It’s like football only with bondage

Woodrow Wilson once said “If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if an hour, I am ready now.” Being succinct is really important when trying to close some sort of deal, whether it is a CEO trying to convince and investor or a salesperson trying to convince a customer. And as the Wilson quote shows, it is really hard.

Analogies are a great way of explaining things.  You probably heard that movies are often pitched in a ten-second bite “It’s like xxx only yyy.” For instance Alien: “It’s like Jaws, only in space.” Or Chicken Run: “It’s like The Great Escape only with clay chickens.”

Investors can be pitched this way too. They typically don’t really understand the technology they are investing in so it’s no good talking about how great your modifications to Kernighan-Lin are for next generation 32nm placement in a restricted design rule environment. Better to say “It’s like Silicon Perspective but taking modern process limitations into account.”

When I was at Ambit, we had a product called PKS (physically knowledgeable synthesis) which was the first synthesis tool that took physical layout into account in timing. But it was hard to explain to people why this was important back then, everyone was used to synthesis with wire-models and didn’t really understand the limitations. I found that the best way to explain it was that it was like trying to find the distance you’d have to travel to visit 4 cities in the US. It clearly makes a big difference if you know the cities are in LA, Miami and Seattle, as opposed to LA, Phoenix and Las Vegas. If you know nothing about where they are, which is the wireload model case, all you can do is use some sort of average and say it is 1500 miles. Always. This analogy also served to overcome the objection that we were not using the precise placement that would end up after physical design. If the cities are LA, Miami and Seattle, it doesn’t matter that much that the Seattle visit was actually to Portland; it’s close enough and a lot better than assuming Portland, Maine. I found that with this analogy people would immediately understand the reason for what we were doing and the limitations in the old approach.

Another analogy I like is in multi-core. Forget all the programming but just focus on the infrastructure. Everything assumes, or rather assumed, a certain model of programming: the programming languages, the hardware, the operating systems., the way programmers wrote code assuming that future computers would be more powerful not less It’s like containerization. The whole shipping infrastructure of the world is built on a standard sized container. Multi-core is as if someone suddenly said that you couldn’t have container trucks any more, for each big truck you used to have you now get a dozen FedEx delivery vans. In fact you can have millions of them, they are so cheap and getting cheaper. The trouble is that the infrastructure doesn’t work like that. The carrying capacity of millions of FedEx trucks might be much more than the container trucks, but the legacy stuff all comes in containers. It just doesn’t do to look only at the total carrying capacity.

A company I’m on the board of, Tuscany Design Automation, has a product for structured placement. In essence, the design expert gives some manual guidance. But people are worried at how difficult this is since they’ve never used a tool that made it easy. It really is hard in other tools where all you get is to edit a text file and don’t get any feedback on what you’ve done. The analogy I’ve come up with is that it is like computer typesetting before Macs and PageMaker and Word. You had text-based systems where you could put arcane instructions and make it work but it was really hard and best left to specialists. Once the whole desktop publishing environment came along it turned out that anyone (even great aunt Sylvia) could produce a newsletter or a brochure. It was no longer something that had to be left to typesetting black-belts. And so it is with structured placement. Once you make it easy, and give immediate feedback, and people can see what they are doing then anyone can do it.

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