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Archive for December, 2008

Stereotypical Engineering Humor

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Just stumbled upon a funny set of YouTube videos purporting to be about engineers by engineers. Turns out they are sponsored by National Instruments. Clever bit of PR. But the videos must have been written by engineers. They’re very funny. Here’s just one example:

An Enginner’s Guide to Dating, by “An Engineering Mind”

BTW: Here’s the associated website: An Engineering Mind

Happy New Year everyone!

Chip Starts – Are you an Optimist or Pessimist?

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Dare we take one more peek at the trend in potential chip starts for next year? If you’ve been following my trend reports, you know that this data highlights the chip trade-off investigations that are going on right now in major IDMs and IP companies throughout our industry. These investigations are the pre-cursors to actual chip starts, 6 to 9 months out before the actual starts might begin.

Chip Investigation Trends Thru Nov08

When last we looked – end of Oct08 – the trend was up for the total number of chip investigations but trending down (look at the moving average) for the short-term future. Indeed, the moving average trend proved to be correct, as shown by data for Nov08. The number of actual chip investigations fell by about 4.5% since Oct08. Good news for the pessimist.

On the other hand, the moving average is trending upward, which means that the number of chip investigations should increase for Dec08. So there is good news for the optimist, too.

Further, actual chip investigations for the last several months have been above the expected number of such investigations (see linear estimation line). That is an encouraging trend, but not for the short term. Remember: these trends are forward looking, 6 to 9 months out from today. Still, it suggests light at the end of a tunnel.

Happy Holidays, all!

What do Technology and Social Media Clusters have in Common?

Friday, December 12th, 2008

A cluster is defined as a group of the same or similar elements gathered or occurring closely together; a bunch. That bunch of something can be almost anything at all. What’s of interest to me as a systems engineer turned editor are two very different clusters: 1) emerging technologies and 2) social media, respectively. For now, let me focus on the first cluster. I’ll save a discussion on social media clusters like Facebook, Twitter, etc, for another blog.

I first started thinking about technology clusters back in the 2002, while writing a piece on emerging 3G networks: Has 802.11 Burst the 3G Bubble?

That article was based on a long interview with David Chen, a venture partner with Oregon Venture Partners. OVP has been described as one of Oregon’s most visible venture capital firms, though they have recently scaled back their presence in Oregon.

Years later, I had a more direct discussion with David on technology clusters: Oregon Can Still Have A High-Tech Future. During that interview, I asked him about two of Portland’s emerging and–in my opinion–converging technology clusters: software development and programmable devices. Unfortunately, both of those clusters have suffered setbacks in the recent years, with the reduction of key personnel in the software clusters and the closure of Mathstar and Ambric in the programmable device gathering.

Still, the importance of clusters remains a crucial indicator of emerging technologies. When asked (see above link) a panel of experts listed these key elements as essential for the growth of technology-focused clusters: IP, capital, infrastructure, and communication. Many experts believe that technology clusters form around a center of intellectual property like universities and labs. Capital follows this IP. But capital investments won’t stay around if an infrastructure–for both data and personnel–is missing. The final ingredient for a successful technology cluster is communication–that is, courting media to spread the word.

This last part is critical: technology clusters need a way to communicate with one another. This was one of the key lessons that has stuck with me. It is why I believe our technology portal concept will work: System-Level Design and Low-Power Design (launch date of Feb 15, 2009). Ed Sperling and I have recognized these technology clusters systems and low power as areas of emerging growth but which lack a cohesive mechanism of communication. That’s where our portal concepts come in, providing an interactive means for professionals to communicate. These communications are anchored around meaningful content written by independent, recognized editors using the best delivery mechanisms that the online world can offer. Which brings me back to my original question: What do technology and social media clusters have in common? The answer IMHO is that they both need to communicate!

Chip Numbers Show Growth But Support Slowdown

Friday, December 5th, 2008

There is certainly no shortage of bad news for chip makers in this month’s headlines: Chip Makers Take Hits From Demand Slowdown. But what about our forward looking numbers for new chip investigations? These investigations serve as a precursor for actual chip starts so are a critical measure of future chip growth.

The news is mixed, as you can see from the chart. For the end of Oct08, more companies were investigating chip architectures for projects that might start in the next 3 to 6 months. That’s good news. Unfortunately, the rolling average – an indicator of future trends – has taken a downward projection. This suggests that Nov08 will see a decline in new chip investigations and hence a tendency to decrease design starts in the following 3 to 6 month. I will continue to tract this indicator closely in the coming months. (I will not have Nov08 numbers until mid-Dec.)

Chip Starts - Oct08

For geographic trends, please see Ed Sperling’s recent analysis: Exclusive Research: Industry Hot And Cold Spots

Fate of Larger Technology Trade Publishers in Question

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

The publisher of EDN magazine – Reed’s Business Information unit – made the Wall Street Journal today: Reed Faces Challenge in Selling Unit. Reed’s dilemma is that the asking price for the unit has fallen too low, thanks to a continuing decline in ad revenue, the overall credit crunch, and the  general decline of the economy. Yet Reed must sell in order to meet other business commitments.

But here’s where the story gets even more painful for the technology trade industry. Bain Capital, a private-equity firm, is one of two potential buyer of Reed’s Business-Information unit. Yet Bain has recently made a move to unload most of its semiconductor and EDA funds by next year. So if Bain does purchase Reed’s Business Information unit, why would they hold on to EDN?

Now let’s turn to Penton, my former employer and the publisher of Electronic Design magazine. Since its acquisition by Prism (formerly Pri-Media) last year, Penton has slowly been letting go of editors. David Morrison is the latest to leave. So what’s going on? Just more cuts in experienced (meaning expensive) editors? Then why have I been approached by investors concerning the state of Penton as a publisher?

It’s very disheartening to see the continued crumbling of our trade journal industry. The loss of talented and truly knowledgable editors will cripple our industry for years to come. Even worse, I don’t think the layoffs/cuts are over, especially for the major publishers who are still laden with too many administrative layers and pre-Internet/social media mindsets. The fat lady isn’t singing, but let’s hope she is warming up and the worst is over.

EDA User Rescue Plan

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Kudos to Blue Pearl (Nichole?) for this clever and inexpensive marketing idea – a stimulus package that promotes their line of RTL analysis and timing tools. “The EDA rescue plan will help you replace old,EDA Rescue Plan troubled EDA tool assets or outdated design methodology with a more modern solution and SAVE $$,” quoting from a recent email blast from the company. Don’t know why they don’t have this adv on their website?

On a more serious note; Does the EDA industry need saving? If the big 3 EDA leaders journeyed to Washington seeking a bailout, would they be received any differently then the last trio from the auto industry? What would the industry offer as a reason for the bailout – that EDA is too critical to electronic chip development to fail? That would be a hard sell, especially to technically-challenged politicians.

The best plan for survival of our industry lies in the education of the next generation of Americans. Knowledge is power, especially in a global market.