Archive for the ‘General’ Category

2009 New Years Resolutions

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

Back in March when I launched this blog, my goal was “to share my insights into the people aspects of ASIC engineering”. Now, 10 months and 50 posts later, with the start of 2009, it’s time to take stock and make some 2009 New Years Resolutions.  Here we go:

#1 - I resolve to write shorter and more frequent posts. - Specifically, my goal is to provide a new post 2 times a week and most of them will take less than 5 minutes to read.  By doing this, I hope to be more responsive to what is going on in the industry and provide fresher content. Once in a while I’ll still put up a lengthy post, but that will be the exception.

#2 - I resolve to enable some sort of online community  - So far, the conversation has been mostly from me to you (the readers) and occasionally between the you (through comments). I’d like to get us all involved in doing something meaningful and important in the industry. I’ve had this idea for a while that I called “the ASIC guild” that would be a community of ASIC designers helping each other access career training and job opportunities. With all the layoffs in the industry lately, I think this is very timely. Look for something real soon, but I will need a lot of help. So please let me know if you are interested in helping.

#3 - SaaS for EDA Roundtable - Over the last few months, I’ve blogged quite a bit on the idea of Software-as-a-Service for EDA. A fellow blogger suggested that I organize a roundtable discussion on this topic and I am shooting for DVCON (Feb 24-26) to hold this.  This will also require your help, so please let me know if you are interested in helping to organize or be a part of this.

What do you all think?  Are these the right things to shoot for in 2009?

harry the ASIC guy

Do The Right Thing

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

I recently caught up with one of my best friends whom I’ve known since Junior High School.  We were on the Math Team together in High School (yeah, we were geeks). We went to MIT together. We moved to Southern California after college together. We got our Masters degrees at USC together. And we both worked in the aerospace industry as our first jobs.

After several years at the Aerospace Corporation, Gary moved back to New York for family reasons. As it turned out, much of the engineering methods and mathematics used to analyze spacecraft attitude control stability (estimation theory stuff like Kalman Filters, etc.) were directly applicable to computational finance (or what is more recently been called financial engineering). With this knowledge, Gary landed a job at an investment bank and did very well, analyzing complex financial instruments to help clients hedge against risk (at least I think that’s what he did … I don’t really understand this stuff that well).

Shortly after September 11, Gary left the corporate world in order to spend more time with his young growing family and to chart his own course.  He performed some personal investing for private clients and eventually created and ran his own privately managed mutual fund. I know this was a big deal for him and he took it very seriously.  He always did painstaking research on companies he’d invest in and never took undue risks with his clients’ money.  As he told me the other day, “this is not a game”.

The first year or two the mutual fund did pretty well. Not great. Not terrible. But pretty good.

Early in 2008 I called Gary’s business line and the number was no longer in service. I left several messages at his home number but did not hear back. Finally, about a month and a half later I got a hold of Gary and asked him what was up. As it turns out, Gary had been really busy with all of the details of closing down the mutual fund he had started less than 2 years earlier. And here is where the story gets interesting.

Gary had been talking with lots of companies about their business and sensed from all of them that things were not good.  He also had a first-hand understanding of the financial markets and financial instruments that were to eventually be blamed for the real estate crisis. Whereas Gary had worked on creating these products to hedge against risk, others were using them to create risk and the ratings agency’s were covering it all up by putting AAA ratings on them.

All in all, Gary knew that there was going to be bad times coming up.  So what did he do?

  • Did he paint a rosy picture for his clients so they would keep their money in his fund and he could continue to collect his management fee?
  • Did he go out and get new investors in order to pay impressive returns to the older ones?
  • Did he do something else to cover it up (after all, he knows enough to do that)?

No.  Gary did what it seems that very few in financial services would do.  Gary called up each of his clients and told the truth.  That there was going to be bad times and that he could not make money for them in this environment.  That the risk was too high.  And, even though he had put so much effort into building this fund, he was going to close it down for their benefit.

Many of his clients wanted him to keep going and were willing to assume the risk, but in the end he convinced them to cash most of it out and closed down the fund.

This was early in 2008, before the worst of the news and most of the crash occurred.  Now, looking back at that decision, Gary’s decision probably saved his client’s millions of dollars.  Some of them have called to thank him since then.

I think this is a great story about integrity and ethics and a great way to wash off the slime of 2008 and start 2009 clean and fresh.  If you have not yet chosen a new year’s resolution, let me suggest one.

Just once in 2009, do the right thing when you stand to lose.

harry the ASIC guy

Are My Kids Are Going To Jail?

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

I hope nobody at ASCAP is reading this. Because, if they are, they might be sending my kids to jail. First, some background.

____________________

If you don’t know who ASCAP is, they are the the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. That sounds all fine and good … after all, I support the Arts. In fact, though, they are the ones who go door-to-door to coffee shops around the country shaking down small business owners to pay royalties on recorded music they play in their stores.  All to protect the artist, so he can get his 7% (the average) and the publisher can get his 93%.

Last Friday, we had our parent-teacher conference with our daughter’s 2nd grade teacher. During the conference, we inquired whatever became of the “music share day” that had been planned earlier this year. You see, my daughter, as well as other children in her class, were looking forward to bringing in their favorite music to share with their fellow students during an art class.

To my surprise, it seems that this idea was way out of line.  You see, evidently, ASCAP had previously stepped up to enforce the rights of its client artists (remember, the ones getting 7% of the licensing fees). They felt that a school was no place for children to learn about music unless they pay the licensing fees. So they sued the school board in order to protect their clients rights and stamp out any unauthorized and illicit learning that might be occurring without a valid license agreement. Bless their souls. And now the school board had adopted a clear guideline regarding copyrighted material … just say no.

Bottom line … no music in the art class.

Now, I don’t deny that the original composer deserves some royalty (again, the 7%), and I’m not advocating copyright infringement. But …  isn’t this a clear example where the music industry would be better off allowing schools to use copyrighted music. Not only is the use of this music in a classroom setting harmless to the industry, what better way to spread the music than allow elementary school students to bring in their favorite music. Look at what’s happened with Hannah Montana and High School Musical.

The EDA industry has long supported university education by providing courseware and tools for classroom instruction.  Sure, they want to support learning, but they also understand that students will be more likely to use the tools they learned in college when they get to industry. It just makes good business sense.

(As a side note, I would like to challenge the EDA industry, especially the big vendors, to extend the university offerings to those designers who have been recently affected by layoffs. Many of these professionals are in need of retraining and the ability to access these course materials and tools will help them find their next jobs. I think it makes good business sense, because these designers will learn the company’s tools and I am sure will be forever grateful for the helping hand. If you are employed by an EDA company and are reading this, please bring this up with your management.)

 ____________________

That same evening, the YMCA had a Christmas Party where the kids got to perform some Christmas songs. Kiara participated in an Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas song and Nate was the 12th day of Christmas. As I watched them, my thoughts went back to the copyright issue and I wondered to myself whether the YMCA had secured the public performance rights to these songs. I asked one of the YMCA leaders about it and sure enough, they did. Phew! In fact, she told me that the kids are so “with it” these days, they even know to ask the leaders “is it on the approved list?”

Thankfully, someone was careful to make sure they had done things by the book.  Otherwise, they’d have to bring out the paddy wagon to cart all these kids off to jail.

harry the ASIC guy

ABC - Always Be Closing

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

It was another beautiful Southern California morning.

I stay a little longer on Fridays after dropping Nate and Kiara at Elementary School.  Fridays are assembly day and I like to listen in to hear what is going on and to briefly recapture my childhood, when things were a little simpler and purer than they are today.

Each assembly starts with the Pledge of Allegiance and Miss Miller singing God Bless America, followed by announcements and sometimes awards.

Room 22 - “Most Enthusiastic Reader”

Room 17 - “Best Helper”

This Friday was a little different.  After Miss Miller finished, the Principal told us that we would be hearing from Mrs. Hazard who was the head of fund raising for the Parents Teachers Association (PTA).

“Good morning everybody”.

“Good morning Mrs. Hazard”.

“What a beautiful morning. And you are all so well behaved. Today, I’d like to talk to you about our fund raising drive that you all have been helping with.”

The fundraising drive to which Mrs. Hazard was referring was already the 3rd fundraising event of the year and we were only in September. If you live in California and have kids then you probably can put fundraising on your resume. To be in a school or join any organization with your kids is almost a guarantee that you’ll need to hit up your family, friends, and neighbors to buy chocolate, wrapping paper, books, candy, etc.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize that our taxes don’t cover the cost of the 49th best school system in the country. And the PTAs are trying to help by raising funds. But I just don’t feel comfortable leaving boxes of chocolate with little signs in the printer room at work. Or guilting my in-laws into buying something new every other week.  I feel awkward when a “friend of the family” invites us over for dinner and we find ourselves at a multi-level marketing recruitment event for ionized water. (This actually happened to us). And I’d feel like one of those MLM people if I were to hit up my friends and family every other week for a new donation. As a result, Joyce and I usually end up buying something ourselves. And that is that.

“How many of you have already sold something?”, Mrs. Hazard asked.

About half the hands went up. I looked over at Kiara as she slumped noticeably and put her head down in shame.

“Very good. Now how many of you have sold 10 or more items”.

About 20 or so hands stayed up.

“Excellent.  Please come up after assembly and I will enter your name into a special drawing”.

Kiara slumped a little more.

“I’ll be back here on Tuesday and any one who has sold 10 or more items will also be entered in the drawing. Now, remember, we have only 1 more week left. So go out there and SELL, SELL, SELL!!”

I was about to bust an artery.  Was I listening to someone in the PTA or Alec Baldwin in Glengary Glenross?

I had half a mind to confront Mrs. Hazard on the spot, but making a scene in front of the kids and the moms did not seem like a good idea. Plus, I probably had to think this through.  Maybe I was over-reacting.  After all, life is about selling yourself, so Kiara might as well start as soon as possible. After all, no sense coddling a 2nd grader, right???

Later that day I asked Kiara about what had occurred and how she felt.

“I’m going to get in trouble”, she said.

“Why?”

“Because I didn’t sell anything”.

She was almost in tears.

Am I wrong and am I making too much out of this?  Should I just encourage and help my daughter to sell some wrapping paper to the neighbors.

Or did Mrs. Hazard step over the line?

What do you think?

harry the ASIC giy

Bloggers Flock to DAC Birds-of-a-Feather Session

Friday, May 23rd, 2008


Every year on March 19th, the swallows wing their way back to San Juan Capistrano. Just up the road in Anaheim, designers from around the world will fly in for the 45th Annual Design Automation Conference, held June 8th - 13th. How appropriate will it be then, when EDA and ASIC design bloggers flock to the 1st annual DAC Birds-of-a-Feather session on blogging?

Perhaps you are a blogger or are thinking of becoming a blogger or know somebody who is a blogger. Perhaps you are a marketing director or just curious. Whatever your interest, you’ll want to come meet and engage with the bloggers who are growing in quantity, quality and industry influence:

This event will be held in Rooms 201B and 201C at the Anaheim convention center on Wednesday, June 11 at 6pm.

I am helping to coordinate this session, so if you are planning to attend, just drop a quick email to harry {at} theASICguy {dot} com so we can get an idea for how large a group we will have. If you are a blogger and would like to present or be part of a panel, please let me know as well.

I hope to see and meet many of you there.

harry the ASIC guy

The Power of Wikipedia - 1.21 GigaWatts

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

On Wed April 30th Hewlett Packard announced that they had fabricated a device previously only theorized. Known as a memristor, this is the 4th basic type of passive circuit element, joining its brethren the resistor, capacitor, and inductor. The device’s unique property of “memristance” is equal to the rate of chance of flux with respect to charge, hence it has been commonly compared to the mythical “flux capacitor”, popularized in the original Back to The Future movie. Now, in order for us to achieve time travel, someone simply needs to invent the Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor to generate the 1.21 GigaWatts needed to power the memristor. Anybody …. Anybody … Anybody …

The memristor is said to be absolutely unique because it is the only one of the basic circuit elements to exhibit the property of memory. According to UC Berkeley Professor Leon Chua, who first postulated the existence of the memristor in 1971, “the memristor is our salvation, because it works better and better as you make it smaller and smaller. The era of nanoscale electronics will be enabled by the memristor. This is not just an invention, it is a basic scientific discovery. It has always been there — we just had to face these nanoscale problems to realize its importance.”

The applications being described include ultra-dense (100Gbit) non-volatile memory, ultra-high-density crossbar switches, and brain-like neural networks. One comment on a blog site this week from a John Conner even said “This is the beginning of SkyNet. Soon the T101 model will be developed, based on this design.” And many new applications will emerge once that the technology achieves production quality.

In a word, Wow!

Personally, I’m not at all familiar with the science behind this discovery, so I decided to do some research of my own. Since this was such an important discovery, where would I go? Wikipedia, of course.

By the end of the next day after the discovery was announced, the Wikipedia article for Memristor has been updated 110 separate times by 53 different authors. Here is the article before the announcement, and here is the article at the end of the next day. This is the 1.21 GigaWatt power of Wikipedia .. harnessing the efforts of scores of volunteers worldwide.

To be fair, I decided to try to search for “memristor” in the other three online encyclopedias.

  • The time honored Britannica.com returned “sorry, we were unable to find results for your search”.
  • Encyclopedia.com (aka Columbia Encyclopedia) returned a blank page except for Google Adsense ads for 3 art sites, including one for Dog Art (hmmmm)
  • Encarta returned “No results were found for your search in Encarta. Did you spell your search words correctly?”

Anybody …. Anybody … Anybody …

Like Ferris Bueller, I guess they were taking the day off.

harry the ASIC guy

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

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