Intel Technology Journal on Simics

Simics_ITJ_180-wideThe September 2013 issue of the Intel Technology Journal (which actually arrived in December) is all about Simics. Daniel Aarno of Intel and I served as the content architects for the issue, which meant that we managed to contributed articles from various sources, and wrote an introductory article about Simics and its usage in general. It has taken a while to get this journal issue out, and now that it is done it feels just great! I am very happy about the quality of all the ten contributed articles, and reading the final versions of them actually taught me some new things you could do with Simics! I already wrote about the issue in a Wind River blog post, so in this my personal blog I want to be a little bit more, well, personal.

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Wind River Blog: Cyberphysical System Modeling with Simics

As an old embedded systems and real-time guy, I have always worked with computer systems that are in some way tied to their environment. Simics has often been used to model such computer systems, inside of customer organizations. Which makes it a bit hard to show… however, recently I have cooked up a demo showing Simics simulating a computer system alongside a physical system.

physics-3 I just put out a post on the Wind River blog, pointing to both a video of my own “water heater” demo and some other Youtube videos showing Simics integrated with simulations of the real world. A screenshot of my setup in action is shown on the side of this post.

 

Toyota Acceleration Case

I just read the EETimes coverage of the recently concluded court case in the US, where Toyota settled for 3 million USD in damages due to experts finding that the software in a 2005 Camry L4 could indeed cause “unintended acceleration”. In the particular case that was concluded, the accident resulting from the issue caused one driver to be injured and one driver to get killed. This feels like it could be the beginning of something really good, or just as well this could go really wrong.

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Book Review: Debugging

debugging  book coverDebugging – the 9 Indispensable Rules for Finding Even the Most Elusive Software and Hardware Problems by David Agans was published in 2002, based on several decades of practical experience in debugging embedded systems. Compared to the other debugging book I read this Summer, Debugging is much more a book for the active professional currently working on embedded products. It is more of a guidebook for the practitioner than a textbook for students that need to learn the basics.

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Book Review: If I Only Changed the Software, why is the Phone on Fire?

This blog post is a review of the book “If I Only Changed the Software, why is the Phone on Fire“, (see more information on Amazon, for example), by Lisa Simone. The book was released in 2007, on the Elsevier Newnes imprint. It is a book about debugging embedded systems, written in a murder-mystery style with a back story about the dynamics of an embedded development team. It sounds strange, but it works well.

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Qualcomm’s Batteryguru – and Branding

It is quite interesting to see how Qualcomm has emerged as a major player in the “processor market” and is trying to build themselves into a serious consumer brand. I used to think of them as a company doing modems and other chips that made phones talk wirelessly, known to insiders in the business but not anything a user cared about. Today, however, they are working hard on building themselves into a brand to rival Intel and AMD. At the center of this is their own line of ARM-based application processors, the Snapdragon. I can see some thinking quite similar to the old “Intel Inside” classic, and I would not be surprised to see the box or even body of a phone carrying a Snapdragon logo at some point in the future. A part of this branding exercise is the Snapdragon Batteryguru, an application I recently stumbled on in the Google Play store.

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A Few Electrons too Many

Adding electronics to systems that used to be mechanical has been the great wave of innovation for a quite a while now. Modern transportation just would not work without all the electronics and computers inside (someone once quipped that a modern fighter is just a plastic airplane full of software), and so much convenience has been provided by automation and smarts driven by electronics. However, this also introduces brand new ways that things can break, and sometimes I wonder if we really are not setting ourselves up for major problems when the electrons stop flowing.

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Logging (Some More Thoughts)

Logging as as debug method is not new, and I have been writing about it to and from over the past few years myself.  At the S4D conference, tracing and logging keeps coming up as a topic (see my reports from 2009, 2010  and 2012 ).  I recently found an interesting piece on logging from the IT world in the ACM Queue (“Advances and Challenges in Log Analysis“, Adam Oliner, ACM Queue December 2011).  Here, I want to address some of my current thoughts on the topic.

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Reverse Execution History Updates

After some discussions at the S4D conference last week, I have some additional updates to the history and technologies of reverse execution. I have found one new commercial product at a much earlier point in time, and an interesting note on memory consistency.

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S4D 2012 – Notes

Last week, I attended my fourth System, Software, SoC and Silicon Degug conference (S4D) in a row. I think the silicon part is getting less attention these days, most of the papers were on how to debug software. Often with the help of hardware, and with an angle to how software runs in SoCs and systems. I presented a paper reviewing the technology and history of reverse debugging, which went down pretty well.

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SiCS Multicore Day 2012

The 2012 edition of the SiCS Multicore Day was fun, like they have always been in the past. I missed it in 2010 and 2011, but could make it back this year. It was interesting to see that the points where keynote speakers disagreed was similar to previous years, albeit with some new twists. There was also a trend in architecture, moving crypto operations into the core processor ISA, that indicates another angle on the hardware accelerator space.

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Paper & Talk at S4D 2012: Reverse Debug

I am going to the S4D conference for the third year in a row. This year, I have a paper on reverse debugging, reviewing the technology, products, and history of the idea. I will probably write a longer blog post after the conference, interesting things tend to come up.

Speaking at Embedded Conference Scandinavia

I am going to be talking about how to transport bugs with virtual platform checkpoints, in the Software Tools track at the Embedded Conference Scandinavia, on October 3, 2012, in Stockholm (Sweden). The ECS is a nice event, and there are several tracks to choose from both on October 2 and October 3. In addition to the tracks, Jan Bosch from Chalmers is going to present a keynote that I am sure will be very entertaining (see my notes from a presentation he did in Göteborg last year).

 

Speaking at SiCS Multicore Day 2012

I am scheduled to talk at the SiCS multicore day 2012 (like I did back in 2009 and 2008). The event takes palce on September 13, at SiCS in Kista. My topic will be on System-Level Debug – how we can make debuggers that work for big systems.

This year, the multicore day is part of a bigger Software Week event, which also covers cloud and internet of things. See you there!

Youtube Movie on Reverse Execution (and a small bit of Reverse Debug)

We just uploaded a short movie about reverse execution and reverse debugging to Youtube, to the Wind River official channel. In the short time available in this demo, we really only show reverse execution. Reverse debug, as I define it, is not used much at all, as explaining what goes on when you start to put breakpoints into a program and analyze its behavior takes a surprising amount of time.

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Back to Bare Metal

Once upon a time, all programming was bare metal programming. You coded to the processor core, you took care of memory, and no operating system got in your way. Over time, as computer programmers, users, and designers got more sophisticated and as more clock cycles and memory bytes became available, more and more layers were added between the programmer and the computer. However, I have recently spotted what might seem like a trend away from ever-thicker software stacks, in the interest of performance and, in particular, latency.

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My Bug Doesn’t Work!

Every once in a while I need to build demo setups to show debugging in action. As I have blogged before, finding a good bug when you need one isn’t always easy.  The solution is to try to invent artificial bugs, and I was very happy when I managed to stage a buffer overrun in a VxWorks program.

It is pretty very nice demo in which you first start a period program A, which prints the value of an incrementing counter every target second.  You then run a supposedly unrelated program B, resulting in the values that program A prints to become corrupted.  Perfect to show off reverse execution and data breakpoints in reverse as you go from the point where the corrupted value is printed to the piece of code that overwrote the variable.

But then I ported the demo to a new platform… and the bug didn’t work anymore. My bug had caught a bug and was now not working, or at least not they way I expected it to. What had happened?
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Software is Concrete – is it?

I this quote:

Software is Concrete. Once poured it becomes extremely difficult and very expensive to change.

It comes from a blog post by Robert Howe, CEO of Verum, a company selling formal-methods-based and model-based programming tools. It does capture something of the phenomenon we all know: that software can be pretty darn hard to change, once it has shipped and is in use. It fits well with the fact that the later bugs are found, the more expensive they are to fix.

But it also provoked quite a bit of opposition when I put the quote up on Facebook, and I have to agree that maybe not all is as simple as that blog makes it out to be.

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Wind River Blog: VxWorks 64-bit using Simics

There is a new post at my Wind River blog, about how Simics was used to kick-start the development of the 64-bit version of VxWorks. It is an interesting example of how to use a virtual platform as a model of something much simpler and gentler than actual hardware systems.

Wind River Blog: Testing Integrated Software in Simulation

There is a new post at my Wind River blog, about the testing on an integrated software stack in simulation. I base the discussion on the very interesting report about the Toyota “unintended acceleration” problems and the deep investigation into the control software of the affected vehicles performed by a NASA team (!). The report covers a lot of different tools, but also notes that about the only thing not done was to integrate the complete software stack in simulation.

Wind River Blog: Being Helpful or Being Correct?

There is a new post at my Wind River blog, about warnings in virtual platforms. It is an art to add good warnings to virtual platform models, and just being correct visavi the hardware behavior is not necessarily that helpful for a software developer. A virtual platform should warn about suspicious operations, even if they are technically “correct”.

I also have to apologize for the slow blogging in January of 2011. There was too much going on at work and quite a few days taking care of sick kids. Hopefully, the pace can improve going forward.

Wind River Blog: Iterative Hardware-Software Interface Design

There is a new post at my Wind River blog, about iterative hardware-software interface design. It is a discussion with some examples of why hardware designers would do well to use virtual platforms to include software designers in the loop when designing new devices and their programming interfaces.

Wind River Blog: “IMA on Simics”

I have a fairly lengthy new blog post at my Wind River blog. This time, I interview Tennessee Carmel-Veilleux, a Canadian MSc student who have done some very smart things with Simics. His research is in IMA, Integrated Modular Avionics, and how to make that work on multicore.

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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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