Sunday, May 15, 2022

Franklin Antonio

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.

Thank you,

-Michelle Thompson

Monday, June 14, 2021

Tombs of Annihilation vs. The Pandemic

It started with a tweet:

The traps got them twice tonight in Tombs of Annihilation. And now the ranger has a case of the butterflies.

10:18 PM · Jun 13, 2021·TweetCaster for Android

Bill Barnes


Replying to 


Very difficult dungeon..

I thought about it, and here's what I had to say. 

It is. I've been unapologetically intervening (quietly, with a light touch) in the difficulty level because, well, since we've been playing for the past year+ it's the one time of the week we aren't thinking about severely stressful things.

Even as DM and having to do some extra work, it's as if the pandemic wasn't going on - just for a couple of hours. This has turned out to be very valuable. 

We're so very fortunate to have a large enough family to pull off a regular in-person game.

Chult really can slay characters; after their beloved Druid guide was disintegrated by an undead Mind Flayer (horror!); after it was clear that killing characters wasn't going to be handled well at all, I tried hard to make it feel dangerous, but not as punitive as it could be.

We have enough other BS going on as a household. Just a long list of unfair crap and setbacks and hard work and shitty real-life dice rolls. It's still hard and there's been some close calls, but I have extracted things other than character deaths from this party this year.

Watching them deal with encumbrance rules in the field (which I usually ignore) has been entertaining. 

Whatever the top encounter is, they get it. Whenever a trap could be there, it is. NPCs are not as easily captured or defeated. And wow their cleric - how are they still alive? LOL. 

I think I met this character at Burning Man a couple of times and wouldn't trust them with a nail gun or let them in my tent.

There's a Warlock with an insane demon patron, an overeducated Wizard, and a betrayed Knight. With dinosaur steed. Jurassic Don Quixote.

The only thing wrong with this game is that I can't play it. I do get to "play" the NPCs, and there are a lot of them. 

They have a one-armed Dwarven warrior guide, a damaged ranger rescue, Artus, and whoever they don't dispatch does tell them things. 

Not the same as playing.

It does kind of expose my bad habit of being part of the infrastructure or volunteering to do crap rather than "just" enjoying something or "just" being a member or "just" consuming entertainment. 

But, the game wouldn't happen if I didn't force some space for it and set it up.

And sometimes I have to remind/drag/insist them to the game, or reschedule, or listen to lengthy rants about why their character didn't get x or y or why they felt left out or that things are unfair. It's a lot of emotional labor to run a campaign like this.

And some of that isn't fun but it's super important to listen and make it as fun as possible and try and model the sort of collaborative play that creates the totally awesome magic of things like D&D. There is a level where it's not just a game.

Like Warhammer 40k: the 1st rule is that your opponent enjoys the game. You don't pander or roll over to each other. You create a great experience together, even if you are opponents. 

This is the exact same rule in civil discourse. Put your opponent in the best possible light.

So if even a little bit of that sinks in, then all the work (and giving up the chance to run a character in some online campaign because I only have so much time) is totally worth it. 

Plus, we have laughed so damn hard this past year. My household members are hilarious.

They are creative, emotionally invested, daring, craven, sneaky, clever, and unpredictable. What a joy to get this chance to see all of this.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

The Radio-Free RFC Podcast

This podcast was originally published beginning in January 2005. It’s a light-hearted and humorous view of Internet “Request for Comments” or RFCs.

Here's some additional thoughts about this podcast, and the time in which it happened.

Early on in the podcast "movement", this podcast was representative of many of the podcasts published at that time. It was content from individuals that were passionate about what they were doing, and also wanted to take full advantage of the life-changing ability to directly address other people out there that shared their interests (through the internet), and who also had the technical skills and time to 1) produce audio and 2) use the internet distribution mechanisms of the time. 

Many of these early podcasts were exceptional. A lot of them were not great at all. But, there were a lot of choices. A lot of the voices were ordinary people. 

It is true that the voices heard tended to be from a narrow demographic. This has had lasting repercussions on podcasting, media, and the internet. However, at first, the voices were a bit more diverse than what they rapidly coalesced towards (white, male, wealthy).

In the beginning, there were multi-hour hacker podcasts (young, white, male, not wealthy) alongside music shows (mostly young white men) alongside amazing folk music shows (mostly older white men) right next to deep dives on the structure of Psalms sung by rural churches (white highly educated Prostetant men deeply committed to preserving a dying art form).

These church podcasts captured what seems to be the very last working examples of a type of church music that used to be very common. Future archeologists will listen to things like the short-lived "Psalmcast" podcast and I hope they treat it like we now treat Alan Lomax's work.

The voices in the podcasts were, and are now today, almost always white men. But, in the beginning, there was more age diversity, more income diversity, and a wider range of "quirkiness". 

A warning is due here. We cannot and should not assume that all of these podcasts are still available. There is a shockingly large amount of original, creative, innovative early podcast work that has been lost. I thought Radio-Free RFC Podcast would be easy to find on the internet today. After all, it is about the internet. But, I couldn't find any evidence that it ever existed. 

Content like Radio-Free RFC Podcast was produced during a time where assumptions about the media, the message, and the audience were fundamentally different than what we have now. Our current YouTube-dominated and professionalized and advertisement-laden podcast scene was different from what was going on during the Radio-Free RFC Podcast era. At that time, anyone, including myself, could have a podcast. I produced a church podcast for over a decade. I produced it for the local Catholic parish, but the people that it best served were in the military and people that lived in countries where Catholicism was harshly managed. I realized that the mission of this podcast was not what I had originally intended, and I did my best to serve marginalized, endangered, and stressed-out communities. 

What has changed? The professionalization of podcasts, the loss of truly democratic protocols, and the cost and complexity of hosting content. What has stayed the same? The stigma of producing vs. consuming media, because you are supposed to consume and leave the producing to the pros, and racism, sexism, and bigotry in media and performance.

I wish there were more podcasts like this one, now.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Report to Members 10 - AMSAT Board of Directors

 When confronted with negative and ignorant speech, it's important to respond with a positive and informative letter. 

The original article, an attack on open source in the Amateur Radio Satellite Service, by Jerry Buxton can be found in the Sept-Oct 2020 AMSAT Journal linked here:

The rebuttal is shared with you here:

Your feedback, comment, and critique is welcomed and encouraged. 

Those of us that have achieved enormous strides forward in regulatory and technical realms will continue to work for AMSAT-NA to make it the organization that it can be - a world class amateur radio organization taking full advantage of all available technical and regulatory innovations. The fact that it is not "world class", at this time, is not as important as where it can soon be. 

There simply need to be some changes. AMSAT must catch up with the current regulatory environment. And, it wouldn't hurt at all to catch up with the diverse array of riches offered by open source hardware and software projects. Current leadership isn't doing this, actively opposes doing this, and will continue to suffer in comparison to other amateur satellite organizations that have adapted and have taken advantage of all the current golden age of technology and opportunity offers. 

There has never been a better time to be a ham radio operator. There has never been a better time for open source hardware and software. 

If a leader in amateur radio opposes open source for the Amateur Radio Satellite Service, they are choosing to fight at a horrific disadvantage. Please let *your* leaders know that you want them to be competent, up to date with regulatory law, and to take full advantage of open source technologies. All of us that love amateur satellite rely on advocacy groups like AMSAT. Advocacy needs to reflect reality. Denying the technical impact and regulatory advantage that open source gives hams in the US is a bad take. 

Please, help correct this. 


1) Support open source organizations. 

2) Elect leaders that clearly embrace, defend, and build open source solutions. 

What should AMSAT-NA do?

1) Retract this article. 

2) Adjust engineering policies to align with US State Department Policy decisions. 

3) Follow through on commitments to pay AMSAT's contracted law firm to review and write both open source and ITAR/ EAR policies. This invoice is currently languishing. While policy creation is considered by many to be boring, having a rock-solid written ITAR/EAR policy makes volunteering safe and easy. Isn't that what AMSAT needs and deserves?

Thank you,

-Michelle Thompson W5NYV

So, why should you care what I think? I do have some relevant qualifications. Here they are. 

AMSAT Director 2019-2020

Open Research Institute, Inc. Co-Founder and current CEO

Vice President Traceroad Inc. (terrestrial telephony, lots of interaction with the FCC)

IEEE Senior Member

Vice Chair IEEE San Diego Information Theory Chapter (info theory is why you have digital communications)

MSEE Information Theory from USC

Life Member ARRL, AMSAT, 10-10

Don Hilliard Award Recipient

ARRL Technical Advisor 2020-2023

GNU Radio Conference chair 2019-2020

Senior Engineer Qualcomm Inc. (Globalstar, terrestrial cellular telephony, and digital hardware R&D)

Monday, July 27, 2020

Report to Members 9 - AMSAT Board of Directors

Patrick Stoddard and I have tried for many months, politely and internally, to resolve the issues of unauthorized spending and the refusal to call board meetings.

Details here:

The majority of the board simply ran out the clock for a year, and then ran for their seats again.

My fellow "reform" director Patrick Stoddard and I appealed to the membership to please elect new board members this summer. We endorsed candidates that would:

1) agree to have board meetings. 
2) refrain from informal unrecorded back-office deals to spend company money on things unrelated to putting amateur radio satellites in space.  

The response was a lengthy "official explanation" that was neither official nor an explanation. It was, however, an admission that the board and officers knew about the expenses and approved of them in secret.

This was disappointing. Individual board members and officers have used the AMSAT website and other communications functions of the company to spread an unofficial and unapproved attack on me and Patrick.

There was no effort, at all, to talk with me or Patrick about this. The only communications about this problem have been angry assertions that it was somehow justified because they decided it was somehow justified. None of the reasons make sense, are true, have any legal value, or help AMSAT in any way. 

So, we asked a corporate governance specialist for advice. 

We trust that expert advice and instructions will correct those that have gone astray. 

If you can vote in this summer's election, please do. Robert McGwier, Howie DeFelice, and Jeff Johns will allow regular productive board meetings and will not secretly hire law firms to target Directors in order to obstruct them from doing their jobs. 


July 27, 2020

AMSAT Board Members
Clayton Coleman, President

Dear Sirs and Madame:

I am writing in my capacity as counsel to Michelle Thompson and Patrick Stoddard regarding the letter to members entitled “AMSAT Leadership Explains 2018-2020 Legal Expenses” posted on July 10, 2020 (“Letter”).  Through the course of my representation of my clients, I know that information included in this letter is patently false and defamatory and has resulted in reputational harm to Ms. Thompson and Mr. Stoddard. On behalf of my clients, I demand that appropriate corrective action be taken to address these falsehoods and prevent further harm to their reputations. 

The most egregious falsehood, among several, is the statement that AMSAT is “under attack” by my clients.  Ms. Thompson and Mr. Stoddard have consistently worked to improve AMSAT – and have done nothing to attack or undermine the organization they support.  It is true that my clients have worked diligently to evaluate the mission, activities, finances, and procedures of AMSAT.   Specifically, they have taken steps to increase the financial transparency of AMSAT, enforce the provisions of its existing bylaws, and obtain access to corporate and financial documents.  They have done all of this work as volunteers, deeply invested in the well-being and success of AMSAT as an organization.  While I understand that certain AMSAT officials may interpret my clients’ actions to be critical of their personal actions, it is simply not true that AMSAT as an organization is “under attack.”  The broad dissemination of a statement to the contrary is false, harms Ms. Thompson’s and Mr. Stoddard’s ability to serve AMSAT and calls into question their integrity.   

As you know, Ms. Thompson and Mr. Stoddard were improperly denied access to AMSAT’s corporate records. They had to retain my firm just to be able to carry out their corporate responsibilities as Directors.  They now are questioning the propriety of the legal expenditures as they have not been given any evidence that these expenses were ever approved by board action, much less in advance of the engagement, as is required by Article II, Section 1 of AMSAT’s bylaws.  One of the principal fiduciary responsibilities of all board members is to obey the provisions of the organization’s governing documents.  Rather than “disrupt and possibly defame” or “publicly attack the integrity and honor” of AMSAT Officers and Directors, Ms. Thompson and Mr. Stoddard have merely been trying to review whether the AMSAT board has met this important fiduciary obligation.  
You noted, “[t]he only powers that Directors have is when the Board is in session and Board members make their vote” – and yet, we are not aware of any Board meeting in which this Letter was discussed.  The fact that five of the current Directors have decided to sign this letter without conferring as a Board is good evidence that Directors may choose to exercise his or her individual oversight role in the absence of a Board meeting.  

In conclusion, my clients are doing their best to improve financial transparency and good governance in AMSAT. We agree that “a poisonous atmosphere makes it impossible for good ideas to be heard” and my clients both wish to create instead an “atmosphere of collaboration and common purpose.” They ran on a reform platform and were duly elected by the members to carry out that mandate.  
With this letter, Ms. Thompson and Mr. Stoddard formally request that the Letter be retracted and removed from AMSAT’s public website.  Alternatively, the Letter should, in consultation with my clients, be corrected to accurately reflect the reality of their interactions with AMSAT and its Board.  Given that the unfounded accusations against my clients harm their reputation and question their integrity, we request action be taken no later than ten (10) days after the receipt of this demand. 
We look forward to your prompt attention to this matter. 


Carolyn A. Klamp, Counsel

cc: Dr. Tom Clark
Keith Baker,
Jerry Buxton,
Dr. Mark Hammon,
Paul Stoetzer,
Martha Saragovitz,
Robert Bankston,
Drew Glasbrenner,
Bruce Paige
        Michelle Thompson
Patrick Stoddard

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Report to Members 8 - AMSAT-NA Board of Directors 2020

Greetings all,

I’ve been a member of the AMSAT Board of Directors since September 2019. Thank you very much for your support and trust. 

You can find my candidate statement, campaign statement, and previous reports here.

This letter addresses large unauthorized expenditures made by current Directors and Officers. The men responsible, after many months of silence and professing ignorance, have now angrily admitted it. 

The entire Board, before I joined, was in on this. Now, some of these men have the unmitigated audacity to run for positions in the 2020 AMSAT Board of Directors election. 

This shows exceptionally bad judgement. They are assuming that you won’t care about what they’ve admitted to doing over the past year. I know that they are wrong, and I’m here today to clearly state why, and ask that you not vote for these incumbents.

Please vote for Bob McGwier, Howie DeFelice, and Jeff Johns. 

Unauthorized Expenditures

AMSAT secretly hired a law firm called Hurwit and Associates. The legal expenses were $5281.00 in December 2019, $1755.00 in January 2020, $112.50 in February 2020, and $3172.50 in March 2020. This is a total of $10321.00 since Patrick and I joined the Board in September 2019. 

The only reason cited for the $10321 spent in late 2019 and into 2020 was “Organizational Ques, Conflict of Interest, Anti Discrimatory (sic) Policy”.

The checks were signed by Paul Stoetzer and Martha Saragovitz.

But it gets worse. We kept following the money, and the grand total spent on this firm, from 2018 through 2020, is actually $18,503.50. This is more than what AMSAT got from the Payroll Protection Plan (COVID-19) loan program. AMSAT wouldn't have needed the $17,700.00 from the PPP loan if it didn't spend the money on secret lawyers without Board authorization.

So what was this money for?

The reasons listed for these expenses were harder to track down that the other set, but they were eventually uncovered: “False accusations by Michelle Thompson” and “Harassment of Drew Glasbrenner by Patrick Stoddard”. 

On one bill, for $1,050, "legal advice related to the 2019 election of directors”. How odd. What legal advice? No documentation of any type was provided, other than this brief and buried note. Why would Officers need legal advice about the 2019 election? Patrick and I asked, and there was no answer outside of finger pointing and vague excuses. 

It took a very long time to find out what “false accusations” and “harassment” were about. For months, I kept hearing that I had “a conflict of interest”, and that’s why I couldn’t access corporate documents and communications, and that’s why AMSAT “had to” hire a law firm. A firm that turned out to not even be licensed to practice in Washington DC, where AMSAT is headquartered!

Even if I had some sort of financial conflict of interest, then under DC law I would simply recuse myself from any affected vote. That’s how adults work. It turned out, thanks to Mark Hammond linking to an old email from Joe Spier and clearly stating that these were the reasons I had a “conflict of interest” - were because I had asked Joe Spier for help a year or so back. 

I was having problems getting things done. One request was about  how to get re-tweeted by the AMSAT Twitter account. What I was told to do wasn’t resulting in what was supposed to happen. This was for promoting actual real honest-to-goodness AMSAT projects that were my responsibility. I had tried to get help with whoever ran the AMSAT Twitter account using Twitter direct messaging and was getting completely ignored. Where else am I supposed to go about not being able to follow instructions given to me by AMSAT leadership, for an AMSAT project?

I complained about Jerry Buxton’s use of the term “women and children” in the context that women were like children and needed protection because they just couldn’t handle the world of adult men. It happened more than once. I wanted it to stop. Women are adult people. Women are not children, in need of protection, prevented from fully participating. That puts women volunteers and fellow volunteer technical managers, like myself, at an unfair disadvantage. This is a real problem. But, the good news is that it’s really easy to fix. Usually, people simply apologize and try to do better. 

I was honestly confident that both issues would be quickly and privately resolved. The last thing on the earth that I expected was the amount of unauthorized spending and the personal retribution based on minor complaints. 

What Conflict of Interest?

Neither of these issues that I complained about, specifically pointed to by Mark Hammond as the reason for me having a “conflict of interest” - and therefore AMSAT being totally able to deny me access to virtually all records as a Board member - was worth driving the organization down an expensive illegal road. The reasons given for these expenditures are complete nonsense. These just aren’t legitimate business reasons to spend money on lawyers. 

Even if you believe that mild complaints from active life members deserve five figures of lawyer action, there’s a more serious and fundamental problem. If this was a legitimate expense, then it should be in the meeting minutes. There are no records in the meeting minutes of AMSAT Incorporated where these large and grossly inappropriate expenses are justified. Go look for yourself. There’s not even a hint of an executive session or any of the other common techniques used to shield sensitive issues. 

This was not a budgeted expense. It’s definitely not overhead, which are expenses that are required for ordinary day-to-day operations. They are definitely not ordinary legal expenses, especially when compared to patterns in the past. AMSAT just can’t afford to hire lawyers and spend money like this. 

The AMSAT by-laws and DC corporate law are both very clear. This expenditure needed Board approval. The approval needed to be documented. That means it should appear in the minutes. But, it doesn’t. That is because the Board knew it was wrong. The Board knew that it needed to be hidden from members. They did it anyway because they cannot tolerate any criticism, at all, even if it’s mild. In the Board archives, they assumed that the challengers in 2019 would lose. They honestly did not expect to suffer any repercussions for doing what they did. They want to avoid those repercussions now, but they can’t. 

AMSAT Receives a Demand Letter

The real motivation of spending serious coin on secret lawyers was to stop Patrick Stoddard and Michelle Thompson (me) from participating as AMSAT volunteers, slow down and obstruct our campaigns for the Board of Directors in 2019, and to provide advice on how best to prevent our participation on the Board of Directors of AMSAT, once we won positions. 

Why? Because the incumbents have no tolerance for dissent in any form. We simply aren’t part of their circle. Our contributions were going to be shorted to ground as quickly as possible by any means necessary. 

It did not work. We’ve continued to serve the organization, deliver concrete results, and respond to members.

Both Patrick and I are life members of AMSAT. We have volunteered for AMSAT for many years. We donate our time in very different ways, but we have been consistently successful as volunteers, mentors, speakers, and organizers.  

There was no legitimate reason to secretly hire a law firm to “deal” with us. There is no good reason to then spend most of a year attempting to cover up those expenditures and refuse to provide documentation about ordinary business operations, expenditures, and communications. Those refusals continue to the present day. Those refusals are illegal, they were addressed by a legal demand letter, and Joe Spier resigned two days after receiving that demand letter. 

This demand letter was commissioned by me and Patrick Stoddard. Details about that can be found here.

There are no “conflicts of interest” as Mark Hammond and Joe Spier ineptly alleged. There is no excuse for running the organization out of some backroom channel. This is offensive on its face. 

“You Just Don’t Understand AMSAT Culture”

When the secretly hired law firm was eventually exposed and the Board members involved with hiring them questioned, Martha “The Soul of AMSAT” Saragovitz claimed that Patrick and I “simply didn’t understand AMSAT culture.” Tom Clark and others immediately insisted that AMSAT operates by “informal consent”. They said that there’s no need for pesky DC corporate code, meeting minutes, or votes. They say that no one really needs to document unbudgeted expenses when there’s consent. Bruce KK5DO said that AMSAT “simply paid some bills”. 

Is this how successful organizations are run?

Neither Patrick nor I “consented” to be the subject of intense secret legal spending, denied access to corporate documents and communications, lied to about the large number of NDAs AMSAT has recently signed, and given the royal runaround concerning access to the Board of Directors email archive. But, according to some of the men that are asking you to vote for them this summer, that’s exactly how AMSAT should be run. 

They believe that they’re completely in the right. They honestly believe that they can burn up the equivalent of 420 annual memberships on a secretly hired law firm to harass members that just happened to not be in their special “consent circle”. 

Our mild criticism of the way AMSAT was running things was determined to be an existential threat deserving of a nuclear response. They then decided to spend some serious coin in shutting us up. 

There’s more. An additional $4,000 was spent over the approved $10,000 for the consulting firm FD Associates. This firm provided ITAR and EAR summary memos at the 2019 Symposium Board meeting. The Board did not approve spending the extra money. It just went out the door without question. What did that money purchase? I have asked. Patrick has asked. There has been no answer. 

No Regular Board Meetings - On Purpose

Patrick and I certainly did not consent to the sudden shut down of all regular Board meetings as soon as we took office. The two of us have called for regular meetings because, again, that’s how things get done in large and active organizations. Both Joe Spier and Clayton Coleman have refused to call regular meetings. This is completely different than any year in AMSAT’s past, where the Board met at least monthly. 

If you are totally ok with your Board meeting once a year and rubber stamping whatever Officers want, then vote for the incumbents. That’s what you’ll be getting more of. 

Three Board members are required to call for a meeting. Patrick and I have called for meetings. Most recently to address the departure of ARISS so we could do a post-mortem and learn from it. No other Board member has ever joined any of the multiple calls for meetings. Shutting down the meetings definitely shuts down questioning. And oversight. 

“Rule by consent” only works if all the Directors are included. Well, I think it’s clear how inclusive this Board has been. That is something that can change in 2020, and you are key. The only way things like this stop are if the people that act like this are not re-elected. 

What Can You Do?

Please vote for Bob McGwier, Howie DeFelice, and Jeff Johns. 

Do not vote for men that gloat about squandering your member money on secret law firms, attack members and member societies on social media, and fail to support members that simply want to contribute.

AMSAT can be a leading world class organization. It’s not right now, and that’s largely a function of the quality of leadership that the members have gotten. There is a clear choice this year and things can change rapidly in very positive directions.

Hold the incumbents accountable. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Report to Members 7 - AMSAT-NA Board of Directors 2020

Greetings all!

Since I last wrote, Patrick and I continued to face obstruction on access to corporate records and communications. Recently some things have changed for the better.

In late October 2019, AMSAT President Joe Spier had asserted on a teleconference that allowing Patrick Stoddard and I to see ordinary corporate records would lead to us suing AMSAT-NA, therefore we simply couldn’t see them. He claimed it was a personnel matter, even though Patrick and I have never been and are not employed by AMSAT. He suggested we had ulterior motives or a conflict of interest. We do not. Refusing to answer questions and denying us access to ordinary corporate records prevented me and Patrick from doing the job that members elected us to do.

For this teleconference, Joe Spier brought in a lawyer. This was a big surprise. The funds for this lawyer, it turns out, were paid for by AMSAT. There is no record in the minutes about this expense. The lawyer is not licensed to practice in Washington D.C., where AMSAT is headquartered. This means the law firm cannot represent AMSAT in court. This law firm has been used multiple times, by multiple officers of AMSAT, going back to 2018.

No board meetings were scheduled after the annual meeting in October 2019 at Symposium. This was an unusual practice for AMSAT. It was a departure from the traditional schedule that we were expecting, and it definitely slowed things down.

Patrick and I repeatedly requested a board meeting. Three members are required to request a board meeting. However, no other board members joined in this request. The other board members, presumably denied access to the same documents that we were, expressed no opinion about this matter at all and took no action to address it.

Why suddenly stop the meetings? Did things suddenly get super easy when we were elected? Did votes suddenly become unnecessary? No, of course not. AMSAT is in, according the immediate past treasurer and the current one, in an “unsustainable financial position”. That reason alone is reason to meet regularly, come together, and support the one current fundraising project - Kidzsat.

Other than fundraising, Patrick and I wanted to address two major issues. The direction of ITAR policy work and what appeared to be several unauthorized expenses. Patrick uncovered the expenditures by repeatedly asking questions about the financial reports. Some of these questions were answered, and the answers contained surprising and disappointing details.

We wanted a discussion and a redirection on ITAR/EAR policy, and we wanted answers on the unauthorized expenditures. Without a board meeting, we could not make a lot of progress, especially with officers refusing to answer questions about either subject.

With respect to regulatory law issues, we wanted AMSAT to take advantage of the public domain carve outs in ITAR and EAR. We both believe that enshrining a proprietary ITAR policy is completely wrong for an amateur radio 501(c)(3) with heavy educational focus. AMSAT has spent the $10,000 authorized at the 2018 Symposium in Huntsville on consultants that, so far, have summarized a very traditional proprietary path. The consultants did not provide a policy at Symposium. This is one of the biggest reasons we stood for election, was to stand up for a different path forward, while there was still time to save money and effort.

I asked to see the instructions that were given to the ITAR consulting firm. There was no reply. I submitted questions for the consultants to Joe Spier. The consultants never received them. I made multiple efforts to write the board members and raise the discussion. This was fruitless.

I wrote a letter asking AMSAT to support a commodity jurisdiction request to the State Department in support of open source amateur satellite work. This effort takes the opposite approach of the AMSAT consultants. It asks, for the first time, for a State Department ruling on whether amateur satellite work, of the type that we all want to see, falls under ITAR or not. As of today, we do not have anything like this. We do not have any landmark decision to base our work upon. What we have is fear, uncertainty, and doubt. This request was finalized and submitted today, 20 February 2020.

Regardless of the outcome of the decision, whether it is to move amateur satellite work out from under ITAR or to assert that it must be under ITAR, we will have a solid legal answer in the US. Obviously, I and many others want amateur satellite work to be ruled as not subject to ITAR. This places it within EAR. From EAR, public domain work can proceed in a way that our hobby has not enjoyed in decades. But even if it’s ruled as subject, it’s an improvement over guessing and assuming.

This letter was sent mid-December 2019 to AMSAT and a number of other related organizations, all of which have a huge interest in this ruling. There was no answer at all from AMSAT. The letter was not sent to the board for discussion. It was not even acknowledged as received.

This is the sort of work that AMSAT should have done years ago. I am personally paying for this legal effort, and Open Research Institute is the organization making the application. I firmly believe AMSAT-NA should have been the one to do this, but if it’s successful, AMSAT-NA can take full advantage of it. It’s as win-win as one can get.

On 28 January 2020, Patrick and I delivered a legal demand letter to Joe Spier and the lawyer he hired, and AMSAT paid for. This letter clearly stated the legal facts about denying Directors of a corporation access to ordinary corporate documents. AMSAT was in violation of DC corporate code and the reasons given to date for denying us access and answers were completely legally irrelevant. Specific case law was cited and remedies were listed. A deadline of 7 February 2020 was given.

Joe Spier resigned on 31 January 2020. Neither he nor the law firm replied.
Unlike with our previous requests for a board meeting, one was scheduled pretty damn quick to elect a new President. Joe Spier resigned on a Friday, and the board meeting was proposed for the coming Tuesday. I suggested that we take our time, use the 30 days notice resignation rule in our by-laws, and form a search committee. I thought this was an excellent opportunity to find a highly qualified president that would work with everyone, even people like Patrick and myself.

Paul Stoetzer, as Executive Vice President of AMSAT, was acting president. He could keep the job until the next annual board meeting without any action. However, he refused to delay the election. He set the election as one agenda item. The only other item was approval of the biannual financial report.

Ironically, this report says that AMSAT suffers from no legal threats. Somewhat of a stark contrast to the picture painted by the senior officers regarding me and Patrick. There was no response at all to the request to consider a search committee. No other board members responded to this proposal.

Given the short notice, I asked Bill Reed NX5R if he would consider being nominated for president of AMSAT. I had nominated him at the Symposium board meeting. He lost 5-2 at Symposium, but he replied that he was ready to serve and agreed to be nominated again now that the position was open. I wrote the board, told them I planned to nominate him, and circulated his resume in advance.

At the meeting on Tuesday, Bruce Paige nominated Clayton Coleman. Clayton Coleman had resigned as AMSAT Secretary on 24 September 2019. There wasn’t any discussion in advance of Clayton’s nomination. His credentials were not provided. Some of the other board members stated on the conference call that they’d met with Clayton, had discussed him running. It was obvious they had decided that they would vote for him in advance of the meeting. In other words, it didn’t matter who else was nominated.
Clayton won the election 4-3.

Patrick and I delivered a copy of the demand letter to the new President. On the afternoon of 7 February, the lawyer paid for by AMSAT requested a month delay. We consulted with our lawyer, and decided against waiting. We asked our lawyer to call the AMSAT lawyer, and AMSAT (through the lawyer) backed down completely, stating that yeah, ok, fine, we had to have access to all corporate records and documents.

Two days ago, the board of directors email archive was restored, and we could finally see the communications. Presumably, other financial and technical documentation will be available to us in short order. We can now get to work.

This is a huge victory for transparency, accountability, and access.

Or is it?

Why should we have had to fight for five months just to start our volunteer job? Why should we have to personally pay for expensive legal assistance to make AMSAT do the right thing? Why did Clayton Coleman suggest in a message to ANS ( that AMSAT was not in violation of DC corporate code, days before anything was done to address the issues in the demand letter? What is the organization afraid of?

By denying any director access to corporate records, the organization was not complying with the law. Directors normally see a lot more than is publicly available on AMSAT's web site to meet their fiduciary obligations to the organization and its membership. There are a lot of documents that are never published to the website. Are we going to have to fight individually for each of those?

The good news here, is if (and only if) things keep going in the direction they are going, the answer is no, we won’t have to keep fighting for what we have the right to see.

Yes, Clayton’s article was a big surprise, and possibly premature, but it was evidence of the intent of some significant progress, and Clayton did follow through on restoring the email archive.

Clayton made very appreciated efforts to come see me at HamCation 2020. This was the first positive step forward that I had seen from any other senior officer or Director at AMSAT in over a year. He apologized for past treatment by AMSAT leadership, said internal processes were not where they should be, and declared that he wanted things to be different moving forward.

He said without qualification that the problems Patrick and I were facing needed to be addressed. He spoke in front of the people that happened to be at the ORI and TAPR booths. Clayton Coleman heard some blunt criticism from some of them and heard some from me. The most important part, to me, was an acknowledgement of the problems we were facing.

What problems are those? From our view it is a lack of cooperation from officers that truly, honestly believe that they can run AMSAT however they wish with extremely limited involvement from a largely apathetic and disconnected board of directors.

Here’s an example. The annual budget was delivered to the board meeting at Symposium at nearly the last minute. I abstained from voting on this budget. I had read through it, but the lack of detail, the amount of deficit spending, and the presentation of it as something the board was simply expected to rubber stamp was unnerving. It was evidence of some hard work in the year ahead.
I naively thought I would be well into the necessary details at this point, and not still getting treated like a hostile force.

When I say “hostile force” I mean not just resistance from other board members, which is normal when you have differing views, but things like multiple personal attacks on social media from multiple officers of AMSAT.

Patrick and I decided not to include the silly attacks on social media in our legal effort. It’s beneath us. Social media policy and the abuse of members, the treatment of volunteers, and social media policies are a big reason that Patrick and I both ran for Director. Those reasons appear to remain. The hot-headed and inaccurate attacks on members and leaders are even more surprising since the one and only threat to AMSAT that the current officers acknowledge is “bad publicity”. Not “lack of funding” or “technical failures”. No, the premier threat to AMSAT is “bad publicity”. This has been stated at Symposium, at HamCation, by Robert Bankston in the November/December 2019 Journal, and in board email.

When dissent is reflexively classified as bad publicity, then anyone disagreeing becomes an existential threat to the organization and must be attacked. That is the culture you currently have at the top. If you want this to change, then vote this summer and make a difference.

I don’t like AMSAT spending many thousands of dollars on unauthorized expenses. I especially don’t like it when the expenses are used to try to prevent me from doing a volunteer job that I am deeply committed to carrying out to the best of my ability.

I strongly believe that open source policies and procedures are the absolute best way forward for AMSAT and will continue to fight for and advocate for this at the board level as long as members are willing to send me in to do the job. I have literally put my money where my mouth is here with the Commodity Jurisdiction request.

Clayton proposed a “working session” for 3 March 2020. This will not be a board meeting, but it is the first actual work session, aside from the emergency board meeting to elect Joe Spier’s replacement, that we have had since the October 2019 Symposium annual meeting. The day after the working session was proposed, the board of directors email archives were restored.

My top priority for the working session is the budget.

What is yours? Let me know, and I will do my best to represent your views at this meeting, and the ones to come. I’m very optimistic that we will see a return to regular meetings and an improvement in processes and governance.

Thank you for the support over the past months. I refrained from public statements on the advice of the legal expert Patrick and I hired. This was good advice, but hard for an open source and transparency advocate to take!

-Michelle W5NYV

Google Summer of Code 2020 Application Results

Today is the day for Google Summer of Code "Accepted Organizations", and I got the extremely kindly written rejection notice for Open Research Institute's application a few minutes ago. There are a *lot* more organizations applying than spots, this was our first year, and we will 100% try again.

Also, there are also designated "umbrella" groups that we can potentially move underneath and still participate. I'm going to reach out and see if we can't get that rolling! If you know of one that would be a good match, let me know.

This is the first year applying, and it resulted in the creation of a much more publicly accessible list of project content than we had with the task board on GitHub.

So, we are going to fully use this list and tackle all the jobs! The content will go straight over the The Ham Calling, a new site designed specifically for connecting high-tech ham work with high-tech hams!

Here's the current lineup:

I'm writing up an article for the Journal as well.

What other projects do you think should be added? This list best serves as a "base" of potential work to advance the radio arts in the community.

Thank you very much to those that volunteered to be mentors! Several of you volunteered to be mentors for the first time, ever. That is a big step and greatly appreciated.

In several cases, hams contacted me with anxiety over being "technical enough" to mentor students. Yes, some of these projects are complex, but mentorship is much much more than being able to answer a student's technical questions. Being supported while taking risks, learning about amateur satellite operation, learning about the amateur "code", and how to fail and start over or roll back to what most recently worked - these are foundational things.

Encouragement and steady support are, in the long run, of greater value than being able to substitute in for a Wikipedia article on FEC.

Next year, assuming things continue to improve, TAPR, AMSAT, and ARRL will all apply to be mentoring organizations along with ORI and GNU Radio and others. Amateur radio is uniquely qualified to serve a meaningful and significant role in open source technical advancement, and I cannot wait to see the future results.

-Michelle W5NYV