May 24, 2010
The Economy, Semiconductors, EDA, & Intellectual Property
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Not far from this writer's office in Albany, CA, one can gaze southwest across the Bay (along a line of sight from right to left as shown here):
On a clear day one can glimpse in the distance a hint of the
familiar skyline of the City of San Francisco between the Golden Gate and Oakland Bay Bridges:
It is indeed a clear, mild sunny April Sunday morning, and I have walked over to Albany Hill Park. Since I have arbitrarily chosen today to start the rough draft of the next EDA WEEKLY article, I reluctantly begin the 30-minute trek back to my office.
En route, I realize that today is not just any Sunday; rather, it is
Sunday April 18, 2010, the 104th anniversary of the
Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire:
The 1906 Quake and resulting Fire were unmitigated disasters, leaving 3000 people dead and 225,000 homeless. There were no bridges back then that might have allowed more people to escape, assuming any bridges in existence then would have survived the 7.8 temblor.
After all, a section of the Oakland Bay Bridge did fail in the less-severe 6.9 Loma Prieta “World Series” Quake of October 17, 1989, resulting in several injuries and one fatality on the bridge itself. (Overall, 3700 injuries and 63 deaths occurred across the region due to the 1989 Quake and Fire).
While seismic retrofitting of all local bridges is still underway, we SF Bay Area residents are still waiting for a replacement Oakland Bay Bridge after 21 years, keeping in mind that both the GGB and OBB were built from scratch in just a few years during the Great Depression in the 30's.
The new eastern span will be exquisite when (and if) completed, as depicted here:
The old truss design of the obsolete eastern span will eventually fade into history:
Perhaps another sign of how much has changed in 75 years, the recent construction of the a new Oakland Bay Bridge eastern span has been a 21-year nightmare of fouled up plans, bids, politics, foreign steel and concrete shortages and repeated delays. The current cost estimate has ballooned to over $6 billion and the alleged completion date extended to 2013. No one expects either to hold. Indeed, this fiasco could be the basis of its own WEEKLY article, though probably not EDA WEEKLY.
But I digress. As I continue my Sunday walk back to my office, I wonder if City officials succeeded this morning, exactly 104 years later, in again finding a few 1906 quake survivors to participate in the annual observance ceremonies at Lottie's Fountain.
Back to work on April 18:
It's time to focus on starting the next EDA WEEKLY article due in mid-May. As my portable laptop computer boots up, I put aside civil engineering musings and start thinking about electronics again, and about
the incredible ubiquity of digital computers in modern life, and the symbiotic role that the EDA Industry has played in their creation and inexorable progress (and in their occasional missteps - see Footnotes ,  and  at the end of this EDA WEEKLY regarding stock market trading woes in early May 2010).
It dawns on me that virtually all of the progress with digital computers and related software has occurred just in the years of my own lifetime (e.g. the first general-purpose electronic digital computer, the ENIAC, wasn't running till 1943-45):
I begin to wonder what life was like before digital computers, before email, before the Internet, before websites, before texting, cell phones, 3D CGI movies, video games, even before television or before radio. I gradually realize that one would have to be as old as a Great SF Earthquake survivor, to have experienced life without any electronics.
I quickly conclude what I already knew - while life today is heavily electronic, hectic and complex, it's far more desirable than life back then.
 Footnotes refer to numbered paragraphs at end of this issue of EDA WEEKLY.
The laptop computer signals that it's ready.
In the six months since the writer began this series of EDA WEEKLY articles, the overall economic climates in the world at large and in the United States in particular have been showing signs of considerable improvement, with a few spots still less prosperous than they need to become.
In turn, the general economic recovery has positively affected worldwide semiconductor sales, which in turn has begun boosting the fortunes of the overall EDA Industry.
In particular, the niche of EDA having to do with electronics intellectual property (IP) bears special attention.
So this May 24, 2010 edition of EDA WEEKLY will be devoted to examining the progress of six selected Electronics IP Providers as a path to assessing the health of this niche, as the overall economy has improved in recent quarters.
What follows is divided into four parts:
The Semiconductor Industry
The Overall EDA Industry
The Electronics Intellectual Property Niche
I. The Economy over the last six months:
Back in Q4 2009 this writer published an EDA WEEKLY article on EDAcafe.com entitled,
“The Role of Business Planning”. This archived article is still just a mouse click away.
The introduction to that article listed some Q3 2009 signs that the US economy was beginning to recover from the “great recession” that began in December 2007. Such
signs included the fact that
US GDP had finally turned positive in Q3 2009 after four consecutive quarters of contracting economic activity.
Also cited was the fact that stocks in general had then surged about 50% since their March 2009 lows. Venture capital investments in the San Francisco Bay Area in Q3 2009 had also ticked up for a second straight quarter, per an October 20, 2009 report from the National Venture Capital Association.
At the same time, in early Q4 2009 the country was still far from being out of the economic woods. While venture investment was up slightly in the SF Bay Area, across the USA venture capitalists had invested only $5.1 billion into
616 deals during Q3 2009, down 6% from the previous quarter, according to Dow Jones.
Moreover, during most of the summer and fall of 2009, the US was still losing jobs every month. Despite the fact that President Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan had saved or created more than 1 million jobs, unemployment was continuing to rise, with the US economy having lost 7.2 million jobs through September 2009 in the 22 months since December 01, 2007.
But as 2010 began, improvement continued. On February 26, 2010 the US Bureau of Economic Analysis said that the real
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the United States -- increased at an annual rate of 5.9% in Q4 2009, according to the "second" estimate released by the Bureau. The first (preliminary) estimate that appeared on January 29, 2010 of Q4 GDP was +5.7%.
The Q4 2009 US GDP was the fastest growth pace in more than six years. In the third quarter of 2009, real US GDP had increased, but only by 2.2%.
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-- Russ Henke, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.
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