Startups, incubators and Indianapolis

In the past few weeks I was lucky enough to get to talk to Sam Altman of Y Combinator and get a little bit of advice and even a few introductions (one of which resulted in some interviews with Coinbase for some remote work! This very fortunate exchange with Sam lit a fire under my ass and got me to thinking and applying myself like I haven't in quite a long time.

While I already have the handicap of not having a stack of college degrees, which makes me quite unattractive to most traditional employers as well as startups, I also have the problem of living in Indianapolis which doesn't have anywhere near the level of startups and opportunities as a city like San Francisco. It got me to thinking... why don't we have a good incubator or three here? Indiana certainly has a decent population to draw from, it certainly has enough wealthy folks to start and operate an incubator... why don't we have a good one here? Sure, we have some but you NEVER hear about them and you certainly never hear about companies that have come out of them. Why? Why does someone need to move to San Francisco to have a chance at getting funding, why does someone need to move to San Francisco to get jobs with startups to try and be part of creating the future instead of just a consumer?

I challenge the wealthy of Indianapolis to make a serious attempt to compete with San Francisco as a hotbed for tech startups!

 

Come on guys, we can do this. Bring more opportunities for workers and entrepreneurs to Indy. For the most part you need a stack of degrees in Indy to get by and even then you're mostly stuck to old-school corporate jobs that are often backward thinking and asinine when it comes to listening to employees ideas and tend to treat employees like replaceable widgets instead of creative individuals.  

 

Check out Fatecrafter the tarot-based table top!

My friend did a thing! It's called Fatecrafter

Fatecrafter is a tarot-based tabletop role playing game. It is a very simple system to pick up and can be quite fun with friends. I've known Aaron since 1994 and he's done a really good system here, he already has some expansion material planned so show him a love and buy the core book today!

Step into the world of Felicity, a crystalpunk universe where Victorian-style steam technology collides with the forbidden crystal-powered wonders of the golden era. Play as a Fatecrafter, a human with the unique ability to sense the flow of Fate, and to shift it in their favor. This power, unfortunately, comes at a price, for the act of fatecrafting is punishable by death. You see, the king’s great clockwork orrery tracks every movement of the stars and predicts every major event in the world. Naturally, the king does not take kindly to those people that can defy the orrery’s predictions and live life on their own terms. Gather your allies, reclaim your forgotten powers, and forge your own destiny! - Fatecrafter is a tabletop roleplaying game that uses the Tarot as both its random element and as a source of narrative inspiration. To make a character in Fatecrafter, you randomly draw cards from the tarot and lay out a character spread, letting fate determine your character’s backstory, personality, and attributes. To play Fatecrafter, you draw a hand of tarot cards and you play spreads to represent particular actions. To stab an enemy, for example, you would play just a single Sword card, but to cast a powerful magical effect (like a Force Lance), you would play a large spread including several Cup cards and a Major Arcana card. The Storyteller also makes use of Tarot cards through a mechanism known as the Fate Deck. Whenever the result of a situation is uncertain, the Storyteller pulls a card from the Fate Deck and uses it to inspire their narrative, possibly shaping the entire campaign. Fatecrafter is fast and easy to play, requiring much less math and preparation than your typical RPG, but it achieves this without sacrificing rich, tactical gameplay and deep immersion in a unique fantasy setting. All you need to play is this book, one or more friends, and the Tarot (or playing card) deck of your choice. Start fatecrafting today!

Creating a multi-national non-governmental space agency

What if we could unite the top 5 GDP nations and have each contribute 1% of their GDP to a non-government space agency that had a board of randomly selected advisors from the heads of industry for various tech sectors that served say 5 year terms (adequate time for serious project/mission development) before new were randomly selected. Stagger these random draws though starting with the first batch so every 6 months a certain percent are replaced so existing projects can continue to run seemlessly.

If we took 1% of the GDP from the top 5 nations, we could have 408 billion a year for space.

NASA'S budget in 2015 was 18 billion. The DoD had a budget of 585 billion in 2015. This would be a tiny sacrifice for each of the top 5 GDP nations and they'd not even notice.

All technology developed from this new space agency would be 100% open source to any participating nation, any nation that wished to join would be required to contribute 1% of their GDP for no less than 3 years to also be granted access to all of the technology, however they could be included in helping to manufacture/develop/include personnel.

 

Think of what could be achieved. Can we say Starfleet 0.5?

Beginner's guide to Ethereum

So, someone told you about Ethereum or Ether and you checked out Ethereum.org and got super confused, that's ok. This post will hopefully act as a good starting point for a decent education in Ethereum (arguably the best cryptocurrency to date). 

 

What exactly is Ethereum?

Ethereum is an open-source, public, blockchain-based distributed computing platform featuring smart contract (scripting) functionality. It provides a decentralized Turing-complete virtual machine, the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM), which can execute scripts using an international network of public nodes.

Resources for a more detailed understanding:

Alright, now that you've done some reading and watching you want to know how to get started!

First you'll need a wallet to hold your ether. You should NEVER store your cryptocurrency of choice on an exchange for longer than it takes you to transfer to and from. Personally I like having a hardware wallet like the Nano Ledger S which is made by Ledger.  Note, you want the Nano Ledger S so you can store Ether, some models such as the one pictured below will not hold Ether.

Ledger Wallet protects your bitcoins

There are other wallet options, some good ones are:

Ok great, you've got a wallet! Now what?

Well obviously, you need to get some Ether!!! Where would one get Ether...

  • One popular exchange is Kraken

There are other exchanges, the following I have no personal experience with:

Ok cool, so I have some Ether but what to do with it?

Well this is largely up to you. Some businesses are starting to accept it for purchase of goods and services. Some folks are speculating with it. Some folks are holding on to it for use in the future as more services, companies, DApps etc roll out that will use it. Here are some examples of things you could start doing:

Why I'm becoming an inactive Freemason

After leaving Speedway #729, now Speedway #500 when they opted to throw tradition out for vanity I moved to Logan Lodge #575. After Logan Lodge accepted me as a member I noticed that they were struggling to have a healthy active membership base. I then found that i was never sent a request for dues, a month passed, two months passed, I asked about it and nothing, three months passed, four, the fifth month I finally receive my dues card for last year with a handwritten note saying my dues have been overdue for nearly 4 months and I must promptly pay them... 

Combine these events with downright racist and anti-Islamic posts I've seen from more than one Brother on Facebook, the fact several Grand Lodges in the U.S. have taken horribly homophobic stances, that more and more Lodges that are actually active are starting to more resemble the Rotary Club and Toastmasters, that many Lodges are struggling to even open stated meetings regularly (Logan included), that every single Lodge I've visited the past year or so has spent a chunk of their stated meetings and degrees going on and on about appendant body golf outings and gun raffles instead of spending time on Masonic education... 

 

I'm done. You want me to cough up 350$ a year but all you offer in return is hateful memes about "them damn heathen Moslems", crockpot desiccated KFC sides and 30 minutes a month telling me that I should come get drunk with you at the Grotto or the VFW/Legion, oh hey can I put my political office sign in your yard Brother? 

 

No thank you. This is not the Freemasonry of my father, the Freemasonry of my godfather or the Freemasonry of my great-grandfather. I don't know what this is but I'm done. Freemasonry is dying, the Lodges I've sat in go through the minimum motions then move on to show boating and making names for themselves in their communities when not drinking to excess. 

 

Are there still good Lodges? Yes, but they are few and far between and even they often have a sense of elitism requiring tuxedos and going to 30$+ a plate dinners after Lodge to continue activities (including, often, their Masonic education). I'm sorry, I don't want to go to a fancy dress party and drop 50$ after drink and tip on dinner at 9pm on a weeknight. I want to pursue the mysteries of the Universe. I want to be a better man, I want to be open to ideas and concepts and customs that are not my own. 

Maybe some day I'll start my own philosophical group, but it would likely devolve into the same crap sooner or later. 

I'm not going to demit, it's a waste of my time. By my Lodge not sending me a dues notice, even when I asked why I hadn't received one, and now telling me I'm delinquent 4 months and have not said one word to me until a hand written note on the back of a piece of paper this past weekend when they sent me last year's dues cad 9 months after transferring my membership they've already written me off as NPD so fine. Let it remain that way. 

19 AD (After Dad), letter to my father 2017

(past year's letters can be found at https://www.ryanmercer.com/?category=dad )

Well dad... in just 8 days it'll have been 19 years since you passed. It seems like just yesterday I was writing last year's letter to you.

A girl I went out with a few times last summer, she was amazing...she made me smile and she just had this light in her eyes and was curious about some of the same peculiar things that I am... she shot and killed herself. That, that was something I wasn't really equipped to handle. We'd met through a mutual friend and I'd come home from work and watched some television then was getting up to head to my room to read a bit before bed when word came from the mutual friend that Stephie had shot and killed herself earlier that day. I sat down at my desk and effectively went catatonic for several hours. I didn't go to Lodge the next day because I was so tired and just generally out of it. For weeks I was a shell of a man trying to process it. I'd not spoken to the girl in a couple of months, she basically vanished after our three dates and to be honest I'd all but forgotten her and moved on. 5 months later and I still try and rationalize what she did even though I know there's no point. A week or two before we'd put down the dog we got after we had to put Mila down.

I've been on vacation this past week and honestly I didn't even realize it was so close to your anniversary. A young woman I am friends with on this thing called Facebook that is like a digital bulletin board recently lost her father and some hours ago I found myself poking through her posts to see if I could judge how well she's coping and then I went about my evening putting no more thought to it. Sitting here taking in some videos I thought I'd share with her that I write you letters every year and I looked at the date and realized wow, 8 more days until your anniversary.

I left Speedway Lodge last year after they voted to change their number from 729 to 500 after Oriental Evergreen merged with another Lodge and the Grand Master at the time offered it to them. I was against it, I was the only person against it, so I transferred my membership to another Lodge. Here it is March and that Lodge has yet to send me a dues request and I'm just done. I'm done with Freemasonry. They can't be bothered to send me a request for dues so I'm not going to go out of my way to pay them. If they mark me as NPD oh well. To be honest I only pursued Freemasonry because it was a way for me to connect with you and your grandfather, a way to have similar experiences as the two of you while death separated us. I suppose it gave me something in common with Joe too, I know he was alive for at least my EA although he was in no condition to come down for it... I don't recall if he was still alive when I was raised. It has always been my understanding he nudged you towards the Craft.

I don't know how Curt, Doug or Dick are doing. For that matter I don't even know if they are alive. I'm still painfully and chronically single. For all intents and purposes I am the last Mercer. I turn 32 in 20 days and have yet to have a meaningful relationship in my life so as things go I am most uncertain as to if the Mercer name will see another generation. I fund a college savings plan for a future child even though I have no one to even have a child with.

As the years pass I wonder more and more if I'll ever make any meaningful contribution to society, or even a single soul.

Memories are starting to flood back, like when we sat in the dark on your bed... that moment when with unspoken words we both told each other we knew you weren't long for this world. It was so long ago, I was 12. It was 19 years ago. I can close my eyes and be in that moment as if it was happening now though. I've long forgotten what your voice sounded like but everything else is crystal clear.

I miss you dad.

Mark Allen Mercer - Ryan Carl Mercer

Update March 24th: Curt has moved to Arizona with his daughter. Dick died more than a year ago and neither Rhonda or Brad bothered to tell us. My birthday was mostly uneventful. I worked and watched television. My co-worker bought me a really neat tin litho elephant that was made in West Berlin between 1945 and 1950, they key does not wind the action but if you push the scooter down a bit and move it forward it springs to life still. That was the only thing that remotely made yesterday feel like a birthday.

 

I miss the 20th century

I'm over it. I'm soooooo over it. I want to travel back in time to the pre mid-90's and live there indefinitely.

I want to come home from work, talk to the neighbors for a half hour in the drive, sit down and have dinner with someone where phones and television are verboten, have a life largely free of the internet and television. As I don't have a family, do things with the neighbors to pass the time. Sit around on the porch on the weekend and talk about whatever. Work a large (3/4 acre plus) community garden with the neighborhood. Have neighborhood cook outs and other shindigs, actually know my neighbors and know what is going on in their lives. 

I've got 21st century burnout. I'm not alone, I know I'm not. I've got two friends that are of a similar mind. I want to live in a world where community is a thing, where life is simple, where the only real concerns are who's bringing what to the block party or what book I want to read next. 

I'm 32 next month, I have the misfortune of having lived the first 9 years and change of my life without the internet, the misfortune of living 15 years without broadband. I have the misfortune of being born into a world where as a child we'd roam the town on our bikes after school and all summer, the misfortune of being born in a world where things were mostly safe, the misfortune of having known my neighbors and even my mailman as a child. I have the misfortune of being thrust into a fast paced, high speed, dot-com life. In 1995 when I discovered the internet we got 60 hours a month, shortly after we got 120 hours a month. If the weather was nice you didn't give a shit about the internet, you were outside. If the weather was bad you'd connect to the internet, get lost in the text of a MUD. I remember the first time I saw an image on a website, the first time I saw video on a computer. 

The 20th century was my home, now we are nearly a fifth of the way through the 21st century. Every where you go, you are connected. The internet is a loud, screaming, flashy bombardment of video, images, narcissistic behavior. I'm stranded, I'm a castaway in a Kardashian, twitter, YouTube, fake news, throwback Thursday, hashtag, look at me, social justice warrior, 22 gender 13 sexual orientation, special fucking snowflake world. I want to go back. Dammit I didn't ask to be here. I want to go back! Take me back! 

The real shitty part is, I can't afford to live in the 20th century. I can't afford to buy a bunch of land and make my own neighborhood. I know I could find like-minded individuals to fill my not-yet-built streets. Hell I don't make enough money to strike out on my own and just have one small house where I live a simple 20th century life. I can't even strike out as a missionary to try and recruit strangers in the homes around me to my quaint 20th century way. To have a house as a single person you need to either get lucky, live in some urban wasteland, throw 8-12 years of your life chasing degrees and taking on mountains of debt so that you might (after another decade) have paid down that debt and bought a house so you can be at work 60-80 hours a week and come home and cry and want to die. 

Yes, I am a 20th century person. My curse is that of being born on the cusp of the digital revolution. My curse is that of wanting a simple life in a friendly world. My curse is that of being smart enough to know that this 21st century life isn't something good, it will never be for me. 

I am a 20th century person, and this is my manifesto. You may crush this individual with your 21st century ways, but you can't stop humanity's need for a simple life and community. After all... we're social creatures. 

An open letter to Elon Musk

Identify 3-10 individuals with diverse backgrounds and interests. Have these individuals on call 24/7 and provide them with modest housing (mostly sleeping/eating quarters) on/near the campus you are at the most. Provide a modest budget with a minimal approval process via someone Mr. Musk trusts and designates. The purpose of this team is to pursue fringe, bizarre, out of the box ideas and compile a brief 1-page daily list that could be read in a minute with more info about each topic available on demand.

This team could also be called on at any time to bounce ideas or problems off of to critique, offer encouragement, offer alternatives or to try and offer a thought-train that might result in a solution or a solution. All notes, all research, all ideas to be property of the company they report directly to which you/the company could license/bill to other companies you are behind. Basically a think-tank with general autonomy unless a specific issue is identified and needs to be worked on. 

A very modest salary of 30-40k would be more than adequate if modest housing and subsidized meals are provided. At least one artist and one engineering major should be part of the team.

A lifetime fan of both 'soft' and 'hard' science fiction and an interest in plethora of topics leaves me feeling humanity needs more groups like this. Armed with time, modest resources and a diverse team I think something like this could benefit humanity both on-world and off-world. I believe a worthwhile team could be started and begin the think tank experiment with: 

  • A conference room sized office with reading chairs, tables, enough workstations for every member of the team, some e-readers and a viewing room for 
  • A budget for reading material for exploring both works of fiction and non-fiction to further pursue ideas as well as seek inspiration
  • A modest budget for pursuing motion pictures and documentaries for inspiration and learning more about specific ideas
  • A small assortment of 'creative' modular toys for visually exploring ideas, e.g. LEGO elements
  • A digital collaboration and organization space not unlike Evernote for cataloging ideas and saving specific research material to for future reference
  • A quick process for requesting purchase approval to further explore an idea (ideally designate someone to approve or deny the request within 30 minutes of the team making a majority vote to pursue the idea)
  • A room with current generation VR gear (e.g. the Vive) and a small budget to buy titles to explore virtual environments for inspiration
  • Regular updates on any projects partner companies are pursuing, including any unsolved problems so any potential ideas can quickly be forwarded to the appropriate teams with any relevant research that has been cataloged to support the idea
  • A room isolated from the office where consumer products like Google Home, Amazon Echo, companion and social robots etc could be explored to possibly foster ideas for use in terrestrial vehicles, manned spacecraft and off-world habitats to improve customer/crew/settler experience and provide social stimulation.. 

I personally have all sorts of ideas and concepts worth exploring more but sorry Elon, you'll have to hire me for that. 

1% of your personal assumed net worth could fund a 10-person team for more than 2 centuries. Pursue this idea, gamble 0.01% on 2-3 years. Hell, want to be fun about it? Build your own self-contained faux spacecraft habitat in a warehouse using your thoughts for ITS and find a handful of volunteers to live in it for 6-8 months while doing the think-tank.