Friday, May 4, 2012
The End of ESP/ESD Magazine
The print edition Embedded System Design (formerly Embedded System Programming) has published its last issue. For folks who have been doing this for a long time this is a huge change in the embedded systems landscape. Jack Ganssle has an article about his experiences in his last regular column (http://www.eetimes.com/discussion/break-points/4372144/Farewell--ESD). They're going to invest effort into the web version, and I wish them all the best. Hopefully it will be even better, but it won't be the same.
I started doing embedded systems while I was an undergrad at RPI. My first big project was writing microcode for a graphics display system at IBM over a summer, complete with fixed point trig functions. Then I wrote the software for a control system that ran a hotel in the early 1980s. When I say "ran" I mean turning power off to unused rooms, running a timer for a 3-hour TV movie rental system, giving room status to the maid break room monitor, and running a fairly complex cash register. The entire thing ran on an Atari 1200 at first (IBM PC original later, when it came on the market). Those systems ran at a handful of MHz and had 64KB of memory. Only floppy disks -- hard disks were too expensive. It was all programmed in Forth (no other language of that era could pull that off on an inexpensive personal computer, and the company learned that the hard way by trying others). Since then computers in hotels have become common. But we were there in the first wave on automation side (others did bookkeeping at about the same time), and it was a fun ride.
I then got my undergrad degree, drove US Navy submarines, did some combat system integration, got a PhD, and then parlayed a CPU design startup venture from my bedroom into a job with Harris Semiconductor doing embedded controller design. I managed to get two articles into Byte magazine along the way (remember that? or at least heard of it?). One of them was a cover article on a particular style of computer design (April 1987). When I visited the Smithsonian computer history exhibit there was a huge stack of Byte magazines on display, and I could see the spine of that issue buried in the stack. Nothing makes you feel older than seeing something you wrote in a museum!
Jack has posted a copy of the very first ESP magazine from 1988 posted here: http://www.ganssle.com/misc/firstesp.pdf In addition to several pictures of original IBM PC "clone" systems (as we called them in the 80s) you'll also see a 4-page spread for the RTX CPU series on pages 53-56. Those are the guys I started working for in 1989, designing the 32-bit version of the processor family and helping with evolution of the 16-bit version they already had been working on. I found and started reading ESP around the second or third issue, and have read every single issue since. I also assign selected articles from back issues to students in my courses today as a way to supplement embedded system textbooks with articles that in many cases are more directly applicable to the real world. I contributed a few articles to ESP over the years and did the Embedded Systems Conference a few times -- most recently about a year ago in Silicon Valley. It's always fun to connect with the community that way.
I've been doing embedded systems one way or another since I got my degrees, including a few years at United Technologies (mostly elevators and automotive, but also time with jet engines, radars, sonars, helicopters, HVAC systems, and things I'm forgetting). Then I went to Carnegie Mellon to work on wearable computers, software robustness testing, embedded networking, graceful degradation, embedded system safety, and embedded system security. And most recently, autonomous vehicle dependability.
Along the way I've kept up with ESP/ESD even though I was really supposed to be spending more time reading journals and other academic-type stuff. But the embedded system articles are more fun! I've noticed the magazine getting thinner and thinner in recent years, and figured it would eventually come to an end. But it is still sad to see it go. Embedded systems as a profession is quite decentralized. For many years the only real common element that professionals were likely to have was a subscription to that magazine. Other publications have appeared, blogs like this one have popped up, and I know the ESD web site will live on. Hopefully in ten years the community will have even better resources available. We'll see how it turns out.
(PS: for those of you who have noticed no blog postings in a while, this blog and I are both still alive. I have just been that busy. I expect to get back to regular posting eventually. And my CRC blog will see more activity when I get some research funding permissions issues cleared up, although that may be a while.)
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