The news is now out about Franklin Antonio passing away. I've known for a number of days, and have been thinking about what to write, or to write anything at all. This question has cleared up for me.
I want to share with you all how much of an influence and help he has been to me, to the projects that came before ORI's work, and to ORI. By sharing these stories with you all, it is my goal to make sure the advice and support he gave us will continue to be of enduring benefit to not just ORI but to each and every one of you doing things you care about, out there in the world.
You can find a lot written about him concerning his philanthropy, managerial and professional accomplishments, and technical expertise.
I will share things on a smaller and more personal scale.
Within a few days of starting at Qualcomm in 1996 I was warned about Franklin Antonio. He was one of the Qualcomm founders and had employee number 007.
He was an asshole. He was abusive. He used the word "Fuck" a lot. He'd show up in your lab, point at your equipment, and it would burst into flames. He would then cackle and laugh and you'd lose a year of your life if you looked him in the eyes. If he showed up at your design review, just give up. You'll be annihilated in a cloud of smoke and sparks. He pulled strings, made projects happen, or could shut them down. He had a horrible temper. He was out of control. He was a genius. He was always right.
Having grown up the hard way, I set all of this stuff aside. I've been threatened by much scarier and much more dangerous men. Besides, I was pretty low level at Qualcomm. When would I ever run into a founder?
Well, I was wrong.
We had a phone design review in an auditorium, late 1990s. And, Franklin walked in and sat down middle front row. Douglas Scofea and I were towards the back of the room, and we watched engineers, one by one, move away from him, scooting away seat by seat, like bacteria in a petri dish repelled by penicillin.
And that is exactly what happened in the review. An antibiotic for some shitty design decisions that had been made in haste. And, some corrections to things that weren't made in haste, but just had not benefited from the visibility and experience that he had. Yes, he was blunt. But he was also fair. I didn't see the problems people claimed. Things that were done in good faith, he seemed to just know. Things that were sloppy, he also seemed to just know. I was taken aback at how effective this design review was. Not everyone agreed. The presenters that had tried to cut corners remained irate. Some of them went on to do more damage over a wider footprint, at other companies. I was not surprised when this happened. They were simply incapable of taking comment and critique when it conflicted with their egos.
At a later review, I had to present some bad news about accessories for a phone project. The current consumption assumptions from the accessories design team were simply and flatly wrong. I had the numbers from the phone side. I had done the work.
I volunteered to give the presentation. I didn't have to do this, but someone was going to have to do it. Everyone else was seriously stressed about it. I was not. We have to trust in the truth.
I put it up on the screen in the hall. I walked through the results and summarized the repercussions. A VP in the audience declared that I must "be an incompetent moron" and that "the project should simply ignore" my work. Like, no kidding - he dumped scorn on the idea that there could be bad news "at this late stage" and that things would simply work out like they always did. We were talking about a lot of money at stake, so I really did understand his fulminations. They were just wrong.
The critical part here was that high power calls would fail if we went ahead with these car power adapter accessories and this phone design, as is. What if this was a 911 call? 911 calls are always done at max power, by policy. 911 would fail every time if the phone was connected up to car power. About 70% of billable minutes during this era were from cars. That means, to me, that it was highly likely that 911 calls would come from cars. And they would fail if the phone was plugged into a charger. Who didn't plug their phone into the car charger?
The team doing accessories was in Boulder, CO. I was in San Diego, CA. I was not part of the accessories design team. What I was really doing was saying it was necessary that expensive adaptations were required, so that the accessories could provide more power to the hardware coming off the phones from my factory. The results from lab measurements were equal to the amount of power predicted by my simulations, which were based off of the byzantine BOM.
Boulder had a completely different story, but no data. They'd frozen the design before any current consumption data was measured and before I'd finished figuring out how much current this phone would draw at high power.
Franklin interrupted and backed me up. The VP was speechless and suddenly pale. The room was totally quiet. The accessories were suddenly in play. We didn't have a massive cock-up with that phone. This is just the sort of thing he routinely did at work.
The VP didn't apologize. Later on, he was the one that made sure I wasn't airlifted to Qualcomm when Kyocera bought our division. I ended up a Kyocera "resource", doing nothing but getting pumped for IP so that Kyocera could make CDMA phones. Speaking truth to power has repercussions. Not all of those repercussions are positive.
Later on, Franklin accused me of abusing the Real Name function in the Qualcomm email server and suggested I would single-handedly cause the heat death of email with "nonsense letters and numbers", and "with what gall"! How could I possibly think this was a good idea? and "Explain yourself!"
Well, when I was in the lab and sent mail about results to the team, I would send the mail as V119-B, which wasn't nonsense. It was the room number of the lab. He was quite irate with me for "hiding" my real name. So, I told him what I was doing.
The mail sent from the lab was in the name of the lab. This was vocational speech to me, completely in service to the work done in the lab by my three technicians and all the other engineers I could convince to problem solve on uncooperative devices. It was not my individual voice and I wanted the right people to get the credit, because technicians rarely did. But, I told him I would correct it immediately.
He said he understood, and to carry on. At the time, I didn't think much of this brief exchange.
Me and my friends from work would go out to BLM land (Anza Borrego) and look at stars. I had a nice scope (still have it on Palomar) and it was simply amazing to look through it in a real desert. I don't come from a place with this type of atmosphere. It's so dark in Anza Borrego that Venus can cast a shadow. You can see how enormous the Orion Nebula is. The Milky Way is shocking. You can find things that are only on a chart.
We were around a fire on one of these trips, and someone unexpectedly strode right up, pulled out a chair, and struck up conversation. The visitor and I talked about many things, but it was so dark I didn't immediately recognize who it was. He knew my name. As a raging extrovert, this was good enough for me.
Eventually, I realized who I was talking with. I'd only seen him across an auditorium at a design review or as a name in email.
Everyone else at the campfire was very quiet and they slowly withdrew.
Franklin was grossly misunderstood by many people.
I left Qualcomm, had three children, and did many other things. But, engineering is a vocation to me. The best possible way to do it is as a charity or service. It is the highest possible honor to be able to spend time serving you all at ORI.
ORI is a means to an end, and not something that we should ever allow to become a brand we fall in love with. Yes, we should fight for it when it's treated unfairly, and yes it has been treated unfairly.
When I started working on microwave broadband systems for amateur radio for AMSAT, Franklin was one of the first people to join any email list I started. He consistently sent me useful advice and supportive comments. He did not think the future of the work would be with AMSAT, and he was right, but the alternative was starting up something from scratch. Sadly, that's what eventually had to happen.
Franklin told me I was fully capable of doing this type of work, when I asked him if Bruce Perens' crazy idea of a 501(c)(3) made any sense. Franklin did make a pitch for a "real" startup, a commercial one. But, he also understood what I meant about doing things as a public charity or vocational calling. Very very few other people have.
Franklin provided invaluable advice and support over the past couple of years, especially dealing with the confusing communications and decisions from ARDC and AMSAT.
I was involved with a SETI project that he wanted to see happen, and I know some things that I cannot share. This was a very special person and I'm a better human for getting the chance to know him. We talked about AMBE and open source ASIC tools and SETI and fossils and some really dumb ideas and I will miss him very much.
What I would like to accomplish by sharing these stories with you all is to make sure that we do at least a good a job as he believed we were doing. Franklin was impressed by our progress, approved of at least some of what we do (he had opinions, of course), and while he thought we could get faster results by going for-profit, he understood exactly what I meant about vocation and volunteerism.
He was not completely convinced that open source would save the world or was as good a choice, in every circumstance, as many of us may think it is. But, he strongly approved of our targeted methodology. We aren't open source zealots, demanding that all tools and all processes and things not related to our mission all be open source. We experience a lot of blow-back at ORI from people that want us to be pure - to use Octave instead of MATLAB, for example. We get a lot of negative energy from people that are irritated we have a Vivido license instead of doing all FPGA work with things like LiteX.
In order to succeed, whether non-profit or commercial, we have to pick our battles and spend the majority of our time doing things that directly help achieve what's most important to us. That's direct advice from Franklin (and others) that we have received along the way.
Let's try and put this advice into practice as best we can.