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Jeffrey Siegel

Innovation & the future of NMEA 2000...{the personal drama edition}

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{The entry below was written by Jeff Siegel and is published in full and unedited to make a point I'll elaborate on in a comment that follows. If you're interested in the NMEA 2000 vs innovators issue that Jeff brought up, I've separated that discussion into a blog entry called The N2K WiFi gateway issue, is NMEA stifling innovation?. This thread, unfortunately, is going to be about the way Jeff conducts arguments. If you're not ready for a somewhat personal and perhaps unsavory discussion, please hit your Back button now.  ~Ben}

I have been quite concerned with reports about cease and desist orders given to innovative small companies like Chetco by NMEA and other aggressive acts I've heard about. Having access to only one side of the story from Chetco I decided to pay a visit to the NMEA booth at the 2012 Miami Boat Show a few days ago. There I was met, unknown to me, by the director of NMEA. He hardly allowed me to make the few points I was hoping to make. Instead, he clearly wasn't listening, was extremely aggressive, and never allowed me to make my main point about how to find ways to promote innovation within NMEA's community. At one point he said that Chetco's behavior was "immoral". Immoral? By trying to meet unfilled uses of NMEA 2000 through a certified gateway? Are you kidding me?

The conversation ended with me asking him to please give my card to the director of NMEA because I really wanted to have a calm and meaningful conversation. I showed extreme surprise when this aggressive, poor listener, and incredibly arrogant member of NMEA told me that he, in fact, was the director (he's actually the interim director). He then proceeded to curse me out in public calling me an asshole so others around could clearly hear his rant.

I feel bad for the future of NMEA if this is how they treat people looking to find the truth and trying to provide other insights to them. I've spent my entire career on the innovation side of the technology world. I know how hard it is to start with an idea and an empty basement and create a product with value from absolutely nothing. NMEA is going in the wrong direction if they don't respect that and look for ways to work with that type of innovative entrepreneur.

Bruce, I very well may be an asshole. My competitors certainly think I am. But whatever I am, I know that you surely aren't the right person to be in an executive position in any professional organization. I can guarantee you that this won't end here.

3 Replies

  • Dear Jeff,

    As you know, I "unpublished" your Forum entry almost two weeks ago and have sat on it since. Yes, I was busy with other things, but this thing is a real conundrum that I struggled with multiple times and I still don't know if I'm doing the right thing by publishing it. And I emphatically reserve the right to delete this whole thread if it seems counterproductive.

    In fact, I believe it would have been OK to delete your entry in the first place. Personal attacks are no more appropriate on Panbo than they are on your ActiveCaptain. But then again both you and Bruce Angus are known figures in the marine electronics industry and, perhaps more important, I believe that Bruce intends to apply for the permanent NMEA Director position that will follow his Interim term. So if you're blasting this attack on his character around the Internet, it could actually affect his work life, and that's a major reason why I think it deserves airing here.

    Plus there's this: Bruce's description of what happened when you two met in Miami is almost the exact opposite of yours. While you say that he was "aggressive, a poor listener, and incredibly arrogant" he says nearly the same of you. While you claim that he publically cursed you, he says nearly the same about you. Yike!

    And then there's this: Having known both you and Bruce for about ten years -- and being a reporter-type person who's tried to hone his skills at observation and BS detection -- I'm about 99.9% sure that Bruce's version of what went down is the truth. Now, please Jeff, I beg you to listen carefully to how I came to that conclusion:

    * For starters, you literally predicted your angry confrontation with Bruce right here on Panbo. Two days prior, in an entry that had nothing to do with NMEA, you tacked this onto an otherwise valuable and relevant comment:

    I''ll add that devices like Chetco and DMK are very important gateways and we're using both. As a side note, I'm personally upset with NMEA's pressure of Chetco and plan on personally protesting to the poor attendant at their booth at the Miami Boat Show. What they're doing is terrible and will hurt the innovative uses of N2K. Everyone interested in seeing devices able to communicate over N2K with interesting things that the larger manufacturers won't support early should make similar protests to NMEA IMHO.

    Nearly immediately I responded with this advice, which you apparently ignored:

    Jeff, it would be wise to learn what happened with Chetco before deciding who to blame. NMEA's demands are quite reasonable, I think. You will find NMEA director in Miami I'm pretty sure. If you need to discuss further on Panbo, please take it to Chetco thread.

    * Then there's the fact that you really picked the wrong guy to slag. Bruce Angus is known throughout the marine electronics industry as a reasonable, even-tempered guy. He's a Canadian, for cripes sake!  Why do you suppose that the NMEA board of directors chose Bruce as Interim Director? Why did head people at Northstar, Navionics, and Johnson Outdoors all chose Bruce for long-term upper management positions? Because they all failed to see character flaws that you identified in a few minutes, Jeff?  Really?

    * But as compelling as those arguments may be, the main reason I believe Bruce about what happened in Miami is that you have earned a pervasive reputation for exactly the behavior that Bruce describes (see next comment). I used to defend your argumentative nature as "constructive" or "just a quirk"...but eventually I realized that you were going way over the top. I'm not going to detail names and incidents, but I will say that I don't know anyone in the marine electronics business who has offended so many individuals. I know you'd like to think of those people as your competitors, but that too is imaginary. You have virtually no competitors. ActiveCaptain is a sensational "product" (your term, as it seems more like a wonderful service to me) that is respected by most everyone I know in the business. The general line I hear boils down to "I love ActiveCaptain but what's the matter with Jeff?"

    Aside from Bruce's reputation, what I described in that last paragraph is a real problem, though it certainly is difficult to talk about. Jeff, it's hard not to think that you see all of us as either good friends or wicked enemies, with virtually no in-between. And I fear that right now you're coming up with some reprehensible motive that will explain why I would speak to you like this. There isn't one. I am a huge supporter of what you've done for boaters -- I think that's undeniable -- and I'm very sad to address you in this fashion. I'm even sadder that in Miami -- where you should have rightfully felt ecstatic about the integration of ActiveCaptain with the new Garmin app -- you instead fell into a rage against NMEA. Honest to God, I am virtually on one knee here, begging you to step back, examine your behavior toward Bruce and many others, and mend your ways.

    ** Note to readers: I'm not sure that commenting on this thread is appropriate for anyone except Jeff, Bruce, and myself. I definitely won't permit anonymous comments on such a personal subject. But if you have first hand information about this particular confrontation, or about how Jeff or Bruce act in similar situations, that may be appropriate. I'm walking on egg shells here...hoping for an omelet...

  • {I sent Jeff's Forum entry above to Bruce Angus and asked for his comments, which are published in full below. It also happens that I had run into Bruce in Miami shortly after he and Jeff had met, and his description of what happened closely corresponds to the recollection below.   ~ Ben}


    I think that Jeff Siegel's account of our conversation is driven from an emotional reaction to me not capitulating to his rather strident demands for free and unencumbered access to NMEA 2000® standards by developers such as himself. I informed him that the standards are copyrighted in the name of the association and the fees are necessary to:

       - pay royalties for third part IP that is incorporated within NMEA 2000®

       - pay for the creation, publication and maintenance of standards for all developers and manufacturers

       - establish and maintain compliance with US and international standards bodies

       - certify products to ensure complete compliance and non-interference with other devices on the NMEA 2000® network

       - ensure utmost veracity and reliability of data with resulting improved safety to end-users

       - funding of NMEA standards has been a crucial factor for growth of the marine electronics industry and advancing product performance, reliability and choices offered to boating consumers internationally


    Contrary to his characterization, he was the aggressive actor, impatient and dismissive towards my answers to his questions, rarely letting me finish a sentence. He accused NMEA of stealing CanBus technology and when I informed him that the association in fact pays royalties to the CanBus consortium, he changed the subject. I was not acting in the way characterized by Jeff, but it is a pretty accurate description of how he acted towards me.

    A few other points:
    - I did not curse him out in public. That is not my style and in any case it was a private conversation. When Jeff asked me to give his card to the 'director', I informed him that I was the director and he looked up exasperated, muttering "oh ..expletive.. !" and in light of his aggressive manner up to this point, I said "I will take your reaction as an insult, therefore this conversation is over". He then cursed at me as he stormed off.

    - I did not accuse Chetco of being immoral. I said that it was illegal for any company to use copyrighted IP without a license and that it was immoral for companies who have made no contribution to NMEA standards, yet make a living from them, to not pay for NMEA IP or even be members of NMEA. My reference to him about Chetco was congratulatory because following a discussion with them on the issues, Chetco has renewed their NMEA membership for 2012 (they joined in 2010 but did not renew in 2011) and they have purchased the full set of NMEA 2000® documents and license to use. Chetco's products are not yet certified, but they are on the right path.

    - For software developers, NMEA wants to protect the NMEA 2000® network and can only do that if we have visibility of third party software products. Third party software APPS that are used with a certified NMEA 2000® gateway, are required to go through the NMEA certification process as outlined in Appendix H of the standard and the accompanying test document created and approved by the NMEA 2000® Standards Committee.

    - NMEA encourages software developers by charging only $150 for the relevant Appendix H of the standard and only $99 for the test document (member's rate). The testing for APPS is done by an honor system so long as the product passes using an NMEA 2000® certified gateway and the results are forwarded to NMEA. A telephone call to NMEA would have cleared up misconceptions that Jeff has.

    - Software developers have a simple and inexpensive path to licensing and certifying NMEA 2000® software-only products.

    - NMEA has no record of Jeff's company being a member of NMEA nor contributing to NMEA standards. We have no record of him or his company purchasing NMEA 2000® , no record of him purchasing the NMEA 0183 standard documents (note: NMEA 0183 is not copyrighted but you need the book to develop communications protocol) . Use of information contained in these standards is essential to make his product communicate with external navigation devices. Personal enrichment from the efforts of many (100s of contributors) is not defensible.

    - Jeff doesn't feel that I am an appropriate executive for NMEA, so I invite him to become a paid NMEA member and register to attend our convention in Orlando in September and debate me publicly about how the NMEA's interests are best served for the 620 member organizations which represent approximately 8,000 professionals in the marine electronics industry internationally. I also invite him to purchase the NMEA standards that he builds into his own products and re-sells for profit.

    Bruce Angus
    Interim Executive Director
    National Marine Electronics Association

  • I've decided to shut down comments on this thread, just in case something ugly comes in, and I also took down a comment from Capt. Chuck (though I didn't think it was at all mean spirited). It appears that Jeff doesn't want to add to what he originally wrote, but of course he's welcome to at any time, as is Bruce. They and anyone else can contact me about this by email.

    I have received a fair amount of feedback about this entry, most of it encouraging my efforts here to expose the truth of a difficult situation. I appreciate that, but will consider all feedback.