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Death of a Programmer, Life of a Farmer (hello-world.io)
698 points by coder2222 on May 5, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 341 comments

I grew up on a farm. Not surprised to see this decision in the slightest. Farming is tough -- physically, financially, and in the end emotionally. But it is still a very rewarding life.

I can remember sitting on my grandfather's lap, riding on his John Deere two-cylinder (it was called a Johnny Popper.) Pre-school? I went to pre-farming. I was probably 3 years old the first time I rode a tractor.

By the time I was 8, I was driving that popper while two of my grandfather's farm hands tossed hay bales onto a flatbed trailer. We drove back to the barn, and I scampered up to the second floor and waited as those guys tossed those hay bales up through a huge opening. I had to stack the hay bales, and had to run my ass off to keep up. Then, we'd do it all over again until the barn was full. I was exhausted every day, but my grandfather allowed me to drink my first beer with those guys when we were finished. It sounds awful, but it was an amazing experience.

I'm no longer out in the field. For me now, the feeling of working on something with my hands is cathartic. Some of my best days for relaxing involve doing simple yardwork around our house.

The farm life works for some people, but not for others. What is great is that no one need debate whether that choice is right -- it only matters to yourself. Good for this guy, I think he made a great choice for himself.

"The farm life works for some people"

I agree. I couldn't do farm, I have bad allergies to pollen, dust, and too much time under the sun and I become red as a lobster, and it is painful

But programming is what I love to do. So I will say "The programmer life works for some people"

I wouldn't call the original article "The death of a programmer", I would call it "The born of a farmer". He figure out were he feels happier, and that is good thing which sometimes means leaving behind what is hip for the masses, but that is not a failure, that is centering

>I have bad allergies to pollen, dust

Interestingly enough, if you had grown up on a farm, you many not have developed allergies...



I grew up around farms and have a really bad pollen allergy. Still gets bad even in NYC around this time. Still, I don't think people should fear the outside because of it– my reaction sometimes takes me out for a couple days at a time, but it's still better than what it feels like to always be avoiding it and then one day getting a blast of discomfort that you aren't used to.

Key word /may/. I grew up in the backwoods of interior northern california.

And have terrible allergies. I take allergies shots, two nasal sprays, and antihistamines. They still only go away in the snow and rock above the treeline.

Anecdote: Grew up on a vineyard and blueberry farm ... did not stop allergies from crushing my sinus cavities aka chronic sinusitis

To all the replies to this (at this time), he said "you MAY not have developed allergies", so please do not refute what he is saying by using yourself as an example (as it is just one sample in the overall population).

I grew up on a farm and had terrible allergies as a kid, so bad that I couldn’t go outside sometimes.

They cleared up a year after leaving that life.

As much as we "say" we love programming and farming if ever we became so filthy rich that we could pay other people to do these things for us... we would.

I've never heard of a tech billionaire profess his love of programming so much that he's diving right back into the trenches. We're all human, we may love programming and farming, but let's be real, programming and farming are still work and we're all working toward retirement: a state where we no longer need to work.

I just saw a tweet of Notch

> Turns out unrolling tight inner loops really speeds them up! 38% speedup from that alone. Makes sense, it's doing one eight of the branching


Even billionaires may want to micro-optimize! Bonus point: he is developing for a "20 years old platform"

There's always outliers, which is what I think Notch is... Without quantitative data I may be totally wrong though.

I still think most people would stop coding once they had the resources to command other people to do it for them. Take for instance, Elon Musk, I'm pretty sure he's no longer in the trenches. That guy started coding at 12.

Most of those people though simply can't go back to the trenches coding because their time become too valuable.

Some of them actually miss it. In most Bill Gates interviews he alaways remember his days hard at coding as the most fun.

Some of us aren't just "saying" we love programming; we do. If I were a billionaire, I would no more pay someone to do my programming than pay them to take my vacations.

I think your talk of "the trenches" is telling, though. The more money I have, the less I have to work on other people's projects and the more I can work on my own. Just as travel-lovers with more money can do less business travel to unpleasant destinations and more personal travel to favorite places, those of us who love programming just dream of doing more projects of our own choosing, not of escaping this terrible chore called programming that we only "say" we love.

Don't get me wrong. I love programming too, and I certainly have my own projects on the side.

But work is work, which this person is doing. People who say that working as a coder is like going to disneyland everyday because their totally enamored by programming... I find it hard to believe that many people are like that. Burn out is a real thing.

I agree with you here, that even for someone who loves programming, working as a hired coder to implement other people's plans can become very tedious if you don't care about the project personally, and few programming lovers would liken it to a trip to Disneyland. Also, that burnout is a real thing.

So, it sounds as though we agree that many people really DO love programming, they're not just saying they do, and would go on doing it even if they made billions, but loving programming doesn't mean loving all programming work. There are programming jobs that people who genuinely love programming don't love at all and wouldn't do if they didn't need the paycheck.


Matthew Dillon doesn't need to work but keeps working on DragonFlyBSD.

Also it is possible to live and work as in retirement http://www.noogenesis.com/pineapple/fisherman.html

Addendum to that. The story in the link actually seems to be "Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral", by Heinrich Böll.


An English translation as PDF:


I can appreciate the story - it's a paean to a lost world when we didn't need to be competitive. The thing is, money provides more power for the fisherman, which he would need if his environment changed:

-rebuilding after an earthquake -fleeing if the local government goes bad -dealing with a crash in tuna price

We all still live in a competitive environment. Hunter-gatherers were replaced by massively-reproducing (but probably unhappy & unhealthy) farmers. In the example, fishing represents pure surplus value, produced from nothing - and in economic situations like that, producing less than others means you'll eventually be out-competed and replaced.

In reality the same tragedy of the commons applies to fishing, and we haven't solved it there either.

Until competition is restrained, we've gotta compete. Individuals can opt out but they're just removing their traces from the future - those left will still be struggling until we have a way to globally eliminate environments which force people to be maximizers. And in a big universe, it's uncertain whether we can ever really control enough to be able to relax. It may even be computationally impossible to really stop the continuous evolution of competition in how we live life

> Matthew Dillon doesn't need to work but keeps working on DragonFlyBSD.


It is known, kind of an axiom.

While I don't have access to Dillon's finances, his personal site http://www.backplane.com gives some hints: BEST Internet was an incredible successs successs [sic] These days most of my attention is focused on the The DragonFly Project


He isn't the only one, many open source developers contribute because they want to do it and not expecting any monetary compensation.

I don't think their is any quantifiable data to prove what either of us say... but I think what I say applies to most programmers, not all.

"If you really want to do something you’ll do it at night. You know, Bruce Wayne had a day job. He was Batman at night. If you really want to get something done you’ll just do it." - Nicholas Gurewitch (of pbfcomics.com)

I'm semi-retired and living in Thailand where the cost of living is a fraction of my (modest for a programmer) life in the US. I don't code as much as I used to, but I still write a fair bit. But it's not for the same reasons; now I'm coding in order to teach my children, and hopefully eventually other children too.

I certainly don't see myself spending my time coding another database-backed CRUD web application any time soon; instead it's games and art and possibly soon music. It changes things, but it lets you do it for the reasons that matter instead of just to feed yourself.

> if ever we became so filthy rich that we could pay other people to do these things for us... we would.

I disagree; "programming" is far too broad a field to make generalizations like the parent makes. I suspect "growing food" is too, though I agree it's probably true of any farming on a scale larger than your own back yard.

I love to cook, but I don't love to peel potatoes. Just because a chef pays someone else to do the drudge work doesn't mean he doesn't love to cook.

When people say they love programming. They mean they love building interesting things, solving interesting problems, and using interesting tools.

Unfortunately, actual programs are full of boring parts. Yes, most programmers would pay someone to finish the boring parts, but I don't think that means they don't love programming.

Yeah I get it. I love programming too.

There certain folks who claim that going to a job everyday is like going to disneyland because they're doing what they love. I find this concept hard to believe. I'm just trying to express: yes people may love programming, but programming at work is still "work" which is very different from "play"; both of which can be done with a programming language.

I should mention lest I get accused saying everyone is like me, that there are outliers. There exists people who love programming so much that they never burn out.

I guess it is impossible to say for sure, but I feel like if I had billions, I would still want to farm commercially – just with much nicer equipment than I have now. Something like 30% of farmers are 65+ years of age. I would suggest it is not because they cannot afford to retire, especially with the price of land these days, but because it is something they love to do.

Anecdotally, a neighbour of mine made millions with the sale of his company (not tech) and then started farming with those proceeds.

I think most people wouldn't go into farming. They'd use the billion dollars to chase some crazy dream, retire, party hard, spend extravagantly, go on vacation, travel the world, start a new venture... anything but farming or doing something totally plain... but that's just my opinion, I'd actually like to see some hard data on what billionaires do with their time.

We can ascertain that at least 50 billionaires are classified as farmers[1] in the USA. How involved they are with the operation is more difficult to quantify, but being completely hands off would surprise me.

Even for my own farming operation, it only takes about four weeks out of the year of my time. It's not like I'm up at sunrise 365 days per year, breaking my back until sunset, like some people seem to picture. I consider it to be my vacation away from the day job as a programmer. I mean, what is more fun than operating highly advanced heavy equipment that costs more than high end sports cars? I can't imaging having billions of dollars at my disposal making that less exciting – it is a tech nerd's paradise.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/bethhoffman/2013/11/07/50-billio...

"Billionaire" might be a stretch but there's plenty of people in tech that wouldn't need to work at all if they didn't want to. It would surprise me if Torvalds et. al would have to wait for retirement before they didn't actually _have_ to work.

Actually Linus Torvalds isn't that rich according to his post from Google+ [1]:

> Linus Torvalds: 3840x2160 resolution - it's the Dell 28" UHD panel - for $299 thanks to Microsoft's black Friday deal. Thanks MS!

> Vladimir Odessit: At a net-worth of $150M I wouldn't think that you would care for black friday deals :)

> Linus Torvalds: +Vladimir Odessit I wish. Not even close. My net worth means that I can happily avoid Walmart and feel good about myself, but it's nowhere near the number you seem to think it is.

[1]: https://plus.google.com/+LinusTorvalds/posts/4MwQKZhGkEr

I am a hobbyist programmer. I've never had a job where my primary role was programming. Nearly all of my programming in the past 5 years has been for open source projects.

Anecdotal, but Mark Zuckerberg was (and may still be) committing code at Facebook very recently. Some of us actually love programming for its own sake.

Dabbling in coding and being in the trenches are two different things.

Look up Bill Gates. Unlike Zuckerberg, who was just a mediocre programmer, Gates was actually an elite programmer who "loved" programming. Nowadays he mostly travels the world with his family, and does philanthropy.

Bill Gates said on his Reddit AMA he still writes code. Not everyone is like you dude.

He dabbles in code, on occasion. I'm talking about a love of code that takes you back into the trenches. I never said everyone is like me.

But in my opinion most people are like me. If you look at the world around you and how career paths are set up, how society is setup and the general nature of most human beings... imo it is the most logical conclusion.

Actually, you did:

> We're all human, we may love programming and farming

> we're all working toward retirement

I also appreciate how Bill Gates transformed from an elite coder into a dabbler as soon as it suited your argument. You're evidently not someone who ever let facts got in the way of a good story.

>Actually, you did:

>> We're all human, we may love programming and farming

>> we're all working toward retirement

ok my bad, I didn't mean everyone as in everyone on the face of the earth. There's obviously outliers, I made a mistake for not specifying that.

> also appreciate how Bill Gates transformed from an elite coder into a dabbler as soon as it suited your argument.

What the hell is this? Can we not have a civil conversation without insulting each other?

I am NOT Changing my argument. As of what I KNOW, Bill Gates is currently a dabbler. He doesn't code regularly he's not part of any big coding projects. But back in the heyday he was an excellent coder and his code was responsible for much of early success in Microsoft.

Your attitude is not conducive to civil conversation and you're really pissing me off. You accused me of changing my argument even though from my perspective I did not. You say stupid shit about me like this:

"You're evidently not someone who ever let facts got in the way of a good story."

I understand we may have different perspectives, but there are better ways of expressing it then being excessively negative. You could of asked me what I meant by things that have been inconsistent in our conversation, you could have politely asked about the conflicting details. There is no need say I am "obviously" someone who ignores facts.

Please refer to proper etiquette below:


That's my last word. I'm not going to continue on with a whole flame war and populate this thread with anymore shitty comments that no one wants to read.

As a child, I interacted with the first computer, a TI-99/4A, on a farm. So, for me the best programming inspiration is mixing nature with computers.

I somewhat in the middle too much programming it mentally exhausting too much farming is physically exhausting but if i don't do some hard physical work from time to time i cannot enjoy programming.

I also grew up on a farm - a dairy farm in northern Wisconsin to be precise, which my father and younger brother still operate.

Farming can be awesome. The hard physical work and exercise are satisfying, and you'll often encounter problems that need to be solved quickly and ingeniously (e.g. some implement breaks and you need to come up with a quick fix while the sun's still up). You can really build a camaraderie with your family members / coworkers after slogging through some really physically challenging jobs or solving mentally challenging problems together.

The downsides are that the work never ends and you can never take a vacation. The cows always need to be milked (on a very annoying schedule I might add) and fieldwork needs to be done quickly when the weather is right (e.g. "make hay while the sun shines"). And it's really hard to find good hired workers to help out, because nowadays no one wants to do strenuous physical labor for relatively low pay. So on my dad/brother's farm, if one of them gets sick or hurt (another not uncommon danger), it's a big strain for them because they only have a couple high school-aged randos working part-time to help fill in the gaps.

For me the big thing that made me want to get away from the farm was the lack of free time to get lost in your own thoughts. All the menial labor, maybe excluding driving tractor, doesn't give your mind a lot of time to wander. Which, after we got our family computer when I was 10, I often found it wanting to do...

> The downsides are that the work never ends and you can never take a vacation

Agriculture workers in Britain are entitled to paid holiday, sick pay, etc. Does anyone know how this works in practise in the UK, or any other Western/Northern European country? (Is their leave fixed at the employer's convenience, are temps employed in the worker's place, or what?)

[1] https://www.gov.uk/agricultural-workers-rights

You're comparing apples to oranges.

The underlying assumption for an agriculture worker in the UK, who is entitled to these protections, is that he is an employee ... not an owner.

Contrast this to your parent comment which was very likely a family owned farm at wich they were self-employed. They didn't have worker protections as there was nobody from whom to be protected.

Also, it should be noted that your parent comment was speaking of a dairy farm which are notorious for being "prison sentences" - you really can't ever take a vacation if you own your own dairy farm. It's the worst case scenario that he is skething out.

In Finland, municipalities keep a certain number of "substitutes" in their payroll, who are more or less able to cope with most of the tasks of a typical farm. And then the farmers (who are considered a special class of entrepreneurs) can have a maximum of 26 days of holiday per year. These people also jump in when a farmer needs a sick leave. The Finnish term is "maatalouslomittaja".

Edit: I found a description in English: http://www.mela.fi/en/farmers-holiday-and-stand-scheme

". And it's really hard to find good hired workers to help out, because nowadays no one wants to do strenuous physical labor for relatively low pay" I wonder why :)

I also spent a good amount of time on the farm. I sit here, a successful tech entrepreneur that now never has to work again after an exit. I achieved my life goals (at least the ones I set in my twenties). I took time off to break the need to work, then once again I'm on a new adventure starting a new tech company. I really enjoy my daily tech challenges, but how many lifetime memories have I made in my tech career? I'm not so sure, but it doesn't compare to my childhood and college years. This article is a good reminder that we need to connect with life.

Trivia: a Johnny Popper is a John Deere model M. I am currently in the process of restoring one. It is called a popper because of its distinct sound, caused by the non-180 degree angle between the two cylinders on the camshaft. I dream about every day to become a farmer.

Excellent. Those tractors were rockstars, and ran for years and years. I can still recall that popping sound in my head, many years later. Very distinctive.

I made friends with two brothers one was a farmer (Wheat most with some mustard and rape seed). For three years my two week vacation was farming during the morning and than water skiing for the evening at their farm. Went to bed dead tired and than continue to work on the farm. I had a desk job and I enjoyed every second of the farm work. I certainly would not want to be a farmer but man it was a ton of fun to do temporarily.

I have the [un]fortunate opportunity to know exactly how hard baling hay really is.

I am not always certain the vitality and character gained is necessarily worth the emotional drain. However I am sure there are mainy farms/ranches that get by without the _nepotent_ servitude that comes with it. :)

This is probably too extreme of a life change for most people to implement, but there are ways to gain some of the benefits without an entire lifestyle upheaval.

Recently I've begun camping on business trips instead of using my hotel budget. I'll fly in with a tent, sleeping bag, laptop, and cooler bag, rent a car, and set up camp in whichever campground is closest to the city. Most of these places are meant for local families, and are equipped with water, power (for trailers), and showers.

In the morning I drive into the city for business, then head back out to the campsite to hike, sit and think, and code. I haven't taken a smartphone with me, so those after-city hours are devoid of the usual notification hail.

It's done wonders for my focus, motivation, and sense of purpose. Waking up to sunlight, birds chirping, and the scent of pine is an invigorating start to a day, and those twilight hours are great for going over designs and pre-planning coding time.

A lot of that low-level building buzz of dissatisfaction vanishes after a few days of this. I think we need nature. We need freshness and quiet and the white noise of wind, birds, and streams.

I would love a community/place where this was always possible, but for now, travel-business-camping has worked wonders. (And the look on my colleague's faces when I tell them about my "hotel"... priceless.)

> In the morning I drive into the city for business, then head back out to the campsite to hike, sit and think, and code. I haven't taken a smartphone with me, so those after-city hours are devoid of the usual notification hail.

You must be a great programmer because there is no way I could program without Stack Overflow/Google.

Yeah, I said the same thing before I started this. But that's when I'm waste deep in code and I hit the inevitable stumbling block of a weird library bug, missing config option, strange behavior, etc.

That addictive, power-through flow state is hard to maintain without instant SO/Google access, and for many years that was the only way I coded. But I've begun to relish the other mode of programming: the deep thought and careful mental construction of the optimal program, piece by piece, module by module. Sure, I can't bang out as many lines at night, but when I go into the city in the morning I have a mental view of underlying structure – laid out in clear, bold strokes – that makes my SO-enabled coding so much more effective, and directed.*

(*I've noticed that letting SO answer a question prevents any pause which would make you step back from your work and ask "Am I even taking the right approach here?" Low latency, REPLs, and quick access answers make it very easy to go down a rabbit hole – the dark side of exploratory coding.)

And yes, as others have mentioned, I do cache and wget all the docs for whatever tools I'm currently using. With all that, it's hard to get truly stuck, even without the internet.

I'm the same, but I recently discovered that a dump of all Stack Overflow content is available for download. There's a few apps around to easily use it offline. Combine that with the "Dash" app for mac (which downloads other official docs) and it should be pretty easy to work off the grid.

It's not SO or Google but something like Zeal or Dash is useful for offline documentation:

http://zealdocs.org/ (Linux/Windows)

* Zeal is an offline documentation browser inspired by Dash, available for Linux and Windows.

* Quickly search documentation using Alt+Space (or customised) hotkey to display Zeal from any place in your workspace.

* Search in multiple sets of documentation at once.

* Do not depend on your Internet connection.

* Integrate Zeal with IDEA, Sublime Text, or your favourite IDE with a variety of plugins.

https://kapeli.com/dash (OS X)

* Dash is an API Documentation Browser and Code Snippet Manager. Dash stores snippets of code and instantly searches offline documentation sets for 150+ APIs (for a full list, see below). You can even generate your own docsets or request docsets to be included.

...Maybe it is an age thing? There was a time before Google and Stack Overflow.

There's also a complexity explosion to factor in, and saying that there was a time before Google and Stack Overflow seems a bit dismissive of that. Chances are, your app today is built on at least a dozen dependencies that require documentation and reference lookup several times throughout any given day.

It doesn't take much work to save those offline.

Sure, you miss out on StackOverflow's expertise, but if you really just need to refer to API documentation, that should be doable.

Point taken, but reference material can cover a lot more than API docs. Changes in dependencies, dependencies of dependencies, and their change in source over time are often critical pieces of information. Further, it's difficult to cover all possible material for dependencies that have been taken for granted; OS, HTTP server, drivers, and unexpected complications like OEM-level defects in specific revisions of hardware models are difficult to account for.

There's something nice about having one's sensory input be the type which one's body has been optimized to process by millennia of evolution...

Thanks for sharing this. Cool story!

>whichever campground is closest to the city >and are equipped with water, power (for trailers), and showers.

This is not camping. It's dishonest and offensive to call sitting around with every amenity programming camping. I can't understand where you get off having the audacity to say people need nature when you're flying around and driving hours to spend time in tacky family camp grounds and playing on your computer. I'm so disgusted that you think not taking a smartphone with you is an act of daring revolution. So, what, you own two phones? And the smart one can't be made to stop vibrating over every reply to your dumb tweets? Regarding everything else you wrote, there's a book about how to buck gullibility that might suit your little maverick wilderness adventures.

So are you implying he should not do these things? Or simply he is not doing it the right way? Or is your harsh tone due to perceiving this small change as inadequate for an outdoors guru like yourself? Please enlighten us as to why his small change (which makes him happy) is not appropriate to you.

It's funny to see this stuff go full-circle. My parents left the city in the early 90's to move to a small WI farm in the middle of nowhere (15min to get to a town of 5000 people). I can see the appeal of a simpler life.

But the funny thing is, as a kid, I hated it. My parents got tired of the suburbs, I longed for it. They longed for simplicity, I longed for convenience. I hated the idea of having to drive long distances just to get some milk and eggs. I hated the silence, and how secluded I felt.

On the bright side, the silence drove me to cobble together an old computer and start programming at the age of 10, but that may have happened no matter where I lived.

So perhaps someday I'll snap and feel like moving to the country. But for now I'm quite happy with my wife and kids in the stereotypical suburbs.

I grew up in the suburbs and hated it. I hated the idea of having to go long distances to get milk and eggs. I'm happy now in a city centre.

I grew up in the suburbs and loved it. It was safe. I was allowed to go miles in any direction. I'd go 5 miles to Disneyland or 9 miles to El Dorado Park. I'd ride 3 miles to Knott's Berry Farm or 3 miles the closest mall. I could launch model rockets at the local school. There was some dirt patches where kids would make berms for riding their bikes on. My friends were all within a couple of miles. We'd play D&D and use peanut M&Ms as monsters. There was a bunch of hobbit stores just a mile away where I got model rocket parts and other hobby things.

How could someone who grew up in a suburb where he could buy rockets from Bilbo Baggins, et al, not have a fun childhood? :) Seriously though, I hated the suburb I grew up in. Something happens around 12-13 where kids need a change from the early childhood setting, I think. It was a great place for that time period was was too small of a world after that.

You grew up very close to me and I'm still playing D&D! I don't mind the suburbs at all, I'm very content having access to Los Angeles (with a bit of a drive) and then not have to worry about where to find parking at night when I get home.

You just captured my early teens -- I lived up and down Beach Blvd in the La Habra to Anaheim area from the time I was 5-6 until my mid-teens, and then spent a lot of time in Huntington Beach.

I never really thought of it as the suburbs at the time. Thanks!

I have this feeling that kids tend to hate where they grow up due to all of the perceived failings and things they're missing out on.

I grew up in a relaxed beach town in Florida, and hated it. My family all moved from NYC and fell in love in a heartbeat.

Something about not being in the same place for too long applies here, too.

I grew up in a relaxed beach town in Florida (Venice), and I liked it pretty well--but all of my peers hated it.

"There's nothing to do here."

I just thought "seriously? We have everything but a theme park." Go carts, beaches, movies, skating rinks, arcades, everything!

I've since learned that kids say that no matter where they live, seemingly.

I have a similar anecdote. My parents moved from the country into practically the middle of Austin and took my little brother with them. He always complains how there is nothing to do in Austin and he wishes he still lived out in the country where we're from. Which is ridiculous, because there is never nothing to do in Austin!

I grew up in Flint, MI in the 80s. We didn't just think it was the worst place in the country to live – Rand McNally actually rated it as the worst place in the country to live!

But teen angst aside, I got a really good education, and had a lot of fun and opportunities growing up. (I actually lived in the suburbs of Flint and my family was middle class, so that probably helped.) I hated it at the time, but I can see the good and the bad now that I'm removed from it. I don't think I could ever go back, but there were positives despite its problems.

As a software engineer near Venice FL in his early 20s there isn't a lot to do here still. I guess some people do enjoy going to the beach a lot but it definitely gets old.

Great outdoor activities (saltwater & freshwater fishing, myakka river, camping, pretty awesome parks, beach obviously). I personally hate the beach--sand, salt, and sunburn are three of my least favorite things.

Venice YMCA has a ton of offerings--rock wall, skate park, basketball gym, adult leagues, etc.

You have pretty much every other normal amenity, like theaters & community college.

Tampa isn't far for theme parks, concerts, etc.

You're missing having a hometown bar scene, but those aren't too far anyway (and the 20-somethings make do with what's available, anyway).

What do you feel like you're missing?

Grew up in Fort Lauderdale (city) and my family owned land over in Everglades City (country) where we would go and enjoy the outdoors. Swimming fishing and boating in the 10,000 islands. Overall I actually had a pretty good childhood. A few years ago I moved to the Bay Area and do like it here. However recently I've been looking to purchase some land just outside the Bay Area to build a small cabin and grow a garden,and enjoy the outdoors. I feel like it's important that my son not just grow up in an apartment playing on playgrounds with rubberized ground so he does not hurt himself.

>I've been looking to purchase some land just outside the Bay Area to build a small cabin...

You can do this in the Bay Area itself, though in general the closer you want to be to a supermarket, bank, etc. the more you'll pay. If you're west of Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View, Cupertino and cross the 280, you encounter rural areas very quickly. And if you head far enough into the hills, prices begin to fall rapidly relative to flatland prices.

Near Boulder Creek, for instance, you can get 2 acres for $52K that's three miles from a shopping area: https://www.redfin.com/CA/San-Lorenzo-Valley/0-HARMON-GULCH-...

That's 23 miles from Cupertino via route 17 and smaller roads. Of course it helps if you enjoy living in the middle of the woods!

I've posted about this concept on HN before: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9437492

Yup, also if you head south you get more open ground and the prices fall rapidly. For example I found a some land within an hour of San Jose with 100acres for 200k. The trick is finding a lot with good water access. I'm up in San Mateo so it's a bit more of a drive. Ideally I could get somthing within an hour and a half drive at a reasonable price.

That's cheaper than I thought it would be! But if you're trying to get to a job in San Mateo from someplace like Gilroy or Hollister, that would be a bit of a hellish commute. Maybe you could pull it off more easily if you work off-hours? Also if you're within an hour's drive of San Jose you may be paying Silicon Valley prices for new construction, which tends not to be cheap.

But if you're willing to live that far from work and can find water and a nice lot, I'd give it a try. Also with a private pilot certificate you could fly an older ~$20K Cessna from South County or Hollister to KSQL pretty quickly on most days -- certainly a fraction of your effective groundspeed in 101 traffic -- and bike from there to work.

Thanks a lot for the airplane tip, I had no idea you could get a decent Cessna 172 for 20-30k. That would certainly be an awesome commute.

Quite welcome! Engineers (I take it you are one) seem to make natural pilots, in my experience.

I don't own a plane but have in the post thought idly about commuting to the SF bay area from the Sierras. I've heard of pilots doing it from Pine Mountain Lake in the foothills, for instance, and a faster plane would make living in Nevada doable.

Trade-A-Plane lists 145 Cessnas for sale under $30K, though most in that range are 152s. There are a few older 172s: http://www.trade-a-plane.com/detail/aircraft/Single+Engine+P...

It would be nice to have the additional capacity of a 172, especially if you want to (a) fly with two friends, for three people total or (b) you're a large or heavy person yourself, which might exceed the maximum payload of a 152 with a similarly large or heavy flight instructor or passenger. Also I don't think 152s can be IFR certified.

It is kinda funny that these older Cessnas are now cheaper than the average car! Anyway, good luck on your project!

If you're in the Bay Area and want your kid exposed to less sheltered play spaces, there's the Adventure Playground in Berkeley, where kids can get tokens for collecting rusty nails and then trade them in for paint to paint all the play structures. http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/adventureplayground/

After all, the grass is always greener on the other side..

And that is why our species is present on all continents.

Except in California.

I also grew up in a relaxed beach town in Florida, and hated it (then).

I've moved to larger, and larger, and larger cities since, pursuing academia and career, and they have their charms and I'm glad I went. But now I miss the beach town, and hope to get back. I guess we are the sum of our experiences. Maybe the feeling you're missing out helps by driving you to seek new things out.

I was born in a large city and we moved to a rural area when I was in grade school. We lived there for years and it was okay, but when I was a teenager I moved out at 16 and made my way back to the big city.

I never moved back to the country. Okay to visit, but fuck that, I realized quickly that I much preferred the city over the country.

>I have this feeling that kids tend to hate where they grow up

Even so, you don't hear as many kids hating on the big city as they hate on the suburbs or the countryside.

I mean, kids hatred for the suburbs have inspired tons of movies and songs, for the city, not so much.

>Even so, you don't hear as many kids

>tons of movies and songs

...this seems like self-selection bias, similar to I don't know anyone who voted for "X" in the last election. I'd present the country and western music genre as a counter-point, where there is a preference for non-urban living.

>...this seems like self-selection bias, similar to I don't know anyone who voted for "X" in the last election. I'd present the country and western music genre as a counter-point, where there is a preference for non-urban living.

Not many teenagers listen to "country and western"...

Really? My daughter hated the big city. "I can't even go outside alone".

Who knows, maybe she will move back when she is 20 and love it.

Thats a problem with messed up North American culture. Kids should be able to go outside by themselves in cities. They do exactly that all over the world. In places much more dangerous then normal city in US. I commuted to school at age of 9, having to switch streetcars and walk for 15 mins. Total time of about 40 mins one way. Often I would walk back through the city instead, this would take about 2 hours of wondering through city of more then 2 million. I love cities, but I also love countryside in different way. I despise suburbs.

>Thats a problem with messed up North American culture. Kids should be able to go outside by themselves in cities. They do exactly that all over the world

They did exactly that in the US too, up until the eighties -- and at a time when cities had crime rates even higher than today.

There is this nice article from the Austin Chronicle about it (pdf):


yeah I was talking about present, it is really weird why this change happened

I mean a 2-8 year old in Chicago? I consider myself not a helicopter parent.. but that seems like bad news.

Now living in a smaller town.. she can go up and down the block alone. Not worried about it. Chicago was different. We had drug dealers living a block away, and a shooting about once per week. (And this was in a middle of the road neighborhood)

Well, if she's much smaller than 20 (basically: not a teenager interested in boys and music and such yet), then this does't apply. And of course there are always exceptions to the rule...

I never understood that about America. I've been lost in the suburbs in Michigan once, driving along for ages with just house after house after house, and thinking, "where's the local shop?"

Surely it's got to be worth someone setting up a local shop every couple of miles?

Apparently, it’s not permitted:

> In North-American zoning, zones clearly specify which use is allowed on it. In general, zones allow only one or two uses. For example, a residential single-family detached home zone tolerates only single-family detached houses. Don't try to put a convenience store or a school in one, nor a duplex.


Previous discussion:


This is purely a suburban problem and typical of the short sightedness of suburban development, which often corrupts the political process because a mandated retail lot is one less high-profit residential home they can't sell.

Here in the city, there are shops everywhere. Mix use residential is fairly common with retail on the ground floor and condos/apartments up top. This has created a glut of storefronts with varying results. Its nice to have all these shops, but the glut of small storefronts means much lowered rents than before so a lot of fly-by-night businesses take over, and in my opinion, hurt the neighborhood like pawn shops, yet another open 4am tattoo shop, yet another shitty independent cricket/boost reseller, yet another liquor convenience store, yet another e-cig store, yet another detailing/hand carwash, yet another gourmet-style restaurant that will fold in 12 months, etc. Desireable shops like Trader Joes or Nordstrom can't open in those tiny and no parking storefronts so its high margin retail junk.

This isn't as common anymore -- thank god, but when I was a kid, every other residential block in Chicago had a corner bar. A few nice, but most just depressing places full of serious drunks causing problems all through the night. So yeah, being too liberal with business licenses isn't so great.

So this kind of thing cuts both ways, but yes, in the suburbs its especially bad. But at least they have the roads and capacity to handle it and their shopping centers are massive, which is nice as you can park at a giant mall or strip mall and get everything you need done. I can't do that, I have no giant structures like this remotely near me. In the city, we need closer stores because of how bad traffic and parking are. If suburban driving was this bad then they'd have the political impetus to change zoning.

tldr; city planning is hard and political.

It's mostly a zoning problem— for whatever reason, America treasures areas of purely single-family homes, probably because it creates an economic barrier that enforces a general demographic sameness in an area. That means that, even if you wanted to open a corner store in a neighborhood by building a storefront at the base of a house, as was traditional in the United States (e.g. http://www.moline.il.us/images/pages/N716/1403%207th%20Ave%2... ) it'd be illegal.

And Trader Joe's can and does operate in no-parking storefronts in sufficiently dense neighborhoods.

Those fly-by-night establishments are what keep a neighborhood vibrant at night, though. I understand that's not what everyone is looking for, but all else being equal, a populated neighborhood is safer than an empty one.

In my neck of the woods, population density is not an issue. The decision by condo developers to dedicate the bottom floor to small retail storefronts has surprisingly become quite disruptive!

I don't consider pawn shops and e-cig shops keeping things vibrant. Nice bars and clubs, restaurants, and unique retail do. Personally, I think pawn shops and payday loan stores are predatory and should be highly regulated if not eliminated. High margin junk like that edges out nicer stores because condo associations just want to go with the quick cash. For example, a lot of women here would love more boutique stores but the rent these stores can afford is being edged out by the guy selling $50 e-cigs. Then the e-cig market will normalize, crash, and these guys will go away, but we've chased off the boutique crowd and our neighborhood is now known for e-cigs, pawnshops, and tattoo parlours. That isn't terribly appealing, especially in Chicago where we have world-class tattoo artists within a short CTA ride away. Why go with the local shady scratcher on the corner? In other words, we are already vibrant.

I do very much like that we have mixed zoning bringing some unique things like a very nice comic book shop and lots of interesting small restaurants that would otherwise have a hard time renting a proper stand-alone brick and mortar store. I think this is all working itself out or will in the long run. I've already seen multiple shady convenience stores go out of business, but that's largely because we won't give them liquor licenses as there are already enough liquor outlets within walking distance. I think one of the vape lounges died recently too and newer development seems to be attracting a higher caliber of business. Maybe the low end high margin stuff is maximized for our neighborhood at this point? Or maybe condo associations are learning that its within their interests to be more discriminating and vetting businesses that might affect their property values, the neighborhood feel, neighborhood safety, etc.

I'm okay letting the market sort it out, but I think its fair to say that all this sudden cheap retail space in an gentrifying urban neighborhood can be disrupting in a bad way until things get sorted out. The argument above that the suburbs should accept this model without criticism is weak sauce. I've lived in poorer suburbs that saw their city counterparts do well with heavy retail and became more liberal with business licenses and now these suburbs just became liquor store, payday loan, and fast food havens. Large blocks of residential with no retail in the suburbs is a feature, not a bug. They're trying to avoid these and other problems (noise, traffic, etc) by segregating the two. Its actually a smart approach if you have the land and the roads to pull it off. If you guys are unhappy in the suburbs because of that, then come join us in the city.

> High margin junk like that edges out nicer stores because condo associations just want to go with the quick cash. For example, a lot of women here would love more boutique stores but the rent these stores can afford is being edged out by the guy selling $50 e-cigs.

I don't understand, you just claimed the rent is too low, now you are saying it's too high for boutiques.

> I'm okay letting the market sort it out.

You just wrote 4 paragraphs on why you're not ok with letting the market sort it out. The "market" (people who live in your neighborhood) is obviously supporting this "high margin junk." Maybe your neighbors aren't interested in overpriced boutique crap?

> Or maybe condo associations are learning that its within their interests to be more discriminating and vetting businesses that might affect their property values, the neighborhood feel, neighborhood safety, etc.

Let me tl;dr your post for you - "I don't like poor people."

you, dear friend, are assuming too much

I'd way rather have walking access to smaller independent grocers and bodegas than a mediocre specialty food store like Trader Joes with a big parking lot.

Except we're swimming in those. We actually lack the the goofier franchise stores.

Where I live, we're swimming in "bodegas", which are full of soda, canned food, processed white bread -- nothing you'd want to eat. Most of the people who can afford to or who commute shop at... Trader Joe's.

Some of the worst traffic in the country is in the suburbs. I'd rather drive in Manhattan than Northern Virginia.

It's usually heavily frowned upon to setup a local shop in Michigan like that, and sometimes illegal.

Retail creates undesirable traffic and crime (at least, that's their common assumption). The suburbs fight hard to keep that as far away from residential areas as possible.

Sometimes they push this to the logical extreme conclusion -- zoning commercial spaces almost exclusively at the edge of their limits.

Here's examples of the actual zoning permitted in Kentwood and Grandville, (suburbs of Grand Rapids, Michigan).



On both maps, you'll see almost all of the red (commercial) areas are near various edge boundaries, and there's little-to-no commercial activity allowed near any central neighborhood(s).

It's not for everyone (including me), but there is a certain serenity to a nice suburb with no traffic, small streets, kempt housing, kids wandering around, and faces you recognize. Corporate retail is the antithesis of that vision. A small gas station or tiny corner store is pushing it.

In the Midwest, suburbs are designed and developed around the car and the "local shops" are generally located in a series of strip malls off the major roads. On the coasts and in denser populated areas, there seems to be a renewed push for more walk-able areas, public transit and such though.

I'll tell you the real, but awful, reason why we have such restrictive zoning in the U.S. The idea behind zoning is to make sure that different classes and races don't have to see each other if they don't want to. Putting commercial retail in a residential area would give outsiders an excuse to be there. The whole "white flight" from the cities has left it's mark on zoning ever since the 1960s. IMHO, this is also the reason for really bad public transit.

> IMHO, this is also the reason for really bad public transit.

This is an undisputed fact, as people in those communities will readily protest the "crime train" coming through their neighborhoods.[1][2]

[1]: http://lewwaters.com/2012/05/22/light-rail-likely-to-raise-v...

[2]: http://larslarson.com/would-you-trust-your-kid-on-the-crime-...

That's horrifying. 'specially as I thought Portland area had good transit!

Don't get me wrong, Portland has excellent transit. However, a very large number of people who work in Portland actually live in Vancouver, WA. Those commuters strenuously object to running light rail over any proposed replacement bridges for the more than 100 year old trestles that currently handle all of that traffic. In addition, commuters to the south of the city limits also strenuously object to light rail running into their neighborhoods.

If you thought that was nuts, check out this anti-subway video produced by Beverly Hills NIMBYs on behalf of the Beverly Hills High School:


This is the same high school that has a huge active oil derrick in the middle of campus:


Zoning was invented as a reaction to the Equitable Building in NYC, which was built with no setbacks, effectively bricking over all of its neighbors' windows.

That was the camel's nose under the tent, and organizations influenced by the Ku Klux Klan used zoning laws as a tool for enforcing segregation at a municipal level.

Zoning has been leaving its dirty mark since the 1920s.

Nowadays, you can probably just mentally substitute "colored" wherever you see "multi-family" or "high density", to get a sense of the original wording of the laws. The zoning map for my municipality actually uses the color brown for multi-family residential zones, and a light peach color for single-family & detached residential!

That may be an unfortunate coincidence. Zoning is probably much more about class boundaries than race now. Rich people don't want poor people walking past their houses. Or driving past them. Or seeing them. Or knowing they exist.

>The idea behind zoning is to make sure that different classes and races don't have to see each other if they don't want to.

What's wrong with that? It's what they want.

Americans are big optimizers. Our retail has gone big for logistical and economy of scale reasons. Paradoxically, this is how we are frugal while maintaining a nod to consumerism. For a complex set of reasons ( much of which involves how our tax system works ) , we tend to separate housing space from business space unless you're in a city where that grew up closer together.

Suburbs are unnatural and inorganic, and that's what people either hate or love about them.

This being said, there's frequently a "convenience store" that's sometimes closer than Big Mart. No veggies or actually even food, but they're there.

Optimising what? Logistics for the supermarket?

The British are big optimisers. That's why the supermarket oligopoly (Tesco, Sainsbury's etc) have taken over many -- perhaps even the majority -- of small, neighbourhood shops (Tesco Express, Sainsbury's Local etc). The distribution centres and large vehicle fleet that delivers to the big supermarkets is reused to deliver to the neighbourhood shops, and many people then walk (or cycle) to those shops.



Milton Keynes is generally regarded as a boring, US-style city: https://www.google.co.uk/maps/search/Tesco+OR+Sainsburys+in+... (I've never been).

Optimizing multiple things at once - logistics for suppliers, specified land use on adjacent parcels ( a nod to developers ) , but mostly tax revenue for the town where zoning happens.

The British invented optimization in the WWII sense of the word, so yeah.

I don't know Britain beyond what I read of it, but I understand there's the concept of "little Britain" as a thing so maybe that's why small shops exist. In Montreal, I know there are actual bodegas in the city center and American-style convenience stores in the 'burbs.

Milton Keynes is probably the worst place I've ever been to in the UK.

No easy walking around town. All chain stores, very few independent shops. No hailable black cabs for some reason, everything involved calling a minicab and waiting. Just a terrible city to be in without a car and a designated driver.

At a suburban population density of 640/mi^2 (1 acre/person), a circle with 3 mile radius covers 18000 people. A 2 mile radius covers 8000. A 1.5 mile radius covers 4500. A 1 mile radius, only 2000. A 0.5 mile radius has 500 people in it.

Realistically, a person walking at 3 mi/h won't walk more than 0.5 miles to visit the local shop, and a person bicycling at 12 mi/h won't go more than 3. They won't, unless they are combining trips. If the shop is on the way to somewhere else, or a very short distance beyond their primary destination, they might go further overall.

But pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure is practically nonexistent anywhere in the US except for a bare handful of cities and suburbs. Many places don't even have sidewalks. Nearly everyone uses an automobile for personal transport.

As such, the "local shop" is right there at the gas station. We call them "convenience stores". They are most often placed at the intersection of arterial roads. So if you are lost in the back streets of suburbia, you will never see one.

It doesn't make sense from a planning perspective, but it does from a money perspective. When a developer subdivides a large property, they reserve commercial lots next to the arterial road, and build access roads past those into the residential lots. In theory, once the houses are 80% built, all that residential traffic will be flowing past the commercial lots at least twice per day, and a business will build there.

In practice, the developer exits after 95% of the houses are built, dumps the remaining 5% and the commercial lots on a strawman company, moving on to the next subdivision, and those businesses never actually get constructed.

So you end up with huge areas of houses and very few businesses. There might be one strip mall every 3 miles, filled with businesses that usually last a few months before failing from lack of customers. (The exception is the pizza delivery, which will be absolutely thriving.)

Residential buildings simply have a higher profit margin. Think about that before you decide to trust the developer's "phase IV" plans, when you're buying in "phase I".

Many places don't even have sidewalks.

The USA would be a much nicer place if no new residential development could be built without sidewalks. It would only require a little vision on the part of planning & zoning boards, with perhaps a little empathy for children, the elderly, and others who can't drive.

If the empathy were there, the zoning board would not be needed. The law is not an effective substitute for morality.

Besides that, have you ever read a zoning law? Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it, good and hard.

I have skimmed the regs for several counties in which I've built or managed buildings. Different jurisdictions vary in their rigor, but very few developments escape P&Z entirely. We don't rely on the empathy of real estate developers to ensure that houses don't fall down. I propose that we not rely on it to ensure that pedestrians have a safe corridor for travel.

I don't know much about Michigan, but it could be due to zoning that you don't see any shops.

Economy of scale when constructing. You can usually tell the age of a burb by how big its zones are. Some of the newest burbs have absolutely huge, staggering, sized zones.

I live in a burb thats a bit over fifty years old and there's no spot more than maybe 6 blocks from the arterial retail/commercial/restaurant strips? In some new burbs you can easily be over a mile from anything other than residential.

I will say that when I was a kid there was a lot more to do in big zones because obviously there's more basements and garages and back yards and just plain old more kids. I mean, there's only about 200 kids in my current subdivision so with a distribution of ages its quite likely that there's no one to hang out with in the neighborhood for my own kids, whereas that's never an issue in a bigger zone where there's always a friend in the same neighborhood to hang out with. Some modern zones are so big that entire elementary school districts live within the borders of single zone! Obviously those kids always have someone to hang out with in the neighborhood.

And of course the bigger the zone, the crazier the traffic on the roads between the zones, which sucks.

Not really. The longer the distance traveled the more you buy per trip. It's universal foraging behavior.

That explains why the mega store doesn't want a local shop but not why there is no local shop.

Many Americans don't see the value in a local shop because local shops tend to be more expensive and offer fewer choices. It's easier to consolidate your errands and hit a big grocery store and a big box store.

That conflicts with a different cultural "fact" I have about US citizens. They love convenience (for example, "convenience stores") and willingly pay extra for it.

Its a class thing.

Middle levels have the money to burn and often prioritize time over money. Plus complaining about paying $3 for an apple at the gas station quickie mart is a rare and cheap conspicuous consumption opportunity for them. I only have about 2 hours "off" unallocated tonight and I'm not going to spend 1/4 of my time off today saving $2 on the cost of an apple by going out of my way to shop at the food store.

For poor people its a poor people budgeting thing. As per the previous recent discussions on HN, poor guy has $3 in pocket, gas station has $3 apple on shelf, he buys it because 1) he doesn't have $5 to buy a 5 pound bag from the supermarket 2) no idea when/if he'll ever have an extra $5 again to spend on an extra luxury like an apple 3) travel isn't free when you're poor so bus fare and hours spent taking public transit to the store and time spent not working means that $5 bag is more like $15 total systemic cost and thats a bit steep for a poor guy who just has a taste for an apple today?

Upper levels have their personal assistant / admin assistant buy the apple for them. Its all going to be expense-d and its a rounding error anyway and the admin assistant is in a hurry so fine here take this $3 convenience store apple and I need a receipt for that thanks.

And thats how we love our $3 convenience store apples. Despite most apple sales being in 5 pound bags at the supermarket of course.

> For poor people its a poor people budgeting thing. ...

I couldn't help but read the rest of this paragraph in Cartman's voice.

In the suburbs convenience matters with things people buy regularly. You see this manifested as large convenience stores with gas bars and large drug stores that also sell sandwiches and ice cream. Small independent convenience stores tend to lose out to larger ones that have larger gas bars, cheaper gas and more options inside.

What's interesting is this trend seems to be reversing a little bit in clusters. Younger people are migrating back to the cities, and more developers in the suburbs are building apartment complexes with shops and restaurants mixed together, giving it the feel of living above a really nice mini mall. :)

Yes, but...

The ultimate convenience store is attached to a gas station and has a drive-up window so you don't need to get out of your car.

While the ones with drive through windows are rare, I'd be hard pressed to think of a convenience store within a 30 mile radius that was not also a gas station. As far as I can recall, I only see c-stores that don't sell gas inside cities.

I think the assumption, which is so basic that other commenters don't bother to mention it, is that every family has two cars. Suburbs in US are car-oriented to the extreme. Having a car changes shopping habits, because you can bring back much more things with you in a single trip to shop.

Combination of zoning ordinances keeping shops away from residential areas and shops not being able to compete on price against the mega stores' huge economies of scale.

Having grown up in Michigan, I can attest to this. It has made me want to abandon this state so heavily built around the automobile. Even downtown Detroit has wide city streets and few walkable areas. Ann Arbor, on the other hand, is pedestrian friendly, and one can manage without a car.

I grew up in the suburbs also, and hated it. As a kid, you have no freedom until the age of 16 where you have the POSSIBILITY of owning a car/borrowing your parent's car. We had bikes, but the nearest anything was 1-1.5 miles away, and there were very little sidewalks or safe places to bike. Nothing was convenient without a car.

I went to school in a small/medium city (Champaign/Urbana) and loved it. It was the perfect mix of having a city and space for a small suburban life. I lived in a house that was off campus, and was within walking distance to downtown and busing distance to the bars/main campus. It was peaceful and crazy when I wanted it to be.

I now live in Chicago and while I love the convenience of everything(huge advocate of all things public transit), I miss being able to easily just disconnect from urban life.

My next move will probably be somewhere warmer, but it'll probably be in a small/medium sized city for sure.

I grew up in the city. As I got older I realized that I didn't want my children to have to deal with the dirt, crime, rats, and noise that I had to deal with when I was growing up. Hopefully, they will appreciate the things I didn't have as a kid. A backyard, nice neighbors, low crime,and better schools.

>Hopefully, they will appreciate the things I didn't have as a kid. A backyard, nice neighbors, low crime,and better schools.

They'll appreciate them as kids, but they'll probably hate you as teenagers...

I think the reason why kids and co don't like X is probably because of isolation effects. If you can independently travel to wherever you want with little hassle and have a rich social life, then you'll like where you live. If you have helicopter parents in the suburbs or city centre that insist to drive you on their schedule to wherever, then you'll hate it.

I grew up in the suburbs and I was fine with it. As an adult I prefer city life.

I probably would have hated SF as a kid. I've lived in SF for 7 years, and I can't think of anything that is more convenient that I would have cared about as a kid. I don't know if its just SF, but it seems very adult oriented.

That said, while growing up, the closest mini mall was about 1.5 miles away. Which we would go to because one of the shops had arcade games. I've never lived in a suburb (3 of them) that wasn't 1-1.5 miles from a mini mall. That is easily within biking distance.

We didn't spend most of our time there though. We spent most of our time in the hills around us (South San Jose), and on the Baseball fields/Basketball courts at the local elementary school. Or playing baseball with tennis balls in our cul-de-sac. Or digging forts in our backyard. Or riding our skateboards through the streets.

I live in a small town in Northern Greece and hate the idea to drive a long distance[1] to get milk and eggs.

[1] A long distance where I live is anything more than 8 minutes drive.

I had the same feeling - plus the broadband there was terrible. I would never live in a suburb even if I was paid to. The middle of nowhere though, would be even worse than a suburb as it's the same problems but more so and without the (relative) proximity to work.

I grew up in the suburbs and walked to the store to get milk and eggs. I had to bike to get to the library in a reasonable time though.

I hated it even more, which is why I now live in the crawlspace of a supermarket.

I heard a good quote related to full-circleism one time: "What the sons wants to forget, the grandson wants to remember"

I can relate, though we lived on the edge of a town of 8000 people but it was 3 hours drive to a city and this was in South Africa. I hated it, I loved visiting the city. I moved to the city as soon as I could, and moved to bigger cities and other countries. That said the appeal of living in the countryside would always tempt me. Recently I was working remotely, so we decided to move to a nice big house in the country, outside of a village of a few hundred people. It was nice, but remote and lonely and after 6 months we're happy to be back in a city again, in a well connected part of a city where we can easily choose between going into the city centre or being outside of the city.

I live in the country. Most of the year I can get food from farms that are located less than 2 miles from me, all on my street. It's phenomenal. The closest decent grocery store is an hour plus, so its nice to be able to get stuff from neighbors and it makes you eat healthy.

I'm in a similar situation. Grew up in a very rural area, swore to never live in the country as soon as I could leave.

Now I find myself wanting to move back someday - find a few acres just outside of a city. I miss the quiet and the privacy.

I grew up in the middle of the city, and recently moved out to 4 acres of country land. I guess we all crave a change of scenery eventually.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and this post definitely gives me some motivation.

I'm a programmer who loves to code and build stuff, learning new programming languages and frameworks, discussing about architecture, etc. I love shipping new features and making customers happy.

BUT inside of me a desire has been growing to go back to the roots, to live a life closer to the nature. I feel the need to spend more time outside, with less time pressure.

I've been thinking about this idea to build something like a "tech-farmer colony". Maybe it's been done in the past, never heard of it, but it would be a group of engineers and their families, living together and working part-time as software / hardware engineers, and part time as farmers, with flexible division of tasks. Maybe the software / hardware company could even work on projects closely related to farming, in order to improve productivity / efficiency / cut costs / promote ecologic food, etc.

I'd be curious to see if there are more people in the tech industry who would love to do something like this. I'd love to read some interesting ideas / critique.

That sounds amazing. Lately I've been picking up hobbies, like wood working or building more hardware centered projects because day-to-day I design and produce software, which itself is intangible.

My girlfriend is from upstate New York, and her father is a farmer. It's backbreaking work to run a farm if you're mostly by yourself, hiring farm hands when necessary, and when ROI is sufficient. Yet, at the same time, the "Mega farms" of corporations tend to use a lot of hands BUT also inappropriate a lot of tech.

There seems to be a middle ground where, like you mentioned, a tech+farm group could be formed either members own their own small plots, or own one together. The burden of tech costs could be spread amongst the members, but the tech can be incorporated to satisfy the intellectual engineering approach to things, as well as the "close to nature" manual labor wants.

I feel like I'm rambling... Anyway, this is sounding very much like a hippy commune, but I am not sure if that bothers me at this point.

If you have a connection to upstate NY, and are interested in this stuff, you might want to visit the Ithaca EcoVillage: http://ecovillageithaca.org/live/

or visit Israeli Kibutz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kibbutz

You might consider volunteering for Open Source Ecology: http://opensourceecology.org/

They're building open source farming tools -- or as they say, "blueprints for civilization". Perhaps they're open to volunteers?

Their TED talk is worth watching: http://www.ted.com/talks/marcin_jakubowski?language=en

Thanks for sharing, I knew that posting to HN would make some amazing projects pop up :)

This is essentially the hippy commune / kibbutz concept, with the wrinkle of generating most of its "foreign exchange" through tech work rather than pure agricultural produce. With a bit of careful tax planning you could offset all the fun unproductive stuff against tax and claim both R&D and small farmer allowances.

Division of tasks is where this kind of thing tends to fall down.

> hippy commune / kibbutz concept

It's been tried over-and-over-and-over for centuries and there's a ton of research. If it's not based on a religion, it fails, is the long and short of it. Only works with religious people.

It is interesting to speculate why is it that religious groups fare better in this kind of arrangements.

I think it has to do with 2 things: The ability to shame individuals into compliance without resorting to violence, and the ability to shut off free-loaders.

That's the problem with intentional communities. Everybody (claim to) have the best intentions, until push comes to shove and you have to actually put your self interest on hold for the greater good of the community.

I would focus on one even-simpler thing:

Power structure.

Religion usually has a built-in power structure that nothing else has been able to replicate.

I beg to differ on the monopoly of religion over the power of hierarchies.

Take the military by example. They have a remarkably good track record of literally sending men to die, in full knowledge that their chances or survival are negligible.

There are many other less dramatic cases: at work in both the private and public sector, at the school's social dynamic, at charitable organizations, and yes in the church.

But militaries don't form hippie communes, at least that I've ever heard of.

And hippies don't go to war either. But how is that relevant to the point of religion being the only way to make people work against their own interest.

Ah, I now realize you were objecting to this:

Religion usually has a built-in power structure that nothing else has been able to replicate.

I wasn't sufficiently clear. I meant within the context of "things that have been used as a basis for communes", religion stands alone.

You missed what the point was.

The statement was that historically communes only work out when founded on religion.

They do a good job avoiding freeloaders in the first place with rules like, for examples, You have to be circumcised and we meet daily for prayers. Gaming the welfare system is one thing, but surgery and dozens of hours a week of time would be a bit much for a mooch.

Is there some interesting research paper one could read?

I'm in. Actually, it's a long term goal for me and my family to move to a farm and escape the cubicle/office environment. The article resonates deeply with me. Until then, weekend camping trips, nature hikes and tending to our small flock of chickens in the suburbs will have to suffice.

I'm in. Not at all joking / exaggerating. My wife and I would love something like this. We are currently looking to switch cities with no specific desire for one place so the iron is hot.

I'd not limit it to engineers though -- just makers in general.

There seems to be enough interest in this to actually start talking seriously about it. I created a Slack account for it.


You'll need an invite, so if you're interested in this sort of thing seek me out on Twitter (@ccallebs) or send me your email (chuck@callebs.io).

Thanks for the invite!

Sent you an email ;)

Yup, similar thought for me as well. A kind of high-tech commune/company (perhaps a consultancy) where people work and live together in a healthy community in a beautiful place. Of course a key factor to me would be daily meditation group-sitting. Peer pressure really helps with that one, and meditation done properly is the best happiness/productivity tincture you can get, for any price.

I would sit with you.

Count me in. For a specific location recommendation, there are quite a few existing agriculturally-oriented towns that are pushing hard to get a tech scene going. Of particular note (and one in my neck of the woods - figuratively and literally) is Loyalton, CA, USA, which has been pushing for a "tech-and-rec" environment (which sounds a lot like what you're describing, though with the "farming" component replaced with general outdoor recreation), and has been working on wireless hotspots and fiber connections to that effect in order to lure techies into the town.

I'm pretty sure that finding the right place could have a huge impact on the success of this project. Maybe even having a group of 10-20 "tech" families willing to relocate to a small town could have enough power to negotiate with local government.

Thanks for the info!

> I've been thinking about this idea to build something like a "tech-farmer colony".

Now that is one of the best ideas I've heard in a long time. Knowing how farms work, I could find a ton of ways for this to be difficult, but we're engineers -- let's solve hard problems. :-)

You may have to accept a world where you need other people besides engineers.

I wasn't thinking about excluding non-tech people (my girlfriend has no tech background). I was just thinking about building a company with like-minded people with some technical skills and experience, while living together and working on a farm, including the families which may or may not have a technical background. Sure there might be a need for marketing or sales people as well, but that's a bit too detailed for now, considering it is nothing more than an idea yet ;)

Apologies -- just was bein' a bit snark about the engineering master race.

World, maybe. But in terms of building a somewhat-self-sufficient community -- which seems to be what's being suggested here -- why wouldn't all-engineers work?

Land management, cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, teaching, schooling, animal husbandry, community health, repairs, safety, upkeep, music/arts/entertainment, policy... the list goes on

And while many engineers seem to believe they can do anything with applied knowledge -- practice and execution are two very different things.

> Land management

You mean "civil engineering"

> cooking

You mean "culinary engineering"

> cleaning

You mean "sanitary engineering"

> teaching

You mean "educational engineering"

> schooling

You mean "educational engineering"

> animal husbandry

You mean "agricultural engineering"

> community health

You mean "medical engineering" or "civil engineering"

> repairs

You mean "engineering"

> safety

You mean "engineering"

> upkeep

You mean "engineering"

> music/arts/entertainment

You mean "acoustic/visual/recreational engineering"

> policy

You mean "political engineering"

> the list goes on

And the list will still be refactored into engineering fields (some of which I may or may not have extracted from my rectum in an ad hoc fashion).

Engineering really just boils down to using the scientific method, mathematics, and ingenuity to solve problems. Pretty much every activity you described could very easily have an engineering mindset applied to it.

It doesn't have to be 100% self-sufficient, that's not what I meant. I was thinking more about a community of families living around the same farm and company.

Very interesting! Not something I can be involved with right now, but it resonates with a couple of ideas I've kicked around. Maybe they'll be useful?

1) what about (possibly automated) vertical farming? It sounds like there's a fair amount of research/discussion of that right now and could be a neat blend of technology/nature. I'd love to see open sourced versions of this technology; possibly with toolkits for anyone to setup on their own. Also, might in the long run give you higher ROI for given land/water resources.

2) I've often thought of setting up some kind of ranch where fellow developers could go for a bit when feeling burnt out; you join for free (or maybe a fee) for a month or so and grow your own food (or else grow food for the next wave of burnouts and eat that grown by the previous wave). Getting back to nature and doing some strenuous work could be a great way to get back in your normal groove, or to see if this is the life for you.

1) Vertical farming sounds great. It could help getting started a farm where land is expensive. I love the open sourcing idea.

2) I love this idea! It could be a way of providing additional income for the farm. Classic farms often offer vacations for families and kids, I guess this would be a similar idea, but for engineers.

While super cool, the vertical farming idea may take more up-front capital and effort. Maybe a phased approach: start with traditional farming subsidized by 2) and build up funds and resources to eventually setup 1)?

Anyone can work on the vertical farming ideas while they are there with the agreement that it's part of the project to released under Creative Commons (or similar license).

If we go with the idea some other commenter proposed of buying up a bunch of foreclosed properties in Detroit, at least some of that initial up-front capital and effort would be offset. You'd then just need to turn some abandoned factory or warehouse into a makeshift greenhouse.

I'm actually working on something like this, although minus the hippie aspect. The biggest hurdle (at least here in California) is zoning. Every county in California restricts ag-zoned land to (at most) two dwelling units, where "dwelling unit" is typically defined by having a kitchen. There are some ways to work around this, especially if you're willing to go the "tinyhouses on wheels" route, but you get into grey zones pretty quickly.

I wrote some more in an earlier thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9437392

I don't think that it has to be hippie at all. There would be some shared areas, but people would live at their own homes. The company and the farm would be shared, but that's the idea.

Guess that the whole twist would be to not only depend on agriculture for providing income and food.

Also, I wouldn't make it about living isolated from society, without electricity, cars or mobile phones. It would be a much more relaxed, simple life, but every individual or family would put their own limits, respecting their comfort zones.

And yes, there would be life in community, maybe sharing some meals or having kids play together, but as I said at the beginning, families would have their own houses or appartments, so they could also here decide how far they want to go.

The cool thing would be having lots of like-minded people (= engineers) living and working close together, which could develop into some nice side projects and ideas.

Digital Hutterites. If you haven't already, you should look into how they (the Hutterites) structure their communities. It seems like there are a lot of parallels with what you are thinking, religious aspects aside.

Generally, this is called cohousing, and has had some success over the years.

Curious, which part of CA?

We are primarily looking in Sacramento, Yolo, Solano, Napa, and Sonoma counties. But zoning ordinances are fairly consistent across the state.

Interesting. I'm in Sonoma County. Would love to hear more about your plans with this. hey @ mikegranados [dot] com if you feel like discussing it sometime. I'm frequently in SF.

First off, there has to be a clear division of responsibilities. If you don't want to be the "chickens guy", there has to be some way to incentivize and cleanly hand off all the chickens chores. If everyone is responsible, no one is.

The first thing that comes to my mind is a ticketing system with a time-dependent bounty attached. The chickens investors establish the chicken requirements, such as "ensure that all chickens are inside the coop and secure it against predators before civil twilight". That ticket repeats daily, with a bounty rising until the deadline, at which time the bounty freezes at the maximum, and the nag program starts messaging people to go do the task before a raccoon shows up. When you do the task, you press a button, which attaches a timestamped photo of you to the ticket log, which is freely auditable by the stakeholders.

The mobile farm app is continuously updated with outstanding chore tickets.

The investors pay the bounties, so it would behoove them to more often do the chores attached to the farm products for which they are larger stakeholders. If someone would prefer to skip a chore to bring in some outside income, they will essentially be paying someone else out of that to pick up the farm slack. If everyone winds up doing that, there might be professional farmhands available as the fallback, so the bounties would have to reflect what it actually costs a farming professional to do the tasks.

I am a software worker because I am an essentially lazy person, so if I were involved, it is very likely that I would invest heavily in a perennial polyculture plot, and spend much of my time researching robotic harvester designs and preservation methods for uncommon fruits and vegetables. For instance, how do you get a pawpaw off the tree and to the customer before it rots? How many walnut trees can you use in your canopy before you start shading out your persimmons? How cold can a trifolate orange tree get before you lose the fruit? Would people eat linden leaf salads? How do I encourage permanently resident pollinators?

The only people seriously looking at these questions, if anyone, would be Ag-Sci professors and their grad students. And their research might not necessarily have practical utility when it comes to making a profit as a part-time farmer.

And, of course, it goes without saying that we would have to jailbreak the Deere and come up with some open source firmware.

I would be interested in something like this as well.

It would be interesting to subsidize your tech R&D (and therefore your food output) by using a CSA-style subscription service. You don't have to only self-sustain. You could produce quality food for the local community using technology.

Thanks for this information. Looks like CSA is a lot more common in North America than in Europe, but I guess there are similar solutions worldwide.

looks like you are getting some positive feedback with this idea! If it pushes you to act on it, please let me know. I'd love to participate in something like this.

Looks like the user ccalebs has created a Slack board for sharing ideas: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9492884

Thanks, I just got an invite and joined the slack group.

So interesting!

I would love to do something like this

I'm in

I thought it might be cool to do something like that by buying up a bunch of foreclosed land in Detroit.

Not to question this guy's remarkable decision or the article itself, just one expression I see quit often and makes me cringe each time, that is : the real world (referred here as a little haven of nature).

Is the 19th century Industrial revolution just an illusion, the factories, the cars, the towns, the wars just a view of the spirit, and the little birds singing in the trees the real world ?

Is the current (electronic?) revolution an illusion, just a bait for digital addicts, a virtual world that drags us away from our real world ?

I think it's quit the opposite. I think the real world is this huge uncontrollable human growth on the branch its standing on.

Don't get me wrong, I was raised in the countryside and my entire soul is deeply bonded to the forest, and the animals and insects living in it. But don't call it the real world. Rather something like the fading world. And we need all the talent and imagination behind computers (or in labs), where we can have true impact on things and save it.

Going back to it is the true illusion...

I think, comparatively, given all the human and computer driven computation to create simulations on a screen resulting in something 1/100,000,000th as complex as a sqft of rainforest... Yes its not real.

Computation has been trapped inside boxes and tiny screens, virtualization with behaviors that don't even approach the richness and complexity of reality outside that box. Don't get me wrong, it's a noble and passionate endeavor, but it's misguided if it traps you there forever.

I'm sorry, but this makes no sense.

given all the human and computer driven computation to create simulations on a screen resulting in something 1/100,000,000th as complex as a sqft of rainforest

This is an absurd comparison. Besides being apples to oranges, besides being super arbitrary (where did you get 1 square foot?), besides being completely undefined (what kinds of simulations are you talking about?).. it doesn't make any sense.

Let's follow your logic a little bit. * A butterfly in the rainforest creates a chrysalis. That chrysalis is not real because it's 1/100,000,000th as complex as a square foot of rainforest. It's a noble and passionate endeavor, but it doesn't even approach the richness and complexity of reality outside that chrysalis.

Does that make sense to you? Do you agree with it?

Let's use your logic to try to compare apples to apples. Let's compare a square mile of rainforest to a square mile of New York City. Is one more real than the other? Since you seem to think complexity has something to do with realness (an idea that seems silly and arbitrary, but let's go with it), is one more complex than the other? Hard to say. The rainforest almost certainly has more individual living things. But is that how we define complexity? The city is chock full of human brains, and it's hard to argue with the fact that the human brain is one of the most complex things on the planet. The city also seems low in entropy compared to the jungle. The very fact that a city exists, distinct from the jungle, seems to imply lower entropy. If you let the city go without tending for a long time (and if its location was right), it would become jungle. You might argue that that's because there's no one keeping the complexity high. And since high complexity means more real (I still don't get it, but I'm just going with your "logic"), I have shown the city is more real than the jungle.

Does that make sense? Not really? It's definitely not rigorous. It's not based on sound principles. The logic is faulty in all kinds of ways. It makes leaps of logic and uses poorly defined concepts. Does that stand out more when I do it compared to when you're doing it? I urge you to not be "that guy" or "that girl" that uses that kind of logic.


Some of the computation is "trapped" inside of the bone box with no screens. Yet only that computation makes any complexity meaningful.

I wish I could upvote you more. This is the proper context for our work.

I believe the distinction suggested is not real vs imaginary, but real vs constructed.

I think it's a reasonable point. One of the useful tests for "realness" is what lasts, what is sustained without human effort. Artificial environments are in some sense a fantasy made real. Sufficiently advanced technologies are indistinguishable from magic because we are always trying to construct our dreams.

Our civilization is in many ways a collective fiction. The clearest example is money, which works only as long as we believe. But there are plenty of other essentially imaginary underpinnings to our constructed world. For example, the US's national ethos, the American Dream: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Dream

One of the useful tests for "realness" is what lasts

What? This ismeaningless, and obviously false if you just think about it for one second. Please see my reply to tsunamifury above.

If you had said, "I don't understand this point, could you say more" I would have happily answered. But instead you give a lot of drama in reply, which makes me think there isn't much point in taking the time. But suffice it to say I thought about it for more than one second in writing it, and did so again just now. I still believe it to have meaning.

Absolutely my point, and the notion of collective fiction and how it structures communities through faith, money, democracy and what not, is very dear to me. If you look at how we speak of "the markets" today (the markets are confident, the markets are happy, the markets are scared, the market is always right) it is very close to how ancient greeks would mention their gods... speaking of greeks the gods aren't happy with them... time to kill some goats...

But my main point was the widening divide between our artificial environment and our biological one, the raising concerns that the first is destroying the latter and what we can do about it! I think turning your back to civilization with the notion that it's all an illusion is a dangerous misconception.

I had a similar thought. All my life I thought I wanted this for me. I did, in fact, move to Yosemite for a stretch. While success in anything is generally about how well you execute it paired with how much you desire the end result, I learned that I actually did not want that life, that I really didn't feel at home in a natural environment, and that I missed the feeling of "security" being mashed in among a bunch of humans can sometimes bring.

When I returned, I realized that there is nothing about the world of tech that is any less real, relevant or right than is the world of nature. We may not always do things in ways that produce the least negative impact for our fellow humans, or on nature in general, but show me how this digital reality of ours is invalid?

I actually thrive under the massive hours of work, the stress of delivering and the multitasking mentally I have to endure to stay afloat in the tech industry. It may not be the most conducive to a family life, but I'm figuring it out as I go and I know that I will be happier for having not stayed out in the wilderness.

I applaud anyone who finds what they need, what they want, and once they have it are happy. But I don't believe all humanity is going to find the same thing makes them happy, or is really what they need.

You know, farming may be wonderful and all. But it's not silver bullet. Nor does it make programming any less rewarding, provided that one does it right.

In fact, it is YOUR OWN DAMNED fault if you fail to sing with your children while you worked as a programmer. Wait, it's your own damn fault for pretty much everything in your life. Programming is not the disease; you are. I know people who finished extra degrees while working as programmer; I know people who climbs mountains while working as programmer; I know people who play music professionally while working as programmer; I know people who take excellent care of their family while working as a programmer. Your job exchanges (some) of your time for (some) money. The responsibility of adjusting the job to the life lies in your hand. Stop blaming programming for your troubles.

You know, the whole "OMG! I got a new job! It's wonderful! It beats my previous job!" kind of silliness should really really stop. Most things have their rewards and challenges. Maybe farming suits you better. I don't know. However, judging from the kind of stupid judgment thrown around ("real world" and "no exception" and "I sing for my kids), doubt haunts my view. But oh well. Good luck. And stop bashing other people's job, please.

The valid points that you are making are getting lost in the hostile tone. The article is about finding one's self (the author), not everyone's self.

Farming isn't a silver bullet, but neither is programming. Of course. I see the value, appeal, and benefits in both. I don't believe the author intended to label programming a disease for anyone other than himself, so vilifying him for it seems pretty harsh.

It. Is. Not. About. You. Nobody's bashing your job. It's about someone sharing their own journey.

On the other hand, I think you do us all a big disservice by clubbing down anyone who has anything slightly negative to say about our trade. If you cannot criticize, you cannot optimize.

Sitting in my fluorescent lit white walled office, about to pump out some code for the day, this article put a smile on my face and made me think about different options for life some time down the road aside from programming.

The article was well written, wasn't judgemental, and provided some lightness to my day and to others.

Chill out!

Sounds quite like my story: after ten years in industry I've got quite enough, can't really enjoy programming and didn't seen much future in this field for me. So I get back to village I grew up, bought couple of vineyards and started small winery.

I went out nearly every morning to work in fields, spent days in cellar and did just few hours of programming per week to pay my bills. It was great for some time, not having to think about real life outside, being really free to just enjoy pointless discussions in local pub till early in the morning, then spent some time with neighbours just drinking coffee in the morning and gossiping before going out to do some work outside.

I was sure to never work in technology ever again, but I relapsed and here I am back in the city, running company in ag-tech space (lab hw for wine analysis) and coming back to my fields just for weekends (and odd week days here and there) to take care of my vines. I did downsized my plans for mid-sized winery for now and keeping the operation just as a hobby and side business, but I am sure I am going back fulltime once I am done with my company.

I don't know--good for this guy, but there's no way I'd do it. I got into technology in order to avoid a life of back-breaking manual labor. When I was a kid I had to go help bail hay on a farm, and then graduated to assisting my father doing construction jobs. Nailing shingles to a roof under the sun all day in the middle of the summer is great motivation to go for that job in an air conditioned office.

I was in the same boat. The comparison should really be about the long-term downsides. Sure, the sedentary lifestyle of computer work could cause various ailments. But the farm lifestyle will cause its own long-term ailments. Everyone is built differently, so there is no guarantee of health on either side. Eventually, both forms of work will catch up with you. It's just a matter of which one you can personally handle better. ie. carpal tunnel vs slipped disks. Not to mention the difference in possibility of serious injury or death. There is a lot of opportunity on a farm to get injured temporarily or permanently. If serious, you either die or are unable to continue farming. I find this piece very short-sighted.

Unfortunately the follow-up post 12 months from now once the romantic ideals fade won't make it to Hacker News, if it even gets written.

In the end, if society doesn't collapse, farming will be automated.

I plan on sort of following the path of the OP, but in an automated way.

Longer comment on Reddit[1], but the goal is to make a climate controlled greenhouse that houses a heavily automated aquaponics setup along with backyard chickens for eggs and eventually meat. I may take on a couple goats for milk but that would follow later. As part of this I also want to setup solar and vertical axis wind along with evacuated tubing for heating to cut down on energy dependence at the same time.

Once you realize how much of your working time is going to just provide food, shelter, and energy, it makes you question if you could manage to provide those basics in another way than money. With the tech we have now and the rising costs of food taking a bigger cut of your paid time I think we very soon could find that the cost/time investment to DIY will become less than the time investment to purchase from someone else.

This is all of course ignoring the upfront capital requirements but the idea is that if I can reduce the portion of my pay going to those things, I could either a) have more money left over for other things, or b) reduce the amount of time I work equal to the reduced expenses and have more time available for other things. Either way, less external dependencies = more degrees of freedom.

1 - http://www.reddit.com/r/canada/comments/2yovsq/canada_risks_...

Did you look into alternatives to mammal meat? Farm 432 comes to mind: http://www.kunger.at/161540/1591397/overview/farm-432-insect...

I think you need to be passionate about the code you write. I worked for a company out of college that I despised. I was there for 3 years and was extremely miserable. It was indeed soul sucking. I moved out of state, to a new company working on software in a totally different market and it's been very enjoyable. I love being outside, but I also love programming and wouldn't chose any other career over it.

I do love this story though. I'm glad it's working out. It must have been tough to make that huge change, with kids and everything. Good luck.

Hey, this is the author of the post! I completely agree with you, and I think in a lot of ways it's tough to find a place that can keep you passionate about the code you write. I still have plans to write code in the future, however, this journey of mine is to help give me the freedom to write code for myself. Code that I am actually passionate about. It seems that writing code for others is part of what takes the away the passion of the individual writing it.

Thank you very much for the well wishes!

As another programmer turned farmer, I am curious how you managed to reach self-sustainabilty so quickly? Programming is still an integral part of my farming operation because it pays the bills.

Just a little turn on your wording...

I want to write code and build things for myself, with hope that this code will be beneficial to others as well, but it doesn't have to be. Even better, if writing the code for myself can provide a life for my family and I, and also be beneficial to others.

I've heard it said that even philanthropy is as much driven by the individual philanthropist's need to feel the good feeling of giving, as it is by the actual or perceived need of others outside of the philanthropist. Sometimes goodness happens through the alignment of personal incentives with those of others, sometimes it is purely personal, but you probably need a blend of both to survive physically and emotionally.

There's a lot one could consider and digest in this thinking - open source vs proprietary, for vs. non-profit, side projects for fun vs. for profit (and where those blend together sometimes), "freedom" and much more.

I think a lot of this is about opening up yourself. It seems you're doing just that with your current endeavors, and I applaud and congratulate you for it!

>> I think you need to be passionate about the code you write.

Passion does go a long way as does working on fulfilling projects, but even the most passionate person will get burned out putting in long hours week after week. Everyone needs balance and thorough time away from the desk/cube/screen.

> I love being outside, but I also love programming and wouldn't chose any other career over it.

Couldn't agree more. The strange thing is just how hard it seems to be to reconcile these two preferences. Growing up in the UK countryside in the 1980s and watching the march of communication technologies, it seemed inconceivable that tech jobs would stay shackled to urban areas. Who knew?

One day, I'll find the remote gig I'm looking for...

My journey is quite the reverse. I grew up on a dryland wheat farm in northern Montana, 60 miles from Canada, 90 miles from Glacier Park. Dryland means that there are about 12 inches of rain in a year, about what Tucson, AZ gets. Growing season is about two days shorter than what it takes to grow wheat. I did most of the tractor driving during the summer starting when I was 12, and my Dad and I had to do all the harvesting by ourselves the summer that I was 13, as the hired man quit two weeks before harvest. Harvest was 100 hour weeks.

In the winter, Dad went to the library each day, checked out 3 books, (the maximum then), returned them the next day, got three more. Mom would always be cooking and cleaning, getting us kids off to school, secretly writing poetry.

Farming for us was mostly about driving. Tractor, truck, swather, combine, rake, fuel pickup. Not so romantic as painted by the article.

Lots of fond memories. Sunsets would often fill the vast sky. Light in the sky until 10:45. Milky Way an astonishing sight. Occasional Aurora. On the tractor on a summer day, if you watched very carefully, you could see the dust devils form, and see the smooth-walled tube raise up a 1000 feet or more, then disappear. The satisfaction of learning how to drive a caterpillar pulling a duckfoot plow and making a half-mile long very straight line. The satisfaction of the end of harvest, which statistically would be on the day that the sky turned black and the fields were inaccessible for weeks.

But hard work during the summer, for sure. 10 hours each day on a tractor, no radio or other entertainment other than daydreams. (And still the only place that you can find me singing. And even then, not very often.) The risk incumbent with a state known for violent weather making sure you got all the harvest in in the approximately 30 days that you had available. Or the day in late June when I was about 8 that a sudden thunderstorm came up and the three of us watched, transfixed, as a 10 minute hailstorm wiped out the crop. Dad says "Well, that's it for this year".

And there are some irreconcilables. Judy Blunt in Breaking Clean said it very well about her own boys after she left the farm and moved to the university town: "On the farm, they were men in training. Here, they are just boys".

What most folks don't understand is that in America, the lives of small farmers, staring with my Grandfather's generation, was more affected by technology than any other way of life. A nearly two orders of magnitude of improvement in productivity over that time span. So even the farm of my youth isn't any more. Patterns are already different, machines are larger, more sophisticated. I am pretty sure that both Dad and Mom don't have much romance for that way of life. I couldn't wait to get out of there to University, with the full support and encouragement of my family. Even thought there isn't really a horizon here in Illinois. You can't see what the weather is until it is upon you.

I do get back now and again, having some family there. The sunsets are spectacular. So is the wind, occasionally tipping over boxcars. And there is February.

But props to the author of the article. Do what you love. But I can't help but wonder if there isn't a bit of a Hawthorne effect for both of us.

I know nothing about farming, but I wouldn't have guessed the farming lifestyle would afford more free time than many programming jobs. You can get a good (but boring) programming job at a megacorp/bank/government and work 35 hours a week and still have lots of time for family. You don't have to succumb to the 80 hours/week startup mentality. Also, money is not meaningless. Even if you eschew the material lifestyle, you still need to consider the financial demands of raising children and saving for retirement.


I grew up on a large agriculture operation miles from town. I hated it. My friends all got to do cool stuff like skateboard and go to the mall. I had to have a milk cow instead. I couldn't wait to grow up and get away and live in a city. I was going to be an electrical engineer. Instead I became an agronomist. I worked on some different types of farms and although it was OK it wasn't exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to think all day at work, not just exist and do the same thing season after season. I always loved computers and had ever since my first TSR-80. I started playing around with HTML. Then I learned Python and Javascript. Then I started writing more complex programs. Then I decided I wanted to do it full time about 4 years ago and quite my job as a land reclamation specialist. My boss was quite surprised... he knew I was "good with computers" but I was going to be a programming nerd? I got some contract jobs. Then I got a full time job as a web developer. I love it. Every day I'm clean, I sit in a comfortable chair in a climate controlled environment and I play with computer code. I'm very happy (although I still live on a few acres and have a big garden... it's a hobby now which is just the way I like it).

As someone who grew up on "a few acres and a big garden" but currently lives in town, I'd say there's a pretty big difference there.

Yesterday I posted a comment about being careful about how we try to bring people into programming and making sure that we encourage people to openly and honestly examine themselves for whether this is something they want to do, and not just thoughtlessly grease the slide into "programming" for everybody. [1]

This is the sort of thing I meant. Dig back into the first post and it's clear that this person was very interested in coding as a hobby, but that it didn't translate as a career. A bit of discouragement, or at least, something that most people who are gung-ho about encouraging people in, in, in to coding would consider discouragement but perhaps also could just be called "realism", could well have saved this person a lot of pain and suffering. Mindless encouragement is not a virtue... it must be mindful.

I am where I belong. I've done farming and gardening and it does nothing for me, for a variety of reasons. I would (and I suppose, do) pay not to do it. This would be a horrifying career change for me. But I am grateful that I am a statistically-crazy guy who actually loves this almost inhuman job of programming, grateful that I get to do this crazy stuff that few other people really want to do, and they can go do stuff that I don't want to do. Real diversity is great.

Be careful about encouragement, and be honest about the whole package. There are people out there who are natural programmers (or other technical positions), and don't know it yet. There are people out there who think it's a good idea, and really shouldn't do it. There are people out there who don't know about programming, and don't need to because it isn't for them, and somebody really needs to come talk to them about the virtues of plumbing, or how much charity work they could do. There's a lot of people out there who should be introduced to what computers can do for you as a hobby or an adjunct to another career but don't need to be "programmers". You can't perfectly predict, and ultimately everyone's responsible for their own decisions anyhow, but be thoughtful about what you say. Is the end goal to create a programmer, or to create a satisfied person?

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9486391

As I sit here watching this parent post go grey, it is remarkable to me the degree to which people are bothered by the idea that automatic encouragement may not be a good idea, even when posted to a story about how someone didn't like programming as a career and even as people are singing the praises of the person realizing they don't want to be a programmer and probably should never have been a professional programmer.

Do you all really want to accept the idea that "encouragement is always good regardless of the consequences!" with such religious fervor? Is the idea that sometimes someone should not be encouraged in a particular direction really that horrifying? Where did this idea come from? Have you examined it? Have you consciously accepted it? Or is it an unexamined axiom that has wormed its way into your belief structure? And I mean that with all the philosophical baggage the term "unexamined" has.

Think. These are people's lives and livelihoods we are talking about here, not what they're going to eat for dinner tonight, and you are not excused from thought by an unexamined axiom that "encouragement always good". The linked post is hardly that unusual; I personally can name at least three people who have left the career and also gotten happier, and I know one other person currently finishing up before they go back to school to switch to a career that is definitely not programming, something that is not "farming" but is also in its own way absolutely as far as you can get from programming. You have to think, and teach others to think too.

I didn't vote you down, but I wouldn't be so quick to assume that the people who did voted you down because they failed to think. I don't find your point of view particularly convincing. It's not because I think everyone should be blindly encouraged to do any particular thing. It's not because I didn't think. It's for reasons such as the following:

* The grass is always greener on the other side. It's not obvious to me that, had the author of this blog started as a farmer and eventually ditched it to become a programmer, he would not have felt a similar sense of having moved to something better.

* It's not obvious to me that we should not be encouraging everyone to do whatever constructive thing they want to do at that particular time. Maybe by demotivating someone we're lowering their chances of getting far enough along that trajectory to even realize whether they like it or not. Maybe your advice makes it more likely for people to choose to do nothing hard or risky and end up unhappy flipping burgers.

It's not my first time around this loop... it's about the fourth time, and the first time I spoke up about being hit for the opinion. People really are uncomfortable with the idea that encouragement is not necessarily a good thing, and now I think even more so, it's a subconscious thing that does not survive conscious examination.

Also, I'm not saying to never be encouraging... I'm encouraging honesty. People need to know what a job really is.

Your point is smart and very well-taken. You don't want to push people in a direction they don't really want to go. They are liable regret it later.

A person, especially a young person, can become convinced that they are OK with a path they don't much care for, for a few years, maybe a decade. But eventually fate will come knocking, and they will walk away or get depressed. You don't want to be the cause of those lost years.

There's huge benefits from people understanding clearly what sort of tasks computers are good at (and not). Or at least, having reasonable awareness of the subset of tasks that computers are obviously good at (you know, stuff like copying a piece of information into 3 different places).

I think this is sort of what many people are reaching for when they start babbling about teaching everybody to program (I guess many people calling for teaching everybody to program may not really understand it themselves).

That bit about coming down with the 22 got to me a bit. I had a dog attack on my chicken flock last week and one of the last remaining birds was still alive but obviously dying. Even though I see them as livestock, not pets, it was still not easy to pick her up, break her neck to kill her quickly then stand back and watch it end.

Never easy to kill something you're supposed to be taking care of.

My Grandma Yvette was a seriously enterprising woman who never missed an opportunity to save (or make) an extra buck. So, when I was about seven, she started raising chickens in her gazebo.

Unfortunately, she was also rather soft and she grew quite attached to her chickens...so attached that when the time came, she just gave them back to the farmer who had sold her the chicks!! :)

>Never easy to kill something you're supposed to be taking care of.

I disagree-- Slaughtering them means you're no longer responsible for their health and wellbeing, so it comes as a huge relief. Kind of like sending your kids off to college.

> "Even though I see them as livestock, not pets"

Isn't it funny how this is a completely arbitrary definition?

The most sensible explanation I've seen about this phenomenon is called carnism and it's brilliantly explained by Dr. Melaine Joy in this TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0VrZPBskpg

No, it's not arbitrary at all, it's just subjective and depends on your personal relation with the animal.

Frankly, that video sounds like BS to me. How much time did she spend within family farms that raise animals? The idea that you need "invisibility" or to abstract animals as non-individual or as objects is so untrue it's not even funny.

The claim that every culture only picks a handful of animal species to be considered edible, and this is part of some sort of psychological defense mechanism, is BS too. Counter-example: China, or any society that has access to a diverse hunting ground for 'game' or 'bushmeat'.

Even a 'picky eater' society like the US that only eats a few kinds of land animal species treats all fish as edible but only a few named species as 'the good ones', and only a handful of plant species are commonplace in the diet despite lots more being readily available.

The fact that people think dogs have higher intrinsic value than pigs, and hence deserve more rights, is based on completely arbitrary characteristics. The proof of that is that dogs are seen as food in some cultures, cows are seen as sacred in others, etc. It's all part of belief systems that, in most cases, are inherited without being questioned.

I have no idea if she has spent time within family farms, but I would guess that she, like most people versed in animal rights, would strongly disagree with exploiting the bodies and reproductive systems of animals unnecessarily. Regardless of it being done in a factory farm or in the best family farm, where animals roam free until the day they are sent to the house of slaughter, at a young age.

If you sent a perfectly healthy dog (or horse, or cat, or elephant) to slaughter, for profit or pleasure, in a culture that sees those animals as members of their moral community, you would get a very different reaction from society.

The fact that people think dogs have higher intrinsic value than pigs, and hence deserve more rights, is based on completely arbitrary characteristics. The proof of that is that dogs are seen as food in some cultures, cows are seen as sacred in others, etc. It's all part of belief systems that, in most cases, are inherited without being questioned.

The fact that the reasons are different doesn't mean they're arbitrary, merely not universal. Some cultures practice(d) cannibalism, does that mean that our opposition to that practice is necessarily arbitrary?

I think it's clear that many, if not most, are not arbitrary - which doesn't mean they are well supported; not everything is valid just because it has some reason behind it.

I have no idea if she has spent time within family farms, but I would guess that she, like most people versed in animal rights, would strongly disagree with exploiting the bodies and reproductive systems of animals unnecessarily. Regardless of it being done in a factory farm or in the best family farm, where animals roam free until the day they are sent to the house of slaughter, at a young age.

No doubt, but that wasn't my issue with the video. I wasn't disagreeing with the opposition of exploiting animals unnecessarily, just with the theory of Carnism that she uses to support it.

I inquired about her experience with family farms, not because they don't exploit animals, but because I believe they put a very obvious hole in her theory about why people do exploit animals.

If you sent a perfectly healthy dog (or horse, or cat, or elephant) to slaughter, for profit or pleasure, in a culture that sees those animals as members of their moral community, you would get a very different reaction from society.

No doubt, but her theory had more than just "people treat animals differently".

I think it's clear that many, if not most, are not arbitrary - which doesn't mean they are well supported; not everything is valid just because it has some reason behind it.

The definition of arbitrary is "having no reason behind it". Sure, judging whether a particular classification counts as "arbitrary" is hard because the definition of "arbitrary" is squishy. But what you just said amounts to:

It's not arbitrary. It might be arbitrary, but it's not arbitrary.

No, what I meant is that even the non-arbitrary ones may not have good reasons behind them.

The fact that people think dogs have higher intrinsic value than pigs, and hence deserve more rights, is based on completely arbitrary characteristics

Dogs are a bad example. Dogs have been our companions for tens of thousands of years. They have been so because they are useful to us -- we have developed a symbiotic relationship. Dogs understand us and are attuned to our emotions to a much higher degree than any other non-human animal. I wouldn't say it's arbitrary to place a higher intrinsic value on dogs than pigs.

Don't get me wrong, I don't claim that as justification of anything. I'm a vegan. I just don't think something has to be arbitrary to be wrong.

I didn't watch the video, but it seems like a common misconception. People don't like the idea of killing an animal with a name and personality for meat, so they think it must be impossible. But in reality, plenty of farmers develop bonds with the animals they will eventually kill.


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