Adjusting to Work-from-Home: Remote Live Simics Training

In the current world-wide lockdown due to Covid-19, many things that were done in-person in the past have to become virtual. The Simics® New User Training that we run at Intel and with our customers and partners is no different. In normal times, we run in-person classes around the world, but that is not an option right now.  Thus, we shifted to running remote live classes as a substitute for the time being. This blog shares some of my experience from running remote live classes.

We changed the cover page of the Simics training to symbolize the change.

Alternatives

As I see it, there are two alternatives to in-person training:

  • Recorded videos
  • Live teaching, done remotely

The remote-live format is superior in my opinion since it keeps the energy and immediacy of an in-person class and allows the students to ask questions interactively. It also requires a lot less work to do and can be set up pretty much immediately.

Recording a quality video is a ton of work. You need to write a script and follow it To. The. Word. While still sounding natural. Add editing and retakes, and the pandemic might well be over before the work is completed.

Reformatting for Remote Live

The standard Simics New User Training format is to do two full days in-person, for approximately eight hours per day. Lectures and labs are interleaved, giving the teacher some time to catch her or his breath between sections, and providing students a chance to immediately practice what they learned in the lectures.

That format does not work for remote live training – having the conference call sit idle while students work is not a workable method (I have discussed this with other training organizers in the past, and most agree that labs are best done offline and not in-conference). Instead, lectures and labs have to be split up in a more coarse-grained fashion.

Another aspect to consider is attention span. For a student, it is a lot easier to stay focused on a topic when in the same room as the teacher, and it is easier for the teacher to adjust to the attention level of the students. Previously, I did some improvised remote trainings that crammed the lectures into two four-hour sessions. That was totally exhausting for everyone involved.

The current concept is shown below. The course is spread out over three days, with about three hours of lectures each day (and a rather large buffer towards the end). Each day also has a set of associated labs that the students are expected to do on their own after lunch.

Reformatting the in-person class to remote live

The topic sections of the training had to be reshuffled a bit to fit this format and get the labs spread out in a reasonable way. It is not exactly the same sequence as in the in-person training, but fortunately some of the sections were rather stand-alone and possible to move around a bit in the schedule.

There are still some small breaks inserted between the sections, just like when teaching live. When working from home, even five minutes is enough to get a cup of coffee or other refreshment.

Remote Live Training Technology – Video, Screenshare, and Chat

For the lecture part, it made sense to use video of the teacher alongside the slides. We did not use video for the students, since that would just waste bandwidth and reduce the quality of the screen-share. It is also hard for the trainer to both present and look at the student video streams at once – especially if there are tens of students in the class. I used to be rather skeptical to video conferencing, but I must admit to coming around to finding it rather valuable.

For the labs, it makes sense to use chat in an app like Microsoft Teams or Skype to answer questions. There are usually not all that many questions, and having the teacher sit and wait on the video conference for the occasional interaction is not an efficient use of time. When I present a class live, I tend to walk around the front of the room and point at the projector screen using either hands or a laser pointer. Sometimes, to illustrate a point or an answer to a question, I will draw things on white boards or a flip board. Neither of these things work with a remote screen-sharing session, but using annotation tools to draw on top of what is shown on the screen offers a decent replacement. The screenshot below shows an example of a heavily-annotated slide from the training.

Annotating a slide as a way to make the presentation a bit more lively

The Gear

It is quite feasible to run a training session like this from home using an average laptop. However, it is worth investing a little bit in audio and video gear to provide the best experience and the most effective teaching setup.

My personal home working setup, used to run Simics training in the remote live format.

You want a good web camera, instead of using the rather poor camera built into most laptops. It makes sense to put it on top of an external screen to get it up a bit compared to where a laptop screen typically resides and avoid the “up your nose” angle. For the sound, a headset works, but it is better to use a good external microphone. This looks better on the video (no headset on top of the speaker) and produces superior sound compared to most headsets. Using a “pop filter” is definitely beneficial. Figure 3 shows my personal home office setup used in the training, including an external keyboard and mouse.

For best results, it is good to work in a room featuring some amount of fabric to dampen echos and provide a better sound environment. For the video, a reasonably neutral background makes sense. Also for the video, it is a good idea to avoid clothes with busy patterns as that tends to result in very messy videos (especially when the image is shrunk down to a thumbnail).

This is not a good choice of shirt for a video session (but it is one of my favorites)

One upside of live remote training is that product demos using screen sharing actually work better than at most in-person trainings since reading a screen with small fonts from the back of a room is a lot harder than seeing it on your own local screen.

Simics is also a good subject for remote training in that it is just a piece of software. There is no need for specialized hardware or development boards for the students. Simics can be downloaded and installed on the students’ local computers, reducing the load on VPNs to connect back to corporate servers to access the software.  In particular for training, the required software is well-packaged and easy to download and install.

Final Thoughts

Doing a live remote training works, but it is not a perfect substitute for an in-person class. You do not get the same connection with the audience, and as a trainer you cannot sense the attention of the class. You also miss a lot of the informal discussions you get over lunch and before and after classes. 

On the positive side, remote live lets us keep doing training even during mandatory work-from-home times and with people scattered across multiple cities and sites. It is still live, and we still get interactive discussions going. The technical requirements are not overwhelming, and most people should be able to partake in training from home as well as teach it from home.  Technology really works, and it can help us get through these trying times.

Living with a Nokia 7.1 Phone

For the past couple of weeks, I have been using a Nokia 7.1 phone as my main phone while my main Sony phone has been off for repairs. My habit for quite a few years has been to use Sony “flagship” phones as my work phones (and way back, even Sony-Ericsson). The question this poses – how was it to use a theoretically far weaker “mid-range” phone instead of a flagship?

Continue reading “Living with a Nokia 7.1 Phone”

Undo Reverse Debugger “Pivots” to Record-Replay

I just found a story about Undo software that was rather interesting from a strategic perspective.  “Patient capital from CIC gives ‘time travelling’ company Undo space to pivot“, from the BusinessWeekly in the UK. The article describes a change from selling to individual developers, towards selling to enterprises. This is an important business change, but it also marks I think a technology thinking shift: from single-session debug to record-replay.

Continue reading “Undo Reverse Debugger “Pivots” to Record-Replay”

Embedded World 2018 – Clever Giveaway from Microchip

Show like the Embedded World are full of vendors vying for attention and wanting to get their name onto your mind, desk, or appearance. This is the giveaway game: what can you hand out that will make people get a good and long-lasting impression of your company?

Continue reading “Embedded World 2018 – Clever Giveaway from Microchip”

Subscription Software = Better Programmer-User Alignment (?)(!)

IEEE Spectrum ran a short interview with Thomas Knoll, the creator of Photoshop, who made a very interesting point about the move to subscription-based software rather than one-time buys plus upgrades. His point is that if you are building based sold using the “upgrade model”, developers have to create features that cause users to upgrade.  In his opinion, that means you have to focus on flashy features that demo well and catch people’s attention – but that likely do not actually help users in the end.

Continue reading “Subscription Software = Better Programmer-User Alignment (?)(!)”

”Figure out What to Do”, Says the Manual

I just spend some hours building a new living room PC for the home. I based on common components like a Fractal Design Node 202 chassis and an MSI Z270i motherboard for my Intel Core i7-7700 processor.  Trying to figure out how to put it together was a bit interesting though – especially if I had tried to do so without the help of the Internet.  The manuals that came with some of the components were just completely useless, essentially boiling down to “please figure out what to do”.

Continue reading “”Figure out What to Do”, Says the Manual”

Security for IoT Panel at the DAC 2015 – Can Security Gate your Release?

etcI had the great honor to be on a panel discussing IoT Security at the DAC back in June. The panel was part of the Embedded Techcon event that took place essentially as a little embedded corner inside the DAC – it was held in a couple of conference rooms next to the regular DAC sessions, and attendees were also mostly attending the DAC in general. Not a bad idea for meshing embedded and hardware design. The panel was a great one, and David Kleidermacher from Blackberry gave me a great take-away: unless security is allowed to gate releases of products, it is hard to think you take security seriously.

Continue reading “Security for IoT Panel at the DAC 2015 – Can Security Gate your Release?”

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.

Continue reading “Toyota Acceleration Case”

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.

Continue reading “Qualcomm’s Batteryguru – and Branding”

Everything in the Cloud?

Cloud… I tend to dislike hype and I am honestly quite sick of all the talk about cloud computing and “anything as a service”. Still, it is an intriguing area. Last week, I attended Produktledardagen, a very inspiring product management and product leadership seminar, innovation lab, and social event for the profession of product management.  A significant part of the discussion was about the Cloud, and how to think about it from a product perspective.  Suddenly, with this perspective, it actually got quite interesting. In particular, trying to define to myself just what a cloud service is.

Continue reading “Everything in the Cloud?”

Bliss: Failing to Pivot for Ideology

Note: This post was caused by listening to an interesting science podcast while thinking about the theories of startups, and the connection might seem a bit odd. Still, I think there is something to be learnt here. End note.

I recently listened to the episode on Bliss, by the Radiolab podcast. As always, Radiolab manages to take a theme and connect all kinds of things to it. In this case, bliss as in happiness turned into Bliss, the man, and his invention of Symbolics. Symbolics was an attempt to create a rational language based on symbols that would not allow the manipulation of human opinion or feeling like regular languages do. It was an attempt to create an antidote to the manipulations of dictators, tricksters, and populists (Bliss himself had been briefly interned in a pre-war German concentration camp, so he definitely knew what words could do). He designed a symbolic writing scheme that was intended to only communicate ideas clearly and unambiguously and with no room for demagogery and oratory. In the end, nobody wanted to use the language for its original purpose.

Continue reading “Bliss: Failing to Pivot for Ideology”

Buying High Technology

Selling and marketing high technology is what I do for a living. My counterpart is the customer or buyer, and I help design, build, explain, an market these products.  In this role, I am most usually the expert on the domain, helping potential customers understand what we sell and why it will help them.  Both at the high-level value proposition and the details behind it.  Some people focus most of the their energy on the high-level value proposition, but I feel that youoften need a bit detail backing that as well.

I recently had the enlightening experience of being on the buying side instead, experiencing the transition from high-level value proposition to low-level details.  It struck me as being quite similar to what the customers for our virtual platforms would experience when coming in new to the field.

I bought a camera.

Continue reading “Buying High Technology”

Off-Topic: Angry Birds Space (Good Game, Bad Price)

Once upon a time, I was young man in high school where our little computer club got a new PC with a color screen and a floating-point coprocessor. One fun little program I wrote was a simple gravity simulator, where a number of point-size assigned various mass flew around interacting with each other. We used that program and tried to set up initial setting for sizes, speeds, and directions of bodies that would result in some kind of stable system. More often that not, all we managed to create were comets that came in, took a sharp corner around a “star” and disappeared out into the void again. Still, it was great fun. And when I discovered Angry Birds Space it felt like a chance to try that again. Overall, “space” as my son calls it is a great spin on the Angry Birds idea. However, the way it is sold does not make me too happy.

Continue reading “Off-Topic: Angry Birds Space (Good Game, Bad Price)”

Jan Bosch: Software Provocateur

Last week, I had the honor of presenting at and attending the talks of the Lindholmen Software Development Day. The first keynote speaker was Professor Jan Bosch from Chalmers, who did his best to provoke, prod, and shock the audience into action to change how they do software. While I might not agree with everything he said, overall it was very enjoyable and insightful talk.

Continue reading “Jan Bosch: Software Provocateur”

Wind River Blog: Stop, Think, and Tie Your Shoes Right

There is a new post at my Wind River blog, which could seem to be about shoes but which is really about process improvement. In particular, the need for companies to let their employees take a step or two back and look at what they are doing and what they could do better.

It is way too common to be so busy running around being inefficient that there is no time to think about how to become more efficient. Change also requires some discipline to actually keep pushing at habits until they change for the better.

All of this can be illustrated by tying shoes.

It’s the Problem, Stupid

For some reason, in the past few weeks I have talked to more than a few PhD students and researchers about various ideas. It is striking how often fundamentally very smart people have a problem in articulating just why what they are doing is useful, relevant, and potentially commercially interesting. Of course, we all know that this is hard, and all PhD students get some kind of training in presentation and selling their ideas. It is also unfair to expect a fresh graduate student to be able to put on a show like a Simon Peyton-Jones.

However, this did get me thinking some about the articulation of problems.

Continue reading “It’s the Problem, Stupid”

Two Perspectives on Modeling

When I started learning about virtual platforms after joining Virtutech back in 2002, the guiding principle of our team was very much one of “model just enough to make the software happy – and no more”.This view was fairly uncontested at the time, and shared (implicitly or explicitly) by everybody developing virtual platforms from a software perspective. There is a second perspective, though, from the hardware design world. From their viewpoint, a model needs to be complete. Both views have their merits.

Continue reading “Two Perspectives on Modeling”

Eyjafjallajökull is Showing us Something

Wow. The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland and the resulting ashcloud has had an effect that I would never ever have expected. A near-total closing down of the European airspace is such a drastic thing to happen to nobody seems to have expected. It has certainly not been included in the list of worst-case scenarios to plan for in company and government contingency plans. Where does this leave us? In a very interesting situation indeed. Worst-case, we will have to do without air travel for months.

Continue reading “Eyjafjallajökull is Showing us Something”

From Academy to Industry: Coverity

In the February 2010 issue of the Communications of the ACM there is an article by the team behind the Coverity static analysis tool describing how they went from a research project to a commercial tool. It is quite interesting, and I recognize many of the effects that real customers have on a tool from my own experience at IAR and Virtutech (now part of Wind River).

Continue reading “From Academy to Industry: Coverity”

Marketing a Paper Magazine with a Podcast

I just found a fairly interesting podcast that offers a nice example on how do marketing for paper-based magazines using digital ephemeral technology. The ancient warfare magazine has a podcast that accompanies each issue, where a set of history buffs discuss around the theme of the current issue of the magazine.

Continue reading “Marketing a Paper Magazine with a Podcast”

IBM JRD Now Costs 1500 USD per Year

opinionFor the longest time, the IBM Journal of Research and development, and its entire archive, was online at IBM and for free to access. This publication was, I assume, seen as a way to publicize IBM systems and their research efforts. But now, it has unexplicable gone to a for-pay format. It costs 1500 USD/year to access it, which is pretty steep I think. Compare with sources like the Microprocessor Report, or regular IEEE or ACM memberships. I think this is a really dumb move, and I will miss reading their often quite interesting articles. Who will pay to read only about IBM systems and research?;

Cool Obscure Hardware: Sun SCC and Software License Protection

sunlogoIn a very roundabout way, I recently got to hear about a cool Sun server feature introduced sometime back in 2003 or 2004: the SCC System Configuration Card. This is a smart card that stores the system hostid and Ethernet MACs, along with other info, and which can be transferred from one server to another.

Continue reading “Cool Obscure Hardware: Sun SCC and Software License Protection”

EDA Tech Forum Article on Ecosystem Enablement

I have an article about ecosystem enablement for new hardware, co-authored with Richard Schnur of Freescale published in the December 2008 issue of EDA Tech Forum. The core concept is that a virtual platform solution makes it possible to get a new chip to market faster with better software support, and even enables virtual design-in of a chip at OEM customers before hardware becomes available. The article builds on our joint experience with the QorIQ P4080 launch in the Summer of 2008, where we had several operating systems and middleware packages in place at the moment the chip was announced. EDA Tech Forum requires registration, but it was still free, and there are many other good articles available.

In Defence of MMS

I just read Stephen Fry’s latest blog post about smartphones in general and the Apple iPhone in particular. He really loves the iPhone, but the interesting thing to me was the wish list of future improvements to the device. In particular, support for MMS. That was one of the things that made the iPhone unacceptable to me and not really to be considered a serious mobile phone (along with no bluetooth modem).

Continue reading “In Defence of MMS”

Off-topic: Crime Medicine

The Swedish national medical products agency is running a very cleverly marketed campaign right now to inform people about the perils of buying medicine over the Internet. They are running fake advertisement spots on television, mimicking the typical medical adverts found in the US (and the few other countries where such advertising is allowed for prescription medicine), with a trustworthy doctor talking about the benefits of this and that… and slowly going into weird land about how the products might not be want you think and maybe don’t contain the right stuff, etc.Finally, you are pointed to www.crimemedicine.com, a site setup for this campaign. All very clever. In fact, so clever that some people reported the spots to the consumer watchdog as being illegal advertisements… brilliant!

Continue reading “Off-topic: Crime Medicine”

Architecture Exploration by Free Market

This is a short maybe heretic post on the topic of architecture exploration.

It just struck me the other day that the idea prevalent in chip design that you want to explore the design space of a certain with great detail and precision might be the wrong way to go about things. It is in some sense similar to the ideas of planned economies: you decide a priori what is important, and try to optimize the design to do just that. If you are right, it is brilliant. If you are wrong, it can be very wrong. That is scary to say the least. It seems to assume that you have a pretty good idea of what you need to achieve, and that this is not likely to change for the lifetime of a design.

Continue reading “Architecture Exploration by Free Market”

Off-Topic: Colder Weather and (Consumer) Electronics

The colder season is coming fast here in Uppsala, and it is time to bring out gloves and warmer jackets. Even if we have had some nice sunny pretty warm days (up to 15 degrees Celsius!), we are getting into October soon, a month where there is usually some day of freak snow fall.

Another sign that it is getting colder is the reaction of consumer electronics.

Continue reading “Off-Topic: Colder Weather and (Consumer) Electronics”

Virtual Platforms for Late Hardware and the Winds of History

As might be evident from this blog, I do have a certain interest in history and the history of computing in particular. One aspect where computing and history collide in a not-so-nice way today is in the archiving of digital data for the long term. I just read an article at Forskning och Framsteg where they discuss some of the issues that use of digital computer systems and digital non-physical documents have on the long-term archival of our intellectual world of today. Basically, digital archives tend to rot in a variety of ways. I think virtual platform technology could play a role in preserving our digital heritage for the future.

Continue reading “Virtual Platforms for Late Hardware and the Winds of History”