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Ask HN: What interesting problems are you working on?
348 points by rohith2506 on Sept 16, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 621 comments
This is a follow up of this thread ( https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22174828 ) which got some amazing responses but considering it's been almost two years, It's time for new edition

I'd love to hear about what interesting problems (technically or otherwise) you're working on -- and if you're willing to share more, I'm curious how you ended up working on them. This time, with a twist. Please include web technologies too if it's really niche and not a lot of people know about it

A little while ago, a patent for high throughput DNA synthesis using silicon chips went off-patent, so I have been learning analog IC chip design to build an open source high-throughput DNA synthesis chip. If it works, and I sold them at cost, it would reduce the cost of oligo pool synthesis by ~100x and possibly gene synthesis by 10x.

For about 8-9 years now my goal has been to build a cell from scratch for less than $1000 and enable anyone to be able to do so. While I’m handling the other bits elsewhere, DNA synthesis is a key technology primed for open source disruption.

For anyone interested, found following blog post on OP’s website, which is linked to from their HN profile:


How to make DNA synthesis affordable


Having worked at the largest synthetic DNA manufacturer (at least they were, I think they still are)... a lot of his information is just wrong. There is a huge incentive to lowering the cost of producing oligos and synthetic genes. This is actually a very interesting time in the space (shoutout AnsaBio).

I encourage him to continue explore new ways of making DNA, but understanding the market is very different from building off an expired patent.

I’ve spoken to the CEO of Ansa bio about this topic and they aren’t focused on lowering prices, but increasing what can be built.

I would like to know what specifically you think I am wrong about, though. Always happy to improve my thinking.

(Digital) chip designer here: this is super cool. What tech node are you targeting? Have you checked out any of the free open-source tools and PDK from Skywater, Google, eFabless and co?

I'm planning on using the chip ignite program! They can build the chip I need - the harder bit is figuring out the coatings needed (sputter coating post-processing is needed to be compatible with the chemistry).

I am pretty new to chip design but know the DNA space quite well - I would love to do a call, if possible, because I have lots of noob questions about chip design and chip design tools. Happy to share anything about the biological side in exchange!

Is there a page, blog, twitter account, newsletter, Github repo or anything to follow this? I have no knowledge in this space so I'm of no help, but I'm very interested in the prospect of this stuff becoming more accessible!

Github here - https://github.com/koeng101/dnachips

It is a bit dead when it comes to a git, since I am trying to get the first machine needed, which is a DNA synthesizer (asked about that here https://groups.google.com/g/diybio/c/V3OYVBxaH04 for example).

The idea is that with a traditional DNA synthesizer I can have positive controls of the chemistry, and develop a chip that can fit inside the flow cell of the existing synthesizer. In biotech, everything goes wrong a bit more often than in computer science, so the focus lately has been getting my hands on a working synthesizer. This is a tried and true method of getting chip synthesis working.

If that works, I'd like to provide the chip at cost for integrators, as well as develop a functioning full product for integration with some bots I'm building for my official work.

Personal website is here - http://keonigandall.com

Likewise, piggybacking!

I'd just like to echo (verbally "vote") my concern. Every great step forward comes with the potential for an order of magnitude steps backward, i.e. destruction. The amount of man hours to e.g. blow up a building is far fewer than the amount needed to build it.

Will the output of your product add a suicide timer to a cell?

Will the output of your product prevent the cells from procreating/multiplying?

Will the output of your product prevent pathogen creation?

Will the output of your product require a specific, unnatural energy source that can only be man made?

Professionals take great care in thinking about those problems, and sometimes still fail. (IIRC, a synthesized breed of mosquitos that were released in Brazil failed to die off and are now a part of the biosystem).

[0] https://www.dw.com/en/genetically-modified-mosquitoes-breed-...

This is like asking people if they've properly guarded against a malicious AI before making hobbyist computers.

> Will the output of your product prevent the cells from procreating/multiplying?

Why would this matter? We have immortal cell lines like hela cells that have been alive for decades.

> Will the output of your product prevent pathogen creation?

No, but no one is going to "accidentally" create a new pathogen (you'd need this as well as some expensive labware and a lot of expertise), and the people with the incentive can already do so in labs.

> Will the output of your product require a specific, unnatural energy source that can only be man made?

What lol

I'm not an expert, but if it's a chip that just synthesizes DNA from a sequence of base pairs, isn't what you're asking similar to making a computer that can't be used to perform evil? I suspect that computing if a given sequence is usable in a pathogen is equivalent to the halting problem. And practically, it seems that a lot of computational resources are required to figure out what a protein does, even for common cases.

If we had really smart software engineers, well paid red-teams, and robust government policy collaboration with industry, I think we can make it at least 95% harder to create something dangerous. We have none of those, though.

It's super hard, but until novel bioweapons are discovered, it is at least a tractable problem.

> Will the output of your product add a suicide timer to a cell?

Absolutely not.

> Will the output of your product prevent the cells from procreating/multiplying?

Absolutely not.

> Will the output of your product prevent pathogen creation?

Strictly defined as the output being a chip, absolutely does not.

> Will the output of your product require a specific, unnatural energy source that can only be man made?

Absolutely not.

> Professionals take great care in thinking about those problems

I am a professional in this field, and have been thinking about these problems quite deeply (if you check on my website, my first time writing about my concern for these problems was back in 2014). I have developed opinions on this over the years, but roughly they come down to the fact that many folks have a gross misunderstanding of the field in general, but quite like to think that they understand what is going on.

For example, I mentioned I wanted to do oligo pool synthesis - how the hell would the output of an oligo pool synth run add a suicide timer? Or prevent replication? Or require a certain kind of energy source? In the context of the stated goal, these objections really don't make any sense. It is roughly equivalent to someone wanting to run a mining company and getting countered by "will the output of your product stop school shootings?". Perhaps better questions are along the lines of - how are oligos matching biohazard sequences prevented from being synthesized? Well, this is a question of both governmental policy (what IS a biohazardous sequence?) and of the integrated device (does it phone home for each synthesized sequence? What about hardware hacking?).

Cart is way before the horse. Also grad students doing this type of work are absolutely not taking great care in thinking about these problems.

I fail to see how considering the impacts of a tool before building a tool is putting the cart before the horse. How is that not a necessary step in building a thing?

I saw someone posted a reactive database just now on HN. I can't believe they didn't think about what child pornographers might do with that. There is literally no discussion of it on their web site. How could it not be a necessary step in building such a thing.

Perhaps part of the disconnect here is not realising how vast the applications are for synthesizing DNA oligos are. It's a very basic thing, and anybody can already basically order them online for a very affordable amount. It's like being worried about someone open sourcing a way to make printer ink.

I mean, at what point do stop and ask yourself if the thing you're making is going to cause bad things to happen? Do we only consider that when the thing is really obviously a weapon and ignore all the other creations?

> I fail to see how considering [all] the impacts of a tool before building a tool is putting the cart before the horse.

It’s interesting how people revise their arguments, or omit words from it, to make their interlocutor’s response appear more absurd.

I hereby vote for the establishment of a Regulatory and Executive Committee to Understand and Reconsider Special Impacts On Nature.

Err, wait, ummm, it looks like we first need a R.E.C.U.R.S.I.O.N. to establish the R.E.C.U.R.S.I.O.N.

> Will the output of your product prevent the cells from procreating/multiplying?

How would unicellular organisms procreate exactly?!

I am not being pedantic here but procreation usually entails sexual reproduction and I don't see how this is possible for these organisms.

I'm pretty sure procreation just refers to the process of reproduction, sexual and asexual inclusive.

My understanding of the pertinent terms in this specific context is as follows:

1) Multiplying: Asexual reproduction only.

2) Reproduction: Sexual and asexual reproduction.

3) Procreation: Sexual reproduction only.

I appreciate the way you understand the terminology. However, I'm not sure everyone else understands it the same way. Although, I do admit the terms can be confusing.

BTW: I don't see how 'multiplying' could refer to just asexual reproduction. People often use it in sentences like 'the deer population near here multiplied the last couple years'.

Well, I see how referring to reproduction in a herd of deer, as a collective, in everyday speech, by using the word "multiplying", but not on an individual level, which adds to my point.

As you can see, getting terminology right is challenging and not always straightforward.

> so I have been learning analog IC chip design to build an open source high-throughput DNA synthesis chip.

Any resources and books you'd recommend?

As a software engineer, verily and the like just didn't make as much sense to me as chisel. Got this book and have been very slowly working through it - https://www.amazon.com/Digital-Design-Chisel-Martin-Schoeber...

Efabless's chip ignite program is also great - check it out! https://efabless.com

This is not at all an area I know anything about, but a podcast I was listening to (Moore's Lobby) recently mentioned on chip design broadly:


And also:


Thank you!

How will you prevent people from using this technology to create DIY pathogens? If the answer is "I won't" or "it'll be open source, I won't be able to", consider doing something less harmful instead.

How far down this road do you go? Someone engaged in bioweapons manufacturing probably uses laptops and chairs too.

The difference is that those already exist. I think concern about the development of new technology is valid.

Suppose nuclear weapons did not exist and someone was concerned about the Manhattan project — would you say that chairs enable people to build regular bombs, so we shouldn't worry about nuclear bombs?

Nuclear bombs have very few uses other than blowing up cities or threatening to do so. DNA synthesis is both of considerable use outside of bioweapons production and not really a critical bottleneck in bioweapons, which is why I'd consider it more like laptops or chairs than like, say ICBM guidance systems or weapons grade enrichment programs.

The technology already exist. The OP stated, patents are over, and that is why (s)he is working on it. Even if it not exist, security by obscurity is no security... if anybody can do the tech, the bad guys are going to be as fast, or faster than the good guys... So I hope the good guys do the tech for everybody...

You are severely underplaying how chaotic people can be, and how valuable a barrier to entry is at deterring that chaos from causing damage.

Synthesizing oligos is not the same thing as creating an infectious clone. This technology would be used to synthesize primers and custom promoter+gene fragments.

Presumably the answer is "do exactly what is done now", which is to say offer the tech as a service (i.e. don't sell the hardware) and screen the uploaded sequence requests for dangerous sequences.

How about “oligo pool synthesis chips” != “dna synthesis machines”

“Harmful” can also be seen the other way. From my view within the industry, it is harmful that the tech does not exist, and the idea of harmfulness is, largely, propaganda perpetuated by elites to maintain the status quo.

This specific attitude is something that I have capitalized on in many ways in my life to do well: ad tech, location data, trading. There is massive alpha in not being like this. And if this DNA synthesis thing had some value to me I would gladly do it and may the terrorists breed superbugs from it if they will. Even if you convince him, you won't convince me. I will become even more convinced that I should build the building blocks for extinction weapons. Every time you make this argument, I will move closer to doing it.

One day, I will do it just because I can and because you argued I shouldn't. Then your actions will be a proximate cause of the existence of the thing.

Ideally, I would not be so controllable but a deep part of me loves the transgressive nature of fighting a puritan.

All talk, no action

Hahaha! Fair fair :D

Upvotes for the bants

Not knowing anything about this field, what could someone do with such a chip?

Is it something like a 3D printer where you can get a rough but usable finished product, or is it more like a "if you want to make bacterium X produce Y product, you need to do X, Y, Z, W, etc." and the chip is used to do one of the steps.

It is more like the X Y Z W. However, the X Y Z W bits I am working on as well (https://github.com/TimothyStiles/poly , https://github.com/TimothyStiles/allbase , trilo.bio, freegenes.org). Going for fully automated "make bacterium X produce molecule Y", but still a while away (but surprisingly not THAT far off)

That's really cool! I was about to ask how to get started on that field, but I also noticed that you have that covered in https://github.com/TimothyStiles/how-to-synbio

Do you mean completely from scratch?

If so, why would one want to do that versus taking an existing cell and injecting custom DNA?

You can't jump over fitness troughs. For example, full tRNA recoding. Plus, it is neat to make life from chemicals.

I don't understand why, if it really worked, the org holding the patent didn't do anything of it.

kodak invented digital photography

They did. This runs genscript's high throughput DNA synthesis platform. They actively sell the result as their oligo pool product.

this sounds so cool! i wish you the best luck with it.

Sounds fascinating, what could possibly go wrong?

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.” —Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park).

That's an excellent question. Another of my faves is "what are the worst consequences and how do we reduce the risk of a negative outcome? Is it possible to entirely eliminate issues responsibly?"

The former tends to stop all progress, while the latter considers that negative outcomes are real, but that we can productively reduce risk.

Kind of like how OpenAI removed racist, sexist, and other troubling images from their AI training pool and then released it in pieces (to a small group of subjects) to remove as many issues as possible. With that said, they definitely still made mistakes.

I like the motto “safety is our number three priority” but I also think that people sharing info about their danger-spraying project should take a moment to say a line or two about how they think about the issues. Instead of just ignoring them.

Kind of an uncharitable quote, considering I have essays and presentations going back 8 years (and more recently) where I question potential harmfulness to the environment. I also previously worked for 3yr at a nonprofit specifically aimed at improving the world/society with biotech, where we considered these questions carefully and deeply.

In any case, blatant sarcasm is also out of the spirit of hackernew’s “ Be kind. Don't be snarky. Have curious conversation”

Responding to the first part of your comment, I’m glad to hear that!

“Possibly” is the crux of that question, as it requires knowledge and expertise to answer in any kind of real way.

It’s very easy to come up with answers to that question if you don’t know what is actually possible. Not very useful answers, though.

> “Possibly” is the crux of that question, as it requires knowledge and expertise to answer in any kind of real way.

That is untrue. If you mean by "...it requires knowledge and expertise to answer" domain knowledge.

It is possible to understand the implications of technology without mastering it.

The experts in the field have huge incentives to say it is safe.

If we are to make decisions about releasing novel self replicating organisms into the environment, we should not task the people who will profit (scientists) to decide if it is a good idea or not.

What's your point? The technology already exists and is being used.

Your name, password, and the names and addresses and phone numbers and emails of all your family members already exist and are being used. So, by your logic, you have no reason to share them to everyone?

The logic doesn’t hold up.

You can make the same argument for anything. It makes sense to think about the dangers, not pretend that bad logic is an excuse to do anything you want.

No, actually your first sentence's logic doesn't hold up as it isn't a fair comparison at all. You can already order custom oligos and synthesized genes for relatively cheap. The chip idea would just reduce the cost more.

Digging into personal information on people can be done for relatively cheap. I’m not sure it’s a good thing to make it cheaper.

But, in the concrete case in question (gene synthesising technology), what are those potencial dangers?

This is silly. Unix already existed, what's the point of linux?

I think you didn't understand what I was referring too. Read again.

Pretty cool. May I ask, what is your background? And, what resources are you using to learn about analog IC chip design?

~10yr of synthetic bio, did 4yr of mitochondrial engineering + directed evolution at UCI, then ran the FreeGenes Project for 3yr at Stanford.

Chisel for programming it (great little lang/project) https://www.amazon.com/Digital-Design-Chisel-Martin-Schoeber...

Efabless PDKs - https://efabless.com/

Other than that, lots of trial and error. Hardware people are brutal with their acronyms, so it really comes down to a lot of stumbling around and reading whatever I can.

Very cool. Best of luck!

I’m working on making body doubling a more main stream approach to accomplishing everyday tasks.

Body doubling is known within the ADHD community and entails performing a task in the presence of another. More details here: https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/body-double-adhd

It helps to engage motivation by using another person as the proxy. I wrote a bit about how I think it works here: https://doubleapp.xyz/blog/body-doubling-proxy

The technique goes way beyond just ADHD applications for executive functions and is something we tend to do anyways, e.g., running with a friend, studying in a group, etc.

It solves an issue for myself and I truly want to help others with the approach by making a way to stay accountable through the help of others.

I am so happy to finally have a term for this phenomenon! I find it really hard to explain to friends and co-workers why I prefer to work in pairs, up until now I've been describing it as something along the lines of a motivational feedback loop, but your description of it being a proxy for your own motivation is quite good and I'm going to have to steal that going forward! Thank you!

+1 I've never encountered this term but absolutely recognise the effect although I don't have ADHD myself.

Ever since school where I was wholly unable to revise or do homework anywhere but the library (where others would be doing the same), and all the way to today where I tell my partner "I'll do the washing up if you stay in the kitchen"! Doesn't really matter if she talks to me, the task is just hugely more bearable in her physical presence.

I’m glad you found it helpful!

This is great! I have ADHD and find this helps a lot. A YouTuber I follow has a two hour video called "Work with me" of just him working at his desk with music playing. When I first saw it, I laughed. But then one day I was having trouble staying focused, remembered the video and put it on my TV and I found it to be surprisingly effective! Unreasonably so! So good luck with your project! You're on to something.


Fellow ADHD here. A while back I downloaded a bunch of "Day in the Life" videos off YouTube of people accomplishing the type of productive stuff I need to do everyday then I used iMovie to splice together the best relevant parts starting with getting out of bed, going through the day and ending at night with getting back into bed. Now when I hit a rough patch where I can't accomplish anything I just start the video as soon as I wake up and follow along, going through the motions. This has had the greatest impact on me actually getting things done than anything else I've ever tried.

Can you share to see what you mean by the edits?

I've checked out the video but I got really distracted instead. Maybe I am not the target audience of this video but to stay on topic and expand on the same theme, I came across this video [1] that's probably more effective in extracting productivity gains from you than that video and I reckon it's less distracting as well:

[1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RGEo2Kohb8

(4 Hours of Asian Mum to Help You Focus on Practising/Studying/Working)

Neat! I look forward to seeing more - For a long time I found myself saying absurd things like "i work better in distracting environments" or "It's easier to have a clean house with roomates to clutter it up".

What really was happening was that I respond well to body doubling. (Never diagnosed with any sort of executive functioning disorder, but I suspect that's more because I never went and got diagnosed than me lacking one).

Cool idea.

I've never heard of body doubling before but you got me to Google it and that's very interesting phenomena. I definitely do better at some tasks when there's someone around with me even if they're not directly participating.

Thanks! I had similar thoughts as well. For whatever reason, having others around in coffee shops or bars seemed to give me the energy to focus on actually working. A very counterintuitive result for sure!

Wow that's nifty! Some ADHD friends of mine joke that it'd be awesome to have a ADHDer house cleaning or chores "swap" service. We suck at cleaning our own places but will spend hours cleaning a friends house.

I've never had luck actually doing a "lets get together and do X chore" event though. Well aside from homework and study sessions in university. It'd be awesome if this app helps with actually doing that for everyday life tasks.

Thanks for sharing, I've signed up for the waitlist. I never knew there was a name for this concept, but I realized that I've been doing this for a long time. I've set up some pair programming sessions just so I could get the motivation to work through a boring or difficult task. I'm a solo founder who works from home, so it would be good to spend some more time with people as well (even if it's online.) I'm not sure if I'm ready to go back to a coworking space though. Maybe after I get my next booster shot.

I've also noticed that weekly accountability meetings don't seem to work well for me. I joined a group where we would meet once a week to share our progress and discuss goals for the next week. I realized that this didn't seem to help with procrastination or focus, and I was just feeling additional pressure and guilt when I wasn't able to achieve my goals. Working with (or next to) someone in real time is a very different experience.

Thanks for signing up! We definitely do the same when it comes to pair programming the boring or difficult parts.

You make a great point about the real-time experience. We think the key component for why body doubling works is because of that real-time aspect. I've tried a variety of journals, to-do lists, calendar reminders, etc. all for naught. But once someone is there, a switch flips and it's almost effortless.

Isn't that a bit like rubber duck debugging ?

I also find pair work to be very special on many levels (intellectually, emotionally,. logistically). I wish there was more theory on this

Exactly! Pair programming is definitely within the realm of tasks we have in mind for Double.

I didn't know about body doubling so in the mean time let me ask you some things:

- do you consider the friendly competition aspect (seeing someone do a task revives inspiration, desire, confidence, motivation to do it, when the other is tired you feel happy to fill the role)

- the emotional bond from sharing: sharing any task is often a strong bond (even just carrying a load), pain and success

- the intellectual benefits: a bit like the first point but searching for solutions gets much much cheaper with a peer. You can validate point of view / theories, feel less emotional pain from doubts it the other doesn't know too

I had more topics but I forgot

These are all amazing points.

In my opinion, they all fall under the category of a body doubling effect. Your second and third points strike a particular chord for me as well. I wrote a bit about why my cofounder and I are creating Double rather than doing it alone. In essence, we are cofounding because seeing the other person also trying their best and going through the rough parts with me drives me to keep going. (It's a quick read here: https://doubleapp.xyz/blog/dont-sleep-in-the-mud ).

Amazing. Have you ever considered the effect at large ? In education or workplace ?

I see so much misery that could be replaced by joy, insight, friendship..

Absolutely - one of the most common forms of body doubling that a lot of people have experienced has been studying with others. An emerging trend has also been, as others in the thread have linked, "study with me" videos.

Interesting. A lot of study group I joined dried out. But maybe there are better ways.

I have no discipline of the superego variety— but when I realize I will let someone else down, I become motivated and focused. I’m learning Linear Algebra now by working with a self-described ADHD colleague. We are 150 pages in and actually doing the homework.

I wrote about an approach called “Bold Boast” in my book on coping with my particular mentality (which led me to quit high school, but also led, a few years later, to managing a team at Apple). I feel like everyone else has a powerboat, but I am forced to sail by the wind.

Anyway Bold Boast means you publicly commit to achieving a learning or teaching goal that involves a presentation or visible product.

(see Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar, which I believe you find pirated online here and there)

> I have no discipline of the superego variety— but when I realize I will let someone else down, I become motivated

I think that's superegoic, you're doing something because you should, and you'll beat yourself up morally if you don't. Rather than egoic, doing it because you want to for your own gratification.

You can look at it that way. I suppose another way to say it is that I can’t seem to get motivated about letting myself down, but I can about other people.

I don't know if I have ADHD or not, and I don't think so because I'm sometimes able to focus for hours if it's really an end-of-the-world type of situation, but just having someone passively working next to me is 100% useless.

My girlfriend is always working next to me, and that doesn't prevent me from getting distracted every few minutes.

The only thing it helps is for stuff like cleaning the house where the problem is not focus but motivation, and we will be doing the same thing together.

One of the main symptoms of ADHD is nearly self destructive procrastination often leading to hyperfocus at the last minute because of that looming deadline you avoided that whole time.

There’s still a lot to be learned about body doubling and why/how it works so it definitely varies from person to person.

I’m in the same boat that house chores need someone there doing the same thing, rather than just their presence.

One of the things we’re playing around with is different user experiences for different tasks (e.g., computer work vs house chores). It’d be great to hear what you’ve tried when it comes to focusing on work and how it went!

that sounds like hyperfocus, which is absolutely part of ADHD.

TL;DR: ADHD isn't what people think it is. It's worth learning about, even if you don't have it. This YouTube channel is very clear and informative: https://youtube.com/c/HowtoADHD

ADHD is a disastrously wrong name for the disorder. There is no deficit in attention, and hyperactivity is only as common as inattentiveness, and neither of the two is a primary symptom.

Executive dysfunction is the primary aspect of ADHD. Poor working (short term) memory is the second.

We get distracted because we can't choose where to put our focus. We miss important details in conversations because we tried to listen while also thinking about something else, and lost both details to a mental stack overflow. We get hyperactive because we are understimulated and can't be intentionally calm. We don't do homework or wash dishes or finish projects because we can't intentionally get started on anything.

thank you for this! It describes me very well. I'd say having someone next to me even makes me more anxious.

What makes this different from Focusmate.com?

Great question!

Focusmate is a great product centered around virtual co-working and work productivity, whereas Double will not be centered around co-working, but for everyday tasks (which can include co-working). As a result, we are designing the experience to be tailored towards the everyday experiences rather than a co-working product used for everyday task.

Essentially, we want to expand the scope of tasks you can double up to do together and provide a better UX for those diverse tasks.

Nice, afaik focusmate is used for every day tasks, but not much. What do you want to do different? I Used focusmate for a week or so but It stopped helping me at all once novelty wore off ( same as every adhd/ procrastination tool yet)

Task-specific Double communities and interfaces will be the primary difference between Double and competitors. For instance, not all tasks are best, or preferable, when you are on video (e.g., exercising/running).

Additionally, we are building Double with the ethos that you don't need to always "crush it", but doing a little bit is okay too. We want to help you build the habits you'd like to see a little step at a time (one of our key inspirations is Tiny Habits).

Are these body double volunteers active part of the ADHD community?

I can see how this can set you apart from the competition as you have already an active and enthusiastic members among the community doing their best to help each other since they share the same background and life experience.

Double will be matching people with others that are performing similar tasks. In this way, we will be able to foster communities of people that have similar goals.

Down the line, we do have ideas on incorporating “hosting” a Double to help give a sense of service and further reinforce the community aspect as well.

I got it.

Can you tell me please why opted for this esoteric and non mainstream term and not for a more common one like "companion" and the likes?

My sister works as a veterinarian and is experiencing some serious burnout from her current practice (a subsidiary of a larger corporation).

I guess it's pretty common practice for corporations or private equity to snatch up smaller independent practices and then run them like a sweat shop. Her current CEO's resume is a list of Starbucks, Walmart, and a few other corporate roles that are totally unrelated to the medical industry.

We're tinkering with a platform that can somehow disrupt this cycle and add some transparency to the practice structure for the would-be employee.

The current form is kind of a niche Glassdoor, or we've been thinking of it as the "online dating between veterinarians & practices." Still playing with the concept.

Anyone have any thoughts on how to take out these massive PE firms that are plaguing the Vet Med industry?

Here's some more info on the problem: https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2022/06/...

My wife and I are suffering personally from this. I'll help for free.

I'm convinced Vetmed will follow human medicine's history. Currently, the future of human medicine is small clinic subscription medicine without insurance. Apps like Roo could help with temporary staffing issues.

Let's talk: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nicholascgilpin

Connected via LinkedIn. Excited to talk!

What's wrong with opening your own practice?

Investors can only invest in scalable, replicable businesses. Veterinary practices are intensely personal, often specialize in different species and breeds, and can develop unique experimental treatments. The cost of labor is ridiculously cheap (people become Vet Tech's for love, not money), and buildings need not be in commercial centers, so capital costs are minimal.

Honestly, veterinarians are really in the best possible profession for maintaining independent practices. If they can't resist investor takeover, who can?

> The cost of labor is ridiculously cheap (people become Vet Tech's for love, not money), and buildings need not be in commercial centers, so capital costs are minimal.

This is absolutely not true and it's a big issue in the field currently (my wife is a Veterinarian). This kind of thinking is also what is causing a lot of mental health issues in the field.

I'll echo that. Also being married to a vet it's insane how little very qualified and experienced techs are being paid.

how is that in disagreement? Cost of labor is indeed cheap

It's often referred to as compassion fatigue. Just because you have a love for something doesn't mean you should do it for free or cheap. The job also isn't all love and cuddles; there's a lot of having to turn away care or euthanizing because owners can't afford the needed care.

That is a problem that needs solving!

That is what burns the labour out

You are saying two different things here. Are you agreeing with the poster's position that veterinary professionals aren't getting paid what they're worth (aka. cheap labor), or are you refuting it?

I don't believe they are saying two different things, given the indication of mental health considerations- I would imagine that it is not true that people become vet tech's only for love and don't actually want to make more money. You can't pay bills with your pride. This is an issue with nurses, among other professions. Yes they love what they do, yes they also want to be paid worth their societal value. It's diminishing to think otherwise.

> The cost of labor is ridiculously cheap (people become Vet Tech's for love, not money)

I guess the question is then whether labour is abundant/available. Even if there are people willing to work for little, are there anywhere near enough?

All my vet friends need this. Veterinary medicine suicide rate is pretty high.

> Anyone have any thoughts on how to take out these massive PE firms that are plaguing the Vet Med industry?

Have you considered forming / joining a union?

Vets have crazy high margins, and thus salaries, so from an outsider perspective perhaps the market is ready for some more competition.

What are you considering to be a crazy high salary? Family doctors (some of the lowest paid doctors) earn double the reported average of a vet in the US. They're the only business I can think of that have people with doctorates providing medical services to other live creatures from a business perspective.

Also curious on what your source is for their high margins since you mentioned you're an outsider?

those savings don't go to you, at least not the majority. It goes to the starbucks ceo that turns the industry into a sweat shop.

Ok, but that is a wider problem. At least vets have better salaries than most other employees in the same business-construct.

Perhaps they should start a union, like the rest of us?

Building a platform that accelerates the construction of protected bike lanes and car-free streets worldwide by connecting citizens, advocacy groups, cities, and urban planners: https://twitter.com/betterstreetsai/status/15705341894974832...

(Backstory: Started a Twitter account in July (twitter.com/@betterstreetsai) posting DALL-E-generated street transformations, it immediately took off, got lots of press, etc. and made me realize how huge the demand for this stuff is.)

Feel free to send me a DM on Twitter if you're interested in helping!

NotJustBikes channel on youtube would love this stuff

He's definitely seen the account, we made one of his hometown ("Fake London," Ontario) and he retweeted it: https://twitter.com/betterstreetsai/status/15541736198734520...

Hm, have you talked with the bike lane uprising folk? I think you'll find that these problems are way, way more political than they seem. Good luck, though.

I've run large bike lane/car-free streets campaigns before [1] and have talked with a bunch of activists from groups all over the country, so I have a good deal of experience here.

You're right that these problems are political—in fact, they're entirely political!—but the reason they're so political is because there's no existing platform for capturing latent + kinetic demand, so electeds (even the ones who want better streets—we've heard from many of them on Twitter) have absolutely no idea how much political support they have—and they need that support to take bold action. We're solving that problem!

[1] https://bikeportland.org/2020/04/24/grassroots-push-emerges-..., https://bikeportland.org/2020/05/20/its-official-pbot-consid..., https://bikeportland.org/2021/02/02/support-builds-for-bike-...

FWIW, I consider bikelane uprising an org/platform that's capturing that sort of latent/kinetic demand you're talking about, which they've been able to take their work to electeds, who in-turn take action on creating new bike lanes, fixing road damage, raising accountability for companies that park in bike lanes, etc. The emotion they work from is discrete anger and frustration, which tends to ignite action from a bunch of folk to make calls to electeds and such. If you can find a way to bring out that raw feeling on top of what I personally feel as nostalgia for the future in what you're building, it can almost definitely lead into some great stuff. Just don't forget about the politics :)

Yep, absolutely! Our plan is to integrate existing local advocacy orgs into the platform—so we automatically benefit from their political connections + bandwidth, while they benefit from our tools + reach. Perfect win/win to Get Stuff Done.

Volts podcast had the dude who did bike lanes in east bay area on. It was an interesting interview, directly relevant to this space

DALL-E also can transform American suburban shopping centers into mixed-use urban attractors.


As always working on search.marginalia.nu.

Search itself is a fractal of interesting problems. Haven't had much time to write about it lately, but I've pretty much doubled the size of the index and re-written a lot of the query logic to make it much better, faster, and more accurate. Will do a write-up eventually, since it may be relatively explainable without getting too into the weeds that the audience dwindles entirely.

I keep having breakthroughs that make it in one way or another better, but as soon as I do I find something new that could be improved.

Kinda bonkers it's been possible to build this alone and run the entire thing on what amounts to a souped up PC :P

How big is your index and how many sites do you cover?

1 million websites, a bit above 60 million documents in the index; the crawl is a couple of hundred million but a lot of it gets filtered out for various reasons.

The crawler itself is aware of 470 million URLs.

I've actually had it up to 50 million before, but that was a lot noisier data with fewer keywords per document. The current 60 million is significantly "bigger" than the old 50 million. Index size is not actually a great metric for how comprehensive a search engine is. A small index with good signal-to-noise ratio is much more useful than a large one where 95% is chaff.

100 million is my current goal. I think that's about what's doable on my current hardware. It also gets increasingly unwieldy to deal with the data. I've already got processes that require several days non-stop computation.

For sure, a large index by itself doesn't mean anything. I was more curious about the size on disk and how you manage it on a single machine.

Also curious now, why you say half a 470m URLs? :)

Size of disk is like 3-400 Gb I think. Fairly manageable. I think it would require significantly more hardware with a multi-node approach. Locality is hella efficient.

I accidentally a word while editing the sentence.

I really appreciate your work.

I love this :)

I got deep into color contrast algorithms. Human vision is a rabbit hole indeed.

You would think that this is a well established field. But then I found claims in online discussions (including at the W3C) that were obviously wrong on a mathematical level. The more I looked, the more the arguments fell apart. So instead of reading online discussions I concentrated on reading the actual formulas as well as research on the topic. I now belive that the reasons people cite for choosing one algorithm over another are often completely bogus.

I tried to bring this up at the W3C, but the response was anything but friendly. Not sure what I did wrong. I still think that I have something valuable to contribute, but I am not sure how.

If you are interested in more details: http://tobib.spline.de/xi/posts/2022-09-10-contrast-algorith...

Your blog post makes lots of sense if all you care about is one threshold: contrast must be above X for readability. Then the equivalence-under-monotonic-function makes total sense: you literally don't care what the function does above or below your threshold. This extends to if you pick N threshold points (text must be above Contrast1, contextual borders between Contrast2 and Contrast3, etc.) by first looking at the function and then "eyeballing" those thresholds. But is that the best we can do? The difference between (Ymin / Ymax) and log(Ymin / Ymax) starts to matter a lot as soon as you start talking about "twice the contrast" or "20% more contrast", doesn't it?

Sure, perceptually uniform contrast in the sense that you can talk about things like "twice the contrast" is useful. If I had to design a modern contrast algorithm, I would try to make it perceptually uniform.

But all that is irrelevant in the context of WCAG (and most other contexts). It literally only cares about thresholds.

Great write up. Color overall is a rabbit hole of a topic. I have been looking into color matching, delta E etc. and it is been surprise to realize that the variances of human vision mean that the field of colorimetry is as much of an art as it is science.

I've been working on a programming language for UI designers.

To put it simply, I think the trend towards no-code/low-code is misguided. The assumption behind these products is that code is slow, difficult, and expensive. I disagree - I think that "code" is merely a formalized written expression of what you want. It's actually the most efficient, easiest, and cheapest means to solving digital problems.

I believe anyone can write code if it's specific enough to a domain that they understand, so what I'm trying to do is create a hyper-domain-specific language around designing UI components. The goal is to have a platform agnostic base syntax, with "dialects" that can extend the language for any current or future platforms.

The idea is that designers could write in this language, and developers could build tools that will transpile this code into a consumable format for whatever system they're building for.

I have a very rudimentary demo site that's like halfway built: https://matry.design

edit - here is a simple example of what a component might look like in this language:

  component Button
      color bg: #007BFF
      text label: Click Me
      shape ButtonContainer
        text ButtonLabel

    style ButtonContainer
      fill: $bg
      padding: 10px

    style ButtonLabel
      content: $label
      font-size: 16px

I love the idea of this, but I just learned about xstate.js.

It was a eureka moment for me. Why was UI design such a mess? It’s because the UI vocabulary came from publishing and graphic design, but UIs are not static and describing them in that way will always fall short.

I’m convinced that any UI language needs to incorporate a visual state diagram editor to really make a dent in the space.

UIs are not fixed objects, but responsive object reacting to user intent.

Does your language incorporate anything like this?

One of the premises behind the language is parametric rendering. So nothing described with Matry is static.

The difference, however, between Matry and something like xstate is that the actual state is intended to be left to developers, because I’m trying to create an interface that allows designers to just focus on what they need to focus on.

So take something like dark mode. A designer might allow for a Boolean parameter that determines whether a component render in dark or light mode.

But as to whether the browser supports it, or whether the user has that mode set in their system preferences - that’s the developers responsibility.

That doesn’t fully answer your question but it’s a complex topic so hopefully that gives you an idea as to where my thoughts are going.

Designers absolutely need to focus on dynamic issues and state issues. Not all state is exclusively the developer’s domain.

There’s language, locale, time of day (which you mention), accessibility, screen resolution and those are just things off the top of my head that are implicitly exist as state in a designers head.

Then there’s the whole idea of transitions which are explicitly about state and in designers domains.

You can’t tell me designers don’t care about transitions. It’s developers who usually don’t care about that state.

And that last bit is my point. Let designers handle the state they care about. UIs will get better as a whole with it.

No what I mean, is that they only care about the effect of the state on the UI.

There’s a difference between determining the state, and deciding how that state affects the pixels on the screen. The former is the domain of engineering, and the latter is the domain of design. I’m not saying at all that designers don’t care about state.

I disagree. If the UI person could handle a hover-over by defining the state themselves then they and developers would both be happier.

The developer wouldn’t need to implement yet another boolean for something trivial and the designer wouldn’t need to waste time prodding a dev to finally get around to implementing it.

That state has nothing to do with logic or state about the functionality of the program. It’s state who’s entire purpose it to control a bit of the UI.

Kind of. A simple hover, yes. But even then, there are some interactions that are fairly complex, and require in-depth understanding of the event model in order to implement correctly. Like knowing which events bubble and which don’t, for example.

I hear you though, it’s definitely more of a chore for devs to have to define all that stuff. But on the other hand, the UI would otherwise just be done by the time of handoff, which IMO would outweigh those cons.

That’s why I like xstate’s visual state editor. Engineers and designers can both reason about and modify it in tandem.

I think most event models are conflating things much more than they need to be. By having clear point where the data model interacts with the UI model both sides have better clarity. Yes there are complex interactions, but designers also need to understand the model interactions to design the UI correctly.

If you have teams working on a single project and not communicating you’ll have problems no matter what tools you’re using.

Having worked a bit in a conceptually similar product, in my opinion the real problem is how you define the layout of your UI, not the individual components.

There is a sweetspot for nocode where you don’t try to be too general purpose. Concrete examples would be Excel, IFTTT, Airtable, and many of the startups that convert those into apps.

The sour spot is things like Bubble, which while being a fine product suffer from “ok now am really coding but with a clunky UI instead of a text editor” which is a problem inherent in making universal nocode solutions.

With this in mind I think layouts and connected components should be provided to non coding users as templates. E.g. a site where you log in and can show notifications etc. is a single template. You then extend and style that.

Yep. And I’m still on the fence about how to tackle that, but I’ve got some ideas.

My favored approach is to use what I’m calling a “this goes here, that goes there” syntax.

The idea is to give designers a conceptual framework that mimics how they understand layout, and allows them to describe positioning using a syntax that feels as close to natural language as possible.

Much easier said than done, of course. And there are good arguments for allowing the platform dialects to handle those more complex features (in addition to things like scrolling and animation).

My first impression is that this looks a lot like Kivy's "Kv Design Language": https://kivy.org/doc/stable/gettingstarted/rules.html

Ah interesting, wow it does look very similar. I’d heard of Kivy but never looked into it.

The language syntax is in fact inspired by Python; mostly because I tried to remove as many extraneous characters as possible.

I ended my career in June, and I am attempting to entirely reinvent my professional life at 36. It's interesting going through this sort of open ocean search having a little bit of savings and stability, but the stakes feel higher (emotionally) even though, rationally, I am in a better position to take on risk than when I was young and completely broke.

The hardest part of it is actually deciding what do I want from the time I spend working. Many of the folks I know who do interesting work are either woefully underpaid or chronically overworked.

I'm hoping I can thread the needle on that one.

I can so relate :). I left my position as a principal engineer at a FAANG/MAAMA/etc. company in 2020 with a general direction to try to make a difference in the education space. It has been maddening trying to live up to my own expectations.

Good luck!

p.s. In the off chance that you are interested in the education space, you might find my post in this thread of interest: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=32870101

Thank you for the comment, and I commend your mission. Do you have a website or more detailed information about your intended approach? My email is in profile if you would prefer to share privately.

I have built a proof of concept that demonstrates the core mechanics of the approach. The challenge is that my background is in backend development, and so the UX doesn't make a good first impression. I am building a more polished demo, but it is slow going given my lack of frontend expertise.

Hey, I'm in similar shoes, left Microsoft to focus broadly on EdTech, my skillset is in realtime graphics (WebGL and friends) and frontend

Could be fun to connect sometime, even just to make a community of devs in this space!

I would be happy to share notes if you want to connect.

Just yesterday I listened to a podcast about the Hacker School in Hamburg. Essentially introducing hacking to school kids to scho what it is all about. https://hacker-school.de/kurse/international/

Just jumping on this thread to say that I'm an elementary school teacher by profession and geek by nature. I would love to connect with folks who are starting projects in this space and could use teacher input.

Hey germinalphrase, I'm doing something similar after leaving my job earlier this year.

I took a bit of time off, then started exploring how people use their time on sabbatical to learn new skills, work on personal projects, raise kids, travel, etc.

After talking with a bunch of people about their experiences, the high-stakes feeling you observed is pretty common - I think people tend to underestimate the emotional aspects of taking a break from work.

My current transition plan is to spend a bit more time studying sabbaticals and turn that into something concrete (a book/guide and coaching) before doing some part-time consulting with my professional skills (marketing analytics) to cover my living expenses ala CoastFIRE.

I think there's a gap in part-time professional work - it's really hard to find long-term, part-time positions that take advantage of professional skills and offer benefits.

If you want to bounce ideas off someone who is also trying to thread the needle I'd love to chat more.

I'm looking for some help with marketing if you're looking for something to do. Email in my profile.

Shoot me an email. I’ll throw a few questions at you.

I wish you great luck on your journey! I did this when I was 42 - studied for a degree part-time, wrote some books, ran out of money and did some minimum wage jobs, etc - and it was a scary-yet-exhilarating adventure which, thankfully, ended well when I finally landed a full-time job developing websites.

Hope sustains me, but if it all falls apart I might just have to commit to punching out that solarpunk AR novel I've been taking notes about for ten years.

I hope that goes well for you. Have you considered taking a part time job or maybe in apprenticeship or internship in something you are interested in?

I imagine that if I was doing what you are describing, I'd enjoy keeping busy while still having most of my day to pursue something new. And having my side job (that pays or not, who cares?) help push me forward into learning something I couldn't easily do on my own.

Since I've only been unemployed since June, I've largely been plowing my time into house projects and taking care of my young son.

I would be very open to an apprenticeship/internship if it allowed me a more direct entry into an exciting position (I have the freedom to do so, certainly); however, the internship pipeline seems almost exclusively focused on undergraduate age young people.

Care to share more details? I'm in a similar situation. Thanks.

Of course. I grew up the son of two professional artists. While they are beautiful people, they are not particularly career minded/knowledgeable - so my direction in life has been dependent on my own designs and devotions.

I spent about five years working on feature films, commercials, music videos, etc. as a Local 600 Loader and Second Assistant Cameraman. I loved the work, but the travel and lifestyle wasn't a sustainable fit for a healthy life (for me).

Before film work, I studied comparative literature in a strong undergraduate program and made a shift into teaching high school English. I taught in rural, urban, and suburban school districts in the upper midwest until June of this year. The work was Good, and I was good at it. I didn't burn bridges or burn out; I just had a belly full and want to open a new door.

I know a handful of people that work in tech sales, PM, infrastructure that have been willing to talk about their work and employers (for which I am very grateful). An important part of these conversations has been noting which paths are inaccessible/poor fit/rough culture.

I'm in talks to accept a position at a small local tech consultancy in a role that is a mix between Customer Success/Training/Project Management - but it's more of an entry point and stepping stone than final target.

All that said - if anyone works in product management, experience strategy, or simply would be open for a chat, please send me an email. I would love to schedule a short phone call.

Academic and Scientific publishing. It's the primary source material of human knowledge. It should be completely open and accessible to everyone with no barriers to access the literature or to add to the literature.

The structure it currently takes - academic journals - made perfect sense in the 1600s when that structure was developed, and it continued to work reasonably well for distributing academic results up into the early 1900s. But then it got privatized. Now there are tens of thousands of academic journals, 80% of them charge a fee for access, and most of the remainder charge a fee to publish. Often thousands of dollars.

Given that science works in the aggregate and you can't know if you have the real answer to your question until you've accessed all of the literature on the topic, this structure is now making it impossible for people not in the institution to even figure out what we know on a topic. And hard even for people in the institution.

The ultimate decider of policy in a democracy is the average citizen. The people who decide our government policy don't have access to the primary source material of science. In the US, a lot of really important policy is set at the municipal level (city, county), and in that case the people actually writing and implementing the policy also don't have access.

If we can develop a web platform that does all the journals do (match papers to qualified reviewers, maintain literature integrity by filtering out bad work, and dole out reputation), then I think it's possible we could draw publishing out of the journals and into the open where it belongs.

I've got an idea for a platform that does all that by crowdsourcing it (the journals are already crowdsourcing it - just manually using an editor). It's basically Github+StackExchange for academic publishing. It works by tying the reputation system to academic fields, so papers are tagged with fields and then reputation is gained and lost in those fields.

I'm building it now, I'm month or two out from beginning a closed beta. (Aiming for end of October, beginning of November.)

I wrote up a detailed description here: https://blog.peer-review.io/we-might-have-a-way-to-fix-scien...

As you suggest, journals are a critical area for society.

Since we're on HN, we get to take off our technical hat and put on our product hat -- not the fit-to-customer product, but disrupt-the-industry product.

What are the incentive structures that would destroy this or make it work?

Consider the scenarios today...

- What's wrong with the thousands of similar-sounding journals popping up on China publishing research that is either unvetted or copied from other journals, so researchers can satisfy their publish-or-perish needs?

- How do you deal with reviewer networks?

- How do you get the best of the best, people with no time and plenty of opportunities and money, to provide effective feedback on an avalanche of articles?

- How do you get the support of, without being dominated by, the big research companies and universities?

- Look at the history of reputation systems, from quora to stackexchange to games, on a matrix with the difficulty of determining correctness of questions:

-- Who won the game?

-- Does this code work?

-- Which library should I use?

-- Is this paper correct and valuable?

- What about prediction markets, which try to use money/investment as a measure of seriousness: how would that help or hurt? (and isn't that what we're doing by insisting academics publish for tenure?)

In the spirit of MVP, you might consider a pivot to a much smaller problem: how to professional groups establish and document their standard of care? A team wiki? (gets stale, disconnected from operations) Run books? (too stepwise to convey meaning needed to transform the system) Slack-capture? email? documentation?

What about capturing the benefit in a change of format, from opaque text/pdf to something like a per-domain semantic web, with connections to empirical methods and findings? That could provide incentives for everyone. Like the professional-group scenario, the killer feature would be something that grows incrementally with multiple authors (as code does for developers).

"The ultimate decider of policy in a democracy is the average citizen. The people who decide our government policy don't have access to the primary source material of science."

Often they do - quite a lot of stuff is open access. The biggest issue with getting people to read scientific papers is the demonization of those who actually do it. A lot of papers are terribly misleading so the moment outsiders start engaging with the literature they conclude a lot of science is junk, and when they act on that they're immediately attacked as "science deniers" ... by the sort of people who don't read papers, because they are convinced they don't need to.

Getting more stuff as open access will only accelerate the decline in trust in science, by allowing more people to see what's going on behind the curtain. That is not necessarily an issue, but just so you're aware of that - it isn't going to lead to lots of people suddenly basing policy on scientific papers. It's going to lead to a lot of scientists getting defunded.

Quick suggestion from a researcher: people will only want to submit if there’s an editorial team with high trust and reputation for their specific area.

Automated reviewer matching won’t be good enough to find decent reviewers.

I would suggest partnering with people in very specific disciplines who want to break away and establish open access journals, but want to focus on the editor and review process rather than the logistics (which you provide).

This is on the roadmap. The plan is to create a "Journal" entity on the site. Editors can create a Journal on the site and then create teams of reviewers which they tag with fields. Authors submitting papers can then submit those papers to community review, or one or more journals, or both. Reviews coming from journal's teams will be highlighted. At any point during the review process, once the journal's team is satisfied, they can mark the paper with their badge of approval. Papers can collect badges from multiple journals.

If the authors disagree with the journals team, or just get tired of waiting, they can still publish at any time just like with community review. For authors who choose both, the journal's team and community reviewers can interact with each other just as in normal community review.

I think it's a way to provide a stepping stone for people from the existing system towards full community review and would provide logistics to those organizing open journals with teams of high quality reviewers.

The plan is to implement it during the closed beta period. I would welcome feedback on this concept as well :)

Sounds great and good luck!

I would call it something more specific than peer review.

Name suggestions welcome!

I suck at naming - Peer Review was a working title intended to be somewhat tongue in cheek (similar to StackOverflow). But... because I suck at naming, it is, of course, a little on the nose. So far I haven't come up with anything better.

Unless 'peer review' elicits negative feelings in the target audience it seems like a pretty good name. It relates to the core concept, it's respectable and easily memorable. Seems like good branding but I'm no expert, nor am I the target audience.

To toss a few names in the hat, off the top of my head: - openresearch - colab - openjournal - stud.io

Probably collect a few ideas and run a small survey for the initial audience

My concern is that "peer review" is a wide term, it would be kind of like calling a startup Web Browser or Network Engineering. Too much confusion.

This is a brilliant idea! If you think the problem is bad in the US, you haven't stepped into spaces like Asia. This is a path that can help the world, not just EU/US scenarios.

May I also suggest you consider the network layer centralization. When you mentioned Github+Stackoverflow, I got the point even before I visited your site.

However, even as you think about an alternative on how we publish, consider that technical questions can have significant political consequences. I am of the view that centralized networks are a major contribution to the situation we find ourselves in today. Distributed/Decentralized/Federated options like ActivityPub may help in your journey in what surely is a great idea. Check Lemmy, for example, on a real stackoverflow option - https://join-lemmy.org/ and Gitea already working on a federated "Github".

If you haven’t heard of it, you may be interested in openreview.net

They operate mostly in the computer science academic community, last time I checked.

Yep! I came across them. There are a ton of different projects and platforms out there trying to tackle this problem. But so far every alternative I've come across can only handle some of the various services the journals are providing (or are trying to side step and redesign the whole process from the ground up, which is an even bigger hill to climb).

For example, there are several attempts to overlay review on pre-prints and open repositories (like Zenodo), but they aren't identifying qualified reviewers and matching them to papers in any way. There are the repositories and pre-prints themselves, but they aren't providing review. There are attempts to build open journals, but they're still taking the journal form, which means they still have lots of manual overhead.

Most of them have varying amounts of traction, but few seem to actually be on a course to replace the whole system.

...it remains to be seen whether peer-review.io will fare any better. I think it has a chance because it does provide an alternative system for each of the services the journals provide. Well -- except one, which is the moderator role the editor sometimes plays. That may prove fatal, but only time will tell.

I love this. Given the other connections to software analogs, any chance you are planning to add plumbing for some sort of citation dependency tracking?

Like if a major paper is withdrawn, or a theory disproven, could you get a list of significantly impacted papers?

I’ve been interested in building a similar platform for quite some time. I actually bought the scholar.io domain for that purpose, but never got around to it.

I'm working open source and would welcome contributions! (https://github.com/danielbingham/peerreview)

(Although, the first contribution would probably need to be getting the local working again in a new context... I've been going fast and taking on some techdebt that will need to be paid down soon.)

Important work! Thanks for trying to do something about it.

I heard few song lines from a new artist I've discovered. It has me thinking on a problem I want solved. Although, I'm not actively working on it.

Why aren't there more employee-owned companies? And I don't mean solely shareholder programs, I mean actually owned by every employee and they are paid dividends of profit after all planned R&D costs. Similar to the Alaska oil pipeline bonus. Even interns.

All studies show that the companies structured this way that do exist (they seem few) have much higher output, quality, and happiness among staff.

After more research I found that this exists: https://esca.us/ - Wawa is a member, pretty cool.

Talking more to others about the idea I've heard interesting stories. Some machine tooling shops have an actual employee-owned setup. All employees are incentivized to make every product output great and keep profits high, because they all share the profits.

Anyway, I'm not actively working on this. But wanting to shape this idea more in the future. It feels like it could help the current state of America. But perhaps I'm too hopeful and naive :-)


Hobo Johnson - My Therapist:

"The idea's about equity, it's about wealth

Most think that it's dumb, you should think for yourself

If I buy a pizza place that makes a definite profit

Yeah, let's say yearly, the owners make $100,000 off it

And if I buy this pizza place for, let's say, $300k

And when the workers recoup in three years, I'll sign it over that day

And wouldn't everybody not see

They should buy their pies from me?

You'd rather have a boss

When you can work democratically?"


"Incentives are the strongest force in the world. They explain why good people do awful things, why smart people do stupid things, and why ordinary people do amazing things."

- Quote I have pinned from @morganhousel

There are some employee owned cooperatives, including a few in tech I've seen, but I think they're a lot harder to raise capital for (and thus a lot harder to grow) than either public companies or member owned cooperatives.

How do you fundraise outside of the small pool of employee-owners?

The US Small Business Administration actually offers small business loans to groups of employees trying to get a controlling share of their companies. However, the program is pretty hard to use (like every other government program). https://www.sba.gov/brand/assets/sba/sba-lenders/ESOP_Borrow...

There's actually a bill in congress right now that would, among other things, provide technical assistance and outreach for employees who might be able to use the program: https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/4141...

I am involved with a company called Teamshares that helps small businesses convert to employee ownership. A big part of what makes it work is exposing company financials to all employees in a way that helps connect one's actions with financial performance.

We are hiring software engineers, in case anyone is curious. https://www.teamshares.com/careers

Ownership implies both risk and reward. Those who own anything (a private company or stock in a public company) are entitled to their share of the profits but also must take on the risk of the value going down. How do you convince all the employees of any company ('even the interns') to take on the risks accompanying ownership?

They already do - when the value goes down today, they are laid off, or the bosses do more wage theft than usual

In ESOPs part of your pay is in the form of company shares. Your risk and reward increases as you build up company shares and pays out when you retire.

Maybe take a hybrid approach? The leadership members contribute some investment funding and in turn own portions of the company's profit relative to their investment. You also have hourly/contracted workers who do not have a stake in the company, but have well defined job specs.

My fear in that situation would be 'lazy investors' who donate some money but do no work to grow or manage the company.

> 'lazy investors' who donate some money but do no work to grow or manage the company.

so regular investors then xD

I think people will do that calculus on their own and decide their level of risk tolerance. Typically it takes a lot of trust and communication, at the very least a solid decision-making structure, for people to feel comfortable signing on to such an enterprise.

Most business ventures have risk of failure and loss of capital. How does that work in this model?

If the capital comes from the employees, this loss would be very hard for them and probably would not appropriate for more workers.

If the capital comes from a bank, is there collateral? If so, where did the capital for that collateral come from? If not, does the bank need to lend to you at an extremely high interest rate for it to be worth the investment?

If the capital comes from investors who have an equity stake in this, how is it different than any other VC? Who keeps the profits when the business is up and running (the employees or the investors)? If the employees, why would the investors invest?

Hobo Johnson is amazing. Not sure about his pizza place idea, but his stories about relationships are so raw.


I am writing a book (The Software Mind) and am bouncing around the next stage of company formation. Democratic companies are such an obvious next stage.

How would this be different from a partnership like a law firm or consultancy? Or are you just suggesting that more firms are structured as partnerships?

Igalia is a private, worker-owned, employee-run cooperative model consultancy focused on open source software. They’ve contributed significant JavaScript and CSS features to Chrome, WebKit, and Gecko.


Worker Co-Ops aren't a new concept but I think in the USA it's taboo because it gets in the general vicinity of "Communism" so people are wary. I always thought it was disturbing that Americans can simultaneously preach about their love of Freedom, shouting Freedom this Freedom that and yet subject themselves to an essentially Authoritarian/Dictatorial workplace for 8+ hours a day with no qualms. Apparently Democracy only goes as far as the front door of your office and is dropped off there until you clock out. Quite strange.

As poster above mentioned fundraising is a major challenge. Seems like debt is your only option if you want to keep the thing 100% employee owned. Bootstrapped businesses are of course a thing and can scale to Unicorn level but at a much slower pace than a VC backed startup.

I'm also thinking quite a lot about this.

TL;DR There are many pieces to our culture and capitalist economy that make this difficult, but somewhat surprisingly to me, also many legal hurdles to formalized democratic corporate structures.

I've taken a few steps to talk to lawyers and contact advocacy/support groups for worker-owned co-ops and things, and there are a number of surprising hurdles for this type of formalized corporate structure.

In particular, whether a member is considered an "employee", an "investor", an "owner", or some combination of the three differs in jurisdictions, often at the _county_ level, not just the state and country level (experience primarily in the US).

US law gives a massive number of very specific rights to investors, making it difficult to pull someone's ownership shares if they leave the organization in some jurisdictions. Additionally, the tax implications for individuals can be extremely complicated.

Talking to a lawyer, they said one of their clients had been working for ~10 years to hire someone across state lines and hasn't managed to do it yet because of the legal complexity (some kind of employee-owned construction company in Northern California that wants workers from Oregon I think).

For the time being, my own structure is on hold, but I'm thinking of simply formalizing the structure in the equivalent of an employee handbook and putting legal ownership into some kind of blind trust then paying members at a rate tied to net income without formally specifying that it's a dividend, but I have no idea how many laws that might be inadvertently breaking.

In any case, Mondragon is an interesting case study, as they are (to my knowledge) the largest worker-owned cooperative in existence at the moment, but workers outside of their home country (France, I believe?) are not able to participate in ownership and profit sharing for legal reasons.

This is fascinating. If this ever becomes a more serious endeavor, reach out - email in my profile.

Another user posted about Teamshares (https://www.teamshares.com/). It appears to operate similarly: investors buy up companies and give them to the employees. I'm assuming some level of fee is given to Teamshares to continue operating.

Oddly enough.. one of the backers of Teamshares is Collab Fund, where my second quote is pulled from on one of their most recent posts. Small world.

Look into coops.

Tessitura and NISC are two great examples of technology-centric co-ops.

Technically a co-op is usually "member-owned" whereas they were talking about employee owned. A substantial difference in some ways but not in others.

Worker cooperatives/co-op is the most commonly used term for this type of structure, I think.

I am working on climate repair, specifically the removal of methane from the atmosphere. Although the excess methane is only about 1.3 ppm, it's responsible for about a third of the temperature rise.

We're not building a huge machine to try to suck the atmosphere through a straw; we're doing chemistry in the open atmosphere. Plan to have a pilot running within the next year and within five years be removing up to 100 Mt per year.

I have heard that terpenes are a major source for the production of HO (hydroxides), which only last for a microsecond, but are responsible for transforming most methane molecules to CO2. Did I get that right? (Also, is my vape pen making a difference?)

Yes, hydroxyls are a primary source of methane oxidation over land. They are very corrosive and so reactive that they almost immediately participate in some reaction as soon as they are created.

The reactions over the ocean are largely Cl, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who has ever visited the seaside. It’s also quite reactive, but the CH4 oxidation is a little more complex.

That sounds interesting. How do plan to fund that? 100mt a year of sequestration sounds like there would be a fair amount of costs and labour involved.

For the past year I've been paying the bills (this is hardly my first startup) but we're just starting to talk to investors to bring some more staff on and start scaling up. We only need a few million for this stage.

There are people who pay for GHG removal and we have plans on how to expand that. We think it can be self-sustaining.

Sounds great! Glad you’re able to bootstrap it. I ask because I’ve looked into this myself.

The issue I see with carbon sequestration is how the unit economics add up. Whether the cost of raw materials, labour, facilities, and scaling R&D all add up. My sense is that the he price of carbon credits is still too low for this. Would be interested in hearing more about your ideas.

Would love to support you on this journey! I'm on the team at Fifty Years, we've backed teams like Noya (carbon removal) and Solugen (Carbon negative chemical manufacturing). Would love to chat! Feel free to email me at peregrine at 50y.com

Wow. I really want your group to succeed! Also that was a clear succinct writeup of what you do.


I couldn’t imagine writing that “I am passionate about transforming the atmospheric methane sector through an exciting and innovating GaaS (GHG-elimination as a Service.”

Is the plan to remove it by converting methane to CO2?

Exactly: methane breaks down naturally into two H2O and one CO2. Unfortunately nature can't keep up with the increased emissions (which are mostly impossible to prevent -- the heating earth is increasing the rate of natural methane emissions as well) so we are giving nature a hand.

BTW we are looking for MEs, EEs, and a physicist

Working on a better solution to sedentary health and sitting caused back pain at work. No one posture is the answer, so there is probably an optimal amount of regular postural variation during deskwork that wouldn't interrupt focus. That is what a chair should do for you to protect your health, so making a smart dynamic chair for standing desks.

Had a cycling accident years ago, became much more sitting intolerant afterward, probably made me quit coding as a career.

Have been testing prototypes for a year, people have done hours long stretches on a 2-3 min interval feeling no pain or stiffness at the end. A study showed the same strong results.

Website: https://www.movably.com/ Early user review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUjkbMc_xBw&t=1s

This is a great idea. On a related note I just read this ~2000s article[0] by an anthropologist about natural sleeping/resting positions amongst humans/primates. An interesting take he had was that having the chest firmly on the ground during sleep was ideal because breathing causes constant motion of your spine and prevents stiffness.

[0] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1119282/

Interesting, that fit's one of the lines of research on disc health because the disc are nourished indirectly mostly through the porous vertebrae, it takes motion to create the pressure variations to facilitate blood flow. This may be why most active chairs don't move the needle enough, the motion is both limited and usually only triggered when a person is prompted to move by discomfort.

I wonder if a chair that allows muscles to relax for hours on end can be a solution.

I went the ‘standing as much as possible’ route and am thankful to have made the move from a health standpoint.

Really interesting. I too had a bicycle accident four years ago and have been really sensitive to bad ergonomics and spending too long in one position since. Just understanding what makes things worse and what better has been a big challenge. Coincidentally, just today I ordered a Håg Capisco chair, which serves the same purpose of allowing a variety of different positions with a standing desk and also makes it practically impossible to slouch. I'm hoping it'll help.

The Capisco was the last chair I had before diving into this and it actually worked pretty well. I mostly alternated legs, with one standing while the other was draped on the chair. The only drawback was the friction of repositioning and I think the trick is to minimize friction so frequent movement is easy.

I had a similar issue, it started 5 years ago, I was training and got a spasm in my back, it happened a few more times over the next year.

The spasm would take 10-30 seconds to fade, but it left behind a discomfort in my back, and the discomfort wouldn't go. especially when I approached work. if I was gaming or having fun, the pain would go.

it was chronic, stayed with me for 3-4 years, until I couldn't sit for longer than 5 minutes without my back killing me.

I tried posture exercises, sitting straight for long periods of time with a good posture, shoulders back and down, 90 degree elbows, 90 degree knees, monitor right infront of my eyes instead of looking down on a laptop.

But the pain only got worse, and I got depressed, then had to quit coding for 1.5 years.

until someone here I think mentioned a book called "Heal your back", I thought it was BS but read it anyway, and I found a cure to my back there. Turns out its in a totally another place.

I was extremely stressed, and I was not taking care of my psychology, and my perfectionism was contributing lots to the stress and therefore more pain.

It's called TMS "tension myositis syndrome", basically when stress becomes real pain that you feel in your body. and now I'm seeing more and more therapists for it, search Pain Reprocessing Therapy on youtube

I hope this helps someone :)

A new kind of Key/Value store. In this architecture, keys and values are stored within two separate 'data objects' which are linked together. One holds all the unique values along with their reference counts, the other contains all the keys and links to their mapped values.

The architecture allows any value to be mapped to one or more keys and any key to be mapped to one or more values (unless an attribute on the data object prevents it). These KV stores can be used to attach tags to other objects. They can be used to form columns in relational tables (i.e. a columnar store). It can be used to create indexes into file contents.

Each object is designed for parallel access by multiple threads. Only a single block needs to be locked to update any value or key so multiple writes can occur at the same time. The data in each object is organized to find values or keys without inspecting every block. It is very fast and allows both OLTP and OLAP operations on the same data set.

So far, I have used them to attach tags to millions of files and do searches. I have created relational tables that I can query much faster than the same table in Postgres (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVICKCkWMZE). I have created 3D relational tables that can be queried the same way 2D tables have traditionally been queried (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXqvWMmoL1M).

The software is currently in an open beta and anyone can download and try it out on their own data set. https://www.Didgets.com

Sounds kinda like tuplespaces/Linda (which I think are very good, largely unpursued ideas).

It might have some things in common. In my case, the objects are persistent and can be read to and written from disk with ease. The relationship between keys and values can be 1:1, 1:many, many:1, or many:many.

If the KV store is a 'state' column in a DB table of US customer addresses for example, the number of unique values is limited to 50 (if you ignore D.C., Puerto Rico, etc.). The table might have 100M customers, each mapped to at least one state. Each state (except less populated ones like Wyoming) might have millions of rows mapped to it. Many customers might have addresses in more than one state.

The system has to do things like: "Find every key mapped to a state that starts with the letter 'M'" or "Find every value that is mapped to this set of keys". These are the kinds of things a normal SQL query has to do.

What's the practical value of (quickly) knowing which keys share the same value?

"pet":"cat" and "program":"cat" have different semantics.

The 'key' in this case is what the tag or value is attached to, not the context of the value. So in your example, all the "pet" values would be stored together within the KV store just like values in a relational table column. Likewise all the "program" values would be stored together within a different KV store.

So some typical queries might be: Find all the photos where "Event" = "Wedding" Find all rows where "State" = "California"

The keys in this case would be the IDs of the photos or the row keys in the relational table.

I'm going back to basics and learning to write a compiler in the dumbest way possible. I'm starting with a basic assignment (a = 3) and reverse engineering what it would take to turn that into a working executable. Then I'll add more features, lather, rinse and repeat. I'm hoping to eventually turn it into a series of blog posts so everyone can see just how little I remember from college.

This is exactly how Compilers are taught at the University of Maryland. The class CMSC430 (https://www.cs.umd.edu/class/fall2021/cmsc430/) actually starts off with a Scheme (limited subset of Racket) and gradually grows the language to include more features. The first class compiles just numbers to x86 code, followed by arithmetic operations for numbers, building up to higher level features like function calls, pattern matching, and so on. See the notes at: https://www.cs.umd.edu/class/fall2021/cmsc430/Notes.html

This style of building compilers is called the Nanopass style (https://legacy.cs.indiana.edu/~dyb/pubs/nano-jfp.pdf), making it much easier to teach.

Source: I was a TA for the earlier iteration of the class.

I am not a computer science graduate and have always been fascinated by programming languages and how they work. i am currently reading a book called crafting interpreters (https://craftinginterpreters.com) which i think is a very good introduction to the topic plus it's very practical without getting too deep into theory.

I've built a C compiler and have read the dragon book. I wish I read Crafting Interpreters before reading Compilers by Aho. It's good, and there's no nonsense. The author knows what he's talking about. Plus it's free to read online. 10/10 would recommend.

I like it so much, reading your comment make exited to reading your blogpost. In moments like this I wish there was sth in hacker news that would allow tracking progress of e.g. your project. In twitter you can just follow people, reddit has remindme thing.

If you're interested, I created a substack I'll be publishing the first few posts to. You should be able to subscribe there.


for an interpreted language like JS, this project is really nice https://github.com/engine262/engine262. More or less 2 parts: parser and evaluator

Working on (actually just got my v1 up last night) a price monitoring tool for a bunch of local stores. Trying to prove they are price fixing.

Please please please publish the results of what you find!

I'm hopeful that I can turn it into a public facing dashboard that others can see. It covers the entire state I live in, monitoring 32 stores and about 8k products right now. Already seeing some weird stuff in the data, like a product that changes price every 30 minutes, $30->$50->$30 repeat.

It's a niche type of store (dispensary) and essentially a state blessed monopoly since they limited it to 40 store licenses total. But I'm hopeful being able to show people the data will help with some of it... or maybe I get my door kicked in.

The price change you describe sounds like a poorly implemented price test. I don't think Shopify allows dispensaries to operate on their platform, but that is the type of hack you have (had? it's been a few years) to do to run a price test on Shopify.

That's what I assumed as well, but it's still... off somehow.

The same product is carried at the other stores, each has it at a price of $20 exact...then this one bounces between $30 and $50 all day.

I mean, maybe they are getting suckers to buy it at the inflated prices for both, but I'd be shocked if so. They also carry other products from the same line, and they are all priced normally at $20.

Robots that build large-scale solar farms! My friend and I started working on this last year and ended up starting a company. We moved to the bay area and did YC last summer. We've been spending a lot of time on solar construction sites and did our first demo (part of the material handling system) on a site in March. Now we're working on a robotic factory + our team is up to 5 folks.

Awesome, think I saw your launch post and sounds like an awesome project. How has the experience been with permitting and regulatory issues (not technical)? Is there a valid strategy in building at the border of hard to build states and selling electricity back to them (e.g. building a massive facility in Nevada and selling the energy to CA when they inevitably suffer another crisis to the grid)?

Hey, thanks! We haven't had too much trouble with regulatory barriers. There are some other companies operating in the robotic construction space (e.g. Built Robotics) that have served as good examples for us on the regulatory front.

As for your idea, you do hear about hacks like that in this industry all the time. We're operating a little bit downstream of those decisions, working with construction companies after the site has already been chosen.

How hard is it to found a robotic HW startup? What are the roles of your team? (Mech eng, Embedded eng, etc)

Do you have a PhD? Would you advise getting one (in robotics)?

Would this be easier if you were building solar into the ground directly to use the earth as a heat sink? Or is it cheaper to have floating panels?

Is it more profitable to turn low cost labor into robots? (Honest question) How do you determine that?

So the robots that build panels or that take the panel and mount it into the ground?

Do you have a website already or somewhere else with more info?

We don't have a ton of info available publicly yet, our Launch HN thread [0] and jobs board [1] are the best places to learn more for now (or email me!).

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=30780455

[1] https://www.ycombinator.com/companies/charge-robotics/jobs

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