SAN FRANCISCO – Ken C. Smith and Laura Fujino will celebrate 30 years of marriage in September, their second big anniversary this year. In February, they toasted the 60th anniversary of one of the world’s biggest engineering conferences, where they have handled large and small backstage crises for the last 24 years.
Ken is the engineer of the duo, a professor who helped pioneer how chip design was taught at the University of Toronto when not helping run the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC). Laura oversees many behind the scenes tasks at ISSCC with help from a group of UT student volunteers she manages.
“If you sit her down for any amount of time there will be ten other people around her,” Smith cautions a reporter planning to interview Fujino. “I have the advantage of being more obscure,” he says, with an ironic wink from under his trademark pink cap.
As in most years, the 60th ISSCC had its struggles. The opening keynoter declined (at first) to attend a rehearsal, presented slides with black backgrounds (violating the event’s austere black-on-white rule) and even invited Hollywood star LeVar Burton to share the stage with her.
“She says she never rehearses because it makes it boring, but she did appear on Sunday,” Smith recalled of the AMD executive. As for the slides, “we let it go,” and Burton--who played on TV’s “Star Trek”--was a hit.
It would have cost ISSCC $50,000 to have Burton appear in costume as Geordi La Forge, so the Trekie suggested the event just show a YouTube video of him in action. “It turned out one of the student volunteers already had a high res version of it on his computer,” Smith said,
Industry luminary Carver Mead also had organizers on pins and needles after he failed to provide a description of his talk or appear at the rehearsal. “We knew about him giving talks we were interested in, but we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Smith said.
“Everybody has their own idiosyncrasies…and there’s a constant battle to get the marketing and logos out of the slides,” he said.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.