ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

CPU Not Required: Making Demos with FPGAs —

Jeri Ellsworth is one of those people who shouldn’t exist. She has an amazing life story, dropping out of high school because of the success of her racecar fabrication business, which was followed by a successful computer store business, and then she made the logical jump: learn chip fabrication and low-level assembly coding. From this has come a number of famous toys and electronic items, including the Commodore in a Joystick, where she implemented an entire Commodore 64 into a tiny chipset for the goal of being able to play a few games on a TV. From this, by the way, an entire community of people have turned it into the most incredible things. All this aside, she’s a bright and humorous person, a great conversationalist, and is currently working on opening a pinball arcade in Oregon.

We’d met at a couple conferences (she stopped by DEFCON a few times, I stopped by a few vintage computing events), and we talked about her maybe coming out for a Blockparty. When it got to be time to find speakers for Blockparty 2008, I proposed it to her and she was all for it.

Jeri’s talk, which is now available here, is really something else. A few speakers, including Jeri, asked me how technical or deep they should get into in their talks and how much of the basics they thought should be covered. My opinion was that they should focus on what they’ve personally learned that’s new, and let people do the research to get the basics. And boy did Jeri go deep! I remember swimming along in the depths of the subject she was covering, and being nearly lost. This was, to me, a good thing. It’s not that hard to find information on FPGAs out there, but once you get that knowledge, you get the advantage of Jeri’s opinion on them, having spent years developing using them, and there’s so much in this talk worth catching. She also gives a preview of the no-cpu demo machine she was working on that ultimately let her and The Fat Man win the Wild Competition at Blockparty. What a treat!

Keep a second window to look up the tough stuff, and enjoy the swim.

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