Second Annual FPGA Journal Awards
Last year, with little fanfare, we presented our first annual FPGA Journal Reader’s choice awards. The response was fantastic, and everybody wanted to know how they could participate in this year’s awards process… It doesn’t work that way, of course. We use a super-secret balloting system and carefully guard the data to prevent any unscrupulous parties from tampering with the results.
This year, over 350 design teams answered our call to rate their experience with FPGA and EDA companies’ products and services. Each customer was required to answer based on a specific design project that they’d already completed, and they were allowed to give responses based only on the products and services they’d actually used. (A user of vendor A’s tools was not allowed to rate vendor B’s products.) We also normalized the results to be sure that nobody had an advantage based on number of responses. We wanted the little guys with just a few customers to have just as good an opportunity to win as some of the big companies with hundreds of users responding.
We double-dog checked the answers (even, cleverly, the IP addresses, e-mail domains and other data that needed to match) to be sure that there were no sneaky faux FPGA users trying to skew the sanctity of our results. To the best of our ability, we certify the following results as accurate within our survey samples.
So, once again, still with no comedians or celebrities to read the results and completely devoid of little gold statues, are the winners of FPGA Journal’s second annual reader’s choice awards:
Well, there they are – our second year winners. Once again, there will be no acceptance speeches and no lavish after-award parties. Once again, many of these were very close competitions on our rating system, but subjective feedback from follow-up e-mails never failed to validate our winners. Once again, with all the exciting new product announcements and introductions coming our way, we expect that the next year will be another epic battle.
Kevin Morris, FPGA and Structured ASIC Journal
October 4, 2005
Rescuing Old, Outdated Media
In general, my "State of the Art" column in Circuits generates only five or ten pieces of e-mail a week. This e-mail newsletter, on the other hand, routinely generates several hundred responses, both by e-mail and on the Pogue feedback board.
My column in the paper two weeks ago, though, reversed all expectations. It generated about 200 reader e-mail queries. The topic was hybrid VCR-DVD recorders, which you can use to rescue old analog tapes by transferring them to shiny new recordable DVD's.
Big Bunch #1 asked, "Can I edit the resulting DVD's on my computer?"
The answer: Not easily. Video on a DVD is stored in a format designed for playback, not for editing.
Still, if you have a computer and you want to edit the old tapes, you shouldn't be messing around with a VHS-DVD burner at all. Why not just play the old tapes directly into the computer and edit them BEFORE burning to DVD?
You'll find instructions below under "TRANSFERRING VHS (AND OTHER ANALOG) VIDEOS TO DVD."
Big Bunch #2 asked, "But what about all the copy-protected commercial VHS tapes I've bought over the years? Surely I don't have to buy them all over again on DVD?"
Answer: Yes, I'm pretty sure you do. Again, there's probably special software that can strip out the copy protection from a movie on tape. But if I'm not mistaken, that would involve playing the whole movie onto your PC first, then burning it onto a DVD, and the result won't have anything close to the quality of a new store-bought DVD. Frankly, I'd pay the $18 for the movie on DVD and save myself the headache.
But the vast majority of the questions all reflected the same thread of anxiety:
"But how do I rescue my old vinyl records/audio cassettes/VHS-C tapes/8mm film reels?"
That's a terrific question, a very common one, and, fortunately, one that gets answered frequently these days, online and off. Here are some links to just such tutorials, for your Web-browsing pleasure:
TRANSFERRING AUDIO TAPES TO CD:
If you have a Windows PC: http://www.g4techtv.com/callforhelp/features/
If you have a Mac, here are a couple of different approaches: http://www.wap.org/journal/digitizingcassettes/default.html
TRANSFERRING VINYL RECORDS TO CD:
Take your pick of free tutorials:
TRANSFERRING VHS (AND OTHER ANALOG) VIDEOS TO DVD:
Here are several sets of instructions, all variations on the
theme. They're here for Windows: http://www.pcworld.com/howto/article/0,aid,97624,00.asp
. . . and here for the Mac:
TRANSFERRING OLD FILM TO DVD:
This one's not so easy. There is such a thing as a mirrored apparatus that lets you play your old films from a projector directly into a modern camcorder, but it's a royal pain, it's time-consuming and the resulting quality isn't so great. That's why most experts concede defeat on this one and recommend that you send your reels off to a commercial transfer service.
That's the conclusion by this online columnist, for example, which includes links to several such transfer companies (which I haven't tested): http://channels.lockergnome.com/windows/archives/
And here's a first-person account by Circuits's own Michelle Slatalla:
If you've had good luck with one transfer house or another, would you mind letting us know by posting it on the Pogue feedback boards?
Thanks -- and happy rescuing!
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Unused PC Power to Run Grid for Unraveling Disease
November 16, 2004
By STEVE LOHR
I.B.M. plans today to announce a project to harness untapped computing power from millions of personal computers to help unlock the genetic mysteries of illnesses like AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, malaria and cancer.
The project, called the World Community Grid, was developed in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, the United Nations and other organizations, and represents a significant step in the use of the Internet to foster collaborative scientific research. The goal is to combine computer resources and the shared knowledge of researchers to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery.
Dr. Eric Jakobsson, who heads the Biomedical Information Science and Technology Initiative at the National Institutes of Health, said, "This program is both a sizable commitment of computing resources and an encouraging sign of progress in moving toward a community model for biomedical computing."
To succeed, the community grid project will require a willingness by millions of volunteers to contribute the unused computing capacity of their personal computers.
Its ambitions and its backing by I.B.M. and others are unusual, but the approach is not new. The spread of the Internet and steady advances in processing power and software have made it possible to assemble networks of far-flung machines that can take on daunting scientific problems.
A comparatively simple but well-known distributed computing effort is the SETI@home program, begun in 1999, which uses the spare power of personal computers to scan radio signals for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.
Grid computing technology could be useful for all kinds of scientific problems that require vast computing and can be broken up into small chunks for processing. But biology and medicine are ideal areas, the project participants say, given the increasing use of computers in the search for genetic markers for disease and in seeking clues to the basic processes of life.
The new network's resources will be devoted to a series of problems chosen by a 17-member advisory board. Its first mission will be the Human Proteome Folding Project, directed by the Institute for Systems Biology, a nonprofit research organization in Seattle. The proteome project seeks to identify all the proteins in the human body and their functions.
At the Institute for Systems Biology, the community grid will be used to compute how new genes fold into proteins and then match those shapes against a three-dimensional protein database, looking for similarities. That could provide important clues about what a specific gene actually does in the body - and those clues could, in turn, help scientists understand disease, move toward the discovery of drugs or solve biological puzzles.
"This is a perfect problem for this kind of computing," said Dr. Leroy Hood, president of the Institute for Systems Biology, "and it could have a big impact on biology."
Researchers wishing to take advantage of the grid must agree to keep their research and software tools in the public domain.
Several other projects have sought to harness the power of personal computers to explore areas like the evolution of disease-causing bacteria and to identify chemical compounds that show promise against smallpox. I.B.M. was a sponsor of the smallpox project last year, along with the Defense Department.
"The hope is that the World Community Grid project can expand the impact of this kind of computing to a much broader set of applications," said Ian Foster, a computer scientist at the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago.
Those wishing to join the grid project and donate computer time will be able to download software from a Web site, www.worldcommunitygrid.org. When the machine is turned on but not in use, the program will use it as part of the computing grid.
I.B.M. is financing the grid project as a permanent charitable program that will cost it several million dollars a year, a spokesman said. The results will be gathered at an I.B.M. data center in Boulder, Colo. Software for assembling the computing power from the PC's is to be supplied by United Devices of Austin, Tex.
The advisory board includes Dr. Jakobsson of the National Institutes of Health, Mr. Foster of the Argonne laboratory and representatives from the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the Mayo Clinic, Oxford University, the California Institute of Technology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Our hope is that the problems to be addressed will be determined by the world's community of scientists," said Carol Kovac, general manager of the health care and life sciences business at I.B.M.
Fitting Your PC in a Pocket
October 14, 2004
By DAVID POGUE
In the last few years, the biggest breakthroughs in personal computing haven't had much to do with personal computers. Instead, many of the most exciting and popular inventions have been designed to let you carry a copy of the data that's on the PC you already have.
What's an iPod, for example, but a $300 portable hard drive containing a copy of your PC's music files? What's a Palm or PocketPC but a $300 data bucket for carrying away a copy of the PC's calendar and address book? And what's a BlackBerry but a $400 mirror image of the PC's e-mail?
Of course, the unstated assumption behind all of these developments is that your pocket isn't big enough for the computer itself. But for a couple of former Apple laptop designers, that assumption is obsolete.
Thanks to some of the very advances in miniaturization that make hand-held gadgets possible (bright indoor-outdoor screens, two-inch hard drives), these guys have devised the world's smallest Windows XP computer: 4.9 by 3.4 inches and less than an inch thick. They pose an intriguing question: why would you buy a bunch of gadgets designed to liberate the data from your PC if you could just shove the entire PC into your pocket?
It's called the OQO (pronounced OH-cue-oh), not to be confused with AT&T's instant-messaging device (Ogo), a wind instrument (oboe) or John Lennon's widow (Yoko Ono).
The best way to appreciate the OQO's benefits and tradeoffs is to consider each of its components individually, just as you would when buying any new computer.
KEYBOARD With a gentle push, the screen and body slide halfway apart like the two slices of bread on a jelly sandwich. You've just exposed a thumb keyboard. It's like the one on a BlackBerry, except that this one even has arrow keys, modifier keys (like Ctrl and Alt), and a separate number pad. (Weirdly, though, the number keypad is upside down. That is, the top row includes 1, 2 and 3, cellphone-style, instead of 7, 8 and 9, computer-style.) You can also attach a full-size U.S.B. keyboard when you're not computing on the run.
MOUSE OQO has dreamed up a bizarre but perfectly workable mouse-replacement solution. Between the letter and number keys sits a pea-sized, immovable circle of stubbly black stuff. Your first instinct might be to scrape it away, assuming that it must be a bit of dried airline food.
Instead, you're supposed to push against it in the direction you want the arrow cursor to move, much like the little red nubbin on I.B.M. laptop keyboards. To click, you press a button on the OQO keyboard's left edge. Mousing is now a two-handed operation, but why not? Your non-mouse hand is usually left to twiddle its thumb during PC mousing anyway.
Of course, you can't very well draw or sketch by pushing against that black textured blob, so the OQO is also equipped with a stylus and a touch screen. (Only a special stylus works on this screen, which prevents accidental clicks but also means you can't use a retracted pen or a fingernail in a pinch.)
And because neither a mouse-click key nor a stylus is ideal for scrolling through documents, Web pages and lists, the OQO even has a thumb wheel on its bottom edge. With these three input devices, you won't miss the mouse for an instant. If anything, you'll wish that your bigger computer had them.
SCREEN The screen is readable both in sunshine and indoors; in fact, a sensor makes it brighten automatically in bright light. The resolution is 800 by 480 pixels, shrunk down to the size of an index card. The result, as you'd imagine, is crisper than crisp.
But the problem isn't crispness; it's legibility. Text that appears as 10-point italic on a real PC becomes one-point indecipherable on this screen.
Because pocket electron microscopes are not yet commercially available, you'll have to rely on software to bail you out. For example, the OQO's factory-installed Windows desktop theme enlarges the type size of window names and icon labels. You can enlarge any Web page using the View menu in Internet Explorer. And in Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook, pressing Ctrl while turning the thumb wheel neatly enlarges or shrinks the text of whatever document is on the screen.
But in dialog boxes, menu commands and error messages, the type is just tiny, and that's that. It's about the size of the fine print on a consumer-electronics rebate form.
GUTS There's no room for the usual cooling system (fan, ventilation holes, chimney effect), which rules out processors like the lava-hot Pentium. What saves the day is a cool-running one-gigahertz Transmeta chip.
This processor isn't what you'd call blazingly fast; dictation software, video editing and 3-D shoot-'em-up games are pretty much out of the question. But there's plenty of speed for any kind of Internet activity (Web, e-mail, and so on), graphic design, music and video playback, Microsoft Office, databases, less action-intense games, and so on.
Memory-hungry programs like Photoshop aren't very usable, either, because the OQO has only 256 non-expandable megabytes of memory. The hard drive isn't what you'd call capacious, either: 20 gigabytes is all you get.
Of course, most real-world new PC's have at least twice that amount of memory and disk space. Clearly, OQO hopes that you'll think, "Wow, this little guy is a heck of a lot more powerful than any palmtop," and not "Jeez Louise, the Dell I had in sixth grade had more horsepower than this puppy."
EXPANSION The OQO's edges offer a microphone, a headphone jack, a FireWire connector (for attaching hard drives and camcorders) and a U.S.B. port (version 1.1, alas, not the faster 2.0 type). Better yet, it's a wireless powerhouse; it contains both a Wi-Fi antenna (for connecting to wireless networks) and a Bluetooth transmitter (for dialing a Bluetooth cellphone, exchanging files with laptops and palmtops and so on). Both wireless features work superbly.
When you're back at the office, you can slip the OQO into its accompanying dock, whose cable accommodates a full-size monitor (up to 1280 by 1024 resolution), another U.S.B. and FireWire jack, an Ethernet connector for high-speed networking, and an audio output. The idea, of course, is that you can leave your printer, scanner, keyboard, mouse, monitor and network cable permanently attached to the dock, so that when you're not out and about, the OQO is a no-compromise (well, low-compromise) everyday PC.
You don't even have to shut down the OQO or put it to sleep first - you just slip it into the dock and watch with satisfaction as your desktop monitor blinks to life. That bit of elegance saves you a lot of time and hassle (and reminds you of the creators' Apple heritage).
THE DRIVE The OQO has no built-in CD or DVD drive. Barring an amendment to the laws of physics, there would be no way to fit one. Here, at last, is the OQO's Achilles' heel. In fact, it's probably Achilles' entire leg up to just above the knee. How the heck are you supposed to install commercial software or watch DVD's without a drive?
The company has no suggestions except to buy an external U.S.B. or FireWire drive, which will set you back about $75.
THE UPSHOT OQO the company has big plans for OQO the computer. It claims to have generated wide interest in industries like insurance, field sales, public safety, manufacturing and health care. For example, doctors and nurses could call up patient records at home, on the road or, over a wireless network, anywhere in the hospital.
But if you can get over the lack of a CD drive, there's a lot to be said for the OQO even for individuals. When your digital camera's memory card gets full, no worries; just offload the photos to the PC in your purse or pocket and keep shooting. You don't have to transfer your videos from your PC to one of those $500 video players for your train ride, because you'll have the PC itself with you. And forget about printing out your MapQuest driving directions or your Travelocity travel itinerary from your PC. Why bother, when you can open the original electronic document at any time?
OQO's claim that you could use the OQO as your sole computer is a tad far-fetched; its limited memory, speed and storage would probably put a crimp in your computing style. It's not cheap, either, although it's in line with laptop prices: $1,900 with Windows XP Home Edition installed, $2,000 for XP Professional. And the battery life is disappointing: about 2.5 hours per charge. At least the battery is removable, so you can swap in a fully charged spare.
Otherwise, though, OQO is the most elegant, versatile, solidly build miniature PC possible with current technology. Its creators have blown the concept of the digital hub to smithereens, and given whole new meaning to the term pocket PC.
CSIT Laboratory is member of Xilinx University Program (XUP), Mentor Graphics University Program (HEP), BlueSpec University Program, Synplicity University Program and Fintronic University Program