Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dr. T's Identity Management Method

I've never seen it written down before, but this article from Joel on Software, "The Identity Management Method" really captures what it means to work at NI. 

Joel says:

To be an Identity Method manager, you have to summon all the social skills you have to make your employees identify with the goals of the organization, so that they are highly motivated, then you need to give them the information they need to steer in the right direction.

Those of you who came to NIWeek probably heard Dr. T's keynote. Every year, he lays out for our customers where he thinks NI is going.  Well, he doesn't just do that at the keynote. He does that pretty much every day.  No matter who he's talking to and no matter what the audience, he explains his vision. Sometimes, its the very technical roadmap of the future and sometimes it's the more personal view of the various stakeholders in NI (the employees, our suppliers, our shareholders, our customers). "Sharing the vision" is an important part of our culture. It's nice to see a third party validation of it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Well I said I wanted feedback...

So now I know what it's like to be a musician, having to see a review of one of your performances broadcast widely for the whole city/state/world to see.  I got mentioned in a Design News article about podcasts.

The first podcast, titled “What is Embedded?” was produced by National Instruments. It featured an interview with Joel Sumner of the LabVIEW Embedded Group. Overall I think the 16:58 minute interview fulfilled its promise, but I found my attention straying at times. Conversely, I found Sumner giving short shrift to some of the more potentially interesting topics.

The title of the post was even worse: "Listen to This Boring Podcast".  Ouch. The other podcast she reviewed in the article (from another company) also got panned so at least I'm not alone.

Oh well, that was the first one I had ever done and it was part of the first 4 NI had ever done. I guess I/we have a bit of learning to do before we're the NPR of the T&M podcast world.

So, give it to me straight guys, did it suck?  Too long? Right level of detail?  Wrong level of detail?  We've got a tremendous amount of knowledge locked up in these walls and we're willing to share, we just don't want to put you to sleep.


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Thursday, August 17, 2006

NIWeek Recap

NIWeek is over. Ok, it ended a whole week ago but I haven't made it to the end of my "to do list" so it won't really be over for another week or two. Last year, my team's big project, LV Embedded, launched to great fanfare.  This year, another project that I was involved with, the Lego NXT, made it's NIWeek splash. I can't tell you how cool it is to see something you worked on sitting on the shelves of Best Buy or Frys. 

You can see a picture of some of the main developers of the software at Dick Swan's blog. He's also got pictures of some custom sensors he's created or run across for the NXT such as a video camera, a Sony Playstation controller, and probes from Vernier. You can see the Lego NXT demo in the keynote videos.

Brian Tyler did a video-blog on the whole NIWeek Experience. I think the most amusing video was an interview with Diya on what it's like to be up on stage in front of 3,000 people doing the keynote.  I love the way we throw engineers who actually worked on the products they are demoing up there.  It also helps if the demo doesn't quite go as planned...

You have to admit, a DAQ board isn't much of a visual treat. It just sits there like a rock. Not even blinking lights. I think that's caused us to be a bit more creative when it comes to demos. One of the demos this year involved getting a volunteer from the audience to try out a version of the game "Dance Dance Revolution" that had been completely reimplemented in NI hardware and reprogrammed in LabVIEW.  The designer of the demo is Roger Dickey, a guy who loves DDR and is in the LabVIEW FPGA team.  Here's the video of him competing with the, ahem, victim.

Finally, to all of the people I pestered at NIWeek, I wanted to say thanks. I know all of us at NI get a lot of satisfaction hearing how our products affect what you do every day.

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Traditions and Testing

On the LabVIEW team, we love sweet stuff. Heck, all programmers probably do. "The official food of the LabVIEW team" (tm) used to be Oreos but somewhere in the last few years, it became donuts - specifically Krispie Kreme donuts.  Every anniversary, birthday, or just for the heck of it yields a "donuts in (some location)" email.  A sugar fix is nearly guaranteed every morning.

Another tradition is to do a coding challenge as we enter final testing. LabVIEW is pretty stable at that point and we've gone through the entire testing database a few times. A coding challenge is a good way to make sure everyone is using the product in a "real way" rather than running through some script. We let a developer or group of developers write something, anything they want, in LabVIEW. There are awards given for the program that uses the most new features, coolest, most annoying, etc..  I think I won most annoying a few years ago for using the "new" (at the time) Datasocket feature along with the state machine editor to create a distributed music playing program. Every person who loaded the VI could enter some musical notes which would then be played on every other person's machine.  Can you say noisy?  "Annoying" was an apt title for that one.

Anyway, my favorite entry was from the LabVIEW 8.0 release. A couple folks got together and wrote a client-server application that would not only notify you of any new donuts but also show a map on the floor of where they were sitting and map a route through the cubes to show you the shortest way to get to the donuts. It had a nice installer and ran in the system tray.  Of course it was all programmed in LabVIEW.

So, what are you going to build with LabVIEW 8.2?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

NIWeek Sessions

There are a lot of good NIWeek sessions on LabVIEW Embedded technology. Here's my cheat-sheet

  • LabVIEW Embedded Birds of a Feather Session - Tuesday 1pm Mezzanine 7 - hosted by me and the LV Embedded engineering team - NOTE - this is not in the conference program
  • Hands-On: NI LabVIEW Embedded Module for ADI Blackfin Processors - Tuesday 2:15pm, 4:45pm and Wednesday at 1pm
  • Introduction to the LabVIEW Embedded Development Module - Tuesday 2:15pm
  • Graphical Design for Multicore Processors - Tuesday 4pm
  • Design of the New Handy Board for Robotics - Tuesday 4:45pm
  • Develop Embedded Systems without Embedded Expertise - Wednesday 3:30pm
  • Prototype to Custom Deployment in Hours - Wednesday 4pm
  • Developing Optimized LabVIEW Embedded Applications - Thursday 10:30am
  • Developing LabVIEW Embedded Applications - Thursday 10:30am
I hope to run into some of you at those sessions.

LabVIEW Embedded Chips

The LabVIEW Embedded Development Module continues to win awards. A demo with the LabVIEW running on a Freescale ColdFire processor at the Freescale Technology Forum won "Best In Class Development Tools" by a panel of 4 industry folks. Wow.

So that brings me to some interesting trivia. I made a list of the various places that the LabVIEW EDM has run on (that I know about). Some are silly, some are amazing, but I find all of it cool
  • A Linksys WRT54G Router (Broadcom MIPS/Linux) - my first little project. It did everything, build, run, debug and even TCP/IP I/O. I got it to control a GPIB-Enet box and a scope.
  • Intel IXP425 Eval Board (Intel XScale 425/VxWorks) - one of the shipping examples
  • Axiom CMD565 (Freescale PowerPC 565/eCos) - one of the shipping examples
  • Axiom CMD565 (Freescale PowerPC 565/VxWorks) - one of the shipping examples
  • Axiom CMD566 (PowerPC 566/VxWorks) - This board has Ethernet so we use it for training
  • Xilinx ML403 Eval Board - (PowerPC/VxWorks) - This was demoed at NIWeek last year. It uses the PowerPC hard core inside a Xilinx Virtex II Pro.
  • Embedded Planet EP405 board - (PowerPC405/Linux) - This was in the embedded planet booth at NIWeek last year
  • Freescale HC08 Eval Board (HC08/no os) - One of our engineers did a power window controller for a car door. He integrated the Freescale ProcessorExpert for I/O and had it all working in a couple k of code (2k?). It didn't debug, do any arrays, or anything fancy but it was neat to see how small we could go.
  • Freescale HC12 Eval Board (HC12/no os) - Look for this at NIWeek this year. Get some M&Ms in the process
  • Altera NIOS II Dev Kit - (NIOS/eCos) - NIOS is a soft processor that runs in an Altera FPGA
  • Phytec LPC229x (ARM7/eCos) - A new example target
  • TI DSK6713 (TI TMS320C6713/DSP BIOS) - A university professor tried it first but we went and did it again as a new example target for those of you who want to program a DSP
  • Nintendo Gameboy (Linux) - this was the robot from Charmed Labs that you saw on stage at NIWeek two years ago.
  • PC Motherboard (80486/QNX) - your standard PC, but running the QNX operating system. It even can support an M-series DAQ card. Look for it in an NIWeek presentation.
  • A Linksys WRT54G Router (Broadcom MIPS/Linux) - my first little project. It did everything, build, run, debug and even TCP/IP I/O. I got it to control a GPIB-Enet box and a scope.
  • Intel IXP425 Eval Board (Intel XScale 425/VxWorks) - one of the shipping examples
  • Axiom CMD565 (Freescale PowerPC 565/eCos) - one of the shipping examples
  • Axiom CMD565 (Freescale PowerPC 565/VxWorks) - one of the shipping examples
  • Axiom CMD566 (PowerPC 566/VxWorks) - This board has Ethernet so we use it for training
  • EP405 (PowerPC405/MontaVista Linux) - Same board as before but running MontaVista Hard Hat Linux rather than the non-deterministic standard Linux distro.
  • PC Motherboard (80486/MontaVista Linux) - Once you have Linux running, LV Embedded works pretty well on any CPU.
  • Freescale MCF523x (Coldfire/no os) - A customer wanted to give this a try
  • Freescale MCF5329 Eval Board (ColdFire 5329/uCLinux) - The winning demo at Freescale Technology Forum.
  • Freescale 5200LITE (PowerPC/Linux) - A customer had one of these kicking around to try.
  • Renesas SH7751 (SH4/QNX) - another experiment with our friends at QNX
  • Atmel ATMega 128/no os - Details are sketchy but an academic customer put this together and is writing a paper on it.
  • The Bluetechnix tinyboard, the HandyBoard, Scmidt Engineering Z-Brain, and the ADI EZ Kits using the LabVIEW Embedded Blackfin module.
Whew. I'll bet there are others kicking around that I forgot or I don't yet know about. The breadth is fantastic, from 8-bit to 32-bit. From no-os to Linux.


I know I've been a bad blogger and left you hanging for the last three weeks. It's only two weeks in work time due to a week long vacation in Prague in the Czech Republic. Prague is a beautiful city that was not bombed during World War II. You see interesting adornments on the building wherever you go. Everything is cheap by European standards. It was easily half the price of a vacation in London.

But I digress.. Last week was the Design Automation Conference. That conference is for people who make computer chips, the kind that take 10 weeks to bake in the fab before you get them back. It's a completely different world where they have to simulate everything up front because there is no possibility of even doing a component level prototype in the real world. Imagine it costing you a million dollars to fix a bug that you found in your code after your first build. That's the world they live in. However, it is an analog world at the bottom of it and LabVIEW does provide ways to help validate those designs, both in the simulation world and once the chip comes out.

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