Dec 09, 2014

Managing Context Options

posted by Bryon Moyer

Complexity_image.jpgThere are so many stories about the ways in which ubiquitous sensors and The Cloud will transform our lives. Most of these stories come in the form of small examples that illustrate just how powerfully this can affect what we do on a day-to-day basis.

The idea, of course, is that The Cloud knows lots of things about you – what you like, where you go, what’s on your calendar, who your friends are, and on and on – and can anticipate your needs or do things for you. Ideally, you don’t even have to think about it: it just happens

I’m a bit more skeptical; as someone who has always felt a sense of “otherness,” machines tend to make decisions for me that aren’t what I would make for myself. And I know I’m not alone here. So I would need a lot of proof that the automatic rules established on my behalf by some Greater Cumulonimbal Intelligence really were getting things right before handing over control.

And if the rules aren’t working? Then you should be able to set them yourselves. The only thing more frustrating than rules that get it wrong are ones where you can’t override them. So having, for example, phone settings would be a useful backup. Some people might never need them; others might rely on them a lot.

But a presentation at ICCAD last month got me thinking. The speaker described the scenario of going to a hospital – in the context of a phone that reports where you are to Facebook. The assumption is that you might not want everyone to know you’re at the hospital. So you could have your phone do one of three things when it sees that you’re at the hospital:

  • Block the feed outright;
  • Have your phone report that you’re at work;
  • Have your phone replay yesterday’s stream (straight out of a spy movie!)

Interesting possibilities. But this is where it got me: this is great – for this one scenario. But what about LinkedIn and Twitter and whatever else? And what about other scenarios?

For instance, if I’m traveling and go to the hospital, then I might want to alert a few people automatically. Unless, that is, I’m in the Emergency Room due to a DUI accident of my causing. Especially if I’m in cuffs. Then I need to alert whomever has bail money for me.

Or perhaps, if I’m at the grocery store, I want the phone to continue as usual, unless I’m late to an engagement like a dinner party, in which case I’d like it to alert the host that I’m on my way (and probably picking up some wine). Unless I’m at the pharmacy department – they don’t need to know about that. Especially if I’m picking up STD meds.

The power is both boon and bane. You can define so many scenarios for so many different tools and social media channels and friends or associates and… and… Each one sounds plausible – exciting, even. But if you zoom out into low earth orbit, you wonder: how is anyone ever going to manage all of the immense number of choices available?

It would be absurd to think that anyone would get a new phone and then start manually entering in their rules. It would take days. No one would ever do it.

So what’s the alternative? Perhaps use the automatic rules until they screw up, and then create an exception: “Here’s what I actually wanted.” The problem is, first of all, the damage may already be done: your phone may have dutifully sent your spouse a message about your stop for meds. Yeah, you can fix that for next time, but you really don’t want a next time.

Second, will people really stop what they’re doing and enter an exception? If it’s rare, it might not be that much of a burden. But if it’s rare, then a) a user is likely to think, “This is a one-off – I don’t want to spend time entering a rule I’ll never use again,” and b) unless the user interface is really good, the user will have forgotten (or never learned) how to enter a rule or select an option. Unless they’re sitting bored waiting for food at a restaurant, it’s likely they’ll simply blow it off.

If it’s not rare, on the other hand, then you will be beset by exceptions until you achieve an asymptote – that is, you’ve finally gotten enough rules entered that the system is now working more or less smoothly for you.

In both cases, there’s a good chance that users will give up on the feature and turn it off. (Assuming phone makers don’t remove that option.)

And none of this even takes into account the fact that we will all have different settings. Not the value of a setting, but the existence of a setting itself. Someone who got kicked off of Facebook for not using a real name might have a new account on Ello. The “powers that be” may not even be aware of Ello; at what point would it show up and have settings available?

Or what if you participate in some obscure sport? Would settings even be available for that? The whole settings “ontology” would have to be customized per user. Doable? Perhaps. Straightforward? I can’t imagine it would be.

I’ve seen many individual scenarios discussed; I have yet to see anyone take on the big-picture question of how users will be able to manage the extraordinary complexity and intricacy of keeping their devices aligned with their interests.

Of course, that I haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened; it just means I haven’t seen it. So this is simply me raising the question for anyone to answer: Is context awareness manageable by the average user?

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Dec 08, 2014

On the Scene: Almost-Instant Semi Quotes with eSilicon

posted by Amelia Dalton

Historically, it has taken months, possibly many months to get a quote for semiconductor production. Lots of paper was involved - maybe a fax machine or two. Getting a MPW quote (in the old days) could be more like dentistry (get it? pulling teeth??!) than semiconductor design. Those days could be long gone if eSilicon has its way. In this episode of On The Scene, I chat with Mike Gianfagna and Bill Isaacson from eSilicon and get a MPW quote completely online and in less than three minutes. Take that fax machine!

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Dec 04, 2014

New Nanoimprint from EVG

posted by Bryon Moyer

With all the delicacy involved in the advanced lithography techniques we use for patterning exquisitely small features onto wafers, occasionally we come back to a brute-force approach: nanoimprint lithography (NIL). Instead of painstakingly exposing patterns onto a photoresist, we simply press a patterned die (PS this is the kind of die whose plural is “dies,” not the singulated silicon bits whose plural is “dice”) into a bed of moosh to create a pattern as if making an old-school vinyl record. Harden the material, and we’re good.

While already used for hard drives, we’ve also seen it combined with DSA for even more aggressive hard drives. But that’s all still research stuff.

EVG_NIL_photo.jpgEVG recently announced a high-volume production SmartNIL process. It’s a UV-cured approach, although any of you wondering why they get to use UV while EUV is stuck at the starting gate have no reason to be jealous. Unlike EUV, you don’t need a carefully collimated beam of UV. You can just bathe your wafer in incoherent swaths of UV light.

The obvious question then might be, why can’t I use this? And the answer is, maybe you can! From a target-technology standpoint, your odds are good. (From a number-of-designers standpoint, not so much). It’s easier to answer the question, “What can’t this be used for?” than, “What can it be used for?”

The answer to the easier question is, “Transistors.” There are two issues with NIL for advanced transistors: feature size and defectivity.

  • Yes, according to EVG’s Gerald Kreindl, advanced research work in John Rogers’ group at Illinois has actually replicated a carbon nanotube (CNT) using imprint. (Which is interesting since a CNT is a 3D feature…) The point being, there’s not a fundamental limit to feature size. (OK, there is, but I don’t think anyone is going to try to replicate a quark using NIL) Realistically speaking, SmartNIL is for features in the 20-100-nm (or bigger) range (more like 40 and up in high volume). That would leave out fins, for example.
  • The other issue is defectivity: a slight glitch in a microfluidics channel isn’t going to cause any pain. That same glitch in a transistor may send valuable electrons in the wrong direction.

So if transistors are out, what does that leave? Lots: Optics, photonics,  LEDs, bioelectronics…

You can find out more in their announcement.

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