Worm Attacking Industrial Control Systems

There is a very interesting worm going around the world right now which is specifically targeting industrial control systems. According to Business Week, the worm is targeting a Siemens plant control system, probably with the intent to steal production secrets and maybe even information useful to create counterfeit products. This is the first instance I have seen of malware targeting the area of embedded systems. However, the actual systems targeted are not really embedded systems, but rather regular PCs running supervision and control software.

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Poking Holes in Products

I recently started using a new mobile phone, a Blackberry Bold 9700. I am a bit ambivalent on some of its design features, but it is certainly a very different device from the much more friendly SonyEricsson I had before. Like anybody would do, I have been playing around with it to see what it can do and what not (notable things not working: the “AppWorld” application store is not available in Sweden, YouTube videos do not play in any way that I can figure out).

And almost inevitably, as you play around with a complex modern piece of software (which is what most of the phone is, after all), you find some obvious things which are just plain broken. You wonder, “why didn’t they think of this”, and “how could this ever escape testing?” My current best example is that the built-in web browser does not render the pages from Blackberry’s own support knowledgebase.

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Kindergarten Robot 2: Going Programmable

lego mindstorms nxt2

As discussed in my previous blog post about Kindergarten robots, I wanted to see if I can teach kids the core idea of programming. This project has now progressed to the point that I have a working prototype of a programmable robot.

Essentially, the robot is programmed by putting colored Lego bricks in a sequence on top of the robot. This should be accessible and direct enough to work with kids — and with no computer needed, just direct physical interaction with the system. For some reason, I think the extra level of abstraction from a screen to a robot is just an unnecessary obstacle at this level.

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Kindergarten Robot

lego mindstorms nxt2One of my little projects while on parental leave has been to play around with my Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 robotics kit. Apart from being fun for a serious dad like myself, I always had in mind how I could use it with kids to get them interested in technology.

When I was a PhD student in Uppsala back around 2000, we bought a pile of the Lego Mindstorms RCX kits, for use in real-time courses. Obviously, the students loved the opportunity to play with Lego (including the few females). What was less obvious and much more interesting was what happened when we brought in a bunch of children from a local kindergarten to visit — they really took a liking to our little yellow robots running around a classroom. They treated the robots as little animals, wondering what they were doing and why…

With that in mind, I decided to try to reprise this myself with my own son and his kindergarten friends. Last week, I took my robot kit with me and went to meet the kids.

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Neat Register Design to Avoid Races

raceconditionIn his most recent Embedded Bridge Newsletter, Gary Stringham describes a solution to a common read-modify-write race-condition hazard on device registers accessed by multiple software units in parallel. Some of the solutions are really neat!

I have seen the “write 1 clears” solution before in real hardware, but I was not aware of the other two variants. The idea of having a “write mask” in one half of a 32-bit word is really clever.

However, this got me thinking about what the fundamental issue here really is.

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Freescale P4080, in Physical Form

freescale-logo-iconPast Tuesday, I attended the Freescale Design With Freescale (DWF) one-day technology event in Kista, Stockholm. This is a small-scale version of the big Freescale Technology Forum, and featured four tracks of talks running from the morning into the afternoon. All very technical, aimed at designing engineers.

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Downloadable Book about Embedded Multicore

freescale-logo-iconFreescale has now released the collected, updated, and restyled book version of the article series on embedded multicore that I wrote last year together with Patrik Strömblad of Enea, and Jonas Svennebring, and John Logan of Freescale. The book covers the basics of multicore software and hardware, as well as operating systems issues and virtual platforms. Obviously, the virtual platform part was my contribution.

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LCTES 2010 Call for Papers

The call for paper for LCTES 2010 is now out, the deadline is October 3. If you have something to publish in the area of “Languages, Compilers, and Tools for Embedded Systems”, please consider it! I am on the program committee, and looking forward to reading some really good papers. I used to publish at the LCTES myself when I was doing my PhD… see my older publications if you are curious.

The conference itself will take place in Stockholm in April of 2010, as part of the Cyber-Physical Systems Week (CPSWeek) 2010.

The Hardware-Software Interface is where the Action Is

pn4_quad-gigaswift-utp-adapterWhen I started out doing computer science “for real” way back, the emphasis and a lot of the fun was in the basics of algorithms, optimizing code, getting complex trees and sorts and hashes right an efficient. It was very much about computing defined as processor and memory (with maybe a bit of disk or printing or user interface accessed at a very high level, and providing the data for the interesting stuff). However, as time has gone on, I have come to feel that this is almost too clean, too easy to abstract… and gone back to where I started in my first home computer, programming close to the metal.

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Cadence Industry Insight: “Virtual Platforms Unite HW and SW”

opinionAnother Cadence guest blog entry, about the overall impact of virtual platforms on the interaction between hardware and software designers. Essentially, virtual platforms are a great tool to make software and hardware people talk to each other more, since it provides a common basis for understanding.

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EETimes.com – Multicore CPUs face slow road in comms

eetimes logoThe  EETimes article Multicore CPUs face slow road in comms piqued my interest. There is an interesting chart in there about just how slow more-than-one-core processors will be in penetrating a vaguely defined “comms” market place. I can believe that, but I think their comments on the PowerQUICC series require some commentary…

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Enea and Freescale Article on SMP OS

Elektronik i Norden just published a technical insight article about the SMP kernels of Enea OSE and Linux, by Patrik Strömblad and Jonas Svennebring.

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Adding to Schirrmeister’s Virtual Platform Myth Busting

opinionFrank Schirrmeister of Synopsys recently published a blog post called “Busting Virtual Platform Myths – Part 1: “Virtual Platforms are for application software only”. In it, he is refuting a claim by Eve that virtual platforms are for application-level software-development only, basically claiming that they are mostly for driver and OS development and citing some Synopsys-Virtio Innovator examples of such uses. In his view, most appication-software is being developed using host-compiled techniques.  I want to add to this refutal by adding that application-software is surely a very important — and large — use case for virtual platforms.

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Tying a Thread to a Processor in Linux

This is a small Linux SMP programming tip, which I had a hard time finding documented clearly anywhere on the web. I guess people won’t find it here either, but with some luck some search engine will pick up on this.

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“Nulticore Effect”

Jack Ganssle wrote a column about the failure of multicore to scale, based on an article in IEEE Spectrum. He makes the following claim:

Now a study in IEEE Spectrum shows that even for the classic embarrassingly parallel problems like weather simulations multicore offers little benefit. The curve in that article is priceless. As the number of cores grow from two to 64 performance plummets by a factor of five. Additional processors nullify each other.

Call it the Nulticore Effect.

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Off-Topic: The First Snow is Here

The first real snow reached Uppsala this weekend, lots of nice fluffy slippery cold snow on the ground and on the roads and everywhere else. It really is nice to have snow again, it lessens the effect of our dark winters and kind of puts you in a Christmas-like mood, especially now that the Christmas decorations are going up in town and shopping centers.

I also had to bring out the car for some errands and transports yesterday, and that new snow was probably the slipperiest I have ever driven on. It also provided an unsought opportunity for the electronic systems in our car to show themselves… both the stability and traction control and the anti-lock brakes were activated several times despite my pretty careful driving. For some reason, I never really believe that they would apply to me. I know that ESP and ABS are really good for safety, but for some reason I am a diehard skeptic that never quite believe these things work as they should. I guess this is another example of an embedded system that works as it should. Which really should not be a surprise.

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Some surprisingly good embedded systems

I am a skeptic when it comes to technology. Despite working in the tech field — or maybe because I am — I always expect technology to fail or at least disappoint. But sometimes that instinct is actually wrong! Here are two recent examples when I felt “wow, that was pretty good” about some fairly mundane pieces of computerized equipment.

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ChipDesignMag Article on Software in Hardware Design

Chip Design Magazine published an article by me in their August/September 2008, about Getting Software into the Hardware Design Loop. The article is about the technical and marketing aspects of how chip designers can get early feedback from software and systems designers, early in the hardware design process. The vehicle for this? Virtual platforms, obviously.

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What is Efficiency when Cores are Free?

More from the SiCS multicore days 2008.

There were some interesting comments on how to define efficiency in a world of plentiful cores. The theme from my previous blog post called “Real-Time Control when Cores Become Free” came up several times during the talks, panels, and discussions. It seems that this year, everybody agreed that we are heading to 100s or 1000s of “self-respecting” cores on a single chip, and that with that kind of core count, it is not too important to keep them all busy at all times at any cost. As I stated earlier, cores and instructions are now free, while other aspects are limiting, turning the classic optimization imperatives of computing on its head. Operating systems will become more about space-sharing than time-sharing, and it might make sense to dedicate processing cores to the sole job of impersonating peripheral units or doing polling work. Operating systems can also be simplified when the job of time-sharing is taken away, even if communications and resource management might well bring in some new interesting issues.

So, what is efficiency in this kind of environment?

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Freescale QorIQ P4080 is out — with Simics support

Only half an hour ago, the embargoes lifted. Freescale announced its new QorIQ series of multicore (and some single- and dual-core) processors. For the top-end of that line, the P4080, Freescale and Virtutech (where I work, remember) have developed a virtual platform solution to help Freescale customers get to working products faster. The virtual platform is available now, and is already running several operating systems including VxWorks, QNX, and a variety of Linuxes. Apart from the fairly large scale of this SoC, the really new part of the virtual platform is the so-called Hybrid solution, where the fast models are combined with detailed models from Freescale themselves. This creates a cycle-level detailed model with validated timing, “from the source” — but without the performance issues of having to run everything at great level of detail. Rather, you use the fast model to steer the simulation of a workload to an interesting spot, and then turn up the level of detail then and there. You can also select which components of the chip are actually detailed and which parts are modeled with the fast functional models, avoiding the incredible slow-down of running and entire virtual platform at a great level of detail.

If you happen to be at the FTF in Orlando, do come by and look at the demos!

I have been involved in this work for the past year, and it is wonderful to finally see it coming out and be able to talk about it.

System Companies leaving the ASIC Business

As a follow-up to my previous post on the scope of ESL, I found a nice tidbit in an EETimes article… basically saying that hardware design is declining inside the typical system houses.

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Is SoC (was: ESL) all there is to virtual platforms?

SystemC TLM-2.0 has just been released, and on the heels of that everyone in the EDA world is announcing various varieties of support. TLM-2.0-compliant models, tools that can run TLM-2.0 models, and existing modeling frameworks that are being updated to comply with the TLM-2.0 standard. All of this feeds a general feeling that the so-called Electronic System Level design market (according to Frank Schirrmeister of Synopsys, the term was coined by Gary Smith) is finally reaching a level of maturity where there is hope to grow the market by standards. This is something that has to happen, but it seems to be getting hijacked by a certain part of the market addressing the needs of a certain set of users.

There is more to virtual platforms than ESL. Much more. Remember the pure software people.

Edit: Maybe it is more correct to say “there is more to virtual platforms than SoC”, as that is what several very smart comments to this post has said. ESL is not necessarily tied to SoC, it is in theory at least a broader term. But currently, most tools retain an SoC focus.

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Real-time control when cores become free

ImageA very interesting idea that has been bandied around for a while in manycore land is the notion that in the future, we will see a total inversion in today’s cost intuition for computers. Today, we are all versed in the idea that processor cores and processing times are quite precious, while memory is free. For best performance, you need to care about the cache system, but in the end, the goal is to keep those processor pipelines as busy as possible. Processors have traditionally been the most expensive part of a system, and ideas such as Integrated Modular Avionics are invented to make the best use of a resource perceived as rare and expensive…

But is that really always going to be true? Is it reasonably to think of CPU cores are being free but other resources as expensive? And what happens to program and system design then?

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Worst-Case Execution Time Survey Article in TECS

ACM Transactions on Embedded Computing Systems cover April 2008I just got another article published! In the April 2008 issue of the ACM Transactions on Embedded Computing Systems (TECS), we have an article called “The worst-case execution-time problem – overview of methods and survey of tools”. “We” is kind of understatement, the article has fifteen authors from three continents, and presents an overview of the state of the field of WCET (Worst-Case Execution Time) analysis. The article was started back in 2005, with submission in 2006, accepted in January of 2007, and then finally it appeared in 2008. It is probably my last shot in the WCET area where I did my PhD thesis (please see my list of publications for an idea of what all of that is about).

You can find the article at the ACM portal, or at the MRTC publications data base in Västerås.