FPGA Journal Article - Page 6

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Re: FPGA Journal Article
I'm also one of those rebirth hobbyists.

I was a hobbyist up until the mid to late 80's.  Probably the most
ambitious stuff I tried was a 68020 board with dynamic ram, running at
16Mhz, all on a big wire-wrap board.  Back then, the board was stuffed
with LSTTL chips.  The board was none too reliable -- flex it the wrong
way, and something broke.  But on a good day, it worked.

I tried to make some improvements for reliability.  I played with
bipolar PALs.  Expensive, and I really hated throwing them away when I
made a mistake in programming them.  I also tried making my own double
sided printed circuit boards.  Lithographic film, developed in a close
bathroom in my apartment.  Needless to say, making and drilling these
boards was a fiasco.

So I just stored all my parts away for 15 years or so.

What's changed to get me back into this hobby?  Three things.

1) Flash programmable microcontrollers, i.e. PICs and AVRs.  None of
this burning EPROM business anymore.  No wiring up SRAM or DRAM.  Just
program and go.

2) Low cost schematic/PCB design software and PCB boardhouses.   I    
wouldn't even attempt to make my own boards anymore.  And I can get 6
and 8 layer boards, something I'd never attempt as a hobbyist.  Woohoo!
Soldering those SMD components is a bit of a challenge, especially the
PQFP208 packages.  Of course there are some interesting things in BGA
packages, but I haven't reached the level of craziness to try the
toaster over reflow method.

3) FPGA's!  I last looked at programmable logic in the bipolar PAL days.  
I happened to be looking through a Digikey catalog one day and noticed
stuff from a company called Xilinx.  Hmm, checked their website.  Hey,
this is pretty neat stuff!  And since Digikey (and Xilinx to a limited
extent, hint, hint) allow small orders, I can actually get parts.  In
the 80's, I often had to try going though a rep or Big Distributor, and
most wouldn't deal with me at all.  

So nowdays, I typically design a board with a microcontroller on it,
slap a Spartan chip of some sort on it as well, and worry about how to
make it work later.  Aside from a few early gotchas, like trying to use
an input only pin on an FPGA as an output, this has worked very well.

I've weaned myself away from schematics for CPLD/FPGA design and taught
myself VHDL.  To me at least, it's a very different mindset to think in,
but it's getting easier as I do more designs.  I still struggle with
VHDL which looks legal but isn't quite right for synthesis, trying to
interpret some obscure message from WebPack.

Now I'm looking to do even more. I keep checking to see when the Spartan
3E board is available.  I've worked with the Spartan 3 eval board from
Digilent, so I'm anxious to see what's next.

And then there's the little matter of the ML403 kit Xilinx offers with
the Virtex 4 FX and the EDK.  As a hobbyist, I'm cringing at the thought
of putting $895 into this.  At the same time, I'm going, hmm, what could
I do with the PowerPC chip or the MicroBlaze?  Hmm, no it's too much
money....  But I keep thinking about it :-)  I know Xilinx doesn't
really target people like me, but I keep hoping for a half-price sale or
a hobby bundle on the ML403 (no support, no commercial use or you give
up your first born, etc).




snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com says...
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Re: FPGA Journal Article

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I'm genuinely surprised. In my experience, wire-wrap boards were the most
reliable boards I've ever had. Especially if you took the time to train the
technician how to wire-wrap properly. The hardest point was trying to stop
them grouping the wires together into "crosstalk-of-death" busses instead of
just connecting them point-to-point. Second hardest was banging into their
heads to connect multi-drop traces every other section first, so you can rip
up and re-route easier later on. Happy days!
Cheers, Syms.

Re: FPGA Journal Article
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I know what you feel like.  We have the XC2S50 here on some demo boards
from somewhere.  They're ok to play around with.  Nowadays I'm salivating
over XC3S1500/2000 boards.  If I could find something with 3 to 6 of these
on board (even the 1000 version), and good chunk of sram, for less than
$1k, I'd be a very happy camper...


Re: FPGA Journal Article
Hobbyists.  Now there's a term you don't often hear amongst the next
generation.  If the hobbyist is going to make a comeback in this country
(US) it is going to take more than a low-cost, high capability FPGA.  With
the watered down public education serving up a non-challenging, push them
through curriculum, what hope is there for technologists in this country
over the next few decades?

Do you know how many times I've walked into a gas station and encountered a
teen who can't carry through on a simple transaction?  The youth today
aren't--for the most part--go getters: they lack direction, motivation, and
personal responsibilty.  They are not problem-solvers, they're
problem-makers who go though life thinking that somebody is always going to
wipe their backside.  Give them a kit of parts and ask them to make it
work-ha!  They might have to read a book!

It has been reported that high school graduates are increasingly choosing
non-technical fields to major in.  The technical fields are too challenging,
require too much work, and interfere with the 50hrs/week of playing video
games.  Where are the Heathkitter's of the next generation?

I've ranted long enough...........................

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Re: FPGA Journal Article
Rob, the first adult who is known to have complained about the youth of
his time being lazy do-no-gooders, was Socrates, more than 2400 years
ago. And each generation after him has repeated the complaint, while
benefitting from the progress brought about by those youths, once they
had matured.
Look at the kids coming out of Stanford, starting SUN, Yahoo, and
Google. Most of the detailed work in my company is done by engineers in
their late twenties and thirties, obviously with necessary guidance
from us more experienced folks...
If kids are not interested in science, that is mainly the fault of
educators, industry and management, creating a a bad learning and
career environment.
I prefer the original posting of this thread:
How can FPGAs envigorate individual or personal design activity?
Let's pool ideas, and not complain about our kids and grandkids.
Many of them are smarter than we are.
Peter Alfke, from home
Rob wrote:
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Re: FPGA Journal Article

I appreciate your comments.   But do you know how many great civilizations
have come and gone since Socrates, including his [Socrates] own?  I'm an old
patriot and my response was mainly driven by my frustration of what I see as
a possible future for this great country.  I work for a fortune 500 company
and I don't see many young Americans coming in for internships.  I have also
worked with one of our local well-renonowed colleges and I see a majority of
students with visas filling the class rooms, not young Americans.  Yes,
there are many great engineers in this country ,and doubtless there will be
many more, but I fear that those numbers will fall.

And don't mis-interpret my message: I'm not against anyone coming to this
country to get an education.  To re-state, I'm just frustrated with our
primary education system.

My apologies for deviating from the topic--it just hit a nerve.

Take care,

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Re: FPGA Journal Article
  I've had some interesting conversations with Tutors, and one point they
make for the lack of inflows, is the 'appliance' nature of much of
the electronics.
  No one enters tertiary education expecting to design a stereo, or TV,
plus much of what potential students see is disposable, or close to
  Then the Dot-bomb tended to tar all technology companies with the same
brush, and the industry is still clawing back from that.

  That's why I believe such 'early/wide student' demos, need to have at
least one block that has a wide audience.  ie something they can show
their parents, or apply to a club, or sport.

  GPS-option Stopwatch is one such item : Give them time displays to the
low ns, just to remind potential students of the reach of the time-domain.
  - and make it simple enough for even schools to run as 'canned examples'.


Peter Alfke wrote:
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Re: FPGA Journal Article
I want to thank everyone for their thoughtful, insightful, and
provocative responses to my query.  We've covered everything from
politics to education to (strange as it seems) FPGAs.  I've already
contacted a number of you directly (and have a few more on my list),
and I'm excited about the article.

I'll post here when it's ready for publication, and we can all start a
new thread about how badly I missed the boat.

Thanks again!


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