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Archive for October, 2008

Despite Dire News, Chip Design Starts may be on Rise

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Today’s Wall Street Journal article made me wonder about our own Chip Design Trends data: Chip Makers See Hardship for Industry.

Our trends database shows the continuing year-to-year decline in pre-silicon chip investigations. These “investigations? – over 44k in total since the end of 1995 – serve as a precursive indicator to actual chip design starts. What is interesting is that this data shows monthly trends in these chip investigations are increasing. The rolling average of total design profiles from March through September 2008 is sloping upward, which suggests a significant pick-up in the “interest? in future design starts.

Next time I’ll share the specific markets areas to which these chip investigations are strongest.

Nightmare on 802.11 Street – A Modern Halloween Tale!

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Editor’s note: This was a first of a three-part short story that I wrote for Tony Perkin’s original Alwayson Network. It was intended to be both entertaining and educational.

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It was the very witching hour of night. Most trick-or-treaters had long since abandoned their nocturnal mischief. That suited Jake just fine. He welcomed the silence that replaced his constantly ringing doorbell. Gone, too, was the rattling of passing vehicles on an otherwise quiet neighborhood street. Still, the quiet had taken on an eeriness that seemed to magnify his keyboard taps in a most unpleasant way. His back shivered slightly as the coldness of the last October night crept into his SOHO basement office.

Jake was up late again, working on his desktop computer to debug a mobile device driver application. He enjoyed the work, but not the job. It had been almost three years since Jake had had a regular job. Then, he had been an embedded designer for a large chip vendor. Now, the only work he could find was as a contract programmer. It paid half the salary of his previous job and provided no medical or retirement benefits.

Jake continued to work, his eyes red and blurry from staring at the display screen. As he paused to rub his tired eyes, the light from the display suddenly changed. Had someone just sent him an instant message, he wondered silently? Jake opened his eyes to see a file being mysteriously launched from his word processing application. Before he could grasp the full import of this action, the following words appeared on the screen:

“The worldwide telecommunications downturn has lasted more than two years, longer than America’s involvement in World War I. Global telecom job losses since 2000 have exceeded 500,000, slightly more than the total number of soldiers that died during the U.S. Civil War. From 2000 to 2002, telecommunication carriers’ annual capital spending on networking equipment declined by $64.9 billion, more than the United States spent fighting Operation Desert Storm. If this is the trick, where is the treat?”

Jake stared in horror; the statistics were indeed frightening. Yet even more troubling was the fact that his computer had launched a program on its own. “Perhaps I just imagined it,” he said aloud.

Suddenly, a shadow floated by Jake’s basement window. Rising cautiously from his desk to investigate, Jake heard an oddly chilling sound from his computer’s hard drive. It was running fast, trying to complete some unknown task. Jake’s eye twitched involuntarily as he glanced at the wildly blinking lights on his wireless Internet router. Dread quickened within him. Why, oh why had he never changed the router password?

From some forgotten chamber of his subconscious, a fear crept forward to Jake’s waking mind. Just as his fear reached full comprehension — the fear of someone hacking into his wireless 802.11 connection — his basement office was engulfed in darkness. The screen on his computer had gone completely dark, except for a blinking DOS prompt. Jake’s fear had now been given form; someone had just accessed his wireless connection and reformatted his hard drive!

“No!,” screamed Jake into the void, as he bolted after the unknown phantom. He threw open his front door and ran into the night. But then suddenly he stopped. Standing alone on the dimly lit porch, Jake saw no motion, save a few dried leaves dancing insanely across the grass.

It was going to be a long night, he thought dejectedly as he walked back inside.

Cadence – From Hunter to Haunted

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Seems as if my summer blog was mistitled: Watch out Cadence – The Hunter may become the Hunted. Back then, Cadence was trying to take-over Mentor. Now, judging from the drop in stock and investor confidence, Cadence wasn’t really the hunter. Instead, Cadence was shooting at anything that moved – haunted by leadership whose ghostly edicts seem to emanate from another non-EDA world. Perhaps that of a famous IDM?

Jay Vleeschhouwer, Research Analyst at Merrill Lynch, captured the problem in  more financial terms in a Price Objective Change report issued today: “It our view that the “EDA competition pendulum” is swaying away from Cadence and towards peers Mentor Graphics and Synopsys in terms of positioning and 2007-2010 bookings momentum.”

Jay acknowledged that the change in Cadence’s upper management might be a morale booster, while cautioning that “the extent of it does raise questions about execution and high-level customer engagements capacity for the time being, something its competitors might look to take advantage of.”

I think that Cadence’s 3Q08 conference call on Oct. 22nd should be well attended.

In other related news:

> Ed Sperling’s analysis and blog at Systems Level Design portal:
Cadence Cleans House
The Fester of Fister

> Pallab Chatterjee’s commentary:
Pilotless Cadence and the Wayward Direction of EDA

> In Ivy Lessner’s story from The Street , Gary Smith was quoted as saying that “Cadence could itself become a takeover candidate — not by a rival firm but by one from the allied mechanical design industry, dominated by Dassault Systemes.”

I’m glad that Gary agrees with my earlier analysis of the potential suitors for Cadence. I’m referring to my blog and Portland Business Journal quote of last summer: “Cadence’s products could be a good technical fit with Autodesk’s, says Chip Design Magazine editor John Blyler, who lives in Portland. He also suggests Dassault Systemes S.A., a $1.26 billion French software company, as another possible acquirer, though Autodesk has more cash, with more than $900 million on its balance sheet.

> Gab Moretti talks about Cadence’s corporate disfunctionality in his blog.

> John Cooley used the “why not elect me CEO” routine. It’s a fun read.

> Peggy Aycinena focused on the importance of the interim leadership.

You can bet that this is not that last time Cadence financials will be in the news. But the hunt is becoming much more interesting.

Of Blog Vampires and Dead Kittens

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Classic Blogs
By John “Vampire Slayer” Blyler
(Originally posted on the original Always On Network, Aug’04)

Catchy title, eh? But what does it mean? Before I can answer that question, I have to tell you about a little research conducted earlier this year. Seems that the folks at Hewlett Packard Information Dynamics (ID) Labs determined scientifically that the most-read bloggers aren’t necessarily the ones with the most original ideas. “Using newly developed techniques for graphing the flow of information between blogs, the researchers have discovered that authors of popular blog sites regularly borrow topics from lesser-known bloggers — and they often do so without attribution,” notes a article from Wired News. Taking credit for the mental contributions of others is hardly a new sin. But it does have a cool new name; blog vampire (see below). These parasitic denizens of the cyberworld suck original ideas out of the blogs of others, for the soul (less) purpose of perpetuating their own blog existence.

Seems like the only way to catch “blog vampires” is with the blog-engine used by the HP researchers. If that fails, you could always check to see if the blogger in question includes meaningful reference links in his/her material. Say, for example, like the generous number of useful links provided at the end of this viewpoint piece.

And now for the rest of the story: What do I mean by “dead kittens?” No, it’s not a song from Doctor Demento, unlike the infamous “Dead Puppies.” It is simply a test idea concocted by the folks at HP ID Labs. The premise was as follows: post a bizarre idea on the web (like “Bloggers kill kittens”), then see how the idea propagates through Blogspace (see Blog Epidemic Analyzer FAQ for more information). How well did this test work? To find out, just search on the phrase “Bloggers kill kittens.” Although, for obvious reasons, almost every blogger did reference the HP ID Labs site

There are two morals to this story. First, don’t become a vampire blogger. Sooner or later your indiscretions will be brought to the light of day. Second, if you must kill kittens, be sure to list references.

Do you have an interesting blog? Know of anyone who does? Can you find my blog site, hidden on LiveJournal? If you care to answer any of these queries, drop me a line at …

Reference Links: Sadly, none of the original links still work.

LEGOs and the EDA Profession

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

What do all EDA companies have in common? They probably have at least one employee who coordinates or participates in one of the most popular robotic competitions around. Why does that matter? Before I explain, let me give you a little background.

Ed Sperling and I were talking outside the show floor of the ARM Developer’s conference when who should appear by Yatin Trivedi, Director of Industry Partnership Programs at Magma Design Automation. Yatin also manages Magma’s world-wide University program.

Yatin was excited about the presentation that Bill Miller’s crowded presentation: FIRST Future Innovation Is Dependent on Inspiring the Youth.? Bill is Director of FIRST Robotics Competition. FIRST – For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – is a long standing, not-for-profit group that finds ways to inspire students in engineering and technology fields. The organization is the foundation for the FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST LEGO League, Junior FIRST Lego League, and FIRST Tech Challenge competitions.

Yatin posed this rhetorical question to Ed and my self: Why wasn’t the EDA community more involved with the FIRST activities? Yatin believed that this would be an excellent way to inspire the next generation of engineers for the EDA world and the rest of the electronics industry.

I answered Yatin by first mentioning that my wife had organized a FIRST Lego League team while our kids were in elementary school. I helped in whatever capacity she needed, usually fixing the IR interface between the computer and the robot, or helping manage the team’s lack of experience in the area of interpersonal skills. They were only 7, 8 and 9, after all.

I pointed out that mechanically designing the robots and creating the visually-based software program which controls the robot was an excellent way to introduce kids to the joys and challenges of engineering. Perhaps equally important was that the experience (hopefully) taught the students to work in a team. No small accomplishment.

The three of us chatted for a few minutes more about the need and methods for inspiring the future generation of engineers before we had to leave. Later, though, it occurred to me that a number of other folks are involved with FIRST. For example, George Zafiropoulos vice president of solutions marketing at Synopsys, has managed a Lego Team for a number of years. In fact, his son’s team recently made it to the finals in Atlanta, GA!

I’m sure many other professionals in our EDA industry actively participate in such programs as the Lego League. Perhaps the problem isn’t that EDA professionals are not involved with such worthwhile activities, but rather that too few of our industry’s organizations really appreciate what its memebers are doing?

Chips of the Wireless Swarm

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

Did you catch Dr. Jan Rabaey’s presentation at the recent CDNLive event: Sensory Swarm?  He talked about immersive computing in which microprocessors combine with sensor – wireless sensors for mobile apps – to gather info, process data and then control an amazing array of systems. Great talk – one that highlighted perfectly the challenges facing system-level designers.

Ed Sperling followed up with Dr Rabaey in a short video – Tires that Talk -  that explores a real world example of immersive computing, i.e., embedded sensory “nodes? in automotive tires. Sensor nodes consist of layers of circuits, where the sensor would be one layer, processing systems in another layer, power is yet a third layer and wireless capabilities in the final layer. These nodes would be very small and – here’s the key – self-powering! Meeting this last requirement means that mechanical engineers must work in harmony with their electronic brethren. Can you say multi-discipline, system-level design?

This topic of particular interest to me, since some of my earliest engineering design tasks involved wireless sensor systems. In fact, I’m in discussion now with my old friends and colleagues at the IEEE Instrumentation and Measurement (I&M) Society. My goal is to run appropriate I&M articles in both Chip Design and Embedded Intel magazines. Stay tuned!