For the past six months I have not been doing much blogging at all, neither here nor on the Wind River blog. The reason is that I have been directing my writing energy into writing a text book about Simics together with Daniel Aarno at Intel. Last year, Daniel and I worked on an Intel Technology Journal issue on Simics. The ITJ issue was kind of a first step on the way to the book, collecting several articles about Simics usage at Intel and elsewhere. The book itself will be much more of a detailed description of Simics and how it works and why it works the way it works.
On the Wind River corporate blog, I have put up a blog post about how Wind River Education Services is going to use Simics to teach networking. What is interesting with this approach is that it shows how a virtual platform can be used for tasks like teaching that don’t have much to do with hardware modeling or similar “typical” VP uses. In this case, the key value is encapsulation of a set of machines running real operating systems and software stacks, and with lots of networks connecting them.
Today I finally got to try my MEPROM-equipped Lego Mindstorms robot with a larger group of kids. As expected, this did not go quite as expected.
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.
One 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.
Back in 2001, while a PhD student at Uppsala University and IAR Systems, I wrote what has to be the most popular and long-lived article I ever did: “Getting the Least out of Your C Compiler“. It was an Embedded Systems Conference class that I also presented in 2002 (after that, I changed jobs to Virtutech and therefore C programming was no longer my official topic). However, the text has lived on. It was featured as a chapter in the “Firmware Handbook” edited by Jack Ganssle, translated into German by IAR Germany, and has popped up in various places from time to time.
Last week, it resurfaced at Embedded.com, with an attribution that was initially wrong.
To continue from last week’s post about my Linux device driver and hardware teaching setup in Simics, here is a lesson I learnt this week when doing some performance analysis based on various hardware speeds.
There are times when working with virtual hardware and not real hardware feels very liberating and efficient (not to mention safe). Bringing up, modifying, and extending operating systems is one obvious such case. Recently, I have been preparing an open-source-based demonstration and education systems based on embedded PowerPC machines, and teaching myself how to do Linux device drivers in the process. This really brought out the best in virtual platform use.