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  1. #1

    Default How would you approach this technical problem?

    Suppose you work for a technology company that makes chips (integrated circuits), and the following task was given to you.

    Make sure that a chip design (already manufactured, and not designed by you) will function for customers at frequencies of F_low to F_high inclusive.

    Complications (normal)
    • Initial testing shows some issues at frequencies between F_low and F_high at certain process skews, voltages and temperatures. However, workarounds have been found for many of the issues, and for most of the rest, it was found that the customer does not care about the particular set conditions that makes the parts fail.
    • However, at F_high, the design seems extremely marginal. All sorts of features fail under seemingly random conditions.
    • You are allowed to come up with "solid workarounds" to make sure the parts going to customers will work with the "solid workarounds" in place. It is too late to make design changes to the chip itself. However, you can change software, firmware, external resistors, capacitors, cables, and so on, as long as the changes don't cause the customers to reorder parts or rewrite their software.
    • You must come up with a "screen" to test parts to make sure they will work when the customers receive them...and the parts must last
    • Many of the registers and pins have secret functions that you can only find out by asking the right person.
    • The design itself is a closely guarded secret, but if you know the right people to ask, you can still get access to most of it without breaking any rules.
    • The design is a complicated mix of analog and digital circuits.
    • There is ample data collected on the problems, but very few conclusions, if any. Data collection is easy, making sense of the data at F_high is proving to be near impossible.


    Further complications(not normal):
    • You are part of a small group of people on this task
    • Many of your peers and superiors seem to have given up, but still expect magic solutions
    • Customers are already using parts and somehow that has to be managed (quiet recalls/part swaps, etc.)
    • F_high has to work in two weeks, despite others having spent 3 months trying to make it work


    Please brainstorm!

    I would like outsiders' views on the situation, but I cannot give many details due to my confidentiality agreement. Sorry. I would love to get technical, but this has to stay abstract.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  2. #2
    Courage is immortality Valiant's Avatar
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    Easy, I bring a gun to the office and force everyone to cooperate in order to find a solution.
    When they are done and successful, they can go home to their loved ones.
    If they ever tell anyone or shed any negative light on me or even mention the incident, I will kill them before they can stand trial.

    Mightier than the tread of marching armies is the power of an idea whose time has come

  3. #3
    Senior Member Little_Sticks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    ...[*]You are allowed to come up with "solid workarounds" to make sure the parts going to customers will work with the "solid workarounds" in place. It is too late to make design changes to the chip itself. However, you can change software, firmware, external resistors, capacitors, cables, and so on, as long as the changes don't cause the customers to reorder parts or rewrite their software.

    ...

    [*]Many of the registers and pins have secret functions that you can only find out by asking the right person.

    [*]The design itself is a closely guarded secret, but if you know the right people to ask, you can still get access to most of it without breaking any rules.

    ...
    [*]There is ample data collected on the problems, but very few conclusions, if any. Data collection is easy, making sense of the data at F_high is proving to be near impossible.[/LIST]

    Further complications(not normal):
    • You are part of a small group of people on this task
    • Many of your peers and superiors seem to have given up, but still expect magic solutions
    • Customers are already using parts and somehow that has to be managed (quiet recalls/part swaps, etc.)
    • F_high has to work in two weeks, despite others having spent 3 months trying to make it work


    ...
    That doesn't really sound like a problem, just a lot of sleuthing and *cough* meticulous work.

    I don't get it. If it needs to work in two weeks, then why don't they just give you all the information about what it is you're working with?

    All I can say is to take what you have and organize so that it can solve your 'problem' and nothing else (I know that's vague but we don't have much to work with); so create your own conclusions with what you have got, I suppose?

    NEED MORE INFORMATION

    Maybe an ENTJ will jump in and give you some kind of Te system to follow.

  4. #4
    Don't pet me. JAVO's Avatar
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    Start with changing the software. Besides, if you can't do the fix there, it sounds like you're mostly screwed for now anyway.

  5. #5
    What is, is. Arthur Schopenhauer's Avatar
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    You are probably fuxxed.
    INTJ | 5w4 - Sp/Sx/So | 5-4-(9/1) | RLoEI | Melancholic-Choleric | Johari & Nohari

    This will not end well...
    But it will at least be poetic, I suppose...

    Hmm... But what if it does end well?
    Then I suppose it will be a different sort of poetry, a preferable sort...
    A sort I could become accustomed to...



  6. #6

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Little_Sticks View Post
    That doesn't really sound like a problem, just a lot of sleuthing and *cough* meticulous work.
    Why did you cough? Do you look down on meticulous work?

    Quote Originally Posted by Little_Sticks View Post
    I don't get it. If it needs to work in two weeks, then why don't they just give you all the information about what it is you're working with?
    It's all about knowing who to ask. I have the "clearance" needed, just need to figure out who has what information.

    Quote Originally Posted by Little_Sticks View Post
    All I can say is to take what you have and organize so that it can solve your 'problem' and nothing else (I know that's vague but we don't have much to work with); so create your own conclusions with what you have got, I suppose?
    I do draw my own conclusions, but we are all on the hook for this. There is supposed to be a 'task force' on this, but the members seem to be bickering and a few have decided not to talk each other. The leader has also stopped holding a regular meeting. I may nudge him to start holding the meetings again.

    Quote Originally Posted by Little_Sticks View Post
    NEED MORE INFORMATION
    I know you do but I can't give it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Little_Sticks View Post
    Maybe an ENTJ will jump in and give you some kind of Te system to follow.
    You mean something like this:
    Quote Originally Posted by YourLocalJesus View Post
    Easy, I bring a gun to the office and force everyone to cooperate in order to find a solution.
    When they are done and successful, they can go home to their loved ones.
    If they ever tell anyone or shed any negative light on me or even mention the incident, I will kill them before they can stand trial.

    Quote Originally Posted by JAVO View Post
    Start with changing the software. Besides, if you can't do the fix there, it sounds like you're mostly screwed for now anyway.
    Yeah, most of the fixes will be in the software.

    There is some OOP, but it's not done well, and I certainly am not going to fix it.

    The software is poorly managed too. It barely has revision control even.

    Luckily, the software is actually fairly simple--just reading and writing of control bits mostly...very little in the ways of threads or even loops for that mater.

    The big question is of course what to put into the software. Which control bits to set? In what order?

    Quote Originally Posted by MagnificentMind View Post
    You are probably fuxxed.
    I am looking for a new job anyways.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
    Robot Fusion
    "As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." John Wheeler
    "[A] scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." Richard Feynman
    "[P]etabytes of [] data is not the same thing as understanding emergent mechanisms and structures." Jim Crutchfield

  7. #7
    Yeah, I can fly. Aleksei's Avatar
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    I would probably find a way to manipulate my coworkers into solving the problem for me.
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  8. #8
    Senior Member millerm277's Avatar
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    Ah. Same field as me (I work with GaAs stuff), except I'm an intern, so I am not especially useful yet, just a good lab tech...

    I would say: You'd better think hard and start trying to find patterns/sources of the failures, and that the issues you're really facing, seem to be coming from the people and structure of the company, not the chip. When getting the documentation is more effort than the work, I'd say you have a problem.

    Nonetheless, you still seem screwed for the moment. Good luck.
    I-95%, S-84%, T-89%, P-84%

  9. #9
    Priestess Of Syrinx Katsuni's Avatar
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    I don't know a ton about this area, but there's some standard troubleshooting rules that can be applied to quickly reduce the possible problem areas.



    You are allowed to come up with "solid workarounds" to make sure the parts going to customers will work with the "solid workarounds" in place. It is too late to make design changes to the chip itself. However, you can change software, firmware, external resistors, capacitors, cables, and so on, as long as the changes don't cause the customers to reorder parts or rewrite their software.
    As we know that the basic design can NOT be changed, that means that only external means can be affected, which's problematic. It may end up meaning that this is not actually possible to complete with the tools provided, regardless of how well yeu attempt to do so. However, there's usually a solution to any problem, the main issue is to focus on whot the actual problems are, and isolate their possible causes, then deal with those individually.

    The problem here, is that yeu're going to need alot of trial and error, it's highly unlikely that the multitude of errors that occur at F_high are entirely related, most likely they're bunched in small related groups but that these groups themselves are unrelated to each other; this should make things easier as if yeu cure one problem, likely several shall vanish at a time. The end issue, is that yeu are going to need time to isolate each issue and devise a workaround for each one, which doesn't interfere with previous workarounds. The more 'creative' workarounds yeu have built into the design to make it work, however, the harder this becomes, as each new 'fix' may break a previous workaround.

    I would seriously suggest avoiding messing with the software too much, as it has far too high a chance to inadvertently affect the previous workarounds, and leave yeu with an even less stable design as yeu try to correct problems that were already corrected previously, making yeur time spent redundant and not having actually created anything of progress.

    As with ANY other troubleshooting problem... the first few steps are ALWAYS to identify the problems there are, isolate the possible causes, and test each cause in the order of plausibility, bleeding into the order of largest number of possible failures reduced at a time.

    Yeu want this done quickly; ie 2 weeks. This means yeu need to be efficient in the problem solving department. Due to this, focusing solely on one problem at a time isn't going to work. Work on each individual flaw by doing the most likely errors, and then by the ones that can fix the most per attempt. If yeu get stuck on a problem, move to the next one and don't linger; come back to it later if yeu have time.

    This isn't so much a 'fix everything in 2 weeks', as it's unlikely yeu'll be able to succeed. The things yeu CAN do, is allocate yeur time wisely and try to fix the largest number of things, and the most important things.

    As such, focus yeur initial efforts on the features that are most commonly used, and most essential for use that are failing at F_high. If these fail, then the chip is pointless to have in the first place.

    The information yeu've given is far too vague for anyone to give accurate ways to fix any of the problems, but setting up a troubleshooting method and having everyone on the team working on it to follow those steps should greatly accelerate the work yeu can do in the time yeu have.

    Another problem is allocating members; yeu have several people working... I'd highly suggest citing everyone a particular problem to work on, but starting everyone on a main problem instead. If people find that they feel like a 5th wheel or aren't really needed, then they defer to their individual problems to focus on rather than waste time standing around doing nothing. If someone needs them for the main issue, then they can be easily found and go back to work there since they'll all have familiarity with it. This should further help aid yeu in the time management issue.

    So yeah... yeu have two main factors working against yeu here; the possibility that some of these errors may not be possible to fix without damaging other workarounds, which may not be possible to fix short of a chip redesign which yeu can't do so yeu may be screwed from the start... and secondly, yeu only have a set amount of time to correct several different problems. It's LISTED as one problem "make it work", but there's several sub-issues which are related which need to be addressed, in that yeu mentioned it can fail several different ways.

    As yeu can't necessarily deal with the former issue, I'd advise working on yeur time management more than anything, to get the most important, and the largest number, of things fixed, rather than trying to fix 'everything'. If yeu try to fix everything, it's far too likely that people will fall into a mindset of trying to come up with a single magical cure that fixes ALL the problems, and will waste their time looking for the elusive macguffin.

    Keep people organized and manage time efficiently, and that's yeur best bet.

  10. #10
    Nips away your dignity Fluffywolf's Avatar
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    Pardon me, I am not very knowledgable about chips and their inner workings. But I'll humor you.

    With a mix of analog and digital methods of storing and sending information, I assume that there may be issues with queueing signals or latencies? Is there any way to test for that? Finding out which circuits mess up in latency and put more resistance on the circuits that are going 'too fast'?

    A chip is only as fast as its weakest link! Either find a way to make the weakest links faster, or slow down the faster links to match the weakest?

    Anyhow, like I said, I am just humoring you. I have no idea if anything I just said makes actual sense, due to my lack of knowledge about chips.
    ~Self-depricating Megalomaniacal Superwolf

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