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Archive for May, 2010

Bloggers and Journalists at DAC – Two Years Later

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

It was a mere two years ago when the first Birds of a Feather (BoF) Blogging session took place at the Design Automation Conference (DAC). The event marked one of the first “official” meetings between traditional journalists and the growing number of bloggers in the Electronic Design Automation (EDA) chip industry. It was not a cordial meeting. Each group knew about the other’s existence but didn’t seem to appreciate the other’s challenges or point-of-view. (Previous blogs cover those “interesting” times.)

Today, the editorial landscape has greatly changed. Many of the long time technology journalists no longer write for publishers, but for the corporations they used to cover. While the number of journalist in publishing houses have dwindled, the number of bloggers have soared. Sean Murphy, one of the drivers behind the first BoF blogger’s meeting at DAC in 2008, estimates that there will be 500+ feeds for EDA related bloggers by 2011.

To their credit, the organizers of DAC have evolved in the way they deal with journalists and bloggers – both independent and corporate. The initial problem DAC faced was how to evaluate bloggers in terms of their number of readers, areas of coverage, background, and bias. Over time, these questions more or less answered themselves, as certain bloggers gained readership and focused into definable technology niches.

The next hurtle that DAC faced was a logistical one, namely, should bloggers be given press credentials and allowed into the press room? It turns out that the answer to this question follows directly from a more basic question; What is the purpose of the press room?

Press Room or Blogospher

To answer this question, Michelle Clancy, the current PR Chair for DAC, talked with several well-known EDA journalists. They told her that the press room was traditionally meant to be a relatively quiet place where editors and journalist could go to write their stories, i.e., meet their deadlines. It also provided a reserved environment where journalist could share impressions, topic ideas and the like with their colleagues, away from the pressures of exhibitors and even sponsors. Of course, the press room was also a place of sustenance – plenty of caffeine and carbos.

For these reasons, the press room was physically removed from the exhibitor floor. Further, press rooms were off-limits to exhibitors.

But constant access to exhibitors is exactly what most bloggers want. “The majority of their (blog) coverage over the last several years has been exclusively on exhibitors,” notes Clancy. In addition, bloggers don’t face the ever present pressure of daily deadlines.

All of these factors suggested that bloggers didn’t need a press room as much as a blog space located on the show floor. That is why this year’s DAC will introduce the “Blogosphere” for Independent Online Media/Bloggers. Located on the show floor, the blogosphere will include a “relaxing, quiet lounge with quick access to the exhibit floor,” Internet access with a workspace and beverages – among other things.

In addition to tailoring the different environments – press room and blogosphere – DAC will also issue separate badges. Traditional journalists will continue to receive a press badge. Bloggers who have met the media requirements will receive an Independent Online Media/Blogger badge. Different badges will help exhibitors and customers know to which group they are talking.

How have these proposed changes been met by both journalists and bloggers? That will be the topic of next week’s discussion. Regardless of the reaction, one thing is certain: There will be more bloggers than traditional journalists at DAC this year and for the foreseeable future.



FPGA’s Tackle Motor Control System

Friday, May 14th, 2010

The need for more power efficient control of multiple motors has resulted in the inclusion of microcontroller and mixed signal devices into the fabric of FPGAs.

The world of electronics is reintegrating itself into the world of mechanical control systems. One good example of this trend is the inclusion of microcontrollers with analog mixed signal functionality into modern FPGAs devices. This mixing of  electronic technologies enables increased programmability into the surprising complex world of mechanical motors and motion control applications.

Is there really a market for such mundane devices as motors? You bet – thanks in no small measure to the “green” movement for more power efficient use of electronic and related mechanical systems. Many of yesterday’s big, power inefficient motors are being replaced by very power efficient yet mechanically strong motors in industries from industrial controls to medical devices.

The big challenge with motors is in the control of the speed and torque of multiple motors (see figure from ESC – San Jose, CA). That is one reason why the combination of microcontrollers and mixed signal devices into the programmable fabric of an FPGA looks so promising, e.g., Actel’s recently announced SmartFusion technology. [Actel Fuses Together Digital And Analog ]

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As motor control technology becomes more important, electronic engineers may want to brush up on their understanding of mechanical systems. And vice versa.

Hardware “Software” is not Software “Software”

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

As EDA and semiconductor communities venture more fully into the realm of software development and applications, they must remember that software has a multitude of meanings.

Suddenly, everyone is talking about software. The great “software” epiphany has been heralded by almost all levels of hardware developers. But are they all referring to the same “software?” For example, do they mean the EDA software that is used to automate the extremely complex task of creating integrated circuits at submicron geometries? Perhaps some are referring to the hardware-intensive embedded firmware drivers that are embedded inside the chip or board. Maybe others mean the operating system that communicates with the high-level systems on the board? Or does software mean the software protocol stacks that are necessary for most of today’s wired and wireless interfaces? Do you suppose they mean the user interfaces or application programs, such as those written for the iPhone? Could it be they are referring to higher-level (non-embedded) desktop or server level applications. Or scripting for the latest Flash or website program?

But even these semantic ponderances are too hardware-focused. Looking from the software side, where open systems and inexpensive apps – like those for the iPhone – are becoming the mainstay, programmers see a different picture. The world of software development – beyond hardware-centric firmware and operating system – is also changing in profound ways. Even the sci-fi community has picked up on this trend (see my interview with Lou Anders).

 In the past, hardware-centric companies have not done well in the software world. Most fail to understand the real difference between both hardware-software technology as well as the differing business models that govern each discipline. In addition to these challenges, hardware companies must be diligent in watching trends in both the hardware and software side of the business. This is no easy feat, but success will depend upon their intimate semantic understanding of “software” – be it hardware “software or software “software.”