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17958 Hughes, David Ralph 
 On Line in One of the World's Toughest Rooms
Mary Eisenhart
Past Editor, Microtimes Magazine

To: The Association of Graduates, United States Military Academy

Distinguished West Pointers:

As a computer journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area, with hippie leanings, politics somewhere between liberal and nonexistent, and other qualities somewhat outside of traditional military culture, I've been asked to attest to the effectiveness with which Dave Hughes bridges the communication gap between your world and mine. I do so with great enthusiasm.

The first time I crossed virtual paths with Dave Hughes, he was onscreen as part of a documentary film called "Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution." This retired military dude in a cowboy hat was standing there in the freezing wind talking about this thing called a computer bulletin board that he ran in Colorado Springs, where people could discuss various topics of interest undeterred by a host of limitations, from time and space to age, appearance and social status. According to Hughes, there had arisen on the board a ferocious debate on some political issue du jour, the factions represented by two remarkably well-matched opponents, who matched each other fact for fact, point for point-and who, when the group met face-to-face,  proved to be a retired Air Force colonel and a 12-year-old girl.

I was just starting my computer journalism career at the time, and I needed no clearer explanation of what all this technology was good for. If it was good for getting people with different viewpoints and ways of life to understand each other on their own merits, I was hooked.

That was 15 years ago. In the interim I've been fortunate in getting to know Dave and his family, and to have had occasion to write about his various exploits in MicroTimes, a magazine I edited for 14 years. When his son Ed, in China during the days of Tienanmen Square, emailed reports of local goings-on to his dad, I printed them. Whenever I had the opportunity to write about Dave's doings, from Colorado's San Luis Valley to Mongolia, I've done so, and regularly included Dave in our annual list of people doing good, important things in the industry.

During that time, I've had considerable occasion to see the respect in which people in all walks of life hold Dave Hughes. I happened to be there when he was visiting a small rural town in Colorado, which was to be the site of one of his wireless-Internet pilot projects. The town was traditional, proud, and fairly impoverished, and one of the things that swayed local opinion in his favor was that one of the city fathers recalled his Army days, serving at Fort Carson under Col. Hughes, and if Col. Hughes was behind this project, it had his support.

Dave's achievements and integrity are also widely respected in the online world, where since long before my time he's been a lively participant in discussions. Most particularly, on the pioneer conferencing system The Well, I've had occasion to see Dave holding forth on subjects from wireless connectivity to the fine points of military strategy. As you'd expect from an online system loosely connected to various Whole Earth enterprises and currently owned by Salon.com in San Francisco, the voice of military tradition is seldom heard in those parts.

Over the years, Dave has ably and eloquently represented the military point of view in online discussion of historic and present-day issues and conflicts, from Korea to Bosnia, in one of the online world's toughest rooms. It's always difficult to tell whether anyone actually changed their mind because of positions stated by Dave or anyone else, and the online world is full of people who have cultivated heckling and personal abuse to a rare art form. I can attest, however, that many who would be inclined to take a knee-jerk anti-military position on various issues are instead moved by the depth of Dave's experience and achievements to consider his position, to see things from a different perspective and respect it.

Beyond the heat of the moment, Dave's postings remain as a permanent archive, so generations from now new readers will come to contemplate these historic doings and issues in a new context, and still be able to benefit from the perspectives of those who were there. Improved communications may not be quite the panacea I thought they were 15 years ago, but they do make it more difficult to demonize people you've never had anything to do with.

In closing, I'd like to say that while I've admittedly met relatively few West Point alumni in the course of living in a distinctly non-military culture, I have the sense that the Academy seeks to instill in its graduates a strong ethic of service. It is in this regard that Dave Hughes particularly excels. The other West Pointers I've encountered over the years have tended to be industry tycoons, nice fellows who created and drove a lot of business, contributed to the Silicon Valley economy, and in the process did pretty well for themselves also. Dave's efforts aren't nearly so lucrative, but arguably much more effective where it counts: in a myriad of ways, he helps people find ways to work, prosper, collaborate and build better lives through technology.

I hope you see fit to recognize Dave Hughes for his catalytic spirit, indomitable integrity and numerous achievements. He's a credit to all his constituencies, and I'm proud to know him.

Mary Eisenhart
Past Editor, Microtimes Magazine
3239 Kempton Avenue #11
Oakland, CA 94611