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The $10 Xilinx Box, the FPGA Board, and the Man from HP Labs: An Xcell Daily triple mystery story, Part II

Xilinx Employee
Xilinx Employee
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Last August, I wrote a blog titled “The $10 Xilinx Box, the FPGA Board, and the Man from HP Labs: An Xcell Daily triple mystery story” about a 20-year-old, Xilinx-branded box containing a Xilinx demo board with two early-generation Xilinx FPGAs (an XC3020 and an XC4003E) that I’d found at HSC Electronics, a Silicon Valley surplus electronics store. According to the Xilinx shipping invoice in the box, it had belonged to Dave Moberly, who had worked for HP Labs at the time and he’d been instrumental in getting FPGA technology introduced into HP instrumentation starting with the HP 8145A Optical TDR. Sadly, David Moberly passed away on March 9, 2017 so I was not able to interview him.




HSC Box top.jpg 



However, early this month, an Xcell Daily reader using the handle “tomshoup” left a comment to that blog post that continue’s Moberly’s story. I found the comment so compelling that I’m promoting it to a full blog post below:



I was David Moberly's next-to-last manager at Agilent and had hired him into his last job at HP/Agilent from elsewhere in HP, around 1999.  HP Labs at 1501 Page Mill Road was incubating a new medical business that was far different than the existing capital equipment medical business.  We were designing patient monitoring equipment to be used to monitor patients with congestive heart failure at home, to be offered as a service to Medicare HMOs.  We built a simple set of instruments to measure weight (yes, we built a bathroom scale, but it was an HP bathroom scale), blood pressure and heart rate, and a single lead ECG rhythm strip.  We introduced this product to the market in 1999 at the Heart Failure Society of America at their annual meeting in San Francisco that year.  After about 18 months we had ~5,000 patients under monitoring for a marquee customer.  Philips, which bought the medical business from Agilent in 2001 still offers a current generation of this equipment and the associated service.


David was one of several people who basically came up to me and said "I've always wanted to work on medical equipment but didn't want to move to Boston (location of HP's medical business), so here I am."  He was one of the most inquisitive people I've ever met, irritatingly so sometimes, but always in an endearing way.


I left Agilent in 2002 when they sold the business to Philips but kept bumping into David and learned he had a love affair with FPGAs.  One product he was over the moon about was mixed-signal acquisition systems that are basically an FPGA that provides 2 to 4 channels of analog 'scope function, 16 channels of logic analyzer input, some power supply output, spectrum analysis, arbitrary waveform generation, and other features, all using a laptop as the user interface.  Somehow David became the go-to guy to test drive these because of his blogging about them, so manufacturers of such systems would send him new devices to play with and hopefully write them up in his blogs.

David and I ended up working together again early in 2013.  I was a contractor at a medical-device company and the company needed help writing software test plans and protocols.  I introduced them to David and they approved me hiring him as a subcontractor.  We worked together for about another year then.  David was retired then and wasn't really looking for work, but was intrigued with the product and the chance to work again.  He told me afterwards that he paid for his daughter's wedding with that gig.  He also gave me a wonderful thank-you gift: a brand new Analog Discovery by Digilent, one of those [Spartan-6] FPGA-based mixed-signal acquisition systems.  I've used it a lot in my current consulting work and think of David every time I use it.  David's fondness for these instruments rubbed off on me and we exchanged a round of e-mail as I lusted after the Picoscope 3000, the Cadillac in David's words; I still lust after it but haven't taken the leap. I know if I buy it David would be proud, and if he was still alive would probably want to borrow it to take it apart.

Through mutual friends I knew David had had a bout with cancer.  We met for coffee after he was in remission and true to form he told me in detail about his treatment, with his usual level of fascination at the technology, almost to the molecular level.

After David died, I knew his wife Cheryl was faced with the too-common task of being the widow of a pack-rat engineer who had excess storage capacity: think containers.  So I volunteered to help Cheryl sort through the Moberly archives and introduced her to HSC Electronics as a way to recycle some of what David had collected.  Having known David, and ending up sorting through his stash with Cheryl, I could easily imagine the glee he must have felt when he acquired all those goodies we sorted through.

David had a wonderful career:  MIT education, Apple, Trimble, HP, HP Labs, Agilent, Philips.  A small team of engineers, with a couple of Davids in it, could probably build anything and run it with an FPGA and a couple of AA batteries.    



My thanks to “tomshoup” for sharing this story with Xcell Daily.