The amazing adventures of Doug Hughes

I heard that someone going by the name of Doug Hughes landed a gyrocopter on the lawn of the capitol building in DC. Sorry, but I am not that Doug Hughes.

It’s been fun and amusing to receive calls of support for the other Doug Hughes. I’ve received half a dozen calls for him. Most have been people gushingly praising him. Some have offered legal and financial support. Others have asked for interviews. Perhaps I should have accepted the cash and given the interviews?

Anyhow, I do support the other Doug’s ideas. We need to get the influence of cash out of our government. Corporations are not people, cash is not free speech, etc, etc.

I recently got ahold of the other Doug’s email address. I’m going to see if he minds me forwarding on these messages, but for now it’s safe to assume that I’m not able to forward these messages.

Ye Olde GyrocopterI’ve Always Wanted a Gyrocopter!

I hear there may be one up for auction in DC soon.

Hmm…..

Recently Chris Christie and Rand Paul made some comments supportive of the anti-vaxxer “movement”. This is really gives me pause.

These two are also both in the climate change denial camp. I always assumed that climate change denying politicians only did so because they receive money from climate change denying businesses, and/or pandering to the climate change denial demographic.

You see, I honestly picture politicians as being quite smart and savvy. (I’m not sure whether this is cynical or optimistic of me.) They have to be smart to weasel their way into power. It takes a degree of brilliance to convince the masses that something which is economically bad for them is actually somehow good for them. You’ve got to be sharp to pander effectively to a constituency without actually doing anything for them. You’ve got to be intelligent to find every way to increase your, your friends’, and your corporate overlord’s power and wealth without inciting the population to rise up with pitchforks and torches.

In other words, I have a hard time believing that politicians are actually dumb. I figured they actually believe in climate change, they just have a strong incentive to deny it and legislate against it. I figured they knew it was dumb to disallow scientists from advising the EPA.

But this anti-vaxxer situation makes me wonder if these politicians legitimately don’t understand science. Where’s the political advantage? The anti-vaxxer community can’t be nearly large enough to risk pandering to. And where’s the financial advantage? It’s not like Big Pharma is going to advocate for making less money.

Perhaps that’s it. If more people get sick with preventable illnesses they’ll be able to sell more medications, thereby making more profit? (Perhaps I need to make a tinfoil hat?) This doesn’t pass the smell test.

They only option I am left with is that these two politicians at least actually are scientifically illiterate. They must legitimately not understand the scientific method, how it is used test theories, find evidence, and draw conclusions. You can’t scientifically say that there is no climate change because it gets cold in winter. The evidence doesn’t match the theory.

If these two jackasses are representative of any significant portion of politicians, then we are all well and truly fucked. I for one, will require a lot of pandering to convince me it’s somehow good for me.

I was on my way home today and switched on Marketplace on NPR. They were reporting on how Google and other tech companies are making efforts to diversify their work forces. From there, they branched off into a story of how the New York Symphony diversified their musicians.

It used to be that the symphonies were dominated by white males. To counteract this, the New York Symphony instituted (mostly) blind auditions. They went to great lengths to prevent the judges from seeing the auditioning musician, or being able to determine any other facts about them such as gender, height, weight, etc. This resulted in a 50% increase in the hiring of women!

So, if Google and others wish to (and should!) remove bias from their hiring practices, maybe they should find a way to prevent interviewers from seeing or even hearing candidates?

Consider this, large companies almost always have online forms that candidates fill out to apply for a job. These necessarily collect potentially telling information. For example, a name or email address can suggest a gender and ethnicity. The duration of past employment and schooling can suggest age. When you show up for an interview, whether on the phone or in person, more judgements can be, and are, made.

What if a hiring manager only received the bare bones information about a potential hire? Maybe they see an unsigned cover letter, a list of previous employers, previous responsibilities, areas of expertise, etc, but not length of employment. The hiring manager could exclusively communicate with the user via an anonymized email address generated for the user, or directly through the HR software being used. The phone would not be used. This would help avoid any hints from the user’s email address or voice.

Instead of a traditional interview, an online meeting could be established where there is either a third party relaying messages back and forth (like translation services for phone calls) or they communicate exclusively though instant messaging. Questions are asked, answers given, etc. Additionally, screen sharing and other collaboration tools could be used for things like coding tests, white boards, etc. Now the hiring manager can only judge the candidates based on their responses. With this more restricted type of communication, I think there’s a better chance that implicit bias could be removed from the process.

As I think about, all of the various tools exist, but perhaps not in one place. Perhaps this approach could even be facilitated by the major job boards and/or HR software? They could provide the tools I described in one integrated package, allowing hiring managers to be blind.

Would this be a perfect system? No. But, could this be a better system? Maybe. It might help lead to increased diversity, which has been shown to improve financial performance.

What do you think?

 

To paraphrase Monty Python:

It’s not pinin’! It’s passed on! This business is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet it’s maker! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If Doug hadn’t dragged it out so long, it’d be pushing up the daisies! It’s metabolic processes are now ‘istory! It’s off the twig! It’s kicked the bucket, it’s shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-COMPANY!!

As of the first of October, 2014 I have officially ceased operating as Alagad Inc. This has  been a long time in coming, but the time has arrived. At the ripe age of 18 Alagad has ended. Enter Doug Hughes LLC, stage right.

Running Alagad was a wild, amazing, horrifying, unforgettable, stressful, heartbreaking, astonishingly awesome experience. I founded Alagad in 1996, while still in high school. Initially it was supposed to be a graphic design company, but that didn’t take off. Around 1997 it started to gain traction as a web development company. Throughout college it fed me, kept me housed, and stocked me with plenty of beer.

In the years since I have had the pleasure of working with a diverse range of more than 80 companies and organizations around the world. (I think… part of me wonders if that number gets bigger every time I say it…) I have worked with dozens of employees and contractors. I have worked tirelessly with some very awesome teams.

But now I’m moving into a new phase of my life. I’ve stopped imagining that Alagad will someday be my ticket to retirement. I am now working with a single steady client, less than 40 hours a week. I’m not working on any side projects or a Next Big Thing. I’m idling and recuperating and I couldn’t be happier about it.

As I idle I’m working with new hobbies such as engineering a homemade CNC machine, 3D printing (eventually), wood working, reading, spending time with my kids, any anything else that strikes my fancy. I’ve even returned to college via Arizona State University Online to finish up a bachelor’s in Software Engineering.

I’m also on what I call a Unicorn Hunt. What is this Unicorn Hunt, you may ask? Well, I’m keeping my ears to the ground for an amazing opportunity as a traditional employee. This opportunity would allow me to learn and use new programming languages, techniques, frameworks, approaches, etc. I would be a junior to mid-level team member working under some amazingly brilliant people from whom I can learn new things. I would be working on a single project that I believe in and which is interesting and challenging. And I want to be paid like an executive (or at least what I am currently making) and be able to either work remotely or within 15 minutes of home. Oh, and I want my own pet unicorn too!

If you have an opportunity, checkout my resume!

Doug Hughes LLC is the new Alagad Inc. Eventually I’ll move good blog entries from alagad.com to doughughes.net. If you have my doug@doughughes.net email address in your contacts you may wish to update it to doug@doughughes.net. My phone number is still 651-252-4234.

So, for now I idle. Life goes on.

Back in 2009 my company, Alagad, had what I think of as The Big Layoff.  We went from about 13 employees and contractors down to three people in a matter of a fifteen minute phone call.  This wasn’t the first round of layoffs I’ve had to do, but it was the hardest.  I loved the people who worked with me.  I cared about them and their families and I felt as though I had personally failed them. Frankly, I did.  I’m sure that I could have done more to protect them, their jobs, and their families.  That said, they’ve all gone on to bigger and better things and I’m extremely happy for them.

In the year or so leading up to these layoffs I was constantly assaulted with panic attacks. My chest would seise, I’d get tunnel vision, my mind would shut down everything except worry.  White hot worry. I worried about the people who worked for me and the overwhelming responsibility I had to them.  I worried about paying my bills.  I worried about my family.  Through the support of my family, the remaining employees, and the miracle of modern pharmacology I somehow made it through that period.

Sometimes I wonder if I didn’t completely fry my nerves. I wonder this because I am again tearing Alagad down.  Three weeks ago we were faced with the very real fact that we would likely go out of business.  Both my personal and business accounts were overdrawn and we couldn’t make payroll.  Again.  We had to leave the PEO that provided our health benefits and payroll service.  The walls were coming down.

So I held a call with all four of us, three family members and one employee who may as well be family at this point.  We talked about shutting down and what that would mean.  Throughout this experience I felt calm.  Not happy, but calm, collected.  Worried too, but not like in 2009.  I sincerely felt as though I had done everything I could and that, if we failed, no one could blame me for not trying.

What’s interesting to me is that I don’t feel the same panic I did in 2009.  I don’t feel like a hole is being burrowed in my chest.  I can breath and sleep. I’m not entirely sure why.

I imagine that when death is imminent – when you are terminally ill – that a certain peace and calmness comes from that knowledge.  I imagine that you release your desperate grip on everything that holds you to the physical world. Nothing can harm you now.  There are no more consequences. You transcend fear.

That’s where I am. Nothing can hurt me now. And strangely, because of this, I am free.  I can do anything I want.  I can take tremendous risks without fear.  I am like the terminally ill patient who decides to live each day as if it were their last, because it might be.

Much to my surprise, out of that phone meeting was born an entirely new strategy we’re calling Alagad 2.0.  I’ve detailed it on an all-new Alagad.com website and will spare you the details here.  Suffice it to say it’s not the traditional way of running a software company.

I feel like the terminally ill patent who is given experimental treatment.  It might save their life, but might just kill them even faster.  There’s only one way to find out and I’m comfortable with this.

I can’t lie and say that I’m entirely at peace.  I still worry.  We don’t currently have health insurance and we depend on our prescriptions for our mental well being.  Many have criticized our new approach saying that we don’t understand the business.  But others have suggested it’s might actually be a good idea.

Maybe I’m just delaying the inevitable, but I’m ok with that. The picture that has emerged to me is that there is in fact life after death.  It’s a rebirth of some sort – a renaissance.  A new start. I look forward to it with an open and calm mind.

I’ve had a thought niggling at the back of my mind for a while now.  I feel like our current form of government in the US is badly broken.  I have an idea that, for lack of a better term, could be described as an alternative system of governance.  Perhaps this sounds crazy, and maybe it is, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to throw it out to the world and see what people thought about it.

This idea comes from my own personal perspective on the US government, how it functions, it’s shortcomings, and where it seems to get things right.  There’s a good chance that my opinion and perspective lays well outside of the mainstream.  I should also state for the record that I truly admire and respect how my country has led the world towards greater freedom and I think there’s room for improvement.

My thesis for this article is that representative democracy is failing US citizens.

How do I see representative government failing us?  Here are some of the ways I personally see the government failing us:

  • There is too much money in politics.  A few rich people can, with relative ease, swing an election in their favor and buy favors from politicians.
  • Representatives are not consistently well informed about the issues on which they are voting.
  • Lobbyists have undue and unproportional influence over politicians.
  • Representatives cannot fairly represent all of their constituants.  In particular, those who voted for the “other person” are under represented.
  • The political parties gain unfair advantages by gerrymandering and otherwise manipulating the system.
  • Two parties – or any number of political parties – can not effectively represent the full range of political opinions held by citizens.
  • We are stuck with a two-party political system with few realistic alternate parties to choose from.
  • The government does not trust its citizens and spies on them.
  • The government is not completely transparent and keeps secrets that it does not need to.
  • We have a complex and unfair tax system.

Many citizens do not trust government to make decisions or implement programs effectively or efficiently.  I can’t speak for citizens of other countries, but I suspect that many of them also feel similarly about their government.

So, what can be done about this?

The classic answer to this question is that we could get involved and try harder to elect people (or ourselves) who will beter represent us in government with the hope that it brings about positive change.  I believe that almost all (if not all) politicians enter politics for this reason.  I don’t think many people enter public service just for the power and privilege.  However, it’s impossible for an individual to represent any more than their own opinions.  Elections are simply a tool by which the citizenry, as much as possible, try to select the least offensive candidate from a very small pool of options.  And, the longer a person holds a position of power and influence, the harder it is for them to not to be corrupted.

Additionally, citizens of non-democratically elected governments have even fewer options to change their system of government.  This is one of the primary reasons the US government has worked so tirelessly over the decades to try to bring democracy to the whole world.  Unfortunately, this effort has had mixed results.  Many countries resent the arrogance of the US and its citizens, others are outright hostile to us.

So, again, what can be done about this?

When life in the colonies became unbearable, our US forefathers declared independence from England.  The Declaration of Independence states that a government’s power comes from its people and that it’s primary role is to protect its people’s inalienable rights.  Furthermore, it says that if a government should fail its responsibilities that the people have a right to abolish that government and establish a new one.

To be clear, I am not at all proposing that the US or any other country or people should abolish their government.  However, perhaps it’s time to consider experimenting with new forms of government and new forms of countries?

Historically, countries have been united by the land they are founded on.  Countries have clearly defined borders  in the physical world.  All people within these borders must obey the laws of that country.  But, the modern age has, through invention of the internet, world wide communication networks, telephones, overnight mail delivery, easy and inexpensive travel, and many other modern conveniences, opened us up to an alternative which may not have been feasible in the past.

What if a country’s jurisdiction were not based upon its physical location on this planet, but merely on a social contract among its citizens?  What if all citizens of this new form of country were beholden to following its laws, no matter where they were physically located?  Furthermore, what if every citizen of this country had an equal say in the laws that are formed?

I would like to paint for you a hypothetical form of government:

Imagine, if you would, that a population of people decided to come together and use modern tools such as the internet to establish a new, virtual, country.  This new country would not have any physical borders and would not have a claim to any physical territory.

This new virtual country would establish its own government.  The structure of the government and its laws would be defined in a set of legal documents.  The very first draft of these documents would define the basic underlying structure and function of the new government.  For example, it would define the following:

  • How is the government structured?
  • What is the definition of citizenship and how do people become citizens?
  • What rights do citizens have?
  • What rights does the government have?
  • and much more…

These documents would be entered into a distributed version tracking system, thereby constituting the government.  The most recent “trunk” version of these documents would be law.  This new government would coexist with, but always be secondary to, the whatever the local government is in the physical world.

Any citizen of this new virtual country would be permitted to make their own personal copies of these legal documents and to revise them as they see fit.  If the citizen so wished, they could submit revisions of these documents back to the government for consideration.

Durring the consideration period, all citizens of the country would be encouraged to review and debate the proposed changes and to cast a vote on whether the changes should be approved or rejected.  If approved, the changes would be applied and the laws of the country would be changed.

Anyone in the world who wished to do so would be permitted to become a citizen of this new virtual country and would be able to gain the benefits of citizenship.  Citizens of this new country would essentially have dual citizenship in their physical country as well as in this new virtual country.  All citizen of this new country would be obliged to follow the laws enacted by this new country, so long as they don’t conflict with the laws of the physical country where the person is located, or risk losing their citizenship.

So, what we’ve established is a country that is directly under the rule of its people.  Changes to government and law can be proposed by and voted on by any citizen.  This country’s laws are always secondary to the laws of the country where the person physically is located.  Citizens of this new country must always obey the laws for their physical country as well as the laws of their virtual country.  When in conflict, local laws will always supersede.

I imagine that eventually, this new virtual government might levy taxes, establish a judicial system, establish its own currency, and provide services to its citizens including health care, social safety nets, roads, and anything else that its citizens wish to have their government do.  Of course, this all depends on what laws the citizens of the country enact and how well they collectively manage it.

I even envision a future where corporations and businesses could be formed within the framework of this government.  These businesses would likely exist in parallel with businesses in the physical world.  But, these businesses would be beholden to the laws of the new country.  This might be useful, for example, if this new government does offer health care for its citizens.  Perhaps only medical providers who are citizens and who have also registered their business entity with the new government would be eligible to provide services paid for by this government.  And, when this happens, they are now beholden to the laws of these people.

Furthermore, if the people do form their own currency, and banks are formed to hold this currency, or perhaps banks in the physical world decide to accept deposits in this currency, then they may need to follow the laws of this country.

Instead of having a prison system to punish criminals, perhaps we have an excommunication system where the convicted criminal loses their citizenship and associated benefits for a period of time?  For less serious crimes perhaps the government would collect fines?

I also imagine that the citizens of this country may work to define subsets of the over-arching virtual country.  This could be considered states or provinces or counties or cities or whatever.  Each of these subsets would define their own rules and may in fact actually be tied to physical boundaries in the real world.  Citizens of the over-arching virtual country would be beholden to local variations of laws, though the none of these laws could override the base laws of the country.

This would be similar to how the united states is divided into states, counties, cities, etc, each with their own laws, none of which supersede it’s parent government.

Perhaps some day in the far, far, distant future some physical countries may elect to dissolve their governments and to live exclusively under this new form of government?  It could happen!

I personally feel like the overall structure of our world-wide society is beginning to change.  While technology creates new efficiencies and new jobs, it also seeks to save labor and eliminate jobs.  Labor and the ability to earn money is the foundation of our world economy.  In the very long run, as technology evolves, I believe almost automation will replace almost all workers and dramatically transform the nature of our economy.

How will society cope with these drastic, foundational, changes to the world and economy?  If history is any guide, it will be through violence, war, and suffering.  Perhaps this hypothetical form of government I am proposing could somehow be used to mitigate the impact of this?  Perhaps the people of this virtual country can come together to find new ways of structuring our society and our social contracts to protect its citizens?

What do you think?

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