrade”

“Several times a day”?

In any case, I insist that they open a ticket and someone tell me why my connection is so intermittent and fix it.

“You’ll be contacted within 48 hours.” Ticket # 197518950

Stay Tuned.

harry the ASIC guy

What Do Analysts Know That We Don’t Know?

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

“Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut”.

I googled this quote and it looks like it might have been Mark Twain or Abraham Lincoln or someone around those times. Whoever it was, I took their advice last week regarding the Cadence - Mentor acquisition, at least as far as anything on this blog was concerned. I have my views as to what will likely happen, but I’ve expressed them privately for the most part. Instead, I was listening to what others had to say.

And boy are there lots of opinions! As the dust settles, I’ve noticed something very interesting. There seems to be two camps.

In one camp are the people who are opposed to the merger or feel it won’t work. I must admit that this is the camp I am in, informed by 14 years in the EDA industry and bystander to several mergers, good and bad. The specific reasons have already been covered by others. They raise the spectre of Daisy/Cadnetix, pointing out significant product overlap, the difference of corporate cultures, FTC concerns, etc.

In the other camp are those who think this is a good idea, good for the industry, good for the companies, good for the shareholders. And they are mainly from the financial analyst and investment community. I admit, I have only a rudimentary understanding of the Wall Street side of the business, and the finances involved, so I ask you for your help to explain to me…

What do the Analysts Know that We Don’t Know?

harry the ASIC guy

Squeezing the Homunculus - Try Something New

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Several weeks ago, Tommy Kelly published a blog post entitled DAC and the VLSI Homunculus :

“To the unwary conference goer (and the EDA companies: my addition), the most important part of the VLSI design and verification problem, is tools. Choose the right tool, and you’ll be fine. Get it wrong, and you’ll never tape out a chip again…But far, far more important are the knowledge, skills, experience, and artistry of the people who use those tools. Peopleware, not Software or Hardware, is the most important VLSI body part.”

Having spent the last decade plus of my life in some way, shape, or form in the ASIC design consulting business, I could not agree with Tommy more. Never did my clients insist on using a particular tool. But almost always they’d ask for a consultant by name, because he had the “knowledge, skills, experience, and artistry” to get the job done.

And so, when I read the EE Times Story entitled EDA Vendors Get Squeezed on Two Fronts, I had to laugh. Here were the EDA vendors once again bemoaning the fact that the EDA industry is not able to “capture the value” (i.e. charge more for its products) that it justly deserves. The article referenced strategies such as royalties that have been rejected before. (After all, if you were a general contractor, would you pay a royalty to the company that made the hammer or the saw?)

Indeed, the EDA industry is largely a Cortical Homunculus, having a distorted view of how important it is to the success of it’s customers projects. Yes, the tools are a key enabler, but more important are the designers, the people using the tools. Through my years, I have had the honor or working with designers that I would take with me wherever I go, my A-Team. And it would not matter what tools they use, they’d be successful anyway they’d need to do it!!!

I’ve spent a good portion of the last year talking to people in the EDA industry, marketing people and sales people. They tell me things like the following:

  • EDA is a dying business
  • EDA companies are just trying to take market share from competitors
  • There’s very little new in EDA
  • All the innovation comes from the small companies

They are probably not listening to me, but just in case, here is my advice to the big EDA companies.

Try Something New!!!

Instead of stealing EDA share from eachother in the analog design or verification market, solve a new problem. Make our lives easier. In basic economic terms, there is only one type of company that “captures the value” of its offering, and that is the monopoly, the one-of-a-kind product that solves a must-solve problem.

harry the ASIC guy

(Postscript: I wrote this article prior to Cadence’s offer today to buy Mentor Graphics, but it relates to the same point. Instead of doing something new, the EDA vendor strategy is to take away, or in this case BUY, market share from its competitors.

Journalists and Bloggers Face off at DAC

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

This evening was the first Blogging Birds of a feather session at DAC. It was a very interesting session, mostly involving discussions between the “real journalists” in the room and the other bloggers. John Ford has already posted a very good summary of the meeting on DFT Digest, so please click over there to find out more. I’m also interested to see what the “real press” has to say.

harry the ASIC guy

A Tale of Two Booths - Certess and Nusym

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

I had successfully avoided the zoo that is Monday at DAC and spent Tuesday zig-zagging the exhibit halls looking for my target list of companies to visit. (And former EDA colleagues, now another year older, greyer, and heavier). Interestingly enough, the first and last booths I visited on Tuesday seemed to offer opposite approaches to address the same issue. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

A well polished street magician got my attention at first at the Certess booth. After a few card tricks, finding the card I had picked out in the deck, he told me that it was as easy for him to find the card as it was for Certess to find the bugs in my design. Very clever!!! Someone must have been pretty proud they came up with that one. In any case, I’d had some exposure to Certess previously and was interested enough to invest 15 minutes.

Certess’ tool does something they call functional qualification. It’s kinda like ATPG fault grading for your verification suite. Basically, it seeds your DUT with potential bugs, then considers a bug “qualified” if the verification suite would cause the bug to be controlled and observed by a checker or assertion. If you have unqualified bugs (i.e. aspects of your design that are not tested), then there are holes in your verification suite.

This is a potentially useful tool since it helps you understand where the holes are in your verification suite. What next? Write more tests and run more vectors to get to those unqualified bugs. Ugh….more tests? I was hoping this would reduce the work, not increase it!!! This might be increasing my confidence, but life was so much simpler when I could delude myself that my test suite was actually complete.

Whereas the magician caught my attention at the Certess booth, I almost missed the Nusym booth as it was tucked away in the back corner of the Exhibit Hall. Actually, they did not really have a booth, just a few demo suites with a Nusymian guarding the entrance armed with nothing more than a RFID reader and a box of Twinkies. (I did not have my camera, so you’ll have to use your imagination). After all the attention they had gotten at DVCon and from Cooley, I was surprised that “harry the ASIC guy” could just walk up and get a demo in the suite.

(Disclaimer: There was no NDA required and I asked if this was OK to blog about and was told “Yup”, so here goes…)

The cool technology behind Nusym is the ability to do on-the-fly (during simulation) coverage analysis and reactively focused vector generation. Imagine a standard System Verilog testbench with constrained random generators and checkers and coverage groups defining your functional coverage goal. Using standard constrained random testing, the generators create patterns independent of what is inside the DUT and what is happening with the coverage monitors. If you hit actual coverage monitors or not, it doesn’t matter. The generators will do what they will do, perhaps hitting the same coverage monitors over and over and missing others altogether. Result: Lots of vectors run, insufficient functional coverage, more tests needed (random or directed).

The Nusym tool (no name yet) understands the DUT and does on-the-fly coverage analysis. It builds an internal model that includes all of the branches in your DUT and all of your coverage monitors. The constraint solver then generates patterns that try to get to the coverage monitors intentionally. In this way, it can get to deeply nested and hard to reach coverage points in a few vectors whereas constrained random may take a long time or never get there. Also, when you trigger a coverage monitor, it crosses it off the list and know it does not have to hit that monitor again. So the next vectors will try to hit something new. As compared to Certess, this is actually reducing the number of tests I need to write. In fact, they recommend just having a very simple generator that defines the basic constraints and focusing most of the energy on writing the coverage monitors. Result: Much fewer vectors run, high functional coverage. No more tests needed.

It sounds too good to be true, but it was obvious that these guys really believe in this tool and that they have something special. They are taking it slow. Nusym does not have a released product yet, but they have core technology with which they are working with a few customers/partners. They are also focusing on the core of the market, Verilog DUT, System Verilog Testbench. I would not throw out my current simulator just yet, but this seems like very unique and very powerful technology that can get coverage closure orders of magnitude faster than current solutions.

If anyone else saw their demo or has any comments, please chime in.

harry the ASIC guy

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Xuropa Unveiled

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

Towards the end of my last post I mentioned a new company called Xuropa that is offering a Web 2.0 style Online Tradeshow Platform. As it turns out, Lou Covey covered them in his State of the Media blog today and also interviewed Xuropa founder James Colgan. Check it out.

FYI … You should also be able to meet James Colgan at the Bloggers Birds-of-a-Feather session at DAC.