Time to fill out your DesignCon dance card

-January 03, 2018

Marketers from Anritsu to Xilinx have already ordered bizarrely colored polo shirts. Presenters have polished their papers, sent them off, and are rushing through the updates on their slides. You can almost hear the carpet being unrolled on the exhibition floor, the sound of swag coming out of plastic bags, and engineers struggling under the weight of oscilloscopes, logic analyzers, and bit error ratio testers.

Yes, DesignCon is just around the corner!

It’s a cornucopia of gEEk delight with packed parallel sessions. I have done the heavy lifting, sifted through the schedule and have suggestions for every minute of every day!


The DesignCon floor. Image credit: Ransom Stephens

Tuesday 30-January-2018

So-called “boot camps” are scheduled in the morning, but why would you go to a boot camp unless you’ve been promised four years of active service in a war torn country? Pass until they’re renamed “festivals” because who doesn’t want to go to a festival? And who wants to go to a boot camp?

The lunchtime event looks delicious! Keynote – SI/PI & EMI Challenges: Looking Ahead Through 2023. All the heavy hitters in SI/PI (signal integrity/power integrity) are on this panel except for one notable exception, ahem.

After lunch, if you’re not up to speed on the fastest, easiest way to investigate a design, hi thee to Tutorial – Introduction to IBIS-AMI where the SiSoft kids will shed the light.

Finish off day one with Chris Loberg and me plus the longest panel—both in table length and duration—at DesignCon: Panel – The Case of the Closing Eyes: Is PAM the Answer?. Not only does our panel boast over a century of DesignCon experience, but we make jokes at our own expense! And Pavel Zivny’s hat! Bring questions and wisecracks, observations, and criticisms.

After the panel, retire to the Santa Clara Ballroom for the opening night party where you will eat and drink on Keysight’s tab—for there is nothing better than a brewski paired with a slider when paid for by a test and measurement company. Following the party, we’ll see you at the bar where business deals will be cut and then soon forgotten.


Image credit: Ransom Stephens

Wednesday 31-January-2018


It’s pretty easy to (bacon) sneak into the UBM sponsored breakfast (bacon!) and the eats are good (bacon!!). They usually have bacon.

If you’re not stuck setting up the company booth, then gather around the campfire at 9am for a Tale of a Differential Pair Measurement. The Oracles from Sun will spin a yarn that will take us deep into the differential forest where we’ll learn how the Knights of signal integrity, armed with little more than VNAs (vector network analyzers) and simulations, fight skew, crosstalk, and dragons.

At 10am, visit chief scientist Marty Miller for The Gap Between Eye "Mask" Compliance, BER and BER contours. It’s like going into the lecture hall of your favorite class on your best day back in college. I know, the title is kinda blah, but that’s because Marty is the anti-marketer. I promise you 45 minutes of subtle, cool, and fascinating insights into how that simple mask test of yesteryear connects to the only thing we care about: BER (bit error ratio).

Since you’re reading the world famous Eye on the Standards blog and because I’d rather “leverage” than work, let’s meet up at Signaling and Performance Challenges and Solutions for Next-Generation OIF CEI-112G-VSR "Chip-to-Module" Interfaces where Mike Li will divulge the ins and outs of the latest VSR (very short range) data transmission issues from OIF-CEI (Optical Internetworking Forum-Common Electrical Interface).

Lunchtime. I usually go across the street, a couple of blocks in either direction, and score a turkey sandwich at Togos.

After lunch the exhibit floor opens and it’s a good time to check the fashion tastes of Silicon Valley marketers. It’s also a good time to grab a Samtec stuffed tiger because they’ll be gone tomorrow.

After a couple of hours reuniting and schmoozing on the exhibit floor, recall the frustration you experience every time you look at standard specification; work yourself into an angry lather and come unload at 3:45p: Panel – CEI-112G: Every. Last. Thing. Matters. Seriously, DesignCon’s greatest purpose is to give you a chance to vent on the people who develop technology standards and the equipment necessary for compliance measurements. Since OIF-CEI is the test bed for techniques that show up in every other high speed standard, this is the place.

By now you should have evaluated your colleagues for (1) the extent of their expense accounts, (2) the desirability of spending time with them (i.e., do they laugh at your jokes?), (3) whether or not they can get you a better job, and (4) repeat step 1. Having accomplished this simple algorithm, you’re ready to sidle along to dinner (get the dungeness crab! It’s in season and it’s delish).


The man: Martin Rowe. Image credit: Ransom Stephens

Thursday 1-February-2018

Hungover? Good. Nice work. You’re not alone. Ease into the conference around 10am and decide whether you prefer Crosstalk on VNAs or the latest on TDECQ (Transmitter and Dispersion Eye Closure Quaternary). Depending on the half-life of your blood alcohol level, your stomach might not tolerate an acronym that long. See you at the VNA thing. Bring Alka-seltzer to share.

Down another cup of coffee because your neurons need to be firing on all axons for A NIST Traceable PCB Kit for Evaluating the Accuracy of De-Embedding Algorithms and Corresponding Metrics. NIST traceable de-embedding? Halleluiah!

After lunch—it might be a good time for a trip to IHOP down by the Avatar Hotel—it’s time for the PAM4 nitty gritty: Advanced techniques for analysis of PAM-4 signals in low SNR environments. Presented by Rick Eads, who has been working on high speed standards since before he could talk. You’ll want to download and review his slides in advance because this, my friend, really is the proverbial firehose of information.

I know that you need to collect swag to take home, but they’ve saved the best for last. The OIF-CEI panel yesterday afternoon was the opening act for ... Panel – 400G Test & Measurement Ready for the New Challenges Ahead. Have you read IEEE 802.3bs? I have. Bring rotten fruit that has enough elasticity to make a good weapon.

Okay, now you still have an hour to visit the exhibit floor, say goodbye to all your buddies and collect a bag of SDD-sticks, pens, T shirts, candy, and pocket protectors, but Samtec will have run out of stuffed tigers by now; you should have gotten one on Wednesday like I told you!

Ransom Stephens is a technologist, science writer, novelist, and Oakland Raiders fan.


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