The Cost of Teamwork

Could We Eliminate Engineering Meetings Completely?

by Kevin Morris

Ask anyone who works in a typical corporate environment to describe their schedule for an average week. Chances are, a significant percentage of their work time will be taken up by meetings. In fact, 30-40% of work hours occupied by meetings would not be an unusual figure. For management employees, greater than 50% would not be surprising.

Stop and think about that for a minute or two.

Did you stop and think about it? Really, go back and stop and think about it again.

As engineers, we all understand the value of collaboration. Certainly most of mankind’s meaningful achievements are the result of people working together. And in modern times, massively collaborative projects are responsible for most of the major technological advances we all depend on each day.


Decoupling Formal Technology from Formal Technology

OneSpin Lets Others Build the Apps

by Bryon Moyer

Formal verification technology appears in the ascendant at the moment. It’s been around forever, it seems, but it’s now finding its way into more flows than ever.

And that’s because users don’t have to deal with formal technology. The problem with formal is that it’s hard. And, historically, an investment in formal was best matched by an investment in a PhD or two to help out. Or perhaps by hiring some specialist consultants to help out. The way we’ve started to shake off some of those shackles is through apps. The companies making formal technology realized that they had to target specific problems and then bury the formal bits below a user interface and flow that were more natural to the problem being solved.


Selling Your Brain

Patent Law is a Slippery Slope for Engineers

by Kevin Morris

Patent Law was created to protect and encourage inventors. The original intent is noble: when you invent something, the patent system is designed to give you a period of exclusivity where you can profit from your work and creativity without fear of someone copying your idea without compensating you.

However, the patent system didn’t contemplate the reality of today’s professional engineering environment, where the majority of engineers are employed in a work-for-hire situation by large corporations, and where those engineers frequently move from one large corporation to another. In that situation, our patent system breaks down badly.


Treasure of the Semiconductor Madre

Seeking EDA Gold (and Answers) with Xerxes Wania

by Amelia Dalton

Bust out the pickaxes and dynamite, we're looking for gold in ‘dem 'der hills. Xerxes Wania (CEO - Sidense) joins Fish Fry this week to dig into the treasure trove of issues found deep in the semiconductor and EDA industries today. Xerxes and I scour the land for faults and break out our trusty gold pans to find the answers... and it ain't pretty my friends. Also this week, I delve into a brand new world of inductance-to-digital converters that will revolutionize position and rotation sensing in our IoT designs.


After Intel and Altera

What Happens to FPGA?

by Kevin Morris

For decades, the FPGA market has been a well-balanced duopoly. Something like 80% of sales have been split by two ferocious competitors, Xilinx and Altera, constantly jousting for single points of relative market share. This dynamic has driven everything from the FPGA technology itself to the tools, IP, and services that make the whole concept work. It has determined what we pay for FPGAs, what they can do, and how we use them.

Now, Intel plans to buy Altera, and the duopoly that has dominated the FPGA universe will come to an end. What happens next? Will the Earth shift on its axis? Will the “FPGA market” cease to exist? What will be the long-term implications of this business change on the future direction of this critically important technology?


Why Verify?

Musings from the Design Automation Conference

by Kevin Morris

I just returned from attending the 52nd annual Design Automation Conference (DAC) in San Francisco, CA. This was my 30th time to attend this event, so I’ve had more than a little time to contemplate what the whole thing is about. It is fascinating to me that DAC, which celebrates electronic design automation (EDA) - one of the most important enabling technology sectors in the advancement of Moore’s Law - began even before Gordon Moore’s prophetic article laid out the roadmap for the last 50 years of exponential progress in electronic technology.

Yep, DAC pre-dates Moore’s Law. Chew around on that one for a little bit.


Rock 'n' Roll EDA

DAC Takes On the City by the Bay

by Amelia Dalton

This week we're rockin' and rollin' in the key of IP with an EDA backbeat at the hottest design automation party of the year - DAC 2015. First up on stage is Mike Gianfagna from eSilicon who sings us a sweet little ditty about big data and tools that love it. Next up, we get all folksy with EDA consortium president Bob Smith. Bob serenades us with a song of innovation and collaboration that can only come from a motley band of many players. Lastly, I explore the underlying themes that define the chorus of this year's Design Automation Conference.


Granular SoC Power Control

Sonics and Mentor Graphics Attack From Different Angles

by Bryon Moyer

PCs have a rudimentary form of power management. Under a limited set of circumstances, a PC can reduce its own power consumption without your manually having to put it to sleep. As far as my experience tells me, the events that can cause a power down are inactivity and lid closure. And the power savings can be obtained by turning off the display and entering a sleep or hibernate state. This is pretty much the extent of what’s possible using the top level of the Power Options utility.

But let’s say you want to be a good, safe computer user and back up your system. With many such systems, it’s easier to do this while you’re not using the computer. I’ve found one program, for instance, that can back up email files to the cloud. But each time you get an email, the email storage file changes, causing a backup restart that can block the backup of numerous other files.


Selling the Soul of Innovation

Greed Trumps Vision in Technology Mergers

by Kevin Morris

A technology company has a kind of soul - a manifestation of a tribal culture that has evolved and matured from the earliest days of its founding. Building a bright-eyed startup into a large, successful enterprise requires a unique cocktail of vision, boundless energy, and commonality of purpose that instills upon the team a distinct personality that is evidenced in everything it does.

In countries with, perhaps, a bit more rigor in their application of the English language than the United States, companies are referenced with the plural verb: “Google ARE launching a new product.” This is a subtle but constant reminder that a company is not a singularity, but a collective - a group of people who have come together in a unique way with a shared mission and a particular way of doing things. These people often spend more time with each other than they do with their own families, and their goals, behaviors, and ways of working and interacting are molded by membership in that group. In every sense of the word, a technology company is a tribe.


Buses, Windows, and You

Where is the Real Value in Embedded Engineering?

by Jim Turley

“I suppose that even the most pleasurable of imaginable occupations, that of batting baseballs through the windows of the RCA Building, would pall a little as the days ran on.” – James Thurber

What do buses, windows, and iTunes have in common? They’re all engineering successes that don’t really look like, well, engineering successes.

Lemme ’splain.

This week I spoke with two different companies that sell on-chip networks for SoC designers. They’re IP companies, which is to say they license their R&D efforts to other hardware engineers in exchange for an upfront fee and a royalty. It’s a pretty well understood business model, so no surprises there.


Altera Turbos the Tools

Spectra-Q Accelerates Quartus II

by Kevin Morris

When people are curious about the performance and capabilities of programmable logic products, they often get buried in the details of the datasheet. It’s easy to get wrapped up in debating LUT counts, Fmax numbers, and a bunch of other silicon-related esoterica that may have little to do with how well a particular device will perform in your application.

You know what matters a lot more than the details of the chips? The performance of the tools.

The under-appreciated universal truth of programmable logic is that tools usually have a lot more to do with the success of your design than the silicon does. Luckily, even though the customers don’t always understand this, the vendors certainly do. Altera and Xilinx each spend a substantial share of their engineering budgets developing and improving their tools in order to gain a competitive advantage and make their customers more successful with their devices.


Faster Extraction

Mentor’s xACT Wrestles with FinFETs, Corners

by Bryon Moyer

So you build a circuit with a couple of transistors here and a couple of transistors there and you want to see how it’s going to operate. So you’ll simulate (or do signal integrity analysis or whatever other study you’re interested in). But you need to tell the tool about your circuit. So… do you just say, “Yeah, I’ve got a couple transistors here and a couple resistors there – please go calculate”?

Ah, if only it were so simple. Of course that won’t work – because it ignores all of the unstated interactions between the elements and other parasitic structures in the silicon substrate. Back when circuits were small, that meant manually building a more complete model that included the extra resistors and capacitors (and perhaps the occasional inductor) and putting that whole thing through the tool.


Paint It DAC

2015 Design Automation Conference Preview

by Amelia Dalton

It's that time of year again. Ring the bells, sound the alarm, and roll out the red carpet - it's DAC time! In this week's Fish Fry, Anne Cirkel (General Chair - DAC 2015) gives us a special sneak peek into the biggest EDA conference of the year - The Design Automation Conference. Anne dishes the details of the conference: the super cool keynotes, the "I Love DAC" program, and the inside info on the best parties at this year's show. Also this week, we examine a unique Kickstarter campaign that marries nanotechnology with fashion to create this season's must have: The Unstainable™ White Shirt.


Changing the PCB Axis

Mentor PADS Redefines the Board Genre

by Kevin Morris

Anybody who has ever bought professional PCB software has probably noticed a problem with the way PCB tools have always been packaged, priced, and marketed. Well, anybody except for the folks who actually sell PCB tools, that is. For some reason, PCB tools have always been sold with a built-in wrong assumption - that only big companies with large design teams are doing sophisticated designs. If you were a huge company with giant design teams that required all the “enterprise” features related to team design, collaboration, IP sharing, and library management, the PCB tool vendors gave you all the features needed for leading-edge, high-performance board design.

But, if you were a smaller company or team who didn’t require all the big collaboration features, you got the toy-like “desktop” PCB tools which didn’t include the stuff you needed for high-performance, high-density board design.


Cramming Moore Components

Moore’s Law Turns Fifty

by Kevin Morris

It’s been a half-century since Gordon Moore published “Cramming More Components Onto Integrated Circuits” in the April 19, 1965 edition of Electronics Magazine. It was another five years before Carver Mead dubbed Moore’s prediction in that article - about progress in integrated circuit density - “Moore’s Law,” and another five years after that before Moore revised his original “doubling every year” prediction to “doubling every two years.” At its simplest level, then, Moore’s Law predicts that the number of transistors that can be fabricated on a single chip will double every two years.

The fifty years that have followed that prophetic piece have seen nothing short of the most amazing advances in human history. Moore originally predicted that the trend would continue for “at least ten years,” but the exponential he foresaw has held almost miraculously steady for five times that long. Some would say that Moore brought incredible insight with his prediction. Others would say he was lucky. Still others would claim that this is an example of self-fulfilling prophecy. Whatever the case, the profound impact of that one metric - “number of transistors on a single chip” - on just about every aspect of our global society is almost unfathomable.

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