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Open Source Ecologies:  a Visit to Factor-e-Farm

Marcin Jakubowski, in leading development of the Global Village Construction Set, has shown the world that open source hardware is both possible and economically viable. I first became aware of Marcin in about 2009 and have been a supporter ever since. His efforts seemed to me to offer a valuable counterweight to ever increasing corporate control as fueled by the onward march of global capitalism.  His group at Factor e Farm in Maysville, Missouri was setting out to design a set of 50 basic machines necessary to support the comforts of a modern-day civilization.  They would post engineering drawings, parts lists, and assembly videos on the internet and invite others anywhere in the world to copy and build them. Marcin named the infrastructure “Factor e Farm” and called his overall program “Open Source Ecologies.” By 2013 I had watched many of his videos and regarded his efforts as one of the most hopeful developments in an increasingly grim world.

Consequently, when on April 1 2013 Michel Bauwens P2P Foundation Blog posted an item called “Crisis at Open Source Ecologies” that described the third mass leaving in the organization’s history with the conclusion this time there would be bad press and the organization’s sources of funding would dry up and it would likely not survive, I was extremely disappointed.  At that point in time i had no way of checking for myself. Also prior to Bauwens’ Ecuador fiasco I had no reason not to believe what he wrote.  Consequently I put it out of my mind until in June of this year, when visiting Kansas City, it also became possible to visit Marcin.

Fifteen months after Bauwens’ report, Marcin was still very much in business.  I made it my objective to find out as best I could what had happened. There was a crisis.  But it seems not to have been as grim as Bauwens described it. My best conclusion follows: in 2011 Marcin had another Ted appearance where the video truly went viral and he became a senior Ted fellow and got some serious monetary support.  This led Marcin to develop an very ambitious schedule to pursue about 3.5 million in funding to embark on a schedule that would finish all the tools within two years.  Marcin began to spend a lot of the time away from the “farm”.  Two of the three of his lead designers rebelled.  Although the Hab Lab and Workshop construction had begun, life at the farm was physically difficult. Finally in March of 2013 in the OSE Forum, someone announced that it had become very quiet lately and asked what was gong on.  

Roses

This prompted an outpouring of grievances all written in the month of March 2013. In my interview with Marcin I tried to find out his take on what had happened.  Marcin was quite candid, especially considering the fact that I had not located the original P2P blog piece by the time of the visit and was gong on memory. As Marcin explained it a major part of the problem was that they did not have a business model.  But they were developing one that involved a slower and more deliberate pace of builds focused on workshops held at the farm and also focused on profit sharing with the developer.  Based on what i saw and have documents with photos that I took, I can say that it seems to me that he has a solid infrastructure in place that should very adequately support the plans he described.

One thing that I do not understand and is somewhat tangential to the overall issue is the role of Michel Bauwens in using material from OSE’s forum to savagely attack it. The way the page is formatted it appears as though the comment about 3rd leaving is written by Michel as his introduction.  It is not.  It is a quote from one of the complainers.  Michel’s post is made-up of 6 quoted excerpts from the forum. Six comments out of 82. It appears to me that he choose the nastiest 6 quotes in the while discussion.  Why I don’t know. What he was thinking I don’t know.  There were several positive quotes.  Michel used none and provided no context for what he was doing.  Very strange when 5 years earlier he had written about Marcin with gushing praise.  “The most important project in the world of which i am aware . . .”   Did he ask anyone in his rather large group for opinions or for independent information?  Not that I know of.

I decided to attempt my own due diligence and on September 15 wrote to the main P2P mail list asking why Michel had trashed Marcin so thoroughly and done so utterly out of context.  I received an answer.  Kevin Carson wrote “He's as skeptical about them as you are about CIC, and trying not to view them through rose-colored glasses. OSE has had problems with Marcin's Type-A, one-man leadership style for a long time.”  Michel responded: “Glad to learn OSE is doing well, it's an important project and it would be great news if the organizational problems reported repeatedly by various people who had to leave the project, were overcome in a substantive way.” It seems that P2P now reserves the right to trash Marcin because they don’t like his personality.

Regardless of the P2P attack Marcin has pressed ahead. He has learned from the problems that led to the “revolt” of 2012-2013.  With the Hab Lab and Workshop completed, the Factor e Farm infrastructure should haven problem achieving the goals that he has set in the business model he describes here in. To me as a non engineer the design work that he has done, be it on the basic tools, or the Hab Lab is really impressive.  This also goes for his candor and transparency.

The new douzuki documentation of the tools is helpful in laying out a uniform structure of what will be presented for each tool.  Earlier information about earlier tool designs is scattered over the wiki and less easily put in focus. It can certainly be hoped that the build-on-demand workshops will provide a steady flow of new faces. Everything that is happening appears to be extensively documented through blogs called “logs.”  The plans for the velo car workshop are quite impressive.  As was Marcin’s ability to recruit the participation of the young velo car developer.  

Marcin has plans to expand and “scale” what he is doing in order to create branches of OSE all over the world.  While he has not set up any full scale duplicate operations yet, he does have the beginnings of some branches elsewhere in the US and abroad.  The best sign is that he appears to have a more balanced view of what is necessary for him to build a successful future.  What he has shown to be possible is already hugely inspiring.

A Brickbat

In my review process for this issue I received some very negative comments based on OSE’s approach to the basic engineering development.

Marcin wants to clone his operation extensively, but on the condition of anonymity someone with a strong engineering background wrote: “The thing about "Ecology" is the sustainability - I didn't see evidence of some of the key indicators I was looking for - if you look at the history of the development of 3D printing, or the construction of pyrolysis based small scale energy production - it is not the prototypes that are the issue, it is the in-life engineering issues. How it works in the field (given that conditions are different in different places)? How do you locally source replacement parts? How do you locally construct parts to the appropriate tolerances? That is where those developments sucked up effort and cost, avoiding the failures and not producing the engineering equivalent of sound-bites. All those engineering diagrams looked like sound-bites to me.”

And later to my question about fit for purpose:  What is fitness-for-purpose? What is the purpose here - it must be low total-cost of ownership, effective technology. It must deliver the desired outcome with due regard to the hazards it generates (environmental, health and safety etc), it needs to be effective in that it needs low maintenance, be easy to maintain and come with appropriately detailed operational manuals and metrics so that the knowledge and skills needed to maintain it can be sustained [and that is an issue that many large companies struggle with].

Just take a look a the power cube bits. If this was a reproducible design I would expect plots of expected power, analysis of the lifetime and the in-life operational hazards - information that could be used to make some safety case (and to confirm that a copy was performing to designed specifications). None of that information is there, this is more "IKEA marketing" than "reproducible engineering" [not to say that IKEA doesn't do that - those simple diagrams and wordless instructions are the product of a lot of effort - underpinned by all the information that is missing here].

It is a hard thing to make things simple - take a look at the videos of http://www.allpowerlabs.com/  I sat through 12 hours of their talks and I was *IMPRESSED* there was real engineering, real science, real problems to be solved that they tapped into solid backgrounds to push forward - and it shows. I see that these Open Source Ecology folks are aiming to solve those problems in two weeks in June (from their diary on their front page).

Just read the comments [on design sprints] below, this sounds like low-quality hack-fest mentality (infinite monkeys writing Shakespeare approach) rather than a proper design environment - even the comments at the end on how to fix things is worrying. Why are these "fix it after build it" issues - they should have been design criteria - documented design criteria that can be handed on so that others don't try and cut corners in the wrong way…”

Another person with work experience in Asia and the Pacific rim was very critical of the CEB press for making building materials in seismically active areas as well as areas affected by monsoon rains.  Here are more issues identified by Yoonseo.

“Now the CEB Press can easily have issues surrounding its compression chamber. If you do not use thick enough steel and insufficiently reinforce the compression walls, you will get bending and that will get you curved bricks. No good. Also the second thing was that the ejection surface must be parallel or subsequent surfaces must be scaled in the proper direction. Otherwise you will get the bottom of your bricks sliced by about 1/4" as it gets ejected. Also make sure that the primary cylinder is high enough so that the pressing surface can actually get to the ejection surface (otherwise you gonna get some more bottom-slicing action). I think those were the major issues. Make sure you put a pressure relief valve on there eh.”

COOK Report: These are issues that a more sound process of engineering development could presumably avoid.

Now no one can accuse Marcin of slacking off. His blog gives a pretty good idea of what he does on a day to day basis.  Yet his development strategy in so far as I can tell leaves these fundamental engineering questions unanswered. More traditional approaches including the gassifier burner made by the All Power Labs mentioned above do these processes up front resulting in longer development time and more cost but yielding a more reliable and generally more replicable product.

After spending many many hours digging and reading over the past two months, it is clear that Marcin is taking and approach more focused on speed and sorting things out later. A different strategy with is own set of arguments.  In my opinion these issues need serious thought and folk who are just being introduced to OSE need to understand that these issues exist and are absolutely critical for anyone deciding where to put their efforts.

OSE’s Design Approach

OSE Design philosophy and criteria are written about here, here, and here [design sprints]. On September 14 2014 Marcin completed another document called extreme design build that shows he is not unaware of these issues by any means.  I highly recommend that interested readers down load a copy.  It shows that he is unlikely to go in the more traditional direction of engineering development but it also shows that he is aware of weaknesses in his current direction.

It would have been a lot easier to have just published my interview and pictures, but having read the forum discussion in its entirety, I decided that I better try to dig further in order to understand  what was happing to this very important project which in many ways is deeply flawed but which, rather than an arbitrary Peer2Peer Foundation hatchet job, deserves an opportunity to succeed in the hope that people can enter with eyes wide open and understand the value proposition that underlies the project to which they are donating time and resources.

 

Contents

Executive Summary                                 p. 3
Roses                                                       p. 3
A Brickbat                                                p. 4
OSE’s Design Approach                          p. 6
Introduction                                             p. 7
A Quick Tour of Factor e Farm                 p. 8
What Happened at Factor e Farm between 2011 and 2014?             p.18
Near-Term Goals                                        p. 20
Is there a crisis in Open Source Ecology? p. 24
The Interview                                             p. 26
The Power Cube                                        p. 30
The MicroHouse                                        p. 33
The Model is Revenue Share                    p. 35
The Hab Lab                                              p. 38
Project Summary (from the wiki)                p. 42
From the 2012 AnnualReport                     p. 44
Summary of Cost Savings of Six of Marcin’s Basic Tools            p. 48

 

Jazz and the Speculative Shaping of Kansas City’s Economy
A First Hand Look at Efforts to Identify and Recover Has Been Lost Between World War II and the Present

 

Executive Summary


This issue of the COOK Report presents a high-level overview of changes that have swept over post World War II Kansas City Missouri.  Kansas City is a microcosm of what has gone wrong with America since it was effectively the last nation standing   art the war’s end.  Most of us now understand the corrupting role played by the financialization of our entire economy that began under the Reagan administration and has finally ended up in what Chris Hedges describes as a slow-motion coup d’etat that has resulted in the corporate take over of our legislative, judicial and executive branches.  A coup now carried to the extreme point where the Supreme Court has declared that corporations, as people, have their own first amendment right of free speech to spend unlimited amounts of money, in effect to be used in the poisoning of our elections. Since money has been trans muted into “speech” the corporate feudal overlords are free to use all three branches of government to pile up more wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people. And now, all the while, the function of the executive is to keep the population living in fear of terrorist attacks by engaging in nonstop warfare acting as though the world of the dollar as the globe’s reserve currency can never end.

The results of this has been to pour more and more wealth into the hands of the 1/10 of 1% all the while eviscerating the middle-class.  With each new economic collapse leaving more and more people entirely outside the economic system of regular employment, the system says to them in effect that they are superfluous and are not needed by society.  What happened? how did this come to be is what we should be asking ourselves?

In this issue we find one answer by going straight to the middle of the American heartland, Kansas City Missouri.  There at the end of World War II, the city was without the extremes of wealth and poverty that we now have but it did have a vital local economy with active labor unions serving generally has the sound counterbalances to the power of the local industrial magnates.   But already you had the real estate developers hard at work with Jesse C Nichols leading the entire nation in the practice of buying up cheap land, and placing racial encumbrances on the resale of property, encouraging blockbusting and white flight where banks refused to lend to Black homeowners and businessman who were left behind in the center city as the whites - with their racial fears stoked - got into their cars and fled to the newly emerging suburbs.  

Older neighborhoods in Kansas City were racially and economically diverse. There was a cohesiveness where neighbors would look out after each other. But as the real estate brokers stoked fears among the whites assisting their flight from the city, the blacks were left behind, ironically at the very moment of their civil rights triumph, to fend for themselves.  The public schools remained long segregated and with educational standards declining their population became ever easier prey for the financial predators nurtured under the Reagan administration and who became dominate under the Bushes and Clinton.

For the past two years we have been writing about the rise of free networks as the only hope left for those of us who do not belong to the 1%.  After a June visit  of nine days to Kansas City I have returned home with a newfound understanding of what is been visited on the people who live there.  I contend in this issue of the COOK Report that the digital “divide” has never been properly defined or understood  — let alone have any methods for seriously dealing with its political social and economic implications then put in place.  The question of getting the disenfranchised access to computers and teaching them how to use them as tools to equalize the discrepancy they face in access to the information necessary to survive in an economically predatory jungle has never been seriously dealt with.  Group's in Kansas City are coming close but it's no surprise that they don't have enough funding and what is even more important it seems to me that no one has really figured out what it takes.  And if one is going to make a difference in the desperate situation of those tens of thousands of people who are living on poverty based incomes one is going to have to apply the understanding that flows from the example set by Clint Wynn who has been organizing and teaching for Connecting for Good.

The conclusion is: “Unless you really can relate to the experiences of those you are trying to help and do so on their level…. possibility for change likely is limited.” Clint is one of a kind but he demonstrates levels of understanding and empathy in his very creative approaches that any Director of a so-called digital divide program can and should seek to relate to in determining how that program is carried out.  If an understanding can be brought to the faculty of the Economics Department at the University of Missouri Kansas City, they can very likely be a huge help in working with the Kansas City Freedom network to select and train students who would seek to walk in the footsteps of what Clint has shown to be possible in building a program of the economic and social inclusion for the network’s users.

Of course once the economic elites of the city understood what was going on is very likely that they would come down like a ton of bricks on the University people who were daring to suggest that Kansas City residents might want to be able to take control over their own future. A control which in all likelihood would seek to undo the gains of the economic elite.  Difficult or not I contend that such a direction is needed.

To repeat the - this June, thanks to Isaac Wilder for a place to stay and Anita Dixon for an airplane ticket, I had an opportunity to immerse myself in in Kansas City and see the places and people involved in the building of the Kansas City Freedom Network as well as Anita Dixon's fierce determination to renew the Mutual Musicians Union and its place in the history of Kansas City Jazz. All these events took place in what Anita describes as the one time thriving local economy of the three square miles.


Given the destruction of the American middle-class that began under Ronald Reagan, it seems not hard to appreciate the need to turn back the clock and undo the harm that Reagan's union–bashing did to the members of AFM local 624. Local 34 had been the white branch of the American Federation of Musicians in Kansas City, while Local 627 was all black. The two locals resisted unification until 1970 when they came under pressure from Washington.  Everyone lost as a result of the merger but especially the black musicians of 627 came out worse off.

Anita put together a three day session to which I was invited. It in involved getting together Gene Tournour on behalf of of Local 627 and Richard Albrecht who represents Local 34.  For the first time in 50 years the two men, under Anita's guidance talked about how to undo the damage inflicted by by the Reagan administration’s forcing their members to become independent contractors in the early 1980s. The conversations were carried on in front of Bill May of the Newark Jazz project and Doc Ridley of Jazz legacy in New York.  Anita is determined to return a viable Musicians Union to the Kansas City scene.  To the end it certainly helped that Eugene Tournour had been member of the Teamsters before he joined the AFM about 15 years ago.  While you don't mess with the teamsters, it is widely known the AFM has had trouble enforcing its contracts. We publish here a loose transcript of a 75 minute discussion between Doc Ridley, Anita and the two union leaders - Gene and Richard - that highlights the need to reinstall meaningful union benefits for Kansas City musicians. Unfortunately this is a situation that reflects what has happened all over America during the last 35 years.

What we have in Kansas City history -  coming to full-bloom 50 years after World War II - is a story of American capitalism is a run amok. Is one of the loss of formerly viable independent neighborhoods where speculators like Jesse Nichols could craft real estate development schemes by making alliances with Washington.  In the process Nichols used the building of the Interstate highway system to reshape the political and economic landscape of the entire Kansas City metropolitan area into one of the first masses of urban sprawl and white flight from the inner city.  The result was the to physical separate the races at a time when civil rights appeared to be triumphant and create not only the nation’s first shopping center in 1923. The banal had a dark side. What Nichols started used all the nasty tricks of redlining and blockbusting and restrictive racial covenants to turns sizable areas of Kansas City from mostly white to 90% black. One result was the hollowing out the historic jazz district by means of an interstate highway that was not built for more than half a century after peoples’ homes were bought and razed.

Further south in the city along Troost Avenue a racially and economically diverse neighborhood between 1950 and 1970 went from almost all white to almost all black as economically more prosperous white citizens fled to newly built suburbs leaving behind the neighborhoods composed of people with low paid jobs.  The professionals were quickly rubbed out - fleeing into the suburbs in search of the new prosperity of post World War II America.  The public school system was hollowed out in an attempt to maintain segregation for as long as possible.  The battle was waged until the point was reached where it lost accreditation and all the families who could afford to do so sent their children to private schools.  The predation took time.  At the end of World War I, Troost was home to the mansions of the cities’ millionaires.

Wherever possible infrastructure was privatized.  Spending tax money for public good was not the path to political success.  In telecommunications and Internet, Kansas City was served by the classical expensive duopoly of the Comcast and ATT.  When Google held its fiber competition Kansas City been over backwards to make sure it would be as attractive for the new information giant as it possibly could become and, as we all know, it won the competition. Since 2012 Google has been building in the midst of the city of haves and have nots.  At one point it was thought that Google fiber would be open access but when that decision was overturned, Google steadfastly refused to share any bandwidth with any third-party.

Nevertheless there was a disparate group of people who recognized that something should be done on behalf of of the citizens of Kansas City who cannot possibly afford the prices the Google charges. This is where Isaac Wilder’s Free Network Foundation and Michael Liimata’s Connecting for Good come in.  The interview with Clint Wynn included in this issue is undeniably the very remarkable highlight of this entire story.  There is an strong undercurrent of isolation and atomization among the marginal families of Kansas City.  To someone who hadn’t seen it first hand, it may seem hard to comprehend how someone from the black community can reach out with a keen understanding of what life is like for people on the ever more marginal edges of a society where the demands of our corporate elite trump everything and everyone else.  

In situations like this the internet can and should become a tool by means of which with the influx of a relatively small amount of outside funds can be used as a force that can enable urban neighborhoods to chart a course focused on their own future self determination. What remains is to stabilize the efforts in network building and computer refurbishing and user education that have already begun -  then an alliance with the UMKC economics department must be cemented and nourished to find as many more Clint Wynns as possible so that a whole spectrum of internet based education in economic survival skills may be established.  The next COOK Report, due December 1st, will focus on the maturation of the FNF, Connecting for Good and the Kansas City jazz and network building scene.

As we go to press, the FNF is meeting in Austin Texas, the other city where Google fiber has been building out for nearly a year. For reasons we have never understood it has been focused primarily on building a wireless mesh protocol testing lab rather than a free net. We certainly hope that it will emerge from its meeting on the way to a viable long term business model.

 

CONTENTS

Executive Summary                                p. 3
Editor’s Introduction and Union Discussion        p. 7
Mutual Musicians Union - A Photo gallery of the building, the history and performers                                               p. 22
Scenes from the Saturday Night all Night Jam Session        p. 25
Race and ethnicity 2010 in Kansas City                    p 31
The Destruction of the Economic Viability of the Three Square Miles                            p. 32
‘Troost Wall’ the product of Kansas City’s long-running racial plight: Racist real estate practices leave urban decay            p.  33
Tearing Down the Troost Wall                        p. 36
Race, Real Estate, and Uneven Development            p. 37
Why Build a Kansas City FreeNet?                    p. 38
The Potential Power of Networked Community Building
an interview with Clint Wynn                    p. 41
Breaking the Cycle of the Street Economy                    p.  42
Public Computing Lab                                p. 45
Establishing Community, Acceptance and a Sense of
Worth                                            p. 46
Asking Leading Questions and Why Diversity Matters    p. 51
JC Nichols Country Club Plaza                    p. 54
The Three Square Miles Photo Essay                p. 57
The McFadden Brothers                                p. 65
More on Lincoln Prep                                    p.66