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Where in the World is Michael Barr?

Friday, November 9th, 2012 by Michael Barr

Dear reader, it has been over six months since my last blog post. My apologies for being absent without leave from this blog and from my Firmware Update e-newsletter. I have never been as busy, professionally, as over the past 14 months.

I recognize I have been quiet for too long for many of you and note that several readers have written to ask if I am okay or what is keeping me so busy. I am thankful for your concern and also for your patience. I hope this will be the first of several blog posts I will write in coming weeks and that I will resume a normal pace in coming months. I have quite a backlog of ideas.

In addition to launching the new company, Barr Group, and bringing on CEO Andrew Girson earlier this year here’s a quick summary of just some of what’s been keeping me so busy:

  • Toyota Unintended Acceleration. You may be aware of the NHTSA investigation and associated NASA Report on software. About a year ago, I was retained by plaintiffs in the consolidated personal injury and economic loss claims against Toyota in U.S. District Court (note: I am not involved in any of the state court cases). I am honored to have had the chance to review Toyota’s engine control source code with the assistance of a very talented team of Barr Group and other engineers. We were able to push the source code analysis deeper than NASA and also across many more vehicle years and models
  • Smartphone vs Apple (and LG). I have also been working as an expert witness in the smartphone wars. In this matter, Barr Group’s client, Smartphone, is the holder of a number of patents originally awarded to now-defunct Palm as it first added cellular phone capabilities to its popular handheld PDA products. My team has been working the infringement side of this patent dispute, which has required me to review Apple’s iOS source code as well as LG’s Android source code.
  • Madden Football. Another client is the original author of the popular Madden football games for Apple II, Commodore 64, and IBM PC. He is suing the game’s publisher (a little company called Electronic Arts) for breach of contract and past royalties. In a nutshell, the issue is whether the move of the early PC game’s code to consoles like Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo was cleanroom or a port. Reviewing so much assembly code for decades old 8- and 16-bit CPUs has reminded me how wonderful it is to program even in the “relatively low-level high-level language” of C.
  • Printers and Set-Top Boxes. Lest the above give you the impression I only work with plaintiffs, in this time I have also been helping: Samsung defend against allegations that it misused a former partner’s software in its printers; Motorola Mobility (now Google) defend against allegations that its cable TV set-top boxes infringe a pair of Microsoft patents; and a Canadian satellite TV company defend against allegations that it allowed its service to be pirated to the detriment of a rival cable TV company’s business.

Fun stuff!

While I never expected or planned to work with so many lawyers when I majored in electrical engineering and practiced embedded software, I do very much enjoy working as an expert witness. For one thing, I enjoy the required range of having to understand the technical issues as well as find ways to explain them to less technical audiences, including judges and juries. For another, reading so much source code written by others and doing related forms of reverse engineering has continued to inform my view on best practices in embedded software process and architecture. As these and other cases wind down in coming months and years, I expect to be able to share some of these lessons with you in this blog and in my other work as a consultant and trainer.

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3 Responses to “Where in the World is Michael Barr?”

  1. Pat Stakem says:

    Please wash your hands thoroughly after working with the lawyers.
    And, count your fingers.

  2. Rhys Drummond says:

    Michael you’re one of a privileged few to have access to the source code of drivetrain / engine control systems. That would be very interesting indeed. Well done.

    I hope at some stage a ‘real’ reason for the unintended acceleration is found. Until then it’s very hard to trust that it won’t happen again.

  3. Ram says:

    Welcome back :). Access to source code of drivetrain/engine control systems is indeed an honor. I’m not sure how much insight you could share on this blog but please do what you can.

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