Fun at the ESC

May 09, 2011

Jack Ganssle-May 09, 2011

The Embedded Systems Conference often offers some wild and fun activities.

It’s not often that one meets a paleontologist at the Embedded Systems Show. It’s even rarer to find two at a single booth. Here, at the premier venue of all things state of the art – indeed, in some cases the salesmen’s claims about the features of the not-quite-finished new products are even a bit beyond their actual capability – it’s surprising to find any booth that celebrates ancient technologies.

Did these scientists unearth some buried artifact in Silicon Valley, perhaps a fab that, in ancient times, cranked out parts with 1.3 micron geometry? Or maybe a construction project turned up a cache of 8048s, buried for ages, guarded during the dig by a hastily thrown up barrier, courtesy of San Jose’s historical society.

No, these paleontologists were explaining a 70 million year old T Rex skeleton on display at the Green Hills booth. Wikipedia tells me that predates even vacuum tubes. And indeed the displayed artifact was bigger than any tube I’ve seen. Though named Samson, it turns out the dino was a girl. I’m not sure what Samson had to do with embedded systems, but it sure created buzz.

Even more buzz happened when the power went out for an hour or two. Emergency lights quickly lit up the convention center, but vendors were left without the ability to showcase their products.

Some wags suggested the outage was really a demo of low power management. One event manager said that, this being the city’s largest show, and given the extreme heat (like, low 70s), we had excessively stressed the grid. About 1000 houses lost their power as well.

I was surprised at Microsoft’s booth. There wasn’t one. Also surprising were the dearth of Linux vendors. A couple were there, but the count was far down from other recent shows. I suspect Linux has become so mainstream it’s no longer novel enough to warrant much sales effort.

LeCroy was there. And pretty much everywhere. They had a small army of young ladies zipping around San Jose on Segways handing out literature. And at least one LeCroy ad truck was parked out front.

Steve Wozniak gave a keynote, but he didn’t want to call it such. So it was a “fireside chat,” a casual discussion conducted on a couch. He rambled a bit but was surprisingly personable. No dancing, but the packed auditorium was mesmerized.

Jeri Ellsworth gave Thursday’s keynote. A high school dropout, she’s now a freelance ASIC designer. Jeri has some quite innovative YouTube videos, and her life story is truly that of the up-from-nothing American entrepreneur.

I go to most of the ESCs and enjoy them all. As I told my wife the latest was unusually compelling, both for the quirkiness and the technical content. My briefcase is bulging with material from the show; some of which will make it into future columns here.

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at His website is

Loading comments...