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Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

DAC 2016: Til the Bagpipes Play

June 2nd, 2016 by Peggy Aycinena

The first thing to do on Wednesday at DAC 2016 in Austin 
is take in an hour of the Exhibit Hall. This is the last day for the booths, people are zippy in the morning like horses sensing the stable at the end of their journey, and conversations on the floor are still about the technology. By the end of the afternoon, it’ll be about wistful goodbyes and, “Will we even be here next year when DAC again returns to the Lone Star State?”

Then from 10:30 to noon genuflect to Academia and check out ‘Accelerated Simulation for Circuit Reliability and Stability’. With speakers from Texas A&M, USC, Brown, and Michigan Tech. If you attend, you’ll learn what the future holds for simulation: power supply stability, soft error in logic circuits, thermal noise in ultra-low voltage designs, and the sparsification of spectral graphs used in various design problems. Nobody from industry is speaking, so if you want to get in on the ground floor commercializing some of this stuff, sit in the front row.

At the other end of the continuum, the Design Track will showcase only Industry talking about ‘Back-end Design Tools & Techniques: Innovation [is] Increasing Design Efficiency’. Big Iron EDA customers presenting will include IBM, ST, Samsung, and GlobalFoundries, this last speaker of particular interest: ‘Automated and Reusable IP Functional Test Rules’. Although the session’s sponsored by Mentor, customers are usually not so loyal they don’t mention contributions from other vendors who are helping as well.

dac53If neither all-Academia nor all-Industry is appealing, try the IP Track on Wednesday morning. Cadence is sponsoring a panel between Texas Tech, IBM, Tirias Research, Rackspace, and Cloud Native Computing/Linux to discuss Open Source. That conversation should be compared/contrasted with Monday’s DAC Pavilion, moderated by Lucio Lanza, which also wants to talk about Open Source.

What an unlikely development in the world of EDA that the text string open_source is even being permitted within the walls of DAC, let alone featured in two different venues therein. Well, Franco didn’t succeed in suppressing Basque forever, so perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised that EDA’s no longer suppressing Open Source.

Lunch time on Wednesday should be spent back in the Exhibit Hall, although there are free lunches available elsewhere in the Austin Convention Center in exchange for listening to enthusiastic vendor presentations.

Wednesday afternoon sessions of interest include the endearingly titled: ‘Escape from Design Mediocrity – Better tools for Power & Reliability’, ideals like Motherhood and Apple Pie which no one would dare argue against. To achieve better power/reliability, speakers from Stanford, UV, UT, IBM, Karlsruhe Tech, UofBarcelona, Pitt, HP, Florida Int’l Univ, UCSB, Zhejiang U, Notre Dame, and Intel will present ideas, both novel and realistic.

Of course, leave it to Wednesday afternoon when half of the DAC attendees are already en route home to also include these delights: ‘Dr. Garble and Mr. Leakage in the Mystery of Secure CPUs’, ‘Cruising to Closure while Trumping Constraints!’, ‘Itching for Innovative Technology for CPS Hardware’, ‘Moore’s Law Marching On’, ‘Attacks & Defenses for Secure Systems: The Arms Race Continues’, and the most terrifying session title of all: ‘How Do We Make IP Reuse Work’.

Wow. An enormous amount of creativity goes into crafting these and other Wednesday sessions. Hopefully the speakers fulfill on the promise with real learning wrapped in sheep’s clothing.

Regarding that ‘How do We Make IP Reuse Work’ bit? I can’t tell you how many people have explained to me with great sincerity that IP reuse is working, is a mature science, is a done deal. So who doesn’t think it’s not working? Click on the link and you’ll discover it’s Brian Fuller. Wait, doesn’t he work for ARM?

Instead of that session, I’d attend ‘Cross-Layer Approximate Computing’. It promises to “highlight new challenges and opportunities available at multiple abstraction level (layers between circuits and apps) and motivate the need to bridge the gap through cross-layer design and optimization practices.” That sounds pretty topical, especially if your world says apps are the new killer app.

Okay, on to Thursday. It’s Training Day at DAC and the sessions are full of thoughtful content. Of course, the Exhibit Hall closed late Wednesday, so the buzzy part of the week is over. The principle noise you’ll hear on Thursday around the building will be the whirring sound of minds at work.

If your boss is allowing you to stay through Thursday, count yourself lucky and dive into something really interesting. ‘How Much Margin do We Really Need’ sounds practical, as does ‘What is the Real Cost of Verification’.

But there’s also stuff about microfluidics, predictable system timing, near-field IoT design, design of analog circuits, improving your C++ skillset, synthesis, NVM challenges, UVM, and SystemC. In others words, a host of topics all of which are deeply technical and highly applicable.

Several years ago, I was invited to moderate a panel on a Thursday afternoon at DAC. I accepted and began to prepare reaching out to the panelists to organize the session. To my great amazement, I then received an email un-inviting me to moderate. They needed somebody more technical, I was told. To be honest, I was pretty pissed but life goes on. I haven’t been in good graces with the DAC EC since way back in 2012, so at some level I wasn’t surprised.

In any case, on that Thursday at DAC I made a special point of attending the panel that I had been un-invited to moderate. There were 5 people on the stage including the moderator and 4 people in the audience, one of them being me. I mention this because it was really sad. Here was a group of really intelligent, knowledgeable people up on stage prepared to speak on a highly technical topic who didn’t get the audience they deserved simply because the session was booked towards the end of the afternoon on the last day at DAC.

Once again this year, the material on Thursday at DAC looks excellent and should be attended. There’s no doubt in my mind about this. In fact, if your boss isn’t allowing you to stay through Thursday, fire the boss.

Get a new job with a boss that understands that when it comes to DAC, it’s content, content, content that matters. And you can only get the benefits of said content through location, location, location. Stay through the end of the day on Thursday. Pick some sessions. Learn something. Improve your skills. Think outside your cubicle.

Only then will you have the right to get misty eyed when the mournful bagpipes play.

Only then should you permit yourself to ask: “Will I even be here next year when DAC again returns to the Lone Star State?”


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