The purpose of this letter is to explain the history of HAL and why I have decided that my legacy should fund The HAL Project.
Everyone has a journey; here is mine. (To fast forward to the sections concerning HAL and The HAL Project click Here.)
Growing up in a small northeastern Oklahoma town during the week and on my grandparents’ farm on the weekends helped shape my worldview. While I love Oklahoma, the Green Acres lyrics – “New York is where I'd rather stay” – was a siren song that my preteen self found hard to resist.
Big Cabin Creek bordered the farm. I would go down to the creek to watch the catfish lounge in pools of water and daydream. One of my recurring musings was how life was quite different for me than for my grandparents. Because they didn’t get electricity until after I was born, I would often wonder what it was like before television, air conditioning, and other things I took for granted existed.
The Second Industrial Revolution fascinated me. I ruminated on living through a period of great change. While I believed that my journey would take me away from Oklahoma, never did I imagine that in my lifetime the world would go through a similar period of transformation as we are currently experiencing.
Through happenstance (and a lifetime of lucky breaks), my state’s junior Senator, Fred R. Harris, appointed me as a Senate Page. I knew that my life now would be unfamiliar with the one I had known. And, while my appointment was for only six months, I decided during the five days I had to pack my bag and report for duty, I would find a way to stay in D.C. in order to finish my junior and senior years of high school and then to attend college. My captivation with politics continues unabated to this day.
Mark Twain thought that traveling expands one’s mind. I believe he was on to something. From the time my TWA flight took off from the Tulsa International Airport to the following day’s lunch with Senator Harris’ staff in the U.S. Senate Dining Room, I learned some of life’s important lessons. Pop is also known as soda; there is no “r” in Washington; never forget where you came from and keep a piece of it with you.
Going to high school in the attic of the Library of Congress with its panorama view of the U.S. Capitol was a breathtaking change of scenery. Attending classes at George Washington University – or, as I admitted to my inner self: Avoiding the Draft University – helped me to learn another life lesson. Working in Congress while taking political science courses highlighted the practical versus the theoretical. The juxtaposition of real-world actions and academic notions served me well during the development of HAL.
The bookends of my seven years in Washington were the Moratoriums to End the War and President Nixon’s resignation. As the late 1960’s morphed into the 1970’s, I was undergoing my own metamorphosis. It was time to deal with my sexuality.
Although I adored Washington, my moral compass told me that I needed to leave D.C. I was afraid that if I stayed, I wouldn’t be honest with myself. So, I packed my bags and headed to the Village.
Arriving in New York not long after President Ford told New York City to “Drop Dead” was, in hindsight, audacious. It was also quite liberating. You’re young, you’re gay. (This was before it was hip to be…happy.) It was one of the right decisions of my life.
After several months of exploration and settling into my new world, I started working as a lobbyist for the American Institute of CPAs. It was my one and only 9 to 5 job, which I enjoyed at first. However, the organization discouraged initiative and innovation. After a dozen years, I summoned up the courage to strike out on my own and formed The Jackson Group.
My entrepreneurial spirit had this thought that because of space limitations in Manhattan apartments, there would be a market for wine collectors who desired to have their own wine cellar. The Wine Trust would also include a club room for the members, a dining room open to the public for food and wine tastings, and a section for wineries to showcase their wines. The Flatiron District (before this overlooked neighborhood with its cavernous empty basements acquired its moniker) was the ideal location. Upon completing the research and writing the business plan, raising money came next.
Around the time of realizing that I couldn’t raise the needed funds, I was introduced to Quicken. I didn’t know just how, but instinctively I understood this software would take center stage in my life. Again, happenstance intervened. Within a few months, I created a profitable personal financial management business based on Quicken. Soon, I envisioned a world in which people would use technology to manage their finances; thereby making their lives easier as well as increasing their net worth.
By the end of the 1990’s, Quicken files were becoming too large to email. This was a significant problem since my business was based on sharing Quicken files with clients. After much contemplation, the Interactive Feature took form. A file sharing application in which Quicken files could be uploaded and downloaded was needed.
Plus, this application would have a file version protocol so that the user with the latest version of the file could make changes to it. The major technological hurdle was finding a method to capture the multiple subfiles that comprise a single Quicken file. An innovative design fix solved this problem, enabling the Interactive Feature to be user friendly.
After the development of the Interactive Feature, I proposed to Intuit a plan to improve the Quicken user experience. Our discussions led to an agreement in principle to jointly develop SmartQuicken. This version of Quicken would prompt users on when, why, and how to use this software correctly, which continues to be an inherent problem with Quicken. At the last minute, Intuit went in another direction, developing Medical Quicken rather than SmartQuicken.
As voice recognition, natural language processing, and AI were making technological advances, I would discuss with one of my venture capital clients how Quicken was not using current technology to improve its software. We conversed at length as to how The Jackson Group’s financial management services could be digitized. At one point my VC client, who focused on tech companies, encouraged me to run with my idea.
2001: A Space Odyssey freed my fifteen-year-old mind to dream of a world where anything is possible. The scene where early mankind made the connection to use a bone as a tool, in a roundabout manner, culminated in HAL. Once leaps of the imagination are taken, possibilities are limitless.
From the moment a friend showed me the internet, I longed to be one of those entrepreneurs who would spearhead the digital revolution. Looking back, a straight line can be drawn from the internet to Quicken to the Interactive Feature to SmartQuicken to HAL. When I began outlining HAL, the technology did not exist to execute most of its features and functionalities. Over the years, voice recognition, natural language processing, and deep learning have made great strides. It was only a matter of time until technology caught up to HAL.
If I’m unable to develop HAL, someone will eventually have the same idea that I had years ago. HAL is transformational in nature not because it’s “sexy,” but because it improves people’s financial health by increasing their net worth. Next to your health, finances are of the utmost importance to your well-being. In the future, tens of millions of individuals in this country, along with multitudes of users around the world, will manage their finances with an app that combines hierarchical algorithm logic with digital technology.
THE HAL PROJECT
Upon reaching certain milestones in life, I have begun thinking about what happens after my expiration date. I spent most of last year putting words to paper about these thoughts. With or without the development of HAL, The HAL Project will proceed. If HAL is developed, the probability of The HAL Project’s success increases exponentially.
The HAL Project is the vehicle to reach my dreams for a more equitable world. These societal changes may take generations to achieve. Patience and determination are all that is required.
Feel free to reach out to me with any questions, thoughts, or comments.
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