It's a wrap

Posted in In My Opinion...

There's a reason it's been a while since we put a newsletter out. We really hate creating newsletters! You waste hours formatting and word-smithing and creating new graphics when you could be doing your real job. Well, as soon as I finish this blog entry, it's a wrap so let's get to it...

On the business side, the big announcement is the 2010 M1OT/Standard program which dramatically extends the pool of those customers who are eligible to get all that functionality at no cost. If you don't know what the Standard Edition of M1OT is, an explanation is in order.

The Standard Edition of M1 Oscilloscope Tools is designed to provide an all-in-one-tool with functionality on a very close par with the numerous proprietary tools available from the scope companies, at orders-of-magnitude lower cost. It's derived from our flagship product, M1OT/Ultimate in that we start with Ultimate and disable various capabilities that aren't available from ScopeCo. If you do the usual things that scope users do with OEM software... jitter, compliance testing, eye diagrams, serial data, Rj/Dj, decode, etc., then Standard is worth a close look. If you want to do those things on value and midrange models the OEM software doesn't support, then M1 Standard can be a life-saver.

The 2010 M1OT/Standard Program is quite simple... if you're a qualifying engineer or manager at a qualifying company, and now have, or are getting (rental or purchase) a current-model Tek scope, you are entitled to a no-cost license to Standard. You just download the application form on the program page, fill it out and send it back to ASA. While M1 Standard will get the job done for many, we know that once they take the time to take a close look at the additional capabilities M1OT/Ultimate provides (access to Apps, collaboration, automation, SimBridge, Subscription, etc.) they will want to upgrade at the very attractive discounts we will be providing.

When we run a program for Standard, the "standard question" is why do we give away functionality ScopeCo sells for $50,000 or more? The standard answer is that this is a great way for us to establish relationships with new customers. "Free" is a powerful thing. To anticipate the second question, why limit the program to Tek scopes? That answer is a little more involved... we know that the vast majority of customers we speak with have at least Tek and Agilent boxes in their lab with Tek being a little more widely deployed. By incorporating Tek scopes, we feel we'll establish the relationships we're seeking. By limiting it to just Tek scopes, we feel that once we demonstrate the value of having M1 in your lab, there will be other scopes (Agilent, LeCroy, Yokogawa) in your lab that you will purchase M1 Ultimate for. So bluntly, it's about profit.

Using this sort of "price discrimination" is a business experiment. I think there's a chance our business will be maximized under a price discrimination approach. We'll see after the program ramps. After the press releases have worked through the system and we start to have conversations with engineers, managers and procurement groups, we'll know if we should leave it like this or if we should expand the program to other manufacturers. We want to meet new customers and get a chance to show off our technology and vision. We think this is the best way for us to accomplish this.

On the technology side, we're announcing a new release of M1. The big focus with this version was "assistive technologies". Quite frankly, M1 is the most capable title in the entire scope industry... it does a LOT. Further, we often do things differently than the ScopeCo approach (very much on purpose). It can take a while to become a power user. The thinking behind the assistive technologies was this... we examined every question about getting started and using M1 that we've ever been asked and combine that with the fact that most engineers "know everything" and storm past manuals and traditional help files and skip the training videos. Starting with this release of M1, the product is capable of demonstrating itself. A core set of about 15 of the most common tasks (e.g. running a compliance test) have been built into self-demos with more in the works back at ASA. We've also made "tool tips" more useful... when a tool tip comes up, you can usually click on it to get help beyond the simple tip. And we've made it IMPOSSIBLE for engineers to just storm through setup and deployment without knowing where ALL THE INFORMATION is. The objective is to make you productive faster... between all the assistive features and the embedded intelligence, we think we're just about there.

In closing, let me say that ASA has built up quite a team of Account Managers that formerly worked for scope companies. I estimate we have about 250 years of accumulated experience in the new team and we expect to better serve you with them. While we have a few more coming on, we'll be kicking off their new roles with us with the M1 Quick Start promotion. If there is something we can help you with, please contact ASA so we can put you in touch with your own new Account Manager.


A Good Run

Posted in In My Opinion...

The tone at ASA is quite uncommon for a January. Rather than the round-the-clock high-level chaos that has been the longstanding rule for late December and all of January, things here are orderly and peaceful. Things are getting done. We're busy, but we're not STUPID BUSY getting ready for another DesignCon in the Bay Area. For the past 15 years, ASA has been a display vendor at DesignCon and I've presented a number of papers there, some years two. We were there from year one when it was called Design SuperCon. That was easily my favorite because it was executed by a team that had worked for years on the HP High-Speed Symposium travelling and working together across the US, Asia and Europe.... family. I believe our participation then actually predated M1.

The ASA process for being a display vendor goes something like this... work your product development cycle so you come out with one of your flagship capabilities toward the end of the year. Naturally, this puts a lot of pressure on the engineering team to balance how much to keep in, how much to leave out, versus how much time they need for debug. Debug can run right up to the day of the show (or the second day:) and that obviously sucks for everyone involved. Ideally, the public announcement of that new technology is done two to three weeks before the show... so timed to push the body count (booth visitors and customer meetings) up. From the time we return from New Year's break, the traditional biggest pushup has been designing and building the booth... the messaging... the mechanicals... the booth plan... and all the customer/partner/channel meetings that have always been my top business reasons for being there. The vast majority of display vendors just occupy an off the shelf booth. I feel that better traffic and a higher level of consideration have come from thinking of the booth design/execution/operation more in terms of say, a play than a bill board. Pulling this all together with a small team has taken a lot of effort... I can tell everyone is enjoying not doing it this year, me included.

Since the start, the show has undergone a number of changes... naturally evolving to reflect trends in our industry. The group running the show has done an excellent job molding it to those trends. I am very proud to have been a part of it, particularly in the early years, and of the Design Vision Awards we have won there. But the industry is different than it used to be, and the show has had to track that shift in direction, both on the show floor and in the technical sessions. I don't really respect the changes that are taking place in the industry and given the heartbeats and resources diverted from other valuable work that it takes preparing for it, it's time to shift gears.

During the show last year, I was walking back to our booth from a meeting and for some reason thought of something that took place in Dallas a few years earlier. After a day of customer meetings, I met my dirt-bike buddy Fred and his daughter at my hotel for a quick get together at an internationally well known coffee provider. At that time, I had roughly a twice to three a day habit, but it was Fred's first time in one. He had an unmistakably uncomfortable look on his face as we walked toward the counter though a room filled with a belief system obviously both foreign and unnecessary to him. When pressed for specifics, he provided an answer so powerful in its utter purity that it could have been spoken personally by Descartes... "John Wayne wouldn't come in here". It turns out that was the last time I stood before a "barista".

By the time I returned to the booth, I'd concluded I had my fill of the never-ending conversations with zero-experience math heroes about further "enhancing" RjDj... or being asked my opinion about some minor announcement by ScopeCo... or cringing as that, to-me, ridiculous mascot absorbs attention from the business we were attempting to conduct in our booth... or the freshman year appearance of "booth hostesses", or... It was easy to decide it's time for a new January tradition for ASA. It's been a great 15-year run and many good things have come from our association with DesignCon over that time. If you're in a high-speed digital designer, I recommend attending. Just time for us to invest our heartbeats differently.

Some ASA folks will be in the Bay Area for meetings that week. If the timing works out, one or two of us might swing by to catch up with old friends and partners at the show or in the lounge afterwards. If so, see you there.


Cause and Effect in the Swiss Alps

Posted in In My Opinion...

A friend sent me an interesting point of view on the forces driving tax policy:

Interesting read... for some reason, it lead to a particular line of thought from my personal life that I sent back to him. To paraphrase...

When I was a kid, one of the books my mom got me was "Barry, The Bravest St. Bernard." It was the true story of a working Saint owned by a monastery in the Alps. Barry was reputed to have saved 40 people lost in the snow over his 12 or so year life. We had a Saint at the time ourselves. Santa was.... "less productive." Each night, he would begin the process of converting a large cake-pan full of Chuck Wagon and two cans of Alpo into a similar-sized pile of steaming dog exhaust, and complete the process each following morning on his way out to the swamp to sleep in the stream where it was cooler. Secretly... I think I always wanted Santa to be more like Barry. I know my dad did and he was a bit less close to the vest on this point.

So back in the early 90's, my friend Ken from Cascade and I had a free Friday-Sunday in Zurich on a 4 week job we were doing all across Europe (the good parts... mostly). When I read the story of taxing height, I thought of just how screwed Ken would be, since he's about 14' tall. As we drove down to Interlaken in our rented Mercedes (which someone else was paying for) to have coffee and chocolate at the base of the Eiger on the veranda of the Victoria Jungfrau Hotel, we passed a sign showing us which exit to take for Berne. That sign stimulated the memory of Barry from my childhood. I recalled the story to Ken, and that the book said Barry had been stuffed and was on display in a big national museum there... an inelegant fate for such a heroic dog, but you know how practical the Swiss are.

In the process of telling Ken about Barry, I flashed back to a conversation with one of my new-grad-student teaching assistants from the mid-80's He was like a lot of gung-ho watch-me-run-out-in-front-of-my-brains standard-issue grad students looking to impress anyone that will listen with what new mathematical crap he learned earlier that day. At that time in my life, I was of the unforgivable habit of exiting boring conversations with look-at-me "academics" by changing the subject to something completely unrelated to the current topic, and enjoy them work at keeping the connection. It was something like: "Blah blah blah stochastic processes blah blah blah to conserve system resources blah blah blah"..... "That reminds me of a dog story.........."

So, the kid hears a story about monks hauling tons of food up into the Alps for dozens of their massive dogs to get through the winter... with an on-the-fly conjecture that if Barry were famous for saving 40, then the others must have saved fewer... and that there must be some distribution to that that is "probably Gaussian" (hey... I should be in one of the Rj/Dj think tanks!). This meant that some must also have been exceptionally unproductive (like Santa or the Rj... er... never mind) and contributed just about nothing to winter life in the Alps other than warming up the mountains via their eat/exhaust cycle. This implied a rather significant burden on the monks who had to drag all that food up to feed them. My concluding question was something like... how do you know the pecking order of rescue productivity and balance that with the expended effort to feed them?

Well, it took him less than a fraction of a second to offer: "That is a trivial problem... every time a dog saves someone, I would brand his ear with red hot pliers so you could tell at a glance which would get the most food. First the right ear and then the left. Over time, the dogs would figure out that the ones that rescue the most people eat better and the monks could tell at feeding time who was most effective."

I can offer two reactions... One is that the initial expression of his theory may have excessively credited the ability of DOGS to discriminate subtle long-term comparative trends in reward-space in the face of a separate new intense, and probably unpopular procedure whose timing might be more easily associated by the DOGS with the desired act (rescue). I do have doubts that the former would ultimately rise above the latter to become the dominant mechanism driving winter behavior in the Swiss mountains. My second reaction is that, structurally, it sounds a bit like "taxing job creation and motivation." Exploiting the structural similarity, one might restate a new world economic mechanism as "create a job, have your ear branded with red-hot pliers." Maybe it will work... In any case, I'm glad we were in some miles-long tunnel because I might have driven our asses off the Alps laughing at his seemingly serious proposal.

Footnote: Barry was apparently shot dead by someone he was trying to rescue. I believe I read the shooter froze to death shortly after taking Barry (his potential rescuer) out. Probably nothing for Saint Bernards (or job creators) to learn from that part.

Introducing the M1 Apps Program

Posted in In My Opinion...

The big deal being announced in this newsletter is the M1 Apps Program. Apps are all the rage now, but we've been in the apps business since 2004 when we invented the idea of making scope software user-definable. What's different from what we've been doing is that we've also created a marketplace to bring customer needs and developers together. The hope is that this rapidly speeds brings new tools to speed scope-based measurement workflow across all scopes.

The reason we initially created built-in automation in M1 was to get the creation of compliance tests out of the hands of the 12 or 15 engineers (coders) in the world that create compliance tests for scopes. It typically took 18 months from the first faint signals around the need for a new compliance test until the first one hit the market. After one scope company had one, the others followed suit, so it wasn't really like it was 12 or 15 guys working on this due to all the "me-too" parallelism. What our Apps strategy does for you is this... instead of having just our team working on the plethora of things that need to be measured/tested/automated, we have created a marketplace and training to attract more developers to the solution of your current and future problems. We expect the amount of innovation to increase rapidly since those 12/15 guys will have a whole bunch of company shortly. Actually, they're welcome to participate in the program as Developers.

If it weren't for the M1 Apps Program stealing the spotlight, the SimBridge capability or the External Decode capability would have easily been the lead story. SimBridge is just cool. You can use the same analysis/debug/collaboration powerhouse (M1™) from cradle to grave for your devices... simulation... R&D... characterization... production test... customer support and failure analysis. How's that stack up to ScopeCo? Just a friendly question... really.

To anticipate a question... are we abandoning our commitment to including new functionality in M1 by having an Apps Store? HELL NO! I'm not cutting my engineers loose and shipping work to a cheaper, lower-skilled labor pool like some are. The objective of the program is to add to the rich innovation stream we've been putting out for over a decade. The functionality that ends up in the Store will be things we would have never done. There's a ton of test standards nobody's addressing. New measurements are needed that take months and years to become broadly available. Getting more bodies and more brains involved only makes sense. What about SimBridge? Yup... we're charging for that. It's a simulation tool, not scope software, and as simulation capabilities goes, it's dirt cheap.

There are a lot of former application engineers sitting on the sidelines these days. If you know someone with a test-development background who wants to click together the next killer app for scopes, please let him or her know.

I'll be continuing discussions with various signal-source manufacturers to bring new stimulus response solutions to the marketplace under our Manufacturer's Program. Being able to quickly associate your source with any scope your customers happen to own can significantly increase the marketability of your instruments. If you work at one of those companies and would like to make sure I get to your instruments, please shoot me an email.

I have to really congratulate the M1 Engineering Team. We're kicking the Apps Program off with well over 100 Apps in the Store which is better than you see for some phone systems! Good work, Guys.

In closing, let me say this about riding motorcycles. Crashing royally sucks. But it sucks quite a bit less when you have friends like I do. My deepest and sincerest thanks to Bing, John, Charles and Keith.


Art History

Posted in In My Opinion...

Today's subject should be easy, because I'm writing about someone I consider a good friend, but I'm also nervous about doing him justice. I just heard today that my friend Art retired after FORTY-SEVEN YEARS with HP/Agilent in Colorado last Friday. I've known him for about 18 years of that... a long time, but not even half of his career... and I'm proud to say we hit it off as friends from our first meeting. I give Art all the credit for that. Besides being VERY smart and one of the best read people I've ever met, Art is also probably the most accepting and encouraging. He always has a positive word to say. You need to be accepting and encouraging if I'm you're friend and I'm thankful Art has made that effort!

I believe the first time we ever worked together was in Denver around 1992, though we already knew each other by then. I had just helped move a bunch of test gear and teaching materials for HP's big annual field training event there up from Colorado Springs. I was presenting sessions for both the scope and pulse generator guys. Before I headed up, Art said he wanted to meet with me to discuss creating "the definitive application note on clock and timing engineering". We met at the Marriott downtown and Art pitched the idea. He encouraged me to "pull out all the stops." I was excited and got to work over the next few months, mostly in hotel rooms across the US, Asia and Europe on my old 386-based (with math chip!) laptop/boat anchor. He did say "definitive" and I think the page count was at about 100 and still rising before he computed the printing costs for distributing this tome and pulled the plug... sorry Art! I was just trying to make sure it was definitive. :)

Speaking of application notes, it turns out Art has written a massive number of these things over the years (my favorite was where he used photography as an abstraction for acquisition). If you've been an HP/Agilent scope user or a reader of HP/Agilent app notes over the years, there is a very large chance you've come in contact with Art's work. It would be interesting to know just how many customers Art has helped over those 47 years. I guarantee it's a very large number. One of the ways I think Art has taken that role above and beyond is to have reached outside of his own organization on behalf of the customer he was trying to help. I would say at least a couple of dozen times he's bounced clock/timing-oriented questions off me before getting back to his customer. He is also one of the most customer-focused people I know, so I've always been very happy to help on these things.

When I say Art is well-read, there is just no way you're thinking what I'm thinking unless you know him too. The number of times he has added some kind of rich and fascinating detail to one of our conversations, regardless of the topic at hand, is literally uncountable. This surely derives from the fact that Art is a passionate scholar and infinitely curious, and that there are very few subjects/fields/domains where his interest hasn't already gone. He becomes interested in things for reasons that are entirely pure... refreshing in an industry that is... um... the opposite.

One of the things I tend to become interested in when I'm around really accomplished, intelligent and curious people that have been in their field for several decades is the "paper part of their brain"... their filing cabinets and what's in them... how far-ranging and broad the mix of the papers and journals and documented professional experiences that got them where they are. As I write this, I wonder what has become of the contents of Art's file cabinets. When I've been in his office in Colorado Springs chatting (it's been too long), often in mid-sentence, he would leap up and go to his files for just the perfect reference to add depth to the discussion. Whether it's a modern subject like compliance, or something less modern and less mainstream like say, innovations in trigger circuits in the 1940's, it was in there and I was always envious of his collection. I hope that Art kept it all, but if he didn't, I hope whoever has it recognizes the value of the nearly 5-decade collection of papers that helped Art become the kind of engineer he is. By the way, there are quite a few things Art has written in my filing cabinet as well.

Art's accomplishments aren't limited to technology and science. He's a life-long mountain climber and instructor. For as long as I've known him, he hikes up Pike's Peak every day. I'm a bit younger and had a pro hockey contract at one time, but there is no way I could do it once regardless of how long you gave me. He's climbed all 53 14,000 foot mountains in Colorado as well as mountains on other continents. I'm guessing Arts heart rate is about 40 bpm lower than mine right now (resting) and he's breathing at half my rate right now, despite the fact that I'm at least 6,000' below him and surrounded by oxygen.

From the approximately 700 emails my computer says we've exchanged over the years, it seems we enjoy quite a few of the same things.. photography, history, travel, physics, amateur hockey, the anthropology of certain companies and industries, poems by famous scientists, and a fair bit more. But I also don't harbor any doubts that Art's list just goes on and on after mine ends. It is my sincerest hope that these conversations continue.

Art... I hope my modest blog represents even one percent of the Renaissance man and scholar that you are, and the contribution you've made to so many of us in our industry. I know I had your home phone but I can't put my hands on it. To save me from chasing him up Pike's Peak to catch up again, if anyone knows his "civilian" email address, please pass this on to him.

Take care Art, and best of luck on whatever the next adventure is!