Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: What is the biggest untapped opportunity for startups?
657 points by seahckr on Feb 6, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 1002 comments
What are some market segments / areas that are ready to be disrupted? If you're a VC, what are some problems you don't see a lot of startups trying to solve?

A marketplace for specialized micro-consulting(30 minutes to an hour).

I've seen plenty of projects that are rife with anti-patterns because a team was unfamiliar with a problem or technology and made a bunch of bad decisions while they were still coming up to speed.

The use-case I envision would fix this. Because it's really a travesty that when we're the least familiar with technologies is when we make some of the most important architectural decisions. And these mistakes could be avoided with questions like "What issues will we run into?" "What patterns should we follow?" "What are good resources to get started?"

For instance I recently joined a project that was built by devs coming up to speed on React. And boy did they abuse Flux, they didn't build a store for every drop-down but it's pretty damn close. However I really think a React Guru could have steered them around this mistake with just 30 minutes of his time.

Obviously the biggest problem is ensuring quality without having to hike rates too much.

I'm the co-founder of Fliffr. We're building a marketplace for services where you can charge by the minute. We have everything from experts in SEO, chefs, personal trainers, Esport professionals. We also have a couple of developers, for example you can contact me for advice on #go #javascript or #ionic. Our goal is to build a service to quickly get in contact with an expert and only paying for the advice you need.

Users can contact our experts through chat and video/voice calls.

Do sign up for Fliffr and try it out, we're on both iOS and Android stores, or visit https://www.fliffr.com . And if you have any feedback I'd love to hear it.

Love the concept, but I can't see this as useful as an App, since pretty much every use case I can think of I'd want to be at my computer for.

I also find it kind of amusing that you're advertising esports advice from a woman who plays on a CS:GO team which can't even compete with a mediocre ESEA-IM team... she might be an absolutely amazing teacher and amazing person to work with, but she isn't good at the game, which really undermines your marketing strategy.

Are the csgo team coaches really good at playing comp. csgo? Dont think its the main quality you need to have to push him forward.You great player but never be able to communicate it to others.But as a good observer with analytical skills you can be great at spotting potential and weakness etc etc

That's something that has been discussed in depth in the pro community for a long time... the conclusion that most team owners have made is that you generally need a coach who can play at a top pro level or has previously played at a top pro level. Obviously the target market here isn't pro teams, but even so, the people who have large amounts of money on the line choose not to hire coaches who have never been very good at the game.

I also have a lot of first-hand experience with this since I taught paid lessons in CS 1.6 way back in the day. Generally the market for lessons is full of mid-tier players who are very dedicated, but don't have the support necessary to improve (ie. a team of players as good as them or a proper coaching system). These players are almost all looking to go pro some day, and want to be able to break through to that level. Since the difference in skill between a Top 1% player and a Pro in CS:GO is so massive, any random competitive player won't be able to give good advice since they are at the same place as the client, and can't understand WHY things are done the way they are among the Pros.

It's worth noting that the Orbit Female CS:GO team isn't even all among the top 1% of players - they went 10-6 in ESEA-Open last season, which is the lowest level of competition which is even sanctioned. Any team that is dedicated and practices, even if they aren't good, will make it through Open at X-4 without much difficulty (I've coached a few teams through this).

We'd love to have you on our platform. Have you considered signing up?

I'm available on danielk at fliffr.com if you have any questions.

I haven't played in a long time (I'm only involved tangentially these days), so I wouldn't be interested, but thanks :)

She is a great coach (I've taken lessons from her) but I get you point. We are partnering with quite a lot of gamers, among them organisations like Denial and Elevate.

Great idea! I have just signed up and added some skills.

However, I am not sure how I should charge. Since you don't have enough people offering the same skills I promote and I presume very low to inexistent demand, there is no price correction at this stage, nor market to begin with :(.

It would be useful if somehow your app could suggest a recommended fee for a given skill.

It looks like a great idea though!

Thanks for signing up!

As you say there isn't much demand, but we are working on it. Thanks for your suggestion on recommending fees :)

Does it support a web-interface? It's not clear from the website.

Not yet, but it is something that we are thinking of adding. Would a web interface be useful to you?

Yes, interacting with a UI on a desktop computer is so much better than using a phone screen.

Cool, thanks for the feedback. If you want me to reach out to you when we have a web interface drop me an email at danielk at fliffr.com

If I'm getting consulting for e.g. code, I'd want to be at my laptop coding away, not stuck with my face in a phone screen.

Software/Devs/Code already have a niche platform for this at: https://codementor.io

I would second this. In terms of software dev, I'd want this application to live the same place that I'm doing the majority of my work -- my desktop.

I like the idea too, but also got lost at no web interface. There are instances where you'd want to screen share and look at code. Slack integration would be kinda cool too.

There are instances where you'd want to screen share and look at code.

Not only "instances," but that seems like a worthwhile business just by itself.

Thanks for the feedback

1 tip to improve your site, include the expertise next to the person.


For example, idgaf their name, let alone their username on a service I dont even use yet. This screen that should tell me everything, tells me nothing.

Best of luck. Promising idea.

I've started offering a service like this[0] for React apps. The response so far has been really good, people love it!

It's exactly how you say it is, by spending some time identifying the biggest issues and then spending an hour with the team I can get them to rally around some easy fixes that'll be valuable for the business long-term.

Developers love it as their bosses finally understand the value of refactoring, and managers love it because they get actionable tips that'll help the business.

Making this a general platform would require a lot of good curation, but nothing impossible. Now you got me thinking…

[0]: https://mxstbr.com/audits/

That looks like a valuable service, but it is slightly different from the micro-consulting the parent mentioned. From your perspective, do you think there would be value in a service that offers this consulting thirty minutes at a time?

30 minutes is quite a short amount of time, especially given that most companies who will pay for consulting are quite far ahead in their projects already and will have a large codebase.

I could see 30 minutes to an hour working out for e.g. a bespoke greenfield codebase setup, but I don't think restricting it to 30 minutes makes a lot of sense.

Please don't call people Gurus. I've had at least three lousy experiences working with people who referred to themselves as Gurus. Some of them didn't even know the dictionary definition of the word. I feel I have dodged a number of bullets since then, by developing a healthy prejudice against self-titled Gurus.


And "visionaries". May be it's just me, but my defenses go up whenever I read a profile with visionary in it.

Thought leaders, ugh.

What about rock stars?


I run away screaming when I see this in somebody's profile.

To be fair, that's because of the throwing stars, though. Everyone should be afraid of Ninjas.

But that's just the thing -- most people referring to themselves as ninjas are designers aspiring to be devs, and they are usually cute chubby smiling guys who tend to stumble on their own feet. Hardly something to be afraid of!


"For instance I recently joined a project that was built by devs coming up to speed on React. And boy did they abuse Flux, they didn't build a store for every drop-down but it's pretty damn close. However I really think a React Guru could have steered them around this mistake with just 30 minutes of his time. "

The trouble here is that the guru or consultant who comes in needs to understand the context of the problem, which can't be done in 30 mins.

we have a lot of architecture consultant companies which provide these services already.

If you microfocused it enough it would work.

Am I doing anything wrong isn't happening in 30 mins. Am I doing anything wrong with React is more than 30 mins. Am I abusing Flux? That sounds doable. videoconference with a live dev plus codebase access.

In a previous career I walked hundreds of consultants thru connecting to the telco WAN and ISP network that employed me, and I can't help you with everything but in 30 minutes I can easily tell you what is wrong with your BGP configuration or your frame relay configuration or your MPLS/ATM connection. At least WRT connecting to that employer, at least WRT connecting 15 years ago. The consultants knew their client networks inside and out, I mostly told them "no do not redistribute via RIP RFC1918 address space to us" or "no you really don't want to send us a 0/0 route" or "you think we'll accept a route for a.b.c.d/27 and you're actually sending it correctly but you not having sent us a LOA means I'm filtering it right out" or "you might want to think about enabling md5 authentication because we have, as our welcome letter you obviously didn't read, clearly explained" and yeah people actually tried stuff like that. Also people with obvious peculiar ideas about how BGP works WRT priority of routes and load balancing and stuff. Could I tell these "network administrator consultants" how to set up MCSE server stuff, well, no, but I sure told a lot of them how to configure Cisco WAN interfaces and how BGP works (or doesn't work)...

You can do a lot in 30 minutes over a narrow enough specialty.

Wouldn't reading a book about React before they started working with it be preferrable?

That's something I've seen getting much worse over the past decade with the proliferation of frameworks. What you call "getting up to speed" is tempting to call "playing with". People work with tools that they have no knowledge of. Learning on the job is good, but I think one should have at least an idea of how the tools are supposed to be used and how they are implemented before doing anything else than throwaways.

I don't know how to fix it really, it more of a cultural thing than a technical. Knowledge must somehow be cool and respected again. Or maybe I'm just getting old and this is really a faster way of building things. I just can't think of any other area where professionals jump to the next tool without even learning the one they use.

> Wouldn't reading a book about React before they started working with it be preferrable?

Great in theory but difficult in practice. Developers rarely ever have the luxury to pick up a book as a means of getting up to speed when there exists online resources like Google and StackOverflow where you can easily find posts that answer your query string(s) verbatim.

But you don't necessarily know what you don't know.

If you don't know enough to ask high quality questions, SO and Google won't help you.

If you're lucky, G will lead you to tuts and repos with useful code.

If you're not, you'll make a ton of stupid beginner mistake and be overdrawn on the technical debt account before you even start.

JavaScript frameworks are rarely ever worth buying a book to get up to speed for. Books like this [0] are a much better time investment as the deep knowledge gained would be useful beyond the currently trending JS framework.

[0] https://github.com/getify/You-Dont-Know-JS

Throwaway, prototype, proof of concept, spike, playing around, whatever you want to call it. In many (most?) businesses, they never get thrown away. They form the basis of the product.

In other words, the thing that makes software so unique and valuable, is the very thing that most organizations don't take advantage of. They think that if you throw it away, you are scrapping something akin to physical materials.

Shame, really.

The problem is that React best practices have changed in the past year alone. Buying a book from say, early 2016 would be useless now.

"For instance I recently joined a project that was built by devs coming up to speed on React. And boy did they abuse Flux, they didn't build a store for every drop-down but it's pretty damn close. However I really think a React Guru could have steered them around this mistake with just 30 minutes of his time."

Problems like this tend to be consequence of team that does not tolerate dissent. E.g. either clique that stamps out dissenters as obviously stupid or dominant individual eager to bully anybody who does not conform to his favorite cool aid. Someone would say that "maybe we are going too far" otherwise.

Consultant wont be able to solve that one in 30 minutes.

This would be great for non-tech too. That is, a marketplace for micro-consultations where I can look up industry-specific consultants. It would have saved me lots of time (months) on several projects I've played with launching over the last few years.

Isn't this kind of http://clarity.fm offers?

That would be cool. I've run into a problem myself of not knowing what technology to use when building a web-shop, but complicated by the fact that users uploaded images to be printed onto their item. Sometimes I just need someone with e-commerce coding experience to talk to me for half an hour or so to let me know what my best options are.

I recently launched my third startup Elastic Byte (https://elasticbyte.net) a DevOps and cloud management company that offers simple monthly plans to design, build, and manage your cloud infrastructure. Pricing is transparent and upfront (which is rare for consulting/service companies) with no long-term contracts and no vendor lock-in.

We specialize in AWS and Google Cloud, and can help with simple LAMP/MEAN stacks all the way to complex multi-region microservice architectures using Terraform, containerization, Kubernetes and beyond.

For tech it could be a nice add-on to Stack Overflow, since they have a reasonable amount of data of people's knowledge/quality and a reputation system

http://www.fiverr.com seems like the current standard for these kinds of tasks. Problem being it's mostly overseas labor and the quality isn't great.

https://hourlynerd.com/ is an interesting model, if a different industry

I'm curious if anything related with teaching CS or how to program would be appelative to people? Something like 1:1 teaching/mentoring..

I teach CS (programming, web development, distributed systems) on a local university, but have been thinking if there would be people interested in having 1:1 access to someone with development and teaching experience, for 30 minutes or 1h..

wasn't google helpouts something like that?


they shut it down.

This just stinks of another way to abuse the talent. If you want to pay someone below-market rates to fix your business's problems, there are already a multitude of race-to-the-bottom "contracting" sites to suit your needs.

Real consulting at market (or even above-market) prices exist for a reason. The kind of people who will spend hours setting up a consult, to only officially charge for 30 minutes, are exactly the kind of people you don't want working for you, for any period of time. You get what you pay for.

I can't for the life of me imagine what an apparently legitimate "micro-consulting" gig would look like, where the talent being hired isn't being asked to overperform for the amount of billing time being requested.

This sounds a bit like both https://clarity.fm/ and https://www.codementor.io/

Long ago I offered a paid answer service for Drupal StackExchange questions via the drupal.org services list and never got anyone asking for the service. Just a data point.

I got this pitched multiple times in the last months. Nobody got the focus right in my opinion because it needs to be open and paid. I would use this from both sides i really see the potential here as well.

This is exactly what Clarity provides - https://clarity.fm/

I think you mean software consulting but Expert360 is a good example for other types of consulting.

I have never used them, but isn't this the model airpair is going after?

Here are a few, and I frequently have these conversations with VCs, albeit biased toward areas I work in:

- Spatiotemporal analytics usually in the context of IoT. Most people currently repurpose cartographic tools for this purpose but the impedance match is poor and the tools are seriously lacking elementary functionality. There is no magic technology here, just exceptional UX/UI and an understanding of the problem domain and tooling requirements.

- IoT database platforms, no one offers a credible solution for this currently. Everyone defines this in terms of what they can do, not in terms of what is required in practice. There are many VCs currently hunting for this product but the problem is one of fundamental tech; you can't solve it using open source backends.

- Also for IoT, ad hoc clusters of compute at the edge being able to cooperate for analytical applications. The future of large-scale data analytics is planetary scale federation for many applications. Significant tech gaps here.

- Remote sensing analytics. Drones and satellites are generating spectacular volumes of this data and no one can usefully analyze data of this type at scale. Today, companies wait weeks for a single analytic output on less than a terabyte of data.

- Population-scale behavioral analytics. Many startups claim to do this but none of them can actually work with relevant data at a scale that would deliver on it despite increasing availability of the necessary data.

- AI based on algorithmic induction tech i.e. not the usual DNN and ML tech everyone calls AI. This is way more interesting if you have a novel approach.

> - AI based on algorithmic induction tech i.e. not the usual DNN and ML tech everyone calls AI. This is way more interesting if you have a novel approach.

I know it's fashionable to hate on deep learning, but algorithm induction is literally what deep learning does.

I would love to read an elaboration on this. There's so much I don't understand about AI.

> AI based on algorithmic induction tech i.e. not the usual DNN and ML tech everyone calls AI. This is way more interesting if you have a novel approach.

Any chance you can elaborate on what you're talking about here?

I think the OP is referring to algorithmic probability. See

[1] R. J. Solomonoff. A formal theory of inductive inference: Parts 1 and 2. Information and Control, 7:1--22 and 224--254, 1964.

[2] R. J. Solomonoff. Complexity-based induction systems: Comparisons and convergence theorems. IEEE Transactions on Information Theory, IT-24:422-432, 1978.

[3] http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Algorithmic_probability

I believe he is referring to AI that can generate new ideas, similar to 'thinking' versus pattern recognition, which is 'I've seen something like that before (during training!).

So AI that can develop algorithms on its own? Basically AI that can write code?

Perhaps he means old-fashioned AI techniques like production-rule systems, knowledge representation, and truth maintenance. If so, and if he's right, that would interest me, since I know how to do those things.

I understood the question as, what makes you think: the current system could be streamlined so easily that I can hardly believe someone hasn't already disrupted the complacent firms extracting rent.

Such a question usually gets answers mostly comprised of work that is extremely boring at first glance. For example, create a system than halves the work to complete documentation for some sort of compliance with regulations.

Every one of these ideas just sounds incredibly interesting to work on. The type that gets a lot of really bright people together on a team (that I'd really want to be on too), yet they might not deliver a product, and possibly even less likely figure out how to monetize it.

Anyway, I'm not developing a friction-reducing product either, but worry about choosing something because it sounds like a rewarding, intellectual challenge.

A lot of that is really really specific for what you do. I think people are generally trying to solve ONE problem rather than creating a solution for the general problem, because usually, a general solution breaks down very very quickly and thus low retention rate.

> Remote sensing analytics. Drones and satellites are generating spectacular volumes of this data and no one can usefully analyze data of this type at scale. Today, companies wait weeks for a single analytic output on less than a terabyte of data.

I am co-founder of tensorflight.com. We do computer vision analytics of drone imagery. Interesting that you mention it, as I thought it's a somewhat obscure market. When we talk to investors in the valley 75%+ have to be educated about why what we do is a viable business.

Please get in touch at kozikow@tensorflight.com if you have any ideas!

Very insightful. In your expert opinion, what are some of the core features / functionality that an IoT database platform should have (that existing solutions or combinations of them on AWS / Google Cloud / Azure don't provide)?

Could you be more specific about the IoT DB issue? What would a credible solution do?

Thanks in advance.

An IoT database requires the intersection of three software capabilities in a single platform, which have varying degrees of accessibility (the technology exists in principle) and none are available in open source currently.

- An exabyte-scale storage engine. Nothing too exotic here technically and a few companies have built them, but the design needs to address continuous data corruption, continuous hardware failure, geo-federation, etc.

- A real-time database kernel that supports very high throughput for mixed workloads. A production kernel of this type doesn't currently exist though several people working in closed source databases understand the necessary computer science in principle; the academic literature is far behind the state-of-the-art. The ability to gracefully shift load and transients between servers under full load with many millions of writes per second is not trivial.

- Native discrete topology operators. Necessary for geospatial analytics, sensor coverages, etc. If you can do it natively in the database kernel, it makes the second requirement easier to achieve since you don't need secondary indexing generally.

Any solution even halfway toward the general solution would be viable. The value possible if you have such a system is hard to overestimate. Companies have paid half a million dollars for the output of a single analytic query on tens of trillions of IoT records; the differentiator was that it was possible to execute such a query at all.

It is extremely high-end and polymathic computer science, but serious valuable if you can make a credible dent in it. And unlike some advanced topics in computer science, there are no epic unsolved theoretical problems you have to solve, though some relevant computer science may be unpublished.

The first two challenges are quite familiar in the financial industry, and kx, with its kdb+ time-series database, is arguably the industry leader. Most people in the open source sector don't pay it much attention, since its proprietary nature and terse APL-inspired syntax [0] lend themselves towards "I'll make my career in this, become a wizard, get Wall Street money, and not be very incentivized to compete with myself by sharing knowledge." To the third question, I'm not sure to what extent it treats topology natively, but kx is certainly positioning themselves as an IoT solution provider [1]. Of course, the cost is likely prohibitive for smaller IoT startups, and more innovation would certainly be good from a supply-demand perspective, but from a technical perspective I'm not sure this is an unsolved problem.

[0] https://a.kx.com/q/d/q.htm

[1] https://kx.com/solutions/utilities/

KX is a leader in what it does but it doesn't really fit the canonical IoT use case, either from a workload or analytics perspective. The challenge is that IoT isn't just temporal, most of the interesting relationships are spatial as well since you are analyzing relationships across sensor and telemetry streams, and the analytics are real-time mixed workloads with ridiculous working set sizes. It isn't their market. They rock the time-series market though.

A good example of an IoT data analytics problem is analyzing a petabyte of drone sensor data, which on a large drone amounts to a few flights worth. Typical raw sources tend to be some combination of hyper-spectral imaging/video and LIDAR. Or RF probability functions e.g. mobile. Or a combination of all of the above because you are fusing multiple sources to reduce the uncertainty for your analysis.

FWIW, the "tens of trillions" of IoT records I mentioned was a real-world example from one of the most famous financial companies. It was a spatial analytic on a polygon model, and a classic IoT data model. If KX solved that particular analysis problem, they would have used it.

kdb is awesome, but very tailored to one-dimensional (time-ordered) data. I've built a couple multi-dimensional array database engines in my time and -- trust me -- it's a really difficult problem to solve. That said, I have a design kicking around for one that meets most of the OP's demands, so if anybody wants to join me...

There's been an explosion in raster data in just the last 5 years. Cheap satellites, cheap drones, and cheap platforms have really turned the firehose to "high". And the resolution on scientific data -- climate and weather model output, astronomy data, particle physics data, seismic data, etc. -- just keeps going up.

This is an area of massive growth for which no existing solution is quite adequate. If I had the time and/or the cash, I'd be diving in head-first.

A friend is working on an IoT problem with two of your three capabilities: storage and analytics. He has voiced similar concerns. (To be fair, he gripes constantly that nothing exists which would work for him, within the budgetary and timing constraints.)

His company provides sensor systems for civil engineering projects. A single large bridge can have sensor packs every 50m or so - per beam. The amount of sensor data coming in for a single municipality or region is already staggering. Vibration and stress analytics are required on a daily basis.

The final requirement, one which you didn't mention, is that this setup should be fairly low maintenance. If you need a team of rocket scientists to operate and just keep it from falling over, the cost structure will be unsustainable.

A service that provided all this in a platform with sane APIs and good BI integration should be making tons of money.

Instead of storing the data and then analyzing it, make it into a stream! eg: collect | analyze | report

During development or if you want to store the raw data you can split the stream. eg: collect | tee >(store) >(anotherAnalyzer) | analyze | report

> budgetary and timing constraints

ain't that the truth

I'd also add, there's a component of streaming analytics that isn't solved either.

One of the points I've tried to make at various companies (we've worked at the same one before) is that streaming solutions and batch solutions need to be fused into a single execution engine.

A streaming system on its own (operating on temporal windows) is not nearly as useful as on that can be joined to a storage engine with data at rest. It also needs to be disk based, so windows can be large, which most people do not want to take on. It also needs to be extremely parallel, and efficient.

Thousands of requests a second per server is not even in the right ball-park (which is lots of current execution engines now). Operating at line rate is generally table stakes IMO. The operations on the stream should be parallelized automatically, up to petabytes a day of input. Humans don't have the necessary context to do the partitioning up front, especially with streams that change.

The issue is (and I've tried to come up with designs to address this, though not in practice), is that co-locating the data at rest, with data that is moving through the system is a tricky problem, especially with complicated joins.

They can be the same engine (and should), but traditional database engines tend to have a problem with streaming queries, since they are just repeatedly executing a query against every new record. They are expressible, just not efficient. There is room to innovate in this space, but most people building these engines either solve the parallelism problem naively, or not at all.

There's also the problem of driving this computation to the edge, which is also something I have a solution for in a way that no one is doing, but have not yet met a company willing to take this level of effort on.

All the points you make about the kernel are apt, as are the points about the distribution algorithms. Also, the protocols used aren't nash safe, so at scale most of these systems become an operational juggling act under pressure.

All streaming systems that I know of do not know enough about the underlying data to gracefully rebalance and co-locate, since they all tend to embody the map/reduce paradigm, which is oblivious to underlying data distribution, at least in current practice.

There is available computer science to solve all these issues, I think some of the spatial algorithms out there can also be applied to the streaming space, especially in join evaluation.

You shared a lot of deep insight here. Thanks.

> something I have a solution for in a way that no one is doing

Is the general direction for this something you can share? 30 years of database literature accumulated a lot of knowledge. It's be a bold claim to say there's something powerful yet non-obvious.

Unfortunately, my employer and team are directly involved in this space. We may not go this way (due to the effort), but its something we may tackle.

It's not necessarily new computer science, just a clever (if I can be so bold) way to tackle edge computing in the context of a streaming engine.

Maybe a general solution just isn't cost effective and may never be cost effective, regardless of how much we bring down actual costs for the resources involved in solving data-intensive problems. The (possible) reason? The performance advantage you gain from tailoring specifics to structural relationships within exceptionally large datasets may just be too large to trade off for some "generalized" solution.

I'm just speculating, of course. I was sort of entertaining your idea and going back and forth between "a sounds-good fantasy" and "No, that would be awesome, why does this not exist?"

Flurry (now part of Yahoo) has experience with IoT storage at that scale (or near it). The "T" just happens to be your phone. Data processing (and staying in business) at that scale is a matter of great teams and solid architecture. This won't be a "service" easily sold to a general audience.

The data processing could become a commodity but the architecture won't be -- its highly tied to your specific industry.

Hi Andrew - What's the status with SpaceCurve?


What are one or two concrete things you'd actually use this for?

As someone that has "repurposed cartographic tools" to analyze spatiotemporal datasets, what specifically do you feel is missing from current tools?

I spent many years repurposing cartographic tools myself. :-)

Three big missing features off the top of my head:

- Insufficiently correct and high precision computational geometry, which compounds with the iterative/recursive nature of many complex sensor analytics. Many people don't notice unless they ground truth their analytic process; I learned this the hard way. For many industries, 1% cumulative computational error is a catastrophic bug for analytics and the reality can be much worse in many common systems.

- Lack of first class tessellation types and operators. Once your data scientists have them, they'll wonder how they lived without them. Such things are completely useless for cartography and therefore don't exist in those platforms.

- High-performance computational geometry. This is particularly noticeable if you work with sensor coverages (like drone data). Your typical cartographic system has serious difficulty joining a few terabytes of complex polygons, but these are tiny data sets for many remote sensing sources. It literally takes weeks or months to run these types of queries. You can optimize this to be much faster but there was no pressing market need in cartography and cartographic systems aren't designed for scale-out generally.

I am late in this conversation, I would like to dig more into the IoT and the needs for tooling for spatial analysis. Could we talk more about the problems you are facing? My email is on the profile page. Thank you!

Interesting! I'll ponder over these; thanks for the insight!

Aren't these addressed by CGAL? Or you mean, you'd want database primitives using CGAL?

Unfortunately CGAL is not suitable, and yes you do need to support it in the underlying representation and database. The litmus test for a suitable computational geometry engine is the ability to do arbitrary ellipsoid computational geometry at something like one part per trillion error, and the ability to compute intersections of very complex polygons on that surface quickly.

On that last point, you can execute an effective denial of service attack on most GIS databases with a well-crafted set of polygons and polygon intersection queries. It doesn't even require malicious intent. (Yet another thing I learned the hard way.)

Any chance you could give an example use-case or three? Sounds fascinating -- I use PostGIS and find it to be slower than I'd like day to day, but it sounds like your uses demand a lot more precision than I have call for.

I am not sure if all those goals can be combined.

For example, the intersection of n polygons could have exponentially many segments. To prevent denial of service, accuracy has to be sacrificed, but "one part per trillion error" sounds hard.

As another example, representing the intersection between two line segments without error requires a data type that has three times as many bits as the x/y components of their endpoints, so rounding has to happen here, too.

The only solution I can come up with that would not have those problems would be to subdivide a plane into grid cells of size one trillionth of whichever unit, rasterize all polygons into it do the Boolean operations at pixel-level, but that would require huge amounts of memory and processing power. And additionally it would be vulnerable to a DOS attack where the attacker sends many very large overlapping rectangles.

Lastly, huge amounts of data would require many computers to be able to work on this problem in parallel, but if an attacker sends only overlapping polygons, parallelization would be very tricky if not impossible.

> Population-scale behavioral analytics. Many startups claim to do this but none of them can actually work with relevant data at a scale that would deliver on it despite increasing availability of the necessary data.

Making Asimov's Psychohistory from Foundation a reality!

Can you clarify what you mean by behavior analytics and why companies eould find that useful?

Think Hari Seldon/psychohistory.

Predicting mid to long-term trends and demographic shifts far enough ahead of time to make investments.

If the data is there, and if we insist that machines need to predict trends for us based on that data, then why do we need to hire analysts for this job?

Sometimes because they are intentionally gatekeeping, as in Half Past Human's conversational delta analysis reports.

Can you expand on the last point?

> no one offers a credible solution

> There are many VCs currently hunting for this product

Implies a difficult problem.

> algorithmic induction tech

Do you mean inference?

Could you describe the applications for these tools?

An economist and a normal person are walking down the street together. The normal person says “Hey, look, there’s a $20 bill on the sidewalk!” The economist replies by saying “That’s impossible- if it were really a $20 bill, it would have been picked up by now.”

This comment is fantastic. I laughed out loud. The ivory tower exists for conservatives and liberals. And the Chicago comment is on point.

I heard someone from U of Chicago School of Economics make the case that Payday lenders should not exist. If you go to U of C you'd know they do exist and they're about 1/4 of a mile off campus if you just left and looked around.

An economist from Chicago

Correct: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Efficient-market_hypothesis

EDIT: FYI, not all pro-Free Market economists believe in EMH, Austrians for instance, have criticized Chicago school for this ridiculous theory.

Nice joke, not trying to be like [1] but this would apply if there were more chances of finding $ 20 bills.

[1] http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi879.htm

I always think there are huge opportunities for growth in intra-EU trade. It's a market with over 500M people and a $17 trillion GDP. While the EU has taken away a lot of trade barriers, language and unfamiliar regulations remain a huge barrier, but also a huge potential for growth.

If a company in California has ample opportunities to sell in Florida (>2000 miles away), why then is it significantly more difficult for a company in Greece to sell in Denmark, which is a much shorter distance.

There is a notable lack of an open European marketplace along the lines of Alibaba. There are many challenges in making that model work for the EU, especially ~24 languages and big cultural differences, but the tech industry is in a good position to overcome such boundaries.

> If a company in California has ample opportunities to sell in Florida (>2000 miles away), why then is it significantly more difficult for a company in Greece to sell in Denmark, which is a much shorter distance.

The US has a federal "interstate commerce clause" which means that individual states cannot regulate trade with other states. The federal government has all the control, which would be like the European Union having control.


The US version is a bit more far-reaching but the Common Market[1] allows me to sell almost anything in any EU country.

Incidentally, Amazon is one such example. If I buy something on the German amazon.de the contract is formed with Amazon EU S.à r.l. in Luxemburg and the goods are often shipped from a Polish warehouse.

The difficulties companies face within the EU are largely language and culture related rather than legal.

[1]: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Single_Market

And quite often Amazon will even ship within Europe. Many articles on Amazon UK have a note that delivery will take 2-3 days instead of 1 day, which is always a sign that they ship it from a warehouse somewhere else in Europe (mostly Germany).

And this seems to work for FBA articles as well. But they can handle that due to their own logistic network. Parcels within Europe are still rather expensive, compared to a domestic Parcel. I can still send articles much cheaper from London to Inverness (Scotland) than to Brussels, even though Brussels is closer.

But that's probably just a function of the low B2C trade across borders, which leads to a sparse delivery network.

And the EU has the equivalent:


Are those two equivalent though? As I understand the Schengen Area is about freedom of movement whereas the Commerce Clause is about, well, commerce.

No, they are not really. Schengen is mostly about border controls. For example, Switzerland is in Schengen but they are not part of the EU customs zone, so goods cannot be freely moved across the border (although there are a lot of bilateral treaties to make this easier).

But the EU has their own version of the Commerce Clause, the Common Market.

How would you suggest going about overcoming these differences? I live in the EU. I've thought about this for some time and I can't really think of a scalable approach.

One aspect of the problem is taxes and regulations, which for the most part has to be addressed politically. The different jurisdictions are a cause for friction, too.

The even more significant barrier however is the linguistic and cultural one. It's not sufficient to just translate a say English language website to French in order to start selling in France (and providing proper idiomatic translations for each of the main EU languages is difficult enough). There are cultural differences right down to which website designs are popular in any given EU country at a time. You often can tell where a website is 'located' just by looking at its design.

I've been living in the EU (Croatia) now for three years and I'm honestly baffled that people here think that these are legitimately barriers to trade. As another commenter noted: We're all using GMail and AirBnB and Etsy, despite our "cultural differences".

I think that, in the quest for a cheaper laptop, people won't care much that the product description isn't a grammatically perfect rendering of their local Norwegian subdialect. In fact, I bet a site that mandated English (I know, shudder all you want, but it's true) as the language for sellers would mop up here. Everybody 40 and younger (AKA "your target market") speaks/reads English flawlessly.

Taxes and regulations? Big problem. Totally agree with you. This is probably what's kept Amazon such a bit player in Europe.

Cultural and linguistic differences? Not a major issue.

Taxes and regulations shouldn't be a problem. If you send an article from Croatia to Germany, you won't have to worry about any regulations or taxes that are different from sending it within Croatia. But any non-express parcel will take 3+ days and cost at least 3x as much, which is why people prefer to buy domestic.

Then the opportunity could be creating a company that solves these problems for other companies.

So, a consultancy company then? Which we all know only scales with the number of employees.

Most people in Europe use Gmail, right? So they must already have figured out this stuff.

No, I don't think that's necessary. It immediately seems like a platform specifically designed to support things like EU-wide compliance, marketing, payments and other business functions could potentially be beneficial to a wide variety of businesses.

Selling Gmail (ad's or hosted apps) isn't intra-EU trade (in so far as Google's an American company headquartered in Mountain View, though they do have many offices in the EU).

The implication of a consultancy company is that their work is done ad-hoc and in a one-off fashion, requiring lots of work from the company which stupidly only scales with the number of employees.

Software that successfully automated away the most toilsome parts of the job, allowing a handful of people to support intra-EU between any of the 28 member countries would do quite well.

So, a consultancy company then?


It's actually shocking there's not a EU wide Amazon.

Or telling, perhaps?

Bezos is infamous for his ego, and I think he just doesn't see it.

Actually, I think that this is the chink in Amazon's armor, the bare patch on Smaug's underside.

Only a few European countries have Amazon stores and the brand loyalty for them isn't strong. A single EU store would become quickly popular and has the potential to be bigger than Amazon, given that the EU is larger than the US in market size.

There is, it's Amazon. They're closing in on $20 billion in European sales, growing at double digits, with something like 50,000 employees. If you look at what they're doing in Europe, Amazon is getting more aggressive by the year in terms of expanding and investing there.

I use Amazon in Europa a LOT, but funny enough it is not ONE amazon in EU, it is many - and I have to search for products on all of them, because what is available in amazon.de might not be available in amazon.co.uk. And there are obviously language barriers - and having to do math to convert currencies etc. It is anything but smooth right now - unless you are in one of the countries, that have their own amazon.tld, of course.

I want amazon.eu, where I can filter by products, that can actually be shipped to my EU country - one stop shopping. I would probably stop buying online from local shops in my country entirely.

"I want amazon.eu, where I can filter by products, that can actually be shipped to my EU country"

100 hundred times this! I avoid using Amazon just for their shipping information stupidity - I have to use checkout to be able to see if selected item can be shipped to my country. I find it funny and bizarre that it's easier to order online from China (which is half the World away) than from neighboring countries that belong to the same free trade zone. Ebay has an "EU only" search option, but it's useless as Ebay itself has become smaller Aliexpress cousin with same items and higher prices.

I think most people buy their stuff from amazon.co.uk or if they happen to be in Germany then maybe also amazon.de

The store segmentation is created by amazon themselves and doesn't really make sense.

Exactly. Amazon.de does bot ship the majority of stuff to switzerland. Amazon.it however does but i cant speak italian

You can switch Amazon.de to English from the account settings; is that not the case with Amazon.it?

I think its possible, but product titles and descriptions dont care.

And a small European country like Ireland doesn't get its own Amazon store so they have to rely on Amazon.co.uk, where everything is priced in Sterling (not Euro). Irish customers can't avail of Amazon Prime, shipping times take longer etc. A federated Amazon.eu with a continent-wide distribution network may help. Goods priced in Euro certainly would.

Yeh it's a joke seeing as they are based here. And so many of us have to use Parcel Motel service to send things to Northern Ireland and have it driven down. Surely Amazon can make a little extra margin by doing that itself.

1. Get a pair of really giant hands 2. Repeat the bit "seeing as they are based here" and make really giant air quotes when you say "based" 3. Profit (without tax)

which is ironic, given the size of Amazon investment in Ireland.


Did you try Amazon.de and switch language to English? I'm just wondering.

I guess that different articles and longer delivery times than amazon.co.uk are a reason to prefer the UK version.

I think what the poster was saying is that the major sites are still country-specific, like I moved to Germany and here I use amazon.de, amazon.uk is a different site, so is amazon.fr, etc.

You could most likely make a decent living just handling VAT calculations and registration for companies.

I've been looking into this a bit, but put off by the fact that EU VAT for digital products isnt really being enforced upon US companies, so not sure there is much of a market for it. Also, as a brit I'm not sure how brexit might screw up the business model.

And refunds for ex-EU corps

It's amazing how much you pay for UK products in Germany, way way more than the cost of shipping. Of course that particular opportunity will be gone soon, but I'm sure there are other routes.

The UK is not in the EU (and was never in Schengen), so you pay customs along as well as shipping.

The UK is in the EU, so you shouldn't be paying customs.

Aha, the process of the UK leaving the EU is expected be triggered at the end of next month. Apologies.

And it won't leave for at least another 2 years, longer with a transitional period.

To what extent does the EU need to substantially consolidate language further to become more effective? There are two dozen major languages spoken in the EU. Nearly half of the EU can't communicate well with the other half because they share no common language. How do you get the EU to pursue a standardization of language, such that ~95% of people in the EU are fluent in at least one EU-wide common language (whether Spanish, English or other)?

A large part of the EU population below a certain age is reasonably fluent in English already. It's only a matter of time until that part amounts to 95%.

Still, the language of commerce in a country for the most part is the official language of that country. I'm not sure as to what can be done about that.

Beside the old generation from the former eastern block (who studied Russian instead of English) pretty much everyone speaks enough English to communicate.

I've traveled to EU a lot and even in a country like France I had zero problems getting by.

"I've traveled to EU a lot and even in a country like France I had zero problems getting by."

Only if you travel along established tourist routes. Go to a local marketplace or try to ask for directions in a smaller town and you will find it hard in many EU countries. Yes, in Northern countries even most elders speak English fluently, but in South I have had many situations where finding a single English speaking person was a challenge (notably in Greece and Italy).

I don't believe it. I live in Croatia and everybody under 30 speaks English beautifully. Almost everybody under 40 speaks functional English. Most people under 50 understand commercial English, even if their grammar is shit.

You probably didn't struggle to find an English-speaking person. You struggled to find a person willing to speak English with you. That's a subtle, but important, difference.

Most of my neighbors pretend not to understand English around tourists because it saves them enormous hassle. At first, I was appalled when I realized this. Now, I confess to doing it myself. It gets exhausting answering the same questions from unresourceful tourists over and over again.

Locals don't want to be your tour guide. They just want to enjoy their coffee in peace.

Agreed. English might be a de-facto standard to some extent and many people use it if they have to. But the truth is, people are lazy and most people find it easy to communicate in their mother tongue and tedious to communicate in English.

Look at what happened to facebook when they started offering localized versions, their growth suddenly exploded over here.

I believe this will take a long time, and it certainly is a major barrier.

That language is already English. Most young people can at least read and write basic English.

But that's a political problem. After the UK quits, only Ireland has English as their native language. While it's easiest to use English across the EU, it's not really desired to have a trade language that is different from all major languages spoken.

And in addition to that, even though most young people can communicate well in English doesn't mean they want to shop in an English store. You need to have a very good proficiency (probably C2) to know the English words for all articles you have in your household.

But translating a website shouldn't be a big deal anyway.

I disagree it's a political problem. Or in other words, it's only a problem if you put politics in it.

Let me tell you an old story. I'm spanish. We had in the late 90's a mail list about the Delphi programming environment. Delphi was made by Borland, a private company that had translated the IDE to French and German.

At a certain moment there was a vocal group in the list that very insistently demanded that everybody made a petition to Borland to create a Spanish translation of the IDE (the manuals had already been translated). I didn't care, not only because I had already read every manual when Delphi was released, before they were translated, but also because I believed that any pro should know enough English to move around, instead of depending on the ones that had already done the job.

I tried to stay away from the discusion until a friend tried to force my hand very publicly with the argument that Spanish was no less important than English in culture or number of speakers or quality programmers... the political problem!

So I had to answer the obvious: English was not only important to communicate with English speakers. I can talk with people from Sweden, Russia, Poland, Greece... instead of learning a dozen languages. It's not a matter of what should be, it's a matter of what is!

And that was twenty years ago. Today my teen son has no problem chatting in Minecraft with people all around the world.

About shopping in an English store, they do. Google Translate works great if there's a problem. There is that musical instruments shop that everybody uses and another of bikes, both in Germany. People are used to the English words for that stuff anyway. The difficult thing, even in local shops is hearing many terms translated. What is a "flanger" called in Spanish? No idea. Or a "chorus", etc. We just used that as is. Household stuff are in local stores, no need to shop them online.

Anyway, if you look a little above, you'll see my comment that I think it would be a good idea to create a company that help other companies to operate in a multinational space. I was thinking more on taxes and regulations, but of course decent translations would be nice to have.

Creative tools. Everyone is so obsessed with content consumption tools and making TV out of internet, with deprecating desktop in favor of handhelds where you tap ads and take selfies with dog faces.

For graphics, everyone still use Adobe products which are not that bad but still few had changed in Photoshop and Illustrator from 1991.

For music, DAWs are not that bad and there's no single monopolist like Adobe, but VST system is stinky and stuck in times of Windows 95. People are buying hardware synths (which are just computers running software) only because software on these embedded computers runs reliably, but VSTs crash, freeze every time and require hardware license keys plugged into parallel port. Also, everything inside is complete black magic and every supplier of software pretends that there are super secret algorithms everywhere. Every oscillator and filter is super-secret and super-unique and there's no articles in the open how to design "decent" oscillator and filter. Medival times everywhere.

And these tools should be designed for users, not Entertainment Content Production Corporations.

Your reply is pretty far off base, IMO.

Creative Suite has evolved leaps and bounds since 1991. It has even evolved leaps and bounds in the last 10 years alone. It's strange to me that someone who really uses Adobe's products would say such a thing. Creative Suite is the only one in the game because it's SO good that there isn't a chance for a competitor to step in. They are also constantly adding new tools to the suite at no additional cost.

As for DAWs, I happen to produce music and have used most of the major DAWs over the last 15 years, though I've settled on Ableton Live. I have zero problems with VSTs crashing, and I often run projects with 50+ VSTs running simultaneously. Stolen VSTs can have stability issues, of course. Hardware dongles are also fairly rare. Only a handful of companies use them, and they aren't really a problem at all as long as you aren't in the habit of stealing software. They typically install in the USB port, not the parallel port. Parallel port dongles were used by Steinberg and were phased out long ago.

I'm curious - what DAWs in particular have you used, and which VSTs are you having problems with?

> For graphics, everyone still use Adobe products which are not that bad but still few had changed in Photoshop and Illustrator from 1991.

As a designer I can tell you Serif is doing great things already. Affinity Designer is a solid Illustrator replacement, most of my printed work for clients comes out of that. People are excited about Affinity Photo and Publisher, which are Photoshop and InDesign replacements.

Not to mention UI/UX which is pretty much dominated by Sketch, with very few people using the Adobe equivalent (Xperience Design or whatever it's called).

The biggest issue is compatibility though: the vast majority of teams exchange files in .psd, .ai, .indd which are proprietary formats, so there's lots of reluctance to change and difficulties collaborating if someone uses a different thing. It's a bit like Microsoft Office versus all the other formats, open or not.

My illustrator friend uses manga studios, he loves it:


Manga Studio is quite awesome, one of my favorite pieces of creative software ever. I wish it could be used to make vector art too - then I'd never need anything else.

> People are buying hardware synths (which are just computers running software) only because software on these embedded computers runs reliably, but VSTs crash, freeze every time and require hardware license keys plugged into parallel port.

I only know about guitar pedals, but aren't a good portion of these analog through and through?

Not really. Real true analog gear is pretty rare these days. Even Roland's recreation of their famous TB-303 is using what they call Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) which emulates the original components in software:


A fun true-analog synth which is pretty fun for a reasonable price is the MicroBrute: https://www.arturia.com/products/hardware-synths/microbrute

A friend and I are actively working on innovating in the context of DAWs and music production, we're specifically trying to modernize the discovery and accessibility of plugins. Nice to see DAWs mentioned here - there's a lot that could be improved in the field and we're hoping to tackle several outstanding issues in the near future.

(If anyone's interested, hit the second link in my profile.)

Don't you think it's a bit unethical to collect email addresses with the promise of a download, only to tell the user that the download isn't even available. But hey - thanks for giving us your email!

That's on us, our bad - we intended to put the download up right around when we were finishing the site design but encountered a few last-minute bugs. This fell to the wayside, I'll fix it ASAP!

Random question since you're elbow deep in VST land... Have you seen any plugins taking advantage of GPUs? Seems like they should open up sonic complexity that you can't replicate on current hardware synths.

The audio processing loop wouldn't benefit from using the GPU because we can already hit above audible sample rates. Beefy GPU's are usually noisy too so you don't want one in your rig.

Can you elaborate more? As an Ableton and Push 2 user, I find plugins very easily accessible.

Sure! To clarify, by "accessibility" we're not just talking about the ability to find plugins, but also the price barrier for most higher-end plugins. The former isn't a huge deal (as you mentioned), but there're two sub-problems we're attacking in the latter:

1) From interviewing a lot of producers and plugin developers, our findings show that there's a bit of a vicious cycle with pricing: most hobbyist producers aren't willing to shell out the money for plugins, so they opt to pirate them instead. The plugin developers lose out on a ton of sales, so they hike the prices up to make up for lost revenue. The hobbyist producers continue to see high prices and therefore continue to pirate plugins, and the cycle starts all over again. :)

2) Most paid plugins don't offer trial versions, and when they do, they're always crippled and DRMed in some form or another. When there's no trial, users don't want to make the leap of faith and buy the plugin, and when there is, the aforementioned crippling/DRM can be quite the hindrance.

We're shooting to make the user experience better on both of these fronts by offering a more modern marketplace - you still get a nice store to browse through and read about plugins, but one of EQIP's value adds is the ability to instantly demo the full version of any plugin on the spot right within your session (and our technology's secret sauce prevents anyone from getting their hands on either the plugin or the audio).

The next step in our gameplan is to offer bundled subscriptions for plugins; you might think of Splice's rent-to-own, which is a great offering, but the pricing model is on a per-plugin basis - we're looking at various tiers of affordable pricing for access to X number of plugins depending on the tier. This way, a producer can have unlimited access to several plugins they like for one low cost (and rent-to-own can easily be added to this, we're still working on the pricing for the time being).

I hope that was a helpful brief rundown! There's a lot more to it - if you'd like to chat, you're more than welcome to email me, my email's available at my personal website (also in my profile). :)

There's a lot of cool things happening in the creative tools space. Along with the tools mentioned above, Figma is a good take on how design teams can work together (plus, it's web-based, which is just cool).

Contract Economy: There is still a significant opportunity for a Freelancer/Upwork group to exist. Something that better vets quality while not pushing for Toptal prices. I suspect you'd need to set up physical presence in the likely countries properly vet and control quality but this could easily be covered by a premium for a know quantity vs going to western rates.

Crytpo Currency: There is room for more disruption here. I suspect a currency that is both trackable and backed by a pool of commodities/currencies could be quite popular. Traceable would make theft risk reduced as money could effectively be returned if it is stolen and being backed/hedged by currencies/commodities would help with confidence.

Cargo: I'm surprised we haven't seen electric cargo ships. Even combine solar with sail as winds are favorable. This combined with auto-navigation (at least between ports) seems more easily achievable than cars yet technology is further behind.

Dockable Phone to PC (physical or even better if wireless dock): Surprised no-one has done this well yet. I can image whoever does this with really take ownership of the OS space. I always felt this could be the best route for Microsoft to re-enter the mobile space with force.

I had the same thoughts for the Contract Economy for quite a while.

I'm on a "Startup break", and started a Service Firm. While working with clients, we realized the need to serve a rather underserved section of projects, which are high enough for individual freelancers or even a small team but too low for established agencies - the $100,000 to $1M projects.

We're experimenting with some of our clients and their connections, to work with our service/marketplace where we manage the project end-to-end to make sure it is done, with other vetted teams of designers and developers. It is not 'cheap' but much more economical than traditional Agencies.

We're Beta Testing it with a small set of clients for now. For those curious, we have a sign-up page at http://www.worksigma.com/

Could you elaborate a bit on this. Looking at the site, I'm not sure how this is different from a traditional Consulting firm.

Our Service/Consulting firm's core focus is UI/UX Designs, and Frontend Engineering. We tend to get quite a bit of incoming work that are not in our core focus. We started working with other partners. We either know these partners or are introduced to us. We interview them, talked to them, worked with them (vetting them).

Our clients know that they can go on a vacation while we work on their projects. They wanted that same experience while working with the partners that we introduced. So, we end up handling the client's project and make sure it gets done via these partners.

Work Sigma is borne out of this patterns, and process that we followed. We want to grow this, formalize it, and be able to provide a good service to clients and make them happy. One of the marketing taglines that we tossed around our team is, "Agency in the Cloud".

btw, A friend told me there is something similar at UpWork - https://www.upwork.com/pro/. This is nice - the market is tested and proven.

> Something that better vets quality while not pushing for Toptal prices.

Why do you think this is possible?

That's pretty much exactly what Toptal or other premium shops like Gigster do: vet remote developers to ensure high quality.

The idea that you can get great developers from India for rock-bottom rates is mostly a fallacy.

Don't know about Gigster but the first step of Toptal's vetting process is about solving algorithmic puzzles. That's probably inevitable because they need something that scales. However it's so different from what developers do at work that its relationship to quality is very weak. Actually, it could be negatively related because I would have excelled at those puzzles at university, exactly when I didn't have the expertise to write good software. And the one or two of times per year when I have to solve a puzzle I take my time and solve it. Maybe slower but the rest of my work is so much better that it more than makes up for that.

Want a better vetting quality? Look at previous work and read code. It doesn't scale unless you put more people at that but maybe somebody can think about an AI for that.

> The idea that you can get great developers from India for rock-bottom rates is mostly a fallacy.

Yes, at rock-bottom rates(< $25/hr), it is. But >$25/hr starts becoming good money for local Indian developers and you can start comparing them to the good developers in the west (>$50/hr).

That's just my opinion having worked in the industry for a while and seen both sides of that market.

I see Toptal as more of a body shop. 10x is the premium provider.

Cargo ships don't have enough free surface area to mount the number of solar panels that would be needed for propulsion. Sails are already being used on a few ships but they only save a small percentage of fuel.

I wouldn't write it off.

There could be could add battery storage to be used during the journey. They could include wind turbines to add further power generation.

Also ships can go slower. In my limited knowledge of boats every extra knot takes significantly extra fuel. If we were bringing multiple power sources 'slow' cargo may be viable. And the has to be other ways to increase this function.

And there is always hybrid. Not all power has to be renewable sources. A solution could start with supplementing diesel driven thrust with some lower cost green power. Given diesel is 70% of shipping operating cost that seems a potential option.

I think the number one obstacle to this is it would be nowhere near viable from the costs perspective.

No one really wants to build cargo ships right now, shipping companies are barely staying afloat right now because there is a glut of cargo capacity.

This technology would need to be cheap enough that it would make sense to retrofit a ship with it... which would probably not be the case for a very long time.

I do think it's a very thought provoking idea however.

I was under the impression that cargo capacity is currently expanding. Maersk is taking delivery of 11 new ships within the next year and a half: http://theloadstar.co.uk/maersk-refines-fleet-second-generat...

I'm under the impression that both are true. There is overcapacity in the shipping market, which drives down prices. Because prices are low, shippers are investing in ever larger (more efficient) vessels, in order to turn a profit. This in turn leads to more overcapacity, which leads to a drive for even larger and more efficient ships.

It's a type of 'tragedy of commons' situation, where every shipping company is making the right decisions from their individual perspective, but collectively they're driving themselves into the ground.

For me this explains the rise of slow-steaming. It makes a lot of sense in this market because it lowers the cost of shipping a container (less fuel), while simultaneously reducing the market capacity (# of containers / year).

Finally, very few shipping companies make money on the major lines (e.g. China to Europe), because it's pure price competition. They're much more likely to make money in places where they have a 'monopoly' on something: e.g. being the only ship that leaves in the next 3 days, or being the only shipper going to a specific location. For example inter-Africa shipping falls in this category.

An additional detail is also the expansion of the panama canal which allowed more and larger ships to travel through it cutting down the travel time for larger cargo ships eliminating a primary advantage of smaller vessels.

However ironically though, these mega vessels are considered with quite a bit of disdain by many in the industry. This link can provide quite the rabbit hole of information. http://www.supplychain247.com/article/state_of_ocean_contain...

> I was under the impression that cargo capacity is currently expanding

Further exacerbating the problem with the glut of cargo capacity.

Those ships were ordered a long time ago.

Norsepower provides modern sails: "a spinning cylinder that uses the Magnus effect to harness wind power to propel a ship."

"When the wind conditions are favourable, Norsepower Rotor Sails allow the main engines to be throttled back, saving fuel and reducing emissions while providing the power needed to maintain speed and voyage time. Rotor sails can be used with new vessels or they can be retrofitted to existing ships."


I love that you posted an 'in the wild' solution. So many people saying this is not possible. And then someone has found a creative way to offer one alternate. Such a good example of dont listen to the nay-sayers if you want to mentally explore something. There are almost always solutions and I'm sure there are more for this one.

No one said it wasn't possible. Clearly, it's possible since ships were wind powered for millenia. The problem is that with very low fuel costs, it's not feasible because the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.

Sure sails will be used for some limited applications. But Magnus effect cylinders won't be practical for the majority of cargo ships because they consume valuable deck space and interfere with loading operations. They would only make sense if hydrocarbon fuel becomes much more expensive.

Unfortunately the energy density of batteries is really bad (in the bigger picture) and, besides, we're supposed to be using weight for cargo. Tankers also burn very nasty fuels that can't be used for anything else - so in practice they're very efficient.

There have been cracks at putting "sails" of one form or another on ships but they've always been heavy, relatively ineffective and basically just not worth the hassle.

The speed of a ship is actually quite easy to work out. You find the time/value curve for the cargo and the cost/time for the ship and see where they cross - essentially. The long and short of it is that the lighter and more valuable your cargo is, the faster the ship goes. This is why container ships are much faster than oil tankers.

I've heard that cargo ships are currently prevented from going much slower because of the human crew. Drone ships could help.

The human crew isn't much of a factor in cargo ship speed. Ship owners would be happy to leave their crews out at sea a week longer if it was profitable.

Drone ships won't be practical any time soon because of maintenance problems. Crews spend much of their time at sea performing preventative maintenance, painting, and fixing broken equipment. With a drone ship all of that work would have to be done at the pier which would be far more expensive than paying a crew.

Then why don't they go slower? I would expect many cargoes aren't incredibly time sensitive.

They are already slow steaming on many routes. Ship owners aren't idiots; they have software to perform constrained optimization calculations to figure out the steaming speed which will maximize profit on each leg. This is based on fuel price, crew wages, asset depreciation, delivery contracts, etc.

I wonder if they could use an underwater wing design, similar to this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5SHn0SdXjw). You keep swapping the angle of the wing so it's always pushing forward whether the vessel is moving up or down, but it would be powered by the waves moving the ship. It might be possible to get a slow base load speed for 'free' with a large enough wings

Container ships are already going slower:


I suspect nuclear (be it fission or - someday - fusion) would be much more viable for powering something at that scale in a "post-petroleum" scenario. There already are a couple fission-powered cargo ships out there, IIRC.

The problem is that safe disposal of nuclear fuel is nontrivial.

There are bigger problems with nuclear powered cargo ships than just waste disposal. They would need larger crews of highly trained (more expensive) experts to operate the reactor. Look at how much the US Navy spends to train competent technicians and engineers.

Every nuclear powered ship becomes a prime terrorist target, either to hijack it or destroy it in place and cause a radiological incident. So you also need constant armed security (also expensive).

A more practical way to have "nuclear powered" ships would be to use electric power from land based nuclear plants to manufacture synthetic hydrocarbon liquid fuels, then load that fuel on the ships. Nuclear plants on land are far more cost effective since they can be built much larger to achieve economies of scale on operations and security.

On the subject of highly trained nuclear operators from the Navy, what's the job market look like for those guys after they leave the service? Where else are you going to find a nuclear-powered ship where you can put your experience to work?

Seems like a natural fit. For almost everything in the military, IMO there should be some market in the private space that could use those skills.

Some of them stay 30 years in the service and then retire. Others go to work for civilian nuclear power plants, or the vendors which service and supply them. And there aren't very many trained operators to begin with. The US Navy has <90 nuclear powered vessels (plus a few separate reactors for training and research).

I'd like to add that cargo ships, while being very efficient in terms of how much they can transport over a unit distance given unit energy, require enormous amounts of energy.

See some resources:

- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_efficiency_in_transport...

- https://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch8en/conc8en/fuel_c...

Why not have solar modules in a shipping container form factor. (Maybe shorter in height though) and stack those at the top layer when loading the ship.

You could probably even find some ingenious way to run the current through the containers stacked umderneath to route the power. They are made of metal.

Shipping companies don't own the containers. Solar panels would get broken when they were transferred to shore. Panels and cabling would add more weight to the highest level of the cargo stacks: the worst place for ship stability. And even if you covered the entire top level with solar panels it still wouldn't provide enough propulsion power to be worth the expense.

I believe that is why he/she said they haven't seen someone do this well yet...

Absolutely. I've looked at the solutions so far by Ubuntu, MS and Android (Andromium app). None have floated my boat.

I feel its like Palm vs. iPhone. Sure Palm was earlier to market with a reasonable solution, but someone needed to nail it.

How would this look to you?

I was thinking recently that I'd like a liberated Android, found CopperheadOS, but I'm still not sure I'd like to use it on the desktop.

> Dockable Phone to PC

Microsoft has done this already but thanks to their poor marketing and crappy Windows phones, no one even knows about it.

The problem with using sails is speed. On average, cargo ships travel approximately three to four times faster than sailing ships (20 to 24 knots vs. 5 to 8 knots).

I came across this article that said they are often slower, the larger cargo ships at least.


Dockable Phone to PC: I agree there is market there. I was on a project about this some time ago and the limiting factor was all the cable mess that cluttered your desk. Women loved the product because it meant _far_less_ weight on their purses. Both men and women wanted something didn't cluttered their work desks (and I understand them ;-)

Physical space for lounging, socializing, and working. I live in NYC and there's still a striking lack of space that facilitates people getting out of their apartments and doing "whatever." Starbucks popularized the concept of the "third space" (the first two being housing + workplace) and I think there's so much room to improve upon this.

Yep. I've thought about this off and on.

I lived in Taipei for a couple of years. The "third space" is super common there. People would hang out at coffee shops (loads and loads of coffee shops), get "afternoon tea" with friends, or go to a park or even a subway station lobby and socialize.

The Taipei metro even embraced it and set up specific places / spaces for shopping or socializing (that were dual purpose rather than simply being a corridor).

I feel like this is missing in the US, and genuinely miss wandering around with my backpack for a Saturday. It was a load of fun to head out for an early lunch, go find some random coffee shop to "work" (aka "surf the web and people watch"), then find a place for a beverage and maybe go see a movie or have dinner. Those days were genuinely the most fulfilling, especially when I'd run into random acquaintances.

Bringing it back, a river runs through downtown Austin with a great hike / bike trial along it. There aren't really many cafes (I can think of one) along about 10 miles of trail that are good "destinations" to wander toward while enjoying the scenery.

I have always thought it would be neat if there were an isolated stretch of businesses along the river. If Mozart's was on the bank somewhere between Lamar and Congress, it would be a great destination.

There's Alta's Cafe [1] near the Rainey street end of the river. That's just about the only one, however. TBH - since you seem to know the area - what do you think about a coffee stand under the 1st street bridge? [2]

[1] https://www.yelp.com/biz/altas-cafe-austin

[2] https://goo.gl/maps/FALgvtUESnu

I say don't ruin the trails with business. There is something to be said for the absence of someone trying to sell you something. Enjoy some nature in the city, there isn't much of it.

Related: physical space that welcomes the elderly. Loneliness/depression is a huge problem for older people. I think it would really boost wellbeing for these people to participate in something and to see other faces.

Agreed. Interestingly, it seems McDonalds ends up being the physical space that plays this role for a lot of older folks, both in urban areas (Koreans in Queens, NYC) and rural areas (Chris Arnade has done a lot of interesting documenting of this phenomenon).

From what I see, there are plenty of services for people who want to utilize them. Church is a popular one. So are community centers. And a plethora of social clubs. Or a cheap cafeteria. Getting elderly people out of their house and into social situations is the challenge. At some point, VR could have a real impact on this problem space.

Not just the elderly.

I think there will be a growing need for things like this if housing spaces continue to get smaller (and cheaper). I think a service that offers several revenue streams would do well (and able to adapt to a changing market). Perhaps food and necessities could be sold, maybe part entertainment space (part arcade, coffee shop, sports bar, movie theater). Sort of a public living room. Maybe a modern take on the old fraternal clubs.

May be a bit early yet for this though. Would tend to displace other "hang-out" locations and businesses, so might be best to fit in with what's there (bars?), but offer something new and different (so people have an idea to anchor on rather than going entirely new concept).

These are common in immigrant neighborhoods (especially Chinese)—plenty of "clubs" (not dancing clubs) with activities but also just places to hang out.

Bakeries also fit this description in those neighborhoods.

WeWork [1] has done this pretty well and is already open around the country.


That's really marketed as a co-working space -- and while there's nothing wrong with that, I can't imagine using it as a "third-space". I can't imagine telling my friends to meet up there to play a board game or talk philosophy.

This is exactly what spacious.com in NYC is working on, a network of coffee / meeting lounges across the city, inside really nice restaurant dining rooms that are otherwise closed until dinner service. (big disclaimer: I'm the cofounder).

Love it! (Little pricey in my opinion), but I can't tell you how often I've walked in and out of coffee shops just hoping to find an available seat - somewhere around other humans.

Your spaces look amazing! However, why are they closed after 5 and on the weekend? That's about the only time I would want to use a space like this.

Boston's space like this (The Lawn on D) is extremely popular. It's even a running joke that most young people on a dating site/app in Boston have a picture of them at the Lawn on D somewhere in their profile.

I believe it's owned by a local bank, but I don't know if it makes money (or if it's intended to). Entry is free normally, sometimes there are non-free ticketed concerts and a cash bar.

I'd like to see the likes of Airport lounges that are not in the airport. Especially if it could use my priority pass to access them too.

So perhaps a sort of gentleman's club (not that sort) for the younger generation?

I'd love to have an accessible chill out place I could go to just to get some work done, preferably with a good view of something. No music playing, just quiet and the ability to get a coffee and simple food if necessary.

Google Campus in London does this, but isn't that comfortable for long periods (plus it's absolutely packed).

> Gentleman's club

This is what most closely resembles what I want! Of course, in 2017 it'd be for everyone.

We could even be like those strange upper class British clubs that don't allow people to talk to each other.

I'm surprised San Francisco doesn't have a number of these. It seems like exactly the sort of thing SF would have.

Consider a fraternal order like the elks, Mason's or odd fellows. They'd love to have more members and often, despite the name, welcome both sexes.

I use Regus business lounges for this. They have office spaces in most major cities all around the world (at least 15 in San Francisco alone). You pay a reasonable fee per month (around $100, although you can also get free if you look for the right offers) and you basically get access to a lite coworking space, with desks, power outlets, a kitchenette stocked with coffee/tea/snacks, good Wi-Fi, etc. Sometimes people use it for meetings (I've overheard more than a few VC pitches in San Francisco) or just getting things done. I also use it when I'm traveling in a place that doesn't have reliable Wi-Fi or clean water and I need a break to relax and be productive. Western style clean bathrooms in China are good perk as well!

Isn't this just a café?

That's the idea - but most cafes (at least in Boston) can't handle that sort of volume - you're going to get stink eyes if you settle in for more than an hour or two. Wish it was more welcomed (as I've seen more common in Europe / small towns) to be welcome as long as they have seats.

Anti-cafes [1] sidestep this conflict by charging their visitors by the minute and offering unlimited tea, coffee and sweets while they stay there. It is, or it recently was, a hot non-technical business to run in many post-Soviet big cities.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-caf%C3%A9

Not every cafe will accept people working there.

What is a reasonable price to pay for this kind of service, including the coffee if the place requires you to consume it?

There's a cafe near me in Brooklyn that has a nice interior space and free wifi. It's always packed and everyone brings a laptop. Coffee prices are normal if not a bit low for high-end coffee (their coffee is really good). They serve snacks, but not much else. I have no idea how they turn a profit with all the people lounging for hours with a little espresso or cup of tea. There's a morning rush, but it's really small compared to places nearer the subway.

> It's always packed and everyone brings a laptop.

This is the problem with NYC coffee shops. They're place to go talk with a friend for a bit or for a first date. They're not really places to casually hang out all day.

Cool! What's it called?

Sounds like The West

Isn't this just coffee lounges?

Basically Breather?

Doesn't this describe most modern hotel lounges?

I think this is a wrong question, or at least oversimplified view. The real recipe is to be highly qualified on whatever you do and ready to catch an opportunity and ride on an emerging trend. Today the buzzwords are about security, a few years ago it was about services for selfies of teens. On a larger scale there is already biotech bubble and emerging AI bubble, etc.

Basically, the strategy should be to follow the money (the demand) and to love what you do (be above average). This, it seems, the most probable way to get noticed, to get funding (for abilities) and to succeed. The markets are stochastic.

For example, if you ask yourself, how come that such piles of Java crap as Hadoop came to be so popular, the answer would be that the biotech industry has almost unlimited hot money that time and huge demand for big data processing tools, so even such poorly designed and implemented by amateurs crap would be a good-enough tool.

Suppose, I would like to make a similar tool, order of magnitude less wasteful, based on ideas from Plan9, Erlang, based on ZFS, etc, in other works, do it the right way, would I get any funding? No, because there is no real demand for quality solution when a crappy one is OK. There are exceptions, of course, how, for example, nginx became a well-crafted improvement over apache, but this is indeed an exception.

So, go to the valley and keep looking. There, it seems, no other way. The principle is that there must be a strong demand backed by big money (Wall Street investors), so even a half-backed result could be easily sold and re-used to return investments and even make some profit.

Older people.

We live in a rapidly ageing society. Retirees are a large and wealthy demographic. Despite that, tech companies are absolutely woeful at designing products for older users. We don't empathise with their needs. We don't understand how poor eyesight, arthritis or cognitive difficulties can affect UX. There's a huge amount of pent-up demand and excellent opportunities for future growth.

Older people, yes, but a slightly different perspective.

We should be ensuring that our increasingly ageing population is housed, fed, warm, cared for, in touch with friends and relatives, free from pain and depression, has access to medication, and can live with dignity. The elderly should be actively involved in and by their communities.

One day you'll meet your rocking-chair, because that's where we're all heading. It's galling that start-ups and investors seek to service their young selves with apparently little vision regarding the future.

Who's disrupting nursing homes, or dementia care, or care home staffing, or toileting assistance, or end of life depressiom..?

I've been thinking a lot about this recently.

There are certain near-future technologies like self-driving cars and robotic home care that could revolutionise the lives of the old. I think that's a given, but they have a relatively high barrier to entry.

At the other end of the scale there must be pure (or almost pure) software solutions that could help older peoples' lives also.

I've been thinking of Alexa-style AIs that actually perform useful tasks such as pre-screening scam phone calls, alerting the user about important emails, or proactively helping the user perform a bank transaction. This could be useful for everyone, but when an old person can barely read emails, never mind sort important ones from the scams and junk, I think it would be a godsend.

The devil is of course in the detail. As a high-level concept it all sounds great, but how would it actually work? I've been imagining a kind of "meta-OS" that sits on top of the OS and drives it on the user's behalf. Or perhaps it should be more like a netbook, with all the actual content kept in the cloud, and the AI as a thin client dedicated solely to allowing easy access to the data. There are a lot of possible way for this to work, and a huge number of problems to solve...

Your mention of a meta-OS and putting all the content in the cloud made me think of ChromeOS.

Seniors probably don't think about putting all their content in the cloud, don't think about inheritance of their online account, and don't think about their OS either.

Sounds like an opportunity?

Tinder for seniors. The one dating segment where the women significantly outnumber the men.

You're dead on with this. Older users are a potential goldmine but they can be hard customers. Even as I age I see how much harder it is to sell me anything.

I do agree. But what specific areas do you think would be good to target? You mention their poor eyesight and difficult UX, but that doesn't mean we should start creating Facebook or Twitter clones with bigger fonts and easier UX? (or should we?)

> But what specific areas do you think would be good to target?

Almost everything.

Here's an experiment you can try. Stay up for two nights in a row. Have a few drinks. Put on a pair of ear defenders, a pair of glasses with the wrong prescription and a pair of leather gardening gloves. Try to go about your daily life. You'll very quickly see plenty of industries that are ripe for disruption.

The man-made world is overwhelmingly designed by and for the not-yet-disabled. We build overly complex interfaces with too many options and too few affordances. This makes life difficult for everyone, but it can totally exclude people with impairments.

Nobody realised how awful smartphones were until the iPhone arrived. I think that most products and services are just as awful as a Windows Mobile phone circa 2005, but we have become inured to their awfulness. We're drowning in unnecessary complexity, in large part because we don't expect anything better.

It is interesting that you bring up the iPhone as a positive example of better accessibility. I always thought that physical buttons which could quickly become muscle memory and relatively simple function were way more usable for the demographics in question.

One important area is social connections. After you pass 50 years of age the people you're close to begin to die off or become noncommunicative at an ever-growing rate.

Health issues begin to interfere increasingly with opportunities to make new friends--there are increasing numbers of activities that you simply can't do anymore. Isolation increasingly becomes a problem, and isolation is a serious health hazard for older people, affecting mental health and posing a hazard to physical health.

Platforms that make it easier for older people to stay in touch with one another, to meet new people safely, and to develop networks of trust and assistance could make a huge difference in the quality of people's lives.

A good example of this kind of thinking is GoGoGrandparent which is a service that lets older people, who might not understand how to use a smartphone app, use Uber by allowing them to call a number instead.


Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact