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Good Times, Good People

By Mike Gianfagna
I lost a long-time friend this past week. He was a member of the EDA community and so I will dedicate this blog to a discussion of the late Dr. Aaron Ashkinazy—the person, his contributions and the process for his work.

The person. Aaron had a lot of friends. We’ve all been reminiscing about him this past week and some consistent comments arise. He was one of the most intelligent and kindest people we knew, someone who would never speak ill of anyone and as far as any of us can recall someone who never lost his temper. His calm and gentle rendering of significant insights will be sorely missed.

The contribution. I first met Aaron when I joined the Design Automation department of RCA Solid State in the late 1970’s. Recall those were the days before an EDA industry, so you wrote your own tools or you didn’t have any. Aaron was working with a fellow named Henry Hellman on the design of a new logic simulator. That software was ultimately called MIMIC, and Aaron was referred to by most as the Father of MIMIC. That name, MIMIC, has a colorful history all its own. There were many proposed names before we settled on MIMIC (Module Imitating Modern Integrated Circuits). My memory is too weak to remember all of them, but I do remember the first—JERKS (Jewish Engineers Release Kosher Simulator)—and the last, FINALE (Final Idiotic Naming of Advanced Logic Emulator). MIMIC became one of the fundamental design tools for all digital ICs at RCA.
It performed multi-level logic and concurrent fault simulation, and supported Verilog, VHDL and a few other esoteric languages of the day. There were many documented cases where the Verilog simulator would provide the wrong result and MIMIC would provide the correct result, but that’s a discussion best kept for another day. Aaron continued to develop complex scientific software across many domains until his passing.

The process. A multi-level logic and concurrent fault simulator used on all digital IC designs at RCA was a fairly significant achievement. What is interesting is that this incredibly complex piece of software was architected, written, tested, documented and supported by four people. When RCA entered the merchant application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) market in 1981, the user base for MIMIC grew across the world. Not counting field AEs, the support staff for MIMIC then grew to about six, and there were a lot more libraries to support, as well.

As I think back to those days of internally developed EDA, there are many stories like this. Small teams who worked incredibly well together building substantially complex pieces of software that were used on a worldwide basis by internal and external (ASIC) customers. Today, I have a lot of friends who run engineering groups at EDA companies, both small and large. Most of them are never home. They always seem to be traveling all over the world to visit development teams that work for them. They struggle to keep everyone in sync and spend a lot time trying to manage everyone to a consistent level of quality. We all deal with these issues. Most companies have a global workforce.

This past week I’ve thought about the early days when I first met Aaron, when everyone worked in the same room more or less. Was that a better way to do things, or is my memory coloring the past in a favorable light? I’m not sure, but I do believe this: If the sophisticated networking and collaboration tools we all use could foster small, high-performance teams, that would be a good thing. I’m fairly sure Father MIMIC would agree.

4 Responses to “Good Times, Good People”

  1. Rick Stanton Says:

    I’ve always been amazed by the high quality of people that were part of the RCA team back in the day. Some of my best friends, industry mentors and people who always make me smile came from that group. Aaron was certainly a man who enriched all of those who knew him.

  2. Gary Gendel Says:

    As someone that worked along side Aaron for 30 years straight I can truthfully say he was a wonderful and rare person.

    Aaron would think things through before he wrote a line of code. I remember him thinking and jotting notes for the fault simulator for about 2 months. Then one day he decided he was ready and wrote the whole shebang in a week. His code was impeccable and bugs were scarce.

    I remember an incident when a MIMIC user ran the fault simulation for two days on a VAX 780 when it crashed. Since we didn’t have security clearance, Aaron started asking questions about the design so the answers wouldn’t contain any secrets. After about 12 questions Aaron had identified the problem and fixed it. He also had them change the simulation parameters so the simulation would finish in 8 hours rather than the 10 days it would have with their settings.

    He was well read and versed in many areas and was a member of the Columbia University Philosophy Club. Often I would be amazed at how insightful his understanding of a topic was. He loved to argue, but never lost his temper, no matter how hard he was pushed.

    He was also good at bringing out the best in anyone. He taught me that there is nothing bad about failure as long as you learned from the experience.

    I think the closest equivalent to the working environment we had at RCA would be today’s “skunk works”.

  3. Shiv Sikand Says:

    I first met Aaron in 1995 when working with Genashor Corp. on validating asynchronous circuits. He inspired me to work hard, to keep dreaming and surround yourself with smart people because they were the only ones who could keep you honest.

  4. Earle Says:

    Rock on! All together or nothing , step up as one!

    Earle.

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