Looking forward to positive change in the amateur radio services.
This is normal, common sense, and results in a better experience in amateur radio for everyone.
Here's what was submitted to ARRL in December 2022.
Michelle Thompson W5NYV
TA Since: 2020
Based on my activities over the past two years, detailed below, and my continuing interest in the ARRL technical program, I apply for reappointment as an ARRL Technical Advisor.
In addition to the below activities, I am employed as an executive at a commercial voice and data telecommunications firm serving rural northeastern Mississippi. I am responsible for identifying and executing our technology roadmap while maintaining very high levels of service in challenging geographic and economic conditions.
I plan to retire from commercial work no earlier than 2038.
January 2022 to present
Chair San Diego Section of IEEE
Complete and ongoing
Being the chair of one of the largest IEEE sections in the United States means running a section with a very large number of IEEE chapters. This has given me an opportunity to promote and defend amateur radio to both academia and industry.
One of the most high profile achievements is that the San Diego Section is now the home of the second IEEE MOVE Truck, an emergency communications support vehicle with amateur radio equipment included. This project happened with my full support. I lobbied for the funding and helped to spearhead the effort to get this resource for the Western United States located in San Diego.
You can read more about this project at:
March 2021 to present
Chair San Diego Chapter of Information Theory Society
Complete and ongoing
The Information Theory Society Chapter of San Diego has presented the following amateur radio oriented meetings over the past two years. I made sure these meetings happened, were accessible to both in person and online participants, and that the content was up to IEEE standards.
February 2020 to March 2021
Vice Chair San Diego Chapter of Information Theory
Laid the groundwork for the chapter to include open source amateur radio work from San Diego members. This was very successful, with an open forum attended by 20 people at ITA2020 producing a lengthy list of amateur radio aspects that members wanted to see IEEE address and support. The perceived lack of technical innovation from amateur radio, and the effect on education in the years to come, was a top concern.
January 2020 to present
Chair Amateur Radio Activities for IMS2023
I’m the chair of the amateur radio activities for the IEEE 2023 International Microwave Society conference. This conference had a strong tradition of ARRL involvement, with ARRL occupying a free booth in the vendor area, a Ham Radio Social on the Tuesday evening of the conference, and more. Participation got highly positive reviews from the 7,000 attendees. Attendees are heavily involved in engineering education and RF industry positions.
A free booth in the vendor area and space at the Ham Social were offered at no cost. ARRL declined to participate for 2023, but maybe they’ll return in 2024.
However, I’ve made it possible for ARRL to be represented at the social with materials about the education program at ARRL, local ARRL representatives have been invited to the Ham Social, and a solid technical demonstration lineup will be seen throughout the event.
Amateur radio has been invited to be part of the central pavilion in the vendor area.
November 2020 to present
Member of Board of Space Industry Advisors at Virginia Tech
Out of the 31 board members, John Klingelhoeffer and I are the only ones representing amateur radio interests.
Virginia Tech has a prominent position in the engineering education landscape in the United States. Keeping amateur radio as focus at this school is an ongoing and challenging effort.
March 2021 to present
Member Planning Committee RATPAC
RATPAC develops and presents two talks a week on amateur radio activity. The Wednesday evening presentation is of general interest. The Thursday evening presentation is focused on Emergency Communications.
The catalog of all previous talks can be found at
The catalog currently contains over 150 original videos from community leaders in amateur radio. RATPAC has nearly 2000 subscribers and the programs are widely used as amateur radio club programs.
My job includes attending weekly planning meetings where programs suggestions are reviewed and action items assigned. Development of a presentation may be very involved or as simple as inviting an experienced speaker on the subject.
At 100 presentations a year, this is almost three times the number of presentations offered by any US hamfest. Unlike some hamfest forums, there is extensive Q&A which is captured as part of the recording and available on YouTube for free.
The RATPAC committee is an excellent example of community participation in amateur radio. It has built a wonderful network of people and a growing archive of video recordings of immediate and enduring interest to amateur radio.
February 2020 to present
CEO of Open Research Institute, Inc.
I’m the current CEO and founder of the only research institute dedicated to amateur radio.
We now have over 42 repositories of open source design work for amateur radio, sponsor a wide variety of projects, and are starting to bring ones begun in the 2019 timeframe to completion.
We have received funding from four different foundations and a large number of private donors. We have applications in to GitHub and IEEE.
We completed landmark regulatory work that frees open source communications satellite work from both ITAR and EAR. This is unprecedented, underappreciated, and underreported despite our best efforts.
We completed landmark regulatory work for Debris Mitigation and Orbits for Amateur Radio. This is also unprecedented and underreported.
We have successfully obtained an STA for sounding rocket work from the US Government.
We have successfully won another sounding rocket mission from NASA, in collaboration with a private company. This mission features open source satellite circuits on 70cm.
We have proposed the world’s first Open Source HEO project to JAMSAT. This project is ongoing work that includes open source propulsion, current technology digital communications, and FPGA development.
We have the world’s first fully functional remote access FPGA stations for 7000 series Xilinx FPGAs. We include the Ultrascale+ as a bonus. We also have PLUTOs, MATLAB with all toolboxes, and a full floating license for Vivado. Attempts to publicize these opportunities for hams through ARRL, as all of this is available for free for any open source amateur radio work, have not been successful yet. It would be wonderful to get more attention on these advanced resources.
My role is daily executive service to a highly accomplished and inspiring board of directors at ORI. It’s a privilege to serve this organization.
March 2020 to present
Secretary San Bernardino Microwave Society
I have been the the recording secretary for the San Bernardino Microwave Society since March 2020.
I have presented twice to the club in the past two years. The first was about open source 10 GHz multimedia beacon designs. The second was how computing has been used in amateur radio from the 1980s through the future, which includes AI/ML.
I write expanded meeting minutes at each monthly meeting that include a summary of all technical reports from all members at the monthly meeting round table. This content is sent to the newsletter chair.
I edited and submitted the ARRL Club Grant for SBMS, to fund modern digital beacons for spectrum defense. Microwave bands are under direct assault from the cellular industry, and occupancy is believed to be a factor in retaining the use of our bands throughout the next decade.
January 2022 to December 2023
Member Technological Advisory Council of the United States Federal Communications Commission
I represented Open Source and Amateur Radio interests through Open Research Institute at the FCC TAC for 2022. I was a member of the Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Working Group.
My job required weekly meetings where we either had a guest speaker, or deliberations on what regulations to recommend to the FCC.
Our work products were a set of recommendations, a codex of articles, and a slide deck of 250 slides documenting all of the technical background for the three sets of recommendations.
January 2022 to December 2023
Chair of “Safe Uses of AI/ML” Sub Working Group of the Technological Advisory Council of the United States Federal Communications Commission
I was the co-chair of the “Safe Uses of AI/ML” Sub Working Group of the FCC TAC for 2022. I served alongside Paul Steinberg of Motorola. I represented Open Source and Amateur Radio interests.
My job required scheduling meetings, recording, editing, and publishing the meetings to the TAC, recruiting guest expert witness speakers, and producing, editing, and presenting the recommendations from the Sub Working Group to the full TAC.
All of the recommendations from the Sub Working Group were unanimously adopted by the FCC TAC on 8 December 2022.
September 2019 to September 2021
Member Board of Directors of AMSAT
I was prevented from serving AMSAT in this position by incumbent board members who were very angry I won a position and publicly stated that they were going to retaliate by any means necessary.
Legal action was taken after six months of polite requests to be seated on the board. AMSAT was found to be in the wrong in two out of two actions, both involving defamation.
This disappointing experience has been publicly documented here:
AMSAT leadership did not behave honorably or well during these two years, with multiple examples of unprofessional and extremist speech at the two required annual meetings they were forced to hold according to the by-laws.
Incumbents wrote and passed (as they held an insurmountable majority) several by-laws changes specifically designed to remove candidates that current board members do not approve of. These by-laws were designed to prevent people like me or Patrick from being able to run for the board.
I have multiple circuits in space through AMSAT, volunteered tirelessly for many years across many projects, staffed their booths, gave talks, recruited members, and was deeply disappointed to be treated so badly by people that never even bothered to introduce themselves to me.
I appreciate all the people that voted for me in a landslide victory in a crowded field, and was resolutely dedicated to serving those members’ interests for the entire two years.
Exposed Corruption at ARDC
ARDC is corrupt. This is not an isolated example.
ORI is not the only organization to be treated this way. Other organizations and individuals have also not been treated unfairly by ARDC. This is an extremely important thing to speak up about given the massive amount of money suddenly available in amateur radio.
I do not believe in sacrificing ethics in exchange for any amount of money. I do not believe that a foundation in amateur radio should behave in a consistently unethical manner.
All objections to unethical behavior at ARDC were made privately multiple times before they were published.
Deliberately harming a successful non-profit in amateur radio is inexcusable.
ARDC behavior has resulted in reduced activity in amateur radio and highly negative sentiments about ARDC from a diverse set of people.
ORI’s CFO documented the bad behavior specific to ORI. The factual narrative is available to anyone that wishes to read it.
ORI’s CFO is Steve Conklin and he can be contacted at email@example.com
STA file number 1654-EX-ST-2022 was granted for work that I managed.
Here are some of the details:
“An STA is necessary to address the special case of an amateur radio space station operating on a sub-orbital rocket. The rocket/space station will reach an altitude of approximately 125km at apogee and return immediately to Earth. The flight path will be entirely within the borders of the United States (Spaceport America New Mexico for launch, White Sands Missile Range New Mexico for recovery). The rocket flight is regulated through the FAA and coordinated with Spaceport America/White Sands Missile Range. Total flight time is less than 20 minutes. A waiver of 47 CFR 97.207(c)(2) is requested to allow transmission between 430MHz and 435MHz. This will avoid interference with existing orbital space stations. A waiver of 47 CFR 97.207(b) is requested. The transmitter control system is designed such that transmissions will automatically cease 30 minutes after detection of launch. A waiver of 47 CFR 97.207(g) is requested since operation is being conducted solely within the United States, on a requested frequency outside of international coordination, and the sub-orbital mission poses no orbital debris or collision hazards. Additionally, the space station remains an integral part of the rocket. The rocket will meet all safety criteria required to obtain appropriate waivers from the FAA.”
This work supports experiments with amateur radio LoRa mode communications and features an open source board that is suitable for pico-satellite integration.
December 2020 to present
Review Articles for QEX
I review articles in my area of expertise for QEX magazine. I provide feedback on whether or not the article would excite, enlighten, and inspire amateur experimenters.
December 2021 and December 2022
Letters of Recommendation
I wrote letters of recommendation for amateur radio operators applying to graduate schools in the United States. Most of these students were from outside the United States and were from underrepresented backgrounds.
October 2020, March 2021, October 2021, March 2022, September 2022
Ham Expo Organizer
Completed and ongoing
I’ve been an active and involved QSO Today Ham Expo organizer and presenter since October 2020.
I’ve helped many individual hams complete their video recordings, supported hams requiring special accessibility accommodations, served as a moderator, presented talks, organized entire tracks, organized workshops, recruited sponsors, recruited vendors, staffed booths, presented posters, run virtual social events, and publicized the event.
I experienced harassment from both AMSAT and an ARDC officer at this event.
Exhibitor, Forum Organizer
Organized a booth, recruited and scheduled volunteers, managed a technical demonstration, and ran one of the forum tracks. Organized and hosted a fundraising workshop for ORI that was well attended by academic, amateur, and industry representatives.
Exhibitor, Forum Organizer
All talks from the forum track that I organized can be found in the link above.
Exhibitor, Forum Organizer
Organized three booths, recruited and scheduled 10 volunteers, managed a technical demonstration, and ran a full forum track.
Presented as the anchor speaker at the ARRL technical track “The Magic of Digital Communications” at the ARRL Forum held immediately before HamCation.
In-person harassment from AMSAT and officers of ARDC influenced by AMSAT occurred at this event.
August 2022 to present
Support University of Puerto Rico RockSat-X Sounding Rocket Flight
I am an educational support advisor to the students at University of Puerto in their RockSat-X sounding rocket launch. This launch uses an open source high bitrate amateur radio mode designed by Open Research Institute to communicate data from the scientific payload onboard to the ground.
The sounding rocket opportunity was awarded after a competitive process. Amateur radio is being used here to help the students learn about modern digital communications techniques. The Opulent Voice protocol uses modern open protocols, Golay Codes, Convolutional Codes, 4-ary coherent FSK modulation, and is easy to implement on any SDR.
Co-wrote an open source COBS decoder in VHDL for amateur radio baseband applications
This is the first published open source COBS protocol decoder in VHDL.
See more about COBS at
My co-author and I anticipate submitting an article to QEX about COBS once end-to-end RF tests are complete.
Wrote an article for QEX “Forward Error Correction in Opulent Voice”
Publication date expected to be April 2023.
This is a novel open source high bitrate voice and data communications protocol. It is a vast improvement over existing digital ham voice protocols and can be used at 70 cm and above.
Here’s a presentation Paul Williamson KB5MU made about it from Ham Expo:
Here’s a video demonstration of this protocol at ORI’s large installation at DEFCON 2022:
DEFCON 2022 RF Village Open Source Showcase
I organized, scheduled, and executed a large Open Source Showcase at DEFCON 2022.
DEFCON is a hacker convention in Las Vegas, NV USA.
More information about this large ham-friendly event that attracts over 25,000 people a year can be found here:
Our installation, which featured amateur radio technical, regulatory, and competitive content was featured on DEFCON TV.
A video of our demonstrations can be found here:
Dozens of amateur radio volunteers contributed to this installation and the set of hands-on technical and regulatory demonstrations.
The content from this exhibit in RF Village equaled or exceeded all of the exhibit space in Ham Radio Village, where we’ve had exhibits in the past.
We outgrew our Ham Radio Village floorspace allocation, so we moved to RF Village, where the floor space was large enough for all our work.
We anticipate returning in 2023 with more.
No harassment occurred at this event.
December 2021 to present
Original Research on United States Amateur Radio Licensee Demographics
I wrote and published open source Python code to analyze the Amateur Radio ULS files and determine race and sex distribution over the past 10 years.
Race was determined by zip code, using statistics from US census results of 2020.
Sex was determined using a machine language model that makes a probabilistic guess on sex based on the first name of the licensee.
The number of women licensees is in steady decline, from over %15 percent in 2012 to %12 percent today.
Estimates of race, including sorting and peer effect, are 90%+ white.
A companion article was written with a code walk-through, a literature review, and practical advice on improving diversity. This article was submitted to QST and declined.
A presentation was made through RATPAC about an early version of the work in January 2022, and can be found here:
Article will be published in 2023.
Meeting with FCC to discuss Debris Mitigation and Orbits for the Amateur Radio Satellite Service
Organized, managed, edited, and presented at a meeting with the FCC concerning Debris Mitigation and Orbits in the Amateur Radio Satellite Service.
This successful meeting determined two orbits available to the Amateur Radio Satellite Service, and addressed Debris Mitigation rules and their effect on amateur radio.
Ex parte filing can be found here:
Special thanks to ARRL for their support of this effort.
Comments on Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
Comments filed with the FCC on Debris Mitigation and Amateur Radio Satellite Service.
Comments on Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
Wrote and filed a comment with the FCC concerning changes to the 3 GHz band.
Allow the Amateur Satellite Service to keep their current allocation at 3.40 to 3.41 GHz for space-to-space communications and expand this allocation to 50MHz within the existing amateur 3.30 to 3.50 GHz allocation...
Space and Satellite Symposium
Organized, managed, and executed an IEEE Symposium featuring open source amateur radio work in Space and Satellites.
All recordings can be found here:
Special thanks to the IEEE Information Theory Society for sponsoring this successful event.
April 2022 to present
The Ribbit Project is an ORI project that allows any cell phone to turn any HT into a digital communications device.
Using Polar codes and audio tones, SMS style messages can be sent over the air. The primary application is Emergency Communications.
My job has been to remove roadblocks and provide resources to the project team, recruit members, enable publicity, and provide technical advice when needed.
This is one of only two amateur radio projects in the world using Polar Codes, which are the most advanced forward error correction known. These codes are used in 5G cellular. We see no reason that amateur radio shouldn’t be using them as well, and have done the work required to bring those codes to common amateur radio use cases.
See a video presentation about Ribbit here:
And another more technical video about this work here:
Note: Rattlegram is the name of the mobile app. Ribbit is the name of the project, which includes the protocol and infrastructure to include it in repeater systems.
January 2020 to January 2021
Merit Badge Counselor for Boy Scouts
I was a merit badge counselor for many technical merit badges, including Radio, Codes, and Programming.
I was one of the STEM counselors for a day-long merit badge fair at UCSD in February 2020.
August 2019 to August 2020
Chaired 2020 GNU Radio Conference
All of the duties of conference organizing for a large virtual (due to COVID-19) event. I implemented an Amateur Radio track, recruited amateur radio speakers, organized amateur radio friendly workshops, and featured amateur radio content in an online CTF competition that attracted over 60 competitors.
January 2020 to August 2020
Recruited, organized, and supported amateur radio members for the competitive and well-regarded ADDVulcan CTF Team for the Hack-a-Sat competition.
See details at:
Our team made the finals and finished 8th.
News item was submitted to QST about the achievement.
January 2021 to August 2021
Recruited, organized, and supported amateur radio members for the competitive and well-regarded ADDVulcan CTF Team for the Hack-a-Sat competition.
See details at:
We did not make the finals, but finished in the top few percent in qualifications.
The event attracts many thousands of teams.
December 2022 to present
Started the process of recruiting amateur radio members for this competition. The advantages in the past have been that the team gets practical radio knowledge from amateur members, and the amateurs join a competition computing team with highly competent software experts.
The crossover and interdisciplinary rewards have been large for everyone involved. In some cases, involvement has lead to new opportunities for the amateur participants and new licensees from the competition team members.
Kraken SDR Repository and ITAR
The principal of Kraken SDR reached out to me for help with an ITAR problem. The Kraken SDR Passive Radar repository had been taken down due to ITAR. This was a proactive step due to concerns about violating rules on passive radar applications. Kraken SDR is of great interest to amateur radio operators and open source enthusiasts.
I provided advice and offered support.
For more information on this ongoing issue, please read
January 2006 to present
Trustee for the Palomar Amateur Radio Club call.
Established Remote Labs
An enormous technical effort, ORI’s Remote Labs were put into operation in January 2021.
There are now four labs with a variety of equipment. These are remote lab benches that allow anyone, anywhere in the world, to do open source digital communications design work, for free, 24/7.
My job was to specify, purchase, install, commission, and fully test the equipment. I turned over maintenance and improvement to Lab Leads. I now support the Lab Leads in Remote Lab West, Remote Lab South, Remote Lab UK, and Remote Lab DC.
My support role is to remove roadblocks and provide resources, solve any technical problem that the Lab Leads have, and recruit users.
The equipment was funded by ARDC shortly before they issued threats against Remote Labs and began a campaign of targeted harassment against ORI leadership. Despite this treatment, the original grant was executed on time and on budget and continues to produce a very high ROI.
For more information about Remote Labs, please read:
All of the software that allows Remote Labs to work is open source.
I have assisted several organizations in duplicating this amateur radio innovation.
Most of the users of Remote Labs come from Europe. Fewer US hams are advantage of it than Europeans.
This may be mostly due to the declining number of US people specializing in hardware design. The labs are focused on FPGA design work for digital communications, and this is a field that has a severe shortage of human resources in the US.
We’ve been able to get a number of people from “no experience at all” up to “being able to get hired for FPGA work”. I view successful professional development like this as part of the amateur radio mission.
October 2022 to present
AI/ML Handbook for Amateur Radio
Organize a team to design and write AI/ML Designs for Amateur Radio. This is to bridge the substantial gap from theory and hype to practice and competence.
Current stage is recruitment. See:
January 2020 to present
ITAR/EAR Regulatory work
Complete and ongoing
Please see the summary of the work I lead here:
Those of us that document and report on the work done at ORI (https://openresearch.institute) make a concerted effort to highlight the positive progress from volunteers, projects, and collaborators. We've been very successful. It is a joy to help do the weekly reports. You should have received one earlier today.
Not all of our efforts have been treated well, and that's what I am going to talk about here in this post. Generally speaking, we simply take evasive action around silly things like censorship, personal attacks, gaslighting, power mongering, bullying, and so on. Our work speaks for itself. We have an excellent relationship with a wide variety of organizations ranging from IEEE to QSO Today.
However, when organizations like ARDC directly interfere with our work, it needs to be documented and disclosed. We need to protect the good faith investment of our community.
You might be familiar with the M17 Project. It's a digital voice protocol for VHF/UHF. ORI is M17 Project's fiscal sponsor, for a $250,000 grant from ARDC (https://www.ampr.org/).
Work has gone well. There's still work to do. There is $68,000 left on the grant.
Here's a summary of what ORI has contributed towards M17's success.
We donated back the customary overhead fee of 10%. We figured M17 needed the money more than we did. M17 got a dedicated bank account, shielding, professional tax accountant services, and other benefits of a non-profit corporation.
We purchased Open Lunar Foundation's surplus lab primarily in order to fully stock M17's "Shed Lab" - and any other lab needs the project might have around the world. We did this out of ORI's operating budget, since we'd been pretty frugal and had the margin to donate equipment to M17.
The equipment is in storage. We were able to convert a storage lease to $0 through negotiation. The equipment cost $25,000. The plan was to deliver the equipment in late spring 2022.
Here's what else ORI has done for M17.
We have presented M17 work at four IEEE meetings. Each of these presentations involved a lot of effort to properly frame different parts of the protocol. The presentations and meetings were very well received and worth doing, especially one on standardization of the protocol. We presented OpenRTX and M17 work at our own half-day Technical Advisory Committee Meetup, also an IEEE event. We wrote and produced the video presentation for M17 for FOSDEM. We produced video presentations for Ham Expo, provided logistics support for M17 at HamCation, provided forum space at HamCation for M17 talks, made space at ARRL's Expo for M17, submitted articles, heavily promoted M17 online, gave advice when appropriate, helped develop code, provided valuable protocol specification work (ongoing!), we raised $50,000 (as yet unspent) for ORI legal work related to M17, provided all the items requested by ESA for potential EchoStar tests, and gave direct access to the bank account to M17 team members so that they had maximum autonomy and could spend money efficiently.
We helped with a set of meetings to help break down barriers to inclusion in commercial work, and signed several discount deals for M17. We did demos, tested things in Remote Labs when requested, and presented at several ham club meetings. We even pinch hit as net control for the Friday M17 net when no one else was available. 5-6 volunteers across several ORI projects were directly involved in all of this work. A few others along the way have pitched in from time to time.
We made it clear we were ready to help apply for more grants as soon as any additional funding was needed.
ORI made a long-term commitment to M17 and followed through on it. We incorporated the protocol into our uplink plan for Phase 4 work. We attempted to design it in as the native digital protocol. This path was recommended by Howie DeFelice, who spotted M17 work early on and was the first to bring it up to ORI.
M17 protocol hard-codes in a low bit-rate encoder. Initial talks to interest M17 in developing a higher bitrate version were rejected. They were very focused on CODEC2 3200 bps and very focused on VHF/UHF. And, that is ok. No problem. ORI figured that we could support both M17 and also do a higher bitrate version based upon it. So, we kicked off development of a higher bitrate version for our uplink. It's a substantial departure from M17, but it's based upon it and is proceeding quickly and well. We found some bugs with the most commonly used M17 implementation and we improved documentation about M17. *At every step of the way, M17 was cited, promoted, and included.*
Things were going pretty well across the board. It really is an achievable project. According to the industry studies we have access to, M17 is competing in a crowded market with a shrinking consumer base. It's got an uphill battle, but we were all in.
At Hamvention 2022, Phil Karn and Rosy Schecter (ARDC) met with Ed Wilson (M17). In that conversation, ARDC offered another round of funding ($250,000) to M17. ARDC left Ed with the impression that it would be no problem to get the additional money.
But, only if M17 would dump ORI as a fiscal sponsor.
M17 said that ARDC told them that the reason was because ORI had IRS problems. Chelsea, the grants manager at ARDC, denied it when I asked about this.
However, multiple other people at Hamvention, including an ARDC volunteer, firmly stated that 1) ARDC made an assurance of financial support to M17 at an informal meetup outside the review process and 2) that ARDC was the source of a rumor about ORI having "IRS problems".
No, ORI does not have any "problems" with the IRS. There is no "confusion" about our status. Yes, we can accept grant money. Yes, we might end up a private operating foundation instead of a public charity in another few years. This has been talked about on this list before. No, there isn't a big difference between the two, as it turns out. Yes, ARDC is fully aware of all of this, because we are transparent and kept ARDC fully informed.
This situation is not something that any of us on ORI board have seen happen with any other grant-making organization, in any field. Speaking just for myself, I've executed four SBIRs, one STTR, multiple Catholic Church grants, Rady Children's Hospital grants, Burning Man art grants, was involved with two FCC Covid grants, and gotten pretty far into the process on 6-7 other grants in just the past 5 years or so. Other people on the board have similar backgrounds with granted or funded work in technology, art, and construction. We're in the process of applying for at least one FDA grant for AquaPhage, and we are always looking for NASA grants where our transponder work makes sense.
A funding source approaching a sponsored project like this - offering money but only if the project cuts out the actively contributing and successful fiscal sponsor - is not normal. None of us have ever seen this happen except at ARDC. It looks and smells like a bribe.
Unfortunately, bribes work.
We now know that Ed Wilson and other M17 leads started working on a proposal to take advantage of this "totally awesome" offer. They accepted the idea of dumping ORI and set themselves up to get ready to spend another quarter million dollars. This was done in secret, but there were several leaks. The planning document was accidentally published on M17's Discord server, and some of the group started to become uncomfortable with the situation and disclosed what was going on.
This wasn't a hypothetical conversation or a misunderstanding. M17 deliberately did not let anyone at ORI know about this meeting or the work they were doing to "dump" ORI. They justified it amongst themselves in several ways.
1) ORI was simply "fungible", meaning M17 believed that ORI was "interchangeable" with any other sponsor. ORI could be changed out at will without any repercussions. It's unclear where this idea came from. This attitude didn't exist before the conversation with ARDC.
2) Since ARDC has all the money, then ARDC calls the shots, and ARDC is in control of ham radio.
3) Claiming M17 isn't really an organization and therefore really didn't really make any decisions and shouldn't be held accountable.
These aren't positive things.
1) Fiscal sponsors that only provide a bank account and take a cut are in the broadest possible sense "fungible", but the people that sign the contracts are still putting their organization on the line. They are providing a service - even if it's "just banking" - and they really should be treated with respect. Even the most hands-off sponsor should be included in any discussions about additional funding or some sort of change where they're thrown overboard. That's just basic ordinary courtesy towards people that have stepped up to serve. We didn't get this basic courtesy from either ARDC or M17.
ARDC has done this sort of thing before. ARDC aggressively pursued a GNU Radio project lead about funding *on the ORI Slack account*. GNU Radio is a SETI Institute project. This conversation, which is still up on our Slack, was pretty darn lit. Bob McGwier repeatedly demanded that Derek Kozel "give me (ARDC) a number". Meaning, just give ARDC a number of dollars that GNU Radio wanted to receive. GNU Radio had already received a $50,000 gift from ARDC, which was given outside the proposal process. Bob's conversation with Derek looked like an informal deal to arrange for more cash for GNU Radio Project. GNU Radio is not incorporated but it has a functional and involved fiscal sponsor. The fiscal sponsor is who needs to be contacted if ARDC is hot to give away money to a project. Not individuals on a project.
I called Rosy Schecter about this. I said I wanted this to be a private conversation and for this sort of thing to please stop coming from ARDC because it was not helping grant-making. It's not the process we want to see in the community. Money should be given through reviewed proposals, following a process that anyone can look up, and preferably blind. Rosy agreed with me on the phone and she said she understood. However, she then revealed my name to Bob as the person that complained. Bob retaliated.
Instead of stopping this sort of thing, ARDC has kept doing it.
What was even more remarkable about this conversation, that is not obvious from reading it, is that Bob McGwier assured Derek that ARDC would pay for salaries. This is something ORI had been repeatedly and firmly told was not possible. We would have definitely included at least some contract money in the Phase 4 grant if we had not been told differently. When I asked about what seemed to be a big policy change, Bob snapped "Shit changes". Well, ok then. Good talk.
ARDC aggressively pursuing individual project members can and does undermine existing organizations and relationships. This isn't good stuff.
ORI was very involved with M17. We went above and beyond "just a bank account" involvement. Fiscal sponsors really aren't fungible, especially when they are involved and care about a project's success.
2) A worse problem is the belief that ARDC can order projects around like this, dictate or change terms after they've granted money, or reward people to exclude fiscal sponsors like ORI because it has lots and lots of money. If you think money in politics creates problems, then consider how an unregulated monopoly SuperPAC in amateur radio might have some very negative unintended consequences. Some of the money has definitely achieved good things. You can see evidence of this in every weekly report we publish. While ARDC is not our sole funding source, it is as of today the largest one, and money being turned into capabilities and published work is what it is supposed to be about. Threatening and excluding is not what it is supposed to be about, at all.
M17 received additional voicemail messages from John Hayes. John Hayes is the ARDC grants outreach manager. ORI has never received any messages from John Hayes (or anyone else at ARDC) about any problems at all with the M17 grant. If we'd gotten any complaints, we would have certainly acted upon them. In these voicemails, John Hayes told M17 they cannot use ORI any more. Way to manage a big grant, there, John. Super helpful.
3) M17 has no formal structure. However, M17 leads were treated like adults with agency, from the beginning. Either they can make decisions for their own project, or they can't. Since ORI believed they could, and since the respect was not reciprocal, ORI adjusted things to match what M17 said they wanted. Namely, that ORI was "just a bank account". We initiated a requirement that project funding needed to be requested from ORI with justification for specific disbursements. No new requests have been made since that change.
The way ARDC has behaved towards ORI with respect to M17 is part of a pattern of behavior. Here is an exchange about the ORI lab tour with Rosy and Chelsea. This came out of the blue.
We honestly had no idea how to respond to this. We don't insult and threaten projects. We never expected to be threatened by a funding source. If I had written this email to a customer or client or collaborator, at *any job that has ever employed me*, then I would have been given a box and told to clean out my desk.
I'm sorry to tell you all that Rosy's email was approved, rewarded, and encouraged by the ARDC board. The next communication we received was a strange one, where we were interrogated about technical progress right after giving an hour-long interview about... our technical progress. There were no technical questions. Bob McGwier insisted that this email was constructed by the board specifically for ORI. It was a list of objectives in our five-year plan screen-shotted from our original grant request. There was no context. We had already achieved most of these goals. ORI board told me to reply. It felt like a trap, and it was.
ARDC has missed all of the regular reporting dates since October 2021 for all granted work at ORI. Rosy and Chelsea carry out these interviews. Why haven't we been interviewed about the excellent progress we've made? We don't know.
What else do we now know?
Two other grant applicants have had their proposals deleted before they got to the ARDC grant committee, simply because they wanted to work with ORI. One was told "you can choose any sponsor except ORI" and the other was told they couldn't use ORI as either a sponsor or even as a project partner. But, if they re-applied without us, their application would be welcome.
We suspect there might be more examples of this, since we have had talks with six other projects and (foolishly?) encouraged all of them to apply for ARDC grants and gave them our information as a fiscal sponsor. It is a big waste of time to carry water for ARDC, put time into reviewing or developing proposals, support individuals and groups in the community, and then have applicants treated like this.
We have no idea why ARDC behaves this way, since we have worked hard and have met all requirements associated with any grant awards from them.
What can we conclude from all this? What exactly should we do about it, if anything?
ARDC's fund is approximately the same size as the annual global amateur radio equipment market. Amateur radio is a small commercial market - However, this fund is a large amount of money in a hobby community that needs people and engagement much more than it needs money. Deliberately undermining groups like ORI, that do excellent work, bring in a lot of brand new technical people, and provide solid low-profile service to support projects, is baffling and harmful. Doing nothing about it, or pretending this isn't happening, doesn't seem like a good idea.
There are no other significant sources of funding at this time for amateur radio. All of the other major amateur foundations have accepted a lot of money, possibly with conditions outside the grant request, from ARDC. Funding efforts, like bake sales and kickstarters and club auctions, are much less successful now than they were before. This may be partly due to COVID, but we hear over and over from former fundraisers in ham radio that ARDC simply existing makes it much harder to convince people to donate.
ORI's work objectively and directly benefits amateur radio. This work can continue, but it can succeed only in an environment free of interference.
It's already difficult to do advanced open source work. We all know this. We have already proven we're a capable and functional organization.
The ORI board is a diverse set of volunteers who all have day jobs. Their time should be spent directing technical and regulatory work and not wasted responding to rear-guard actions, insults, threats, and blacklisting from super-wealthy organizations that should at least be benign and should definitely make at least an attempt to be open, honest, and fair.
ORI spent time and effort on M17 and has converted every ARDC dollar into a very good ROI in both published results and increased community capability. The way ORI's work has been treated over the past year by ARDC has been extremely disappointing. The ORI board has spent a lot of time talking about it, has gotten a lot of good legal and ethics advice, and it will need to make some decisions. The next board meeting is in mid-August at DEFCON.
Our focus could simply shift to be "open source digital radio work and any necessary regulatory work needed along the way". Amateur bands are a good place to test and experiment for open source digital radio work. We can continue to use these bands when they are appropriate or useful for space and terrestrial communications work. We are here to collaborate, share, and support.
Participating in the broader open source community has been a very positive experience.
We spend time on open source biomedical. Funding sources and institutional partners have treated ORI volunteers with respect.
ORI members are doing a good job at the FCC on the Technological Advisory Committee. We are active in the AI/ML working group and we co-chair a sub-working group. There's never been a whiff of anything other than respectful and active collaboration among the many industry and academic people that staff up the working groups.
Universities, other research groups, companies, and vendors? All good experiences, even when whatever we were trying to work on didn't pan out.
If you know of any other groups or organizations that have experienced similar things with ARDC, and they are afraid to speak up, please let them know they are not alone.
If you would like to help us do even more open source technical work - rather than letting us be terrified that the next project we generously support and promote will find ORI blacklisted as part of a funding 'deal' with ARDC! - then please speak up when you get an opportunity.
The ORI board takes a lot of risks in supporting what we all do. Those risks were not honored. We cannot afford to take any more chances with organizations that behave this way. Life is too short.
Providing a successful, organized, formal, incorporated space for volunteers *is not easy at all*. This has been just one challenge along the way. It was a big challenge and I'm writing this to all of you because I believe you all need to know about what a lot of us at ORI have been dealing with. It has really sucked. The silver lining is that we have ended up much stronger in the process of dealing with the bad behavior.
From here - what specific things can (or should) we do in order to better achieve our goals?
Comment and critique have always been welcome and encouraged, as have your messages of support and thanks. This letter is no different. If you have feedback about any of this for the board, then please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
1) From "Site Visit?" Thread
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.