This week’s Fish Fry has it all - remote-controlled cockroaches, Raspberry Pis, and some design verification thrown in for fun. I dig into the details of a new neurostimulation system designed to create cockroach biobots, why getting your hands on a new Raspberry Pi computer may get a whole lot easier, and why verification is one of the most challenging engineering problems today. I interview Dave Rinehart (Vice President, Aldec) about how to solve your verification struggles, how Aldec is carving out a nice slice of the EDA pie, and what meal Dave is most famous for.
FPGA Solutions Hit a Sweet Spot
The world of broadcast has always been a technology challenge. Consumers demand a lot from their TV programming, and they have geared up to prove it. There has been a revolution in recent years in the quality and performance of consumer video equipment, and that boom has made the consumers’ expectations skyrocket. We want broadcasters to deliver stunning quality images right to our monitors - with no glitches, delays, or quality problems. And, we want to choose from literally thousands of programming options at any given time.
More recently, we have even begun to expect to be able to access that same content wirelessly with our smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. Our sense of technological entitlement blooms instantly - usually before our expectations have even become fully feasible. If we can’t stream HD video to our iPad while we’re camped in Yosemite, we’re livid. Our technology providers have failed us. Civilization is on the brink of ruin.
Could Baolab Be the Next Altera or Xilinx for MEMS?
Today we’re going into the world of imagination. Imagining what if, and then imagining what.
Is the phone ringing? Does your computer keep pinging because yet more… medical assistance is being proffered at cheap prices from overseas? Is your boss watching? These are all distractions that will hinder the process of imagining, so, if you can, let’s place ourselves in a professional setting: a cool, dark place where you can lie back and stretch out and open your mind… close your eyes… forget that I’m there in that chair next to you… ignore the timer on the end table… breathe easily… shuck those cares, like the meeting you’re supposed to be in right now… and just… imagine.
This week we’re talking mixed signals. My guest is Mladen Nizic (Cadence) and we’re talking about a brand new book published just a couple weeks ago called “Mixed-Signal Methodology Guide”. Mladen and I chat about who this book is for, what companies collaborated to make this manual happen, and even where mixed-signal education is headed. Also this week, I check out Altera’s newly released roadmap for 20nm and a new “magic carpet" that can not only map a person’s individual walking patterns but also predict when they are going to fall.
What’s Missing from our Development Boards?
Microprocessor and microcontroller development boards are powerful resources. They have a processor (of course) surrounded by a useful assortment of gadgets and gizmos for making whatever you build interact with the real world. You’ve got your processor, a power management IC (PMIC), some memory, a display (touch screen if you’re lucky), some audio gear - usually tied to a headphone and microphone jack, maybe an optional HDMI interface, and a 3-axis accelerometer (because…who doesn’t need one of those these days?)
You can connect to the outside world with things like USB, SD card slots, Ethernet ports, SATA connectors, JTAG, UART (You are going to debug, right?). And, you can usually drop in a copy of Linux, Android, or some flavor of embedded WIndows without too much trouble. Or, if you’re on the microcontroller side, you can probably be spinning a motor within minutes of opening the box.
Should We Bring Back “System Gates”?
In the early days of FPGAs, marketing was all bluster. In an effort to make their devices seem useful and, more importantly, bigger than the other guys’, device densities were given in terms of spectacularly optimistic “System Gates.” Just about the whole industry was complicit in this facade. Once Xilinx and Altera had gone after each other with the System Gate ruse, the other challengers really had no alternative but to fall in line.
What is a System Gate? (We hear you ask...)
Nobody really knows. Or, at least nobody who remembers is admitting it. The best we could determine at the time, System Gates were determined by taking the competitor’s similar device, looking at the datasheet, multiplying their System Gate total by 1.15, and issuing a press release claiming that their device was 15% larger.
The Dark Side of Convergence
Mahler’s Symphony #9 is a masterpiece of symphonic literature. Written in 1909-1910, it was Mahler’s last symphony, and it was considered by many to be his greatest achievement. When Mahler died in 1911, he had never heard it performed, as its premiere was in 1912 by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Unlike many symphonies, the final movement of Mahler’s Ninth - “Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend” - does not end with bombastic brass and acoustic fireworks. Instead, it fades slowly into silence - thought by some to be a reference to the composer’s impending death, as he had been diagnosed with a fatal heart disease.
When performed today by the New York Philharmonic - one of the greatest orchestras in the modern world - the live listening experience can be absolutely transcendent. In January 2012, conductor Alan GIlbert was conducting the New York Philharmonic performing Mahler Nine in the legendary Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in Manhattan. The performance was masterful. In the final, delicate measures of the 80-minute piece, as the strings wove the final threads of Mahler’s emotional tapestry, an unexpected accompaniment joined in the performance - the iPhone’s familiar “Marimba” ringtone.
What do you think of when I say the word "flexibility?" Yoga? Bendy straws, maybe? Perhaps a Slinky™? I’m going to guess you probably didn’t say batteries and field programmable gate arrays! This week Fish Fry is all about flexibility in electronic design - from the most recent Mars Rover software upgrade, to the newest advancements in flexible battery technology. Then, we'll even chat a little bit about timing-driven partitioning of your next FPGA design. In another installment of my Fish Fry executive interview series, I chat with Flexras CEO Hayder Mrbet about what FPGA partitioning is all about, why Flexras claims they can make your multiple-FPGA project a whole bunch easier, and how this France-based FPGA tool company came to be.
Hidden Holes in our Engineering Expertise
"…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.
The Secret Lives of Engineers
“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.