Plex: 19 June 2024

Building Bioregional Intelligence: Watershed Wisdom; Neighborhood Economics in Rural Canada; Fireworking; Plex Conversation: David Witzel; Petunias; Fall 1963–My First Move

Plex: 19 June 2024

The Biweekly Plex Dispatch is an inter-community newspaper published by Collective Sense Commons on first and third Wednesdays of each month. Price per issue: 1 USD, or your choice of amount (even zero).

In This Issue

  • Building Bioregional Intelligence: Watershed Wisdom (Michael Lennon)
  • Neighborhood Economics in Rural Canada (Kevin Jones)
  • Fireworking (Todd Hoskins)
  • Plex Conversations (Peter Kaminski)
  • David Witzel with Peter Kaminski
  • Petunias (Ken Homer)
  • Fall 1963–My First Move (Ken Homer)


charles blass

Building Bioregional Intelligence: Watershed Wisdom

by Michael Lennon

There are a series of virtual community action learning-type events running throughout the summer. A group of us with an interest in “attuning into greater self-assembly / cognition” are exploring using one or more of these events to engage in an learning sprint oriented around “building the relational soil for greater collective intelligence.

Other possible labels for the learning venture are: “Building Bioregional Intelligence (Watershed Wisdom)” or “Care as the driver of greater intelligence.

Upcoming community virtual events targeted include the following:

Co-creating a World that Works for All, June 27-July 25,

  • Ben Roberts' summit on using Open Space Technology and Kumu.
  • Basic approach: crowdsource the identification of hot topics, actors, levels of shared interest, and represent these on a social graph to facilitate foraging for and self-organizing into venturing clusters.

GreaterThan Jamboree,

  • Learning Event with 6 low cost sessions designed to accelerate activist self-assembly.

Visualising the Field of Systems Practice, School of Systems Change

Note that the events above are open to all.

There are additional similar events and opportunities where Team Building Bioregional Intelligence may participate as an "action research/action learning" group.

If you are interested in joining, please contact for more details.

Neighborhood Economics in Rural Canada

by Kevin Jones

I was just asked by a serious guy in my field to build a neighborhood economics style network across rural Canada. He has the chops and the contacts. He doesn't know how to build a network.

I like building networks. I hope to work with him to see  how easily replicable the solutions I've aggregated against a taxonomy of issues: innovative housing solutions, community owned commercial real estate, subverting structural injustice that's baked into how governments measure what a healthy community is, and who should get better services.

The chances that it won't work are high. But it will be fun to try, using influence, not direct executive power to design the template.


by Todd Hoskins

I still remember the smell of smoke, the crackling sounds of furniture burning, and the waves of intense heat as my father carried me down the stairs and through the living room when I was five years old. He covered my eyes and my mouth with his hand but my other senses were alive with fear. I had awakened my parents minutes before because I was scared. My dad started down the stairs, quickly turned around and picked me up in his arms, while telling my mom to grab my little brother. Lightning had struck the house and started a fire.

Strangely enough, I was again evacuated in the middle of the night for a house fire four years later. This time I briskly walked and saw the burning room but didn’t have to move through it. We sat in the car and watched the flames come out the front window, much like we had stood at the neighbors sliding glass door years before watching the fire truck arrive and wondering how much would be lost. These two fires destroyed rooms, but not the houses nor my relationship with fire.

This relationship has changed over the last 40 years. I crave a fireplace or a campfire when it's cold. I find it meditative to watch the flames. The smell of smoke has become comforting rather than fear-provoking. Our last home in Michigan had a giant fireplace in a small nook. We needed two pickup truckloads of wood to get us through each winter.

On a morning two months ago as I took a hike through the jungle, the smell of smoke brought no comfort. By that evening we needed to grab a bag and the dog, just as my father had grabbed me, and get out. 

I was stopped by neighbors on Saturday morning in the nature sanctuary as I was warming up for my jog. “Fire is inside the Jungla. Meet at the garage.” The garage is a dilapidated community building on the edge of the sanctuary. We live in Pura Jungla–pure jungle–320 acres of tropical dry forest jungle that has been restored over the last 30 years. It was once pastureland. Ramon and others planted 100,000 native species in the 1990’s. Wildlife returned. The BBC filmed a Howler Monkey special here. We have seven troupes of monkeys (75-80 total furry beings) that call the Jungla home, along with many lizards, bats, snakes, exotic birds, deer, foxes, coatimundi, jaguarundi, insects, and spiders. Just as I write these words, a turquoise-browed motmot is outside the window, a brilliant combination of olive, black, gray, apricot, maize, and turquoise feathers with a dramatic paddle tail.

The government of Costa Rica now requests seed samples from Pura Jungla for tropical dry forest species they cannot find anywhere else. Nature loves Pura Jungla, and the people who live here are very protective of her. That’s why when the message was sent out there were a dozen people at the garage in fifteen minutes.

This ecosystem has a dry season and a wet season. Right now in the middle of April we are 85% through the dry season. We haven’t had more than 10mm of rain since November. But last year’s rainy season brought 120 inches. This is the most dangerous time of the year for fires. And this weekend the winds were blowing through the mountain pass toward the coast consistently at 30 MPH, gusting to 50 MPH.

I’m assigned to the “Fire and Security” circle for the community. Pura Jungla currently consists of 13 homes, 2 homes under construction (one of them ours), and 25 additional parcels where those property owners are either planning, dreaming, or waiting. There are people in the community that grew up here, are from the Central Valley in Costa Rica, and from the UK, Italy, Australia, Switzerland, Texas, California, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Quebec, and Ontario, Canada. We have our own infrastructure–buried electric lines, our own water tank and supply pipes, and 5 km of roads and fire breaks.

We thought we were prepared for fire. Our “circle” had been briefly trained, and had an inventory of equipment–leaf blowers, masks, rakes, shovels, chainsaws, and water propelling backpacks. Fire has approached the perimeter of the Jungla 21 of the past 22 years, so it’s familiar to people who live here. Each year residents and neighbors, family and friends have been able to see the fire coming and keep it contained by forming a line along a perimeter fire road. In 2022, the first approaching fire was 400 meters wide but it didn’t make it into the Jungla.

It became apparent the first morning that the fire had not come from outside, but had started in the center of the jungle. The homes and parcels surround 220 acres that is a protected nature reserve–the sanctuary. By Saturday afternoon we realized the fire was likely started in five or six different locations within the sanctuary.

We quickly ate some homemade potato salad from the fridge and drove to the garage where there were ten people, including the groundskeeper Ishmael, his son, and friends. They were the first to venture into the jungle with leaf blowers. The garage became the staging area with water, collected supplies, and encouragement.

Less than twenty-four hours prior to this fire saga I had been diagnosed with shingles, a viral infection that lies dormant in people who have had chickenpox but can manifest under stress. The previous ten days had been stressful, and now I was itching with sensitive, prickly skin. I had started a dose of antiviral treatment the day before. I was feeling okay, but worried.

I felt I couldn’t sit around and watch, so I ventured into the hilly jungle with my neighbor and fellow fire and security circle member Dave. The Jungla has two ridges that each rise 150 meters above sea level with hills, ravines, and rocky volcanic soil in between. There is not much flat land. The sanctuary has no fire breaks and only deer trails. It’s wild Nature for the flora and fauna more than the humans.

There were small fires everywhere. I started raking leaves away from fires that seemed not-too-scary, and raking ash onto smoldering logs. I was glad the mask covered my eyes because the smoke was thick. Dave shouted at me that Deyanira needs help in the central ravine. Neither of us knew what or where that was, but we figured we could descend and find it.

Suddenly we were in geography that was unfamiliar with fires around us in all directions. We felt a wave of heat and saw a wall of flames swept up by the wind eight feet in the air. Dave yelled “Out!” and we started running with a rake and a shovel in hand. I fell and skinned my elbow. Dave fell face first and I saw the machete that was sheathed on his waist. We were both okay.

“That was stupid,” I thought. We have no idea what we’re doing. Five minutes later we found a familiar building and navigated back to the garage.

We didn’t have radios, a sense of where the fires were, or the means to effectively dispatch. The only communication that seemed to be working was Whatsapp. The first house emergency happened Saturday morning at Lote 22. Fifteen people showed up as the fires approached from two sides. Since Lote 22 is right above our building site our construction crew began to preemptively spray down the edge of the road and any vegetation. Three times fire jumped the road and the crew was able to extinguish it, once after a scream from Annika because tangled dry vines had suddenly lit up headed towards the crew’s sleeping quarters.

The situation at Lote 22 would be scary multiple times over the weekend. It’s estimated that 10,000 gallons of water were used just to protect that house which is even surrounded on three sides by gravel. It was so hot there were concerns about the stability of the steel and concrete of the carport. 

The next-door neighbors at Lote 24 were out of the country. Fires got close, just a few meters, but never touched the house. Jose brought in his backhoe to try to turn over the dry grass before it could burn. 90% of their 7.5 acres ended up being scorched and half their trees fallen, burned, or both. It was there that I learned what fire can do to the buried water pipes. Over the weekend, there were 10 places where water lines had been compromised just by the fire.

In our training, we had been informed that fire can travel long distances underground when there are air pockets. This was interesting to hear, but impossible to comprehend until you see fire suddenly appear going up a tree from nowhere. Old trees whose trunks have become hollowed enough would burn from the inside out. Sometimes you could see flames in a hole of the trunk thirty feet in the air. I was horrified every time I heard a big tree fall.

I love trees. I cried when contractors from the electric company took down limbs and trees to keep power lines safe in Michigan. I pleaded with them but they had the legal rights. I was simultaneously angry and grieving as I heard the chainsaws day after day go down the street killing or amputating whatever got in the way of progress.

Saturday night we drove with neighbors through the Jungla to evaluate whether it was safe to stay in our rental house on the south ridge. It wasn’t. In the darkness it looked like a scene from a war movie. As the winds calmed as the sun went down, it was quiet, devastated and devastating to see all the smoke and orange glows.

We slept at our neighbors house in the next village south. When we woke in the morning before sunrise we thought we would return to see the aftermath of the apocalypse. It wasn’t nearly as terrible as we thought. We didn’t hear birds or monkeys, but there were thousands of remaining trees.

It was only an hour before we had our first emergency call of a house in danger. The fires heated up again as the sun moved overhead. By midday our community water tower had been emptied, partly because of how much water had been used and partly because of the widespread leaks. Neighbors brought in tanques on a truck and a Whatsapp message would announce, “Agua aqui. Where is it needed?” We kept driving down to the public road to fill up buckets and haul them back into the jungle, the water splashing everywhere because of the rutted, dirt roads of the Jungla.

On the southwest corner we visited a fire that had jumped across the fire break. It was the first time we walked away from the fire knowing it was too big for us to do anything. With little water, Pia and I worked along the road putting out fires with earth. Rasta showed us how to slowly pour dirt on a burning log to suffocate the fire. 

By Sunday evening there was only one significant fire remaining. The winds finally settled. We returned to our porch and drank a beer at sunset watching the pockets of orange pulsating as it grew darker. We knew the fireworking was mostly done. Fire had consumed what it could. There wasn’t much left to burn unless the fire was to jump another road.

In the morning there would be more hotspots that started to move. We were exhausted, shocked, and sad more than scared. The fire had scorched 220 acres–200 acres of the sanctuary and 20 acres of residential land. But no homes were lost. Only one structure–a pavilion–had been leveled.

Ramon needed some treatment for his eyes. Robin was bitten by a snake escaping the fire. Boomer was dehydrated and inhaled too much smoke. Don Martinez lost his eyebrows, half his beard, and singed his arm. We were sore but okay.

We are nearly certain the fires were started by an arsonist. There is no other explanation for multiple fires starting in the dry season in the middle of the sanctuary, and on the windiest day in weeks. Over the past two months there has been peculiar theft and vandalism. In February two signs were tagged overnight with, “I hate yuo.” That’s how it was spelled. Ramon thinks he knows who it is but doesn’t want to incite a mob by sharing the details. I can’t imagine how angry and sad he is at the same time.

On Wednesday I felt well enough to go for a jog in the sanctuary. The 20 acres that are untouched include the mango groves, along with the guanabana, lemon, cashew trees, and my jogging path. It seemed the same as it was a few days ago, only the smell of charred earth was everywhere. Ramon says it won’t be gone until the third rain, which thankfully arrived in the beginning of May.

Why do we fight fire? Why do we call people firefighters? Who can declare victory over fire?

My experience is that fire is a wily force that cannot be defeated. We can limit its damage, protect what we care most about, but if we see it as an adversary, we will only find frustration. Like so many other things within the anthropocentric worldview of dominance, we believe we can and should control it. But we cannot. 

By the second day, most of us reached this conclusion. We must work with the fire–be fireworkers rather than firefighters. We could find ways to influence its path, protect a small area, or perhaps slow it down, but we needed to be in relationship with it. We protected homes and a handful of precious trees by gathering together and declaring, “No. Not this.” “Fire, you will go where you will go, but not through here.”

This discovery was freeing and devastating at the same time. There was freedom in not needing to put every fire out, and in prioritizing a grove, a home, or a hill. It was devastating to watch the animals flee and not be able to protect them. It hurt to say, “I’m choosing not to intervene.” I felt like I was betraying the trees and every being that depends on them.

It hurt. When I refrain from action, I am more open to feeling. So by not running around putting out small fires, the waves of emotion started coming over me. I was humbled. I am humbled. I am not in charge of Life, or this plot of land. I cry because trees fall and monkeys lose their home. I cry because death happens and that is a part of Life. The soil blackens even though it will come back perhaps even more lively than before. I desire that every tree–every being–lives and thrives forever. But that is not Life.

One of my teachers talks about practicing non-interference. They mean that it is usually (but not always) unwise to force or steer people off their own path, to take away their agency even when their decisions could lead to destruction. That hurts too.

It’s hard to admit that I cannot control outcomes. 

It hurts to let the fires burn. 

Monkeys slept in our trees a week after the fires burned through. I saw a doe and a fawn the same morning. A couple iguanas ran across the road. The animals are returning. Birdsongs seem even louder than before. My itching was subsiding.

Ramon has asked a local biologist, Ines, to survey the loss and suggest a plan for assisting the regeneration. We have our own seed bank, and friends and neighbors with seeds as well. We are committing to planting trees for the first three full months of the rainy season with our neighbors and local students. On Saturday we are going to have a conversation about security and buying more equipment.

Last night many of us fireworkers gathered at Restaurante Latino’s for patacones and beer. We were able to celebrate, not because the fires were defeated, but because we witnessed love-in-action. We were there for each other. It was beautiful to recount the stories of flash mobbing to homes, of feeling like we knew we had each others’ backs. There was laughter. Then we drove home to the ashen hills of Pura Jungla. We are forever bonded.

And I am more bonded, not just to the individual trees, but to Life itself. Fire can destroy a being or a relationship. But fire cannot destroy Life. I feel her cycles. I feel pride, joy, grief, and fear. I FEEL, and that too is Life. Fire is a force of Life that I am learning to accept in all of its forms.


charles blass

Plex Conversations

by Peter Kaminski

I am continuing a practice of having one-on-one conversations with members of the Plex intercommunities, with the goal of helping us all know each other better, and to think better together.

I invite you to also have a conversation with another person, inside or outside of the Plex, and to share the best parts of that conversation with all of us. Send me an email at

Here is a conversation with Dave Witzel.

David Witzel with Peter Kaminski, 2023-12-06

Pete: The thing I’m interested in getting into with the Plex Conversations is seeing other sides of people that we haven’t seen before. But I’m really okay to talk about whatever. What should we talk about?

Dave: I mean, I’m interested in the Plexy stuff. I don’t know if you’re interested in talking about that, but I’m curious about all the network crossing and cooperation building kinds of things. That’s what came to mind first.

Pete: That sounds great. Let’s talk about that. One of the people I contacted to interview was Charles Blass, who’s always been encouraging me with the Plex and CSC Mattermost. He said, “Pete, I want to interview you about the Plex.”

Dave: Exactly! I was thinking the same thing. I think it’s one of the more interesting experiments.

Pete: That’s great. Let’s chat about Plex. What I was hoping with the Plex is that it would be an inter-community thing, a way for each of these communities that I’m part of to connect. You and I share an interest in “inter-community” and I know you have a whole other set of communities. You know, we’re all kind of doing the same thing and we don’t know each other very well. So it’s born out of that frustration, how can we get more cross-signal stuff going on? How about you?

Dave: Yeah, I guess I ended up thinking of it a little bit in terms of technical problems. I want large-scale collaborative change. When you back up far enough, you basically have to get to “people know each and trust each other a little bit” as one of the core components. I’ve thought that “movements” really need journalists, when we do these distributed organization things. Big companies should probably do it too. They should just have a journalism department. Not like the human resources department and not even like an ombudsman. But there ought to be somebody who says, “Here’s a new story from inside this entity.” Often it will be a problem, but that’s good, right? Because we’re spotting our problems. I think the journalism metaphor fits. I feel like that’s what you’re doing, kind of acting as a journalist or at least a press aggregator or something like that. “The Associated Plex.”

Pete: I’ve wanted to do that. I was specifically thinking of journalism, and internal journalism. I worked in a company that had someone who did that. It wasn’t their job title, and it kind of got shifted back to documentation or whatever they were supposed to be doing. But for a little while, they were doing internal journalism. That was a while ago, probably 30, 40 years ago. I wonder why more people don’t do that.

Dave: Yeah, I don’t know. It feels like institutions have gotten more risk-averse. I think there’s an implicit risk to having a “renegade” journalist wandering around. And I suppose you can see it as a cost center without revenue, too. But I think it’s just kind of the nervousness around what the journalist might say.

Pete: You would think that some VP would be the publisher, essentially, and have the final say on whatever goes in.

Dave: Maybe. I don’t know. I’ve never seen it. I’m just making it up. If you do that, though, it starts to look like internal communications. So you somehow have to make it different. It can’t just be an internal newsletter. It’s got to be different than that somehow.

Pete: You’re right.

Dave: I don’t know how you demonstrate that. I mean, to make it credible.

Pete: It reminds me of an experience I had in Silicon Valley working with Ev Williams and Jason Shellen, his business manager at the time, with Blogger. Blogger got pretty successful for a short time there. He and Meg Hourihan were on the cover of the New York Times or something like that. Blogging was the new thing. Ev was really, totally focused on personal blogging. Any corporate thing just bounced off him.

At some point, his business manager looked in an unused mail folder and was like, “Dude, people have been trying to buy services from you for a year.” You can’t even answer their emails. What’s up with that? So Jason put out the word, and during the dotcom winter, a few of us got together and said, “Hey, we could take that as a business opportunity.”

We wrote up a business plan and went around to some of the customers whose mail had been lying around in the mailbox. The one I talked to was Sun Microsystems. It was the guy who ran the executive briefing center where other companies would come in and brief the executives on what was going on. He said, “I have this dream where I could blog what was going on at the executive briefing center. If I send out internal communications, nobody reads it. But if I had a blog and RSS readers, I could actually do journalism and say what was going on in the EBC because it’s amazing stuff and everybody should know about it.”

So that was kind of the birth of Socialtext because we wrote up a whole business plan for enterprise blogging, as a partner of Blogger. Then Blogger went dark on us, and we didn’t hear anything from them, and the deal went bust somehow. It turned out that Google had bought Blogger. So Ev got on a different path, and I was left thinking an enterprise blog would be cool, but an enterprise wiki blog would be even better.

So it’s definitely come up, but it’s really interesting how... it doesn’t make sense to me that there wouldn’t be some companies that want to drive internal innovation and internal knowledge exchange. It’s weird that doesn’t happen more.

Dave: There’s got to be some loss of potential there, right? Possibility, implicit potential. But I feel like it’s the risk thing. It’s kind of like the memo that blew up at Google, the fear of something bad happening just overwhelmingly possible. It’s so hard to tell the story of what would become good, what’s the adjacent possible look like. That’s just too ephemeral.

You know, it’s true in journalism too, right? I was trying to do it for our little town in Virginia, back 10, 15 years ago. We were trying to create a community paper using WordPress, right -- blogging software. We were trying to get citizen journalists to write our papers. We ran it for a couple of years. It actually worked pretty well, but getting the notion of a journalist was hard for people to maintain. We just kind of ran out of steam. We couldn’t recruit in the fall two years, and it stopped. But for a while, it did some really good work, but we just couldn’t keep it running.

Pete: Do you know more about why it didn’t work? It just kind of ran out of steam?

Dave: A couple of the folks who had been writing regularly said it was too much and stopped. One guy was a lawyer and felt like there was a legal risk he didn’t want to deal with. We weren’t able to recruit.

I’ve always thought that if I either spent more time or was better at recruiting more volunteers, we might have been able to do it again. But I find that the notion of getting community energy is not easy. I’m seeing that in a lot of the activities I’m doing now as well. I love Clay Shirky’s stuff about the crowd, and, the crowd’s a pain in the butt. It doesn’t seem to happen magically.

Pete: Plex is hard to get energy for, too. People really love it, but maybe I haven’t done a good job recruiting. Any kind of inter-community thing seems hard. People get into a particular community and they love it, and they go, “Yeah, okay, there’s another one over there, but I’m happy here. I don’t need to know what’s going on over there.” You must experience the same thing too, because you’re another one of those bridge builders, with your foot in a couple of different communities, and they ought to know each other.

Dave: It’s a bit of a top-down thing. I would like to have large-scale collaboration. If you’re going to have large-scale collaboration, you have to be able to network across networks. If you’re going to network across networks, that means people have to boundary-span to do that. You don’t want all networks merging into one thing. You want to have specialization. But that means you have to have people who are deliberately listening in. Ultimately, it is still speaking and listening.

One of the things the Plex does is speak, and if people are reading it, then they’re listening, and you’re getting cross-network outcomes from that. That’s part of the reason I think it’s magical. And, It turns out that it gets tiring. I think it just overwhelms the capacity of people.

For instance, the sociocracy double-linking concept is a good concept. But technically, I think it’s really hard. There aren’t that many people keen to do it. We’ve been trying to do the Regeneration Pollination events, which are one-to-one speed networking things. You know, trying to create edges, node-node-edge, node-node-edge. I’d like to be able to do that across networks.

Instead of double linking, what you really want is dozens of links. You want to have two communities kind of crash into each other, and hopefully a bunch of connections result and then you get kind of flow. We’ve tried it a little bit now. I’m not sure we’ve been successful in creating the big bang out of it yet, but I might push on that one a bit more.

Pete: I like it. There’s another thing I’m trying to do: promote the idea of lots of small, team-sized micro-startups, working. There are a couple of missing components to it. One is what a micro-startup business structure is like. I’ve got kind of a whole structure thought up where I borrowed from dynamic equity splits. I don’t know if you know what that is. It’s called “Slicing Pie (R).”

The idea is if you have a startup, instead of pre-allocating equity pieces, you tally up people’s inputs, like money, time, and other in-kind stuff, and reallocate the split of the equity regularly. Then you reallocate the split of the equity every month or so.

One of the problems we found is that “equity” conflates a couple of things. It ends up being about governance, profit sharing, and maybe other things like risk sharing and risk allocation.

I’m thinking about the idea of the entity owning itself; nobody really owns it. And then there are stewards who do governance, and there are people who participate in the profit. And you allocate those shares dynamically based on contributions. But that structure doesn’t really exist yet; it’s not proven, written up, or easy to explain to people.

We don’t have good ways for these little micro enterprises to find out about each other, to share when they need to share. Currently, we do a tiny bit of that; individuals do that. But I think there’s a lot of power in setting up a team of people, not just one person. A team can be a lot better at web development or marketing than a single individual. They have more strength, so the right thing to do is teams.

But there’s no infrastructure set up for it. And a lot of counter-infrastructure, right? There are old-school ways you feel like you have to do.

It feels like the same kind of problem where, for journalism, for instance, there’s nobody to sing the praises of journalism within an ecosystem. There aren’t the equivalent of publishers that say, “Hey, if you do journalism, I’ll make sure people hear it.”

If you and I are going to different communities and talking about other communities, we don’t have a tradition of bars or something like that where the visiting minstrel hangs out. Like, “Oh, wow, the wandering minstrel’s in town. Let’s all gather around and make sure he gets fed.” That doesn’t exist. There’s no context for bumping into organizations and saying, “Hey, I want to sing you some songs and hear all your stories.”

Dave: That might be one of the reasons traditional companies hire traditional consulting firms. The consulting firms act a little bit like the bars.

Pete: You’re totally right.

Dave: That’s been true. They get to collect stories and resell them.

Pete: They even do that across parts of the same company.

Dave: Like internal consulting.

Pete: I get hired to listen to one group so I can turn around and tell the other group.

Dave: That’s really interesting. That makes me think, I don’t know who all you’ve got on your list to interview. David Hodgson would be really interesting to talk to on this dimension. He’s so good at networking. I believe he stood up the GRC as an attempt to offload his networking. Because it’s just too big a task. He’s really good at it, but he was trying to create a structure where he didn’t have to be the one generating the connections.

Pete: I don’t think I know him.

Dave: OK, well, then you definitely should. He’s a networker’s networker at Berkeley. He’s the one I’ve been following on this regeneration trail.

Pete: That’s cool. I’d love an invite.

Dave: The other name that came up, have you talked with Noah Thorp recently? Some of the stuff you’re talking about sounds a bit like the CoMakery thing he’s doing. He was doing a company where a group of people could get together quickly, allocate equity, and pop stuff up. It was called CoMakery. I think he was chasing some similar ideas in terms of how you get small groups to be lightweight, quick, and still fair.

Pete: I feel like we’re sitting in front of this puzzle, and we can tell it’s important and it would be nice to solve it, but it’s hard to even get a handle on it.

Dave: I wondered if I’m, and this is where I was emphasizing this technocratic perspective, I wonder if I’m tackling it from the wrong end of the tail. Did you listen to Clay Shirky’s talk yesterday?

Pete: I didn’t.

Dave: It went around, I think it was Doc Searls who must be affiliated with the Ostrom Institute now or something, was hosting. I think he was at Indiana University, he gave a talk in the classroom, but he was talking about the power of the community, and the ability of the Internet, Web 2.0, people able to create, co-create, and organize their creations. Arguably, I think it is happening at a dramatic scale, but it doesn’t have the focus I want it to have.

What’s failing, is “my” version of it. People out there are doing amazing, incredible things that just don’t make any sense to me, putting tons of energy into stuff, but it’s not my stuff. It’s not like, well, maybe there’s something wrong with my stuff, or the notion that it needs to be my stuff. I don’t know, and he has some example about some guy that does a bunch of videos with or videos of heads in toilets or something. I don’t even know what they’re called. He said that channel gets like 30 million views. The Sopranos had like 10 million. What we think of as mainstream media.

Pete: Yeah.

Dave: It’s kind of niche, and all these things that we think of as niche media are pretty big.

Pete: Yeah, definitely. So I wonder how we could do a better job of singing the praises of journalism or whatever it is. It’s funny, I searched on Clay Shirky and Doc Searls and I got a blog post from Doc about journalism being in trouble. We need whole news. It’s more about mainstream journalism. I wonder if we haven’t found the right model yet. I wonder if people like you and me should figure out how to get together once in a while and do a different kind of cross-network news or something like that. We don’t, as a culture, gossip enough, maybe.

Dave: That’s interesting. I like that framing. It feels like there are probably different layers of the problem here. I think Dave Winer’s “narrating your work” notion is really critical for network building because someone has to speak and someone has to listen. That’s the communications channel.

The narrating your work process is important in that. There’s some journalism role in there. But regular journalism, where you’re trying to figure out where the city budget is going, is hard. It requires research and knowledge, and we’re missing that too. Those are very different problems.

But I like the idea of getting together and gossiping about our network. That’s a great idea and it makes me think that I should be deliberately taking the Plex and publishing it in my network. I mean, I’m not right, but I should. So I’ll start.

Pete: I’d love that. Thank you. As you do that, I would also love to hear back from people, “Hey, I want to get this into your network of distribution.”

Dave: Yeah. I’m just very skeptical that you’ll hear anything, but I’m eager to post it. Thank God if you do hear back, but you know. That’s back to the “this is harder than I expected,” and you don’t know what the failure point is.

I did laugh at something today. When I say my network, I’m probably talking about the Global Regeneration CoLab because that’s the one I spend the most time trying to operate within. We do lots of Zoom meetings, which has been an interesting thing.

I think the “lots of Zoom meetings” phenomenon has something to it. Lots of people get together and talk to each other. We do a half dozen, a dozen a week. There’s a group of folks who’ve gotten very comfortable and show up over and over again, and then you’ll get random people coming in.

We “market” by putting it on a shared calendar, a weekly newsletter, and usually emailing out the event to a Google group list. Maybe a third of the folks have figured out how to get themselves off that list, so they don’t get bombarded with emails. Another 20% of the emails are probably bad.

So maybe half of the list is still getting that email. Oh, and Google throttles you after a while. I can’t send out repeated invites because for some reason they catch me. Today I did a session where I must have sent it and it got throttled, and I didn’t notice because it’s not a big error. The error message is subtle. It just doesn’t save your calendar event and doesn’t really tell you.

So I hadn’t sent it out. And we didn’t have anybody show up today. So of the three methodologies, I guess it’s the email one that’s really driving all the attention. (Both laughing.) I did an experiment and found out the result.

Pete: That’s really good. It’s good to hear you think of that as an experiment.

Dave: Yeah, well.

Pete: It’s a good way to learn, right? That’s really interesting. I thought you were brilliant with the NSF grant meetings, shepherding that. [Dave organized a number of teams to meet regularly as they worked on applying for a particular NSF grant.]

Dave: Thank you. It felt like a “Pete” thing to do.

Pete: Yeah, yeah. Thank you. I appreciate it. I think of it as something “Dave” would do. It was really good. Would you do that again? Would you do it differently?

Dave: I’m going to try to do it again for the next round. You probably saw it already, but I would love any thoughts you might have on this “Open Stack” document I’m circulating. You probably understand it better than anybody possibly could. I’m all excited about the notion that one of the things we’re missing... Why doesn’t some of this collaborative stuff work? Why don’t we have more Wikipedias? That’s the way I’ve ended up thinking about it.

I listened in on a conversation the other day where somebody was telling the same stories we would have told 10 or 15 years ago around these cool new things popping up. But there weren’t that many, you know. We did one Wikipedia. Maybe I’m just not aware of enough other things out there, but it doesn’t feel like we ever got good at it.

One of the things the NSF work brought up for me and has been reinforced now, is that if you deliver, what is the business model around these products? Some of these products do have business models.

The WordPress business model is really interesting. There’s a very active business ecosystem surrounding the open source asset. You could diagram it.

If we’re going to do a Regenerative Open Stack, we need an intentional business system to support that. How are we going to build that? So let’s build it. The NSF money would help pay for that, help pay for the planning. That’s a rich space and I’m just going to try to spend time on that.

Pete: That’s awesome. I’m glad. In that context, it would be really interesting to talk to Matt Mullenweg, the WordPress guy.

Dave: I don’t know him, but I would love to. I’m very interested in what they’ve done. I thought he was writing a book or something. I’ve heard him talk on podcasts a bit, and I found it really interesting.

Pete: WordPress really pulled it off.

Dave: Right? Is it just one? But it feels more reproducible. To the extent that you can imagine creating a financial ecosystem swirling around a product that looks like WordPress.

Pete: Another one that reminds me of is Khan Academy.

Dave: Does Khan Academy have a commercial component where people make money using it?

Pete: Yeah, that’s totally fair. I don’t know that it does, now that you say it. It may. I know it’s got a lot of money, but it may be charitable money.

Dave: It would make total sense to just fund these things as infrastructure. But to the extent that they’re not going to get funded as infrastructure, what do you do?

Pete: Another interesting one, again without a business model, is -- the Internet Archive. Brewster Kahle has been doing amazing stuff. That’s running on charitable contributions.

Dave: Yeah. There are definitely things that need to exist. In the regeneration space, regeneration implies a profit. There’s more value created, you end up with more value than you started with. A lot of that value is not supposed to go to extractive capitalistic interests, it’s supposed to go to birds and bees, soil and things like that, but there’s value.

The notion of a market where people are able to capture value and share it, to redistribute it, doesn’t seem totally nuts. It looks a lot like real estate development. We get together and build something small and have more value than we did, so how do we share the value. And then, how do you do it in a non-extractive way with a large chunk of the asset base being in the commons.

Pete: So, tell me more about the Open Stack.

Dave: Yeah, there’s a couple of chunks. One is regeneration, right. That we can make the world better than it was. We don’t have to be extractive, we can use abundance, those kinds of notions. You want to think about regeneration at a landscape level, you want it to be kind of sufficiently complicated that there’s lots of transactional value.

We talk a lot about regenerative ag and getting farmers to regenerative ag which is really good, but one farmer in a bunch of industrial farmers is, you know, you’re still screwed. You need a bigger organizing concept.

One of the benefits of regenerative ag is you get the cascading benefits. If I switch to regenerative ag, I can get more healthy food, but also carbon sequestration, increased biodiversity, water retention, flood reduction, pollution reduction, and a whole bunch of other things. Farmers don’t get paid for a bunch of those things.

So if we could create relationships, we could also create resource flow back and forth, if you can get them to interact. A landscape that has a farmer and a city becomes more interesting than a landscape with just farmers. That’s the notion. I think we’ll see increasingly more investment in landscape regeneration notions.

That will require a whole bunch of technology, and I’m using technology in a broad sense, knowledge that we can reuse constantly. We want to make sure we do that in a way that’s open, not extractive. I can imagine that in 20 years there will be a stack of technology that supports landscape regeneration.

Can we start to craft it now so that it’s not commercialized, so that it’s not captured. So it’s better than it would have been otherwise. So, then, how do you jump in? I was having this discussion with some folks and I was like, “How do we do this stack?”

Well, we don’t really know. We’ve only done a couple. What do they look like? We’ve grown them organically. The IP stack was a little bit deliberate. The LAMP stack, I think, I don’t know, how did we get the LAMP stack. People did products, then they fit together and we have a stack. Now it’s like saying, “Look, we know we’re going to get this in 20 years.” Let’s do it intentionally, is kind of the notion.

Pete: I like it. Jerry Michalski talks about some of the same things. Then, Klaus Mager is hot on bioregions.

Dave: I’m using landscape as a fractal, kind of watershed. People use a lot of different terms, but they’re place-based and have a living systems rationale. There’s some reason these things are biologically coherent. So, yeah, landscapes, watersheds, bioregions. Carol Sanford talks about “lifesheds.”

I don’t know if “fractals” is the right word. But, you know, they kind of look like each other and they kind of overlap. They’re not governmentally defined. That’s one of the really interesting things. They’re the borders.

We just had an interesting conversation with the folks that ran the Regenerate Cascadia Summit. Brandon Letsinger was telling stories about how there are these islands in the Puget Sound. They’re doing the same kind of stuff. They really learn from each other, but they don’t talk to each other because one’s in the US and one’s in Canada. That was a consistent split. This random government boundary meant they don’t talk to each other.

Pete: Yeah, it’s funny how that works. You said open, not extractive. That makes sense to me. I don’t know how to describe that to someone else, if that makes sense.

Dave: I’m curious if it’s true, too. I don’t know. If you think about capitalism, right. People complain about capitalism all the time. Well, capitalism is a return on capital.

What if nobody owns the capital? It’s the commons. How does that affect capitalism?

A lot of extraction is the rent seeking on top of it. We’ve created some artificial barrier to sharing the resource that has to be implemented by law because the resource itself doesn’t require it. All the digital assets where the cost of transfer is zero or effectively zero, you have to create trademark law or copyright to make them valuable. IP regulations to preserve the value.

If you design the system so that value goes into the commons originally, and people are able to use it and resell it, but they can’t own it, how does that change the dynamics? Do people still get incredibly wealthy? I don’t know.

Pete: That was a great explanation. So, “extractive.” I understand the concept that it’s bad, but it seems too big. When you narrow it down to rent seeking. That gets specific enough for me to have an intuition about it.

Dave: I think there’s a really good critique in here. On one level, I think the word “extractive” resonates with people at a gut level. “Yeah, that’s bad.” If you tease that out, it’s like, well, I can’t believe it.

It works as an emotional word. The details are a little fuzzy. I think it also originates from extractive industries. It’s mountaintop coal. It’s things where the externalities were, you know, the value was captured and externalities were given to society. That notion of extraction.

Pete: Yeah. Talking about extractive as externalization.

Dave: I think that’s a little different than in the Internet realm, in the IP realm. Basically anything that a company considers a moat, is extractive in some sense. If I can create an artificial barrier. I’ve created an extractive advantage. That’s where the tension is.

There’s a whole bunch of conversation around soil data. Who owns soil data? There’s a knee-jerk reaction that the farmer does. It’s like, well, why should the farmer own the soil’s data? The soil owns the data. Or something. I don’t know. There will be a battle over who owns this data.

Because of the implicit value of the data, which shouldn’t have any value. It should probably just be reused all the time. But we’ll have a fight over who owns it.

Pete: Another thing about extractive is that it’s a good antonym of generative. Another thing is, I know personally, I feel like I don’t mind paying a toll to get across the moat if it’s not “extractive.” If they’re covering costs and maybe making a reasonable profit, then it’s like somebody’s got to be doing this work. I appreciate that the work is being done. It’s when capitalism, that somebody has to accumulate more capital, gets added on to that. It’s like, OK, now that we’re extracting, let’s maximize.

Dave: That’s exactly the issue. That’s always true in all the monopolies. Society wants to pay marginal cost. Somebody has to pay average cost, and the monopoly holder wants you to pay your usage value. Right. They want to capture all the consumer surplus. That’s the negotiation. Open sourcing assets takes a bunch of stuff out of that equation.

Pete: My intuition says yes. My experience says, “well...”

Dave: I’ve said this many times, but I don’t know how the Linux Foundation works. I don’t know who pays for it. I don’t know what the cost of Linux is. If you were to say cost of Linux, because if you were to say the value of Linux, if there were a corporation that owned Linux, it would be a very valuable corporation.

Pete: Yes. Very, very valuable. Hundreds of billions of dollars, at least.

Dave: The question is, if you could take a lot of the intellectual capital and put it into. Something that’s reusable.

Pete: I’ll say this before coming back to thinking about the Linux Foundation. My experience in open source is that... It’s kind of like what you said about Clay Shirky’s crowdsourcing thing. It’s good in theory, but... A lot of open source seems like it’s been crowdsourced. But what it really is, is either some company funding it or some developer having spare time because they’re retired or teenagers or whatever. So I feel like we as a society, and speaking as an open source developer and definitely an open source user, society is not good at shepherding its investment in open source.

Dave: Right.

Pete: So. I want to feel like it’s the right thing to do, and I don’t know if it is.

Dave: Which is also part of the business model problem you’re pointing at. Part of what has been the light bulb for me recently is this. A framing for the problem is that whatever the open source is, it needs a business model. How do you think about that? WordPress has a business model. And you can analyze it. Now, can I reproduce a business model that works? I don’t know. The notion that I can think about it...

Pete: That would be the question for Matt or his team.

Dave: Exactly. Where else can we do this around? My question is, how can I do this around a code base that helps make regeneration more successful and better?

Pete: I have a hunch that it was an accident with WordPress. Probably a lot of it was Matt and whoever living in cheap apartments, eating cheap food for a decade or whatever. Until there was enough success and people were just throwing money into the ecosystem. “I need this ecosystem. I’m going to invest in it.”

Dave: But penicillin was an accident, too, right? At some point, lots of things are an accident the first time. We’re supposed to get better at them.

Pete: That’s a really good comparison or example. You’re right.

Dave: I think all of open source, the concept that you have viable open source products. It’s all within our life, within our profession, within the last 20 years. This did not exist before 2000. It’s not too surprising that we haven’t codified it. I’m a little surprised we’re not trying harder to codify.

Maybe it’s because the commercial interests aren’t that interested in codifying. I don’t know. I feel like now around me, a bunch of people are saying, “Oh, all our stuff’s open. We’re opening everything.” But that’s not it. That’s not what’s going to make it better. You can create something and release it as open. Now you’ve opened something, but it won’t get better.

The point is, it’s got to get better. Right, which is also the business model point. You need that. I don’t know why I haven’t seen that question as much as I wish I could. How do we create that open system so that it gets better?

Pete: That’s really smart. I wish I could travel back in time to Socialtext when we decided to open source Socialtext. There were lots of moving parts to the decision, but a big part of it was that we wanted it open. It didn’t help us. It didn’t continue to grow based on that.

Dave: Yes. Because implicitly, somehow, the opening of Socialtext had to create financial opportunities for other people. In a micro sense, like WordPress, there’s a whole set of businesses that are able to live off of it. Which is kind of a living systems metaphor. I can write my own add-ins, design templates, sell coding services. Somehow, a successful Socialtext open ecosystem -- you can always open it, but an open ecosystem -- would have implied plugins that people could resell or hosting services or something. That’s what we also tend not to want to have because I think you’re probably giving up control every time you do that.

Pete: I think that’s kind of a reflex thing. At Socialtext, we would have loved to have had community involvement.

We weren’t mindful enough to think of it as developing an ecosystem.

I’ve been in this a couple different times in different ways. Igniting a market is really tricky, because it’s got at least two sides.

There’s nobody who wants to sell anything because there’s nobody who wants to buy stuff, and there’s nobody who wants to buy stuff because there’s nobody selling anything.

Until you get both sides of the table and get that teeter-totter going, it’s hard to bootstrap because you have to bootstrap both at the same time.

Another weird thing, one of the things I guess almost subconsciously, I don’t go around thinking I wish this wasn’t so, but our culture is set up that there’s either commercial big business, or favors, social goodwill stuff. It’s really hard to get up the ramp of, “Hey, how about if we do a little bit of social goodwill and a little bit of commercial stuff.”

And it’s not all charity, and it’s not all crass commercialism. It’s something in the middle, and that’s fine. That discussion is really hard to have.

Dave: In the regeneration space, there’s a ton of government investment in things like data, satellite data, and stuff like that. So there are revenue flows from a number of different places.

I think there will be a bunch of government money that will go into landscape regeneration. So there will be a consulting industry that’s going to do analysis and planning, implementation kinds of things, and they’re going to use tools. So I feel like there will be businesses that will want the intellectual assets.

So the goal is, can we structure the intellectual assets of businesses to incentivize them to improve the open ones versus just doing their own? You can think of the future as going to be either really coherent, organized closed systems; really fragmented, inefficient closed and open systems; or organized open systems.

What we want is the organized open. How do we get there?

Pete: Yeah. Thanks so much, Dave, this was a great conversation.

Dave: Thank you! Let’s do it again some time.


charles blass


by Ken Homer

Fall 1963–My First Move

by Ken Homer

1. We were supposed to move from Ridgewood NJ to Madison Wisconsin.
I remember talking to my dad on the telephone. (It’s long distance – it’s costing us a fortune – talk fast!)

He told me about the winters about how much snow I would have to play in. What I didn’t know at the time was why we were going to move. My dad’s alcohol problem had cost him another job. And that loss had cost us our house.

Instead, we ended up in a town called Irondequoit. A suburb of Rochester NY. My guess is that his drinking had also cost him the job in Madison, but no one ever told me that. It’s just something I’ve been able to surmise over the years.

2. It was the biggest truck I’d ever seen. Right there outside our door! Deep orange with Allied Van Lines painted in giant letters. I helped to pack, proud that I could now spell “FRAGILE” which I scrawled in big red letters on the boxes.

My first plane ride ever was from Newark, NJ to Rochester, NY. I was six. We wore our Sunday best. The props, yep, props were still common back then, made a noise that reverberated and rumbled through my whole torso. I stared out the window the whole way, except during lunch. Lunch, I was delighted to see, included a five pack of cigarettes. These my mom promptly confiscated. I was terribly disappointed.

We spent the first few nights at a Howard-Johnsons. The orange-tiled roof with the pointy turquoise cupola was a familiar place to me seeing how it was roadside fixture. We ate at dozens of them when I was a kid. I’d tried all of their 28 ice cream flavors. My favorite was peppermint stick. (My, how tastes change, and thank goodness they do!)

I wanted to swim but the pool was closed. Plus, I had no suit. For dinner I had the Ipswich clams––my favorite. There was a color TV in our room! My mom and sisters slept in the bed. I was on a roll-in cot near the window.

3. My mom sobbed for days when she discovered that her grandmother’s beautiful ornate silver service––the one we used at Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and which was probably the only really valuable thing we owned––didn’t arrive with our other possessions.

I suspect it was all too much for her. Her husband losing her house. Being forced to move away from friends and family. Then, the theft of her inheritance. It all just broke her heart. I think it broke her spirit too. A weariness settled over her and she was never the same again.

Three years later, she would depart from this world, careworn and seemingly far older than her chronological age of 48.

Ken Homer • Jan 2024


charles blass

Thank you for reading! The next edition will be published on 3 July 2024. Email Pete with suggested submissions.

Grateful appreciation and many thanks to Charles Blass, Ken Homer, Todd Hoskins, Kevin Jones, Michael Lennon, and David Witzel for their kind contributions to this issue.

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