John Buckman's home page

I dream up, design, code, and run companies (not always to make money) that cause some heck and which have a social benefit.

This profile of me in the UK newspaper The Independent offers a humorous and quirky portrait. Elsewhere, I've been described as a "cautious catalytic combustor: taking time, trawling deep, then sparking off reactions in a specific crucible of activity."

Now in my waning years, I prefer to play with food science, code, think up provocative projects, enjoy life, code, make artisanal liquors, and code.

Here is what I spend my time on:

  • Decent Espresso is building the espresso machine I've always wanted. Technology applied to a difficult food problem: simplicity, precision, repeatability, and a mind-blowing end result.

    When I'm not programming, my main hobby is cooking using food science, with an emphasis on controlling temperature, air moisture and pressure. My main tools are sous vide, a slow cooker, a vacuum sealer, a low-temperature food smoker and an industrial pressure cooker. For instance, my perfect poached egg is made by precooking an egg in the shell at 62.5C° before cracking it into boiling water. To make stock, a hotel-grade pressure cooker raises the boiling point to 120C° to yield a far more intense and rounded broth.

    Professional espresso machines starting at $22,000 have access to advanced technologies that make competition barista quality coffee. I'd like to drink something that good every day. How about you?

  • Magnatune provides a complete, multi-genre collection of indie music to consumers for a $15/month fee. It was founded in 2003 and is known for its pro-artist, pro-consumer, anti-major-label stance summed up in its slogan: "We are not evil."

    Classical, world, ambient and other music genres no longer have functioning economic models. With major labels having pulled out of them, and vehicles for new music exposure shrinking, the musicians practicing these arts are abandoning the field.

    My projects often have an archival angle to them, specifically freeing excellent work from obscurity and preventing its disappearance. The culture we produce (arts, knowledge, literature, technology) is what our civilisation exists for. Expanding the audience for that culture helps ensure the authors of those works lived their lives for a good reason. Conversely, a work lost is akin to erasing a person's very existence. This outlook informs and motivates many of my projects.

    A few years ago, the same music catalog spawned two more companies: MoodMixes (which provides background music to businesses) and iLicenseMusic. All these music projects arose from my goal to find a business model which could sustain genres of music that are imperiled.

    Over 650 artists call Magnatune their home and while we haven't made all of our musicians rich, we do help pay the rent for a sizeable percentage of them. Revenue from these three music businesses is split 50/50 with the musicians.

  • BookMooch is an online community for the exchange of used books, which I founded in 2006 and which still runs. A quarter million people in ninety countries use it to exchange over a million books a year in many different languages, as well as donating a hundred thousand books to libraries and charities. This project was thought up after reading the popular book The Tipping Point, and then trying to buy the books listed in the bibliography. About half were out of print, and several, not even a decade old, were not available from any online used book store. Lessons Learned from Sesame Street and 20 Ads that Shook the World were both excellent, yet took months to find. BookMooch was launched to create a marketplace for books people have read, but which have no commercial value. The goal is for those books to find a new home, where they'll be read and passed on ad infinitum. This is largely a non-commercial project, though it is sustained successfully by advertising from publishers of new books.

  • ToneGnome is an audio engineering company focussed on classical music. This is a side project for me as I really enjoy being part of the creative process of music making.
Other projects:
  • The Free Culture and Civil Liberties movements underpin all I do. I've been chairman of the board of the EFF, on the board of Creative Commons and I am currently on the advisory board of the Open Rights Group (UK).

  • I'm a passionate advocate for self-employment, especially when talking to technically capable, socially minded, talented young people. This speech about why Employees Suck (video) is typical of my message (slides available here). Companies are a terrible place for talented people, and I recommend that these people stop selling their time, which they're pricing too low, and sell the fruits of their labor instead.

  • Every year, I make 30 liters of a lemon liquor called Meyercello.

  • I have a tripartite life, spending my time in the San Francisco Bay Area, London and France. I was born in London, and spent my childhood in Paris (French was my first language).

  • I play the renaissance lute in a very mediocre way, but I do it because I enjoy getting "away from keyboard."

You can email me with your thoughts or ping me on Linkedin.


(photo credit Joi Ito, CC by v2)