Ages 27-35, Consultant in Washington, D.C.
There are various reasons I quit my fulltime job and became a consultant:
It was definitely NOT for the money, and actually I struggled very hard financially at times, but I never considered giving up and going back to fulltime work. It was just a matter of what kinds of consulting work I was willing and able to do.
My initial goal was to be a communications consultant, bringing together the best minds in the world by email, forums, and collaborative projects, where at the time less than 1% of leaders had email or internet back then in 1987.
Before I quit my fulltime job, I had gotten involved in amateur networks, both as a hobby and to apply the best software to my own uses, as well as potentially commercial uses. I always had an eye for practical applications, user friendliness, reliability and supportability.
However, this was 1987, and most high level people could hardly use a PC. They used secretaries, and relied on the telephone and faxes. In the early years, I came out making a lot more money just building PCs and selling them, helping people learn how to use them, and setting up local area networks for practical things. I wasted a lot of time trying to get people to use modem communications instead of telling their secretary to retype something they received by fax or mailing diskettes... when in the end they persisted in the latter, too busy to learn how to use a PC, and the attitude that computers are just advanced typing and editing machines for secretaries...
About computer hardware, I started by just taking apart my own PC and putting it together a few times, upgrading it, and helping friends and associates, not even thinking about making money in computer hardware supply or service. However, I quickly saw the demand, and the need for better service. I realized my shortage of experience, so I went and worked for a couple of months almost as a volunteer (minimum wage, parttime) at a place which built and especially did troubleshooting of computers. After I'd gone up the steep part of the learning curve and was leveling out in learning, I quit and went back to my home shop.
My business was mostly by personal referrals. I never had to advertise in the mass media. I was always getting calls from associates of associates, and friends of friends. It wasn't a lot of money, and in fact it was barely enough at first, but as my customer base expanded, my business became secure.
I was able to choose my customers to some extent, and preferred:
I had a lot of great experiences in my consulting at the time. Just thinking about them all, I'm afraid that I'd take up too much space here, so I will give a very abridged version below.
At nearly the outset, I also had some very bizarre events happen after I had resigned my fulltime job. It seems that some people paranoid in the defense network were worried about me for some reason, for their own reasons, not so much for my benefit. This is a long story and I'd rather not go into it, except to say that I really had no political agenda as regards my old work, and in my mind had moved on and left it behind me. At that time, I wanted nothing more to do with Star Wars work, full stop. Likewise about these events, as I could understand their interests and concerns somewhat, but most of all I just wanted to move on to positively productive things, and away from the military industrial complex/gravytrain/welfare state. When I finally came face to face with some of these people, I made a few more good contacts, too, and even made a little bit of new private business setting up some home computers, showing them the technologies in a user friendly way, and getting them up and running. All that eventually ended and I moved on clearly. Now, more than 20 years later, to my relief, practically all my special technical knowledge is very much obsolete due to the advance of technology over 20+ years, and the political issues are a bit over the hill, so I'm just generally among the ranks of those who understand the general technical and political issues quite well, though disinterested.
I actually had customers all over the political spectrum. I didn't agree with the politics of many of my customers, but I'm a very tolerant and flexible person who enjoys getting to understand different viewpoints and kinds of people.
One of my early customers was on the opposite side of the political spectrum as my defense department space job. It was a non-profit organization called ISCOS, Institute for Security and Cooperation in Outer Space, which was opposed to some of the programs I had worked for, and promoted peaceful space ventures with the Soviet Union. The head of ISCOS was the pretty and charming Dr. Carol Rosin, who I had seen on CNN debating a leading military advisor to Ronald Reagan and the leading proponent of SDI, General Daniel O. Graham, and Dr. Rosin was successful in getting a lot of media attention. ISCOS was very active on Capitol Hill.
I had first encountered and gotten to know them socially about a year earlier (1986) while still working for the Pentagon. While I disagreed with some of their positions as naive and a bit to the left, on the other hand they had a lot of good points and statements, some good writers worthy of respect, and lots of contacts on Capitol Hill. I welcomed the opportunity to do not only paid work for them in their communications network (despite a rumor that they might be discreetly funded partly by the Soviet Union, which worried me but I had no indication from staff that there was any basis in that rumor and indeed was told they did not) but also to try to promote PERMANENT along their lines and many channels. ISCOS had various donors (and stuff like membership/newsletter subscribers), but also had some funding from Hollywood, long story, and Carol spent a lot of time out in Hollywood.
Funny, one day I went to ISCOS and there was one of the stars of the TV series Hill Street Blues, the top cop. In quiet discussion with the staff, I was told that he is Carol's fiancee! They appeared to be cohabitating. This went on over time, including about a planned wedding out in Hollywood. I didn't pry (and I wasn't invited), and actually I don't know whether or not any wedding or other event ever occurred. (This was apparently the man answering Carol's phone in California when I called.)
The Soviet Union was at the peak of its space achievements, in retrospect, at that time, 1987. They had just launched the big Mir space station earlier that year, and in previous years had developed remarkable space station capabilities with their multiple Salyut stations with modular docking capabilities, while the US had no space station since the old Skylab which had been abandoned long ago and burned up in the atmosphere in 1979. The Soviets had committed to a long term manned space program with permanent space station habitation, quite in contrast to the US program at the time, and of course nobody knew the Soviet Union would collapse in just a few more years.
Together with a mutual friend of Carol's, we introduced and promoted to ISCOS the involvement of ex-NASA-astronaut Dr. Brian O'Leary, a distinguished government advisor, leading researcher, and engaging personality who had a long history of promoting utilization of asteroidal and lunar materials, and had just completed a book promoting US-Russian cooperation for a mission to Mar's asteroial moon Phobos to establish a base and utilize resources there, and then on to Mars. While I didn't promote Mars (no business there, unlike Earth orbit), and I actually didn't know Brian personally, beyond some brief postal mail correspondence several years earlier in which he sent me a stack of his papers, nonetheless I could see the match. Brian was also a Californian with movie star looks and personality, and had an impressive professional CV which included work in political panels on Capitol Hill. Given the current Soviet space program, it seemed a good match.
There were some things which made me uncomfortable about associating too closely with ISCOS as a paid consultant. Carol was at times a bit emotional and I thought irrational at times, such about her viewpoints on the Soviet Union, which I found awfully naive. I also found out that she also had some sort of history with Dr. Timothy O'Leary (a different O'Leary, who promoted psychoactive drug use, something I'm completely opposed to). It made me uncomfortable in association, though many others of high stature had no such qualms associating with Carol, including Congressmen and of course her top associates. Also, I had high regard for all her staff at ISCOS, who also didn't share these extreme viewpoints, and Carol had an impressive past as a previous defense contractor executive and protege of Wernher Von Braun.
If you require perfection in people and institutions, then you will not associate with any.
Almost nobody was interested in my previous work in space defense, thank goodness, and I certainly wasn't interested in it, either. People mix between the communities often. My focus was only on promoting PERMANENT concepts.
Dr. Brian O'Leary had been one of the leading proponents of asteroidal and lunar resources utilization, having worked fulltime with SSI before and performed a lot of work as NASA contractor and government advisor. That's mainly why I targeted him.
Carol met Brian and they hit it off like magic. Before long, Brian was not only on the Board of Directors of ISCOS, but in line for Chairman of the Board!
For his book launching party at ISCOS, his proposal for a joint US-USSR mission to the asteroid Phobos, I helped put together a long list of invitations (assisted by another pretty female who knew a guy high up in NASA Public Affairs...), and Brian called me with warm words of encouragement. The book warming party at the sizeable ISCOS office was a smashing success packed full, albeit with a leftist style, but immediately after that I found myself marginalized and my job terminated with a cold shoulder from the top, though some staff apparently had their reservations. It seemed like the whole official focus had switched to Brian O'Leary's book and promoting a US-USSR governmental joint manned mission to Mars' asteroidal moon Phobos with the Soviets.
I promoted purely private sector, nongovernmental development of space in Earth orbit utilizing resources of the Moon and asteroids near Earth. Brian was now promoting a governmental joint venture with the Soviets, and it seemed like he excluded everything else to keep that focus. Or was I a capitalist pig? I don't know.
The Russians launched two probes to Phobos shortly afterwards in 1988, but both failed. One died en route, and the other died on site after snapping a few photos and dropping two landers. That was pretty much the end of the Phobos stuff. Extremely unfortunate and disappointing.
A few months after the Dr. Brian O'Leary changes, it seemed things changed, as I got a call with a completely different attitude from some of the staff, wanting me to prepare a PERMANENT proposal for inclusion in their presentations to potential sponsors. It seemed something had happened. What, I don't know. (Of course, nothing ever happened about a joint US-Soviet mission to Mars' moons.)
However, by that time, I was getting very busy and focussed on my business. I even stopped attending professional conferences on space, instead just ordering the paper copy with the proceedings of papers. I sent my standard presentation to ISCOS for inclusion into their marketing efforts, and stopped in to visit occasionally, but I didn't think they would go far. I didn't think anyone would get far with the governments. It had to be private sector.
On his personal website at www.brianoleary.com, in the CV link, you can see that Brian's brilliant career on space work suddenly drops off after his 1987-88 "Chairman, Board of Directors, Institute for Security and Cooperation in Space". This is especially evident at the bottom of that CV page where he lists his prodigious creation of original papers. He now lives in Ecuador, where it appears he moved sometime after the year 2000. He does raise a lot of very important sociopolitical questions in his political activism.
... it reminds me of another Hollywoodesque experience a few years later:
One of the customers who came knocking at my door at my Reston condo, based on a referral, turned out to be the retired and now the late Col. Fletcher Prouty, who had worked directly for the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as CIA liaison and Briefing Officer... and he wanted me to help him with his word processing and communications, as he was writing part of the script for an upcoming Oliver Stone movie, JFK (whereby as a result some months later, there was "Mr. X" at the end of the movie who is Prouty himself, played by Donald Sutherland).
I found that the hard way Oliver Stone didn't seem to believe in modems or computer communications networks at the time, only faxing and retyping scripts, and I didn't make much headway trying to upgrade their technology in this instance, though I also felt like keeping all that at arm's length. It also seemed that Stone wasn't interested in some alternative viewpoints on the JFK conspiracy, whereby a few comments could have prevented some criticisms of the movie by vetting and changing the script a little bit. How power breeds self-righteousness. Someone called him Oliver "Stoned". No way would I suggest PERMANENT or any movie theme to Oliver Stone.
During this period, I independently did a lot of research into the JFK assassination, sorting out serious researchers from nuts, and facts from speculation. Conspiracy cases attract a lot of nuts, and since the mass media often followed the more sensational stories without properly vetting them, this can easily overwhelm the more scientific and objective researchers' findings and analyses. It appeared clear enough to me that there was a conspiracy of some size, with particular people clearly linked, and the most likely reason it was covered up is because if the dots had been connected in the official report, then some powerful entities would have fallen dramatically in American politics. JFK was loved. Oswald had to be made the "lone assassin" and in turn killed immediately by somebody who didn't know much themself.
Oswald said "I am just a patsy." As previously a defector to the Soviet Union, he would make a good patsy. I would not rule out whether or not Oswald fatally shot JFK, as that is possible. It was certainly stupid for JFK to drive down the road in a slow moving convertible. I do think Oswald was involved in some way, unwittingly or knowingly. However, when you look at the body of evidence and the investigation, it is clear enough that there was a major coverup of a conspiracy.
Besides the JFK group, there were other writers being sent my way, too, Washington, D.C., insiders turned book writers, but most of whom were writing about other dark parts of history, such as the Vietnam War, the "October Surprise" during Reagan's 1980 election campaign, Iran-Contra, and other things. While interesting, this was getting a bit uncomfortable for me because it was not my mission in life to fight evil and corruption. That's a never ending job, and will continue as long as we are humans on Earth.
My mission is to make PERMANENT happen, and I could use all the help I could get. When you take political sides, you alienate some people.
However, it was very interesting to watch the mass media respond to these things back in the pre-internet time, and also to watch the government hearings at the time, while having exceptionally in depth knowledge myself.
In the end, though, elections come down to the economy and whether we can make voters better off financially in the next 4 years, for the most part. The rest of the show seems largely for entertainment along the way.
I really didn't want to get sucked in to politics, so I took it as entertainment as well. I can see where the human species is headed just by its nature. My mission is to do PERMANENT and stay low profile otherwise. I'm not going to save the world by dealing with human politics, and the risks of it hurting me are far greater than the potential for it to help me.
My own experiences with corruption, questionable politics, and so on have just been tossed into the back of my mind and mostly forgotten. I have a better and more realistic understanding of how the world works in general, and that stays in the forefront of my mind, but there is more to be lost than gained by going back into any of the details of the obsolete past.
However, I also had to run a for-profit business and make real money, instead of eagerly helping other.
It seemed the vast majority of business in the Washington DC region was somehow dependent on the government or politics in some way. It seemed like I must leave the Washington DC region if I was to get into a purely private sector environment and learn from entrepreneurs there.
There was an exports park where I had some contacts and a few customers. One of them had won an exports business leadership award, and had photos of then-Vice President Bush Sr. presenting it on-site at their big office. (They actually were very tight with money, behind in staff payments, yet ostentatious, and I believe went bankrupt a few years later.) Within their office was another incubating and separately incorporated project, run by two partners, one of whom had impressive poise and delivery. Among other things, he claimed to be a former deputy secretary of education who was recently smoked out of his government job after refusing to give a subordinate job to the friend of a famous politician who had donated a lot of money to the politician's campaign but had a previous conviction for massive embezzlement, according to his story. He was also late in paying, though he lived in a luxurious home in a prime neighborhood and didn't seem to be late in buying himself luxuries. He and his partner were new to the private sector. They got business to give seminars to Russians in the Soviet Union about how to run private enterprises (maybe by association with the nearly bankrupt parent company), and of course sent themselves there, despite utter lack of real world experience.
Eventually, they started to ship computers to important Russian enterprises. The project was interesting, but my own rock bottom prices were too high, so they ordered elsewhere. They wanted the absolute cheapest, regardless of how much they were getting paid for them. They ordered some which didn't work well at their office, but needed to ship them right away and their vendor wasn't timely. I took a look and saw two defective brand-model components (which many of us in computer hardware knew were being circulated in the region at esspecially low prices), the floppy drive (occasional read errors) and the video card. They said that they didn't care if the computers had serious problems, but they needed them to be able to turn on and boot up to the MS-DOS prompt upon receipt so that the receiver would sign off on them and they would be paid. Because of the floppy disk read errors, the hard disk needed to be loaded with an operating system using a different floppy disk (even if temporarily used for this), and the video card shouldn't put bad spots on the monitor, so no software except the operating system to get a command prompt, and it was suggested we do a clearscreen command upon bootup to the command prompt.
When they got their first major input of money, the two partners running the company fought over the money and split. The greed was incredible, between these two gentlemen who otherwise made respectable first impressions on others.
Another customer was particularly remarkable. He was deeply embedded into far right political circles, including the Christian radical right, but also a broad spectrum of Republican political action groups. His business was distributing their propaganda. His favorite word was "hypocrits", just a one-word phrase which he would just utter out of the blue while thinking about something else and glance at me and wink. For him, I figured it was actually just a business, and I was impressed with his acceptance of a wide range of political opinions without getting emotionally worked up himself. We had interesting conversations. However, the Republican groups he did business for paid their bills on time and in full without too much pressure for charity rates and payment schedules, so that's how his business developed. He would show me stuff they sent him to print whereby he would send it back and tell them to edit it because it wasn't printable due to its salient and questionable content. It seems that some of the drafting groups were so full of extremists agreeable with each other that they didn't realize the backlash they could cause with some things they wanted to distribute to the general public. I could relate to that from experience in other groups. However, instead of just doing his job and printing it, or printing it twice after later revisions and billing twice, he really considered what was in the best interests of everyone besides himself, and wasn't out to just profit at others' expense and absolve himself of all responsibility.
Sometimes, politics became violent, and in one case resulted in a friend of mine getting assassinated in Washington, D.C.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was involved in promoting the internet to bypass the traditional media. This was still at a time when only a small fraction of Americans had internet, much less people in other parts of the world, but it was spreading. I was one of the first promoters of using the internet to empower the people for the free flow of information, whereby "to have freedom of the press you didn't need to own one".
In the early 1990s, during a well known conflict in the disintegrating European totalitarian sphere, a young man in Washington DC contacted me. He was a techie who was playing with my software and liked it, especially my Quick Startup Kit (discussed below). He even volunteered to rewrite my installation program (INSTALL.EXE), which he did for free, and did an exceptionally good job, on time! It turns out that he was using modem communications to get raw news out of the various regions of his home country, bypassing the traditional news media, and then redistributing it, whereby a decentralized PC-based, user friendly Quick Startup Kit which fit on two floppy disks was a good solution for getting feeds from more contacts. We struck up a friendship and hung out awhile.
After a few months, one day I got an email from him saying that he sensed "trouble was afoot", that he was being followed and he thought it was best that I didn't get too close to him. He had recently been out talking to various news agencies and contacts. At the time, I thought it was very peculiar but I didn't take it seriously enough. Just two days later, we heard from his sister that they had been watching TV and he stepped outside for a moment and didn't return. She went out to look for him and found him face down dead. He was 27, normal in size, and had recently passed a rigorous physical for scuba diving lessons. There was various speculation as to what happened, but nothing in the way of first hand observation and fact, and I never heard of any autopsy. This happened in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C.
In today's world, where practically everybody of significance is connected to the internet, and repressive regimes find it futile to try to stem the free flow of information, we expect to see all kinds of revelations on the internet. However, back then, things were very different for us pioneers in internet broadcasting. There were not many internet sources so that it was much less difficult to isolate a relatively major source of news and information which somebody didn't want to be operating.
It had long been a hope of mine that the centralized news media would be transcended by decentralized citizen reporting over an internet, but at that time less than 1% of Americans ... and much less of the rest of the world ... used any sort of modem communications network. It was a major motivation for my promoting internet communications, though a longterm one and not the only reason. Also, I had to start small and work up, starting with business applications to sustain my business. I was scraping along financially by pursuing the promotion of modem communications and internet.
As time went on, more and more of my work was in modem communications networks for project management until it was nearly all my work, and my initial focus on computer hardware and basic office systems had nearly come to an end, though I continued providing those on the fly, mainly to assure I was dealing with quality equipment.
All the while, I continued to stay involved in increasingly fascinating amateur and cutting edge networks worldwide, where reporting, analysis and opinions were exchanged globally in many realms.
Internet itself, consisting of relatively unknown (at the time) user@domain email as well as "usenet" forums predominantly (as regards most business and personal applications), lagged way behind an amateur network called Fidonet which was much more user friendly and feature rich. I ran a gateway between the two networks for email and usenet, "internetworking" them. The same applied to most of the existing email communications networks -- they had their own internal proprietary system, and required a special gateway to the "internet".
Fidonet was my favorite due to its open standards and variety of software. After a while, I volunteered to move up as a hub to feed other BBSes, and later I served as a "backbone hub" to serve other hubs. I had multiple computers and phone lines, plus a leased line to UUNET for the internet gateway link and various pure internet applications (FTP, telnet, etc.). The "World Wide Web (WWW)" didn't exist yet, at the beginning of that time.
All this was run from my home, first a condo in Reston, Virginia, then the ground floor of a friend's townhouse in Washington, D.C., and then a house back in suburban Reston.
I had a most user friendly system, gave out a free "Quick Startup Kit", had lots of helpful text introducing people to the concepts of email and forums, what's available, modems, and how to get connected. I let anyone and everyone have a free account on my system for awhile. Some of them went on to be customers. Others who were just hedonistic consumers I just pushed over to people I had trained to run their own server, and they would charge each of the people a few dollars per month. I didn't have the time to hand hold hedonistic customers.
Technically, my system was one of the most automated and fault-tolerant by my own customizations. The server computers on the LAN communicated with each other so that if one failed, others could take up their tasks. My equipment was extremely reliable, but cutting edge software sometimes wasn't, so it included a software-driven relay switch to power down and power back up a computer if it just went unresponsive to periodic outside checks. It could be reset either automatically or by me logging in remotely. I sometimes left this system unattended for weeks at a time and never had a significant failure in service. I had arguably the most reliable service in town. This was good for not only my customers and business reputation, but more importantly to free time for human applications rather than getting bogged down in technical stuff.
Someday, I will add discussion of a lot of my interesting projects and what I learned from them, but I first want to move forward to the advent of the World Wide Web (WWW). All of the above was before the graphical World Wide Web existed, and in fact most people were still using MS-DOS computers, and something called "Windows" wasn't even heard of much at all. I'd also like to move forward to my travel overseas.
Exciting things were happening. The World Wide Web was emerging (a program called "Mosaic"). I was experimenting with an early version of something called Linux for an internet server. The first decently functioning version of MS Windows (version 3.1) was coming out which promised to provide a user friendly graphical interface required to make the web popular.
However, one day I had a bunch of messages on my answering machine from a lady named Maggie (I'd rather not state real names) who was somehow in my USAID referral network and she was increasingly distressed about having lost her ability to communicate with Thailand. I didn't know who she was, but I thought her needs were official, so I called her back. I also was well aware that Asia was far behind every other region of the world in terms of USAID electronic communications, the Asia Regional Office was in Bangkok, Thailand, and maybe there was some consulting work for me or my friends, though I already had more than enough work already. Also, I wanted to maintain good relations with USAID people since I got a lot of work from that sector.
It turns out Maggie had ignored every automatic notice that her month of free time on my BBS was expiring and she needed to switch to another system as per the instructions. She had never contacted me about anything at all by email, so she had never been given unlimited usage as a serious business user ... and she was a total neophyte at computers who couldn't even download and run my INSTALL.EXE for a free account.
I took note of her location and phone number and offered to send one of my friends or associates to go help her install the Quick Startup Kit for free access, or else stop by myself when I happened to be in the area soon. As it turns out, on that day I had an appointment with a Washington Post journalist in the evening, set for 8:30pm, for another neophyte installation of INSTALL.EXE and personalized service at an hourly rate, and it wasn't far from Maggie's apartment, which was pretty much on the way. I was already getting a late start. Almost as an afterthought, I quickly wrote down Maggie's phone number in my pocket notepad as I headed out the door, just in case ... though I thought I'd have no time left that night and didn't plan on calling her. I'd just send an email later to a friend or associate to go take care of her the next day, with that phone number. I had a few who helped me in USAID circles...
As it turns out, the Washington Post journalist didn't show up and the house remained empty. (This was before mobile phones were used.) Journalists are notoriously late sometimes, so after waiting awhile, I decided to go to a nearby phone booth and call Maggie. It was getting late, and I'd arrive at her apartment even later, but after talking she knew that I had no plans to come into town again in the forseeable future, I didn't know my friends' schedules for helping out, and she decided to wait up late for me to come help her since that guaranteed she would be back in contact with Thailand right away.
Well, to make a long story short, Maggie turned out to be a rather interesting lady. While nothing happened that night except installation of the software and some tutorial, plus some general discussions of things, we stayed in touch and later a romance developed.
She was an executive class person trying hard to get a job assignment in Thailand because she had previously worked there as a Peace Corps volunteer, and Bangkok was also the Asia Regional Office for the US government. She could speak, read and write the Thai language. She apparently had the job, but nothing was signed or formalized, and she felt insecure about it. When she went to talk with the big director about the job, she asked me if I'd come with her in the car, more or less to just discuss things and maybe coach her as best I could. I had some free time that day, so I went. I hadn't planned to actually go inside the office, but in the end we decided I would go up and sit in the lobby.
She went into the office of the director and they talked for awhile. As they were winding up things, the Director walked with Maggie to the door of her office, whereby I could be seen outside, and Maggie went ahead and mentioned that her boyfriend had come with her, and he had created the communications networks for two famous networks in USAID, FEWS and SAFIRE (both to a dozen difficult African countries for famine relief, FEWS for USAID and SAFIRE for the United Nations International Computing Center). The Director's eyes got big and boomed "I've been looking for someone like that! You're going, too!!"
The Director was serious -- wanted me to go to Bangkok, too. It also got a bit murky with Maggie, who was feeling insecure going alone and also wanted me to go with her.
All this is discussed on my Thailand Guru website, including my work on the FEWS and SAFIRE networks and other work at the time for ARPA / DARPA, what I gave up, and so on at www.ThailandGuru.com/journal-mp-thailand.html
Admittedly, I was burned out on Washington, D.C., and was intrigued at the possibility of going to Thailand with Maggie, especially since it wouldn't cost me anything for airfare, shipping some personal things, and accomodation there, which were all already paid-for.
To make a long story short, I decided to tie up my business, move stuff into storage, and go. This was a major life changing decision, and I'm not sure whether this was a colossally stupid mistake or a good thing in the end.
On the down side, I was leaving the USA just when internet was about to explode as a business, and I was a leading entity. (Find some old books on internet, back when you could list all the internet service providers (ISPs) in the appendix, and look up Washington, D.C., or northern Virginia, and you will see my old PermaNet.com or PermaNet.org systems as one of precious few private, public access internet portals. I lost both of those domains when I went to Thailand and lost contact. I could have been the next Yahoo, which wasn't even started until 1995. I already had an on-line portal in 1994.)
I remember having my last second thoughts the night before I left. Everything was already packed.
Maggie and I had dinner with my friend and customer, Dr. Tom Glenn (retired former Director of Quality for the National Security Agency, who had been running a consulting business in Total Quality Management which I ran the network for, until I turned it over to associates) and his wife. I just remember being almost dizzy with mental preoccupation about whether to go or not, even though I was past the point of no return, but I always thought I could turn around and come back. I had already turned Tom over to a friend of mine (Ben Hacker, and that's his real surname) to take care of, but I wasn't confident that my friend could actually take care of Tom's needs reliably, and I knew I would miss Tom's application. Tom was a positive and nice writer.
What kept me going was that I thought I would use available offshore programmers in Thailand to write custom, user friendly applications for internet on Windows, like I had successfully done in Europe and Russia. At the time, internet was difficult to set up on Windows, requiring a techie consultant. I could afford to hire programmers overseas, but not programmers in the Washington, D.C., region who were decent quality. Just talking with them, there was more demand for their services at high prices than they could serve. I would need thousands upon thousands of dollars of seed money in Washington, but I could do it for far less in Thailand, which statistically had a high number of university graduates in I.T. and the well known Asia Institute of Technology for regional students. I would try to apply what I learned from Dr. Glenn about Total Quality Management.
There is another school-of-hard-knocks lesson here:
For the previous year, I had been invited into the Board of Directors of a startup company. I don't want to say their real name, so let me call them XYZ. These people knew my key skills and abilities, and socially we got on very well. One of them had run a USAID project and given me a big job to improve their communications system, and he had an ability to get money for projects. I had my reservations about them due to their high spending habits and penchant for an ostentatious high life, but I thought maybe there was something I could learn from them, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and jumped in trustingly.
They hadn't won any significant business yet despite talking with a lot of potential customers of their own, and eventually I brought in the first major contract, with ARPA (the Advanced Research Projects Agency), a communications network as part of President Clinton's "defense conversion" program to convert defense industries into commercial enterprises (to save jobs). This was right after the end of the "Cold War" and collapse of the USSR and Eastern Bloc. The ARPA contract had been all mine as a consultant and it was growing fast, but instead of turning it over to my friends, I turned it over to XYZ based on trust.
The ARPA contract was a big contract for me, which could have supported me for years and been a foothold into more work.
I had been working on that ARPA contract by myself for quite a while before being invited into XYZ, but had held out on involving XYZ at the outset until I felt that I could trust them. A decision was pushed when I got the Thailand opportunity and needed to hand over the ARPA contract to someone.
Also, I had discussed with XYZ Directors a plan for me to go to universities in Thailand to hire programmers, and set up a XYZ office in Bangkok whereby I could manage these staff, for the custom programming projects XYZ was exploring with other potential customers. Two other Directors in XYZ stated enthusiasm for this. I had outsourced programming work before, and gotten good quality on time at a reduced cost. In Washington DC, the supply of I.T. people was insufficient for demand, resulting in delays, cost overruns due to high labor costs and overbilling, and nobody available when bugs needed to be fixed. America's internet was booming, but programmers were sitting on their hands elsewhere in the world.
I had also given my main computer -- the Linux internet server -- to XYZ.
I did this based on trust. I also thought they couldn't move forward nearly as well without me, because nobody truly had my expertise and experience in commercial internet. I discussed my plans to start the offshore labor import-export-by-modem business with them.
However, very soon after I arrived in Bangkok, they informed me that they had fired me from the company entirely, in a very short and terse message (and without any replies to my replies). Nothing hostile, just simply fired without explanation. I was shocked, though I had always felt they were capable of such greed and not trustworthy. I realized that by being fired at the start, I could not claim an equitable part of the ARPA income to XYZ, and all conversation and negotiations had been ended by my being fired. They basically took all the money and ran, never mind the future, take what they could get now. I never saw any money or work or anything more at all from the ARPA contract, but they had continued to employ the same programmer that I used, my friend N, and according to N, the work that I brought in was the only significant work they had for the next few years, albeit my contract was a lot of work and a lot of money, especially for N.
I was also surprised that they didn't consider that such bad treatment of me could have resulted in my emailing people about this whole story and disrupting the contract, especially the key guy at ARPA, Charles, who I knew very personally and who had always pulled for me. Charlie called all the shots in the project. What XYZ didn't know what that Charlie and I knew each other for quite some time. Charlie was a lot like me in that he experimented with new technology at home after work, and he was an avid user of my system for a long time before he contacted me and asked me to set up a similar system for a major new project of his. I had no idea he was a high level Director in ARPA all the time that I was helping him, and subsequently he was loyal and very helpful to me. XYZ had no idea. (Also, Charlie had lost a son in a traffic accident while serving in Africa as a foreign humanitarian assistance worker.)
Nothing significant had actually been signed with XYZ yet to the best of my knowledge, as this whole turnover was a quick process as I exited for Thailand. However, there was nothing to be gained with my emailing others except some sort of revenge, and I'm not a person who seeks revenge. I just roll with the punches, move on, and forget it. Besides, I wasn't going to work on the ARPA contract any longer, so it didn't matter. I knew the competition, which meant that only XYZ would use my superior technology which used open-source standards, guided by N, whereas Charlie's alternatives would create the usual expensive mess of a proprietary system. So for Charlie and N, I just let it go. I don't escalate mud fights just for revenge or ego gratification. Maybe they knew me well enough that they were pretty sure I wouldn't do anything to get them back, as I hadn't in similar circumstances before, and I'd pull for Charlie to use my system, and for N. I knew the sort of people they were (and never really trusted them much, but had continued by giving them the benefit of the doubt, obviously a big mistake), and I could only blame myself for not getting something solid signed in writing in advance, such as a few percent of gross revenues for the contract.
On their website's list of past customers now (they had no public website for several years after I left), several of those multiple customer references are from the same ARPA network I referred them to. I believe that my internet groundwork and ARPA contract helped launch XYZ, but I got no support in return. When some people have the power, they will take what they can get now, and not think much about the future. Never mind that they couldn't go forward nearly as well without me.
The end result was that prospects of my returning from Thailand to Washington, D.C., were greatly dimmed because I had just lost my main financial lifeline. If I returned, then I would be starting over almost from scratch again.
It was also a major learning experience for me in the School of Hard Knocks.
However, I also had enough of "business" in Washington, D.C., where I'd been thru the wringer a few times already, and eventually wanted to open a new horizon working for multinational businesses entirely disconnected from governments, purely private sector.
Half a world away, there was a world of wonder in Bangkok, and I could see no reason to dwell any further, other than to learn my lessons and take on the challenges of a new horizon.
I felt refreshed and happy to be exploring outside of Washington, D.C., and outside of America! Don't get me wrong, I love the Washington, D.C., region and most of what America stands for, but it's good to go outside of your own culture, especially while you are still young!
There were still some remnants of Washington DC in Bangkok, in the form of USAID and American NGO contractors in foreign assistance, but my goal had always been to eventually venture into the purely private sector of multinationals which had nothing to do with government contracting, if I could, and that exploration was beginning.
There were awesome amounts of money being spent in the Washington DC region, but no significant interest in something like PERMANENT, with no political base. I also thought it would be much better to have PERMANENT be a private sector venture, not a government program. I knew how government works, but I had a gut feeling that I needed experience way outside of Washington DC, preferably in the purely private sector, and multinational.
There are parts I left out of this article because I wrote about them already here: www.ThailandGuru.com/journal-mp-thailand.html
In retrospect, I see my biggest mistake in life being that I moved away from the US right when the internet was about to explode in business. I was a leader at that time, with a leading public system. The world wide web was just about to become out, bolstered by Windows 95. But in 1994, I was packing up and going out to travel the world.
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