To: Lt Gen John
H. Cushman, (Ret),
Point Society of Annapolis
From: Frank Odasz,
Lone Eagle Consulting,
I understand that
the West Point Society of Annapolis will nominate David Hughes for the
US Military Academy's Distinguished Graduate Award for 2001. I'd
like to support this nomination with the following. First, here's
a short biography of me-
Resume and Biography
for Frank Odasz, President of Lone Eagle
Consulting - http://lone-eagles.com/articles/frank.htm
Frank Odasz has been
a carpenter, oil-field roughneck, dude-ranch manager, college professor,
and is now a "Lone Eagle" - an independent instructional entrepreneur.
As an assistant professor of computer science at Western Montana College
of the University of Montana, in partnership with Colonel Dave Hughes,
he founded the Big Sky Telegraph network (1988-1998), one of the first
online systems to offer online courses, and to the connecting up the 114
one-room schools of Montana, along with the communities surrounding
Dave Hughes mentored
me from 1984-1998 throughout the genesis and maturation of the Big Sky
Telegraph project. I'd like to offer my thoughts on his distinctive contribution
to America, and the world, in support of his nomination.
The Big Sky Telegraph,
1988-1999, was one of the first rural networks to offer online courses
in the world and was cited for excellence, and providing a model for the
future by four congressional reports and the 1992 White House NII (National
Information Infrastructure) report. Its growth became inseparable from
the online life of the small communities from whence it sprang. It insured
that they would not remain on the other side of the 'digital divide.' It
has become part of the history, legend, and literature about Community
Networking and has inspired and informed many other networking efforts,
from Alaska to Texas. While the technology has changed many times, the
vision behind the Big Sky Telegraph has yet to be fully realized, even
with today's technology. Its model still needs to be disseminated
widely. Perhaps West Point recognition of Dave Hughes contribution to it
will help its spread. It is still a valid vision, being centered more on
communicating the values and purposes of being connected, while preserving
the unique and valuable characteristics of American communities,
than just the technical methods used to connect them up.
support of myself and the idea of creating a model rural network is a story
unto itself. He taught me that the level of trust between two persons,
and the level of support that can be shared online, is bandwidth independent.
That online we speak through our fingers and hear through our eyes, and
there are many subtle advantages to this new medium which has never existed
before, and of which even today we dimly understand the inherent true potential
for human communications; a shared hologram of human imagination.
Dave's greatest contribution, in my opinion, was, and continues to be,
his intellectual rigor that exemplifies the best of West Point values.
At the age of 49, he taught himself computers and telecommunications to
become an internationally renowned expert. For many years, Dave and I had
one or more phone conversations per week lasting often well over an hour.
We'd explore the implications for citizens of new technologies for education
and community building. His genius is to be able to think well beyond the
best thinkers of the day and to articulate the future. And then go out
and implement that future. We'd battle back and forth trying to 'one-up'
on the other's thinking, forging the path forward, combining caring and
connectivity with common sense. I can remember times we'd be bellowing
point upon point, back and forth, to the consternation of those around
us, pushing ever forward on the electronic frontier. All this at a time
when corporations, government, universities, school districts, and philanthropic
foundations were notably weak in their ability to envision the social benefits
of online digital communications.
It is Dave's intellectual
rigor that West Point recruits should be challenged to emulate, as this
is the modern equivalent of 'war readiness.' The modern day, with
its knowledge economy and transnational connectivity, presents us with
a war against ignorance, to be fought with understanding, good teaching,
and modeling the global/local citizenship that will create a future of
which we can all be proud.
I view Dave's contribution
to West Point as modeling the soldier of the future:
- Proactive citizenship as good soldiering
- Teaching and mentoring as good soldiering
- Aggressive learning, thinking and development of intellectual rigor.
Dave has, I understand,
proposed a breathtaking-scale 'Virtual West Point' Project. Consider that
our military strength and readiness will increasingly be measured by our
ability to create new applications of knowledge and connectivity in a world
of accelerating change, new dangers, in an increasingly complex world.
There is an intellectual rigor required to create the future, instead of
just waiting for it to happen. If West Point is to remain a leader and
protector of the values it was built upon, it cannot afford to relinquish
its leadership position. A Virtual West Point can educate the entire American
public on the importance of West Point, and the values it represents and
perpetuates. And it can attract the best and the brightest to attend its
demanding four years, and serve the nation thereafter.
In the mid-eighties,
Dave shared with me an online discussion on electronic democracy. Several
times when the FCC was considering rulings that threatened to harm grassroots
citizens, Dave put in practice the democratic potential he saw as inherent
in the Internet. His email "Call to Action" messages resulted in over 160,000
email messages to the FCC within 24 hours on one occasion alone. It was
not unusual for him to receive a personal phone call "OK, Dave, call off
the dogs, you win!" This level of advocacy on behalf of grassroots Americans
represents the highest level of moral fortitude and dedication to 'public
Dave Hughes has been
called 'the Ben Franklin of the Information Age,' and I'd agree he's of
that stature without a doubt. But, history is still being made and Dave's
still with us and is none too shy with his continued offering of his ideas
on what we can do, today, to use technology and telecommunications to make
the world a better place. And his continued willingness to lead by example.
My experience compels me to petition you to listen carefully to his ideas
as the future is upon us. And like good Army scouts who rode out across
the unsettled Western frontier where I live and have been raised, Dave
Hughes will always be out ahead, pointing the way. He has delivered
his wisdom to me as much while we were on horseback high above the Shoshone
River in Wyoming, as over voice phones or through modems. Typical of him,
he seriously wants to install a screen on his Western saddle horn, computer
in the saddle bags, and a wireless link to the world from atop a horse.
For he understands the profound value of being alone on a peak for
clarifying his mind and pondering the future, while keeping his life
and work in perspective, while remaining connected to all other inhabitants
of this globe. It would be symbolic. But it also is Dave.
A final recommendation
is for West Point to chronicle this man's wisdom in both book and virtual
formats. Below is only a sampling of the stories he has been a part of.
In a time where we find too few real leaders, we have among us the treasure
of a great teacher and leader.
Big Sky Telegraph
and Big-Hearted Mentoring
By Frank Odasz,
In 1984, from a ranch
house near Walden, Colorado, I called Dave Hughes to ask about his online
"Little Red Electronic choolhouse," which began a mentoring relationship
lasting a full ten years. Dave Hughes, a retired army colonel who "self-taught"
himself computers and the Internet at age 49, was a well known advocate
for grassroots communications, empowerment and electronic democracy; he
was also known as the
I was caretaking
a ranch, with a new Masters Degree in Instructional Technology, teaching
evening extension classes on "Computers in Agriculture."
Through voice phone
calls and vigorous online exchange, including a formal online College Credit
course from Dave himself, delivered through the nation's first public
access network ' The Source' - I eventually learned to create and teach
online courses for teachers through the Big Sky Telegraph network (1988-1998),
which Dave technically designed, built, upgraded, and maintained for several
years. My own mentoring of teachers in rural Montana schools was patterned
after the determined "Bull Colonel" mentorship I'd received. If "my" teachers
needed help, there would be the determination to do whatever needed to
be done. Dave's fatherly mentorship was similar to my role as a big brother,
in a non-Orwellian sense, of course. When a family member needs help, there's
no question but to make damn sure they get it! Dave's generosity with his
time and ideas has been an incredible model for me to attempt to emulate.
In 1989, Dave Hughes
and I held a workshop where we showed Native American youth from five Montana
reservations how to create computer art graphics for online display. This
preceded the WWW. We were challenged by visions of cultural art as "share-art,"
(Dave's idea) similar to shareware, as a culturally supportive economic
activity. Right idea, but this was back when the technology was young.
Also, in 1989, half-a-dozen
remote Montanan and Wyoming rural schools had high school students being
courses in the Math and Physics of Chaos by Dr. George Johnston from
the Plasma Fusion Center of MIT, through Big Sky Telegraph in Montana,
with Dave Hughes providing technical links through his systems in Colorado,
and offering his ever-present advice to all. Text-only, at 1200 baud,
with $18/hour long distance phone tolls via Apple IIes, but it worked
wonderfully! Proving once and for all that the best teachers in the world
can teach the best students in the world no matter where they are in geographical
relationship to each other. And a good example of quality mentoring being
Innovate to Create a National Example
Over the ten years
of directing the Big Sky Telegraph network, which offered free self-directed
lessons on how to get online to learn and communicate with others, I had
the opportunity to encourage many, many people. What I learned was we all
can accomplish incredible feats, with a little encouragement from others.
Many of the rural teachers thought everyone was getting online, and did
their best to access and share resources.
Over 700 lessonplans
were collected from these rural teachers through a project with the Columbia
Education Center involving teachers in 19 states, and Finland. These lesson
plans became the first lesson plan collection to go on the Internet, sponsored
by the U.S. Dept. of Education. Little did these teachers know, their innovation
would be touted for excellence by the White House, four congressional reports
and many books and articles. They eventually inspired hundreds of similar
networking initiatives. These pioneering teachers earned an embroidered
Big Sky Telegraph patch upon completing their online lessons, and many
went on to teach the online courses to others. And Dave Hughes earned a
custom made Stained Glass Window from me, for his seminal contribution
to these bold initiatives years before. Few know how much influence Dave
has had on the evolution of online communities and education.
For ten years, I
learned as I attempted to mentor "my" rural teachers who took my 1 college
credit online course. What would be the greatest value I could provide
them, through online resources, and my own messages, to justify the great
cost to them in time and money? All the while regularly conferring with
Dave Hughes for advice and technology updates.
Here are a few Hughesian
Trust as the Foundation
I learned from Dave
and the Big Sky Telegraph teachers that effusive warmth and loyalty can
easily be shared online, regardless of having never met in person. Not
everyone responds to the opportunity for friendship in the same way, in
an online situation. While some easily opened up with trust and their honest
feelings, others were more guarded or reserved. I found that in time, most
everyone warms up once they recognize sincere interest.
Content vs Emotive
content is provided in a self-directed format, and a student needs someone
to motivate and monitor the instruction, this role does not necessarily
have to be performed by an expert in the content area. An online mentor's
role is primarily to encourage, motivate, and monitor the student's learning,
and can be performed adequately by a peer or someone without previous expertise
in the content area.
Migrant Technology Projects
There is no upward
limitation of the degree of benefit a student can receive from a mentor
who has Internet access and information retrieval skills. For example,
mentors for the MECHA project's migrant students, who use grant-provided
WebTV's costing $99, can potentially provide the student's entire family
with assistance identifying available medical and social services programs,
psychological counseling and much more.
(Five Migrant Technology
Projects; see http://lone-eagles.com/migrant.htm)
We're All Kindergartners
in the Information Age
Research into just
what online mentoring is, and can become, is a rapidly evolving area of
interest, upon which the future of effective distance learning depends.
Building learning communities around the theme of ongoing lifelong learning
requires an approach more familial and social than the traditional disciplinarian
approach. Since the WWW is so new, we're all kindergartners in the information
age, and learn best through hands-on direct experience, with others, youth
The Good and the
Bad; a Mentoring Story
Jose Jr. came online
the Big Sky Telegraph system via Internet from the San Diego Public Library
terminals in about 1994. I learned he was nine years old, and lived with
30 "sisters" at a "girls home" in Mexico. He and his father would drive
across the border seven days a week to collect damaged cans of food from
the supermarkets. Jose's dad would drop him at the library where he'd get
online. I was excited about how bright he was, and that potentially, I
might teach him Hughesian skills that would help him and his "family."
At the same time
another youth, Kevin Pain, came online offering anyone interested information
on "hacking." I politely explained our system was mainly teachers, with
some students, and he became offended and over the coming weeks proceeded
to break into our password files and send obscene messages under the names
of others. We deleted them as fast as they appeared, which was not a problem
since our volume of users was small.
We traced his access
and found he, too, was using the San Diego Public Library terminals. We
called the library, who solved the solution by shutting down their public
access. They solved the Kevin Pain problem, and I lost Jose Jr. in the
process. I remember the previous Christmas, Jose Jr. sent a message that
an anonymous gift of 15 turkey's had arrived just before Christmas, very
possibly from Dave's sharing of Jose's messages, inspiring a kind heart
I remember Dave Hughes
describing 10 year-old Victor, a low-income Hispanic child living in a
home without a phone, somewhere in Colorado, from which he uses a laptop
and wireless technology provided by one of Dave's innovative projects to
do his homework reaching his school, and the Internet from home, without
incurring telephone company costs. Dave told me about the Eskimo village
of Toksook, where another of his 'pupils' in Alaska connected up homes
via wireless because the cost of getting wired was prohibitive. Then there
was his Ute Reservation project. And on and on. Stories continue
In 1991, Dave and
I held a small "Telecom Trappers Rendezvous" in recognition that just as
the day of the fur trappers of the last century lasted only 20 years or
so, our day of being among the first to pioneer with telecommunications
was ending, as the settlers were already on the horizon. In a mountain
meadow, less than 30 persons from both coasts and points in-between, gathered
for a ceremony led by Dave, honoring this moment in history, and drawing
its lesson which should be taken into the next phase of online life by
the many. He spoke of the responsibility that comes with the power the
Internet brings to each of us and the wisdom, integrity and character necessary
to use it well. His presence of mind, and of history, is incredible. I
think I'll remember him most for creating this memorable event, that influenced
the lives and thought of those who attended. They went forth after that
event like disciples, ready to spread the Wisdom of the Information Age
as revealed by Dave Hughes, who draws on all that West Point instilled
in him, that life in war and peace has tempered the steel in him, and which
universal lessons he has unflaggingly carried forth out across our
I hope everyone finds
a mentor like Dave Hughes. Human bandwidth without limitation!