IdeaFarm™, part 2

I’m always surprised when I find out that people who don’t actually know me read my blog, especially when they go to the trouble of actually writing to me in response to a post. In this case, the man behind IdeaFarm™ sent me feedback on my February 18th post on the project. He gave me permission to use “all or none of this info in [my] blog,” so here goes:

Unfortunately, while you can read my original blog post, sometime between March 9 and now, the IdeaFarm website is no longer up and all you get is an “Under Construction” notice. Luckily for you, here’s a copy of the cached version through Google you can take a look at (I grabbed it as a PDF in case it “disappears”). The Way Back Machine took me as far back as 1997 and through multiple versions of the site over the last decade. In any case, the version I saw when I wrote my post last month was actually closer (maybe even the same) to the cached version from Google, so keep that in mind while reading what follows. (As an aside, the site I saw that matches the cached version from Google is actually a “freebee placeholder” since lack of funds forced the “normal web site” to be shut down. Personally, I think the placeholder site looked less sketchy.)

The email from the man behind IdeaFarm was somewhat rambling, but he did address a few specific issues I had raised:

  1. The “Governing Propietor’s” real name. Privacy, or maybe more appropriately anonymity, is a key part of the organization’s interactions. One way IdeaFarm is organized is through villages– economic associations that work to “create a compelling economic incentive for everyone in the postal code to live unselfishly.” This work is usually done during anonymous weekly dinners and if names must be used, only first names are allowed. I had originally commented that they should make at least one exception for IdeaFarm’s organizer (he refuses to call himself the “leader”), even if it’s just his first name to help lend credibility (or at least make it feel less creepy– imagine having to call someone the “Governing Proprietor” all the time). Surprisingly, the first thing he pointed out in his email to me is that his name is on the website– at the very bottom, he “signs” the website with his legal name: “Wo’O Ideafarm.” (According to this guy, he changed his name in 1999; from 1954 to 1999, it was Jon Clyde Duringer.)
  2. The “accusatory” sign.” He says the photo I used is very old and that the signage was changed several years ago. The phrase “THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM IS THAT YOU HAVE BECOME A SELFISH PEOPLE” is no longer on the sign and what’s left is the word “SELFISH” in a circle with a slash through it. He suggested that I check out his YouTube interview (embedded below) where he talks about the signage and why he changed it, among other things. (Basically, like me, people had a negative reaction to the sign, but some so negatively that they threw eggs and yelled insults and threats. Aside from that, he also realized that if someone is having a hard time, is feeing down and out, seeing that sign might make him unfairly feel worse.)
  3. The Yahoo! email address. I had commented that using a Yahoo! address on his site– ideafarmcity@yahoo.com— didn’t seem very professional, but he assured me that it is not his private email address, but a “throw away” one (although that was the address he used to email– seems more like temporary, not throw away). This is apparently one of the consequences of having to take down the IDEAFARM.COM server.

Which brings us to the topic of software and servers. Remember that IdeaFarm is a “civil and political project funded by the sale of software products and services.” It seems that, in the last six months to a year, the “real” IDEAFARM.COM server is no longer up and running because a) it is not yet “hacker proof” (one mission guiding development is to “connect people wholesomely” through a “zero spam, zero advertisement, zero thought steering, secure email service”) and b) Wo’O Ideafarm ran out of funds for the normal website. As aforementioned, the website I saw was a simple “freebee placeholder” because he ran out of funds for the “normal website,” which was running IP-DOS. IP-DOS, if you remember, stands for IdeaFarm™ Piggyback-Distributed Operating System, one of the organization’s software products. Unfortunately, it’s a memory hog” (not a good sign) that requires a “full dedicated server,” which costs about $100 per month (versus shared virtual hosting which can be as cheap as $5 to $10 per month or even a virtual dedicated host which is about $45 per month). So, until it can be re-written to be less of a memory hog, the freebee placeholder (or now the “Under Construction” page) will have to suffice. Unfortunately, his resources, programming or otherwise, are scarce:

There is a lot of software work to do, I am doing it alone, and I am doing it under very difficult conditions. (I live in that old truck and do my programming in there and in noisy public libraries. My computer is old, the monitor is failing, its data cable is broken and splinted with paint stirring sticks to keep it working. My second hand keyboard finally became unuseable, so I replaced it with an el-cheapo Walmart keyboard that, even though brand new, is almost as bad; I have to hit the ‘5’ key 5 times or more to get a single ‘5’ keypress.)

Funds are also short because although he is “one of the most experienced software developers alive today,” he currently works part-time as a minimum-wage day laborer (perhaps as part of his rejection of the selfishness that he says has tainted Silicon Valley) and given the tenuous nature of day labor, especially in California, he’s relocated to Las Vegas, NV, where business is also slow, but he’s keeping busy working on IP-DOS, getting the website back up and then getting some temporary work.

About half of the email, as described above, was useful and informative– he did clear up questions about his name and email address, including clarification on the website itself and IP-DOS (although, I’m still not exactly sure what kind of software it really is). The second half of the email though started with a somewhat lengthy and detailed description of his personal living situation, the part I call the “pity party.” By no means do I think the life of a day laborer is easy and I know that everyday, especially in Silicon Valley, that type of work is devalued in favor of information workers and those jobs are constantly disappearing. However, he made a choice to work as a part-time day laborer, living out of that truck– he explains in his YouTube interview that he started working with computers as early as 1974 and experienced the exciting boom in personal computing of the mid-80’s to the early 90’s. Maybe he didn’t mean for it to sound that way or for that purpose, but it sure came off as fishing for pity, going on about his old computer, failing monitor, broken data cable and cheap keyboard with a faulty “5” key.

But, the thing that really bothered me in the end was how he ended his email:

Skepticism regarding legitimacy of anything new is healthy, up to a point. But you people in the United States are immobilized by excessive skepticism. This project is totally “out in the open” and I’ve done everything that I can think of to eliminate any basis for suspicion. The bottom line is that if I can’t get you people to take a serious look at this project, get beyond your skepticism, and get involved, then the project will fail. I cannot do this alone… Your first blog article was one of ten zillion responses voicing skepticism and encouraging people to DO NOTHING. Why not be different? Why not break the pattern? Be bold and tell your readers that maybe, just maybe, this project is legit and that it is an opportunity to DO SOMETHING.

For most of you, your skepticism is comfortable because it provides you with just the excuse you need to continue to DO NOTHING. You like that because you are indeed a selfish people.

Anything that includes use of the phrase “you people” starts to sound like a rant and makes it hard (at least for me) to take it seriously. And after having taken down the old sign because it was “accusatory,” those last comments sound like a well-practiced speech full of accusations. Nevertheless, while my original blog post did voice my skepticism, I consider it more of a critical look at something that was being advertised to me very publicly, very often. Interestingly, I asked many of my friends about the truck/sign and almost all of them said they had seen and wondered about it, but had never looked into it. If anything, I did bother to look into this project, to take a “serious look” at whatever materials were available and in the end, questioned whether this project was “legit.” I voiced my opinion, which I think I’m entitled to after having done what research I could, and while I voiced skepticism, I don’t think I encouraged anybody to “do nothing.” I close my original post with the words: “[S]o if you see this truck around the Bay Area, now you know a little bit more. Judge for yourself!” At the end of the day, I certainly don’t think IdeaFarm is the only remedy for selfishness and I’m not sure what necessary connection there is between skepticism and complacency– or in Wo’O Ideafarm’s words, comfort “because it provides you with just the excuse you need to continue to DO NOTHING.”

I could go on and on about this, but I’ll stop here and say again, “Judge for yourself!” In fact, I think a better argument for IdeaFarm is presented in the YouTube interview (filmed about a year ago), so check it out: