Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Being in Arlington, VA and visiting the Rus Uz Restaurant and Market

The restaurant Rus Uz ( was a recommendation by Maitland Bottoms, possessor of one of the most amazing names in amateur radio circles. He lived just over the hill from the 2019 AMSAT Symposium in Arlington, Virginia, and took our small group to this wonderful place. Just across the street from the conference hotel, and flanked by a Russian grocery, having lunch here was truly like being on a different continent.

I tell my many GNU Radio friends that live in Eastern Time that I have a policy of never visiting their part of the US. It's not completely true. It's a long conversational trope designed to provide playful geographic banter. But, I am indeed much more likely to travel to the South, to the Great Plains, or to conferences and meetings up and down the West Coast. There's no real reason other than the type of work I do and enjoy doesn't have that many conferences in DC or New York or Boston. The annual information theory conference ITA is in my home town of San Diego. DEFCON is in Vegas. Burning Man is in Nevada. IEEE events and open source conferences tend to be on the left-hand side of the map for the types of things I do.

But Arlington and DC were fantastic! The wait was worth it. Real public transit, completely different architecture, actual weather, unfamiliar trees, and plenty of interesting conversations with people outside the conference.

I stayed in an AirBnB for the first time on this trip. I understand why it's become so popular, but before this journey, that understanding was only in the abstract.

As an event organizer, AirBnB has had a big effect on filling up room blocks. It does threaten the bottom line of conferences that have to guarantee a certain number of rooms in order to get the space to have a conference. If the contracted rooms are not filled, then the conference has to pay for them. This can be a significant liability for organizations without deep pockets that want to put on conferences.

The gig economy has some serious drawbacks, and deserves the criticism it gets, but staying in a peaceful lovely condominium a few minutes' walk from the conference was a completely different and superior experience to living out of a hotel room for a week.

Stepping into the restaurant, the five of us were rapidly settled into tables clustered with gorgeous china. The bilingual menu offered some long-forgotten pronunciation challenges. I last studied Russian a whopping 32 years ago!

The food and the service set us into a world apart and we spent the time slowing down and thoroughly enjoying the experience. The conversation ranged from ATSC-3 integration to Chicago political drama to Debian war stories and more. The company and the conversation and the food were a highlight of this travel.

We then visited the similarly-named grocery two doors down and I stocked up on all sorts of presents for my large family. Everything was appreciated because the items were so different and distinctive. Winning the "I brought you a gift from my business trip" challenge can be hard! Thank you Rus Uz Market :+)

Monday, October 28, 2019

Report to Members 4 - AMSAT-NA Board of Directors 2019

Greetings all!

This report covers the past two weeks. I didn't want to write one on the Friday during the middle of AMSAT Symposium. In retrospect, that was a good decision. It makes this report much easier to write.

Three weeks into the new term, Patrick Stoddard and I were told by Joe Spier (President of AMSAT-NA) that if we signed a letter acknowledging the many (much more than two!) NDAs that AMSAT has signed with various companies and organizations, that we'd get access to corporate communications and documents.

We can't read the board of director email list archive and we cannot see any repositories. We did get some financial documents, which were sobering. No orientation to the board of directors or assistance with the transition was provided.

On the first day of the two-day AMSAT board meeting, held immediately before 2019 Symposium, the acknowledgement letter was inadvertently forgotten. No problem. The next day it was provided. Patrick and I signed it.

We noticed that the entire rest of the board and all the senior officers signed it as well.

Why were they not signed on to these NDAs before?

The rest of Symposium happened. There were many productive meetings and great presentations. I got to see the ARISS power supply presented in the demo room. It was wonderful to see the final stage of a very long engineering process that has taken a lot of hard work from volunteers from my home town. I caught up with a lot of other people over the weekend and had a great time.

However, there was no change in access to documents. A week after we signed the NDA acknowledgement letter, Patrick inquired as to when we'd be able to see the things that we should be able to see.

The response? A phone conference with Joe Spier and a lawyer from Hurwit & Associates on 24 October 2019. Patrick was able to make this meeting, but I was not. The phone conference had been proposed the day before. I couldn't attend because of school drop offs and medical appointments. Patrick took the call.

The claim? Neither Patrick and I can see the email archives because AMSAT is afraid we would launch multiple lawsuits over the content. The content was described by Joe Spier as being about Patrick and myself.

The result? Patrick and I will meet with at least one DC law firm that specializes in non-profit corporate governance. The meetings will start on 4 November 2019. We will present the written and oral communication we've received and the timeline and what we learned this week and ask for an opinion on what to do next.

Why are we getting a lawyer? When people you expect to work with show up with lawyers and say you cannot have access to things you expect to have access to, that means you probably need a lawyer too. Patrick and I are very disappointed that the President of AMSAT paid a lawyer to deflect questions about access to ordinary corporate communications after we complied with the NDA acknowledgement letter demand.

I think this development is very bad news. I'm sorry to have to share it with you. I believe members deserve to know about it.

Before the board meeting, Tom Clark (Director) asked for an agenda item to talk about Open Research Institute volunteers being more involved with GOLF, AREx, and other activities. He wanted the board to discuss the Rent-a-GEO and GEOx4 proposals.

Open Research Institute is a 501c3 specifically formed to be a member society of AMSAT. All of Open Research Institute's work is open source. This would allow AMSAT to participate in the thriving open source scene while disrupting their current closed methodology as little as possible. It's a step in the right direction.

Here is the quote from Tom Clark's email to Joe Spier, who was going to chair the board meeting.

"One item I'd like to add to the agenda, as circulated by Joe, is addressed to Michelle. It is quite obvious the O.R.I. and the people on the [Ground-station] email list should be a significant part of AMSAT's GOLF-TEE, GEO and AREx (Amateur Radio Exploration) future activities. I'd like to have some discussion on how the groups can work together. This should include the hot-button topic of the GEO Echostar 9 commercial activity fits into the scheme of amateur radio especially since amateur frequencies are not a part of the picture."

This item was excluded by Joe Spier from the agenda. None of these subjects were allowed on the agenda. I thanked Tom for attempting to include it and told him about some of our recent engineering successes after the board meeting concluded.


Refusing to work with active volunteers, and refusing to work with entire organizations with diverse and successful teams, does not serve AMSAT's mission.

Bringing up litigation as the fear that justifies the refusal to cooperate or collaborate is very bad news. Neither Patrick or I know the real reasons for this. We speculate that any criticism of AMSAT in any way is perceived as some sort of existential threat.

Looking at the finances, the amount of money that AMSAT is spending on lawyers has sharply increased over the past two years. AMSAT is running a deficit. Unnecessary legal expenses add to that deficit.

There are two possibilities.

The previous board of directors did indeed write things that were wildly inappropriate. They schemed up stuff that actually does put the corporation at risk if the targets of the writing found out. People decided it was better to defy the DC corporate code than to let the targets see whatever it is they are so afraid of us seeing. I can't imagine what's in engineering repositories or the board of directors mailing list archive that would justify the risk and expense. Maybe people felt they could write these things because they never expected people outside their circle to ever win a seat.

Or, this is simply a delaying tactic. There really isn't any sensitive content on the mailing list, at all. It's just a ruse. The point is to delay involvement from new people because they like running the organization as they see fit and don't want to change.


Here's the good news.

Engineering meetings with people enthusiastic about open source solutions and proposals went extremely well. There is Rent-a-GEO and Phase 4 Space, but also work going on right now to move LDPC decoders into FPGA, put on an FPGA workshop that focuses on amateur satellite communications, create hardware and software for useful open source beacons, and a project to create open source affordable and reliable tracking rotators. The existing general purpose processor LDPC decoder work has been a very big success in the satellite community. A product using this open source work appeared in ARISS slides and presentations at Symposium.

Mikio Mouri of JAMSAT asked for help with a lunar receiving station that complies with the Lunar Orbiting Platform Gateway, or LOP-G. I agreed to help and started work immediately. Several people from Libre Space and Open Research Institute have volunteered to help. The team is looking to create a robust and easily-manufactured open source station design that uses a wide swath of open source satellite work. We aim to present the work in 2020 at the Tokyo Ham Fair. LOP-G relies heavily on LDPC. We have solutions here and people willing to do the mechanical design necessary for a tracking station.

On the Information Technology front, I have volunteers standing by with proven solutions for the AMSAT member database conversion from DBASE to the format used by Wild Apricot. This software is the vendor of choice for the member database conversion and was discussed at the 2019 AMSAT board meeting.

We look forward to being able to make this an easy transition from DBASE to Wild Apricot. After the volunteer offer was accepted at the board meeting, everyone touched base on 21 October 2019.

Please let me know your questions and comments! Thank you for your vote and support.

-Michelle W5NYV

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Report to Members 3 - AMSAT-NA Board of Directors 2019

Greetings all!

This is my report to members for the third week of my term on AMSAT-NA Board of Directors.

Here are the major developments and goals.

Non Disclosure Agreements

At day 12, the new members of the board got copies of the Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) that we, according to Joe Spier, President of AMSAT, must sign in order to have access to business communications for AMSAT-NA.

As of today, 21 days into the board term, no provision to sign an acknowledgement of the NDAs with either Spaceflight or Ragnarok Industries has been provided. An acknowledgement letter for existing agreements is an ordinary thing to do with new board members. Usually the agreements are given out ahead of the first day of work for review.

Waiting until the Board Meeting at Symposium to sort this out wastes about a month of time.

Independent legal review of the NDAs has been received.

The Spaceflight NDA appears to still be in effect. The end date is 5 years after any confidential information has been exchanged. For launches in the past, that information rapidly becomes irrelevant, but the agreement is still in force. More importantly for AMSAT-NA, if confidential information has been exchanged about payload failure analysis, then that information goes down a black hole for 5 years. This means publishing anything about lessons learned becomes very hard, unless Spaceflight allows the information or report to be published. Without an exemption, any analysis can only be shared internally among a very small group of people. Members may have to wait 5 more years from today, for example, to find out anything at all. That’s the downside of a secrecy mindset. The upside is obviously when things work out well, the organization gets a successful launch.

Approval for Ragnarak Industries NDA?

There is nothing in any published minutes from AMSAT-NA about the Ragnorak Industries NDA being voted on or approved by the Board of Directors. There is no record of any officer being directed to sign it on behalf of the organization. This needs to be cleared up. Keeping records of agreements is basic business practice.

Are NDAs “wrong”?

No, they are not. Is it fundamentally wrong to keep launch details secret? No. Does it mean that preventable failures and important lessons learned can be kept secret? Yes, it does.

However, for amateur radio and for AMSAT in particular, there are clearly superior alternatives to secret agreements with commercial entities for engineering research and development. Leave the NDAs for launches. In the US, the justification for being licensed amateur radio operators includes things like education and advancement of the radio arts.

Open Source Hardware and Software are a Better Way Forward

Open source hardware and software are a generally better approach than using proprietary solutions for education, advancement of the radio arts, and improvement in the quality of the satellites we build. If something is done in secret, it’s rarely done well. Being able to have the widest possible review for hardware and software designs increases the quality of the work substantially, for the type of work we do.

What is the type of work we do? Relatively small codebases and relatively simple hardware.

“The Coverity Scan Open Source Report, which measures the quality of OSS code, finds that the density of code defects (the number of bugs per 1,000 lines of code) is smaller for OSS than for proprietary software. Interestingly, while small OSS projects have significantly fewer issues than proprietary software projects of comparable size, the quality of large proprietary software projects is higher relative to large OSS projects. Proprietary software companies have well-defined processes and teams of experts to identify and fix bugs, including security vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, large open source projects sometimes lack standardized processes for quality control, sufficient qualified code reviewers, and good inter-team release coordination.”

Quality of Open Source Software: how many eyes are enough?
By Michael M Lokshin, Sardar A. Zari, and David Newsom
24 January 2019

This is just one study that shows measurable advantages for organizations like AMSAT-NA if they take an open source approach.

We have a very powerful part of regulatory law on our side to help us work on open source and public domain communications satellite technology. Proprietary-focused ITAR/EAR regulations are intended to protect commercial entities. They are difficult to comply with and incur real costs for volunteer or amateur organizations like AMSAT-NA.

What Have I Done in the Past to Effect Change?

There were a set of ITAR implementation guidelines, published in January 2018. After studying them, it did not appear that AMSAT-NA was in compliance with the proprietary-focused regulations.

A proposal to AMSAT Board of Directors was made in December 2017 by a group of members, including myself, that provided a path forward to compliance with the proprietary-focused regulations. This was done because the Board refused to discuss taking advantage of the much better path - the public domain carve-outs in ITAR.

Our thinking was “If you can’t make progress on the best solution, at least make sure the organization complies with the secrecy-centric rules.”

Being told to not talk to anyone about anything ever or else scary things will happen does not produce good work in volunteer settings, but if you’re going to go Full Secret, then you better do it right.

A copy of that proposal can be found here:

This was a very distant second choice to complying with the public domain carve-outs in ITAR/EAR, but was proposed because there was no, and is no published ITAR/EAR policy, no compliance officer, no training, and inconsistent guidance for engineering volunteers of AMSAT-NA.

Many months went by without any acknowledgement of this proposal. After asking about the status, Joe Spier told me on the phone that the board had voted it down. This vote does not appear in the published meeting minutes of AMSAT-NA. Why not?

I’m discussing this and showing previous work to prove that serious attempts to improve regulatory compliance at AMSAT-NA have been made by many active participants.

Based on the results of the election, the membership wants the Board of Directors to adopt open source policies for AMSAT.

We should adopt established policies that comply with open source carve-outs and have been looked at by lawyers.

What am I Doing Now to Effect Change?

Here’s the policies from Open Research Institute, Incorporated. ORI was specifically founded for open source amateur radio research and development. The first goal was to become Member Society of AMSAT-NA, providing a way to do a safe and legal open source ground and payload work that would minimally impact AMSAT-NA Incorporated, while strengthening international ties and collaboration. This organization was founded by myself, Ben Hilburn, and Bruce Perens. 501(c)(3) status was granted 6 March 2019.

Open Research Institute has renewed a request to be recognized in the published minutes of AMSAT-NA as a Member Society. Previous requests were either overlooked or ignored. Given the amount of work published by Open Research Institute, the strong regulatory stance, enforced code of conduct, and the amount of published technical work of merit and distinction, the inclusion of Open Research Institute as a Member Society greatly benefits AMSAT-NA. Open Research Institute does not financially benefit from being a Member Society. Being a Member Society increases the level of work required from Open Research Institute.

It is my belief that AMSAT-NA itself should convert to an open source (by default) policy as soon as possible. This would allow substantial and sustained increases in funding, participation, and engineering quality. Failing that, having Open Research Institute as a Member Society is a win for AMSAT-NA

There is no risk-free forward path through regulatory law. Risk reduction is much more achievable through clearly defined public domain carve-out policies than it is with no published policy at all regarding the much more difficult-to-comply-with proprietary-focused ITAR/EAR.

Are you Saying Never Use Companies? Are You Some Kind of Zealot?

No, not at all. I believe that for AMSAT-NA, the default should be open source. It’s a much better regulatory, financial, social, and cultural match for the organization. Open source work done by AMSAT-NA or others can then be licensed to companies to improve upon or productize, achieving even more quality and improvement. A rising tide lifts all boats. There’s proof all around us of the economic benefits and quality improvements of open source. Open source hardware and software has a way of supercharging commercial activity.

As to being a zealot, I am a paid employee of a telecommunications company. We use and support open source whenever possible, but I have zero problem using proprietary solutions when they give the best business results. I have worked for large engineering firms like Qualcomm that made all sorts of money building massive portfolios of intellectual property, and then ruthlessly exploiting it. My conscience is completely clear when it comes to working for proprietary companies.

On the other hand, I have volunteered for, lead, and produced a wide variety of open source projects and events. When I say AMSAT-NA is best served by adopting open source policies, then I speak from experience.

What’s a Specific Example?

The open source attitude determination and control system from Libre Space, used successfully on UPSat, is a clear and compelling example of what AMSAT-NA should be building upon. Libre Space has documented and published this system. It is free to use.

Libre Space engineers have ideas on how to improve it and what they’d like to do next.

This system was suggested to AMSAT-NA engineering. Outreach from Libre Space was attempted. My goal with elevating and highlighting this work is to make it very clear there are real alternatives.

This isn’t the only open source project that AMSAT-NA has been informed about. In January 2018, I represented AMSAT at IEEE Radio and Wireless Week in Anaheim, CA. I did a technology demonstration and spoke during the Small Satellite track.

A relevant excerpt: “So all of this was really exciting to me, because it means that the tasks of attitude control, power distribution, and communications are all successfully being done and we can do it too. If we become familiar with this University project, and others like it, and build on it, then we can be way further ahead on amateur spacecraft design than we thought we were at the GOLF meeting at Symposium.”

Some of the work referenced here was built and successfully launched on the UWE Sat program. They’re up to UWE-4. Here’s the status page.

I spoke with the professor presenting about UWE program for quite a while. There was great potential for collaboration and he gave me several papers to start with. I submitted the report and offered to help get some collaboration going so that GOLF could take full advantage of things that were way ahead of where we were, and would allow us to focus a lot more energy on the communications payload.

The response from AMSAT-NA engineering was silence. No interest in the new contacts. No interest in setting up a collaboration. I was disappointed, but did not stop working. I wanted to understand the options and who was doing what in current technology. I wanted AMSAT-NA to take advantage of it.

I’ve followed UWE through ResearchGate ever since.

The Phase 4 Space project proposal directly benefits from knowing about and being willing to use the work done by others in the open source community. GOLF should too.

More soon!

-Michelle W5NYV

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Report to Members 2 - AMSAT-NA Board of Directors 2019

Greetings all!
This is my report to members for the second week of my term on AMSAT-NA Board of Directors.
There were two major developments this week.

Non Disclosure Agreements

At day 12, the new members of the board got copies of the Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) that we, according to Joe Spier, President of AMSAT, must sign in order to have access to business communications for AMSAT-NA.
What are these NDAs about? It seemed like they were going to be some sort of agreement between individual new board members and the corporation of AMSAT-NA. But, no, that turned out to not be the case. These are NDAs that cover technology and negotiations with outside corporations!
Usually, this is handled with an acknowledgment letter. New board members and officers need to be fully informed of the obligations that the corporation has already established and already signed. Best practice is that any candidate has been given anything they need well ahead of the election. Providing it the first day of the term is not bad. Providing it only after it was asked for multiple times nearly two weeks into a term is not great.
Requiring individuals to sign on to the original NDA is somewhat unusual. Assuming that they are “no big deal” and can be signed a month into a term without review before any work starts is disappointing to me. AMSAT-NA has a financial deficit and substantial technical and policy challenges. Spending 4% of a term waiting around to get access to records can be greatly improved.
What should NDAs do? How should they be handled? What should they accomplish? What do these particular NDAs require? What are they about? I will tell you.
NDAs have functions.
First, they identify the parties involved. Most have two. But, if there are agents, partners, or other vendors, they need to be added. Everyone that is authorized to access sensitive information needs to be listed.
Second, the information involved has to be defined. What is confidential? What format are we talking about? Obviously there’s a negotiation involved. One side might want a very broad definition. The other side might need it to be as narrow as possible. To agree to something, the definition of what is truly confidential has to be written down.
Third, what’s the purpose? No purpose, no point. The confidential information definitely can’t be used to create a competitive product. That’s not fair.
Fourth, what’s excluded? This is crucial. What’s too hard to keep secret? What is something that really needs to be public or open source, to help the cause? Common sense isn’t common. Exclusions have to be written down.
Fifth, the length of the agreement. “Forever!” is not ok. Most technical information goes out of date and becomes worthless within a few years. Five years is a very common outer limit. One or two years is what should be asked for by organizations like AMSAT-NA. If the information is a trade secret, then it’s a bit different from things that are just proprietary as long as the special sauce is fresh. Five years is a lifetime in the technology fields we’re involved in.
Here’s the pertinent parts of the NDAs that continues to delay the new board members from being fully seated.
First, the one with Spaceflight. Spaceflight NDA is about launches in the past.
Second, an attachment from a larger agreement with Ragnarok Industries.
As you can see, there’s no provision to sign these. The Spaceflight NDA is getting long in the tooth. The Ragnarok NDA is an attachment. It is not the entire agreement.
The Ragnarok agreement covers the purchase of attitude control and determination system (ACDS). There is an open source ACDS with flight heritage that has been suggested several times to AMSAT-NA engineering leadership. It was flown by Libre Space on UPSat.
My position was and is that AMSAT-NA should work with Libre Space to continue the progress Libre Space has demonstrated with UPSat ACDS. This should be done instead of forcing engineering and leadership to sign NDAs for secret work with Ragnarok. Is there flight heritage? What are the test results? Is it a learning opportunity for members and volunteers? No, it’s not. It’s just secret work with a company that no one can talk about.
The obvious counter-argument is that ACDS isn’t a core competency for AMSAT-NA and we should “just buy it”. In other words, AMSAT-NA should only work on communications subsystems. Well, if that was truly the case, then why isn’t AMSAT-NA engineering laser-focused on communications subsystems? And publishing results? And educating members? And participating in the vibrant open source satellite scene? The culture of being mired in NDAs is not a good match for amateur radio, at all.
This is a critical juncture for AMSAT-NA. I believe AMSAT-NA should choose open source and adopt working open source systems, especially those with flight heritage, for its projects. Those projects should be default open source in order to take advantage of the diverse, vibrant, and growing international community, and to fulfill our educational obligations. Unlike other things AMSAT-NA does, this isn’t rocket science. It’s common sense.
So the question from last week remains. Why are new board members still denied access to normal business communications? Because we were given and have not signed these agreements? They’ve already been signed between the corporations. All we need is to be informed of them.
It’s clear from the content of the agreements that the confidential information involved is not supposed to be co-mingled with normal business communications. If we’re being denied access to the archives of normal business communications, and if the NDAs are cited as that reason, then it appears to be that the confidential information has been discussed on the board of directors email list. This is not the best business practice and needs to be changed.

Information Technology Progress

Work continues! We are focusing on member database upgrades and digital distribution of the AMSAT-NA Journal. Substantial progress has been made here.
I recruited a small team of volunteers that could advise and produce the work that we assumed needed to be done. When I brought this up to the board, a senior officer said it was already being done, that people were on it, and a proposal had already been brought to the board.
I asked who was working on it. I asked to see the proposal. Joining forces and bringing active and interested volunteers to the effort is an obvious win. Any work that’s already been done to evaluate, describe, plan, prototype, and address the things brought up to me during the campaign was more than welcome.
I haven’t seen the proposal yet. I don’t have any names yet. I look forward to finding out. We continued work in the meantime.
What do we know? What do we have?
We know we have a mechanism for putting the identification of the purchaser on a digital document sold by AMSAT-NA. We do this already for digital Symposium Proceedings. We know that a custom PHP script exists and is used by AMSAT-UK that does this same function for their digital products, most notably the AMSAT-UK Journal. We have a contact for this and will ask if they will share it.
We know we have a python script that converts the current DBASE style database to a working and useful .csv file that we know works with modern IT and printing companies.
We know we want to get the Journal and other publications into the hands of more people with less expense.
Joe Fitzgerald, who is a systems administrator for AMSAT-NA, has graciously provided feedback, expertise. He is supportive of setting up a test server for development of these upgrades. We are making a lot of progress here and owe him a big thanks. I’m optimistic that we can have test results by Symposium 2019 if we keep it up.
The hard part isn’t the technical part. The hard part is getting a grip on what “should be” members only and what “should be” freely accessible. I’m strongly in favor of opening up all the publications. The greater good is substantially increased relevance and public communications, along with increased academic indexing and regulatory compliance with the open source carve-outs in ITAR and EAR.
I would love to hear from you! Your feedback is vital. Please write me at
More soon!
-Michelle W5NYV