Fascinating Case Study: Pay-What-You-Want Cafes

Pay-what-you-want cafes are a super fascinating case study at the intersection of many issues related to modern urbanism. Implementing this mission started with food security and grew to touch many other issues from racial sensitivity to consumer behaviors and our deep ethical dissonance around living differently than we believe we should.

This story includes themes ranging from utopian socialism to the discordant relationship between capitalism and philanthropy.

I highly, highly recommend listening!

 

2019 Gear List: Shiftpod Alternatives

Last year, I took way too much stuff. This year, I am taking far less stuff and focusing on a smaller and more efficient footprint. Home v3 has about a quarter the footprint of Home v2. It’s not just about bringing less stuff, it’s about being more effective. Aluminet stretched over a small light-proof shelter combined with an evaporative cooler should provide the best tent experience I’ve had at the Burn. It should be darker, cooler, and quieter than my past burns. Here’s how I’m planning to do it;

Home Sweet Home v3.1

I have decided to go with this blue knockoff Shiftpod 2 for my tent this year. It’s a bit roomier than the shiftpod mini or its knockoffs. That means I can bring a queen-size mattress and an evaporative air conditioner. This is still much smaller than my ridiculously enormous tent from last year.

Blue Shiftpod

My original plan for this year was to use this knockoff Shiftpod mini which goes for just $50 on Amazon, but with my decision to bring a queen-size mattress and swamp cooler after all, the shiftpod mini (knockoff) didn’t make sense for this year. This would still be a great decision for someone bringing less stuff. But for just a hundred dollars more, you can get 60% more floor space with the blue one above.

Knockoff Shiftpod Mini

I will cover the tent with a cheap sheet of 12′ x 18′ 80% Aluminet which should stretch tightly over the whole tent, except the entrance side which faces north. This will block almost all light from reaching the tent’s walls. This aluminet covering idea would also work well with a real Shiftpod 2 . A smaller piece of aluminet would work perfectly on a Shiftpod mini (or knockoff). Aluminet is something I just learned about last year, and it seems like a magic bullet for issues relating to light and heat in the mornings on playa.Aluminet

 

Tent Orientation

Last year, I intended to orient north. I set up my enormous dome-tent facing north, but there were some logistical changes in the camp after I had set up. This put another structure essentially right in front of my entrance. Luckily I had a back door too, but this meant I ended up facing south and getting direct light essentially all day. This meant a lot of unnecessary light. This year, I will make a special effort to have my front door facing north, and to have every other side covered completely in aluminet to prevent as much heat and light from reaching the tent as possible. I will test this Aluminet + tent design during my beta burn this summer and update this post with my results.

Folding Camp Table

I am also replacing my 4′ x 8′ table with this much smaller folding table. I will again bring two folding camp chairs which I found for just $4/each at Walmart several years ago. There is just no reason to have such a large table, and this one will fit perfectly inside my new tent alongside the mattress and A/C unit.

Intex Self-Inflating Queen-Size Mattress

I am again bringing an Intex self-inflating queen-size mattress. This is very comfortable for single or double occupancy depending on the night. It works perfectly with the power bank and microgrid. I had considered bringing a folding cot instead, but I would rather luxuriate a little and get as much rest as possible.

Realistic Air Conditioning

Air conditioning is a contentious subject. I am a member of the Facebook group, “Burning Man Generators and Electrical Systems.” You would not believe how many people think they can run a large home air conditioner off a single battery all week or a single solar panel. It’s hilarious.

A far better solution is evaporative cooling. This can be done with almost zero electricity, and at the extremely low humidity of the Black Rock Desert, there is a potential for up to 40 degree temperature drop inside the Shiftpod. There are a few pitfalls which many people fall into but are easily avoided. The biggest thing is that there must be constant airflow both into the space and out of the space.

Evaporative cooling works by adding humidity to dry air which causes it to get much cooler. That air is pumped into a space, cooling the surfaces. Then the now-warm air in the space must be pumped outside while new cool air is pumped in. I have seen many failed evaporative cooling implementations which simply humidify a space without exchanging the air. This does nothing to cool the space, it just makes the space hot and sweaty.

I plan to adapt the many burner evaporative cooling designs. I will integrate the cooler into the single tote which holds all my stuff for the burn. When I arrive and empty the tote, it will function as the body of an evaporative cooler. A section of ducting will draw dry air in through a vent in the tent and pump it into the space. Then an exhaust vent at the top of the tent will allow the old air to escape.

Once this is done, I will update the post and do one just about this.

Power

I love this power bank. It is cheap, powerful, and reliable. At under $200, it has essentially the same functionality of the Yeti 400 Lithium which costs three times as much. It provides all that power through USB and a 120 volt outlet. This is an excellent option for a small camping set up or essentially anyone who isn’t trying to refrigerate anything. This power bank allows me to run my evaporative air conditioner, charge my phone over a hundred times, and power the lights inside and outside my tent for over a week!

I found this great set of USB powered lights which worked out great last year. They will be the main light source for inside the tent.

This is really overkill since my camp has its own microgrid, but this will make a great backup. Also, our microgrid is under constant development and growth, and sometimes it may not be completely in place during placement. Having this just eliminates any electric uncertainty.

Food

I bought all this food for last year, but didn’t end up eating any of it because my camp provides food. I included the list here because it may be helpful for people who want suggestions! I will probably bring one of two in case I get hungry or miss a meal.

Breakfast:

Lunch/ Dinner:

Bike v2.1

My bike from last year worked out really well. I am going to use the same design this year with some minor tweaks. I got rid of all batteries and switched everything to run off of USB instead!

Roadmaster 26: This is the same model bike I have taken to each burn. They have proven very versatile and reliable. And they go back to Walmart after!

USB Bike Lights: Two strings of these lights run to a dust-proof power bank in the basket. This is able to run the lights for weeks on a single charge, and it recharges via built in solar panel. This technically makes the bike a microgrid in its own right!

Shelf: I added this shelf to the back of the roadmaster. It allows a milk crate to rest comfortable on the back. This makes it a lot easier to bring beer and snacks around with me on the playa.

Front Basket: I added this basket to the front of the bike. While the back basket is great for food and drinks, the front is great for thinks like the power bank, the lock, spare tubes, tools, etc. You don’t want to find yourself in need of these things and not have them handy!

Other Accessories: I found a kit for under $20 at Walmart which contained a lock, pump, bicycle bottle, headlamp, tail light, and a bell. These kinds of kits are usually available and well worth the $20.

Don’t Forget…

One last thing which I suggest is Mack’s silicone earplugs. These are one of the best products I’ve ever spent a few dollars on. I can’t overstate the importance of some kind of sound protection for sleep. There is just no way you are going to sleep at Burning Man without earplugs, and these are absolutely the best option. I have tried many solutions to this problem and I can’t recommend these enough.

Mack's Earplugs

How To Build a Microgrid

A microgrid is a relatively small power grid which takes electricity from a source, stores it for use, and distributes it to devices. This can range from the size of a town to a neighborhood to a single home. The principles are the same.

Based on this definition, chances are you already have one or more microgrids in your life. In a way, your car is like a microgrid. It generates power, stores it, and then distributes it to devices like cell phones which plug into it. RVs and tiny homes area also good examples of microgrids.

Step One: Sizing Your Grid

The first step is to determine how much power your grid needs to deliver. A single home will typically draw an average of approximately 1,000 watts. But then again. An air conditioner can easily draw at least that much. If you’re not sure how much power you need, check out this helpful article on estimating power requirements before you continue.

Step Two: Picking Power Sources

There are two broad categories of power sources for microgrids; renewable and non-renewable. Renewable is typically going to be more expensive initially and much cheaper in the long-run. Non-renewable is often cheaper initially but more expensive in the long run.

The most important thing to consider is how much power you need. The math gets a little complex, but a good rule of thumb is that you should never plan to use more than half of your capacity. If you calculate that you need 1,000 watts, then you need your grid to be capable of producing at least double to triple that amount. There are two big factors at play here. Power ratings are typically given in terms of the root mean square of the actual draw. This is a sort of logarithmic average which means the actual requirements can jump momentarily well outside the official number.

The other related issue is inductive loads. Things like fans, air conditioners, refrigerators, and stereo equipment will often draw 300-400% of their rated wattage while they are spinning their moving parts up to speed. That 100 watt mini fridge will likely draw 300-400 watts just for a moment while it’s starting up. The effect of this is that when you first flip the switch and turn your grid on, it can experience much higher demand than you may have estimated. If this amount is too high, the breakers will simply trip  and the grid will shut back off. Any momentary interruption in power can lead to everything on your grid drawing very high current when the power is restored, multiplying your troubles. So make sure to plan for more capacity than you think you will need.

Non-Renewable Sources Of Electricity

The classic example of a nonrenewable power source for a microgrid is the generator. Getting a generator is typically a good place to start, as renewable sources can often face periods where little to no power will be generated. In those moments, a generator can help fill the power gap.

 

Probably the most popular generator in the microgrid community is the Honda eu2200i. This generator is very quiet and very reliable. It can put out 2200 watts as the name suggests. They can also be daisy chained to add more power, though 2200 watts is more than enough power for most homes or RVs, and likely enough for a small community of campers at an event like Burning Man.

 

This little guy is very popular as a white-label product. Many stores like Harbor Freight and Home Depot will sell these under different brand names. It puts out 1,000 watts. I found one of these for just $50 with a two year warranty and I’ve gotten years of use out of it. I primarily use this to power my DJ gear when I do parade floats or off-grid events. This would be perfect for many smaller microgrids such as a single RV/camper at an event like Burning Man. In a pinch, it could easily serve as a perfect emergency backup option for a medium sized set up.

Renewable Sources Of Electricity

The cheapest and most popular example of a renewable source of electricity today is solar photovoltaic or “solar panels.” Before the current trade war, and presumably afterwards, solar power prices were about $1/watt. This is much cheaper than the cost of a generator, considering ongoing fuel prices. Today, you can typically buy solar panels for about $1.50/watt. (Thanks, Mr President for inexpertly jacking up prices for no reason!) But this price will likely go back down once more competent leadership is in place in Washington. Even with this current price jump, solar is still the cheapest source of electricity today, though sunlight can not always be counted on.

Here is an example of the type of deal that can be found today on solar panels. Amazon is selling these 100 watt solar panels for about $136 each. This is much cheaper electricity than going the generator route. If you wanted to go 100% solar instead of the 2200 watt generator I linked to above, you would need to spend $2997.44 on panels. This is equivalent to the cost of using that generator for just a few weeks. It’s a no brainer. BUT, you will likely need to make enough power to compensate for dark periods or augment your solar power with a backup generator in case of cloudy days.

Wind power is another excellent option. Wind gets mixed reviews but my understanding is that it can be very reliable and very long-lasting. For approximately the same price as solar, you can get the same amount of power. Each of these turbines produce 1200 watts. A pair of them produces more power than the popular generators linked to above.

Keep in mind solar power depends on ideal conditions with the sunlight and wind power depends on ideal conditions with the wind. These are both excellent power sources but there will always be darkness and the wind doesn’t blow all the time. The key is proper storage and having a backup generator just in case.

Step Three: Storing Power

There are two main approaches to the topic of power storage in the context of microgrids; lead-acid and lithium.

Lead acid batteries often seem like a simpler solution. Simply hook them together and hook up a charger and inverter and you’ve got 120 volts! The problem is that in practice, these batteries can take days to recharge and you can only safely use up to half of their capacity (assuming they are deep cycle and not standard lead acid) before they start to take damage and fail. In the best case scenario, these batteries will only get a few hundred charge cycles before they fail. My advice is not to use lead acid batteries.

Lithium batteries charge very quickly and hold lots of power. These are the batteries in your cell phone and laptop. There are tons of great, simple products which solve the power storage problem using lithium batteries. On the small scale, there are USB battery packs. On the larger scale there are Yetis and the many cheap duplicates available online. These will all recharge from many sources and provide power as needed. This is the best way to store power in a microgrid in my opinion.

The Yeti GoalZero 3000 Lithium is a perfect example. This simple box will recharge from solar panels, generators, a standard plug-in, a car, anything. And it stores 3,000 watts for your microgrid. Then you can plug your devices, RV, or even your house into it. These boxes also come in smaller wattages, all the way down to 400 watts which is what I use for my personal microgrid at burning man.

There are many cheap duplicate products for the Yeto GoalZero line of lithium batteries. This is the one I use. It stores 370 watts which it can accept from solar panels, generators, a car, a plug-in, anything. Then it provides that power through USB and a 120 volt outlet. This is an excellent option for a small camping set up or essentially anyone who isn’t trying to refrigerate anything. In my case, this battery pack allows me to charge my phone over a hundred times, inflate my mattress, and run lights in my tent as well as christmas lights around my tent while camping for over a week at burning man.

If you visit the amazon page for this battery pack, you will see there are hundreds of very similar products, all of which will cheaply solve the storage problem using lithium batteries which recharge quickly and provide lots of power when you need it.

Example 1

 I’m going to a music festival and I just need to recharge my phone and laptop a couple times during the trip.

Easy! Get a USB solar panel and a USB battery pack. This will provide you with more than enough electricity for your needs! I have linked to the ones I have. You could probably go with smaller options than these suggestions depending on your needs.

Example 2

I have a yurt (or a shiftpod) and simply want to run an air conditioner for a while to cool it down at night, while also recharging my phone and laptop. I’m tired of running it off of a generator. It takes too much gas and its not sustainable!

A small air conditioner like this one will be more than enough to cool a space this size. For cooling a space with less than 300 square feet, a 5,000-10,000 BTU air conditioner will be sufficient. The rule is that your air conditioner will need about 1/10 the BTUs in watts while running, and double that amount when starting up. The air conditioner I linked to above is rated at 8,000 BTUs, so it needs 800 watts while running and 1600 while starting up.

This is a perfect job for a Yeti GoalZero 1000. This battery pack will allow the generator to start up and run for about an hour on a single charge. This should be plenty of time to cool down a space this size depending on the materials the shelter is made of. Alternatively, the Yeti GoalZero 3000 will run the air conditioner for almost four hours on a single charge.

You can use solar to recharge your battery pack during the day. Nine solar panels will do the trick. Assuming you use the ones I recommended, you can connect them to the Yeti in sets of three, using these adapters.

Example 3

I need to provide power to a medium-sized community of 150 people at burning man. Each person is limited to ten watts of usage. (They can only use LED lights or charge small devices.) We have a generator which we usually use, but we want to use some solar to take a bite out of our fuel costs.

Solar is the way to go! 150 people limited to ten watts each is just 1500 watts. I would pick up a Yeti GoalZero 1000 for $1300 (or under $1,000 at Costco). This can put out 1500 continuous watts, and double that during surges. This should more than meet your needs, but you could go with a larger battery like a Yeti GoalZero 3000 if you want to be extra comfortable. The larger one has the added benefit of wifi monitoring, so you can monitor power consumption and watts available from the comfort of your tent.

To charge this lithium battery pack, you can use 9 100w solar panels at $136 each for a total cost of $1224.  This is likely plenty of power to refill the battery, but you will still have your generator to fill any gap due to darkness or over-use. If you wanted to increase the amount of power your community can use, simply build two or three of these solar microgrids.

You can plug your existing distribution system into this battery pack and you’ll be up and running.

This would have a total cost of about $2,224 and eliminate most future fuel costs. If you end up needing to use the generator to meet demand, simply add a few more panels next time. This estimate does not include hardware related to mounting the panels and connections between the panels and the Yeti.

This solution likely breaks even in the first year.

School Workflow: Triple Full-Time

For the last year, I have been a student who consistently takes at least a double to triple full-time workload. I am not superman, but I do have a 4.0 GPA. I also spend a great deal of my time traveling and having vacations and adventures.

All of this has been an intensely complex effort, but several simple tools have made all the difference.

Three tools in particular have dramatically improved my ability to accomplish this enormous undertaking.

Rate My Professor

I hear a lot of criticism of this platform, and a lot of it is probably true, but it has never steered me wrong. I have a simple rule; I will not take any class where the professor has less than a 4/5 rating.

As we will see, this makes all the difference.

LMS

These days, every college is going to require their teachers to use a learning management system. Any decent professor is going to be able to understand and properly implement their LMS. Canvas has been great, though it’s not perfect. Probably most any modern LMS will work for my system.

An LMS is very helpful but not necessarily critical to managing a large workload.

Organizing The Data

I start by making a bookmarks folder for the semester. Then I put a link in it for each class. The links go to the grades section of each class. This way, I will skip pointless details and go straight to a list of any incomplete assignments whenever I check on a class.

Time Management

Now that it is easy to see all the tasks which I will need to complete, it’s time to put them all in one place. I start by creating an appointment in my calendar every monday morning called “Check for Coursework.”

A good rule of thumb is to start with the first week, and see how long it takes to go through all the classes and find assignments. I usually spend about an hour or two checking every class for any assignments and then entering everything. Once you know how long that will take you, create a recurring calendar event each week for this purpose.

Each class will also require some fairly consistent amount of time to complete all its coursework. I usually assume about two hours per class per week for completing assignments.

It is absolutely critical that time is set aside for each class. Problems and distractions are going to come up. If I ever need to move my coursework time to later in the week, I know how long it’s going to take and whether that’s going to be possible because I have created a block of time for each class.  Here’s what an average week this summer looks like;

In grey is all my classes and the time set aside for completing assignments.

In blue, my personal plans and events I’m going to.

In yellow, tasks I need to complete which are not at a specific time.

In red, I have time set aside for sleep. This is another important thing to remember. Getting enough sleep every night is critical to performing on this level. You’re no good to yourself or anybody else if you’re half asleep.

Triage

Maybe the most important step in my process is creating a fresh to-do list every week for school. I love Trello for this purpose, a great recommendation from Pieter Levels. It’s a great, free tool that lets you make to-do lists. It also features integration with IFTTT which will be super handy in a few minutes.

It’s Monday morning so this is what my Trello board looks like…

 

The first column is titled with the date on which the week starts. The second column contains anything I need to finish today. The third column contains any school tasks which I have not completed yet, but which need to be done this week.

In the past, I would go through all my classes and create entries in Trello for anything I need to finish this week. Then, I will use that time I blocked off in my calendar to work on each class until everything is done.

BUT THERE’S A MAGICAL SHORTCUT!

IFTTT

I love IFTTT. I use it for tons of home automation and other fun projects. But it’s not all fun and games. In this case, it can put all my coursework into my todo list for me!

The Canvas LMS is what both of my colleges are using right now, and it has a feature which most LMS will probably have. It gives you a URL which lets you add your assignment due-dates to your calendar. I added this URL to my Google Calendar, and then connected Trello and Google Calendar to IFTTT. Then it was as simple as creating this applet which automatically adds anything in that calendar to Trello as a new item in my “School” list. Here are the settings I used:

To summarize, any time any of my professors at either college creates an assignment, it is automatically inserted into my school to-do list on Trello.

Note that I left the “Description” field blank because it adds a lot of unnecessary extra information. I just want the name of the assignment and the due date.

With this incredible automation in place, I spend my coursework time on Mondays simply cleaning up complex assignment names and putting things in order of how I want to complete them. Here’s what my Trello board looks like after this process…

Final Thoughts

With these tools in place, I am able to take double and triple full-time workloads without worrying about missing things or whether I will have time to complete the work. I already know exactly how much time I will need and when that time fits into my week. I know everything that’s due and I rank it in order of when I want to get it done.

Probably a lot of the inspiration for this process came from reading Tim Ferriss, Pieter Levels, and others on similar processes for maximizing impact while minimizing work at startups.

It’s funny to me how much of our time we spend worrying about the workload instead of actually doing the work. When you eliminate that anxiety by building a foolproof structure around your work, it’s easy to maximize what you can get done.

Group Meditation: Othering Is The Root Of Most Evil

This week’s topic is based on an interview which you can listen to, here. I recommend listening to it, it’s a great interview! I have condensed the main points for discussion here;

Philip Zimbardo is the former president of the American Psychological Association. From the interview, “[Zimbardo] is one of the most distinguished psychologists in the world and a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He is arguably best known for his 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, in which students were turned into mock prisoners and guards for a continuous 24-hour-a-day study. The experiment was planned for two weeks but terminated after just six days.”

Key Terms

Evil: (Zimbardo’s definition) The exercise of power to intentionally harm (psychologically), hurt (physically), and/or kill innocent people.

Othering: using language to dehumanize groups of people. Common examples include “druggies,” “stupid people,”the homeless,” and the use of racial or other slurs. Othering makes groups of people into abstract concepts, deserving any evil thing said or done to them. According to Zimbardo, this is the number one cause for people or groups of people doing evil things.

Delegation of Authority: Examples include “I was just following orders,” or “it’s my job.” These phrases are used to release one’s responsibility for doing the right thing by delegating the responsibility of one’s behavior to an authority. According to Zimbardo, this is the number two cause for people or groups of people doing evil things, and it often reinforces and compounds the effects of othering.

Key Points

  • According to an overwhelming amount of evidence from many experiments done over the course of the last century, Othering is the number one cause for ordinary people or groups of people saying or doing evil things. It is usually accompanied by the delegation of authority which reinforces its effects.
  • Especially in groups, people are far more likely to do evil if othering is taking place and goes unchallenged.
  • Challenging othering in a group setting is one of the best ways to change a group’s tone and direction from evil to heroic.

Examples and Research

-The Milgram Experiment

Milgram Experiment

In The Milgram Experiment, a normal and psychologically healthy volunteer was placed in front of a control panel and asked to read a list of questions to a “subject” who was in another room, via an intercom.

Researchers explained to the volunteer that the subject in the other room was hooked up to electrodes and that each time the subject responded incorrectly to one of the volunteer’s questions, the volunteer should flip another switch on the control panel. The switches would electrocute the subject as punishment for the incorrect answer. Each successive switch increased in voltage to the point of being potentially lethal. They were labeled as such.

Before the experiment, Milgram asked psychologists to predict how many volunteers would go all the way to the end and deliver the potentially lethal shocks to the subject. The consensus was that 1% of the volunteers would do so, since one would have to be a psychopath to potentially endanger the life of another during the course of the experiment.

In fact, though the subject would scream and beg for the test to stop because they had a heart condition, more than two thirds of volunteers went all the way to the most lethal dose of electricity.

Zimbardo, who was one of the researchers working on this experiment, attributes this result to the deliberate dehumanization of the subject by putting them in another room and referring to them with the abstract term subject rather than person. In this case, the effects of othering are compounded by Zimbardo’s number two cause of evil, the delegation of authority.

-The Stanford Prison Experiment

Stanford Prison Experiment

Decades later, Zimbardo conducted The Stanford Prison Experiment. He put normal and psychologically healthy student volunteers into groups of “guards” and “prisoners.” Prisoners had their faces covered and were only allowed to use a prisoner number instead of their names. The goal was to see what would happen when one group was given power over another group which had been deliberately dehumanized.

The groups were told to play out their roles in the simulated prison for two weeks while their behavior was recorded by researchers. Many of the participants had complete emotional and psychological breakdowns in just a matter of days. The behavior of the guards became both physically and psychologically evil to such an extreme degree that the researchers were forced to cancel the experiment after just six days.

When the researchers told the prisoners the experiment was over, the prisoners didn’t understand. They had to go through extensive counselling and therapy before reclaiming their real identities and rejoining the outside world. Several movies and many books have been made about these events.

Decades later, almost the exact same scenario played out in a real prison, Abu Ghraib. Guards covered the prisoners’ faces, gave them numbers instead of names, and committed acts of evil ranging from pointless physical violence to sexual assault.

 

Conclusion

Because of these examples and lots of other research done by Zimbardo, he has concluded that dehumanizing people is the most effective way for a normal person or group of people to do evil things.

Conversely, he concludes that an awareness of this fact can allow someone to be heroic versus evil by discouraging othering and nipping evil in the bud.

Choking Someone is Felony Assault and Attempted Homicide

There have been several high-profile cases in the news this week about people choking people. I wanted to bring it up and talk about some important facts.

Consent must be talked about before-hand. Non-consensual choking, even during consensual sex, is strangulation. It is felony assault and it is attempted homicide; with a mandatory prison sentence.

Beyond the legal definitions, it is also the number one indicator that a person will go on to kill a partner in the future, and since it is a power-and-control-dynamic, it is also one of the highest indicators that abuse and violence will escalate in the future between the two partners.

It is not ok to choke another person, even during consensual sex, without talking about it beforehand and getting an explicit and enthusiastic yes to that specific act. Furthermore, if a person wants to do that to you, it is extremely likely that it will lead to more violence and potentially homicide in the future.

https://www.strangulationtraininginstitute.com/about-us/

http://time.com/5269444/eric-schneiderman-sponsored-strangulation-law/

https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/5/10/17340008/anthony-wall-police-waffle-house-video

A New Subtitle; A New Chapter

I put a great deal of thought into the subtitles I use on my website, blog, github, linkedin, etc. The backdrop for this decision is that I have been going through a period of great change in my life. I left a dead-end software engineering job and decided to go back to school in order to maximize the rest of my life. But maximize how? Financially, sure. But also in terms of impact. I want to be effective beyond just profitability.

I have also had many conversations with several mentors and decided to move my career’s focus to a more altruistic and empowerment-based perspective. I want to work on social business projects. I want to make things that really help people. I want to solve real problems with great products.

My old subtitle came largely from impressions after reading Eric Schmidt’s How Google Works, and Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. I was very excited about the way Eric Schmidt talks about setting up systems which empower creative people to solve whatever problems they want. I was also very excited by Peter Thiel’s ideas about the value and importance of creating entirely new things, rather than incrementally improving on old things.

The old subtitle was;

“Smart-creative and award-winning innovator, building technical solutions to business problems.”

This is an excellent approximation of the chapter which recently ended in my life. But I made a mistake. It’s the same mistake Google made somewhere along the way. And it’s something Peter Thiel was right about all along.

It’s not possible to be a revolutionary who works within the boundaries of the old world.

What do I mean by that? Well I found a huge problem which was not addressed by any current products. It was a ten billion dollar market that nobody was attacking, and the market was desperate for a solution. I identified a company that needed this solution, and I built it for them from within, offering them 50/50 terms. The problem was that these kinds of companies are not just a symptom of the problem, they are also the cause of the problem. They couldn’t see the solution, even when I handed it to them for free. It wasn’t a part of their paradigm. They didn’t want it. They didn’t know to want it. They knew they needed it and their business couldn’t function without it, but they just didn’t understand its value.

If you want to create real innovation, real solutions to shared problems, you have to start from scratch and attack the problem from the outside. It’s funny because once I said it that way, I immediately thought of half a hundred examples where that is so obviously true.

The end of the Christian dark ages could never have come from within the church; the renaissance and the reformation were forced on them from without.

The failed American education system could never be fixed from within; it will be supplanted by groups like Khan Academy, FreeCodeCamp, and others.

Swollen and bloated bureaucracies are a major source for the downfall of empires throughout history.

The only way to start over is to start over. You can’t incrementally improve broken systems. What I needed was autonomy. Every great business project I’ve ever worked on which I’ve written off has collapsed for the same reason; a lack of coherent understanding on the part of a powerful partner.

When I was at Sequoia, I had access to essentially unlimited money and resources but I was subject to completely out of touch supervision of those resources. Even though I was bringing in $20k a month, I had to fight tooth and nail for spending on basic health code compliance.

When I was at Tech 2U, I spent the vast majority of my time dealing with bike shedding on the part of incompetent, uneducated middle-managers who wanted random little fiefdoms to be the focus of a project that could have truly changed the world for the better.

The problem with my strategy and philosophy was finally clear. I needed to be completely independent and autonomous in order to execute the revolutionary empowerment projects I wanted to be working on without wasting all my time and energy convincing bloated bureaucracies to come along for the ride.

So here it is, my new subtitle;

Creating business solutions to shared problems.

Bits are great, but I have always cared about bricks too. In fact, the vast majority of my financial success with entrepreneurship has been non-digital. There is no reason to identify as a software entrepreneur and ignore the physical world and the impact I can have there. This mirrors a major change I made earlier this year with my two main ventures. I decided to combing my digital marketing and event services projects into a single unified project with a common theme of maximizing the impact of leaders by combining in-person outreach events with web presence.

I think the word “social” has too many unlooked-for connotations, so instead of saying something like “social entrepreneur,” I decided to phrase the rest it this way.

I also want to communicate agency rather than egoism. I don’t necessarily want it to be about me, rather what I’m doing and why. I think this communicates the same message with less noise.

A Period of Transition

In the year since I left Tech 2U, I have been attending both Sierra College and ARC, and both more than full time. I have completed nearly three years of school in the past year. Soon, I will be done with my three degrees, and ready to take the next steps. I am hoping to get started on a couple of my projects before that time. It will be interesting to see how this central theme of a life’s subtitle evolves through this period.

My major plans include building a new CRM company and building some kind of capsule hotel.

We need a better abstraction of digital workspaces.

When you run a software application on any modern device, you get some kind of window with the content of what it’s doing, and some number of processes in the background which perform the work.

Virtualization tools like VirtualBox allow you to run programs in a completely enclosed environment which look and feel just like any others. Some virtualization tools like Xen also allow software to run redundantly on multiple machines at the same time with milisecond failover if something goes wrong with one of the machines.

When I think about the role of mobile devices in the near future, there will be a lot more virtual-reality. Specifically, one major place that will be impacted by this is the way we work. Hardware is expensive. Redundant hardware is especially expensive in the context of opportunity cost.

Imagine if you will, a person a few years from now who needs a workspace with multiple 4k screens and lots of compute power to do various tasks, but wants to avoid paying for all of that. One obvious option is renting the compute power. There are numerous services which allow users to rent time on high powered machines in the cloud. I have several of these for various projects.

So imagine using something cheap like Google Daydream or an even cheaper alternative. Combine that with something like React VR, and you can already create an immersive virtual reality experience on any modern mobile device. So why not include virtual workstations in that environment which interact just like a real machine, because they are connected to a real machine somewhere in the cloud. Maybe some tasks are simpler, so they can be performed on the device itself. Maybe there is a single way to think about both types of tasks.

If we create simple virtual machines which can automatically switch their load to and from the cloud as demand increases or decreases, we will solve more problems than just this.

Imagine the implications for today’s applications. If my laptop, phone, and work machine were all literally using a shared, distributed container system to run my applications, those applications could move seamlessly between my devices. If I need to render something complex on my phone, my laptop can help. If I want to pick up exactly where I left of in a spreadsheet, I’m already there.

There are already technologies which have most of these features. For example, I could just use remote desktop on my phone and laptop to connect to my work machine and use applications there. I often do this. The problem is connectivity. If I have no connection or a slow connection, I have no access to my apps and data.

Likewise, if I use Xen to virtualize a workspace which is colocated in the cloud and at my home and work, I have to do that to the entire operating system, not just the applications I want to use.

Let’s go back to the person working in a virtual workspace within React VR on their cell phone. Maybe the short-term answer is just remote desktop. Maybe connecting their virtual workstation to a real one in the cloud via something like VNC is the answer. Maybe a cool, old-fashioned looking terminal within the virtual environment is a good alternative to something like putty on the desktop. But I think these types of solutions will lead to something more like what I am describing.

The First Run: 140 Care Packages For People Who Are Homeless

We liked the idea of having something other than cash to hand out to people who are homeless in order to be more helpful with less money. We also wanted to start conversations around the project which helped to humanize people who are homeless. This comes in the face of intense prejudice in our communities and stigmatization of people who are homeless as though they are the source of our problems rather than a symptom of our community abandoning its most vulnerable members.

So we decided to make care packages. This is what we came up with…

Care Packages For People Who Are Homeless

In this first run, each care package contains;

  • A Bottle of Water
  • A Granola Bar
  • A Ramen Packet
  • Tissues
  • Toilet Paper
  • A Feminine Hygiene Product
  • A Bag of Dog Food For Man’s Best Friend
  • A Tooth Brush
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Apple Sauce
  • A Bar of Soap (Special Thanks to Stand Up Placer and Jenny Davidson for donating these!)