Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Portable computing (the second notebook) and the FBI raid

The second notebook I owned was a Mac PowerBook Duo 230. I got it used in 1995, a year past its introduction. To save space, it didn't have a built in floppy drive. It had an external drive, which I needed to do back ups while on the road.

I needed a newer notebook because we were traveling a lot for one of my children who was playing soccer, and I was on deadline for a book. Although it was better than my first one, it still kind of sucked because we were doing page layout along with the writing. Small keyboard, small screen, slow performance. You get the picture.

PowerBook Duo 230

The FBI Raid

Toward the end of that year, I was consulting with Avant! (yes, that is an exclamation mark), putting up a corporate Web presence for them. We were winding down the day when the FBI (windbreakers with the big three yellow letters on the back) and the Santa Clara County Sheriffs came streaming through the hallways. As they swept us up, one of the women went to get her purse. Nope. Leave it. Did we know where the tape back ups were? Say what?

The entire company was pulled into a single meeting room where we were going to be questioned one at a time. I learned there about the trade secrets dispute between Cadence Design Systems and Avant!. (A Forbes article has a rundown of the whole thing, though it incorrectly placed the raid in Fremont, instead of Santa Clara.)

I was settling in for a long session because there were a bunch of us. But the CEO, bless his heart, asked them to put me at the front of the line because I was just a consultant who didn't know anything about this.

The whole thing looked like what I guess a drug bust might look like. The person interrogating me had a sheet with questions that she dutifully read. The main question was whether I knew anything about the source code. This was my first "isn't that interesting" (ITI) moment for the event. Rattling around in my head was that none of these people knew what source code was. I repressed my tendency to make a smart comment (which almost got me in trouble on the Canadian border once) and went with the program.

Which led to the second moment: how any of this is connected to the pictured PowerBook Duo 230. After I was released from the meeting room, I went to pick up this same PowerBook. I was directed to an office where an officer had it open (and sitting precariously on the edge of a desk). Again, we went through the source code questions. Even behaving myself, he wasn't releasing the thing. The scary thing is that there was nothing to prevent them from seizing it and keeping it as part of the raid. When did I do my last back up?

I was bummed, so I decided to whine as only a net citizen could in 1995: by sending email to a bunch of my friends (darn I wish I knew where that email was now). I'd worked at Cadence previously for seven years, so that was my main audience. I got responses right away with the expected "Wow". What I didn't expect was my third moment: a phone call within about two hours of the email from San Jose Mercury News technology writer, Dean Takahasi, for an interview. This kind of thing at the time was unheard of. It's not like Google existed, or even AltaVista. I had to ask, how did he find me and get my number? He said, "You know, it's the Internet."

Later, I was able to work with the Avant! folks to get my Duo back (obviously, it's in the photo). The law enforcement person I picked it up from was one of the first of the more tech inclined people in that line. He seemed to chuckle at the notion of me running around with a dev environment on my wimpy little machine. (I kept his card and turns out he was what he appeared to be.)

My last moments were around my propaganda campaign against Cadence. The Avant!-Cadence dispute was being portrayed as a David and Goliath thing, and a bunch of the reporting favored Avant!. (Does that punctuation look strange?) Earlier that year, the San Jose Mercury News had launched its Web site. The weird thing was that it wasn't posting many of its news stories. They were instead pushing businesses to place ads on their site. I'd been in contact with someone there, so I pitched--and they went for--the idea of posting the Avant! pieces, and we'd link to them from the Avant! site. This could have possibly been the first instance of this happening since, at the time, I don't think there were any other newspapers with a Web site.

I'd since wondered about the ethics of my work with Avant!. As history played out, they really did steal trade secrets. So, I was working for the wrong side of the law. Although I can do a "How was I to know?", and I was doing the right thing by my client, I'll admit that I didn't think about it much.

Joe Costello was the CEO at Cadence while I was there and through this whole episode with Avant!. He's a really good guy and great leader. No bad feelings given that I worked for him two more times since at think3 design and BravoBrava! (darn exclamation mark again).


I was interested in learning more about these Google ads, so I added this section on the left with AdSense. I'm curious about what types of ads appear based on my content. Out of the gate, I'm getting home remodeling related ads. Maybe it's keying off the word "design"?

© Arthur Ignacio Consulting 2009

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