May News

SecureID tokens

Between your money and the outside world.


You get to feel so guilty
Got so much for so little
Then you find that feeling just won't go away.
You're holding on to every little thing so tightly
Till there's nothing left for you anyway.

   Gone by U2, Pop Album, track 7,
Mar 1997. Also on several other albums.
Lyrics at U2.com/discography


Freedom K64 boards

Freedom K64 and LPC11C24 boards arrive


K64 and K60 Tower

Freescale K64 Freedom board at the bottom, and K60 based Tower with Rowley Associates CrossConnect. The photo managed to get several LEDs flashing at the same time which are status outputs for various tasks.

Software Development

The K60 has Ethernet, with the K64 part of the Kinetis next generation, and advertised by Freescale at $29 for the K64F Freedom board (although that would be $39,15 via Mouser from Australia, but they ship for free on orders over $200). For discretes, prices are often double of what we were paying from other vendors so we minimised the components. The K64F board has 0,1 inch connectors which are useful for prototyping. The wide deployment of CAN might not be cheaper than Ethernet when costs of isolation are factored in. For development over several nodes and different workstations, the possibility of ground differences over the circumference of a typical house with 24 VDC batteries becomes an issue. Ethernet has low cost cabling, readily available connectors with built-in isolation transformers, and larger data payloads than CAN. We like the LPC11C24 for servicing a few buttons, but for low-volume (in our case anyway), the software costs predominate. A single RTOS across different cores (with proper context switching) including instrumentation requires more RAM than in the LPC11C24.

Distant Future Plans

We think 64-bit ARM servers will open up a huge market — security as it is worthwhile to get something up on a network centric SoC after the revelations by Snowdon, watching my router flashing when there is nothing switched on, the reports of governments hacking their own citizens, not being able to login to an online banking site due to DoS attacks etc. It is not even possible to know what programs are doing on a Microsoft PC and online help is useless. Can you kill something or not etc. The only reason for having a Windows/ Microsoft PC for us anyway is for CAD that the likes of Altium and SolidWorks do not want to port to Mac OSX. Dealing with Apple is either tricky or they both feel that engineers are happy with Windows PCs. With the PC industry declining (Sony to quit Viao, HP making silly moves to drop then resurrect the tablet and PC division, IBM selling out to Lenovo who go on to make record profits, and Dell trying to get the company delisted). Apple have some very strong upstream swimmers — Objective-C to counter Microsoft's C# or to own the whole eco-chain. They are also very good at opening new markets, and we think that they will possibly be the most influential in changing attitudes towards ARM versus the x86. Only question now is whether the APM X-Gene is affordable and ships in a prepackaged box, or if AMD manages to foster the motherboard industry where a vehicle tyre costs more than a high-end computer. Our bets would normally be on AMD with a bias towards graphics, but the next three months will determine our future path. Our decisions are unlikely to be earth shattering or felt in far-off places, but we will maintain our freedom from closed-off app-stores, closed boxes, etc. We will also invest heavily into trace hardware to fully debug our real-time and multi-core work.

Tales from the Woods

Tree Consumes Telephone Pole

Tree in Basingstoke gobbles tree

A couple of years ago on a visit to the UK, I saw a tree at a pub in Basingstoke that had grown around a telephone pole, but did not have a camera that day. This month my wife kindly took a photo of the tree during a visit. It does not look like the tree is going to hand back the pole anytime soon.

HP and PC/Tablet Update

Hewlett-Packard to cut up to 16,000 more jobs, 23rd May, BBC. Although a rise of 18% in profits to $1,3bn, they plan to lay off an additional 11,000 to 16,000 workers.

Apparently, the fall in revenue growth was blamed on declining PC sales as customers shift towards devices such as tablets and smartphones.

A day earlier, in Sony targets tripling of operating profits, also on BBC, Sony said it would dispose of its Vaio PC business. The move to get rid of its PC business and 5,000 job cuts was already reported in February. They also promised profits in many other press briefings.

Timing for HP and Sony was poor, considering Lenovo's headline — China's Lenovo sees 29% jump in full year net profit, 21st May. They sold 55 million PCs during the year, 50 million smart phones and 9,2 million tablets. Lenovo bought struggling Motorola Mobility from Google earlier this year.

It was not long ago when HP said it was exiting the tablet and PC market, so the claim that their customers were migrating to smartphones and tablets is dubious. By the time they announced the PC market exit, most of their customers who were used to shelling out more for their hardware would already have owned smartphones, and tablets are not yet up there to seriously dent the business market. Hopefully, the low-cost 3D printer from HP sees the light of day.

If tablets were such a good market, a player as large as Microsoft would not have lost so much in the Surface stock write down. However, they must have done some post mortem soul searching and found out that a bigger screen was necessary, and x86 rather than ARM was the target of choice. To read more, see Microsoft launches larger Surface Pro 3 to rival laptops, 20th May, on BBC.

Siemens Restructure

In Siemens Says Restructuring Will Affect Around 11,600 Jobs according to the WSJ, on 30th May. If the above link is unavailable, see on BBC. The restructure would be into nine divisions from the current sixteen. There are 360,000 employees at Siemens, a third of these in Germany.

Twitter looses £78 million

The UK Metro, pg 10, 1st May, reported that Twitter lost £78 million in the past three months. Not having used Twitter, we cannot comment, but it seems like an awful lot of money for a company with such a high profile and shares trading below the initial public offering. One cannot help think that the brokers and Wall Street marketeers made a bundle before offloading onto the naive public.


Technology Bets?

Where are our bets? We're by no means even a tiny player, so don't go and bet your pension on this, but there is an awful lot of hype around 64-bit ARM which is almost 20 years behind the release of MIPS64. Many folk are shipping MIPS64 with multi-core and incredible networking specs, but these same customers are migrating to ARM64. Where are these chips? Only Apple seems to have shipped anything in volume as of May in 64-bit ARM, and that was in smartphones and tablets. There is a bit of speculation that the desktop will also migrate from x86 to ARM as Apple slowly absorbed some very savvy hardware design companies. To the end-user, it probably does not make much difference, as Apple control their operating system, system integration and compilers. The move some time back from the PowerPC to x86 was relatively painless for end-users, so a similar move for those who still have x86 Apple desktops to an ARM64 multi-core device would not be that hard either. Did the world love Intel more than IBM? Maybe then, but the swing against Intel with high priced servers for the promised flood of cheap ARM devices seems real enough. Now to see if the ARM planet can get a unified boot system or server spec that materialises.

AMD has been rather quiet about their ARM64 server, but claim to have shipped samples. They also promised to have mixed ARM64 and x86 devices, plus pin-compatible ARM64 and x86 chips for servers around 2015 and 2016. That is a long way down the road.

ARM 64

Seems everyone in this space is very busy trying to make engineering catch up to the marketing departments' hype generators. APM is still offering per-order for X-Gene (28 May). There is silicon as they have demonstrated at various conferences. AMD has also shown off hardware, but placing orders is not so easy. What do you choose? Do we wait for Freescale's ARM64 version of the communications family currently on very capable PowerPC multi-core devices, AMD's device with a view for their merged graphics capability later, or Applied Micro's X-Gene? Well, we have registered with APM for a pre-order in about two months time (get past tax return, clean up Kinetis K64 code). If we are approved, we will find out the price of the development kit.

What is the attraction for ARM64? We went down the 64-bit path in 1994 with Digital's Alpha. It was bought blind and based on datasheets. DEC did have a reputation, plus some discussions at CEBIT with a DEC engineer on the VxWorks and VME board offerings helped to go for a desktop unit with proper graphics. It was a wonderful machine and we eventually sold it for 20% of the purchase price. Then there was MIPS64 for many years, followed by PowerPC. We had worked on several 32-bit PowerPC embedded devices (including from Applied Micro), and were fortunate enough to get an Apple G5 workstation in an academic environment with a dual-core 64-bit PowerPC. We all know what happened to the Apple — IBM relationship, so we have adopted x86-64 without delving into the deeper depths of the architecture (as it is so awful). The major RISC players became a bit greedy and are either at the bottom of a landfill or bought by consortiums to protect themselves from the legal patent fraternity who pushed through the unaligned instructions case against Lexra ignoring prior art.

If you look at ARM's financial postings, they are a small player (compared to supermarkets who don't even own their buildings). They charge a few cents per core depending on the capability (M0 less than A15, one core less than multi-core etc). They could also be bought by Intel with small change, but the idea is out there that someone could challenge the x86 and there is no longer an IBM to drive the PC with financial decision makers only playing safe with IBM, HP or Dell. Data centres and open source have given many at Microsoft a few headaches. Apple was fortunate to have their phones and tablets surge past anyone's imagination, so much so, that they abandoned their blade market a few years ago, and have put Objective-C on developers' radar. Their phones and tablets are already ARM based, and increasingly 64-bit ARM based. It is no longer a question of “if” but “when” for ARM to enter the server space.


Bankers

So you thought the banks had all the answers on investing, but according to Ex-Barclays executives face fraud office questioning, 12th May, Barclays paid £322m to investors in order to gain their support for a £5 billion fundraising in 2008 in Qatar. Barclays claims the fees were for advice. It looks like there are cuts ahead with Barclays to cut 19,000 jobs over three years, 8th May, also on BBC. It would be hard to imaging that they would be removing the honest or smart folk, but nothing was said about who would go. Could it possibly be the less gifted or dishonest employees?

 

If the dishonest employees are the ones on the block, then it will be difficult for them to get jobs at Credit Suisse, who have just pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges for helping clients avoid paying tax by sending money overseas for decades. See U.S. Charges Credit Suisse Over Tax-Fraud Scheme, 19th May, on Time.com. The bank will pay $2,6 billion in penalties.

Also this month, JPMorgan, HSBC and Credit Agricole accused by the European Commission of rate fixing. They all say they will vigorously defend themselves. In this one Barclays escaped as they snitched on the cartel, which also included Deutsche Bank, RBS and Societe Generale who were fined €1,04bn in December by the EU.