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Ask HN: What are the most important problems in your industry?
190 points by aman-pro 5 days ago | hide | past | web | 149 comments | favorite
1. Which industry do you work in?

2. What are the biggest problems stopping your industry from growing?

3. Can something be done about it?

I may be reading between the lines too much and I apologize if I am...

But every few months (weeks?) I see a post by a founder-type essentially trying to mine the Hacker News collective brains for startup ideas. It doesn't work that way. The best startups are ones that solve a pain point you yourself have experienced.

The idea of a savior who comes in and solving the major problems of an industry they have never worked in is not a myth but close to one. (Elon Musk being a notable exception with cars and space flight... but he has the capital to attract domain experts to fill in the gaps)

I'd point out the problems in my industry except I am actively working to solve them :)

With that said. Don't let a "know-it-all" on HN (myself included) tell you what to do. If you want to tackle a hard problem in an industry you don't have experience in, please do. You might be the next Elon Musk, I don't know you so I don't know.

If that wasn't your goal with this question... again I apologize.

> The best startups are ones that solve a pain point you yourself have experienced.

Aww, yisss. Case in point, EDA and, in particular, hardware description languages and tools. Every discussion I've had with someone trying to get into this has been so cringe-worthy that I'm actively avoiding now. Every self-professed hardware hacker thinks they have the solution that's going to end all this painful Verilog kerfuffle and yet they're so, so far from getting it.

Like the folks who thing the biggest problem with Verilog and VHDL is that they're so alien that it's hard to get software developers productive with them. Lack of electronics knowledge is what prevents most software developers from being productive in Verilog. A "better" language won't help. Paying attention in their Electronics or Systems classes is going to be ten times more helpful than a Scala/Haskell/whatever-is-fashionable hardware description language.

Or the people who think that development tools are what's holding FPGAs back and that FPGAs would be everywhere, were it not for how hard it is to program them. Trying to explain them that FPGAs are pretty slow gets impossibly difficult as soon as the words "Intel" and "softcore" are mentioned.

Not that there aren't a lot of things to improve in FPGA development tools, or in hardware description languages (which is why you see so much work being done on increasingly higher-level synthesis tools). But unless the number of millions of dollars you're willing to invest is not at least half the number of years you've been studying high-speed IC design, chances are you're as far removed from having a serious answer to all these problems as you are removed from being a modest person.


Lol. Funny you should say that.

My wife was an Electrical Engineering major and when I started dating her I saw the Verilog and actually tried to improve it. Although my approach was more a better IDE and emulator than reinventing the language.

I didn't get far. The domain knowledge of electronics needed was too much for me to deal with and still do my own coursework.

>Lack of electronics knowledge is what prevents most software developers from being productive in Verilog. A "better" language won't help.

I am working in the FPGA industry. I definitely agree with you.

But possibly I am a little too close to the current industry and way we do things. There's new applications around the corner that need innovative ideas. The innocent fresh perspective could be the seed for something. I am sure if any real decent improvements were started by a SW person, the big companies like Intel would be eating it up.

It funny how people on HN were raving about Altera & Intel recently because word on the FPGA street was that Intel weren't happy with the acquisition. Xilinx has had 14nm FPGAs for a long time while Altera's are nowhere to be seen still. Everyone's expectations of a Xeon with Altera FPGA on the same die are years away I am betting.

Agreed. I have worked with FPGAs at multiple companies, both on the logic side and on the software side interfacing with them. Verilog and VHDL are not the problem. The problems I have seen, over and over are:

1. Improper clock domain crossing

2. Improper timing constraints

I have never used ASIC quality verification tools. But to me a free tool from Xilinx/Altera like valgrind or clang sanitizer would be huge for FPGAs.

Or even just a way to "diff" two bitstreams, one that is "bad" and one that is "good" that were from the same source to see what makes the bad FPGA bad would be huge. I mean bad in the sense that some probabilistic/annealing algorithm used during FPGA synthesis on a net with an incorrect timing constraint lead to a FPGA that doesn't work as intended.

I went from logic to doing software. Can't say I miss the FPGA world. Seems so much easier to get software right.

Heh :) I've been in an EDA startup, done FPGA work, and I even have a tiny corner of silicon on a shipping IC. I have a draft for a "better verilog" sitting in a text file. Verilog and VHDL are stuck in the FORTRAN77 era.

I've no intention of taking it further than that, because the industry is extremely conservative and there's no money in programming languages.

(I agree that the FPGA-silver-bullet people are annoying. And that people need to realise that FPGA is not programming. But perhaps the tools could help a bit more with that.)

Interesting, i thought the problem was the other way around.

I find Verilog quite intuitive as is, but the tools are rather crude. I.e. until recently Altera's Quartus felt like a hack some students put together in their spare time - missing basic IDE features, interface bugs that get in the way, poor programmer support on Linux and so on.

The idea of solving any problems for an industry that you haven't worked in for at least a couple of years is ludicrous. I'm sure there have been examples of this happening a few times, but it's almost always the exception rather than the rule.

This is especially true when it comes to high level problems in most industries. In most cases there are a few hundred or more smaller issues that add up to create the bigger high level problems, and those issues are almost never even considered when the startups try to disrupt the industry.

Every industry, no matter how small is going to have issues the derive from third parties and outside players that can't be solved by a twist of the business model.

There are a lot of old timers using very old dos era applications in their day to day business, and if you really spend time with them and learn their business you'll learn there is almost always a very valid reason that they haven't switched the latest greatest web-app software that startup founders tend to think can solve all of their problems.

The moral of the story is, founders need to stop trying to swoop in and disrupt industries where they don't even have a clue of the real pain points, and their SaaS solution would just be a new coat of paint on on old issue that isn't solved.

I almost asked a question like this last week with no interest in a startup. I find because of the level of expertise on HN that a topic of this sort helps round out my overall knowledge of what is going on in some of these industries etc. I am not even a programmer but I find very useful actionable information in such threads. Just my 2 cents.

Academically I enjoy these posts too.

This was intended as (unsolicited, granted) advice to the person asking the questions to examine their goals. If they know they are fighting an up hill battle going in, hopefully they will be better prepared for the fight they are in for. Doing a startup is difficult even when you are a domain expert.

If the interest was purely academic... carry on :)

I enjoy these posts as well. Love to learn about other industries.

Some what off point, but Elon Musk, in his biography, said Space and renewable energy have been things he has concentrated on very early on, before even selling PayPal. They in a way, are his problems, along with everyone else on this Earth.

Actually I think that is very on-point for my post... perhaps that was why he was successful with it because he has a passion for it. Or perhaps because, to paraphrase you, the "industry" here is human kind and in that respect he has spent his whole life thinking of the challenges of that industry.

Also, as I said in a comment the other day on a different post [1] I do think that under the right circumstances not being an "insider" in an industry is an asset not a negative.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14146850

It doesn't have to be a hard problem that you solve. Sometimes solving easy, but tedious, problems is a worthwhile goal, too. Really, most industry pains are solved with CRUD apps attached to some workflow. So you might be right that the "best startups" come from your own pains... but some completely adequate lifestyle companies come from just asking around and solving small problems. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Nothing wrong with that.

I find that for those problems sometimes you don't even need to write a single line of code. Changing the process or the way people think about the problem can be sufficient.

Although I imagine if you drew a venn diagram with easy & important & unsolved then the intersection will be relatively tiny. And from a business defensibility standpoint the barrier of entry may be too low.

> The best startups are ones that have solved a pain point you yourself have experience.

Yet there is zero money in writing development tools :(

Have you heard of companies like Atlassian and Gitlab?

Jetbrains, Rational, Perforce, MySQL, GitHub, Trello, StackOverflow, Joyent, Powershell, etc as well.

The tricky part is that to monetize, you either need to master enterprise sales (which means that the product will take on some PHB-pleasing features that developers despise so they can get through procurement departments), or you need to be acquired by a big company looking to round out their developer tools offerings.

Those companies are running platforms. Not really a fair comparison.

Besides, I'm not literally saying there is no money in development tools. I'm saying that it's a difficult market.

almost everything is a difficult market these days. at least with developers, you know where they hang out. try marketing a SaaS to farmers or construction companies online.

Is GitLab well funded?

There's money in saving other people money. And in this industry, time is very, very valuable; thus there is money in saving other people time.

If you write development tools that save other people time, there is plenty of money in that.

Visual Studio Professional 2017 is $499.

Embarcadero would disagree with you.

I'm not quite sure what your point is. Is it that the OP seems too 'sneaky' for your taste and you'd prefer them coming right out and asking startup ideas/problems to work on?

In any case, what's wrong with trying to probe your peers for ideas and possible brainstorm? If you don't want to participate, simply do not comment, no?

I am a genuinely curious individual, and these are the questions I also like to ask, and not always because I want to profit immediately from them.

I'd be curious to get more of your feedback regarding this.

I don't think anyone is against the OP asking for startup ideas and then profiting from one of them. HN, in my experience, is a very capitalistic place where members find the idea of profiting with software to be quite exciting.

I interpreted it more as a warning that these discussions are not a good way to get startup ideas. Startups need domain experts to understand what the market will pay for, making connections, and so on.

Say somone in the pharmaceutical industry posts about their problems ordering medicines. It's a fine problem, but the point is that the OP is not in a good position to solve it, as he or she is likely lacking industry experience and contacts.

The ideas you come up with yourself are more likely to be the ones you do have the experience and connections to work on.

I felt his point was along the lines of "If a startup is like a marriage, then posting a question like this is kind of like trying to hookup at a bar. It might be fun, but the odds are poor that it will lead to a serious, committed endeavor."

> The idea of a savior who comes in and solving the major problems of an industry they have never worked in is not a myth but close to one.

I think Bezos would be a much better example than Musk. Musk is in the process of nudging the car industry a bit (or so SV tends to want to make the rest of the world believe); Bezos basically obliterated small-scale retail as we knew it.

Thank you for the example. I do not know Bazos' background so I couldn't comment on if he had prior retail and logistics experience.

I don't fully agree with this argument. Yes, an advantage of focusing on problems that matter you is that you understand them the best and that it's probably more fun.

But on average, it'll be something that a bunch of other people tried or are trying to solve, so there will be more competition. A typical example is that most start-ups seem to focus on the end consumer despite the fact (well, assumption) that there's more opportunity in focusing on problems that companies have.

I think there's a lot of value of tackling non-IT problems with SV/startup/tech way of thinking. SpaceX might be an example of that - iterative development, openness, company culture, etc.

I'm not sure what harm it does though - answers like the one from chollida1 are interesting regardless of whether they could become a startup or not.

I also find the answers interesting and like reading them.

But it does a lot of harm to the person asking the question if they make a life changing decision based on it without being prepared going in.

I just wanted to offer some advice to the person asking the question so if that was their goal and that is what their intentions are then they can go in perhaps a little bit more prepared.

You've got to understand, entrepreneurs are desparate for hard problems that are legally solvable. There's a vast oversupply of talent with initiative, relative to the number of problems. I don't blame him for trying to find hard problems to solve.

I think, what you are trying to say is that it takes a great deal of domain expertise to fully appreciate and understand those problems. But, you've got to start somewhere. We don't need millions of entrepreneurs trying to build even more meaningless social/gaming apps.

He might need to work in that industry to get enough knowledge to learn about the problem, but, you gotta start somewhere.

Yes, very true. In case you've started a company and you're fumbling, think about the problems you've encountered in starting a company. Some of the major issues I faced which seemed to me should not be problems ended up being huge companies e.g. several years ago why we had to have our own email server to send confirmation emails (there were no email apis and it's non-trivial to set up an email server) or why it was a pain/unreliable to get a taxi. It's even mystifying why it's so expensive just to start a company...if you start with some kind of reasonable investment, legal fees are between $7500 to $25k.

>It doesn't work that way. The best startups are ones that solve a pain point you yourself have experienced.

This is a natural extension of "startup founder" becoming a an aspirational occupation for kids fresh out of college. Who needs real-world experience? Disrupt!

Technology is a tool to to aid your expertise.

There's nothing wrong with fishing for problems. You can learn more about the problem at hand later.

This time around I found myself wondering if it might be automated, like "Who is hiring?" and "Who wants to be hired?".

The title needs to say something like "April 2017" or "May 2017" though.

Intersection of trading and data mining.

I've said this a few times but we're going through a growth period like AAA video games have over the past 20 years.

I used to be that 2 guys could make a video game, then it went to 10, then 50, now its around 200 from what I've last heard.

Hedge funds are going through a similar shift.

It used to be that one person could manage data cleaning, and algo generation for a fund.

Then cleaning got split out into its own job.

Then the number of data streams exploded growing by a couple orders of magnitude.

Then the data types diverged so that each new data stream needs its own special cleaning, and normalization and even data storage, ie some data isn't suitable for a sql or non sql database storage, like satellite images.

Nowadays a typical algo fund might make use of 100 different algos for trading, each of which has 20 different inputs, some real time, some updated irregularly.

It takes those signals and weights them to come up with a trading signal, which then gets mixed with a portfolio balancing signals and risk signals.

It can be tough to disentangle each individual signal from the algos themselves so even things like detecting if a signal still has alpha generating abilities is tough.

You can have 10 people just back testing signals and monitoring risk levels.

And the growth of data and data sources isn't slowing down.

This is good if you are one of the larger players, see Virtu buying out competitor KCG, who previously ate competitor Knight Capital, yes that fund with the huge blowup, but not so great news if you want to remain a small, person wise, fund.

Not sure how to run a quant fund anymore with only 4 people. Not sure anything an be done about.

The tools still exist to be a one man shop though. Get yourself an Interactive Brokers account, learn pyalgo, and off you go.

I would caution people not to believe it is that simple to actually make money like this.

Agreed. It's a quick way to go broke if you don't know what you're doing.

That's a great way to give your hard-earned money to large trading firms.

Are you sure you understood the site? You don't give them money or anything.

I am pretty sure you are misunderstanding the comment.

The comment is not "By signing up for Quantopian, you pay a membership fee to Quantopian, which is run by large trading firms."

The comment is "Large trading firms make money by being the counterparty of day traders making mistakes." When you mess up - which isn't just losing USD, it is underperforming the market's usually-positive return - there is someone out there on the other side of the trade who is buying what you sold and selling what you bought. When you underperform the market, they overperform the market by exactly as much.

Okay... but on Quantopian you just write algorithms, you don't have to invest your own money. You don't mess up and lose USD, you don't pay a membership fee.

The site's owners decide to invest with the best algorithms on the site, and you get a portion of the returns if they choose yours.

> When you mess up - which isn't just losing USD, it is underperforming the market's usually-positive return - there is someone out there on the other side of the trade who is buying what you sold and selling what you bought. When you underperform the market, they overperform the market by exactly as much.

If I trade profitably but making below market returns, the notional someone else who is taking the opposite sides of my trades is not outperforming the market by as much as I am underperforming, they are losing money and, thereby, underperforming even worse than I am.

There's obviously people in the market overperforming, but it's not someone taking the opposite of my positions that is doing it.

Counter position is hard to define in a large market, so take a market with two stocks A and B. You buy shares of A from counter-position-inc who moves that money into B (possibly buying the shares you just dumped).

Over a time period A goes up 5% B goes up 10%. You sell your shares in A (profitably) but under performed the average market returns by 2.5%. counter-position-inc sells its shares in B, over performing the market average by 2.5%.

I think here is an idea isn't unique to Quants/finance: curated datasets.

Hosted data-sets that are fully cleaned, verified and kept up to date. You pay a fee for the feed, which essentially covers initial and on-going curation. Fees would probably be based on usage (dev/test/commercial etc) but also the realistic market value of curation.

There's a mile of difference between a data-set that's been fed through a few cleaners and is 99% right, and one that is thoroughly checked, 99.99% right, and still updated as such with little delay. The former is the "one-man dev looking for easy passive income", the latter is the "quality datasets taken seriously".

Algo trading is about having the edge.

The edge is something you have and other people don't.

Enjoy your feature engineering.

(Meaning: selling the same curated data product to many customers undermines its value. Overpricing it and selling only to the selected few, on the other hand...)

But this is algo trading specifically, the scope for curated datasets is larger.

Plus, what stops anyone building on top of a dataset? If this isn't dive ebay value do any third parties add?

A dataset sold to many customers doesn't undermine the price charged by the seller, as there would be no competitive advantage by not using it either.

s/"dive ebay"/"done, what"/

And to clarify the last point:

If a create a dataset for $100 I could sell it to one person for $120, or 6 for $20 - I make the same even if the value to each individual client is reduced; on the other hand, the value to each client versus* making their own is (120-100=) $20 in the first case, but (120-20=) $100 in the second, so fewer clients are likely to "roll their own" competing datasets.

Seems like neural networks would have some advantage here...

What sort of datasets do quants and finance need? For finance, I imagine it has to be both accurate and realtime for it to be of any value?

Accurate yes. Realtime not necessarily. EOD risk doesn't need real time market data.

Yes where are these data sets ?

That's been around for 20 years, and comes with it's own hardware platform (the Bloomberg terminal).

Do you recommend any open-source tool/stack for complex event processing?

Akka has had a lot of success.

I work in the games industry. There are plenty of problems to go around, but I'll pick just one:


In the "good old days" where 2 people could make a video game, odds are that just shipping something guaranteed you'd make money. But that's no the case anymore now that 1000+ apps come out every day on iOS / Google Play. Of course most of those are crap. But you could be making a great game that caters well to a particular audience or niche, and yet you might still fail just because no one can find it or really just be aware of its existence.

The "simple" answer to this is marketing. Hustle your way to some visibility, partner up with some publishers or some platforms holders, and get as many eyeballs in front of your game as possible. However this effort is very close to being "zero-sum." Either you win and get your promo art banner at the top of the app store, or someone else does, but you can't both get it. It's less obvious when it comes to PR and having articles or game review written about you, but it's still there: with so much noise now on the internet, it's hard to generate a meaningful signal.

The harder solution is being tackled by the app stores themselves. Steam, iOS, etc. have all been improving the way games are presented in their stores. There's more focus on specific genre features, more flash sales, more suggestions based on what you already play. It's a decent effort but I don't think it's enough yet.

What can we do about it? Not sure. Algorithms that try to discover what you might like based on your previous purchases are nice and all, but most of my favourite gaming experiences were surprises that came out of genres I didn't expect (e.g. Rocket League), so this can only go so far.

Also the games industry - I'd add soaring content costs for "AAA" games. Trees, crates, terrain, clothing, props from cups to cars etc. etc. these things take and cost a lot to make and the required fidelity only ever increases. It's unsustainable.

Interesting stuff with scanning real world items and photogrammery but these techniques aren't widely used yet.

Marketplaces for models don't tend to solve this because quality isn't consistent and unique content is preferred.

I would say that discoverability is a problem that games share with pretty much every form of media in the internet age. I've been thinking that one possible solution is to use less technology - organize local meetups and user tests, build a local community. BitBash in Chicago is an example of this, albeit on an annual basis: https://bitbashchicago.com/

FWIW, it was an issue with books before the internet was big. So many novels are written each year. It's long been difficult to know how to find novels that you might like outside of the bigger works.

I make comics, put 'em on the web for free, and occasionally print books. I was gonna say I have pretty much the same problem as you do.

And hell, you and I are competing for the same resource: people's time and attention to give to our little package of artistic effort.

So far the solution in comics seems to be "oh i know i'll make another damn portal, or another damn hosting site", which I'm pretty meh on.

I've seen several attempts to do the same thing with games. Introduce another site, or another portal, and hope to drive discoverability through it. But the audience has no incentive to visit your portal.

In games, Steam and the app stores are so critical because they have a massive audience that already have accounts that can make payments with minimum friction.

This is painfully familiar. Even worse for free games that can't be put on Steam, stores and similar places.

20 years ago just having a website and word of mouth was enough to get a players club going.

1. Legal

2. Excessive costs, lack of performance among professionals

3. Change in attitude seems to be the biggest factor. If lawyers stop being about fighting and competing and persuading and more about tackling problems, getting to the truth and finding solutions, we can have a much better chance of succeeding.

There is a lot of opportunity for automation that no one seems to want to get involved in. A good example is document discovery which has been largely automated.

Other areas that could be automated include divorce. For example, in my jurisdiction what each partner is entitled to on divorce in terms of child support and alimony and division of property are set. There is some room to argue about custodial arrangements but not very much.

Given this - there is absolutely no reason to have many years of contentious divorce suits. If there was someone way of just entering the information into a computer and informing both couples of what they are entitled to and then working from there - I believe we would be much better off, because, although I haven't done alot of divorce suits, but in my limited experience it seems to me that lawyers certainly have a large role in exacerbating them and needlessly.

Currently a lawyer who is also a programmer and does a lot of legal tech stuff. Some of us are tackling the automation side of things and many lawyers really do want to solve problems. A big issue is the billable hour but I see that disappearing :)

Email is in my bio so feel free to ping me if you want to chat about it!

In almost every case, the lawyers are the problem not the solution.

There are some resources that might be of interest to you (no affiliation)

Ideas: http://www.oppsdaily.com/


Already done successfully



Thanks for the mention Vijayr!

I'd also add https://flippa.com to this list.

It's interesting to see which businesses are being put up for sale.

Thanks vijayr

FYI it's https://nugget.one/daily - for the free daily startup idea :)

Higher education. Where to start?

Tenure is a huge cost to the university and not every professor is both an amazing researcher and an amazing teacher. So you have a chunk of the budget spent on old researchers while poorly paid adjuncts fill in for undergraduate classes. Not sure if fixable.

Politics runs everything. Broken clock Ayn Rand was at least somewhat right in Atlas Shrugged when she speculated that bringing about the end of money would usher in an age of pull. That's exactly how higher ed works: unless you can justify your work with student evaluations and big $$$ research grants, politics runs a lot of decisions. Not sure if ever fixable.

No two American universities are alike. Colleges within universities have major differences too. Good luck getting any real traction consolidating IT services. Everyone has different needs and cut-outs for their work.

Higher education is a hydra. It cannot be fixed or reformed at the drop of the hat or with the use of an app.

Abandon simple solutions, all ye who enter here.

Not a single industry per se, but a major social problem offering potentially multiple business opportunities:

Homelessness is on the rise nationwide in part due to a serious lack of genuinely affordable housing. Among other things, in the 1960s and 70s, we tore down a lot of SROs. The Baby Boom generation was an anomaly. The unprecedented wealth of their parents was due to WW2. Yet, expectations from that era still shape housing policy and infrastructure, much to our detriment.

You do not necessarily need to be a construction company to play a role in addressing this issue. Another very serious problem is the lack of financing mechanisms for housing alternatives. For example, co-housing projects in the US tend to be self financed because we do not have financial products that fit them. This actively undermines their ability to add affordable housing to the system, a purpose they successfully serve in other countries, from what I have read.

There are, no doubt, many other things one could do to work on this issue.

Mobile phone repairs - lack of education and the ability to access quality replacement parts.

You might think that there's no shortage of phone Repairer's out there and your right but you can bet that 90% of them are self taught or eventually taught by someone.

Considering the amount of important information we store in phones and the price of the devices it has now become more important to ensure that your phone repairer knows what they are doing and of course has a reliable supplier

Phone manufacturers have an definite interest in stepping on your right to repair.

Might be easier to focus on certain models, given the multitude of models out there?

Academia. I'm going to pick on something specific:

* Reproducibility -- running code months or years later, on another machine.

Current tools, like VMs tend to be too heavy-weight. Docker is too hard to set up.

The main problem with these various tools is that exploration is slow -- Often I'll take an experiment, tweak it a few dozen times, then finally get the code for a paper. At that point I don't want to package it up, I want to be able to "freeze" where my last execution.

This sounds like a job for NixOS[1]! Specify a basic build environment for your lab, and then write per-paper or per-project build configurations. Once you've frozen/committed the configuration, you have a reproducible, deterministic build, and can run it over and over again at leisure.

[1] -- https://nixos.org/nix/about.html

You might be interested in this - "computational reproducibility using Continuous Integration to produce verifiable end-to-end runs of scientific analysis": https://greenelab.github.io/continuous_analysis/

Authorea (www.authorea.com) supports including data/code in articles. There's even some in-article iPython support.

How likely are my pages to still work in 20 years?

Outdated technology that leads to outdated systems.

1. Jobs/Work

2. Most people don't like their jobs but suck it up. The 9-5 grind, climb-ladder, can't switch careers, lack of meaning, social pressure to have job. Getting laid off, searching new job, financial downsides of being unemployed

3. Restructure the job model/market (flexible choices, live comfortably, security)

Unengaged workers- Gallup poll on American workforce trends http://www.gallup.com/reports/199961/state-american-workplac...

I run a quant/hft trading group. We need to know what the margin impact of our position will be. We use a tool from CME called PC-SPAN. The various factors that impact margin change during the day as prices change. I'd pay for a SAAS where I upload a position and get lots of useful margin reports back. We have built some of this but it is a distraction.

Would you mind if I got in contact with you about this?

1. Aerospace

2.1 Access to energy / energy density of fuels (batteries included). This is the case across a wide range of industries and problem areas of course, not just transportation. But incremental optimizations in efficiency have lead to squeezing more performance out of the margins, but no Moore's-law type growth will ever happen without some kind of energy breakthrough.

2.2 Going forward, tightly coupled systems will be the norm. The traditional tube-and-wing aircraft with bolted on nacelles is a bit of a dead end for civil aviation. Systems to enable a more complex design workflow (e.g. graph based dataflow with accurate gradients) will be more paramount.

3. Research into the next generation of energy storage materials, and improved large-scale gradient-based numerical optimization algorithms.

1. Sports betting

2. Oligopoly[0] just a few companies who deliver live results.

You would need a ton of cash upfront, to hire people who would watch the games and would press buttons in order to inform you about results so you could parse them and deliver live results which eventually would become a live API.

But as you can see, there are people involved in this, who watch all those games, if you can manage to automate this, without requiring too many people, you are a rich man.

Let's put in that way, almost everyone consumes their API if they are offline, we are offline.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oligopoly

At least some leagues already provide live feeds of scores and important plays. During NFL games I hang out on a certain irc channel and there's a bot that posts them.

Seems like something that can be crowdsourced cheaply since so many people are watching the sports shows for free anyway.

They are also betting and why shouldn't they publish results that would let them win even if that's not the correct result ?

One could argue that the masses would always return the correct score but imagine 50 people debating about sports, there are 50 opinions and the truth somewhere in between.

And therefore those people also called 'scouts' must be trained in order to accomplish the job.

Well, as there are comment threads on reddit and streaming websites, you just do some simple NLP.

Go to Upwork.com, find a category and see if you find any patterns in what people are requesting, especially if it involves something manual and tedious.

1. Electronics/semiconductors 2. Moore's law is loosing stream and complexity is exploding. Turn around times are increasing in everything. This includes runtime for all of our software tools as well as physical processes such as getting chips back from the fab. Vendors are not keeping up. Productivity is suffering.

3. SystemVerilog is not really at the right abstraction level and still has many of the problems that face Verilog. It is sort of what C++ is to C and what I need is more the equivalent to rust.

Look at Caisson HDL. You think that's in right ballpark?


I saw in some other thread that every programmer looks at making a better verilog, when having a better understanding of electronics would help them be more productive.

That's true, but those who do have a good understanding of electronics still want better tools than Verilog.

1. Programming

2. I don't know if it's stopping the industry from growing, but existing communication tools (specifically chat, email) are a serious drain on attention and productivity. See http://www.paulgraham.com/makersschedule.html.

3. I'm working on it. Might be better tooling, might be educating people on how harmful they can be.

I take a contrarian view on the perniciousness of chat, email, and social media. I'm yet to face a situation when I had to get something done but a chat conversation got so much in the way that I missed my deadline.

Yes, I spend way too much time on frivolous internet activities but when stuff needs to get done, it gets done.

No, I cannot use my time any differently to magically become more productive and build myself a side hustle or teach myself Sanskrit or whatever. Just because I now read a hundred success stories doesn't mean I have emulate and chase after adding to corpus of human growth and knowledge with blind focus.

It's ok to work enough for a living and not impose artificial expectations of extreme productivity on myself.

It's a difficult problem, but food just takes too much of people's time. Something like a personalized service that brings you food according to your own nutritional schedule would be nice.

I feel that a lot of people receive a lot of joy from selecting good food from a variety of options. I think with the immense popularity of websites/apps like Yelp, people are even more picky eaters than ever before. I think this makes a personalized food service incredibly difficult to appease a wide net of people and tastes while considering things like costs and logistics.

Of course the existence and popularity of something like Soylent goes against my assumptions. I imagine there are just people who value their time over enjoyment from food, as well as people who feel the opposite.

Also fitness enthusiasts are an entire category

I feel the opposite. There's no shortage of startups trying to serve you every kind of food on the planet quickly and cheaply, but more often than not the enjoyment is in actually going out and spending some time at the restaurant or preparing a nice dish on your own

GoodFood is a Canadian company that does something like this. https://makegoodfood.ca/en/home

- Don't eat for pleasure

- Only drink water

- Eat once a day

- Eat the same thing every day (mostly)

- Prepare all your meals once a week

If you ignore weekly grocery shopping and meal prepping, I spend less than 1 hour a day thinking about food, preparing food and eating food.

1. Rockets

2. Cost of launch locks out potential customers and limits R&D uses. Global launch cadence is slow; getting into orbit is a multi-year adventure.

3. Yes, we're working on reusable rockets.

However, this only goes so far. Personally, I think that more money needs to be put into non-rocket modes of space travel, so that there's some competition. The fundamental problem is that it takes so much energy (and, with rockets, so much mass fraction optimization) to get to space, so it's difficult to engineer things with physical margin.

If you could build a rocket like a car (just toss some more steel in the frame and call it a day, with no need for the obsessive mass savings), getting to space would be a bit easier. If you had a power source that doesn't shake and bake its surroundings, getting to space would be a lot easier.

What problem do rockets solve?

Problem: Gravity makes it hard to get into orbit.

Solution: Rockets.

i can't imagine there 's unlimited demand for cheap rockets. it's not like everyone can send a satellite in order.

Cheap rockets will lead to cheaper satellites.

Take a look at the development of cubesats [1]. It's a new "paradigm" for LEO sats: rather than develop a massive and/or complex sat with a lifetime spanning decades, costing years & millions of dollars, you can now make a simpler (no station keeping ability other than using drag, lifetime so low that radiation hardening isn't worth it)/cheaper/lighter sat that you'll replace in a couple of years.

See also these two SpaceX applications to the FCC from 2016 & 2017 [2][3] for respectively ~4000 and ~7000 satellites. For context, there is currently about ~1000 operational satellites, with about half of these in LEO.

Finally consider the Ardusat project [4] from a couple of years ago (the premise was to send an arduino in space and let kickstarter backers run their code on it). The project was successful and allowed the founders to later raise money for a company [5] (Nanosatisfi, renamed Spire) operating a fleet of cubesats.

Basically any entity with ~100k to spend will be able to send up their own space junk. Now would be a good time to figure out how to treat the kessler syndrome.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CubeSat

2. https://licensing.fcc.gov/cgi-bin/ws.exe/prod/ib/forms/repor...

3. https://licensing.fcc.gov/cgi-bin/ws.exe/prod/ib/forms/repor...

4. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/575960623/ardusat-your-...

5. https://spire.com/

> Cheap rockets will lead to cheaper satellites.

Indeed, however there's a limited capacity for satellites.

They enable access to trillions of dollars of metals and minerals. Shorter term they enable better data collection

1) Advertising

2) A lot. Publishers relying on clickbait to generate money. Advertisers creating invasive ads with autoplay sound and video. Ignoring do-not-track requests as part of the industry (even if some technology providers respect DNT, it seems like a lot don't). Malware. A lot of useless metrics. Bandwidth usage. Etc...

3) Micro-payments vs delivering content only when an ad has been seen? Validating content delivered through exchanges. A better way to anonymize data used for tracking? Smaller ads. Honestly, I'm not too sure, there's probably a lot that can be done but I feel the industry did too little too late.

5+ years of experience in adtech, on the advertisers' side mostly. By far the largest surprise for me was the amount of efforts that went into denying payouts to the publishers. That went anywhere from designing terms that reduces the likelihood of payouts to straight up fraud (ie. double accounting, scrubbing conversions, ...). Ultimately I think a lot has to do with greed: publishers simply expect too high of a payout for these clicks, and advertisers do not want to see the traffic go somewhere else so they align with these expectations. They are then caught in this unsustainable price war with competitors and resort to fraud to keep going. IMO the #1 issue with this industry is one of credibility.

I always wonder if there is a way to directly (micro)pay people to watch the ads and cut out middle man so to speak.

No one mentioning healthcare?

I think there's a massive opportunity to lower costs and improve user experience in every area. I wish Apple used their pile of cash to invest in a big vertically integrated healthcare service - a chain of hospitals, in-house-developed software throughout, improve user experience, integration and tech on every level. Basically healthcare rethought from the ground-up with Silicon Valley consumer-oriented mentality. Yes, extremely daring, but they're in a unique position to pull that off.

The healthcare industry almost always looks better from an outside perspective, but once you're on the inside you become just another part of the problem.

Lowering costs is a good example, but once you're inside you realize that the entire industry has been built from the ground up to create high profits and gains, and trying to change that leads to a quick exit. So once most people are on the inside they just go along with it and play ball because it's the safe and profitable thing to do.

Everyone wants change with healthcare, but short of the industry collapsing and being re-built, I don't see way that it's going to happen, though I'd love to be wrong.

That's why I think Apple should give it a shot. They are big enough to basically rebuild healthcare, create an integrated user-focused product including a chain of hospitals, clinics, web and mobile apps, health smartwatches, DNA sequencing, maybe even research.

The only thing that will change health care is single payer.

1. Banking

2. Product complexity, legacy IT & culture and regulation

3. Provide regulated banking services as a lean platform / utility, let others play on top

(3) is not easy to execute and no, blockchain is not the answer

The Office of Educational Technology produced a report on Educational Software, what the biggest problems are and where the greatest opportunities are for solving them. It's a great read with lots of suggestions if you want to learn about a field, public education, that I personally feel is still severely behind the curve when it comes to the Information Revolution:


I highlighted passages of note here:


It's a great opportunity in a field that, despite budget cuts and under-funding, still has millions of dollars to put into software that could meet the needs of school districts across the country. Most of what's out there now is sorely lacking, leaving teachers and schools to use a patchwork of solutions to meet their needs.

1. Software

2. Hiring Process

3. Replace meaningless whiteboarding interviews AND silly notepad algorithm questions, with a live coding interview on a laptop and a real development environment.

Companies would be surprised how fast and efficient the hiring process would be. They would stop eliminating a bunch of great candidates by running relevant technical interviews and not silly CS academic stuff. I can spend 3 month memorizing 500 algorithm solutions and nail all your 45min technical interviews. I would get an offer, a kick ass package and I would join your team. Then, on my first day I'd ask for help from my colleagues because I can't even setup my development environment. I'd write buggy code that doesn't integrate well and wouldn't be able to understand how to design a system. All I'd know is how to write text in a notepad and how to flip a linked list on a whiteboard.

But hey... I'm smart! And now I'm rich :)

If your company doesn't ask system design questions they deserve their fate. :)

Here's some problems I've personally encountered: 1. Software Engineer 2. It's difficult to get remote debugging and remote syncing working right. We've all been there. It literally takes hours to set up, if you don't have precise instructions. PhpStorm is pretty good, but still takes quite a bit of head scratching to install when your doing remote debugging. 3. Getting an app to run locally usually takes way too much work.

And, it seems Perl IDEs/debugging tools aren't as good as they should be. We're still using the command line debug tools for Perl, and can't even set a breakpoint before that line has been executed.

When you say remote, do you mean a remote server? Or do you mean debugging on an iPhone from your dev laptop?

i mean from a remote server. Lots of development is set up to only run from a remote server and it's too much work to get it working on a localhost.

1. Training & Education

2. Not enough companies want to use newer web technologies and advancements in AI & machine learning to train their workforce

3. Yes but I think it'll require younger incumbents 'eating the lunch' of more established companies for this to change

> Not enough companies want to use newer web technologies and advancements in AI & machine learning to train their workforce

trying to use AI & ML is ok, but why they should use newer web technologies? web technologies are changed so frequently and outdated, its bit scary to jump in to new web tech.

A sizeable chunk (not sure on figures) of training courses are still produced using Flash. If it's not Flash, they are built using a Dreamweaver-esque authoring tool that spits out HTML & CSS. https://github.com/adaptlearning/adapt_framework is the only major open-source web framework.

Exploding Complexity. It can take years to become an expert in a tiny little nook of my field. Knowing how to use the software and the theory behind it is very challenging.

1. Capital Equipment Control Systems

2. Seamless, lossless, low-cost interoperability

3. Doubtful. Many companies profit by providing custom products and services to address the problem.

Don't have time right now to go into detail, but in radiology the biggest problem is rising volumes with lower reimbursement. I addressed this in another thread, but it's an arms race between vendors to maximize radiologist throughput via tools such as dictaphones, templates, computer-aided diagnoses, and now, machine learning.

"but in radiology the biggest problem is rising volumes with lower reimbursement"

Huh? So x-rays have become plentiful and cheap due to competition-driven innovation? How is that a problem?

1) Patient safety

2) Massive underfunding from central and local government; entrenched ways of working; incorrectly defensive working; dysfunctional cheerleading of incorrect approaches

3) Yes. Improve efficiency. Move to better ways of serious incident analysis. Challenge people who cheerlead incorrect approaches. Push for more funding, especially using Spend-to-Save data.

1. Public Transport.

2. Funding/Capacity.

3. More money.

Hi, I'm both a public transport planner and a tech founder (www.podaris.com). I disagree with your 2nd and 3rd points.

Funding and capacity limitations are indeed the cause of problems, but they're not root causes. They're symptomatic of broken political systems, broken business models, and a moribund industry that often delivers shockingly poor value for money.

Similarly, more money is a solution, but it's not necessarily a good solution, if the majority of that money will be lost due to graft, mistakes, and inefficiencies. (McKinsey estimates that around $1 Trillion dollars is wasted every year, across all classes of infrastructure.[1])

(Note: this assessment has a lot of regional variance. It is mostly true in most of America, mostly false in Singapore, and has various levels of applicability in between.)

Anyhow, before simply throwing more money at the problem, I'd recommend taking a look at how the politics, business models, and industry workflows can be shaken up a bit.

1: http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/capital-projects-and-infr...

3. Automation? Depends on the transport it could be 5 years away (trains/similar) or 20-30 years away (buses/similar). Of course the trains/similar is more of a people issue than technical (;

For trains, automation already happened - in the 80's. London's DLR and Vancouver's skytrain are examples of mostly automated, completely driverless, metro systems - built in the 80's.

Afaik, the Vancouver skytrain still uses the original OS/2 software to run.

New metro lines are usually completely automatic here in (I guess) Europe.

1. Which industry do you work in?

In the publishing industry (where I have worked since 1997), the transition from print-only to print-plus-digital that began around 1999 and really got underway after Amazon released the Kindle in 2007 has finished. Now we have an industry in which print and digital co-exist (at different levels – 50/50 for fiction, but more like 80/20 for non-fiction, and even less of digital for more complex product types like Bibles). Currently the growth area is audiobooks, led (of course) by Audible.

2. What are the biggest problems stopping your industry from growing?

Publishers have not really solved these problems:

(a) How to distribute very small publications and receive very small payments? We're still reliant on credit cards for payments, which pushes us to a smallest payment size of about $1.99 or so.

(b) How to increase discoverability? Most publishers are reluctant to post all of their content in a web-searchable and social-shareable form (for somewhat obvious reasons). However, this means that it's hard for them to draw direct traffic to their books.

(c) How to reduce reliance on the behemoth of online retailing? As physical bookstores have died away, publishers have recognized that they are too reliant on one distributor, which is a dangerous position to be in (as that retailer has shown itself very ready to use monopsony powers to bully their suppliers). Most publishers have direct-to-consumer selling operations. But (a) and (b) and other factors mean that they find it extremely difficult to draw traffic to their sites.

3. Can something be done about it?

I have been working on some of these problems in my business (http://blackearthgroup.com). Here is a sketch outline of how I would encourage publishers to solve these problems:

(a) Micropayments are needed, and to do that we need an online currency that can be used to buy content without going through the credit card processing network. Publishers should invest in the development of an online token that they would support on their sites. Customers could then purchase a supply of tokens and use them on publishers' sites to buy content. There are a couple of projects like this in the works. The simplest approach would be to create a coin based on the Ethereum network, and then support that coin for all purchases. (The hardest part of this is probably that the value of the coin would not be completely stable, because Ethereum is not, which means that publishers would have to either adjust their token prices regularly, or would have to live with variability in revenues to sales – this problem is solvable, but it requires a lot of capital to create a value stabilization mechanism.)

(b) Publishers should put all their content online in excerpt chunks using non-discoverable public URLs, then submit it all to the search engines, and start sharing excerpts through social channels. It is true that some of the content would be given away, but that would be limited because each excerpt chunk would not be linked to the others in the same publication – access to one would not grant access to all. Using full-content search and sharing is one of the best ways for them to draw more organic traffic to their own sites. (They'll need to invest in better discovery mechanisms on their sites, too.)

(c) Publishers have a real chance of building a customer base in their own content niches, if they invest in developing a content discovery and purchase experience that is significantly better in that niche than what customers experience on Amazon.

(Cross-posted to my blog: http://blackearthgroup.com/2017/04/20/what-are-the-greatest-... .)

It seems to me that there could exist a paypal-like system for micropayments. Maybe there already is and I don't know about it? Getting a critical mass would be necessary, a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. If there was a service that went something like this:

- pay a flat fee of $x to deposit any amount up to $y

- pay nothing to transfer <$1 to another user (really just shifting numbers in a spreadsheet)

- pay $x to withdraw up to $y

You are incentivized to deposit more to make it worthwhile, fees don't eat into your per transaction revenue, and you're incentivized to wait for at least $y to cash out for maximum benefit. The company can invest that $ in the meantime and earn a low yield on a money market.

I'm sure if it were that easy it would already be done, but it makes sense to me.

I agree that it would be neat, but I fear that the reason only big banks and credit card processors have attempted to dabble in this space is because you've just described a bank. Building one of those carries a whole host of regulations, even if the goal is a very simple, limited set of interactions.

It works for Virtual Worlds though. At this very moment I am dancing at a party in InWorldz, and I just tipped the dj with Inworldz dollars that I previously purchased with USD. If she wants to withdraw the money as USD she can.

Regarding micro-payments, isn't this really a consumer problem that can't be solved easily?

What 60 year old romance novel reading knitting enthusiast will take the time to understand micropayments? They would just say "pass" and go find something else to read.

There has to be a demand for micropayments to have a problem to solve, right?

1. Embedded (safety and criitical systems)

2. Knowledge sharing within companies/organizations. Formal methods (primarily their absence). Effective use of simulations in design, development, and V&V efforts. Requirements traceability (this is mundane and seems bureaucratic, but it's critical here).

3. Yes, to everything.

For the first, break down information silos and project fiefdoms. Allow for greater flexibility for staff to move across project boundaries so knowledge can be shared more equitably, and people can see other teams work (learn both good and bad things here). Training. Make it a recurring event. Not the crap training many organizations do. Have a seminar series where people come in and present on something, not always directly related to work. Encourage people to write up their lessons learned, and perform and publish post mortems on projects. Take the approach of avoiding blame, focus on correctable errors and faults along the way (these are primarily process faults, not technical ones; where technical they're typically design and not implementation errors).

Formal methods and simulations are much easier to get started with today than ever. I'm not even talking about making a full-blown simulation of the final system, just high level "is this protocol sound" models. Presently working on radios. I don't need to implement a simulation of every detail of the protocol, I just need to know things like: If we add this new message, that must be sent so often, can it actually get broadcast at the correct frequency within the physical constraints of the radio? This turned out to be NO on one project I saw (not worked on), but not discovered until it was implemented (several man-months wasted). A message was supposed to be sent out every X time slots, containing N bytes of data. Each slot allowed you to send MAX size. Other messages also had to be sent out, say every X4 slots with size M. N+M > MAX, meant something wasn't sent. Both were mandatory, by design the protocol couldn't function. Another similar issue, though requiring a more complete simulation/model, was that one of the processors handling some of the messages simply wasn't fast enough. It was required to (worst-case) process N messages within X microseconds, but could actually only process ~N0.75 messages. Admittedly, this was worst case behavior, but by the system's design (protocol requirements, selected hardware, selected data bus, selected program design) it could not achieve the required performance.

The more complete the simulation, though, the better off you are. Technical solutions already exist, it's primarily an issue of finding good case studies or getting an amenable manager to sign off on trying it to demonstrate the cost savings (versus the typical approaches, which in my experience are often significantly late and errorful). Also being at the right stage in a project. Being at the maintenance end, constructing these models/simulations is harder than when you're taking on a novel project.

But, simulations also aid V&V efforts. If you can construct a full(er) simulation of the radio network, your V&V team can start creating test cases, procedures, and models and verifying that they're reasonable. From a protocol perspective, this is relatively easy on our radios, setting aside timing. So ignore time (as a strict concept) and instead focus on time slots. Create a simulation where each tick corresponds to one time slot, let computation run as long as needed. At the end, you'll see what should show up from the radios given some inputs. Run these through your data analysis tools to exercise them, and when you have functioning radios you can use these tools to create simulated network peers (pre-generated network data played back to the radio being tested).

For requirements traceability, just stop using Word and Excel. Use an actual requirements database. I know DOORS sucks, but it's infinitely better than Word and Excel.

Surprised not to see the classic IoT security/connectivity combo here. Perhaps you're working on systems that are too deeply embedded to make use of (or allow for) connectivity.

Too old. These are for avionics systems that aren't going to change any time soon, and we're on the maintenance end so even if new systems come along we aren't building them.

bitrot. nuff said.

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