For many years I’ve known that Iapetus and Mimas (moons of Saturn) have resembled the Death Star. Today we saw images of Ultima Thule as New Horizons went speeding by at something like 8 miles per second.
O for a Booke and a shadie nooke,
Eyther in-a-doore or out,
With the greene leaves whisp'ring overhede,
Or the Streete cryes all about,
Where I may Reade all at my ease,
Both of the Newe and Olde,
For a jollie goode Booke, whereon to looke,
Is better to me than Golde.
I want to preface this by saying I think YC is doing good, that YC has already helped make extremely positive contributions to society by funding numerous companies.
I also currently have an application in for this batch, it’s not a billion dollar idea, I’m not going to make them a 46,666% return on their investment and based on some rejection letters to others suspect incoming. That’s ok, I’m sure this post does not help my odds either.
As people are waiting to hear about the winter 2019 batch, articles keep getting posted to Hacker News giving tips on how to interview, one such as The Ultimate Guide to YCombinator Interview Preparation is currently a top post. This started as a reply to that post but it became more, so I decided to make it something of its own.
I find it amusing that the above article, and most I've seen, are primarily written to app developers.
- “what about building [feature].”
- "What is your DAU as of today?"
- What actions are you taking to grow it? Homepage testing, funnel optimization, doubling down on a marketing channel?
I mean... YC has founded many companies that have nothing to do with applications, or even daily users... nuclear energy, shampoo, growing food, battery technology and manufacturing, energy storage, cancer research...
Then the typical buzzwords/phrases
- demonstration of the great synergy
- on-paper synergy
- What is your DAU
- funnel optimization, doubling down on a marketing channel
Which is funny because the article itself says 'Don’t use jargon'.
I often think folks in the Bay Area/Silicon Valley/tech in general have any idea how the vast majority of the country, and world, live and actually do business. From throwing out technical jargon, assuming everyone knows what it means, then advising people NOT use jargon... to wanting everything incredibly brief 'one sentence, one sentence!' to being absolutely cold and inefficiently calculating...
It scares the hell out of me. We have all these 20 to early 40 something people, with millions and billions of dollars, with the bulk of the investment money at their command, deciding what future will be built for the world in cold emails and 10 minute rapid-fire interviews.
YC and YCR have done amazing things but this machine-like, cold, calculating, no-time-to-waste, wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am approach to life, seeing everything as a potential return, throwing in rejection letters things like "then it would be hard to for this to also be a billion dollar company" (again, that would mean a 46,666% return on investment) is terrifying.
I get it, YC needs to make money. They have investors they have to answer to that expect fantastical returns that beat the market but... for crying out loud... telling companies "you won't make us 70 million dollars in 5 years so hit the bricks" *cringe*
HOWEVER, if you look to YC’s history they “didn’t start it mainly to make money” yet now making MASSIVE returns seems to be the name of the game:
Who cares if it takes the average company a decade to earn you a return on your investment, it shouldn't be about money. It should be about adding value to humanity.
I'm legitimately afraid for our species. Our self-proclaimed champions for change and good are still driven by profit, and not just modest returns, but constantly on the prowl for that mega millions jackpot of a company.
Another example of something that wholly puzzles me is, YC has recently asked for solutions to global warming, chiefly carbon sequestration solutions. We're going to produce close to 40 gigatons of carbon this year that will enter the system, that's insanity. If you filled the 10 largest bodies of freshwater in the world with azolla (see the azolla event) you'd only pull roughly 10% of that amount out of the atmosphere annually and you would only sequester a fraction of that. Yet YC, for the interviews for companies that get an invite, they want the founders to fly to the Bay Area for a 10 minute interview. FOLKS! One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person.
I know this won't be found in favor by the tech and VC communities, I'm a nobody with a GED and a dead end job that gets rejected time and time again by companies for not having a degree. I'm a nobody from the Midwest that has never made a billion dollar company, I'm not independently wealthy, I didn't make the iPad-fruit-of-the-month app that made me 1 million dollars a day, I'm not a scientist.
I'm just a guy. A guy that's terrified. A guy that just wants someone, anyone, at YC to go "hey, wait a minute, let's pause and take a look at where we are headed".
I’m not saying YC is bad, I’m not even saying they are misguided (not entirely anyway), I’m saying that YC and similar institutions seem to have developed a very myopic view and have slipped into the same problems the generations before us have “profit profit profit”.
Take chances on stuff that’s almost certainly not going to pay back with dollars but with value added to society in general. Throw 10, 20, 50% at ideas that can make life better for people that don’t involve an app or SAAS and worry about adding value to people and not fattening investors bank accounts. When you’re on your death bed will you be proud you made meaningful contributions to society or will you be proud you funded the next “Clash of Boom Candy With Friends Meets Bagles: the best freemium game with built in relationship and threesome finding matchmaking!” ?
What the hell do I know though. I’ve not exited a startup and unlocked the achievement ‘fat bank account’ so no one cares what I have to say. I don’t have an Ivy League degree, or a community college degree, so no one cares what I have to say. I’m just a guy scraping by to make ends meet, with a bankruptcy, with a GED, with this silly notion that the likelihood of 46,666% returns should not be the deciding factor in what ideas are given a chance.
(And can indoor farming help us)
One very potential means of omnicide is losing our ability to adequately feed the humans of the earth which, given an adequate failure, could result in any number of armed conflicts that may even reach nuclear exchange.
To understand the importance of this issue we first have to look a bit at farming. Growing crops requires vast stretches of fertile soil, adequate water via rain or irrigation, adequate exposure to solar radiation and time.
Fertile soil is hard to add in quantity to a region but fertile soil that is already present can be maintained (it takes thousands of years to create worthwhile amounts of soil, what we'd need for farming), however, poor management combined with environmental conditions beyond our control, can easily lead to events such as the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. (For those interested on a drought potentially causing this again see the BBC article 21st Century US 'dustbowl' risk assessed)
Where adequate rain is not available for use water must be found in the local environment. This can be from above ground bodies of water such as lakes and rivers which can be channeled into fields via irrigation or by tapping aquifers for groundwater which can and is, leading to groundwater depletion.
This is something largely out of our control. The sun will do as the sun pleases. Rampant air pollution could negatively impact the amount of solar radiation reaching plants but the real threats here are supervolcanoes and nuclear winter causing mind-boggling levels of smoke and ash to enter the atmosphere blocking out sunlight for years or decades.
In our food system, we face various issues. Waste, heavy reliance on just-in-time delivery, access to adequate water, access to adequate solar radiation.
It might be shocking to learn that approximately 1/3 of food is lost to waste globally. This happens all throughout the supply chain and in our homes and businesses. In fields, crops can be lost to fungus/pests/weather damage/damage during harvest/inability to harvest in an adequate time frame. Damage can occur in transit from the fields to processing plants, from plants to warehouses, from warehouses to retail outlets. Then food gets purchased and not consumed, either neglected in your refrigerator (let's be honest, yours needs to be cleaned out doesn't it?) or prepared and discarded. One way to drastically reduce this would be to produce food much closer to the final point of sale, another to be more aware of the issue as consumers and try to eliminate the waste on our end by being more conscientious about our portions and by using as much of a vegetable, fruit or animal as possible (an easy way being stocks and soups).
Just-in-time delivery isn't just an issue for food, it's an issue for nearly all sectors and goods and is something we absolutely take for granted and should not. It is cheaper for an entity to order a good just before it will be needed than to maintain a warehouse full of goods to draw upon as needed, even when this might mean shipping something from China to Indianapolis by air in 1-3 days.
The problem here is large population centers often have, at best, days of food available for consumption and in fact, the world only has 2-3 months of food reserves. One method to address this is to simply begin maintaining warehouses of shelf-stable food near large population centers. Another is to grow the food considerably closer to the end user to build better flexibility into the supply chain and allow for quicker delivery of goods.
As I addressed above one solution to adequate water is accessing aquifers, however, as illustrated above this is already causing issues in the U.S. and basically everywhere else. Crops require obscene amounts of water, for example, you need an input of roughly 594,000 gallons of water for 1 acre of corn with a yield of around 200 bushels (11,200 pounds of corn). Now obviously this water doesn't cease to exist but you do need to bring it in one way or another, often we largely rely on rainfall but when rain is scarce we tap those aquifers. One way to drastically reduce the amount of water needed is by having a closed system.
Again, the sun will do what the sun wants but we do have grow lights now (and technically you can use orbital mirrors to reflect more sunlight on a given area as was attempted with the Znamya project). While the sun is the cheapest option grow lights allow many benefits such as controlling the duration and intensity, allowing you to grow indoors or even in space habitats in the future for outposts on the moon or Mars.
An interesting approach and part of a viable solution is to look at growing indoors in largely enclosed systems.
There are three entities doing this right now that I'd like to use as examples.
Jeff, AKA, The Real Martian
Jeff and his wife have constructed a greenhouse on their property and are actively looking at this as a potential solution, Jeff's words say it better than I will:
His YouTube videos document the process of constructing Hab 1 as well as all of the challenges they are facing as they go through the process in a somewhat open-source fashion. His funding comes from his income and his Patreon donors.
Jeff is relying on both grow lights and natural sunlight to some extent. His energy comes from photovoltaic panels and he also has a digester which he can harvest natural gas from to run a generator on.
Square Roots, founded by Kimbal Musk and Tobias Peggs
Square Roots is a company that is doing indoor farming in shipping containers. While I think shipping containers are an ok prototyping platform, and as an easily shippable educational/training environment, I think they are neither cost-effective or scalable for commercial capacity.
Square Roots does recognize some of the issues this article have, in their own words
They appear to be marketing more towards the "let's give people 'healthy' food" and less towards the "let's feed the world" aspect for their business model. I think this is great for raising awareness to indoor farming but largely I don't see it as something that solves a problem. They will, however, be adding experience to the indoor farming movement which is always a plus and I will admit that the amount of press they've generated has likely turned minds towards the idea that otherwise would not have.
Beanstalk Inc, part of the Winter 2018 batch at Y Combinator
Beanstalk Inc is an indoor farming startup that aims to grow produce at the cost of outdoor farming. They intend to grow food within 100 miles of their customer using zero herbicides, fungicides or pesticides and use automation for as much of the labor as possible.
This is a company that is truly thinking towards the future. While energy costs still make it hard to compete with the sun for your radiation input, controlling the environment drastically reduces water input and loss prior to harvest.
Their use of heirloom seeds is also interesting. This should allow for considerably more diversity, likely better taste profiles and allows us to maintain diversity in the event that a widely used commercial line of a given plant finds itself under attack by any number of pests. I think using heirloom seeds, along with genetically modified varieties, in growing is just as important as projects such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
I'm excited to see what Jack and Michael do over the next few years.
I believe that indoor farming via aquaponics or vertical growing or some combination of both is going to be key to our future as a species. One of the biggest hurdles at the moment is energy. We need photovoltaics to continue to increase in efficiency while their price continues to come down to make this viable at scale until a time that fusion might be a viable means of power (for fusion see Helion Energy, ITER, Tri Alpha Energy etc). Continue to improve LED diodes for use as grow lights should also see this become considerably more viable at scale. Genetic engineering may also provide a means for developing plants that require less input for similar or even higher yields and potentialyl even faster yields.
We also need to be very mindful of our current farming habits and very quickly make some changes both at a farm level for more sustainable practices, throughout the delivery change to minimize as much loss as possible and at a consumer level to only buy what we are going to use to drastically reduce the amount of food that needs to be grown in the first place.
I've got a meeting in a few days and I was trying to think of things I've accomplished in my life, and where I want to go in the future, what my goals are. I also recently just hit my 12th anniversary at FedEx Trade Networks and then it hit me... it has been a bit over 11 and a half years since The Wall Street Journal talked to me and Forbes interviewed me for their 'video network' on YouTube. Looking back at both of these things is incredibly cringe-worthy.
Here's the WSJ article, which is unfortunately behind a pay wall https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB116441076273232312
And here is the Forbes interview, yikes! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLznUBgm8S4?rel=0
I wish these would cease to exist but since they probably won't I might as well embrace them, or at least remember them ha!
Absolutely. Last year I began to realize I absolutely do not like my job. Not in the least. I'm fast approaching twelve years in this position, at this company, doing what is effectively data entry with a little bit of logic thrown in. I clear international freight through Customs, my job will almost certainly be replaced by a faux-AI in the next decade or so as OCR gets even better and software is able to process documents and accurately classify items in a shipment with little to no human interaction.
My job simply doesn't matter. I'm doing nothing to benefit humanity and this has begun to deeply trouble me the past few weeks. What the hell am I doing with my life?! What meaningful contribution have I made to society? None! The worst part is, I don't actually know what to do.
You see, I lack a degree. I'll be honest with my readers, I have a GED. While people often say I'm incredibly intelligent (I'd say I'm average, I just pay attention more than the masses) the fact of the matter is I don't have a paper trail of education. I lack that 'de facto dues card' (as someone recently referred to it as to me) that is a college degree. My company has made it painfully clear that I will NOT advance without, at a minimum, a Bachelor's degree. Pardon my language but this is utter bullshit and sadly is a societal norm and not an exception. Personally I'd rather have someone that loves the work they do, that wants to throw themselves into the job, that wants to be a difference as opposed to a Dick or Jane that forked out tens, or hundreds, of thousands of dollars for a degree that almost certainly has nothing to do with the real world because society told them they must.
But what do I do with my life? How do I find someone to give me a chance? Someone has recently placed some faith in me and it fueled the fire that was already beginning to grow in me. Now I just need to figure out how I can best serve my species.
Folks, we as humans face real threats in the near future. I honestly believe humanity is headed for dark and dangerous times. As the next generation or two begins to grow damage we've been doing to our planet since the Industrial Revolution is going to become more and more apparent. Climate change is a legitimate thing and is likely to result in crop failures, drastic changes in weather patterns, potentially wars over food and even potable water. We heavily rely on monoculture crops, on trucking and shipping food literally halfway around the world, we have cities that are natural deserts where water must be shipped in from hundreds of miles away (Los Angeles and Las Vegas for example), we have this illogical fear of atomic energy but seem quite happy (thanks to lobbyists) to pump mountains of coal into furnaces for our energy, we slap anti-dumping and countervailing duties on the import of photovoltaics to 'give American business a chance *eyeroll*' which limits our ability to harness the power of the sun. We are beginning to dabble seriously in the creation of Artificial Intelligence which when used appropriately could be a wonderful thing (imagine directing sufficiently advanced AI at problems like 'cold fusion' and engineering of crops/algae for more efficient food production) or it could be a very very bad thing like in the Terminator franchise and the 1970 film Colossus: The Forbin Project in which an AI is created and given access to nuclear weapons, Colossus quickly determines the the Soviets also have an AI named Forbin and the two begin to communicate and ultimately become enemies. Colossus effectively makes itself ruler of America and threatens Forbin... "oh that's unlikely you say", yeah? Look at how much autonomous drones have been used in the middle east as of late. We also are in the infancy of a second Cold War between the United States and Russia with two madmen at the helms .
We have to do something. As a meat eater I say we need to get away from eating animals due to the greenhouse emissions involved in the entire process. We need to drastically reduce our energy consumption and move to 'greener' sources. We need to immediately do something about food waste. We need to start moving towards permaculture, vat grown protein (be it animal or algal). We need to support folks like Musk and Bezos and Bigelow that would see us spreading man to other worlds as a means of preservation of the species.
I need to be part of the solution. I don't know how I can help, or what I have to offer but I know, with every fiber of my being, I need to be working for someone or something that is trying to better the world. I've been losing sleep more and more the past year worrying about the world, worrying about how I am part of the problem. If any of you have ideas, if any of you are working towards solutions and can hire me by all means reach out. Keep me fed and a roof over my head and I will work, I will truly WORK for you, for our species, for our future.
Altman also says
I truly find it hard to do my job lately. It emotionally pains me. I think this is important, we need a world where people can actually pursue what interests them. The world would immediately be a better place. We need to look at things like Basic Income to allow this, especially with automation in the workplace rapidly increasing which is going to displace millions, then hundreds of millions of workers.
Altman makes another salient point
I will be the first to admit, I can be quite negative. I often don't believe in myself. A former friend had me in his phone as 'Eeyore'. One problem is, people shit on my ideas. I expressed to a friend I was considering pursuing a degree, he quickly told me I'd hate it, I'd complain about it, I'd get bored with it... while he was right that was not at all supportive (although it was one of many reasons I have chosen not to pursue a degree). Unfortunately this wasn't an isolated incident. My mother frequently doesn't support me nor has my extended family EVER supported me. I need to be around people that inherently believe in any given human being's potential. I need to be around people that are trying to be part of the solution. I know so few of these types though and I haven't a clue how to build a social circle that consists of this variety of person.
Damn. Do you ever have the feeling that the Universe or the Grand Architect or God or the intelligence that runs our simulation is trying to tell you something? I need to find the right problem for me to throw myself at. If anyone has ideas, I'm open. If anyone has work to be done, again let's talk as maybe I can help. I need to spend the next days, or weeks, seriously contemplating what I might be able to do and then looking for someone to do it for.
Roman society had Clientela, patronage. Patroni would sponsor clientes and this could be done many different ways for many different reasons. I think we need to look at this practice and apply it in the 21st century. We need to seek out and identify potential wunderkind and bright adults that have not had the means to excel and support them. How many Teslas, Leonardos (people, his name isn't da Vinci, it is where he is from!), Fords, Einsteins, Gutenbergs, Lamarrs (as in Hedy, go read about her life outside of being an actress), Watts, Voltas etc were unable to contribute meaningfully to society because they were disadvantaged one way or another? How many profound discoveries and contributions never happened because no one believed in them, because no one supported them, because they were too busy trying to keep food on the table to pursue their ideas and use their abilities? Again, see Basic Income. Perhaps Basic Income can be the clientela of the 21st century.
Altman then says
Agreed. I use my Gmail inbox for this as well as my Google calendar. I think I'm going to give paper lists a try, get some cheap notepads or moleskines. For a time I was using Evernote but it is too easy to ignore or neglect outright. We all have many ideas, some good and some bad, but how many of them do we ever pursue? Lists, I'm going to take a renewed interest in lists. You should too.
While I can be quite wordy when I'm passionate about something (ahem, this post) I was told, after interviewing for a position here at work recently, "you were too terse with your replies to the interview questions. You briefly answered and did not expand upon your answers like other candidates" well exxxxcccuuuuusssseeeee me you told me you'd only allotted 45 minutes for the interview and I didn't want to waste my time or yours with some verbal diarrhea trying to to play kiss ass while I told you everything you wanted to hear. And while we're on the subject, ENOUGH WITH MEETINGS. I have, at a minimum, 6 meetings a week that add up to at least an hour, literally everything that is said in these meetings could be delivered in 6 emails consisting of less than 2 paragraphs which I could read in 30-45 seconds.
I'm not here to be best friends with everyone I work with, I'm here to work and get paid. Unless something deeply interests me, I'm going to be as curt. It will serve all parties well. Less is frequently more. The less time I waste 'shooting the shit' with you, the more I can get done.
Oh wait a tick, look what Altman has to say:
Thank you! Someone else has some sense!
Look, I honestly have no idea what I should be doing with my life. I know I should NOT be doing paperwork all day. I want to be interacting with people, I want to be helping people, I want to be working towards social or technological changes that will make the world a better place for humanity going forward. I truly have no idea what talents I can bring to the table aside from being able to process many ideas and concepts and linking relevant (even when not obvious) ones together. I don't know how to solve the problems of the world but I want to.
I'm not likely to invent some new app or technology, I'm not likely to cure cancer or solve world hunger. My bank balance is in the four digits so I can't finance the efforts of others. I can say "here's an idea" or "I don't think that's wise" or "I'm sorry, you are so out of touch with reality that you have just said the dumbest thing I have ever heard in all of my existence" or "yes, that's brilliant, what can we do to make that happen?! How can I help?!".
I truly don't know what to do. I need some sort of intervention, I need something to fall into my lap or someone to throw me at a task. I'm open to the ideas of anyone that might see this. I can't do my job anymore, I come to work and want to check out like Peter in Office Space, someone load up Tetris and pass me the electric screwdriver until I have a meaningful purpose.
I have some ideas for more blog posts that I will begin working on this weekend so stay tuned my friends. In the meantime, take a look at your life and ask yourself if you could be doing something more meaningful.
(past year's letters can be found at https://www.ryanmercer.com/?category=dad )
Well, dad... in just 5 days you'll have been dead 20 years. TWENTY YEARS. You've nearly been gone 2/3 of my life. Let's see, where do I start this year...
I'm inactive as a Freemason. I didn't even bother demitting, the Lodge I transferred to was a mess and never even sent me a request for dues until I was several months past due sending me a handwritten, in red ink, note on the back of a scrap of paper claiming I was late on my dues and needed to pay them.
I don't know what's going on with Doug but Curt lives in Arizona I believe with his daughter now. I've still not produced an heir and, since the girl that ultimately shot and killed herself, that hasn't really been anyone.
Adam West died last year. I remember the day I found out, my friend Jeremy broke the news to me. There's this thing called twitter on the internet. Adam had 'followed' me on this platform for years and years, he still does in death, he didn't follow too many people and we were friendly with one another over the years. I cried and cried and cried when I found out. I shut myself up in the bathroom and just lost it. I think I took it rough not because television's Batman had died but because when I'd come home from preschool and kindergarten you and I would watch him fighting crime on tv when we weren't watching Hogan's Heroes, The Beverly Hillbillies or Andy Griffith. I told Adam about you once, that you and I would sit there and watch him on the television. I miss you both.
Mom and I are moving to Plainfield in a month. Into an apartment. I still have the mushroom, your droopy horseman, and that droopy dog. They'll be proudly displayed in my room when we move.
In April I'm taking a test for the Customs Broker license. Depending on what source you look at, it usually has something like a 3-11% pass rate. It's an open book test, however, the material is 6,000-7.000 pages. It's multiple choice but yeah... I bought some training material for it but I really don't know how I'll do, once we move I'll have a little over 2 weeks until the test and I'm going to take a few of the past years' tests as the publish the questions and answers to see where I stand. I hope I pass it as it will be beneficial at my current employer and open up options at other companies as well (or I could even hang out my shingle and have a go at it solo but I wouldn't likely do that).
The remade Death Wish, with Bruce Willis this time, and I saw it last week. It was alright but the two detectives in it were terribly unrealistic.
There's also a man called Elon Musk. He builds his own rockets and is designing one to take man to Mars but earlier this year he took his electric car, oh yeah he makes electric sports cars that are pretty amazing, he took his electric car and put it on his newest rocket and launched it into space. He put his sports car, in space. What a world you've missed.
Oh! On the internet last week I saw a police patch that I bought. It was the same shape as the State Police patch, a similar font and a blue background but said Indiana State Police Free Mason' and had a square & compass on it. I had to add it to the collection, you know?
Well, dad. I miss you. Until next year.
So I watched Season 1 Episode 3 of The Orville and Star Trek Discovery Season 1 Episode 1 this evening back to back. I love Orville, Discovery looks like a steaming pile (so Klingons are now hairless lizard-men Egyptian Stargate creatures, since when did they have holographic FTL communicators 10 years before Kirk?!).
Orville to me is a cross between Star Trek The Next Generation and reality. In fact it has something resembling Ten Forward, the windows are eerily similar, the uniforms are comparable, replicators, holodecks, a cyborg/robot/android on the bridge crew.
Star Trek Discovery to me, is a THIRD re-imagining of the Star Trek timeline and has extremely hollow acting.
A brief glance at a bartender in the Orville's equivalent of ten forward:
Now, let's take a look at one of the bridge crew in Star Trek Discovery:
CLEARLY Fox and CBS are teaming up as part of a public disclosure to reveal actual aliens to us. Clearly this is what they look like. Clearly I'm kidding, take off your tinfoil hat. It is a funny 'coincidence' though, innit?
Adam West is dead and I kinda don't know how to process that.