What's the most annoying part of your life/job?

post by Liron · 2016-10-23T03:37:55.440Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 127 comments

Hi, I'm an entrepreneur looking for a startup idea.

In my experience, the reason most startups fail is because they never actually solve anyone's problem. So I'm cheating and starting out by identifying a specific person with a specific problem.

So I'm asking you, what's the most annoying part of your life/job? Also, how much would you pay for a solution?


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2016-10-24T03:13:56.016Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't have this problem, but a lot of people I know pay astonishing amounts of money for day care. If you could figure out a way to build the Starbucks of day care, you could probably make billions of dollars. Similarly for elder care.

Replies from: XFrequentist, XFrequentist, Liron
comment by XFrequentist · 2016-10-24T14:25:27.110Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Also, schlep alert: this might be the densest regulatory thicket outside of healthcare, with huge variation in standards at (at least?) the state/province level. In my little environment of 13 million Ontarians, a recent arbitrary change of the teacher/child ratio allegedly drove a good many daycares out of business.

Also, parents are insane (source: am parent).

comment by XFrequentist · 2016-10-31T16:07:50.440Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The commentary below has focused on child care - a more salient pain point for our demographic, surely - but the "elder care" angle actually seems much more promising. Still labor-intensive, but fewer regulatory nightmares (?).

Note there are some very large regional players in this game, but there don't appear to be any Starbucks-size winners (so says my wife, who often works with the elderly).

comment by Liron · 2016-10-24T17:08:24.211Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nice one, thanks. Can you elaborate a bit on what you meant by "Starbucks of day/elder care"?

Replies from: Daniel_Burfoot
comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2016-10-24T17:24:38.873Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You develop a system for setting up and running a day care center, in the same way that Starbucks has a system for running coffee shops. That gives you economies of scale, because you only need to develop the system once, and then you can copy it across the country. What are the best toys? How do you physically set up the center? How do you manage the pickup transition (what do you do if a parent is chronically late to pickup?) Do you include a transportation (bus/van) service to get kids to the center?

Then you also develop a brand, which gives you a huge marketing advantage. New parents wonder where to send their kids to day care, and the LironCare brand is already at the top of their mind.

Having a brand also makes you more trustworthy, for game theory reasons, and there's nothing more important in day care than trust. Parents know that if there's a fiasco at any one LironCare center, that's going to be a huge black mark for the entire company, and they know you know that too, and so will work 100% to make sure there's no fiasco.

Replies from: username2, John_Maxwell_IV, Lumifer, Liron
comment by username2 · 2016-10-25T21:00:02.679Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Such things exist (e.g. Action Day Primary Plus where I live). They are among the more expensive options. One reason is that the brand allows them to price themselves higher, but it is also true that their costs are fundamentally higher. Their competition is home daycares that not only don't pay for added rent and employees, but take a tax write-off for using their home as their business location.

The reason daycare is expensive is because of state laws regulating daycares that mandate a certain number of kids (e.g. 6) per licensed adult. Divide a living wage for your area by that number and you'll realize there really isn't much overhead at all.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2016-10-25T05:06:11.082Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This sounds like a pretty good idea to me. One worry that comes to mind: Perhaps the reason there aren't already big childcare chains is that as a chain grows, the probability of some fiasco sinking the brand of the entire chain approaches 1. (But I can think of other possible reasons. For example, perhaps people who start childcare places don't have the desire for world domination needed to create a successful chain.)

I think the best way to research this idea would be to read lots of Yelp reviews of existing childcare places.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-10-24T19:22:58.970Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You are describing an entirely plain-vanilla franchise operation, aren't you?

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2016-10-24T20:56:50.836Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Starbucks and McDonalds are both franchisees but Starbucks has a high quality brand.

comment by Liron · 2016-10-24T17:39:43.334Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Gotcha, makes sense.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-10-24T20:13:52.813Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aging. I would pay $20,000 a year to stop aging, more if I could figure out a way to increase my income.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-10-24T18:49:44.813Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

what's the most annoying part of your life/job?

Pain. Moderate but constant pain from old sports injuries makes me: spend money on pain meds and counter irritants, work longer hours because the pain is distracting and reduces my productivity, limit physical activity and travel, deviate from an optimal exercise routine, fall into a black hole of grumpiness occasionally.

how much would you pay for a solution?

If by "solution" you mean an easy, one-time, guaranteed fix: $10,000

Replies from: Liron
comment by Liron · 2016-10-24T21:51:08.931Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, pain is a huge problem for people. Any advice on how to attack this problem?

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2016-10-25T14:10:34.745Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe you can break it down and focus on the areas that would appear to allow an effective, profitable, scalable intervention. A few thoughts:


-Clothing/brace that reduces the risk of injury?


-Objectively measuring pain is difficult. Here's an attempt.


-Mental health intervention

-Interesting article here on how VR helped a severe burn victim. Note to self: ketamine trips are insane.


-Counter irritants

-This device seems like an interesting idea, but has poor reviews.

Permanent solution

-Brain surgery? Probably isn't what you're interested in.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-10-23T21:03:16.822Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Needing to have a job to support myself. But I suspect that is a problem that entrepreneurs will have great difficulty solving.

Replies from: stoat, CurtisSerVaas, Liron
comment by stoat · 2016-10-24T01:51:04.133Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Same problem for me. And I agree, seems like it would take a lot of ingenuity to turn a solution to this problem into a viable business. Maybe products aiding rat-race opt-out strategies, coordination tech enabling 20 hour work weeks.... I don't really have any specific ideas.

But to answer the second question, I feel like I would pay a great deal for something like this. Hard to quantify since solutions offered might be partial, and a total solution might eliminate income, etc.; but just to illustrate (and ignoring things like extreme saving for early retirement, etc.) between the options A. and B. ---

  • A. $80,000/year at 40 hours a week
  • B. third party company L somehow enables me to earn $40,000/year at 20 hours a week in the same job with the same employer as above, but company L takes a 25% cut of my pay (so $10,000 a year to company L)

--- I'd gratefully choose option B. (which is just to give a sense of my intuitive preference, not saying I'd defend the merits of that choice necessarily).

Replies from: username2
comment by username2 · 2016-10-24T07:40:51.873Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You do know that part-time work is a normal and accepted thing?

Replies from: stoat
comment by stoat · 2016-10-24T12:22:28.025Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do know.

Replies from: Liron, username2
comment by Liron · 2016-10-24T17:14:31.011Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So your problem is that it's much harder for you to find part time work than full time work, at the same average hourly rate?

Replies from: CronoDAS, stoat
comment by CronoDAS · 2016-10-25T02:28:25.182Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hell yes this is a problem! Hours worked and hourly pay are very much correlated (it costs a lot to get someone to work that 80th or 120th hour in a week) and part time jobs often don't come with health benefits. Many workers have the opposite problem - the local retail store won't increase their hours and they never hire anyone full time ever because then they would have to provide health insurance.

Replies from: username2
comment by username2 · 2016-10-25T21:06:22.087Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, that's a very USA-specific problem. Maybe you should consider fixing your broken healthcare system?

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2016-10-25T22:26:00.449Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The part about healthcare is USA-specific, but the relationship between total hours and total pay is nonlinear at other places, too.

In Slovakia, the healthcare is set up so that everyone pays a fixed fraction of their income, and then everyone receives exactly the same healthcare regardless of how much they paid. So it shouldn't have any impact on hourly rate.

Yet, it is difficult to find a part-time work on the market. When I tried it, I had to work for 50% of my previous salary just to reduce the work to 4 days a week, and the employer still believed they were doing me a favor. (After a few weeks I decided that getting 50% of money for 80% of time is not a smart deal, so I quit.)

I believe the problem is signalling. Almost everyone is okay with working full-time; especially men. (Women can use having small kids as an excuse for a part-time job, but that also dramatically reduces their hourly rate, which is an important part of the pay gap.) If you are a man unwilling to work full-time, it makes you weird.

So it's not like the employer literally needs you there 5 days a week. It's simply a decision to not hire a weirdo, when there are non-weird candidates available. If you differ from the majority by not willing to work 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, who knows what else is weird about you? Why take the unnecessary risk? Also, well-paid employees are supposed pretend they love their job; and by asking for a part-time job you show too clearly that you actually care about something else more.

Thus, I sometimes had jobs where I was able to spend up to 50% of my working time just browsing websites from the company computer. But no comparably well paid option where I could officially work 4 days a week, or 6 hours a day, and then simply go home.

(I was also trying to get home office, so that instead of browsing the web I could do something useful. But the companies where the employees spend much time online are usually on some level aware of what is happening, so they don't allow home office. As long as everyone must stay in the building the whole day, the management can keep pretending that people are actually working.)

I believe that if for example 50% of people working in some profession would demand part-time work, this problem would mostly disappear. Then, wanting to work part-time would simply be normal. But that's a coordination problem, and I don't even know how many people would actually be interested in working part-time if that would be a legitimate option (with the same hourly rate).

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-10-26T11:18:12.198Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Having more workers (shorter hours for each worker) adds administrative costs. I have no idea whether employers are over-estimating those costs.

Replies from: entirelyuseless
comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-10-26T14:21:18.524Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am pretty sure this is not the main issue, nor is being "weird." But it is the fact that you want to work unusually few hours. That shows, as Viliam said, that you are less interested in working than on average. Employers would prefer not to have people unusually disinterested in working. The guy paying 50% of the money for 80% of the time was probably being reasonable, in terms of the expected value of a worker disinterested in working.

I agree that if everyone worked less, the supposed problem would go away. But that could only happen if everyone became less interested in working. I note that the average work week used to be much longer than 40 hours. So the fact that it has gone down somewhat, but not more, shows that people are not infinitely interested in working, but also not totally disinterested.

Tyler Cowen, talking about why the standard work week hasn't gone down to even less than 40 hours, says it is because people "like money, and like working," but that the reason they like working is that they don't like their personal lives that much. If he is right, then future improvements to personal life, as well as to the ability of less money to buy things, might end up leading to shorter work weeks. But it does not look like there is any short term solution that works well for people who are simply less interested in working than on average.

comment by stoat · 2016-10-24T19:20:36.734Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, that's absolutely an aspect of it.

I'm pretty agnostic about what form a solution to the original needing-to-have-a-job-to-support-myself problem might take. The hourly breakdown thing was just an attempt to ballpark some money amounts, with an emphasis on how high the value might potentially be for me. I suppose other categories of solution along the lines of tiny houses or solar panels or whatever that might ease transition to lower cost of living lifestyles would have very different prices or payment structures probably ending up a lot lower than the scenario I first outlined.

comment by username2 · 2016-10-24T17:04:14.924Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Then I don't really understand your post. Why pay a middleman 25% of your pay when you can just go to your boss and ask for part-time hours?

Replies from: stoat
comment by stoat · 2016-10-24T18:57:10.562Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not actually in option A. in real life, sorry if I gave that impression. It's just an attempt to illustrate how much I might be willing to pay, if hypothetically restricted to those two options. Not suggesting restriction to those two options is realistic or anything, nor do I have any mechanism in mind that might lead to those options.

comment by CurtisSerVaas · 2016-10-29T11:04:00.140Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One category of solutions to this problem is to lower your costs. Your main costs will probably be food and rent.

Some ideas on making food and rent cheaper:

Cheaper food.

  • Low carb Soylent.
  • //Why is food so expensive anyway?

Cheaper rent.

  • Convince likeminded people to move somewhere with cheap land (e.g. http://www.fortgalt.com/).
  • Nice vans that are built for people to live in.
  • Dating site for roommates to share a house.
Replies from: entirelyuseless
comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-10-29T23:25:28.341Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My food is already cheap enough, especially since I use the rule of buying stuff that has the highest calories per dollar.

Rent is not cheap given that I live in the most expensive area of the country and that I want to live alone. If I had a roommate, "having a roommate" would be my most annoying thing rather than needing a job.

comment by Viliam · 2016-10-26T09:37:33.059Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would appreciate a service that would provide long-term guidance to programmers. More like a guild than like a job agency.

I imagine something like this: You would pay a small yearly membership fee. In return you would get an access to a guild forum (where members provide information to each other), and a subscription to a digital newspaper (where the guild provides the most important information to the members). For a higher fee, you could get some personal counseling or training. The guild would provide information about the job market; e.g. which technologies are currently in demand, and how much salary get the people who know them. It would also provide information about new technologies; e.g. a short description and a link to more resources, with an expert opinion about why this is an important thing, and how is it connected with other technologies.

Essentially, the problem I am trying to solve here is that as long as I work in a company, it is easy to lose the sight of the larger picture. My company may use a technology X, while the rest of the world is moving towards Y, but I don't notice it because I spend most of my time reading about X and solving problems related to X; the nature of my work creates a huge selection bias. And the people I talk with most often, i.e. my colleagues, have a selection bias in exactly the same direction.

Of course, once in a while I will hear about Y; but I don't know whether it is really a trend, or just another hype. Even looking at the job market, which technologies are most required, provides a distorted picture: sometimes companies are looking for X because it's the new trend, and sometimes companies are looking for X because it's a crappy technology no one wants to use, so those job positions remain open forever.

I would also love to be able to get better background info about my possible future employers; to be blunt, how much "what they tell you at the job interview" differs from how things are actually done once you are there. (I realize this would be difficult, probably impossible. First, there is a risk of the bad employers suing you for libel. Second, people may have various incentives to provide false information; e.g. to astroturf for their own company, or to badmouth competition.) Or some insider info; for example if the company is working on a several large projects, you may want to get to the project A, but you should really avoid the project B.

Some of these things can be (at least partially) solved by other ways, such as specialized websites (e.g. stack exchange, including their workplace forum) or tech conferences or knowing the right people and keeping in touch with them. But it would be convenient to have everything in one package, also with some coaching. Someone you could ask to help you with your career, to identify some blind spots you may have, to give you a honest estimate of how much money you could make with your skills if you apply for the right job or learn the additional technology that is currently missing in your portfolio. In best case, to also give you some advice about passive investment and early retirement, work-life balance, etc.

comment by CronoDAS · 2016-10-26T13:46:37.439Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nice plus-size women's clothing is obnoxiously expensive, compared to standard sizes.

comment by MrMind · 2016-10-25T09:59:48.020Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A reading experience that is comparable to that offered by printed books.
E-book readers are clunky to configure and to upload to, have shitty impagination, are very slow.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-10-24T22:24:51.934Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have trouble falling asleep at normal times and have been blocking blue light at night sometimes by wearing blue-blocking glasses but also by having red lights in my home office. I would like a bright lamp whose light would automatically change based on the time of day. I recently spent $75 buying smart light bulbs whose color can be changed by my iPad but I have to change the color myself several times each day.

Replies from: michaelkeenan, ChristianKl
comment by michaelkeenan · 2016-10-26T00:06:07.911Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not what you were asking for, but: have you encountered Eliezer's list of sleep interventions? It's the last section of this author's note at HPMOR. There might be a different helpful intervention there.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2016-10-26T01:23:22.319Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, I will look.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-10-25T20:42:10.165Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Philipps Hue can be controlled internally with scenes and with IFTTT. It can also be controlled with Alexa (and Alexa can trigger scenes).

comment by TravellingTechie · 2016-10-24T19:56:36.292Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I travel a lot for work, usually one to two weeks in a city. The annoying part of my life is finding things to do, or people to meet that are understanding of that. For either dating or just hanging out and doing activities. Right now I use a mash up of meetup, dating sites and couchsurfing, but none of them are really satisfying.

Replies from: Liron
comment by Liron · 2016-10-24T21:29:59.568Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Airbnb is currently trying to focus on this niche with "City Hosts". Here's a TechCrunch article.

You may be able to try the feature here. It's in semi-public beta.

comment by MrMind · 2016-10-24T07:44:30.995Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is what annoys me the most currently in my life: perfectly fine things going to the trash.
I've read that comic series, and probably won't pick it up again. What do I do? I do not have the storage space to save them indefinitely, nor anybody is going to accept it (comics are at an all time low marketing value where I live). So I throw them away.
The same thing for books, old hdds, modems, keyboards, laptop, cd's, etc.
There's an enormous waste of material goods.

Replies from: Lumifer, PipFoweraker, Viliam
comment by Lumifer · 2016-10-24T15:21:52.805Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, but is there any value there? If you can't even give your old comics away, trashing them is not a "waste". Your 10-year-old modem might still be functioning, but if no one wants it, it has no value.

Replies from: Liron, MrMind
comment by Liron · 2016-10-24T17:13:25.939Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I think people today have a major anti-trashing bias. Manufacturing and distribution have gotten so good and cheap that we should all be anti-hoarders trashing lots of stuff, then ordering new stuff as needed.

Replies from: MrMind
comment by MrMind · 2016-10-25T09:36:27.773Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe I'm ill adjusted to the modern world, or maybe I'm one of the few who sees Moloch's footprints here, but the fact that a tree is cut, processed, printed on, read for ten minutes and thrown away where it will rot and emit chemical substances into the soil annoys me in a big way.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-10-25T14:48:15.867Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

it's consumption. Does it annoy you that a lot of money, time, and effort is spent on a big fancy dinner and then it just turns into poop? Which also emits chemical substances including the notorious dihydrogen monoxide...

Replies from: MrMind, username2
comment by MrMind · 2016-10-26T10:10:48.056Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

it's consumption

That doesn't make it right or even tolerable.

Does it annoy you that a lot of money, time, and effort is spent on a big fancy dinner and then it just turns into poop?

In that case, there's less waste because your body extract whatever calories it can with an added bonus of pleasure.
But yes!, it annoys me that calories are seen as a major social lubricant, as much as it does annoy me all the Mton of food wasted by grocery stores each day all around the world!

Replies from: CronoDAS, Lumifer
comment by CronoDAS · 2016-10-26T13:40:46.586Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Better that there be too much food than too little!

Replies from: MrMind
comment by MrMind · 2016-10-27T07:09:19.973Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure, but at the moment there isn't too much food, there is too much food here.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-10-26T14:53:22.016Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It sounds like you are annoyed with the world.

May I suggest it would be beneficial to yourself to change that attitude? The world is certainly not going to change and spending your life annoyed at the reality seems... wasteful.

Replies from: MrMind
comment by MrMind · 2016-10-27T07:08:30.122Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The world is certainly not going to change

We'll see about that...

comment by username2 · 2016-10-25T21:04:55.589Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which also emits chemical substances including the notorious dihydrogen monoxide...

You might need to take some fiber supplements...

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-10-26T14:32:17.205Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And that will reduce the dihydrogen monoxide emissions..? I think you're confused about what fiber does :-P

comment by MrMind · 2016-10-25T09:40:18.233Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're right, clearly there's no economical value. But that depends on the lack of demand, and markets can be inefficient in many ways.
It's not a clear, specific idea, but I'm 'sensing' a big inefficiency here.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-10-25T14:46:28.737Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is no need put "economic" in here. Defining "value" as "wanted", there is no value, full stop. "Lack of demand" in simpler terms means "nobody wants it" and in a such situation markets are irrelevant, efficient or not.

Replies from: MrMind
comment by MrMind · 2016-10-26T10:04:54.346Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, the only means I have of advertising my "leftovers" are say a local market and ebay. These are the markets that are accessible to me, but if there's someone who would want them but is in Japan and we could not communicate, then there's a want that cannot turn into demand (and so in value) because there's no market that connect us.
So I do not equate want and value, because in that case the Japanese collector and I do not have a mean to translate our demand/supply into an exchange.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-10-26T14:51:56.921Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

because there's no market that connect us

Ebay actually is such a market. I don't see why your Japanese collector could not access it.

comment by PipFoweraker · 2016-10-29T23:35:05.335Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Relatively small behavioural changes on your end may address some of the causes of these frustrations. It sounds like you might be overstocked with things of relatively low long-term utility, which is why it's hard to immediately pass them on. Have you scanned your spending patterns for hyperbolic discounting, for example?

Comics are a great example - if you have the willpower to hold off until you can but a TPB, they're cheaper, more economic, more durable, take up less storage space, and are much easier to pass on or pass around than individual comics. If you have friends who also enjoy comics, it's easier to pass around books of them than individual issues, and you can probably read a broader range. Alternately, if you find a way to read comics online or through an app, you can enjoy getting stories as they come out but through digital distribution instead of dead trees. If you're not collecting dead tree stories for long-term value, and don't re-read, then that may be a positive trade-off for you.

You're correct in that throwing things away is one of the least useful things you can do with them. Each low-utility spare object is probably not worth a huge effort in disposing of appropriately individually, so why trap yourself into that situation by virtue of your own lifestyle choices?

Do you have municipal recycling facilities or charities that you could donate things to?

For the entrepreneur - I'd pay some marginally low cost to have comics delivered from MrMind's house to mine once they're done with them :-)

comment by Viliam · 2016-10-28T13:58:43.823Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where I live, people sometimes organize "markets" where they bring stuff that is potentially useful but they have no use for it. Everyone brings whatever they want, and everyone takes whatever they want (first come, first served). Sometimes there is a specific topic, e.g. "clothes" or "stuff for kids", sometimes there is no topic.

In theory, I would expect that such place would attract e.g. all homeless people around, which could make it quite unpleasant for other participants. But in practice, this doesn't happen, probably because those activities are usually organized online or through personal lines, so it's mostly middle-class people coming there, and many of them bring more than they take. Usually people take home all the stuff they brought but nobody else wanted; but sometimes there is an explicit rule (e.g. with the clothes) that at the end, all the untaken stuff will be collected by the organizers and donated to some charity (so it will "trickle down" towards poorer people until someone takes it).

So, if this is important for you, I recommend first doing some research (online, asking your neighbors), and if you can't find, maybe you can organize it. Find a few people to help you, rent a room with some tables (is best case, some organization sympathetic to your goals would lend you the room for free), send invitations on facebook. Call it a "no-money market" or "neighbors' exchange" or whatever. Maybe the first time you organize it, make sure you have at least five people who don't know each other and want to get rid of some potentially useful stuff.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-10-28T14:58:43.498Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Specifically, there is this thing called freecycle.

comment by WhySpace_duplicate0.9261692129075527 · 2016-10-24T19:49:55.467Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here’s an entire class of approaches that I never hear about Silicon Valley types attempting. Perhaps that’s because there isn’t any money to be made there, or perhaps it’s because the problems aren’t as interesting or fun. Mostly though, I think it’s just salience of the problems. It’s the p<10^45 filter that Scott Alexander discusses in I can tolerate anything but the outgroup. But before I try and shed some light on the other side of the filter, let me describe why that category might be a bad place for a startup, and why you should do it anyway.

Broadly speaking, I would suggest you look at how the poor and working class spend their money, and try to find ways to make that radically cheaper or better. I suspect that entrepreneurs focusing on servicing the wealthy are a big reason why standard of living hasn't gone up anywhere near as fast as the economy has grown. (Don't get me wrong, things are better than they've ever been for most people, but there's more money to be made by innovating on what the rich want than by improving things for the poor, so innovation is disproportionately focused on people who already have a high standard of living. Even if innovation on yachts eventually trickles down to affordable motor boats for the middle class, that does next to nothing for someone struggling to make rent.)

If I make $10k a year, maybe $4,200 will go to rent if I have my own room at $350/month. Food is next, then miscellaneous expenses like ATM fees, credit card debt, gas money, clothing, etc. If I make a little more, I might buy drugs or alcohol to take the edge off. More still, and I could fix a clunker and have my own car, and maybe be able to get a job that I don't have a way to walk or get a ride to. (But if the car ever breaks down, I'd likely get fired for not showing up.) If I'm doing pretty well, maybe I'll get luxuries like internet, phone, and health insurance.

This Pareto chart perspective suggests solutions. Income is the biggest problem, followed by rent, then all the miscellaneous necessities, then the luxuries and things to help advance in the future. I’ll discuss income first.

The root cause of pretty much all the problems is that there isn't much demand for unskilled labor, so it's hard to get more than 20 hours a week. If you go this route, you could help the most people by sending the jobs overseas. Once we lift the rest of the world out of poverty, maybe things will start getting better in the US. To tide us over though, it would be nice to have some jobs which are local by necessity. The service industry and construction have filled that niche, but they may be automated in the near future.

Automating construction might be a net good though, since it should make housing cheaper. There’s no shortage of space, and land is far cheaper than the house you put on it, so I assume the cost of making a trailer is what's driving rent prices. If we could make much more durable trailers for the same price, or make ones that rot out just as quickly but are an order of magnitude cheaper, that should drive down rent prices.

Maybe it’s maintenance costs, though. I don't think I've ever rented a house without mold issues and plumbing leaks. Why not build homes out of antibacterial material? I've always wondered why it's so difficult to seal a basement properly. Maybe it isn't, but the house cracks as the foundation settles. Is this for a dumb reason, like that cement without rebar is a little cheaper than with? Maybe an effective business plan would be to be a one-stop-shop for landlords and construction/maintenance, in order to make sure things get done right instead of cheap. Offer to do all inspection and maintenance for a set price per year, and make the money back in long term contracts by doing things right. Or maybe Yelp reviews are just a poor measure of the durability of craftsmanship, and so are useless for landlords trying to compare construction companies. It would be useful to have a way to determine who’s overcharging and who is legitimately doing better work. Same for car repair.

Moving down the ladder, food and miscellaneous expenses seem difficult to make much cheaper. (Although poor nutrition is a legitimate issue, even if most things marketed as nutritious are essentially scams.) With luck, marijuana legalization will give people a less harmful and cheaper way of escaping from reality for a bit. It would be interesting to see whether states where it has been legalized have seen an increase or decrease in use of alcohol and harder drugs. Is pot a gateway drug or a safer alternative?

Bitcoin has helped lower transaction fees in the third world, but hasn't done much in the US yet. Cashing paychecks is expensive when there’s only 1 place in town to do it, and signing up for a bank account will just hit you with different fees. Both these will eat a couple percent of each paycheck. More credit unions would be a big deal, since this would give people a way to save or even invest. (Putting money in the bank is probably a dumb idea for most people.) A thought occurs to me here, though. Mine will deposit a check if I take a picture of it in their app, but that requires an expensive smartphone. Maybe it would be possible to make a paycheck-to-bitcoin service for people without a bank or phone? That would also give people the ability to buy and sell things online, if they have dialup or a phone. (Most places don’t have cable, but sometimes you can get free WiFi in things like hotel parking lots, if you live near a big enough town to have both cable and hotels.)

Moving on to non-essential items, we have cars and car repair. I can't picture Uber ever being a big thing for the same reason there aren't taxis anywhere but cities. Maybe self driving cars will change that, or maybe not. Maybe it'll help people in cities, but they already have public transit. It might let cities can their public transit programs though, which would make them less of a tax burden on everyone who pays for them but doesn't live in a city. I'd have to look up some figures to double check, but generally speaking cities get a disproportionately large amount of tax revenue pumped into them.

I suspect this may be a foreign concept for some, so let me make a hand-waving explanation. If the biggest cities in a state can get 51% of the vote, they can move most of the funding toward their home districts and suck the rest of the state dry. Politicians are almost always from the largest districts, so that means money is destined to move from the country to the cities. I think this is a big driver of Scott Alexander's red tribe/blue tribe dynamic. It's why country folk hate city folk so much, why they are so fiercely self-sufficient, and why they hate big government so much. They just never see any of the benefits themselves. (Yes I realize that city people joke about country folk being paranoid that the government is going to take their guns, or is out to get them. But, while it's not as much of a conspiracy as most seem to think, there really are strong economic forces keeping them down.) Perhaps solving these problems would be necessary to keep the world’s nuclear powers politically stable.

One solution is to increase local town’s abilities to be self-sufficient as the big industries move out, and as service jobs disappear. Another is to find ways of making transactions without exchanging money, or off the books, so that it can’t be taxed. I’m not sure if workarounds to minimum wage laws are a net good, but Craigslist and eBay are popular for that reason.

Perhaps inner city poverty really is more severe, but I suspect that country poverty is more neglected. It also seems more tractable to me, but I'm only familiar with the rural first world, and I suspect the bulk of the good one could do would be in the third world. However, a priori it seems like cities don't have any resources, while in the country there's no shortage of rocks for concrete or timber for construction. There are more of these sorts of natural resources than we could ever possibly use, so it seems like it should be a solvable problem to get poor people the necessities they need to live.

So, attacking these sorts problems may not be optimal for revenue maximization, if your aim is to earn to give or something. It might be neglected enough to still be a good investment, though, due to the p<10^45 filter. If not, it still might be a good way to fund the development of technologies that actually do help people, and actually do change the world. There’s almost zero money in developing tools to sell to people in the third world, but if the first world has similar problems that might be enough to pay for the development of solutions.

Disclaimer: I’m not positive about several of the things I suggest here. I’m mostly just trying to convert the bits of common knowledge that I ordinarily wouldn’t think to question into an intellectual format. I’m trying to phrase things in such a way that someone can still get the gist even without the personal experiences to instantly think of examples of exactly what I’m talking about. If there are studies showing I’m wrong in some of these areas, I’d be curious to know. If so, at least maybe the Red Tribe makes a little more sense to people.

Replies from: username2, ChristianKl, username2
comment by username2 · 2016-10-26T03:39:11.173Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Automating construction might be a net good though, since it should make housing cheaper. There’s no shortage of space, and land is far cheaper than the house you put on it, so I assume the cost of making a trailer is what's driving rent prices. If we could make much more durable trailers for the same price, or make ones that rot out just as quickly but are an order of magnitude cheaper, that should drive down rent prices.

This is what I have gathered:

Finding housing is not the hard problem. The hard problem is finding housing in a place you actually want to live. If you're willing to live anywhere in America, there are lots of dying cities with abandoned houses for you to squat in. But you're not going to get a job in those cities.

The reason housing is expensive in the places you want to live is because there are laws that restrict the creation of new housing (either directly or by making construction expensive through regulation). The reason those laws are in place are because of a mixture of

  • rent seeking on the part of existing homeowners who want to maintain the value of their houses

  • people who want the place they live to continue to be a nice place to live, and ability to afford expensive housing is the only means by which they are allowed to discriminate against people who will change that

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-10-24T21:31:05.587Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Creating jobs doesn't look to me like a task for a startup. Every startup that works automatically creates good jobs.

With luck, marijuana legalization will give people a less harmful and cheaper way of escaping from reality for a bit.

The evidence doesn't suggest that marijuana legalization increases consumption.

Mine will deposit a check if I take a picture of it in their app, but that requires an expensive smartphone.

You get an Android smartphone for 29.99$. When the iPhone was introduced it was expensive but as technology progresses yesterday's inventions get cheap and accessible to more people.

I'd have to look up some figures to double check, but generally speaking cities get a disproportionately large amount of tax revenue pumped into them.

Not in contrast to the tax revenue they raise. More government money get's transferred from cities to rural parts then the other way around.

However, a priori it seems like cities don't have any resources, while in the country there's no shortage of rocks for concrete or timber for construction

Shipping rocks around is cheap. Inventing new ways of doing things with rocks is more important for generating new jobs and it's generally done in cities where people with different ideas and skills congregate.

Replies from: WhySpace_duplicate0.9261692129075527
comment by WhySpace_duplicate0.9261692129075527 · 2016-10-25T23:25:40.074Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks. Your 1st 4 comments look spot on. I was skeptical of the 4th one until googling it:

More government money get's transferred from cities to rural parts then the other way around.

I was unsure whether the effect I claimed was as large as commonly believed, but I didn't expect it to be outright false. I've found a couple thing confirming your point, and a likely bias page complaining that per capita spending is less in rural areas. Even if that's true, it would just mean that rural areas collectively weren't earning enough to pay their "fair share" in taxes. Not exactly prime material for the red tribe narrative.

Shipping rocks around is cheap

As I understand it, the price of things like gravel goes up pretty linearly with the distance to the nearest quarry. But the broader point is valid for lighter materials that you need less of to make something. I'm not sure which category concrete falls into. Ceramics are fairly dependent on use. There's nothing wrong with shipping ceramics for space shuttle tiles or semiconductors around the world. That's a bigger issue for large products with higher tighter profit margins.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2016-10-26T19:54:11.488Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When Mao prepared his Great Leap forward he thought that it doesn't make sense to have the factories in the cities. He thought it would be much better to move them to the country-side.

That was one of the worst economic decisions in history, because a lot of those relocated factories stopped working. It turns out that having factories near other factories is useful. Millions starved.

These days we know how to run a steel mill or a car man well enough to have it in a rural area but in the beginning they had to be in cities.

comment by username2 · 2016-10-25T21:13:54.397Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Startup entrepreneur here.

To make money as a startup, you need large margins above the marginal cost. You have to cover not only the development costs, but also the many iterations of development, marketing, and branding it will take to find the winning combination. The established competition doesn't have this problem -- they have a product and brand, they've already paid off the development costs, so they are happy to charge at marginal cost + a small profit. You on the other hand need to charge a high premium for your service, at least while starting out.

Guess who is really sensitive about costs, and will always pick the cheaper option? Poor people. Poor people will not pay more money to try your product. And because your costs are higher (until you reach scale), you can't afford to charge less money.

It's a nice idea. It just doesn't work.

comment by michaelkeenan · 2016-10-26T00:10:27.247Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is probably not the biggest annoyance, but it's recurring and it affects a lot of people (especially the approximately 9% with hyperacusis): many buses and garbage trucks have horrible screeching brakes. This is bad in general, but especially bad at 7am before I want to be awake.

Presumably it can be solved with some kind of regular maintenance. I doubt municipalities are interested in spending that money, but if somehow the affected residents could coordinate to pay (maybe with some kind of crowdfunding), and someone would organize the whole thing, then something could be done.

comment by CronoDAS · 2016-10-25T02:10:47.573Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is a serious shortage of medical specialists that accept Medicaid, especially psychiatrists... it probably has something to do with Medicaid reimbursements being below market rates...

Replies from: ChristianKl, username2
comment by ChristianKl · 2016-10-25T20:43:48.721Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It also has to do with professional associations limiting supply by making it hard for new people to enter the profession. I would expect there's too much rent seeking for a startup to be effective at the issue.

comment by username2 · 2016-10-25T21:07:33.333Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a serious shortage of psychiatrists accepting insurance, full stop.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-10-26T11:42:23.397Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The economics of being a therapist.




A very short version is that insurance doesn't compensate adequately, and a therapist can't work 40 hours/week because patients typically aren't available during conventional working hours. Also, therapists are only paid when patients show up, so schedulng enough hours is even harder than it sounds.

Replies from: username2
comment by username2 · 2016-10-26T16:47:23.145Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

psychiatrist != psychologist

But interesting links, thank you.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-10-24T20:22:25.681Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dry skin. During the winter the skin on my feet gets painfully dry. I have tried lots of creams and while they help, they don't eliminate the problem. I would pay $400 a year to fix this issue.

Edit: I have learned that my dry skin is caused by Raynaud's syndrome and the solution is to not let my hands and feet get cold. Replies from: ChristianKl, None
comment by ChristianKl · 2016-10-25T20:30:44.445Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

According to the Mayo clinic swimming in clorinated water is a risk factor for dry skin. To me that suggest this might be an issue that's about the bacteria that live on your skin.

https://ubiome.com/ used to provide a skin kit but might not do it anymore (their website currently only shows the gut product).

It might be possible to develop a probiotics solution.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-10-26T11:32:09.297Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If chlorine is the problem, there are shower filters that take out a lot of the chlorine.


As for money, it's a complicated question, since ChristianKl contributed (I didn't know about chlorine as a possible problem) and you'd need to gamble by getting the filter.

If a fliter works and you feel like sending me $100/year, I won't turn it down.

Replies from: Brillyant, ChristianKl
comment by Brillyant · 2016-10-26T17:51:14.751Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If a fliter works and you feel like sending me $100/year, I won't turn it down.


comment by ChristianKl · 2016-10-26T18:21:59.177Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My point wasn't the direct effect of chlorine on the skin but that it kills the native bacteria on the skin and thus different bacteria might have it easier to populate the skin. Those might then create problems.

I'm not sure whether showering has similar effects than swimming in the first place because the average shower won't match swimming polls that are chlorinated to kill bacteria even without a shower filter.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-10-25T16:49:53.650Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I predict your toiletries are the problem. Next time it flares up, try showering without soap or hair products for one week - only use water. It may sound gross, but this is a needed experiment.

If I've correctly identified the problem and your feet feel better, I think it would be fair if you gave $200 a year (or a $2,000 lump sum) to the charity of my choosing, don't you?

Disclaimer: I do not receive any compensation or services from my recommended charity.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2016-10-25T18:57:05.559Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good idea but I've tried it already. I furthermore never use shampoo and just wash my hair with water. (I'm no poo.)

Replies from: niceguyanon
comment by niceguyanon · 2016-11-03T15:15:05.005Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You say you have tried no-soap as well, why did you stop?

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2016-11-03T21:35:58.212Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't help my dry skin and I thought using soap was healthier.

comment by gbear605 · 2016-10-23T18:21:16.764Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This /r/askreddit post that I just posted might be helpful as well, since you're presumably not just looking to solve rationalist's problems.

EDIT: Unfortunately, it didn't pick up at all. Oh well.

comment by alicedupont · 2018-04-05T13:13:58.721Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you are bad at grammar, you can also use https://www.scribbr.com/proofreading-editing/ ! They will make sure your academic documents are without mistakes :)

comment by rmoehn · 2016-10-30T06:44:25.337Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aren't people on LessWrong quite good at solving their own problems? So if you're looking for low-hanging fruit (which there should be many out there), here is the wrong place. (At least this is my expectation. I'm not following LW too closely.) See here for someone who knows how to find good (and profitable) problems to solve: https://philipmorganconsulting.com/resources/

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2016-10-31T01:57:08.305Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aren't people on LessWrong quite good at solving their own problems?

Nah, not necessarily. Merely interested in better ways of doing so. (Among other things.)

comment by [deleted] · 2016-11-06T15:49:59.521Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

An annoying thing (not major, but annoying) for me is that I am usually unable to make my kid interested in drawing point-to-point (like this ). He just doesn't find the images worth the trouble. If there was a way to create templates off pictures that he would "get", I would probably pay 50 cents per unprinted image (and I think some people would pay more.)

Replies from: jake-heiser
comment by Jake Heiser (jake-heiser) · 2020-11-05T01:57:47.367Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

notify me when he becomes an inevitably prominent folk artist, bless him

comment by Djini_Hendrix · 2016-11-05T04:52:15.914Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A problem I might have when making music is not knowing how it sounds to other people. Naturally you want all the intended details in your music to be noticed, but someone you just linked a song to might have listened to it on a phone, or using sub par headphones, or maybe on good headphones or speakers but you fine tuned your song to sound good on your headphones. Every audio equipment will have certain differences, it might have different EQ, might have more or less bass than you expected, etc. So, maybe not easily done yet, but getting to experience or at least know from good sources how your music sounds in a myriad of audio equipment would be nice. So maybe a site where people will listen to your music for a small price, where they list the audio equipment they possess with their characteristics and give you a review of how it sounded to them, I think would be helpful to producers to get a better notion of how their music is being perceived. I'm not sure I would pay for that myself though, but there's probably people who would.

comment by Miller · 2016-11-01T04:58:00.953Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Reviews online that are trustworthy. I've been travelling a lot and hotel reviews require some intelligence to determine trust. e.g. someone who says 'the lady at the front desk was rude to me, and they had bed bugs'.. well that basically means they felt insulted by the person at the front desk and the bed bug thing is probably just the worst thing they can imagine saying.

comment by Miller · 2016-11-01T04:48:02.674Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I want a better way to eliminate any of the hindrances to having productive relationships with people I would respect if I could find them.

comment by CurtisSerVaas · 2016-10-29T09:55:45.802Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mental energy. I would like to be able to maximize the amount of "deep work" that I can do.

Roughly, I should be willing to pay quite a lot for this. If I value my deep work time at $X/hr and my non-deep-work hours at $Y/hr and I can increase the amount of "deep work" hours I work in a week by A, then I should break even at paying $A*(X-Y).

Replies from: CurtisSerVaas, CurtisSerVaas
comment by CurtisSerVaas · 2016-10-29T10:36:35.397Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Potential Solution 2: Better beds and pillows.

Helix custom beds seem pretty good.

Pillows: However, there don't seem to be good solutions for custom pillows. I'm imagining something like those curved memory foam pillows (which I need to buy/try), where the dimensions/curves are customized to your head.

Waterbeds: I've not tried a waterbed, but it seems like they relieve pressure points better than conventional mattresses. I want a waterbed that's easier to set up, less likely to break, and less likely to be a catastrophic disaster if it does break.

I've bought a buckwheat pillow, and a Mediflow pillow, and am still searching for a better pillow.

comment by CurtisSerVaas · 2016-10-29T10:34:10.618Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Potential Solution 1: Fancy biochemistry and lab-tests.

I got excited when I first heard about a company called Gene Solve, that has the following pitch:

"By optimizing a patient's body chemistry - vitamins, enzymes, proteins, prehormones, and hormones - GeneSolve patients experience boosts in their energy levels and mental sharpness throughout the day, recover faster from injuries or job-related stress and lose fat through natural metabolic improvements.

GeneSolve achieves these benefits through extensive analysis of DNA, blood panels and family and medical history. The resulting data, when combined with GeneSolve's proprietary expert systems, allow GeneSolve's doctors to make extremely precise adjustments to each patient's unique body chemistry."

For some reason, the company got dissolved I think. But, I think that doing something like this could be very interesting.

I guess there's also WellnessFx. I just don't get the feeling that their service really knows what to do with the lab results once they get them.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-10-27T04:07:15.413Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Job hunting

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-10-26T11:46:54.494Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was just listeing to an NPR piece about the problem of workplace noise, with some focus on noisy co-workers. For example, working near someone with a frequent loud cough is a miserable thing.

I don't know if there's a munchkin solution, but possibly being a noise consultant for businesses is a possible niche. Perhaps just selling white noise machines in bulk to businesses would work.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-10-26T14:56:17.153Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The munchkin solution is noise-cancelling headphones.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-10-26T21:39:34.501Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I assume that if you want to talk with someone, ambient white noise is better.

Replies from: TheOtherDave, Lumifer
comment by TheOtherDave · 2016-10-27T00:53:30.799Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This comment taken out of context kind of delighted me.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-10-27T14:39:17.314Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It'a decent definition of small talk :-)

Uh-uh... yeah... No way! Oh, and then... How could she?! Yep... Hmm... I think so, too... Ummm...

comment by Lumifer · 2016-10-27T14:37:11.161Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

At the level needed to drown out "frequent loud cough" you will need headphones just to escape that white noise X-/

comment by Viliam · 2016-10-26T08:33:27.873Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I heard that some employers ask the job candidates for their GitHub accounts, so they can check the quality of code these people write in their free time. I have no idea how frequent is this; I really hope it doesn't become an industry standard, because I believe in separation between job and free time. But if it does become a standard, here is a business opportunity...

Create GitHub accounts in other people's names, and provide high-quality patches to open-source software from there.

The idea is that you would find someone who is a good programmer and loves contributing to open-source software, but wouldn't mind making some money by pretending that some of those contributions were actually done by someone else. So they could either use someone else's account to submit a few patches from there, or they could have an account with some generic name (i.e. not their own name, but something like "kingoftheinternet2000") they don't mind lending to someone during their interview.

comment by CronoDAS · 2016-10-25T02:22:24.047Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a service I can call that will go through a room filled knee-deep with "stuff" and "put it away" on shelves and things so that most objects are accessible? Maid services just clean up dirt, they won't declutter or bring in need shelves to organize a DVD collection that is overflowing the tiny bookshelf that it's on, and most "junk removal" services seem like they would just throw everything out.

Replies from: ChristianKl, Liron
comment by ChristianKl · 2016-10-25T20:44:55.183Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would expect that most maid services do this. You could just hand the person who cleans additional money to do the job.

comment by Liron · 2016-10-25T05:12:15.510Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, apparently this is a thing! Look up professional organizers.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-10-24T20:17:58.045Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Grammar. I'm horrible at grammar and would love software that could reliably fix all of my grammatical mistakes. I would pay $400 a year for such software.

Replies from: Liron
comment by Liron · 2016-10-24T21:23:33.056Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, what do you think of these services:

  1. Grammarly - Claims to be a much smarter grammar checker than MS Word

  2. Wordy - Paid human proofreading with a few-hours turnaround time

Maybe there's a market for super realtime proofreading, like a Gmail extension where the moment you start typing, there's someone proofreading?

Replies from: Liron, James_Miller
comment by Liron · 2016-10-24T21:27:02.509Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(3) eangel for emails

comment by James_Miller · 2016-10-24T21:43:35.487Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I haven't had much luck with real people proofreading with the exception of my wife who as a classics professor is extremely competent at grammar. (I don't like having to constantly bug her for help.) I've just installed the free Grammarly extension and will see how it works but unless both "who" and "whom" can work in the first sentence it's far from what I need.

I wonder if there is a market for super real-time proofreading and editing where you can type in sentence fragments and the proofreader will fill in what's needed?

Replies from: Liron
comment by Liron · 2016-10-24T21:49:08.990Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you elaborate about which writings you'd personally use this service for, how your ideal solution would work, and what you'd pay for it?

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2016-10-24T22:18:33.918Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For some types of writing what I need is a proofreading service whose quality I can rely on so that if I use it I will with very high probability not look bad because of my grammatical mistakes. For other writing (such as most emails and comments like this) I could tolerate a much higher chance of the service not catching everything.

For the high-quality work, I could wait a day or so for the results and would be willing to pay, say, $20 per 500 words. For the other work I would want very quick turnaround and would be willing to pay much less say $2 per 500 words.

Replies from: Liron
comment by Liron · 2016-10-24T22:23:46.149Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you send me an email? I'm happy to proofread some stuff for you for free in order to better understand your needs. (I'm actually good at that.)


comment by pico · 2016-10-23T19:46:00.592Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Like most college students, I am annoyed that I am poor. I would like a way to sell the spare computing power of my laptop over the Internet to people who would pay for it, like deep learning folks. I would be willing to share 50% of the profits with anyone who can figure out how to do this.

Replies from: Liron, ChristianKl, Lumifer
comment by Liron · 2016-10-23T20:25:01.433Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Haha the problem is that even if you have a pretty souped up gaming desktop, its computing power is probably worth less than the power costs, so you'd basically be selling just your room's power.

Maybe you live in a dorm and you don't have to pay for that power, but even then, we're talking about pennies.

The problem of "college students are annoyingly poor" is a big niche. What do you know about converting your time to money through your computer?

Replies from: pico
comment by pico · 2016-10-24T04:31:30.019Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good point, though there should be value on the other end at least. For example if 100 people on a network each need more than their laptop's computing power 1% of the time, in the ideal case, the average person would get a 100 times speed up for that 1% of the time without providing a credit card. So they could train an image classifier in 6 minutes instead of 10 hours.

Also I should admit that I'm only poor in the relative sense - I need rice, beans, and a few dozen square feet, and I have those things covered.

Hmm it probably is more lucrative to convert my time to money, though I think it's better to invest my time in increasing my future earnings, which would probably be way better than what I could make as a part-time-working college student.

Actually, my biggest gripe about my life right now is that college is inefficient in so many ways (500 person lectures, required classes that are mostly wastes of time, absurd tuition), yet I don't know how I could get the things I like about it (flexible schedule, great peers, some extremely good teachers, excuse to be a student) somewhere else.

Replies from: Liron, username2
comment by Liron · 2016-10-24T17:33:43.793Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

These 100 strangers who need bursts of computation can pay $5 to spin up a powerful Amazon EC2 instance for a couple hours. That seems like a good deal for the value they're getting, and very hard to undercut. So I see no startup opportunity.

Re college...

If "flexible schedule, great peers, extremely good teachers, excuse to be a student" is really what you want, I can easily get you all that for only $10k/year, a fraction of what you're probably paying now. But the truth is, college's main value-add is the expectation of a better career.

These days, college is doing a pretty terrible job of helping people get any careers at all. I know 4 separate people who got their college degree, couldn't get any jobs, trained a few months in software engineering through bootcamps or online, then got 6-figure software engineering jobs.

Khan Academy and various coding bootcamps are already becoming a viable alternative to college, and I don't see an obvious niche for a new startup.

Replies from: Lumifer, Pimgd
comment by Lumifer · 2016-10-24T19:33:53.269Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Re college, you shouldn't compare to "regular education" graduates people who went to college AND a bootcamp, you should compare them to those who did NOT go to college at all and instead only took courses online or went to a bootcamp.

I don't have any data, but my feeling is that the latter will consist of two starkly different categories: those at the right end of the IQ tail who'll succeed regardless; and those who decided to be cheap and are fucked because "you only have a high school diploma??" is going to be the standard reaction at their prospective employees.

comment by Pimgd · 2016-10-25T10:08:25.237Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

RE amazon instances: I recall that amazon EC2 had a "free tier" where they allowed you several hundred hours of CPU time (albeit not very powerful). So perhaps for half the strangers, it would cost them $0. Even less opportunity for startup.

comment by username2 · 2016-10-24T07:44:12.934Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is pretty much no use cases that benefit from high latency clusters of computers. We're talking hundreds or thousands of times less efficient. Nice idea in theory, doesn't hold up in practice.

Replies from: pico
comment by pico · 2016-10-24T09:36:17.931Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Neural networks seem like they would benefit from high-latency clusters. If you divide the nodes up into 100 clusters during training, and you have ten layers, it might take each cluster 0.001s to process a single sample. So the processing time per cluster is maybe 100-1000 times less than the total latency, which is acceptable if you have 10,000,000 samples and can allow some weight updates to be a bit out of order. Also, if you just want the forward pass of the network, that's the ideal case, since there are no state updates.

In general, long computations tend to be either stateless or have slowly changing state relative to the latency, so parallelism can work.

Replies from: username2
comment by username2 · 2016-10-24T17:24:33.437Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorry, I was using "high-latency clusters" as a term to refer to heterogeneous at-home consumer hardware networked over WANs, as the term is sometimes meant in this field. The problem isn't always latency (although for some work loads it is), but rather efficiency. Consumer hardware is simply not energy efficient for most categories of scientific work. Your typical, average computer plugged into such a system is not going to have a top of the line GTX 1080 or Titan X card with lots of RAM. At best it will be a gaming system optimized for a different use case, and probably trades off energy efficiency at peak usage in favor of lowering idle power draw. It almost certainly doesn't have the right hardware for the particular use case. SETI@Home for example is an ideal use case for high latency clusters, and by some metrics is one of the most powerful 'supercomputers' in existence. However it has also been estimated that the entire network could be replaced by a single rack of FPGAs processing in real-time at the source. SETI@Home and related projects work because it is "free" computation. But as soon as you start charging for the use of your computer equipment, it stops making any kind of economic sense.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2016-10-24T17:50:53.936Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

SETI@Home for example is an ideal use case for high latency clusters, and by some metrics is one of the most powerful 'supercomputers' in existence. However it has also been estimated that the entire network could be replaced by a single rack of FPGAs processing in real-time at the source.

I would be interested in a cite on that estimate.

Replies from: username2
comment by username2 · 2016-10-24T17:53:22.450Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Personal conversation with SETI.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-10-24T21:01:12.962Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The electricity you pay for the computing is more expensive than the produced value. That's why CPU bitcoin mining with spare consumer hardware isn't profitable.

Additionally there's trust involved. Nobody has a good reason to trust you to do the calculations exactly the way they desire.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-10-24T15:04:33.367Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How much do you think your spare computing power is worth?

comment by ernestdezoe · 2016-10-23T09:58:02.830Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think one area where the private sector is strangely inactive is weather forecasting , it has so many potential clients ranging from farmers to vacationers ...actual models are useless beyond a 15-day timeframe

Replies from: CellBioGuy, ChristianKl, NancyLebovitz
comment by CellBioGuy · 2016-10-23T16:24:53.788Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think there's a business model there at all. Once anyone sells a forecast to anyone it's OUT THERE and hard to sell again, and this is a HARD problem, basically the definition of chaos, severely limited by supercomputer time and raw data from dedicated satellites and thousands if not millions of instruments around the world and subject to exponentially diminishing returns. Weather forecasts basically perfectly fit the definition of a public good.

Now, if you were talking establishing a new network of weather sensors and selling that DATA to institutions...

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-10-24T21:15:38.671Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are multiple private companies that do weather forecasts. Airlines generally do buy forecasts to know how much fuel to put on the airplanes.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-10-23T17:56:27.279Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


I think there's a market for curated forecasts-- forecasts that specialize in giving the information a particular organization needs.

Even individuals might pay to get a weather forcast for a travel route.