Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: What would you do with your life if you solved the money problem?
39 points by bokonist 3223 days ago | hide | past | web | 89 comments | favorite
If you had a guaranteed, lifetime stream of steady income - say $100k a year, inflation adjusted - what would you do with your life? Would you still work? On what? Spend all day hacking on projects you loved? Do a startup? What kind of startup? Write a novel? Read on the beach?

Related questions have been asked on YC, but I don't think this one has, and I'm quite curious to find out what people will say.

Here are some things I might do:

1) create a series of educational games to teach math and science, based on the idea that math is actually additively fun to learn if you do it right ( example: sudoku).

2) Do another startup ( not sure exactly what the field would be, probably something software or web related )

3) Do research work in robotics, computer vision or AI.

4) Start a political party based on the idea that instead of changing specific politicians we need to alter the constitution to change the incentives by which our leaders make decisions.

5) Write books about history and/or economics

6) Start a city

How about you?

Phil Greenspun says

"Ask a wage slave what he'd like to accomplish. Chances are the response will be something like "I'd start every day at the gym and work out for two hours until I was as buff as Brad Pitt. Then I'd practice the piano for three hours. I'd become fluent in Mandarin so that I could be prepared to understand the largest transformation of our time. I'd really learn how to handle a polo pony. I'd learn to fly a helicopter. I'd finish the screenplay that I've been writing and direct a production of it in HDTV."

Why hasn't he accomplished all of those things? "Because I'm chained to this desk 50 hours per week at this horrible [insurance|programming|government|administrative|whatever] job.

So he has no doubt that he would get all these things done if he didn't have to work? "Absolutely none. If I didn't have the job, I would be out there living the dream."

Suppose that the guy cashes in his investments and does retire. What do we find? He is waking up at 9:30 am, surfing the Web, sorting out the cable TV bill, watching DVDs, talking about going to the gym, eating Doritos, and maybe accomplishing one of his stated goals. "


Source: http://philip.greenspun.com/materialism/early-retirement/

True. The kind of things you want to accomplish if the money problem is solved should be things you are already working on; solving the money problem should just make accomplishing it faster.

Noble Causes:

-Be a high school teacher for math and computer science (a la lockhart's lament)

-Start some form of programmers without borders to see how tech can help those in 3rd world nations

-Write as much free medical software as possible (I.E. PACS servers and dicom viewers for MRI's. OsiriX already does this for mac, but nobody has even come close for windows or linux)

Eccentric Causes:

-Put a paintball turret on a golf cart, have a mad max style race with buddies

-Build a rocket with an autonomous guiding system. Seriously, fricken rockets with computer vision on their heads.

-Write stock picking software based on my own random math theories like Ed Thorpe did (Which was very well recounted in "Fortune's Formula)

-Surf more. I already get about a day a week, but I'd like to up it to 4.

-Related to surfing, tap into publicly available weather data to write software to predict swell sizes. FFT here I come!

-Build a poker server with an API for bots. Pit humans against AI.

A billion more things to put here...

[Edit for weird markdown formatting]

I would run an experiment to figure out how long it would take me to get tired of sleeping with gold digging models.

Me too, and I would do it in a non-industrialized country (South America/Eastern Europe) which would save me money, and possible lawsuits/BS.


Ibiza :)

Good choice mate, and allow me to add Argentina, The Czech Republic, and Poland.

1. Buy a warehouse, convert it into living / productivity space, a large room for any one "type" of productive activity (read: making stuff).

2. Contact everyone I know who is passionate about whatever it is they do, and inform them that they can live here, as long as they're productive and clean up after themselves, etc. Focus on people I know who are into green technology, and people that are just generally awesome.

3. Spend the rest of my life learning, implementing, and creating awesome stuff with other people doing the same. I personally would be making music, implementing an mmo where the npcs learned from their surroundings and the actions of past npcs, and were controllable by a human at the individual and group level, learning and working with electronics - making effects pedals and similar, and researching and implementing ways to use technology to improve the average humans existence without totally raping nature.

3.1 Try to set up more places like that.

EDIT: I wrote out a bit of an extrapolation on this idea, you can see it here: http://kaens.blogspot.com/2008/09/what-i-would-do-if-i-had-1... if you're interested.

Awesome, can I live in your warehouse when you get it built?

Probably. I'm sure we'd (you, me, and other people living at the space) probably want to meet you first though.

Randomly visit message boards posing rhetorical questions.

Working on hard stuff is in my bones, but it'd be nice at times to be able to live in a la-la land where monetization was completely irrelevant.

If I, say, "solved the money problem" in the sense that Paul usually uses the term, i.e. had a few million piled up, I'd probably get a small team together to rethink the way that music composition on computers is done. Start with a lot of research and interviews about how composers actually build up a piece and just build the best system for expressing musical ideas. I'd like to get around to that someday. It'd be cool being able to ignore the fact that it's a small, poor customer base. ;-)

The fact that computer interfaces are still designed to mimic tape recorders or wire cabling is a embarrassing.

That'd be cool. One music related pie-in-the-sky project I would like do would be to create software that could in real time give my voice the timbre of a rock star. I'd change a setting and switch from Axl Rose voice, to Bono, to Robin Wilson.

Well, the thing there is that you'd have to re-synthesize the voices, wave-shaping wouldn't be enough, so what you'd basically want is a vocoder. The problem, of course, is that synthesis of human voices isn't advanced enough to handle those kind of dynamics, so the problem where you'd end up focusing is on voice synthesis.

There is a research group at Cambridge (Oxford??) that is working on a problem like this.

I've done this - you've got the right idea in solving the "money problem" first. ;-)

Quite honestly, the most freeing moment in my life was when I realized I had already "solved the money problem". That is, I knew I could be happy and could survive doing exactly what I was doing. Every decision since then has been an effort to do more of what I most liked doing (and conversely less of what I didn't). The only problem now is how to find time to do it all.

(1) Practice martial arts 4hrs a day, and travel around the world preserving some lineages that are disappearing this generation.

(1a) I want to meet some Khampas

(1b) I want to meet some of my teacher's teachers in Taiwan.

(1n) ad nauseum

(2) Set up a lab where I can play and build AI models, specifically relating to OpenCyc and neural networks, using Google news as training data then feed it people's RSS feeds and blog posts. Run the whole thing on the cloud and see what else I need to get it to start messing with people.

(3) Collect a huge library and read. Lots. Both non-fiction and fiction.

(3a) Get to the point where I can consistently beat the top Go software and can hold my own near the top kyu rankings. Then go back and read through history books with the skills I acquired from playing Go. Figure out if people make different strategic decisions based on whether they played Go or played chess. Maybe write a book about it.

(3b) Study all of Joseph Campbell's work, and identify the top active, modern myths operating on modern social psyche, both overt and hidden. Distill it and write something similar to Neal Stephenson's Primer (from Diamond Age).

(3c) Write a series of short stories in English using themes from classic wuxia theater (martial art fantasy stuff, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and embed in there how to survive high school with your sanity intact. Then slip it out in the wild.

(4) Write a mobile MMO.

(5) Learn Ancient Chinese, maybe take a crack at Sanskrit. Dig up some old stuff and figure them out.

Wake up earlyish, work in a small garden office with the windows open and the crisp fall air streaming in, break for lunch on patio with my wife, read a book, go on a walk in the countryside.

I dunno. I think I'd like it, though.

I'd still work on things, but I feel like the pressure would be released, so I could work on indie adventure games and not have a nagging conscience telling me to do something that will make money. I do want to write my novel. And create a board game. And a stop-motion animated film. And take up painting and drawing. And travel a lot.

Wow. In the meantime, I'll pack up here at the cube and head home. Then I'll come back Monday and do it again. Yayyyyy.

Start a big family and be the best parent I could, and not give my kids a dime unless they earn it.

I'm going to move to Argentina and build a sailboat. Its been my goal for 3 years.

Have you started?

Work on riskier ideas with bigger payoffs (financial or otherwise).

Why aren't you doing some of those things during your free time right now? You certainly don't need money to create a series of games or research robotics in your free time. If you're not doing it now, what makes you think you'll do it if you are relieved of the job obligation?

I find that flaw with myself: come up with reasons why I'm not doing what I really want to be doing. I'm trying to overcome the friction of day dreaming and start actually doing something.

These thought exercises are cute, but in the end, counter-productive.

I am doing some of these things now. The reason I asked this question is actually somewhat related to #6...

You're going to start a city with $100K a year? You must have mad city-building skills.

Hey, it worked on SimCity!

I did indeed play too much SimCity as a youth :-) Perhaps I will share my plan for starting a city in a future post. I'd like to find out if the HN community thinks it could work.

I have a habit of overestimating the capabilities of modern technology, but I really don't understand why more of the underlying processes of our civilization aren't automated (e.g. food production, food transportation, food preparation, human transportation).

Maybe the problem is history. Maybe, if we were given the chance to start over and plan a brand new city from the ground up, we could eliminate a lot of unnecessary elements that currently occupy a lot of our time and energy.

Would it be possible -- with our current technology -- to build a giant, self-sustaining field of photovoltaic modules? Thousands of automated machines and robots could maintain and repair this system. Massive amounts of free power could effectively fuel a developing city.

And if our basic needs were taken care of, we could each start to focus on what matters to us, instead of what merely ensures our survival. I think it's about time for us humans, collectively, to move past worrying about having enough money for food and a place to live.

I think you're overestimating technology. Robotics is still incredibly primitive. There is ongoing work in automated driving ( see DARPA's grand challenge and Willow Garage) and automated cooks ( see Anybots), but all of these efforts are in the very early stages.

Even with car companies, I think I read somewhere that Toyota uses much less robotics than GM, and that's a reason why Toyota is more successful. GM bought to much into the robotics, over invested, and it ended up costing more and hurting quality. As for solar, it's still very expensive in terms of resources to build panels.

Automated driving doesn't seem like it would be very hard if you had the ability to do whatever you wanted to the roads / cars on the road. Of course we're not in a situation anywhere near that ideal.

I share the opinion that a lot of things that should be automated are not. For instance - fast food. If fast food places are going to exist, I do not think that they should be part of what some people have to do to keep a roof over their (and their kids) heads, and food in their stomachs. They are repetitive, soul-sucking jobs that don't require a human.

The reasons for why our society is how it is are complex. I'd say that the reasons that we still have people working fast food jobs for a living are mainly the economic and power structures that we have in place right now.

I mean, on the idealistic side of things, if everyone suddenly realized just how silly our organizational / economics / power structures are, and what we can currently accomplish with technology - and what we'd be able to accomplish if we were devoting most of our resources to making the world a better place for humans (and hopefully all its other residents) and not on economic pissing matches.

We could colonize space - probably within my lifetime - if we wanted to, etc.

We should form a secret society or whatever ;)

Question. Why did we (human beings) spend so many resources and so much effort developing the LHC when it seems obvious that a comparable amount of effort and resources could have dramatically improved our way of life?

I mean, if people didn't have to work for a living, wouldn't we see like a ten-fold increase in people pursuing the arts and sciences?

Btw, I've thought the same thing about fast food chains for a while.

One of my dreams is to create a completely automated restaurant. Touchscreen menus embedded into each table. Food is prepared in the basement and rises up through the center of each table. The only thing actual humans would have to is feed the machines unprepared food :)

It's slogan could be:

Reliably tasty food


The same exact food made my the same machines every day

Question. Why did we (human beings) spend so many resources and so much effort developing the LHC when it seems obvious that a comparable amount of effort and resources could have dramatically improved our way of life?

That's a complicated question, the stuff of long-winded conversation. I'd say that it boils down to (very overgeneralized here) we didn't, a certain set of people did - who happened to be able to get the funding needed to undertake a pretty amazing thing.

Sometimes I think I just read too much Asimov as a kid, I think that there's a pretty big under-use of technology for the purposes of making everyone's life better. When I think about the reasons for that, my head starts to boggle after a while. I do think that another large reason for the state of things right now is that our ability to do really, really awesome things for humankind has only recently become very apparent.

If you ever open your resturant, I'd recommend using both slogans. "The exact food made by the same machines every day" in fine-print, or something.

I share the opinion that a lot of things that should be automated are not. For instance - fast food. If fast food places are going to exist, I do not think that they should be part of what some people have to do to keep a roof over their (and their kids) heads, and food in their stomachs. They are repetitive, soul-sucking jobs that don't require a human.

For an old school baby step towards this idea, see this thread: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=317028 where people are wondering why the hell I thought to submit the article. :)

No. The reason we have people working fast-food jobs is that they need the money and it's still cheaper than full automation, but the industry working on it. Have you seen what goes on in McDonald's these days? They automate everything they can and they are constantly trying to increase this to get costs down and increase speed.

My brother in law is an executive in fast food: it's amazing how much they try to reduce the in-store labor. I should really talk to him about business opportunities in that field.

The reason we have people working fast-food jobs is that they need the money and it's still cheaper than full automation

Right, that would be part of what I view as a larger problem with society (at least in the US) at the moment. People should no longer have to generate money for food and roofs, or if they do, they should not have to resort to doing repetitive, boring, brainless work all the time.

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to this, and most feasible solutions require an overhaul of most of our economic structures, not to mention the education system, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Edit: I somehow missed the "still cheaper than full automation" part. I can see that - but certainly having one or two humans at the resturant, with almost full automation would be cheaper?

but certainly having one or two humans at the restaurant, with almost full automation would be cheaper?

If you believe this, why don't you raise some money and start a company to out compete traditional restaurants? If it's really so easy to automate as you think it is, you'll be raking in the dough.

I very well may, although that's only one example of what I view as a much larger issue. I currently make less than 10K a year though, so I'm sort of focusing on that first.

EDIT: Clarification.

I suggest that Brave New World would be an interesting read for you. The hierarchy of intelligence classes in there I think does hit at a real problem: most work in society is mindless.

I've read Brave New World. And yeah, most work in society is mindless. Ideally, I don't think people should have to work at all anymore, but there are a whole lot of problems stopping that from happening.

Really expanding on this stuff takes a lot of writing, I'm not quite up for it yet (but I'm working on it).

But on the other hand they talk about an Island where they tried to eliminate all mindless work - but the people got bored. They should have set up an Island without mindless works and only "Alphas".

As I recall, they did that, and the alphas ended jockeying for status and killing each other.

OK, have to read it again.

Full automation will eventually be cheaper; right now it isn't.

I'd be interested to hear more about this. I think there are some significant opportunities to make cities better (maybe by starting new ones, maybe just by working with our existing ones in new ways). And a lot of the ways technology has changed our lives recently has affected what we need and expect from a city, including things like:

- knowing our neighbors

- usable mass transit

- energy efficiency

- interaction with government

It's the sort of area that I think has a lot of opportunity in it, but that opportunity isn't clearly something that could make you rich. So as a general area of focus, I think it'd be well worth a hacker's attention.

P.S. If you think cities, architecture, and the community shaped by those things are interesting, you should definitely read "A Pattern Language" by Christopher Alexander et al. It illuminates a lot of what goes on in cities and buildings in a very concise way, and will probably give you ideas to improve your home and environment.

There's no reason you can't start a city for a profit and get investors so that you don't need much of your own capital. I guess it's hard though :)

1) I'd spend a year writing a web-app to teach mathematics and physics, open-source it, run it on my own servers and lobby to have it used in high-school education.

2) I'd put more time into promoting awareness of Humanism and showing people that morality isn't restricted to the belief that an omniscient police agent is judging your every move.

3) I'd try to get NATO to play nice with Russia and after that get China on board as well. A USA/Russian/EU/Chinese block should be strong enough to stop nuclear threats and have the added bonus of getting us to Mars faster.

4) Having brokered world-peace and ensured continuity for all mankind, I'd chill out, read Ceasar's De Bello Gallico in Latin, master Bach's violin pieces at solist concert level, learn Russian and Mandarin Chinese, polish my French and grow awesome grapes for delicious wine.

Get a good night's sleep.

Well, I've got one album recorded and another written (need to rehearse with a band again to record this one), so I'd get back into pursuing a music career. My lawyer actually made me promise my next "startup" would be my music, so I guess I have to now...

I'd read a LOT more (classics and non-fiction mainly), get back into Muay Thai (planning on starting again this fall anyhow, money permitting), donate some volunteer time instead of just money, and travel. I'm interested in studying chess too.

After all that, I'd most likely start another company. What else could I do? ;) In reality, I love the challenge of starting companies, and there's nothing like going from zero to success to prove to yourself you can (even if I had a safety net next time!).

I'd consider going into teaching too, if for nothing else than to try to be different and make a difference (Alan Bloom or John Gatto style maybe :).

I'd teach. Math, science, or computer science to high school aged students. I really think teaching is fun and fulfilling, you just don't get paid well at all. I'd also read a lot.

i agree with this. recently I've been thinking about what to do when i retire. I know i'll get bored eventually. I think returning to school and getting a teaching degree and then working part time as a teacher would be fun and rewarding without too much stress. Ideally teaching math/science at a community college.

I don't know - I tried teaching for a year thinking the same thing, and while it was rewarding, it was way stressful.

I'd do the same thing with my life that I'm doing with it now. I'd just like to do it in a slightly more modern apartment that doesn't contain a futon. That's about it.

$100k/year isn't that much. I barely get by on that, so I'd first have to sell the farm and move farther out to find a place that would be affordable at $40k/year. Easy to do if I don't have to limit my commute distance which is the main reason my current place costs so much (well, that and I didn't want to buy a 100 year-old house).

Then: - Raise money so I could do research in medical devices: barriers to entry are all about money in this field. - Start a company offering software services to the medical device/pharma/healthcare industry - Robotics research with a focus on elder care or construction assistance - Raise s few goats and a pair of cows (already have horses and chickens) - Farm software (already looking at this on)

I'm in the medical industry and I'd love to start a business in this field if I could afford to. At least with 100k/yr I'd have the time to raise the amount of money it would take.

Spend every waking minute making my wonderful wife, who puts up with my stupid hours, travelling away from home, stress, lack of organisation and everything else that would turn mere mortals away ludicrously, deliriously, cartwheel-turning happy.

If personal money wasn't an issue, there are a couple things I would do I guess.

- I'd more than likely hack/work on projects that I thought would contribute to society in a meaningful way rather than trying to do something for profit.

- Spend more time doing the things I enjoy, perhaps take on a significant hobby project that wasn't work related

- I'd probably also help my mother out a little more too.

- Maybe contribute a little of my time directly to community related projects, like volunteer work in something I found meaningful.

Sounds kind of strange, but I guess overall I'd like to be able to give more of myself to others and make much more of a positive impact in other's lives; sounds kind of tree-huggerish I know.

Go back to school and finish my degree first. These days I really want to go back to school despite I've a good job. More I work without a degree more I realize I need to learn more. But then again I'm getting married soon. Ah, well......

Are you sure that going back to school, and finishing your degree, will address the "I need to learn more" problem ?

You may need a degree to address a particular social issue, like not being able to be promoted in a particular organization, but presumably you would not have that need if you "solved the money problem".

What if you picked a particular topic and set out to self-study it, but instead of the usual "buy a text book, read one chapter, and never follow up" fail method, you found a small group of similarly interested people who agreed to meet regularly to discuss and provide mutual encouragement, pursued it that way ?

you found a small group of similarly interested people who agreed to meet regularly to discuss and provide mutual encouragement, pursued it that way ?

Well, thought about that. Unfortunately, where I live it's not easy to find like-minded people who are willing to meet regularly and provide mutual encouragement. Moreover, one thing that I really miss about school is the social life. I almost don't have any friends I can count on. I mean I've friends but number is relatively lower than someone who went to school for four years. Besides, for some reason I really miss the energy and atmosphere of a school. But your point is taken, and for most of my life I've self-studied and it worked well.

When I suggested the group meeting thing, it was because the social aspect of college is very desired. I think it is also not as good at today's universities as we would wish. The students seem very perceptive to social status, and a lot of energy seems to go into reassuring people about social status, and preparing for job searches.

I would suspect it is easier to find a group of like-minded people than you think. If you do this right, you will start with some subject and 5 or 6 interested people, maybe half of whom make it to the weekly meeting in a coffee shop or somewhere. You will pick up a few more interested people who happen to listen in to the group's discussions. Keep careful track of eveyone's emails, and at some point pick a new subject and send an email around to everyone, and see who shows up. This is can be done even in small, out of the way, non-college towns.

It's kind of like running a "salon" in ancient Greece or 1700s Paris, or a coffee shop in 1600s/1700s London. Someone has to keep track of the social network, so that people who drift out of the meeting group are eventually brought back in when a more interesting topic comes up.

You might occasionally pick a topic just to bring in more people. I think I good one would be to read a chapter of Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle every week, google / wikipedia every character so you know all the inside historical jokes, and then meet and discuss.

On campus, the students are too busy to do the type of social interaction that supposedly makes college valuable -- we think of getting tossed at random into a roommate situation with someone from a different culture and social class, meeting life long friends at random in the library and future business partners in lab groups, etc. But a lot of the college social scene seems to be devoted to making sure you don't accidently meet up with anyone of a different social class, or at least assuring the parents that the student won't; clubs are strongly tied to a student affairs bureaucracy and create positions like secretary and treasurer for people to put on their resumes, as much as do stuff; and the students are busier than those of us that work full time, and have even fewer independent activities and hobbies.

#1 grabbed my attention. I'm doing it right now in my spare time. Email me at be288@yahoo.com if you want to trade some ideas.

It'd be fun to talk about it with someone else with the same idea. Most people I tell this to stare at me like I'm a purple cow.

two chicks at the same time

One is stressful enough.

Id sail around the world, and just enjoy life. The ultimate goal is always to break free of the confines of modern life, and live life as it was intended. Note: No that doesn't mean getting naked ;P

I kinda thought I had it solved, I had a 1 million portfolio, which is more than enough for me to survive on, as long as you pay attention to what happens in the world economy and markets, since I knew everything we are now seeing was coming, and was making 20%+ per year I though I had it all figured out. Until I got server, -70% in 2 months. So my personal advice is, never think you are too smart. If if you know you are correct, and you are in fact correct, it doesn't mean you can't lose your shirt.

I'd do what I've always wanted to do: -Buy old houses and fix them up and put them back on the market -Buy a few bars and small restaurants to manage -Write short stories and maybe a novel with the hopes of getting them published -Once famous, go back to my alma mater and teach a class on something I think I'm good at

Of course, I plan on doing this anyway. Some of it might have to wait, the market being what it may, but you have to stay optimistic.

With nothing holding me down to a specific location I think I would travel most of the time, "live" in a certain part of the world for a time before moving on.

Easy, I'd travel the world with my laptop and write code on the road. Hopefully code that would change the world.

That's what I'm doing these days. The big changes haven't happened yet... but hopefully it will come.

$100K/yr is really not that much now. I mean if you think about it the only difference between 50K and 100K is a slightly bigger house, a slightly better car and a slightly better vacation. A lot of programmers make close to that already

Give me $100K/yr and I will make one hell of an effort to change society in a positive way. To be blunt - fuck having a better car or larger house for myself, fuck spending $100K/yr on me.

My question was, if you could get that salary without working, what would you spend your time doing?

get another job, since that amount is not really enough

The same things I'm doing now.

I hate wishful dreaming!

Whatever the fuck I wanted, which is the true beauty of it. :)

I'd work for the political party you started in point 4.

If I were you, I'd start a political party.

I'd probably work on molecular nanotechnology... in my spare time, I'd try to solve poverty.

I'd be building robots. I've never wanted to do anything else.

I have no idea. I only know that its not going to be boring.

I'd work for the Seasteading Institute full-time.

What ever you would do is what you should do.

Build the GUI of the 21st century :)

I'd open up PARC again.

what I am doing now with a tad more surfing :P


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