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17958 Hughes, David Ralph 
 Public Interest
August 23, 2000

To: John H. Cushman, '44  Lieutenant General 
From:  Dr. Gordon Cook, Editor and Publisher, The COOK Report on Internet
Subject:  Nomination of David R. Hughes as Distinguished Graduate, USMA

I understand that the Annapolis chapter of the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy has nominated David R. Hughes, USMA 1950, for recognition by the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy as a Distinguished Graduate.  With this letter I endorse the nomination in the strongest possible terms.

Leadership, inspiration, vision -- the ability always to see any glass as half full rather than half empty-- as he spoke with an eloquence that could ennoble the most prosaic situations attracted me to Dave Hughes when I met him on the Electronic Information Exchange System (EIES) in 1980.  This was a period in my own life when, with a PhD in Russian history and weighed down with cynicism about my own country's betrayal of its values in Vietnam and Watergate, I found myself largely unemployable.  I was trained to teach history and nothing else and the job market was glutted with history PhD's.

In August of 1981 when Hughes came east to visit Washington, EIES at NJIT in Newark, NJ and take his youngest son to his freshman year in college.  I arranged to drive to NJIT and show him around, meeting him in person for the first time. I came under the influence of his ability to take the primitive computers of the time and, like the Pied Piper, weave a metaphorical spell of how they could empower me and give meaning to my own future that I had been so far unable to find.  What Murray Turoff had written about in his 1978 book Network Nation, Hughes was actually making happen.  For the next 15 years via use of the technology he became my long distance mentor.  And for the past five years, after I introduced him to the people at the National Science Foundation who funded him, he has continued to be an inspiration to me as a dear friend.

Hughes has an innate ability and gut level instinct to size up people and situations in which he finds himself. What happens next is usually a discussion that leads to the definition of a task, the outcome of which takes full advantage of the synergies between that person's skills and the goal which Hughes wishes to pursue. Both people usually wind up in win-win situations.  Speaking as someone with no military experience this must be one of the fundamental elements of leadership. Another is the vision to see possibilities years ahead of everyone else.  As his wife Patsy said to me once, "When something gets hot, Dave has usually explored it depth five years before that.".  His exploration of these personal computer and telecom technologies was for me a beacon as I became a technical writer in 1984.  It continued as I became a supercomputer science editor in 1987 and in 1990 joined the US Congress Office of Technology Assessment in an effort designed to assess the policy impact of Al Gore's plan for a National Research and Education Network.

I worked in Washington at the OTA on behalf of the Gore effort from September 1990 to March of 1992. I was in over my head and to keep my bearings called Dave two and three times a week late at night for one and two hour sessions relating what was happening.  He helped me hone my own instinct for the public interest when he suggested that we should take the actions of the sponsors of the high performance computing bill seriously when they changed the title from National Research Network to National Research and Education Network.  One of my jobs was to hold an open hearing on who should have access to the Network.  Dave had already been using usenet to teach chaos math to high school students in Wyoming as an offshoot of Big Sky Telegraph. He urged me to test the conviction of the politicians by including significant K-12 representation in the meeting.  I did.  The meeting included  supercomputer center based scientists with no interest in K-12, the MIT physicist who taught Hughes' chaos math course, Hughes himself, and two teachers from the Montgomery Blair Science Magnet High School in suburban Maryland that was connected to the Internet even then.  Although at the time I didn't realize it, the occasion (December 11, 1990) was historic.  As I was told a year later by an official at the Department of Education it marked the first appearance of K-12 use of the Internet at the national policy table. Less than a decade later the results are evident across the nation.

At the end of my DC tour of duty in February 1992, I didn't know where I would next find work.  Supercomputer Center technical writers were not in demand.  Dave Hughes, it tuned out, knew my own abilities better than I did.  He saw that after 18 months in inside the beltway boot camp at government expense I had a knowledge set that no one else who was not personally involved in the politics of the emerging internet had.  I liked to desktop publish, had just bought my own computer and printer, could work of my own front porch, could use local access to the internet to gather information and could use the internet to distribute the same information.  My overhead and cost of entry was almost nonexistent.  "You are going to publish a newsletter on the development and growth of this revolutionary means of communication called the Internet" he said.  "But I don't know how to do it," I protested.  "Just take it one day at a time and put one foot in front of the other. Just do it," he concluded.  I did do it and nine years later I am looking back on the best decade of my life. I have done it with my own hard work but without a shove from Dave Hughes I'd never have gotten started. See: 

             http://cookreport.com for the results.

Just as it takes captains of industry to make the world work, it also takes public interest mavericks. Dave saw wireless as the next technology horizon and in late 93 he began to press me to do research wireless for my newsletter.  In July of 1994 I came out with a 25,000 word special report on wireless as an on ramp to the Internet.  Dave took what he learned from that and used the knowledge to nudge field trials with Tetherless Access into place.  In December I paid him a visit as he hooked up a high school in the remote San Luis Valley of Colorado to the Internet.

Dave wanted the NSF to fund K-12 field trials of using wireless as a means of access to the Internet.  He had gone to the part of the Foundation designed to provide support for improving K-12 education a rational, but in this case, wrong decision. These people did not take him seriously.  Meanwhile my own investigations were taking me into the Foundations Division of Networking Research and Communications Infrastructure.  There less than a month after returning from Dave's San Luis Valley exploit I got to know Don Mitchell, ex Marine Corps and an out-of-the-box thinker par excellence.  You may imagine my reaction when during the first few days of January 1995 Mitchell told me that one of his strongest desires was to bring K-12 to the Internet by means of wireless. I relied that I had just returned from a visit with the one person who could do what he wanted.  I introduced the two men and within about 100 days Dave was funded by Mitchell for his first NSF project.  It was only a matter of introducing one maverick to the other.

In the meantime six years earlier in the spring of 1989 I had visited Big Sky Telegraph and his home in Colorado Springs.  There he told me for the first time of his West Point experience and military career. Never having had exposure to the military beyond the two dimensional experience of a John Wayne movie, it made a profound impression on me.  I was profoundly disillusioned by a military that seemed to have chosen the wrong side on which to fight in Vietnam.  In Roger's Bar and at Hughes dinning room table I began to see that instead of an irrational evil, the military in general and West Point in particular was responsible in many ways for the very characteristics about Hughes which I admired.  West Point wasn't there just to break things and kill people.  It was there to instill in its graduates the ability to lead their countrymen and to do so always within the context of an innate understanding of how what they were doing furthered the values and beliefs on which our nation is founded. Hughes seems always to have been guided by what is in the public interest and not by what will get him a bigger house and fancier car.

And to these ends I hope those of you who can, will focus on beginning immediately to build a virtual West Point. There are more of us than you may imagine who are thirsting for inspiration.  The technology involved in this effort can also be used to creatively reach out to those of you who are retired so that can have the opportunity to share your wisdom in mentoring our younger people.  You should also be called on to help local communities cope with the inevitable future stresses they will have to undergo as our technology pushes ahead driven by those in search only of profit and material benefits.  You must be called on to make certain that our children are never deprived of the benefit of what you have learned and that they have the leadership to confront the choices that the technology will thrust upon them.

We are living in the aftermath of two decades of pursuit of self-interest and damn everything else.  The cynicism and apathy of the American public toward its political and military leadership is seen by most as the only unwelcome by product of our recent unprecedented prosperity.  Yet no one seems able to draw the connection between the collapse of deeply shared values and the dearth of any interest on the part of our would-be leaders in what used to be posed as the "public interest." We fail to see that societal cynicism and apathy toward our political institutions is the inevitable consequence.

Hughes' example of being able to focus on and illuminate the public interest and the dedication of his life to those public values make it imperative, that he - a maverick, given the tenor of our times - be recognized with the distinguished graduate award. Traditionally you honor captains of industry, pilots of state, and seers of science, and I suppose you should. Yet at this moment you must also demonstrate your own leadership by understanding, how singular, how rare, how special is the character of David Ralph Hughes.  The qualities that he possesses and not material goods and self-interest are the ones needed to fuel the future of our country.  You must show the cadet corps and those to come after him that you understand this by making the award and breaking the mold.  These are the qualities that are worth dying for and worth a giving a life time of military service for. We go forward rudderless because material success is so plentiful and public values so scarce.  You owe it to us all to show by your honoring Dave Hughes that public values are still worthy of pursuit.

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