A cycle courier for legal documents that gets to read the documents.
He crewed on a sub (initially im sure it said commanded) yet doesn't get on with computers yet even though he is homeless he knows about the square product, and also having never worked in design knows about Dieter Rams, someone with almost no designers I've ever met have ever heard of.
Just a weird story over all.
This should be no more surprising than running across a CEO that doesn't get on with computers (if he actually commanded), or an electrician or car mechanic that doesn't get on with computers (if he was an enlisted crew member).
There are lots of jobs on Navy ships that have absolutely nothing to do with computers, and some of the things you might assume are run by computers are controlled with very old (and coincidentally reliable and/or fixable with common tools) technology like switches, relays, reach rods, and magamps. (Or at least this was the case on many ships that were in use during the Gulf war.)
Quite cultured and knowledgeable people can go off the rails a bit.
It's like this came out of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
The most successful homeless guys that were reasonably cognizant had a story. (Interesting note: the few female homeless people I encountered all had apparent mental problems.) Sometimes it was a story about their amazing life that took a turn for the worse through no fault of their own, sometimes it was about some tragedy that had recently befallen them or a family member, sometimes it was an "emergency" they needed help with, sometimes it was just a quick tale to build rapport...
This sounds a bit harsh but they are all con men. That's how you survive on the streets. I would not be surprised if literally every tale that I heard was completely fabricated.
That's not to say they are all liars or you shouldn't help the homeless, but the smart ones adapt to their situation quite well.
Also, being homeless and jobless (I have no experience with the earlier, and I don't recommend it) is great to improve ones intellect, because, the person has no stake in anything, and can come to unbiased conclusions on subject matters. Also he/she can dive in and learn anything, just out of curiosity.
> Being homeless myself I can say most homeless people I have met do it on choice.
I had been homeless, both by choice, and without choice. Its good to know that all you need fits into an army sidebag. Being homeless, travel around, playing revolutionary, is a necessary step in youth. imho. The next step after squatting was owning a trailer and tractor. I'm living in a flat now, close to water, and own a boat. ouch I'm getting old lol
We had several squatted houses, and an area called Weidedamm where about 300 people lived in trailers and garden huts. This changed 1995 when the green party became a member of our state government. We currently have 3 much smaller trailer parks in Bremen. One for the ecologic people, one for the punks and alcoholics, and one for trucks and electronic music. We don't have any political squatter scene anymore, no houses, so those who can not afford a trailer, are left on the street or to state help.
So most homeless people don't have a real choice between alcohol, drugs, and state help in our days. This destroys independence, and therefore the freedom you/we remember.
Not so much in the UK. Usually psychiatric illness or drug dependency coupled with a catastrophic loss of income. Perhaps the causes are different in different places. I understand your idea of freedom, but I'm sure you can stay free in a small room somewhere!
I think there is more of a safety net here than in US, but there are holes in it still.
I've encountered this more than a few times when I lived in Berkeley. I think its a technique thats somewhat endemic to the bay area homeless population.
But it does sound like there's a demand from the upper-class for urban guide-service through Tenderloin.
I find this a bit unlikely. Then again, it might explain why he doesn't have a job as a bike messenger any more.
He said he stopped being a bike messenger because the fax machine and policy changes around legal documents requiring original signatures
About his username, it is absurd that you cannot admit to going to a good school without being pretentious. The classic example is how Harvard students say where they go to school, "in Boston". Hiding information about your successes because they might impress people is much more pretentious than making a username "MIT_Hacker".
Think before you attack people.
One thing I didn't noticed until I moved out is that Tenderloin really teaches you to be humble.
I would recommend anyone considering to start the next (insert buzzword here) startup to spend a month living in Tenderloin. You'll learn a lot about real-life problems, not just 1st world problems.
But this part baffles me: he 'wants to be his own man', so he won't work for somebody else. Instead, he doesn't work at all and accepts money from strangers... and somehow that is better and more prideful than working for somebody else?
Not winners in the sense of being successful or in control of one's destiny, of course, but in the sense of being slave to no one and fooled by no ideology. They're real-life Diogenes.
On the other hand, the man's comment about "wanting to be his own man" got me thinking about doing startups for the sake of not working at a large company. While it's probably a nice touch, I think I'm getting more cautious about letting that be a determining factor.
In regards to your second point, I worried that I saw that same aspect in myself :)
He was spouting off stuff like "Stupid Americans!" and saying he was not afraid to get sued and that he would just return to his home country. Needless to say, I was pretty terrified. This dude was scary, and my friend (SF local) warned me about The Tenderloin.
Anyhow, I think it's great that you met such a positive and interesting character in one of the most unlikely places.
I directly saw 2 fatal shootings (two right outside the house at night, while I was sitting by the window cleaning a handgun and on IRC at 2am; called the cops who came by the next day; drug dealers -- saw a bunch of fights, dead people carried out of SROs, etc too), and got assaulted once (guy tried to grab my bag, it remained attached to me thanks to wire in the strap, some violence ensued, I ran off).
Not a place I'd suggest living if you have a choice. It may be gentrifying now, but the SROs are effectively permanent, so there's going to be a population of crazy and/or drug addicted people forever, and the criminals who cater to and prey on them.
During the day time I'd be more concerned about stepping in human excrement or rivers of piss. In fact, walking to the BART tonight from the Tenderloin I dodged 3 piles of human shit and near-missed another.
The Tenderloin and Twitterloin are blights on this fair city, and its toxic presence is oppressively pervasive if you spend any amount of time downtown (or even further out, like Hayes Valley and the Castro). It's a startling example of complete public policy failure at all levels of government.
and found that my hand-pump was made for a different valve
than on my tire.
The black plastic/rubber ones that look like car tire valves are Schrader valves.
It is a great lesson to remember when designing software. Not everyone has the base knowledge we assume.
What if homeless people signed up for square? They will now be able to accept Credit Cards. As people don't carry cash anymore, the common thing people say is "I don't carry cash." because they don't, but then he whips out a device with square and says "No problem, I accept Credit Cards too!"
Though, getting an Android or iOS device plus be near Wifi or pay for cell service and have a bank account. Sounds a bit tough to set it all up for a homeless person.
Great story, btw. Sounds like you met a nice guy. Most of the Homeless I run into in SF are pretty nuts.
I'd love the day when there are beggars using Square. It would mean that our designs are simple enough for a homeless person to use!
I suggest spending a LOT more time outside talking to strangers if you think you need to "simplify" things for homeless people. Talking to and helping a homeless person does not make for a blog post in my life, and many other people's lives.
Imagine replacing "homeless" for any other adjective. "It would mean our designs are simple enough an asian to use!" "It would mean our designs are simple enough an MIT student could use it!"
I'm fairly certain a not despreciable amount of homeless people are totally capable of using complex designs.
Not that we should aim to making designs complex, but we shouldn't use "simple enough for the homeless" as a motto either.
Are you seriously proclaiming to the world in general that you've absolutely no idea about the socio-economic impacts that a cashless society will have, and their potential for exclusion as well as inclusion within a social sphere?
Are you seriously so naive in reality that you cannot picture some very important men (you know, the kind who invite the Zuckerberg's of this world to behind-the-doors meetings, politely suggest some features that should be included, and then ensure that the resultant IPO is very much in his favour, markets be damned) looking at Square, and its ilk, and imagining a world where our "homeless hero" cannot be a part of society?
This is not to mention that "the homeless", are by their very definition, already excluded from a large part of society, and that the American model has seen a dramatic increase in social exclusion in the last thirty years, which trend-wise, seems to lead to the logical assumption that it will probably increase in the short term. (How short-term might depend on several issues, however that's a different thread)
Oh, to be young and such a waif! The blind optimism of a useful idiot!
“Technique has taken over the whole of civilization. Death, procreation, birth all submit to technical efficiency and systemization.”
Nice story otherwise.
Why blame a person's ignorance on the person, rather than their upbringing? Ignorance has to be resolved somehow.
This is the most interesting part of the story.
Why do smart people come to weird conclusions such as "I have the wrong pump" rather than "This pump has a simple tweak to work with both popular valve types"?
And then "This was not obvious to me, and thus it is an obscure piece of knowledge, so anyone who does know it must have some weird experience" when really anyone who's used a bike pump knows this, especially if they've read the box.
Replace "homeless" with black, gay or similar words and see how you feel about announcing they are human and everything.
Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see...
It really makes one think about so many things. Who would have thought that a homeless guy would know about Square and even after that, you would be in a conversation with him about interface design.
If that guy has a good understanding of design by chance, I really think that he can actually do well in the industry :) [Just a thought]
It also got me thinking about stereotypes and the way I classify people as I walk down the street.
Maybe the real lesson is that good design comes from experience more than theory?
How is his being homeless related to his knowledge of bikes?
Revoke that handle, STAT!
Great story though. And kudos to dropping a c-note on him. Giving a lot to them rarely is far better than $2 here and there, which will likely just go to beer or a small meal. $100 they can actually do something important with.
In terms of how much money I gave him, I decided that $100 was probably the minimum amount that could actually help him pursue the idea and as a college intern, I'm not sure I could have spared much more!
Y Combinator gave a chance to people who would never have a chance at seed investors or Angle investors. It appeared that YC found few very valuable gems though. Surprised ? You shouldn't because seed investors and Angel investors have strong bias to what a high potential candidate or project would look like.
I assume we have a similar strong bias regarding homeless, close to consider them as hopeless. Though I believe that there are gems in this group of people as well, that need only to be given a little push and help to shine out.
And as for Y Combinator, people would consider it all normal and obvious afterward if someone does it for them too.
My impression is that it was a kind of surprise for the OP to discover that he had a bias regarding such kind of homeless guy.
BTW a bike shop looks like a good long term investment considering the energy crisis. In Greece, a business that is very flourishing in this strong crisis period is selling wool ! In Italy they raised gasoline tax so that a litter cost 2€ (because of debt)! We'll all reach that point soon or later. Beside, real lean startup founders ride bikes !
Do you really believe this? I think most, if not all, YC founders are capable of raising a seed round and making connections in the Valley with or without YC. YC just expedites this process.
I didn't mean he was naive for what he did or for wanting the guy to succeed, even thinking he could. I simply thought he was naive to believe all of the stories the guy told about his great past.
Lots of homeless people tell fantasy stories about what they once were. A huge % of it is BS, though often based in enough reality to be believable.
The bulk of the homeless population is there in large part due to mental health issues. He can very well be genuine but completely off his rocker simultaneously.
I beleive it was the late, great, Greg Giraldo who said that beer and drugs are exactly what I would spend my money on so who am I to judge.