Comments on ASA's Track Record in Innovation

Posted in In My Opinion...


One of the things we did about a year and a half ago was an "Innovation census" for the oscilloscope software space. It was done by a guy who worked for, I believe, 18 years in one of the scope company's real-time scope division. I gave him 30 days to identify "the things that constitute the reason customers buy scope software". I was looking for features like, say, cycle-cycle jitter analysis (easy victory, since I have the patents) and compliance tests, etc. I further instructed him that I wanted to know who introduced that feature to the scope software market first, second, third, etc... Some of you have seen it in higher level discussions between our companies. It showed 76 product elements, of which 72 were done first at ASA. I have absolutely no qualms with asserting that ASA is "the imagination of the scope industry" because I have the data.

That thought exercise revealed ASA was the first in some very important areas... jitter analysis, interpreting a signal as serial data, real-time eye diagrams, compliance tests (we used to call them Application Specific Measurements or ASM's), true diff thresholding... and on and on and on. I got thinking about all of this again because a customer recently asked me a question after I gave a presentation to them. "How can a TINY company like yours possibly have so much in your product, let alone almost always have done it FIRST?". And the answer was simple... I don't ask mobs of people what should be in my product. *I* work on product design all day, every day and it's a long-held truth in the world of product design that was first driven home to me in the Advanced VAX Development Group back at DEC.... a single inspired point of view will always out-innovate a group "just doing it for a pay check", and produce vastly more elegant designs. While I wish it weren't true, I'm working on content and direction in my car, for hours when I'm doing pattern drills on my police motorcycles in some parking lot at 2am, and when I'm at the movies or out sailing... but it shows in the product.

If you want uninspired product content made by a room full of uninspired but well-paid "coders" because some talking haircut in their marketing group had an "epiphany" during a focus group... DO NOT BUY M1. If you want something from a guy who wakes up every morning thinking about how much more elegant and useful to YOU he can make his product... who employs technologies (neural nets to cal error out, knowledge capture and reuse, non-cooperative game theory) ScopeCo won't dare go near under their "just enough engineering" policies... your only choice IS M1. I don't ask "the mob" what should be in my product or what product architecture I should have. And that shows in the innovation too.

I think I'll update that innovation census and turn it into a white paper so you can see just what our track record is here. Take care.


Another Break From Technology

Posted in In My Opinion...

When we're not shoveling our heartbeats into the stone-age ass-backwards furnace that is "modern" electronics, it can be nice to read, watch or listen to things that lift us up out of that mess.. and remind us of a better use for those heartbeats. I just noticed that I've been fortunate to have come across a few such gems recently so here they are in case they can lift someone else too.

A short story:



A film: "Once Upon a Time in the West" by Sergio Leone

Epic... *perfect*... if you have the patience for a film pace that was not designed for kids who grew up with video games . What is sheer beauty in the way Leone stretched the opening scene of the three gun fighters waiting for the train for 15 minutes with no music other than amplified natural sounds... will be utter torture for someone without the patience and appreciation. The end of the movie.... Maximum Genius.


A perfect quote:

"Riding on a motorcycle can make you feel joyous, powerful, peaceful, frightened, vulnerable, and back out to happy again, perhaps in the same ten miles. It is life compressed, its own answer to the question, 'Why?'"

- Melissa Holbrook Pierson, The Perfect Vehicle: What It is about Motorcycles


A book: The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen

A book that actually does a decent job of explaining why committees of people that admit to little or no expertise in a particular field would collect and issue dictates about how that field will conduct itself when making expert decisions... and why they can get away with it. Keen had no idea he was writing about Rj/Dj! It's a minority but important viewpoint, so if you come from the Wikipedia-first camp, you should skip this read. Or maybe, you shouldn't.


If you have found something you consider a treasure you think another would want to know about, let me know... this is how people expand their horizons.. sharing their passions. I'll keep it to myself. I'm always on the lookout for great things. Ok... back to work..

Building Up A Base of Compliance Tests

Posted in In My Opinion...

January 3rd, 2007

The necessity to perform compliance tests is a big reason people buy oscilloscopes. When you purchase these tests from the oscilloscope manufacturer, they tend to be expensive, proprietary to only their hardware, and require other expensive software to operate. One of our principal goals in creating all the automation capability that we have put into M1 Oscilloscope Tools (TestScripts, ScriptBuilder, Measurement Builder, etc) was to shift the place where the creation of these kinds of things happen from the hands of a few programmers at the scope companies to the customer's hands. This allows engineers to have exactly what they want long before the scope companies decide to write it. You can "click together" just about any test or sequence of measurements you wish.

We recently had a reason to go back and make sure an application we did almost three years ago (DDR2) was working with the most current version of the spec. I assigned a new engineer to this because I was curious about how quickly someone unfamiliar could come up to speed on our TestScript capability. We put a lot of time into that language and I was eager to get some empirical data on how well we did. After a relatively short period of getting used to the tools, Mike B. had updated all of the limits in the test quite easily. He also identified a new test that was a little off-the-wall as compared to most compliance tests... the overshoot/undershoot triangle test. Now, M1 has around 275 built-in measurements but that is a weird test and it wasn't like anything that was already built in. In order to make that work, Mike decided to use our DLL framework to quickly create the measurement and implement the test in our DDR2 compliance test. He did a great job and validated for me that our tools are indeed very fast when it comes to creating your own test/automation sequences. The new rev of our DDR2 spec can be found on You can also get the DLL Mike made for overshoot/undershoot there, which will in effect, add that measurement to your M1 installation at no cost.

I tried to pay close attention to how the process of creating an application unfolded for Mike. One thing I noticed was that there are some useful things an engineer would want to know if she were going to click together her own implementation of a compliance test for a spec. So I've asked the ASA Engineering Team to publish a Guide that will take you step by step in creating (clicking) a compliance test from a spec. Look for this in the next week or two.

Furthermore, since my team is pretty peaked at creating M1 TestScripts, I've asked them to make a list of every compliance test our competitors are selling and just click them together and post them on as soon as they're done. In fact, even though they're working on some pretty cool new functionality for the next revision of M1 OT, I've asked them to set all their development work aside and click together all these compliance tests before they resume that work. When they're done, and that won't be long, the tests won't be the usual $5000 or $8000 you see from the scope companies... or require other expensive software to run. Just download them at no charge and get to work. By the way, if you have created a compliance test within M1, please let us know.

Thanks for reading.

--Mike Williams

How Is Going To A Play Like Going to Work?

Posted in In My Opinion...

February 26th, 2007

Note: I know blogs are, by definition, supposed to be casual writing with no expectation of refinement. So, sorry about the infrequent posts... I've written everyday for probably 20 years and I'm finding it a bit uncomfortable to put something out where the expression of the idea hasn't been completely refined.

So yesterday, I skipped work in the afternoon to go and shoot photos for my daughter's play, The Crucible. For those that don't know what it is, it's a play about the Salem Witch Trials. An important point about this is that that unbelievably stupid process that almost got the whole town hung/pressed/burned is something that actually happened.

As I sat through the play, I heard more and more dialogue, and the underlying thinking that it was attempting to represent, that felt precisely like the plague of logic that has paralyzed and derailed how the detection and quantification of many pathologies happens in the semiconductor, communications and computer industries. Clearly, this is a play that has a point-of-view (disdain for the detestable thinking that underlied the actions "everyone agreed upon" and the subsequent harm that is crystal clear in hind sight). That point-of-view is detectable in the dialogue, but again, it was a point of view that was derivative of historical events. The parallels between that time and things happening in our industry are, at least, amusing:

A problem is encountered that cannot be explained by the existing technical understanding of the community (i.e. the doctor).

Faulty beliefs, faulty logic and peer pressure combine to create faulty conclusions. Everyday small-scale anomalous behavior is cast into a reality that bears no resemblance to the physical world.

"New experts" step up to help contribute to and evolve those faulty conclusions and cement their acceptance.

There is zero credible testing of their new thesis... just absolute total community-wide face-value acceptance of their weapons grade stup... er... faulty conclusions.

And subsequently... much busy work in service of the new conclusions and ultimately, harm, when all the kid needed was a good kick in the butt (unless you live in CA).

I have nothing against the people who do work on standards committees.  But I respect common sense and logic and data and reality. And so I clearly struggle with finding the will-power to check the expression of my opinion of the caliber of thinking that comes from this process. And I see more parallels between much of the committee work I know of and the Salem Witch trials, than I see different. To paraphrase Menken... nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of group-level thinking. I think there might be a Part Two to this.

Margaret... nice job as Mrs Putnam!


Kicking Off My Blog

Posted in In My Opinion...

January 2nd, 2007

As a guy who still carries a StarTac, listens to music primarily through a Marantz 4400 quadraphonic receiver (built in oscilloscope) and owns only air-cooled motorcycles, I can credibly claim to possess a certain pessimism about new or trendy things. Given this, I am not especially excited to be associated with the word "blog", yet here we are... this post will kick off my "official blog".


Life has gotten busier at ASA over the last few months. Our work to make oscilloscopes more useful, less expensive to own, and to create correlation across all brands seems to be getting noticed in many more places. One result of this is that I seem to be spending much more time talking with editors, engineering managers and customers, new partners and even some investors. My blog will be a way to more frequently share commentary about our company, our products and our industry, in a more timely way with those who want to hear about it. So when something noteworthy happens, either because it's unusually interesting and or because it's incredibly stupid, you can assume I'll probably get to it in this blog. Thanks for reading.

--Mike Williams