[conspire] Strange 'phone calls

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Fri Apr 3 13:21:17 PDT 2009

So, there I was the other day, busy doing work at around 4 PM on a
weekday, when my cellular rang.  I walked out of my customer's building
to take the call, and -- hey! -- it was John Regan.  (My cellular number
is public.  Fortunately, few people have abused it.)  He said he hoped to
talk to me for a few minutes on two matters, and asked if I had time.
One of them was to tell me that Berkeley TIP (and Americas TIP and World
TIP) is really a huge, wonderful success and that I've terribly
misjudged matters in ignoring it.  And that he'd get to the second
matter later, if it didn't cause offence.

OK, I said.  It's actually a pleasure hearing from him, because he's a
personable guy.  Deirdre tells me that he has, to an order of magnitude
greater degree than she does, a typical Irish trait:  taking a long time
getting to the point, something one expects of a folk whose language
lacks words for directly saying "yes" or "no" in response to a question.

So, I said, I really did need to get back to work in a few minutes, but
on the other hand I like John personally, and was curious what he had to

"John who?", most of you are saying.  Here's something I sent via e-mail
to another of the Bay Area's listadmins, who'd encountered his request
for free Web space on a LUG's site:

  > It always amazes me when people can spend so damn much time sending
  > useless e-mail but can't be bothered to learn to do things on their
  > own.

  And he's been doing this for _years_.  The first time we heard of John
  Regan was around 1998, when he popped into SVLUG and claimed he had 
  just launched a big, important software project to develop a better
  Linux desktop for novices.  He used this alleged project as an excuse to 
  bother people who were doing _real_ work -- and it soon became apparent
  that he saw himself as a self-appointed philosopher-king over
  developers:  He had no understanding of what they were doing, and
  brought no resources to the table, but intended to give them orders from
  time to time.

  Here's an interesting thing to note:  His absurd fake software project
  had numerous _proponents_ on community mailing lists, saying that his
  optimism and desire to improve the world made him a force for good.
  I've come to recognise that reaction as a characteristic type of
  California collective insanity.

  Nonetheless, after a year or so of this, John evidently realised that
  the developers he wanted to influence had killfiled him, because he
  suddenly abandoned his usual free webmail address and started using a
  new one:  first, "hereon2003 at yahoo.com" with no GECOS field, then 
  "hereon1 at fastmail.us" with GECOS field Hereon, and now "john_re at fastmail.us" 
  with GECOS field john_re.  

  Note:  Never "John Regan".

  Each time, I've instantly recognised the allegedly new poster as John
  Regan by his writing style and bizarre fixations, and greeted him by
  name.  On the first such occasion, he responded by writing me offlist in
  a rush, imploring me _not_ to refer to him as John Regan in public.  I
  didn't respond or comply, because my intention, in fact, _was_
  specifically for the unwary to wake up and think "Oh, it's _that_ guy

  Anyway, when he started his current campaign, I immediately figured out
  what was going to happen:  He would start blitzing every mailing list he
  could think of, drumming up publicity with grandiose plans for
  installfests, conferences, planned lectures, and so on, to be held using
  facilities and volunteer resources he expects others to provide if he
  simply creates enough excitement.  Then, he'll wave his hands and direct
  those volunteers to create an ongoing user group, with online presence
  created using machine, software, and administrative resources provided
  entirely by others.

  That isn't going to work, of course, so he'll instead keep blitzing
  other people's mailing lists with periodic efforts to announce the thing
  into existence.  If it isn't yet taking off, it just means he has to
  flap his arms harder:  You'll notice that it's no longer the "BTIP"
  (Berkeley Talks Installfest Potluck), but rather "Americas TIP" or
  "World TIP".  In other words, if it's not working, all you have to do is
  think bigger!

Berkeley TIP / Americas TIP / World TIP has three Google Groups (almost all
of whose postings are John Regan's) and a Google-hosted Web page.  It
has zero resources of its own.  


It holds in-person meetings at East Bay locations that are often vaguely
specified in advance and (at least, several times) subject to
last-minute change if those locations turn out to be unavailable.  It's
claimed that there are many, many attendees because "virtual attendees"
via IRC and Ekiga (formerly GnomeMeeting) VoIP are counted in the total.
Lately, they seem to have settled on Free Speech Movement Cafe as the
"meeting" location, which is a set of part-indoor, part-terrace set of
chairs at the entrance ot Moffitt Undergraduate Library, UCB. 

Anyway, John spent the _first_ fifty minutes telling me all about how
BerkeleyTIP (et al.) is really great and a roaring success.  To be fair,
he kept asking if it were OK for him to continue.  I kept saying "Fine,
go ahead" because I was fascinated.  

And he wanted to hear all about what I saw as problems, politely
acknowledging each one as I detailed them, stressing (somewhat
verbosely) that he comprehended, though without agreement, each one.
I cited:

1.  His approach of seeming to promise "talks, installfests, potluck" in
every announcement, but with _zero_ measures to insure that any of those 
in fact occur.  His fine print always specifies, paraphrasing, "Well,
all of these things I list in glorious, enthusiastic detail will occur
if you show up and do them, but not otherwise."

2.  Not bothering to even have one's own Web page or mailing lists,
which conveys the impression of Linux not even being good at its core
competency of Internet presence.

3.  Ridiculous grandiosity and lack of focus.  You'd think from the
rhetoric that Berkeley TIP / Americas TIP / World TIP was remaking the
globe, but it's mostly just John Regan flapping his arms madly and
saying "Think bigger!"

Lately, I notice, it's not just a Linux group.  Oh no!  That would be
thinking small.  Now, it's an "All Free SW HW and Culture Global Group".
Think bigger!

I told him that it was particularly frustrating to see him whimsically
ignore all the hard-won lessons of how to run an effective user group, 
especially since I maintain the LDP's Linux User Group HOWTO to help
make sure those lessons aren't forgotten -- but nonetheless hope that
his recklessly unstructured approach works too, because that would be
really interesting.  For now, the fact that his approach comes across as
goofy and non-credible strikes me as giving a black eye, by association,
to those of us who try to do it right.

If I'd wanted to be especially blunt, I'd have added:

4.  John, your shifting your e-mail address frequently and your tactic,
ever since the first such time, of omitting all mention of your name and 
asking people _not to identify you_, really strongly suggests someone who
knows he has a reputation as a flake and wants to circumvent it through 
a series of pseudonymous throwaway personae.  Responsible people don't
try to hide who they are in _all_ of their public statements.

After fifty minutes, he got around to part two:  He said he'd been 
"personally and professionally disrespected" by me.  I listened politely
and acknowledged what he'd said.  Eventually, I had to ask about the
"professionally" bit:  "John, I have absolutely no idea what your
profession _is_."  He replied that he has an electrical engineering
degree from Berkeley.  I was still a bit unclear on what the
"professional disrespect" was:  John clarified that he meant disrespect
of his work as a volunteer.  Aha.

But he had a theory about the root cause of my disrespect:  First, he
warmed up to it by telling me about some medical challenges he's had to
deal with, which are the business of nobody here, but that he said had
impaired his ability to be effective in the online community.  Then, he
said that, because of his own challenges, and because he'd discussed the 
problem of Rick Moen with others, he'd readily identified the source of
my disrespect:  I suffer, he said, from mental/cognitive problems, which
I obviously was unaware of but needed to know about.

And at that point, about 1 1/2 hours into the call, my cellular's
battery ran out.  Which is a shame, because I was fascinated to hear his
electrical engineer-fueled views on mental health.

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