Towards a More Human Machine

And This Has Nothing to do With Machine Intelligence

by Bryon Moyer

The human body and the set of biological processes we collectively refer to as “life” bear little resemblance to any real machine. We attempt to synthesize the complexity of the natural world but in fact have done so only on the fringes, in marginal, limited contexts. Undaunted, we anthropomorphize with respect to our creations, crowing about their ability to listen, see, hibernate, snooze, sleep, wake up.

These particular verbs feature prominently in discussions of power savings, where various approaches are combined to effect a reduction in a system’s appetite for energy. While the role of sleep in animals is not yet fully understood, the role of sleep in machines is typically to save power (or to mitigate related effects, like heat). The ability of a life form to sleep and awaken is possible, thanks to a decoupling of various portions of the body, while maintaining enough interconnectedness to facilitate coherent activity. But in the simpler, lower-cost systems we’re used to, the system or board is too often conceived of as a fully integrated whole, no portion being able to survive or operate independently of the others.

Successful sleep in a system, and the various possible stages of sleep, is analogous to that of a person. A machine could be active, idle, napping, sleeping, in a coma, or, regrettably, dead (with one possible advantage over humans). It all depends on the activity of processing, memory, and sensory organs as well as the awareness of state.

 

Reservations Required

Mentor Parallelizes Analysis and Optimization

by Bryon Moyer

Man at the head of the line: Table for three please?

Maitre D’: Bien sur. Ees your party all ‘ere?

Man: Yup.

Maitre D’: Alors, we are full now, so I put your name on ze leest. I cannot say whahn your name weell be call; it dehpond on the size of your partee, available tehbell, ‘ow many tehbell are full at each stehshahn, etceterah. I call your name whahn ready; I guarontee you get in tonight. [patronizing smile]

[Party goes off to the side to wait.]

Woman now at the head of the line: Three for dinner please.

Maitre D’: Tres bien. Ees your party all ‘ere?

Woman: Almost; we’re only missing one.

Maitre D’: Bien, alors, I cannot put you on ze leest onteel your partee ees all ‘ere. I don’t want to call your name and find your partee ees not yet complete. So, as soon as ze last person est arrivé, you tell me and I put you on ze leest.

 

Trying to Keep Big Things in Little Packages

ThreadX Finds a Comfortable Home on FPGAs

by Bryon Moyer

Embedded has always been something of a mixed blessing on FPGAs. Certainly FPGAs feature prominently in many embedded systems, but they rarely take the central computing stage. Why? One word: performance.

There are two ways to implement a processor on an FPGA. The most prevalent is to use a soft core like Nios (Altera), MicroBlaze (Xilinx), ARM (Actel, Altera), Coldfire (Altera), or Mico32 (Lattice; open). The alternative is to use one of the built-in PowerPC processors on the high-end Virtex devices from Xilinx.

The soft core approach is often more appealing for FPGA vendors because they don’t have to dedicate silicon to a processor that may or not be used and they don’t have to offer two versions of their chip – one with and one without. In fact Altera started to go down the dedicated processor route and changed their minds pretty quickly. You may hear debated the actual reasons why (sales? unholy mix of software and hardware engineering in the user community?) Bottom line, they decided against it – and consider themselves very successful with their Nios offering.

 

Toshiba Grows a Prefrontal Cortex

by Jim Turley

To no one’s great surprise, there’s yet another new ARM chip available in the market. This time the perpetrator is Toshiba, and its lyrically named TMPM330FDFG is a new low-cost microcontroller based on the Cortex-M3 processor design.

The new chip marks Toshiba’s first step into the world of ARM Cortex-M3 processors. The company has certainly produced its share of microprocessors and microcontrollers before – probably numbering in the billions by now – but never one based on ARM’s newish low-end architecture. It’s a move designed to broaden Toshiba’s product portfolio and attract a new kind of customer.

The chip itself is both innovative and traditional. The peripheral mix is pretty standard for a 16-bit microcontroller: UART, I2C, timers, counters, analog inputs, and so forth. Its 40-MHz clock rate is quick but unremarkable -- what makers of compact cars would call “peppy.” In short, there’s nothing in the new chip that would offend a typical embedded designer.

 

Spying on the Innards

Linux Kernel Debugging and Profiling, With and Without OCI

by Bryon Moyer

Officer McReady scratched his head in confusion. “OK, tell me again why you think Bostwick stole the papers?”

“Because, well, first of all I thought he was going to, see?” he started.

“Why did you think that?”

“Well, something was up. I had some of the documents on my desk, and Debra had some on her desk, and then they were gone. And we found them on his desk. That was just weird; why was he gathering these things up? It wasn’t even his project!”

“OK, but just because it’s weird doesn’t mean he stole the papers.”

“Yeah, but after we all left, he was the only one here. I had this iggy feeling in my gut about this, so I sorta hung around outside. After about 15 minutes, this courier guy shows up and leaves with a big manila envelope fulla papers. And about 5 minutes after that Bostwick takes off. And now the papers are gone.”

“OK, but did you actually see what was in the envelope?”

“No, it was closed.”

“So we have no proof that the envelope had these papers in it.”

“Well, no, but what else would it be?”

“It could have been anything; you guys got more papers in here than all the bathrooms in Shea Stadium put together. I never seen so many papers. I have no idea how you guys keep it straight. Hell, it’s probably lost, not stolen. Besides, if you were so sure something was going to happen, why didn’t you stay in the building, or go back in?”

“Because if I did, he’d know, and obviously he wouldn’t take them then, would he... I mean, what am I supposed to do? If I watch him, he won’t do it. If I don’t watch him, then I can’t prove he did it. Either way, I lose!”

 

Happy Birthday to Us

FPGA Journal Turns Five

by Kevin Morris

Five fabulous years after removing the “press” from “trade-press,” FPGA Journal has pushed out over 5 million e-mails, over 5 hundred original articles, over 5 thousand news stories, and dozens of webcasts through its servers. You, our audience, have told us often what you like and want – useful, interesting, and entertaining articles; a focus on topics important to engineers; objective and insightful analysis; up-to-date industry news; non-boring webcasts; and a sense of humor. Well, four out of five isn’t too bad.

Our parent company – Techfocus Media, Inc. has been good to us as well. Like any good parent, it has supplied us with siblings. Our first sister publication, Embedded Technology Journal, is turning three this week and is well out of its “toddler” phase. Editor and industry luminary Jim Turley is leading that publication and bringing some of the best editorial and analysis articles in the embedded space today. Bryon Moyer is heading our newest addition – IC Design and Verification Journal, and that publication is growing rapidly in a technology area that has been almost completely abandoned by the majority of the trade press.


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