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July 2005
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September 2005

The Wisdom of Crowds

I was fiddling around with my original Blogger-based blog this afternoon and noticed something new.  At the top of the page there was an icon called "Flag".  Apparently Google has instituted a mechanism through which they can unlist objectionable content (the blog is still available but won't be publicized through Blogspot).  They reference a book entitled The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki.  According to Surowiecki, "decentralized decisions can be vastly better than experts (or the public) expect them to be, or even than any one expert can make."  There are some caveats though -- if the decision structures in place are too centralized, too decentralized, or too imitative in nature they can distort the wisdom of the crowds. 

Interestingly enough, we seem to be going through an inflection point (to quote Andy Grove) in the verification industry related to what types of tools and methodologies we use.  Are we acting as a wise crowd would -- soon to come up with some outstanding solutions to the worlds verification issues -- or are our thought processes being distorted by the structure of the EDA industry and the marketing gurus at the Big Three?  Government agencies have talked about using futures markets to predict things like where terrorists are going to strike or where hurricanes will make landfall.  Maybe we need something similar to help us wade through the muddied-waters of the verification marketplace and focus on the most promising new technologies.

Creating a Specman Testbench for the Ethernet Core

Starting this week one of my fellow Verilaber's (is that a word?) from Scotland is in Austin.  The goal is for us to develop a testbench for the Ethernet module using Specman over the next two weeks.  We're going to use the opportunity to allow me to pass along some of my knowledge of the e language and best practices for e testbench development.  The guy I'm working with is no stranger to verification himself. He is a verification expert with years of experience using Vera and (more recently) SystemVerilog.  This is one of the cool things about working at Verilab -- we've got people who have expertise in a wide range of areas.  The best part of working with someone who is learning a new language, especially someone who is an expert in other languages, is that it makes you question some of the things you've been doing by rote without ever truly stopping to wonder why. My personal goal for the week is to use the opportunity to enhance my own testbench development skills and perhaps end up with some verification IP we can use for future training purposes - not just for e but SystemVerilog - especially the assertions portion for starters.

Today we spent time working on the directory structure, patching the Ethernet environment from to remove dependencies on Xilinx and Artisan libraries, and creating shells for the eVCs we'll be developing along the way (Wishbone, MII, and one for the entire Ethernet environment as a whole).  We also drew some block diagrams of the system to make sure we were both on the same page regarding the direction of the testbench.  Tomorrow we'll hopefully be able to continue creating the shells for the eVCs and if we're lucky resolve some of those pesky startup issues that occur on every project.  We've got an extra issue in that I've been trying to get Cadence Incisive and Specman installed under Fedora Core 4.  They mostly work but I'm having some GUI issues with Specview that I haven't been able to resolve ("Connecting to gui...").

Managing EDA Tool Installations

At some point every company doing chip design will struggle with the following question:

How do we manage the complexity of our EDA tool installations?

Different people will come up with different answers to this question (even within the same company).  As best as I can tell the solutions people come up with fall into four general categories:

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Sales and Engineering - Who'd of Thunk It?

While I was in college getting my engineering degree I spent several semesters as a co-op at Intel just outside of Portland, Oregon.  Two of those semesters were spent in a technical marketing group where I spent a significant amount of time developing training collateral to help our customers do 100BASE-TX PHY conformance testing.  It was one of the most fun jobs I've ever had.  I got to get my engineering groove on doing technical work and at the same time help Intel's customers develop better products using our silicon.  When I graduated I went to work for Intel full time as a verification engineer.  As a verification engineer I was (and still am) able to flex my technical muscles and can have a major impact on the final quality of the end-user product. 

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I Hate Lunchables!

My wife is always amazed at the things I purchase when I go to the grocery store.  I'm just the sort of guy to see an end-aisle display and say -- "Ooh... beef jerky!" or "Wow, I've always wanted a 5 gallon jug of pickles!".  Inevitably I'll bring home my prize, Emily will look at me and shake her head, and the food eventually gets tossed when I realize there's not a chance I'll ever eat it.  I was certain this time would be different though.

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$10 For a Chance to Blow Up Busch Stadium?!?!?!?

A friend of mine just sent me a link to an article from the St. Louis Post Dispatch entitled Cardinals will raffle chances to blow up Busch.  I grew up (for the most part) in St. Louis and enjoyed watching the Cardinals play in Busch Stadium.  I went back this year for the first time in a year and a half and got to go to a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium for the last time as it will be demolished at the end of the regular season.  Amazingly, they've already got half of the new stadium built.  All that 's left to do is demolish the old one and finish the other half of the construction.  I'd definitely take a trip back to STL to get a chance to push the button.  Looks like all I need to do is shell out $10 and the task is mine, all mine... muhahahahah!


Mentor Makes the Pitch for SystemVerilog with Questa

Earlier this week I attended a seminar put on by Mentor entitled "Advanced Verification and How to Get started with Questa".  Tom Fitzpatrick, a Verification Technologist at Mentor was the presenter.  Though much of my verification background has up to this point involved e, SystemC, or straight C++, I've been doing research lately on SystemVerilog and was interested to hear Mentor's pitch on why I would want to use SV over the multitude of other options that exist for chip design and verification.  The presentation itself was an excellent overview of why teams should be using assertions, functional coverage, and constrained random verification techniques - perhaps the best I've seen in a long while. I'd like to take a little time to explain in a little more detail what the talk was about and my opinion about how SystemVerilog will be evolving over the next two to three years.

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Sun Grid vs. IBM Grid

Link: Dennis Clarke with vi and coffee - IBM Grid starts at $49,000 ! Sun says I only need one dollar..

Dennis Clark makes a comment on his blog regarding the difference between the Sun and IBM grid offerings.  Sun offers grid capabilities for $1 per CPU per hour.  IBM on the other hand requires you to pay $49,000 to get started.  Sounds like a big difference.  However, after doing a quick back of the envelope calculation it looks like it would cost around $8760 to use one CPU on the Sun grid for an entire year.  So for a typical dual CPU Intel P4 Xeon server you're looking at $17520 per year.  That implies 2-3 servers worth of CPU power will cost you about $50k for a year with Sun's solution.

Now, you may say the whole point is not to have to use the server for an entire year but instead to use what you need.  That's true.  The IBM solution seems at first glance to be geared more towards people who want to purchase the hardware outright and let IBM manage the servers in the IBM data center.  I could be wrong about this... I'll need to do some additional research to find out.

Benefits of Early Random Regressions

Over the weekend I've been having a discussion with some collegues regarding the usefulness of having the ability to run large batches of random regressions early in a project.  The simplified version of the original question is:

If you had the ability to increase the size of your server farm as needed using a grid computing services from IBM or Sun would it benefit your verification effort?

There are several immediate questions that come to mind regarding the logistics of such as system.  However, I'll leave those for another post.  What I'd like to comment on here is why I think it is extremely valuable to have a large server farm available early in the verification cycle.

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