The Secret

Hidden Holes in our Engineering Expertise

by Kevin Morris

"…It works the same as assertions in System Verilog," he said. I quickly nodded my head -- maybe too quickly. "Oh, OK, I see," I replied, almost before he had finished his sentence.

I wanted to give him confidence that the message was received so he would move on in the conversation. If I looked puzzled, perplexed or confused - if I showed weakness or hesitation, he might linger in the lounge of this idea. He might hang around here in the vicinity of trouble. He might catch the scent of fear and decide to dally in the neighborhood of the current line of discussion - the one that was dangerously close – tenuously, terrifyingly, torturously close to the secret.


Dealing with Duality

The Secret Lives of Engineers

by Kevin Morris

“What are you thinking about, honey?”

His mind raced for an appropriate answer.

“You look like you’re somewhere far away,” she continued.

He avoided the probing gaze of his wife - her trusting eyes seemingly steering right through his own, turning right, and studying the left hemisphere of his brain looking for answers. He had promised to always be faithful to her - to tell her the truth no matter what - to be honest and open with her for the rest of his life. It was an important and meaningful oath to him. He struggled to think of something to say.

“I... was thinking we should pressure-wash the deck” somehow escaped from his lips. He felt himself flush with shame.

He was lying.

He had actually been thinking that the high-frequency noise problem with his board might be caused by the power plane.


When The Bottom Drops Out

Rising With Moore’s Law Leaves a Hole

by Kevin Morris

It’s always exciting at the cutting edge. Here at EE Journal, we are always having fun learning about and bringing you news about the latest, greatest, biggest, fastest, coolest, most exotic accomplishments of our global engineering community. We love to surf the crest of Moore’s Law and gasp in amazement at the millions-> billions-> trillions-> of gates, LUTs, transistors, hertz, FLOPs, cycles, bytes, pins, users, dollars, and every other amazing metric that this dynamic industry seems to constantly generate.

With the Moore-driven juggernaut plowing exponentially through technologically tumultuous seas, it’s easy to focus on the bow and to forget what’s happening at the stern. There, the back of our boat leaves a gaping displacement hole - with turbulent wakes crashing and swirling in eddies of unintended consequence.


Three Rings of EE Fun

Black Hats, FPGAs, and GPS Spoofs

by Amelia Dalton

Welcome to the Big Top of EE Fun, ladies and gentlemen! We’ve got Black Hat hackers, GPS spoofers, and in the center ring, a serious FPGA heavy hitter. This week I chat with Jeff Waters (Senior VP and General Manager at Altera) about how FPGAs can differentiate your design from the next guy’s ASSP, how FPGAs are making their way into the automotive market, and what make and model Jeff would pick as his dream car.


Towards Silicon Convergence

Altera’s CTO Weighs In on the Future

by Kevin Morris

We have often discussed the many ramifications of Moore’s Law in these pages. Of course, chips continue to get exponentially cheaper, faster, more capable, and more efficient. Also of course, the fixed costs of making a new chip continue to get exponentially higher. If one combines these two trends, one sees that we must be increasingly careful on what chips we choose to make. Any company setting out to design a new chunk of leading-node silicon these days must be quite certain that they are building something that either works in a wide range of diverse applications or solves a critical problem in a single application with enormous production volume. Otherwise, the amortized fixed costs make the project infeasible.


IP Standards, Price-Fixing, and the LCD Cartel

by Amelia Dalton

We’re talking standards this week -- from the LCD Cartel "standardizing" the prices of their TFTs (otherwise called "price-fixing") to the standards we all need to employ to make sure our IP works the way we intend. I interview Ian Mackintosh (President - OCP-IP) about why IP standards are important, how OCP-IP can help us all get on the same IP page, and how Ian is trying to help us all become managers in our spare time.


Livin’ on the Edge

Xilinx Shipping Artix Low-Cost FPGAs

by Kevin Morris

Xilinx has announced that they are now shipping the first members of the new 28nm, low-cost, Artix family, rounding out the lineup of three 28nm families they announced a couple of years ago. The Artix-7 A100T device has now “shipped” and is in the hands of eager engineers, ready to push their next design to the very edge of possibility.

Starting with the 28nm process node, Xilinx re-named their product families. In the old days (with “today” being counted as one of the “old days” already), we had Virtex and Spartan. Virtex was the bad-ass, balls-to-the-wall, all-the-FPGA-we-can-pack-onto-a-slice-of-silicon-at-any-price family. Spartan was, as its name implied, the economical, stripped-down, cost-is-king family. Life was simple. The price difference between the top-of-the-line Virtex and the gimme-a-pound-o-them-FPGAs Spartan could be 1000x.



Why Agile Must Come to Hardware

by Kevin Morris

Just over a decade ago, 17 frustrated software engineers made a pilgrimage to the top of a mountain in Utah. (OK, they really just went to a resort for a boondoggle, but bear with us here). After several days of soul-searching, they descended from the mountain with a manifesto that would forever change the face of software development. The Agile Manifesto codified what coders had been thinking and saying for years: The waterfall development process - the prime directive for professional-grade software development for most of the history of software development itself - was badly broken.


The Delicate Divide Between Dreams and Reality

Uniquify Makes Silicon Happen

by Amelia Dalton

Do you dream of silicon? Do those dreams involve full-chip implementation? (Man, you are a serious nerd). This Fish Fry dives into the dreamy details of Uniquify’s ASIC design flows, custom IP, and making your silicon dreams come true.


Rabbit Ears and 400G

Why the Bandwidth Glut May End Someday

by Kevin Morris

Recently, I saw an ad by a major US carrier talking about the amazing capabilities of their 4GB/month data plan. According to the commercial, this amazing plan for $30 USD/month will allow you to get up to 400,000 emails per month, download up to 1,100 songs, or do up to 34 days of continuous GPS operation. All from your smartphone.

Bear with me here, while we break that down a bit.

400,000 emails in one month is over 13,000 per day. Or over 9 per minute. An email about every six seconds, all 24 hours of every day of the month. That’s a lot of thumb typing. 1,100 songs? I don’t think you could buy them that fast. That’s at least 55 hours of music - if you listened to each of your 3-minute pop tracks just once. 34 days of GPS? How one manages 34 days of continuous anything during a typical month remains a bit of a mystery.

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