Archive for June, 2009

Do Executives Really Read Blogs?

Monday, June 29th, 2009

A few weeks ago I was talking with a former colleague about social media (or new media or web 2.0 or social networking or whatever you call it). He is now VP of sales at one of the companies in our industry and is contemplating starting a blog or doing something in social media and he wanted to get my thoughts. Early in the conversation, he asked “do executives really read blogs”?

An interesting question.

About a week ago, Forbes released a study entitled “The Rise of the Digital C-Suite - How Executives Locate and Filter Business Information” for which they surveyed 354 executives at US companies with annual sales > $1B. The results were both surprising and not surprising.

First, what was not surprising. The younger the executive, the more likely he was to use and count on the internet and social media as a resource for business related research. Whereas 56% of executives under 40 say they use Twitter daily or several times a week, only 17% of those over 50 use Twitter at all. The statistics are similarly skewed towards younger executive as regards usage of blogs, RSS feeds, social networks, and so on.

Also not surprising, the more mature social media technologies had the highest adoption rates. Irregardless of age, almost 100% of executives turn to the internet via search engines to do research before enlisting the help of their staff. The top areas of research are competitor analysis, trend analysis (customer, technology, societal, marketing, political), and corporate developments and news about mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures. Meanwhile, 95% found links from websites, blogs, and other online content to be valuable and 82% found guidance from contacts in online communities to be valuable.

So, what was surprising? Among executives under 40, 72% maintain a work related blog, with almost two-thirds updating it at least weekly. Twitter and RSS usage was very similar. Who knew that these busy executives could find time to keep up a blog or to “waste time” on Twitter? This trend will only increase as more of Generation Netscape and Generation Youtube find their way into the executive suite.

With similar goals, UberCEO.com scoured the Internet to determine how many of the Fortune 100 CEOs were using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, or had a blog. In stark contrast to the Forbes study, the results of their research indicated that of the 100 CEOs, only 19 had personal Facebook pages, 2 had Twitter accounts, 13 had LinkedIn accounts, 75 had Wikipedia pages, and none had a blog. What could account for this difference between the two studies?

Some of the difference is due to the demographics of the two studies. Whereas UberCEO considered only Fortune 100 CEOs, Forbes looked at executives of all ranks (only 18% were CEOs) and included much smaller companies with sales > $1B. (In fact, the Fortune 100th company had sales over $20B, 20x the limit for the Forbes survey). There seems to be a greater tendency for lower-level executives and those in smaller companies to use social media. Also, the CEOs in the larger Fortune 100 companies are more likely in that 50+ range which makes them less likely to participate in social media. I also think that the UberCEO survey undercounted since they did not contact anyone directly and missed many who may just listen in on blogs and Twitter and other social media and not yet participate as content producers.

A third more in-depth datapoint was provided by Ron Ploof in his recently released eBook on How Johnson and Johnson (Fortune #47) Does New Media. Despite being in a highly regulated industry where they had every excuse not to risk adopting social media, nonetheless JnJ has been very bold and successful with 2 blogs, a Youtube channel, a Twitter account, and now a Facebook page. Apparently, many of JnJ’s executives have adopted social media.

So, back to my colleague’s original question, “do executives really read blogs,” here’s what I think. Considering that we are in a high-tech industry with technology savvy execs, who tend to be younger than the average, with companies smaller than the typical Fortune 100 … Yes, the executives that you are likely trying to reach probably do read blogs. And maybe even use Twitter (see this list of business leaders and executives on Twitter) and have a Facebook page.

But that’s just me. What do you think? I’d especially be interested to hear from any executives out there as to what tools you use, why you find them useful, and how you use them.

harry the ASIC guy

An ASIC Guy Visits An FPGA World - Part II

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Altera FPGA

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I am wrapping up a project with one of my clients and beating the bushes for another project to take its place. As part of my search, I visited a former colleague who works at a small company in Southern California. This company designs a variety of products that utilize FPGAs exclusively (no ASICs), so I got a chance to understand a little bit more about the differences between ASIC and FPGA design. Here’s the follow-on then to my previous post An ASIC Guy Visits An FPGA World.

Recall that the first 4 observations from my previous visit to FPGA World were:

Observation #1 - FPGA people put their pants on one leg at a time, just like me.

Observation #2 - I thought that behavioral synthesis had died, but apparently it was just hibernating.

Observation #3 - Physical design of FPGAs is getting like ASICs.

Observation #4 - Verification of FPGAs is getting like ASICs.

Now for the new observations:

Observation #5 - Parts are damn cheap - According to the CTO of this company, Altera Cyclone parts can cost as little as $10-$20 each in sufficient quantities. A product that requires thousands or even tens of thousands will still cost less than a 90nm mask set. For many non-consumer products with quantities in this range, FPGAs are compelling from a cost standpoint.

True, the high-end parts can cost thousands or even tens of thousands each (e.g. for the latest Xilinx Virtex 6). But considering that a Virtex 6 part is 45nm and has the gate-count equivalent of almost 10M logic gates, what would an equivalent ASIC cost?

Observation # 6 - FPGA verification is different (at least for small to medium sized FPGAs) - Since it is so easy and fast and inexpensive (compared to ASIC) to synthesize and place and route an FPGA, much more of the functional verification is done in the lab on real hardware. Simulation is typically used to get a “warm and fuzzy” that the design is mostly functional, and then the rest is done in the lab with the actual FPGA. Tools like Xilinx ChipScope allow logic-analyzer-like access into the device, providing some, but not all, of the visibility that exists in a simulation. And once bugs are found, they can be fixed with an RTL change and reprogramming the FPGA.

One unique aspect of FPGA verification is that it can be done in phases or “spirals”. Perhaps only some of the requirements for the FPGA are complete or only part of the RTL is available. No problem. One can implement just that part of the design that is complete (for instance just the dataplane processing) and program the part. Since the same part can be used over and over, the cost to do this is basically $0. Once the rest of the RTL is available, the part can be reprogrammed again.

Observation # 7 - FPGA design tools are all free or dirt cheap - I think everybody knows this fact already, but it really hit home talking to this company. Almost all the tools they use for design are free or very inexpensive, yet the tools are more than capable to “get the job done”. In fact, the company probably could not operate in the black if they had to make the kind of investment that ASIC design tools require.

Observation # 8 - Many tools and methods common in the ASIC world are still uncommon in this FPGA world - For this company, there is no such thing as logical equivalence checking. Verification tools that perform formal verification of designs (formal proof), System-Verilog simulation, OVM, VMM…not used at all. Perhaps they’ll be used for the larger designs, but right now they are getting along fine without them.

__________

FPGA verification is clearly the area that is the most controversial. In one camp are the “old skool” FPGA designers that want to get the part in the lab as soon as possible and eschew simulation. In the other camp are the high-level verification proponents who espouse the merits of coverage-driven and metric-driven verification and recommend achieving complete coverage in simulation. I think it would really be fun to host a panel discussion with representatives from both camps and have them debate these points. I think we’d learn a lot.

Hmmm…

harry the ASIC guy

Mentor Is Listening

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

My morning routine is pretty, well, routine.

Get up.  Wake the kids.

Check email.  Ask the kids to stop jumping on the couch.

Check Twitter. Tell the kids again to stop jumping on the couch.

Check my Google Reader. Glare at the kids with that “I’ve asked you for the last time” look.

You get the idea.

This Wednesday morning, somewhere in between conversations with my kids, walking the dog, and getting ready for work, I came across the following comment on a friend’s blog:

Ron, we are listening.

http://www.mentor.com/blogs

Ron Fuller
Web Manager, Mentor Graphics

For background, Ron Ploof is the guy who got the crazy idea almost 3 years ago that Synopsys should be doing something in this new world called social media. (Actually, I don’t think the term “social media” had even been coined back then). He evangelized this belief to the VP of Marketing at Synopsys and created for himself a job as Synopsys’ “New Media Evangelist” (actual title on his business card). He launched Synopsys’ first foray into social media, including podcasts, videos, and most prominently, blogs.

Synopsys’ success motivated Cadence to follow suit (something confided to me by Cadence’s former community manager). And it seems, according to the comment on Ron’s blog, it also motivated Mentor’s move into social media.

__________

I wanted to find out more about the Mentor blogs and I was able to set up some time to talk over lunch with Sonia Harrison at Mentor (see her sing at the Denali DAC party) . Sonia had helped me set up my previous interview with Paul Hofstadler and had extended me an invitation to attend the Mentor User2User conference (which, unfortunately, I could not attend). As it turns out, Sonia was the absolutely right person to talk to.

Even though I had only now become aware of Mentor blogs, Mentor had evidently coordinated their launch with the launch of their new website several months ago. Sonia was quite humble, but it seems that she was the driving force behind the blogs and Mentor’s presence in other social media like Twitter. She had been watching what was going on for some time, hesitant to jump in without a good plan, and now was the time.

According to Sonia, Mentor’s motivation for doing the blogs was to extend into a new media their “thought leadership” in the industry, to draw customers in to their website, and to exchange information with customers. Interestingly, Mentor did not hire an outside social media consultant or community manager like Cadence had. Rather, the project was homegrown. Sonia recruited various technical experts and others as bloggers. She developed “common sense” social media guidelines to make sure bloggers were informed of and played by social media rules (e.g. no sensitive or proprietary information, be polite, respect copyrights, give attribution).

According to Sonia, “one of the more difficult things was to get people to commit to blogging regularly. Writing takes time, it’s almost a full time job.” Despite this additional work burden, Mentor has no plans to bring in professional journalists as bloggers like Richard Goering at Cadence. And it doesn’t seem they need to. Simon Favre received a blog of the week award from System Level Design a few weeks ago, so they are doing quite well on their own.

Sonia does not have any specific measurable goals (page views, subscribers, etc.), which I think is a mistake, especially when her upper management comes asking for evidence that these efforts are paying off. My friend Ron likes to tell me that social media is the most measurable media ever and it’s a shame not to use the data.

I started playing with the site later in the afternoon and noticed a few things. First, when I added a comment to one of the blogs without registering, it did not show up right away, nor did I get a message that the comment was being moderated. It did show up later in the day, but it would be nice to at least be told that it was “awaiting moderation”. Still better, why moderate or require registration at all? The likelihood of getting inappropriate comments from engineering professionals is very low, and they can always be removed if need be. Moderation of comments will also kill a hot topic in its tracks. I’ve personally had the experience of publishing a new blog post late at night and waking up to several comments, some addressing other comments. Had I moderated the blog, none of those comments would have even showed up until later in the day.

Second, there was no way to enter a URL or blog address when leaving a comment. It is pretty standard practice to have this feature to allow readers to “check out” the person leaving the comment. Hopefully thay can add this.

On the positive side, the most important feature of a blog is the content and the content looks very good, especially the PCB blogs. Also, there is apparently no internal review or censorship of blog posts, so bloggers have the freedom to write whatever they want, within the social media guidelines of course.

 __________

It’s been almost 3 years since Ron made his first pitch to his manager. Who would have thought that the Big 3 and many others would have adopted social media in such a short time. Meanwhile, my kids are still jumping on the couch.

GTG

harry the ASIC guy

An ASIC Guy Visits An FPGA World

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

I hear so often nowadays that FPGAs are the new ASICs. So I decided to take off half a day and attend a Synopsys FPGA Seminar just down the street from where I’m working (literally a 5 minute walk). I would like to share some observations as an ASIC guy amongst FPGA guys and gals.

Observation #1 - FPGA people put their pants on one leg at a time, just like me. (Actually, I sometimes do both legs at the same time, but that’s another story). I had been led to believe that there was some sort of secret cabal of FPGA people that all knew the magic language of FPGAs that nobody else knew. Not the case. Although there is certainly a unique set of terminology and acronyms in the FPGA arena (LUTs, DCM, Block RAM) they are all fairly straightforward once you know them.

Observation #2 - I thought that behavioral synthesis had died, but apparently it was just hibernating. There is behavioral synthesis capability in some of the higher-level FPGA tools. I’ve never used it, so I can’t say one way or the other. But it sure was a blast from the past (circa 2000). Memories of SPW, Behavioral Compiler, Cossap, Monet, Matisse.

Observation #3 - Physical design of FPGAs is getting like ASICs. There are floorplanning tools, tools that back-annotate placement back into synthesis, tools that perform synthesis and placement together, tools for doing pre-route and post-route timing analysis. Made me think of Floorplan Manager, Physical Compiler, and IC Compiler.

Observation #4 - Verification of FPGAs is getting like ASICs. It can take a day to resynthesize and route a large FPGA to get back in the lab debugging. That’s an unacceptable turnaround time for debugging an FPGA with lots of bugs. Assertions (SVA, PSL), high-level verification languages (System-Verilog / OVM / VMM) and cross domain checkers are methods being stolen from the ASIC design world to address large FPGA verification. The trick is deciding when there has been enough simulation to start debug in the lab.

After this session, I think this ASIC guy is going to feel right at home in the FPGA world of the future.

harry the ASIC guy

(Read Part II of this series here)