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I wonder if eventually in the future it would be possible to tap into the hot spots, and use the heat as a source of geothermal energy. This would also have the advantage of gradually cooling down the volcano and preventing another eruption.

Ironically the plot of a season 2 episode of Stargate Atlantis.

That's coincidental, but how is it ironic?

The small civilization living on top of the caldera drew energy from the supervolcano to power a defensive shield around the clock.

The irony is that this caused pressure to build under the caldera and an eruption to wipe out life on the surface.


I should watch more scifi...

Isn't this used in Iceland?

Yep, and many other countries including the USA. Using geothermal energy to "tap into hot spots" is called "geothermal energy."

Very true. One example I know of is the Casa Diablo thermal power generating station built on the Long Valley caldera on the east side of the Sierra near Mammoth Lakes. Its been there since the mid 80s.

Actually they're already developing that region for geothermal. Just not inside the park: http://www.montanagreenpower.com/other/geothermal.php

There are actually much better spots in the US though. Some relatively close to Yellowstone: http://d32ogoqmya1dw8.cloudfront.net/images/research_educati...


Thankfully, there are no strings invoking Cthulhu :)

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lol! You must be referring to the ICFP contest 2015. http://icfpcontest.org/

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I was actually inspired by the concept that lovecraftian horrors can be accessed and interacted with programmatically, prominently featured in Stross's Atrocity Archives: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Atrocity_Archives

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Having tried soylent in powder form before, I came to the conclusion that on the 3D scales of convenience, taste, and price, it just wasn't far enough in the desirable region (low price, high convenience, and good taste) that I was ready to buy any more of it.

With Soylent 2.0, that seems to have changed: it's more convenient (no more mixing needed) EDIT: but higher-priced. I'm looking forward to trying it again (not until it's generally available, though). Hopefully the taste has improved, as well.

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> Hopefully the taste has improved

Yeah, to me the powder is absolutely wretched tasting on its own without adding stuff. I've heard people say they like it plain, but I gag just thinking about it.

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I didn't have any negative feelings toward the taste of soylent 1.x. However, I did realize just how much I enjoy the taste of real, good food.

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How do you figure this is lower priced? Seems like a massive price increase to me.

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Wasn't it $3+ per meal before?

EDIT: You're right, you need 1 and 2/3 of a bottle to drink the equivalent of a meal... sneaky sneaky, Soylent!

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The powder was $9.11 per 2000 calories on subscription. The drinks are $12.10 per 2000 calories.

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That's...significantly more expensive than I thought it would be per day.

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Some quick comparisons:

2000 calories in Big Macs: $17.87 at a US McDonalds

2000 calories in SlimFast meal replacement shakes: $13.13 at Wal-Mart

2000 calories in SlimFast powder: $8.94 at Wal-Mart

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> 2000 calories in Big Macs: $17.87 at a US McDonalds

How did you get that?

According to McDonald's own nutritional information [1], you'd consume 1,070 calories per medium meal. Via:

Big Mac: 530 calories

Medium Fries: 340 calories

Medium Drink: 200 Calories

In order for your maths to work each meal has to cost $8.94. The most expensive medium big mac meal I can find is $8.03 in DC, or $16 for your 2K calories.

[0] http://www.fastfoodmenuprices.com/mcdonalds-prices/

[1] http://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en/food/full_menu/full_menu_expl...

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I divided 2000 calories by the calories in a Big Mac and multiplied by the average price of a Big Mac in the US in July 2015. This calculation does not depend on the cost of foods that aren't Big Macs.

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Or – for a more traditional comparison – cooking.

I live in a house of 8 where we order food communally, last month my food bill was £93.35 ($145.50), so $4.85/day for three (subjectively very healthy) meals.

Not your typical setup, but still perhaps of interest.

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I just looked at their $ per kCal that they displayed under your currently selected order option and compared it to the same number for the powder. I do dislike swapping around serving sizes and stuff though since it's mostly arbitrary.

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This is another one of those articles that ignores many of the positive developments in progress, unfortunately.

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Did you read the whole thing? It took a while, but the last couple paragraphs were spent discussing ways things are getting better.

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I did. That's my criticism of the article: only a small percentage of the article is spent discussing how we can, and are, improving things. Even then, there's an implied mistrust of those improvements: at one point, renewable energy is put in quotes as though it's not really renewable.

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I guess that's legitimate.

Let's turn this into a positive. I would love to hear more about how things are improving. Do you have more examples?

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Sure! Here are a couple things:

* Solar is winning. By 2030, solar electricity might cost as lost as $0.02 - $0.04 per kilowatt hour: several times less expensive than other kinds of electricity. Of course, there will be other costs, but it will still be the cheapest source of electricity for a lot of regions. Source: http://rameznaam.com/2015/04/14/energy-storage-about-to-get-...

* Well, the what happens when the sun goes down and the wind dies down? You need storage. Good news on that front, too: electric vehicle batteries are getting cheaper much faster than expected: http://arstechnica.com/science/2015/07/electric-vehicle-batt...

* The author mentioned about the big animal die-off because wilderness is shrinking. In the US, wilderness is in fact increasing; we don't need as much land for farming as we used to. Source: http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/journal/issue-5/the-ret...

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So I took a look at those. I can't argue with the Ars article on batteries, although I wonder if it's really worth using Li-Ion batteries for homes when lead-acid is super simple, and I think cheap, (I'm not sure if the acid's recyclable, though).

The first linked article talks about storage, not generation - is it the correct link? If we can get solar into the $0.02 - $0.04 range we'll have largely won the battle.

On shrinking wilderness, I'm not sure about some of the methodology in that paper. For land use in agriculture it seems to have tailored the timescale studied to support the theory that we're using less land for agriculture, but even the selective charts show we're almost at peak corn acreage and headed up-and-to-the-right. The argument about saying cubic yards of wood production per hectare of forest is going up was missing a timescale, and charting wood used per dollar of GDP doesn't really tell us anything about how much wood is actually being used, it just makes a chart that looks like its heading in the right direction. I think the US may be seeing less land under agriculture, but I think a lot more food is being imported from Central & South America, and Asia, areas that were not discussed in relation to area under agriculture. I didn't look up the reputation of thebreakthrough.org, but the paper read somewhat like a "we're doing fine - stop worrying" study influenced by parties that don't want rapid change.

There have been some major wins on the wilderness vs. non-wilderness front, though. Many waterways in North America is probably cleaner than it was 30 years ago, (think of the Great Lakes, and around NYC. I'm not sure about the Mississippi, Columbia, or Colorado river systems). Acid rain on the east coast & central Canada has largely been dealt with, and some species are even coming back to places they've been gone from for years, (I caught a salmon on vacation in BC last year for the first time in 20 years).

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Yeah, the first linked article mentions the 2 - 4 cent range in one of the last paragraphs.

As far as the batteries go, there's a startup developing saltwater batteries: safe, cheap, and reliable. They're aiming to compete with lead-acid batteries, and are aiming precisely for residential applications (as well as larger-scale ones): http://www.aquionenergy.com/

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Found it. Apparently I'm blind. That sounds great, hopefully those predictions actually happen.

I've heard of Saltwater batteries before, hopefully they live up to the promise. My grandmother lived off-grid for several years with a wind/solar/battery/diesel-for-emergencies/wood-for-heating/propane-for-cooking system. It's amazing how easy it is to generate your own electricity, the up-front cost is just a little expensive.

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Hmm... is there any way to short coastal real estate that is less than 10 feet above sea level?

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What if it's a tie?

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For gas stations, the profit from gas is ~1%, but the profit from snacks etc. is much higher. So gas stations could easily add electric charging stations and continue making profit. Source: worked at Sheetz during high school and college, sat through their corporate presentations from time to time.

Now, it is true that the electric charging stations have to compete with an additional category: people charging at home, so there will be gas station closings. The first franchise to add electric chargers should still be profitable, though.

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Hi Sam and Kevin,

The potential market for automated micro-farming (backyard farming) is huge, but it will take a long time to to reach its potential. My question is, at what point would AutoMicroFarm (http://automicrofarm.com/) become attractive to investors (both YC and others)? Would 10% weekly growth for a year be key, or something else?

Two and a half years ago, we AutoMicroFarm founders had an interview with you, and you decided not to invest, saying it was difficult to see how AutoMicroFarm would generate the kind of growth startup investors are looking for. However, YC invests with infinite time horizon and is not afraid of risky-looking companies (http://blog.samaltman.com/new-rfs-breakthrough-technologies).

So what would YC or other investors like to see before investing?

Thanks!

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10% weekly growth for a year will certainly get investors' attention.

However, for a company like this, I think the most important consideration is how you plan to build a monopoly. There are lots of companies proposing to build automated food growing units for families with very similar plans; what stops this from being a race to zero-margin pricing? Why will a customer buy your product in 5 years and not one of the many clones?

People refer to this in lots of different ways--Warren Buffet as the relatively benign sounding "moat" and Peter Thiel directly calls it a "monopoly". Whatever you want to call it, how do you plan to do it?

When will you have the first unit in customers' back yards?

How are you going to price it? If it pays for itself in 5 to 6 years, have you thought about going out with a leasing program? I think people almost never do enough on the financial innovation side.

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Thanks for the reply, Sam.

To build a monopoly, the plan is to make the product open-source. On the data side, having data about all the different environmental conditions and how they affect plants and fish will also help build a monopoly.

The first unit will go in a customer's back yard in a few months. In my new-construction neighborhood of ~400 houses, I plan to find 10-30 customers; I've started talking and have several interested.

The 5 to 6 year payback period is conservative: it assuming the need to build a greenhouse to house the AutoMicroFarm for year-round production. At scale and without needing a greenhouse, the payback period drops down to 3-4 months (when compared to similar organic food).

Edit: as far as a lease program, the USDA has a family farm lending program with a low rate that we could tap into on behalf of customers.

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Could you say more about how making the product open-source will give you a monopoly? Will the data be open-source too?

If the product is open-source, how will monetization work?

If you can get 30 houses in your neighborhood as happy customers, that would be a great start. You should give them super customer service--ie, go around to their units and make sure everything is working perfectly. The word-of-mouth recommendations from your first customers is so important.

What do the unit economics look like? How much are you charging for the current units, how much do people need to spend a year to operate them, and how much do they save on groceries?

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My thinking is that the hardware and software will be open source, but not the data. Also, the OS license would allow modifications for the customer, but not for resale. Since the biggest part of the cost will be the "dumb" hardware (the containers and structure make up ~70% of the cost), it should be straightforward to sell the product at a profit.

Another point of monopoly would be to keep up a pace of innovation that is faster than the competitors.

I am offering the first customers a sale price of just the material costs. Also, they would get 24/7 support, and the CEO's (i.e. my) cell phone number.

Currently, similar products cost $1500+. My costs are $1000 (in quantities of one), and that price will come down 10-fold once I can manufacture 10k units per year.

At the current costs ($1500), the payback time is 1-2 years. Once purchased, the cost to operate is negligible (tens of dollars yearly). So they save $1-2k in groceries annually, depending on the length of the growing season.

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I think you will have a hard time claiming that the project is open source except the data which you keep and monetize.

I strongly suggest considering other models. Why do you want to "open-source" this at all? Why not just make it hardware and software you sell, and recommendations about how to grow based off of your large data set, but very hackable?

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Sure, I have no qualms with dropping the open-source label, and opening up the data set. (However, trying to patent the hardware/software might be hard to do, given how much prior art is out there).

Do you have any other suggestions on how to build a moat/monopoly?

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I'd be tempted to try a Nespresso/Gillette model, where the initial product is cheap and the "refills" are relatively expensive subscriptions, but very high quality and easy to use.

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That is a distinct possibility with plant "inserts"[0] for the vegetable beds, one of the planned innovations I've had in the back of my mind. AutoMicroFarm could sell just the empty media inserts for a reasonable price, and also offer pre-planted, ready-to-fruit plants with inserts for a much higher price.

That way, those who are willing to wait weeks/months for their plants to grow from seeds/seedlings can save money, and those who want it now can pay the extra cost.

[0] Something like this, but deeper and made of biodegradable material with mycelium (mushroom roots) growing throughout the material: http://www.koifood.net/contents/media/l_floating_plant_islan...

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Speaking solely as one potential customer:

I like this idea.

As for the "moat", I think the product with the best automation will win at least a defensible niche within the market. I would encourage you to start upmarket and not worry about price so much right now. Get really good at making the thing run itself; you can cut the price later. (But, I'm someone with a lot more money than time, so that colors my view here.)

(Yes, I'm already on your mailing list.)

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Thanks for the encouragement, Scott. Any idea where to find more customers like you, who don't worry about the price as they have more money than time? ;)

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I haven't polled my friends on this, but Silicon Valley (where I live) is full of such people. And a lot of us have yards, the area being resolutely suburban, and of course the weather is great (assuming this thing doesn't need too much water).

I don't think a lot of people here want to spend time gardening, but lots of us love fresh vegetables. That's an opportunity, it seems to me.

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Sounds like a fantastic opportunity!

One of the benefits of aquaponics is how little water it uses (after the initial fill-up).

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ph0rque, in addition to all the good ideas here, think about a solution to the problem that all gardens and farms have - that what you want is not always at the right harvesting time. Ie: if I want to eat a carrot, I want it now, not in 2 months. How can you solve that problem with your system? Bigger volume? Exchange with neighbours with their own AMF? etc... Also I'm definatly with @sama on the Nespresso model. Don't even bother selling seeds because some will not even germinate. Sell the pods (biodegradable of course) that "plug" into a prepared receptacle.

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Thanks for the insight, jonnycowboy. I'll think about the problem you pose. It can be somewhat mitigated by staggered planting (in the case of carrots) and continuously-fruit-bearing plants (e.g. some tomatoes), but there must be a better, more elegant solution.

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Thinking about it more, I could introduce the subscription model by knowing how far along each insert is in the harvest cycle, and offer to ship new inserts right as the existing insert harvest is winding down.

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I wonder... you could advertise something like this as a health product. Let's say you have Celiac and you need to eat gluten free. Using this AutoMicroFarm, you can grow exactly what your customer needs (some lettuce strains may be hard on the stomach, some much better etc), so using your combined data from all units, customers, you can make sure that a certain AutoMicroFarm unit is completely fine tuned to that customers health needs.

Celiac is a silly example, but hopefully you know what I mean! I'd definitely be looking into this because it's realistic, and could help people a lot. Another wee example is that a lot of mass-produced foods are probably genetically modified and have odd chemicals which of course a lot of the population have adverse reactions to -- using an AutoMicroFarm unit, you can make sure that the food is completely organic, no chemicals, you have a record of everything that's gone on so you know you're safe to eat it.

Though, I'm probably talking crap!

p.s. I'm into hydroponics, etc. Done a few things like this unit with Tessel and stuff so I'm excited to see where you end up.

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Thanks, I'll definitely keep that in mind! I have a friend who eats only organic for health reasons and to avoid ingesting the odd chemicals you mention, and he's definitely interested in an AutoMicroFarm.

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There may be overlap with the market for food spectrometers, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/903107259/scio-your-six... . You are providing food supply chain transparency at the point of production rather than consumption. This is related to software security efforts to build reproducible binaries from open source, to guarantee production integrity.

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I wonder why they don't compare it to Russia? :)

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https://mapfight.appspot.com/ru-vs-africa/russia-africa-size...

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It's been done.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1Zm6HzN5YVI

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Africa doesn't dwarf Russia necessarily, depending on the definition, but it's size is still almost twice as big as Russias.

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Population might be a more cogent variable. E.g. Alaskans brag that if Texas doesn't curb its arrogance, Alaska will split in two and then Texas will be the THIRD largest state.

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I've seen several articles that tout the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy as a solution for various issues.

Is there a self-guided CBT app out there that one could try out?

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The article points to http://www.cbtforinsomnia.com but it's not an app. I'm likely to give it to my partner to try.

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One that is recommended is "mood gym" - an Australian site.

https://moodgym.anu.edu.au/welcome

A book that is recommended is "Mind Over Mood".

There's probably space in the market for more and better apps and websites.

The English body that assesses efficacy and cost-effectiveness (NICE) have reviews of computer guided CBT here: http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ta97

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Am at the SLEEP conference in Seattle. Two exhibitors in this space: http://www.clevelandclinicwellness.com/Programs/Pages/Sleep.... http://sleepio.com

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