Saturday, June 02, 2007

My Life as an Inventor

I always carry a notebook and have filled up more than I recollect... Ideas and invention has always been a fascination for me.

My work in I.T./Communications - Systems and programming - have always been an outlet for my creativity.

1972-1979

Study at Uni of NSW (Computing Science and some Chemical Engineering), 2 years as Analytical Chemist plus 2 years in mainframe Operations at CSR, 2 years full-time study plus clerical and Computing work.

One of the defining events for me at Uni was being taught "Operating Systems" by John Lions. I was on the second ever Unix kernel course, the first with The Book: the Lions Commentary.  As a matter of passing usefulness, we had to learn 'C' in ~4 weeks.

1979-1984

Worked in I.T./Computer in Communications and National Security.
Demonstrated good design and troubleshooting skills.
Worked on projects, real-time systems maintenance, database development and high-performance/high-availability systems.
Ran the International  email service for O.T.C.

1986
At Softway, with Greg Rose, one of the principals, I put the following 4 ideas to the board:
  • RAID - we were a Unix systems and kernel house and could write drivers.
  • Multi-protocol Routers as an extension to the CSIRO micro-node we were programming
  • Multi-function printer/fax/copier
  • Digital photocopier/printer
The ideas were turned down without comment. 3 out of 4 went on to become major products.
A good hit-rate.

I'd taken it on myself to go off and find contracts to keep the company afloat - around $100k/yr. Enough to pay $30k salary and at least one of the directors. This initiative didn't help my stock there.

In 1988, I got to know Ken Thompson reasonably well when he visited Sydney University and taught for a year.

1989
I'd worked too hard, become 'burnt out' left Softway and moved 'to the country', the South Coast of NSW.

I approached the Telecom Product Development Fund with a proposal to build a single TCP/IP based network, using commodity Intel hardware running Unix, to switch all their 'Text Services" [Telex, Teletex, Fax, email, file transfer].

I'd worked for 7 years on exchanges at O.T.C. and knew a bunch about Telco services and digital networking and messaging. This was before Telecom/Telstra had an email service.

I'd run the O.T.C. commercial  e-mail offering, "Minerva", as well as multiple in-house Unix systems using Sendmail, ACSnet/MHSnet and even some uucp.

My proposal included a store-and-forward network and 3 possible variants of fax machines - that would use DNS-style human readable addresses, not just phone numbers.

For ordinary fax machines, this meant having a human-readable cover-sheet - eliminating wrong numbers.

Telstra's comments were:
  • We don't know what you're proposing. It's not one thing.
  • We don't have any one person who can evaluate this.
  • Nobody else in the world is doing this.
  • Your cost estimates are too low. [commodity hardware vs. 'telco' pricing]
  • Your cost/benefit estimates are wrong. [no help on what would be right]
  • From the chief of Text Services in Melbourne on consolidating all text switching:
    "Why would we want to do that?"
That was the year that AARNET brought the Internet to Australia.

1992
I built the first widely available, complete, Australian daily weather database while at CSIRO.
Created a browsable index, redefined the file structure, performed full-coverage testing on the dodgy code I'd inherited - and got the product released at the annual ABARE 'Outlook' conference admist much fanfare.

1994
Designed a VPN for linux. Implemented by David B Deaves.
Worked between Canberra and Perth offices over public Internet.

1995/6
Filed, had examined and granted my 'netserver' petty patent.
A domestic router, firewall and internet connection. Also allowed USB devices to be connected.
The petty patent lasted 5 years and was only for Australia.
Unable to find a VC interested in pursuing this.

1999
For Federal Govt. "Business Entry Point" administered the initial ABN registrations.
Forecast peak demand to within 5% and designed the first web 'busy tone' to handle (massively) excessive loads.
Final peak load was 25-times the design load, with consistent 5 second response times.

2001
Filed an international PCT application for a Power Change-over device [allows servers or a rack of equipment to be switched to another power outlet without disruption.]
Examined and granted in Australia.

2005/6
A new take on Internet Security - probably provable secure.
Introduces a replacement for VPN's:  Virtual Air Gapped Networks and Controlled Secure Links.
By adding other elements it is suitable for Military/Government grade security as well as normal commercial operations and domestic/e-commerce use.
Global market for VPN and related devices is currently estimated around US$25Bn.
Replacing and upgrading VPN technology would probably create a market 10-20 times larger.

Patent application filed in Australia on 27-September-2006.
Refiled in 2007, now lapsed.