My Incredible Autistic Son

Life is full of surprises. The bad ones are tough even if you do become better after enduring and overcoming them. The good ones can be really great though; so great that if I'd been given another chance to do things over, I wouldn't change anything in order to avoid the risk of losing those surprises that have been so fulfilling even though I never knew I wanted them. My son, Benjamin, is one of those surprises who is also the cause of more great surprises in my life. He's just a little guy (3.5 years old), and he's already helped me so much.

We didn't plan to have a child when Benjamin came along. Logically, it seemed like terrible timing. We were trying to regain financial stability, I was doing my best to support my wife as she struggled with depression, and I was the main caregiver of my dad who was fighting cancer. My father and I were very close, and I didn't even allow the thought of him not being around to enter my mind until that was the reality. Benjamin was almost six months old when my dad passed away. Thanks to my new little best friend, I didn't dwell on my loss. Instead, I focused on being as great a father to him as the father I was lucky enough to have.

Benjamin was our first child, so it's safe to say none of us knew what we were doing. We did our best to guide him while he tried to raise us with at least as much assertiveness. When he was born, I immediately felt that protective parental love, but something seemed to be missing. Shouldn't I have also felt that intense love and desire to always be around this little person? Instead, it seemed like I was just beginning to get to know someone, and I felt guilty for not immediately being infatuated with him. "Aren't parents supposed to love every single thing about their new babies?" I thought.

Well, as Benjamin developed into the unique person he is and showed us more of his personality, I did fall in love with it. Just seeing him filled with joy will brighten my whole day, and that makes playing with him so addicting. I was/am so head over heels in love with him that I didn't realize some of his quirks may have been outside the range of the "Every child is different." phrase I read so often in parenting books. I thought we just lucked out that our baby had some characteristics that made our lives a lot easier as new parents. He could entertain himself for hours, and wouldn't ask for more attention than we already offered. He rarely needed to express what he wanted because the routine was so similar every day that we knew what he wanted based on the time he began asking for something. And he never put anything into his mouth unless we coaxed him enough that he'd finally try just to see what the big deal was. That last one was especially nice. Our new baby boy wants to taste everything in his field of vision. It's like he thinks the main function of his limbs are to get his mouth closer to the next object he wants to explore orally.

We did notice that Benjamin's speech wasn't coming along at the same rate as his cousin's at that age. We spoke two languages pretty regularly at home though, and we'd heard that can slow kids down a bit when learning to communicate. He also became a very picky eater when he graduated from the baby food in jars. I just figured most kids were picky like that initially. My wife began to wonder why it was so difficult to get Benjamin to conform to some of the rules we grew up with like "You eat what was prepared for dinner, or you don't eat." Benjamin would choose to not eat. We even offered him all the foods he loved if he'd just take one bite of our dinner. He could spit that bite out if he didn't like it. We just wanted him to try the food. But he would hold his ground for hours, and went to bed without dinner the few times we tried that.

When he was about two and a half, Benjamin started to attend his first preschool. About a month or so later, one of his teachers asked us to meet and discuss some things about our son. She told us that Benjamin seemed different than the other children; that he showed some signs of possibly being autistic. He was/is obsessed with space and our solar system. He'd find a way to turn every activity into flying a rocket ship or putting the planets in order of their orbits around the sun. I thought it was cool that he knew more about the planets at age 2 than I did after graduating high school (I didn't know about the other dwarf planets like Pluto, but I did know their order, relative size, and some facts about each planet. It's really impressive how much he knows.) I figured it couldn't hurt to have Benjamin evaluated even though I knew he was a neurotypical kid with some strange habits. So that kind and caring teacher directed us to the organization we could contact to have him evaluated. I can't be more grateful to that wonderful person for her help.

Benjamin's evaluation went well, and he demonstrated his strengths that had me convinced he couldn't have autism. The group of therapists on the evaluation team retired to another room to discuss what they'd observed, and met with us about an hour later. When we all sat down, one of the first statements was, "Your son is autistic." I was shocked, but not negatively. I just wondered how they could be so certain when I thought I was certain of the contrary. I knew very little about autism beyond the stereotypes exposed to me, and a little info from some light research I'd done after hearing his teacher's concerns. I felt safe to assume they were right, and could educate me on why I was so blind to this diagnosis. They explained their reasoning very well, and gave their suggestions for what help we should seek for our son.

My first major concern was how I could make sure Benjamin knew that he could still accomplish anything he wanted. He may have to work harder at certain tasks, but he could do at least as much as anyone else. So I wondered who should know and who shouldn't. Who would be mature enough to realize his disability didn't mean he was any less intelligent? I was afraid of how those who knew might influence him. Would their treatment toward him make him place unnecessary mental limits on himself? I still don't know the answers to these questions, and it still concerns me, but my focus overall has changed.

We were able to get Benjamin started right away with the therapies suggested. I still had some lingering doubts that Benjamin may have been misdiagnosed, but I figured the therapies would only be helpful anyway (I no longer doubt that he is autistic after learning more and watching other independent evaluation teams confirm his diagnosis with as much certainty as the first.). Because of my initial doubt, I don't know if I would've got him started with his therapies right away if it meant we had to pay the entire deductible on our medical insurance. Life is funny though, and gives us those surprises when they're least expected.

My income was pretty low while I was helping my dad, but I paid for as much medical insurance as we could afford. I was self employed, so we had a private plan. In his will, my dad asked me to be the personal representative of his estate. I asked for no salary, and it took a lot more time than I'd imagined. My income remained low while I managed his estate. At the same time, I became the main caregiver of my mother when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer (She forced me to take a salary as the personal representative of her estate.). I did inherit some money from my dad, and used it to cover our expenses as we earned too little. I planned to use our savings to pay our medical insurance as well, but my low income qualified Benjamin for Medicaid through the Healthcare Marketplace (Thanks Obama. Not sarcastically, I really mean it. Thank you so much!).

I feel so embarrassed that we use government assistance, but if it weren't for that we may not have started Benjamin with his therapies when we did. I'm completely convinced that getting him started right away was the best for him. We wouldn't have narrowed our search to therapists who accepted Medicaid either. Because of our need for assistance which makes me feel ashamed, we've had the privilege to meet some of the most amazing people who have helped us and our son so much. It's been another of those great surprises that spawned from a situation I thought was entirely negative.

The kindness and altruism demonstrated by multiple people on Benjamin's team have blown me away. In my experience, Montana generally has a high density of kind people, but these ones are on the same level as Jessica Livingston [1], Grace Gary [2], and Sam Altman [3]. I'm sorry to call out those specific people as examples if it makes them feel uneasy (and I'm sorry for those I haven't named who deserve to be listed along with them). Based on my experiences and what I know of them, they stand out even among other incredible people. If we're the average of those we spend the most time with, they are the ones who boost the average of those lucky enough to be around them. That's how I feel about those people on Benjamin's team too. I'm both humbled and inspired by them.

As I watched Benjamin improve and have so much fun doing it, I started to feel that my son was lucky to be born autistic. It seemed awkward to think we were lucky for our son's disability. At first, I felt lucky that Benjamin (and my wife and I) could receive support and guidance from his amazing team of therapists and teachers while neurotypical kids and their parents wouldn't get that privilege. But as I saw Benjamin improving his weaknesses, I felt lucky for his gift. It no longer seemed like a disability. In the same sense that someone who learns a second language and culture becomes more enlightened, those with autism (who already have beautiful brains) get to learn an entirely different language and culture which developed from different brain function.

My initial thoughts about his disability were wrong too. After his diagnosis, it seemed like our lives went from taking care of Benjamin to taking care of autistic Benjamin. I was tripped up by the negative stereotypes in my head. Benjamin hadn't changed at all though. He's the same wonderful little boy, and his autism is an important part of what makes me love him so intensely. It was us, his parents, who changed.

Our fears of future struggles he'll have in the societies of elementary, secondary school, and beyond have been enhanced, but a positive consequence of his diagnosis is that we now have an explanation for those habits and differences we didn't understand before. With our new understanding, we can seek out the many great sources of helpful information, and use them to help Benjamin overcome difficulties. I know he'll have to work harder to understand the foreign neurotypical culture which isn't intuitive for him, but that's much different than the disability I thought autism was before I learned more. If he remains as high-functioning as he already is and we can positively guide him as he chases his dreams, then I'm still convinced that his autism is more a gift than a disability.

While researching as much as I can find about autism, I've been especially drawn to information offered by people on the spectrum. I'm so grateful for those who've shared their perspectives. I still have a lot to learn, but I know a lot more about autism than I ever imagined I would. I only discovered the beauty of autism because I was directly affected by it. I'm ashamed I didn't know better before, and I wonder where else I'm ridiculously under-informed. How many other great causes, people, and organizations do I remain unaware of? I don't know a better way to discover them than to learn as much as I can as fast as I can about many different topics. Benjamin's diagnosis has opened my eyes and motivated me to seek the other not-so-hidden gems I have yet to learn about. I will definitely pay more attention to those amazing people promoting awareness for any cause in the future.

Maybe autism isn't a disability that has nor needs a cure. Perhaps in the future, a cure for autism will seem as absurd as a cure to a certain eye color. We don't know yet, and we get to watch and explore the frontier as more is discovered about this intriguing condition. I think those on the spectrum have brains that function properly but differently than neurotypicals, and that more awareness and acceptance of difference should take at least as much priority as searching for a cure.

The explicit and implicit rules that govern our society were formed by a supermajority of neurotypical people. Therefore, it's obvious that some parts of that society would be difficult for a person who isn't neurotypical to infer or understand. Autism is only labeled a disability within our society today. Who knows how it may be labeled in the future? I'm excited to guide Benjamin as he explores our neurotypical world. As I continue to learn about and explore Benjamin's world, I imagine the tables are turned and I'm the one working to understand what isn't intuitive. I hope he'll continue to guide me in ways that are as fun as it's been so far.

Thank you, Benjamin, for all of the great surprises you've already added to my life. I hope many more will happen in yours to brighten your journey. I love you so much!

A lot of info, interviews, talks, etc. can easily be found online for each of the three exceptional people I named. The following notes from my brief personal experiences with each person are meant to explain why those people demonstrated even more kindness and altruism than I'd inferred about them from what I'd learned online.

[1] I saw Jessica at a dinner before Startup School 2014. She was surrounded by a group of people eager to speak with her. The group was mostly females, and I thought to myself, "She's such a huge inspiration to female founders. I shouldn't add to the chaos just to express my gratitude. I'll leave one more spot open in case a shy founder who idolizes her hasn't had a chance to talk with her yet." I don't know if I made the right choice. I really am grateful for her kindness, for everything I've learned from her, and for what she's directly and indirectly caused as a co-founder of YC. I remember her demeanor at that dinner. She had such a happy and welcoming look as she moved about with the swarm of people surrounding her, and she interacted with each person with such kindness and sincerity. It was incredible to watch, and she's truly inspiring.

[2] I emailed a question to Grace at Watsi once. Her response was brief, and it was so kind that it really made my day. I've received a couple other email responses from her since, and all of them were just as kind and uplifting. Just being a co-founder of Watsi and giving so much effort to help those who need it already shows her wonderful altruistic spirit. On top of that, her great personality and kindness elevate her above other great people.

[3] I met Sam briefly at Startup School 2014. It's obvious how busy he is, if not just from watching him, then by looking at all he's accomplished in the time he's done it. I interrupted him while he was reading his phone, and thanked him for making his Stanford startup class free online. He wasn't overtly irritated by the interruption, and showed similar kindness and sincerity as Jessica Livingston had. He was really awesome, and offered me more time than I expected telling me what was planned for the next lecture. Afterward, he continued reading his phone as he walked to a chair. Then, he sat and talked with another founder who I presume had asked for some of his time during the break to talk about his startup. Sam is an incredible, selfless person who not only works hard to enable founders to improve our world, but also shows so much genuine care for people who are trying to build something cool regardless of their backgrounds.

The Game With No Cheat Codes

I didn't always cheat in video games. My brothers were playing games on our Commodore 64 before I could even talk. Naturally, I was very interested in whatever they were doing when I was a kid. When they allowed me to try it for the first time, I was immediately hooked. I couldn't play as much as I wanted though. Between sports, farm work, and homework, there were few hours left to play video games. I'm the second youngest of five siblings, so if my turn ever arrived, it was always too short. Not surprisingly, I never got very far in the games I played back then.

I was curious to find ways I could advance further in less time played, but I figured the best way was to improve. Then, by chance, I overheard a conversation between a few boys at recess about cheat codes. I had no idea how they knew about these codes, but I had to know everything they knew and how to find out more. Most cheat codes spread by word of mouth around school, and originated from game guides that a few of the kids with money would buy. With the codes, I could experience much more of the game in a lot less time which was great for me. So I mostly focused on the games that had cheat codes programmed in.

As my brothers moved away for college, I could finally play games for a reasonable duration. I received Lords of the Realm II as a gift, and I was completely captivated by the game. I spent many hours happily playing it, but, for some reason, I became curious to know if any cheat codes existed for the game. I asked around school, but the few who knew of the game didn't know if there were any cheat codes. One of my friends had a 28.8k modem, and could connect to the internet. He searched online for me, but found the game had no cheat codes. He did find a strange tutorial that looked like a cheat, but he didn't understand it. He'd printed it off, and gave it to me.

The tutorial showed how to use a hex editor to change values in a saved game file to give yourself 65,535 crowns which accomplished the same objective as a cheat code for money. I asked my friend what a hex editor was, and he had no idea. I quickly explored the programs available on the Apple computers at school as well as the PC with Windows 95 that we had at home, but found no hex editor. So I gave my friend a 3.5" floppy disk and asked him to search for a hex editor online, download it to the disk, and return it to me. A few days later, he returned the disk with a hex editor, and I got started.

I followed the instructions to navigate to the saved game file, then open it with the hex editor. The screen full of rows and columns of hex number pairs with another column of gibberish off to the side terrified me. The tutorial explained exactly which row and column where I'd find the numbers and letters that represented the amount of crowns I had. When I changed that value to FFFF, saved the file, and reloaded the game, I had the 65,535 crowns. It was amazing, but seemed incredibly complicated without those precise instructions. I played for a couple hours enjoying my new riches, but kept having a nagging thought - What if I could manipulate more than just money with this hex editor? The idea was scary, but curiosity got the best of me, and off I went exploring that unintelligible sea of numbers and letters.

First, I figured out how to convert Dec numbers that I understood into their Hex equivalents. Then, I'd search the file for the hex numbers I wanted to manipulate. There were often multiple locations that the number would be found. I'd change them one by one saving and reloading the game after each edit. To speed it up, I began changing multiple numbers between game reloads. After a few corrupted files, I learned to back up the saved game file before editing it.

I quickly discovered how to increase my supplies for building castles and feeding the population of my land as well as weapons and armor for my armies. Instead of using money and supplies to keep the people healthy and happy, I started manipulating health, happiness, and even diplomacy values directly. In the same sense, I didn't need to wait for my population to grow within the game's parameters to build structures or an army. I manipulated the population size directly, increasing it greatly to quickly finish castle-building, then returning it to normal size to use fewer supplies. To build a great army, I didn't need all the armor and weapons. I just had to create a small army of only peasants from a tiny portion of my population. Then, I'd manipulate its values to give it any amount of any type of soldier.

Editing my army started me down the path for a mini-game which was never intended, but gave me many hours of enjoyment. It was intended that players could control their armies in battles against the armies of other lands, but I became obsessed with strategy. As I gained experience hacking on the saved game file, I understood how to edit not only values of my own, but also those of the NPCs as well. So I manipulated values of both armies, and I tested the limits of how large an enemy's army I could defeat with the fewest amount of precisely positioned soldiers of the right combination in my army. Another was how few solders I'd lose when defeating armies of various sizes, or made up of various types of soldier combinations in various positions on the maps. I'd also like to watch the game's AI play out both sides of the various scenarios I thought up. When I'd notice one enemy army about to engage another enemy's army, I'd make the armies equivalent and watch the result of the random number generator. Or I'd give one the advantage depending upon which I wanted to win and by how much.

I thought it was intriguing that diplomacy with other lords would always increase if you sent them supplies as a gift. Although it was simple to just change diplomacy values directly, I enjoyed strengthening relations by sending a cart with supplies of negative values and watching the towns' farms be decimated when they received a negative shipment of cattle and wheat. I tested other scenarios that were never intended like curiously watching the actions of another nation while being at war with it and simultaneously having the highest possible diplomacy rating with its lord. I'd change names of NPC's and other titles and text within the game to role-play as I desired. It became a whole new game for me, and I loved it even more.

Once, while lost in the euphoria of being able to almost create the game as I played it, I didn't notice an enemy army nearing another NPC's town. That particular army was able to overtake the last town of one of the NPCs and removed it from the game. I'd spent many hours role-playing in that game, and I didn't want that particular NPC to be gone yet. I didn't yet know how to edit an NPC army to weaken it, and the army was strong enough to easily take the town any time I tried to replay the turn. I thought, "No problem, I'll just reload an older backup saved game file." The "Oh shit" moment really set in when I found that the backups didn't have enough turns for me to get one of my armies over there to protect the other town.

This game was turn-based, and each army could move up to 15 spaces per turn. That was one value I remember trying to edit earlier, but wasn't successful. The limit must have been hard-coded into the game. I was stuck, and I had to come up with a way to save that town. So I tried something crazy. I started the turn that would end the reign of that virtual ally, and set my hopeless defending army toward the town. I paused the game before my army reached its destination 15 spaces away, and saved it. I looked at the file in the hex editor and, sure enough, the amount of spaces the army had moved was recorded. I changed the "spaces moved" value back to zero and reloaded the game. My army had moved, but the turn had not completed, and I could still move another 15 spaces! So I repeated that process until my army had crossed the entire map and saved the town allowing me many more hours of enjoyment in that game. Later, when I discovered how to send negative supplies, I put a negative value in for "spaces moved" and removed the range limit of my armies with far less tedium.

When I could finally connect to the internet, I shared the benefits with others too. I could customize far more parameters than the "Custom Game" interface allowed. I created new games that wouldn't have been possible to create using the game's interface, and gave them to enthusiasts of the game who found it too easy even on the hardest pre-programmed settings. They told me I helped breathe new life into the game for them when I removed their limitations and offered the freedom to define almost any disadvantage they wanted.

This game has a special place in my heart because it's where this farm boy first learned how to hack video games; a pastime that has provided great pleasure over the years. In any PC game I played afterward, the more defined and restricting the limitations of game-play were, the more fun it was to escape them and discover the extent to which the game could be redefined.

I Miss You and Thank You

To my parents: Thank you for everything. Your efforts throughout your courageous battles have made me better. I promise I will continue to improve. I wish you were here to see it. I'm so grateful and proud of you. I love you and I miss you.

This post is for my personal reference, and anything I suggest within is directed at myself. You may agree with the suggestions or not, but please understand they are not my outward advice. The perspective I've reached at this point in my life can never again occur under the same circumstances. If similar events never refresh this perspective (I hope similar events never occur), then I hope this reference will keep these thoughts from fading too far below what I may consider more important in the future.

General advice from those who are likely closer to the end of their lives than the beginning is golden. Review it frequently. Understand, however, that those who offer that advice often do so knowing that it will become part of a public list and/or the advice given will contribute to their social image. I was given the fortunate and unfortunate but immutable opportunity to observe and infer some wisdom through the actions of two very different people that I love very much.

This next part is to provide some context to the blast of profound events and emotions that rocked my foundations and formed the perspective I now have. I will try to be concise to avoid detracting the post from its purpose. Please do not confuse that with a lack of sensitivity and compassion.

My father was diagnosed with lymphoma when I was struggling through a very low point in my life and felt like a complete failure. He was my lifeline when it seemed I had support from nowhere else. We were very close before his diagnosis, and we remained at least as close throughout his courageous battle. Statistically, he had about a 65% chance to survive, and even beat it into remission, but the lymphoma returned and took his life about two years after his initial diagnosis. Geographically, I was his closest child, and fortunately I was able to accompany him to appointments and otherwise support him where he needed help.

A few months after he died, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. It had advanced too far, and her oncologist informed us that it was terminal. My mother asked me to be her pillar of support the same way she believed I was for my father, and to accompany her to appointments. I was glad to. She fought bravely and remained optimistic, but the cancer took her life about two years after her diagnosis as well.

During those four years, I also lost my last remaining living grandparent. I became a father, and our first son was almost six months old when my father died. I helped my oldest brother deal with marital troubles and a tough divorce. And my wife and I endured the high risk pregnancy of our second son who was born healthy four days before my mother died.

Many of the lessons I've learned in these past four years are repeated in popular lists of life lessons and advice. Here are some that weren't quite so obvious until I observed my parents' transitions in the final two years of their lives.

1) At least some happiness can be found in realizing how much we truly have to be grateful for. We, unfortunately, take too much for granted too quickly after we have it. Remind yourself every day of something different that you are grateful for. If you can read this at all, then you were probably born into a better situation than half of the other people on this planet. Be grateful for that, and do something to help the other half catch up. If someone has earned your gratitude, then clearly and directly express your thankfulness to that person. Try to earn the gratitude of others, whether you believe they deserve it or not.

2) If you'll regret not having expressed your affection toward someone you deeply care for before they're gone, then do it now.

3) Listen, especially to the stories about the lives of those you love. Their eyes have a wonderful glow when their minds are engulfed in a nostalgic euphoria. Listen more and talk less to everyone. Discover their true interests, not just the stuff they're willing to share publicly.

4) Help someone who needs it at that moment without expecting anything back. When you genuinely expect nothing in return, you'll feel the satisfaction of knowing how grateful you would've been if the tables were turned.

5) Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated if you were in their shoes and shared their perspective. You may not always know what to do or say, but always be kind.

6) Waste little time lamenting unfairness. You don't have much time left. Use it to advance even if the first step is to begin clawing your way back from a deep pit. If you can spare others from injustice, do it.

7) Leaving your comfort zone will make you feel...uncomfortable. If you don't feel uneasy and out of your league, you can go faster. The satisfaction isn't felt during the struggle, but after you've tried. Stay curious and keep getting better. Advance fast enough to consider yourself foolish and naive in your recent past.

8) Some excuses will seem very convincing. Don't believe them, and don't try to make anyone else believe them. Dig down to find the real cause of the failure, and address that.

9) Never lose hope. Find a way to make it work. In the tough situations, it may take a lot of tries along many different paths, but don't give up. If an early try works out on a difficult problem, don't celebrate your ability. Be grateful for the time you've saved, and move on to the next challenge.

10) Don't give yourself any new reason to think back and say, "I wish I had tried."

The next part is about 'playing house' in the sense that Paul Graham describes in his essay and talk 'Before the Startup' [1]. This was the most telling revelation that occurred to me as I watched my parents rearrange their priorities when they knew they would be dead soon. Each began to shed the fakeness built up throughout years of their lives via playing house. It was a steady transition, but both seemed to be unconscious of it.

I don't know enough about it yet to completely understand why playing house is so important to people in our society who live without knowledge of their imminent death. It fascinates me though, and I'd like to find out why it has become seemingly essential. I presume it's meant to build protective barriers around any truth that would be interpreted negatively by too many within one's society, and display a more acceptable image instead. I noticed that almost everyone (myself included) plays house to some degree. It would seem that pure honesty would be very valuable in a society like ours that puts such importance upon relationships. However, the facades fiercely upheld by so many put the honest ones, who often seem like outcasts, at a disadvantage. This discourages others from being completely honest, sometimes even with themselves.

I continue to gain respect for those who are different than myself, especially if that difference makes them a minority. Don't shun difference. Seek it out and thoroughly explore it as objectively as possible. Then, decide if it's better than the alternatives you're aware of. If something genuinely piques your interest, explore further regardless of how different that makes you than anyone or everyone else.

I understand that many people will initially hide or even lie about their true selves. Some of them may not even realize they're lying, as they consciously believe the lies. I find myself more and more attracted to people who seem to feel at least slightly uncomfortable with playing house. In an effort to rid myself of barriers that I may have erected that prevent me from consciously realizing what I really enjoy, I pay a lot more attention to how I feel when I'm focused on something. If I'm so enthralled by an activity that I feel irritated to have to stop in order to eat, sleep, or any other necessary function to retain my desired lifestyle, then that's a good indicator. If I look back on the time I spent focused on that activity and feel a sense of accomplishment, then it's something I should consider doing more of regardless of what anyone else may think.

One of the fortunate outcomes of this very difficult time is that I discovered Hacker News (HN) after I lost my dad. While my father was alive, I would often discuss my thoughts and doubts with him; I'd generally seek him for answers and guidance. I wasn't exposed to many different perspectives up to that point, and my worldview was far too narrow. When he was gone and I had to be my mother's support system, I was lost mentally. I'm so grateful I stumbled upon the collective of very thoughtful and different individuals that make HN great. It's the best place I've found so far with a high density of minds I'm attracted to. HN, you have been an amazing resource to learn from and lean on for mental support. Thank you.

Thank you to the founders of YC, and thank you PG for building HN. Perhaps it was an unexpected consequence, but I can't thank you all enough for the positive effect the things you've built have had on my life so far.


My Solar Energy Idea

In Paul Graham's essay and talk, "Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas", [1] he references this line from the film Being John Malkovich: "Here's the thing: If you ever got me, you wouldn't have a clue what to do with me." That's exactly how I felt when I had my idea for solar energy, hence the naive mistakes I've made along the way. Thankfully, those mistakes emphasized the problem I'm currently working to solve. Meanwhile, if my solar energy idea really is a helpful innovation, those who are already in a position to build and improve upon it should do so as soon as possible. Likewise, if the idea can be proven wrong, the earlier the better. I'll be glad to have learned something new, but more importantly the idea will not waste anybody's time. Perhaps, even if it is a bad idea, it will spark a better one in the mind of someone reading this. Without further ado, here's my solar energy idea:

Part 1: The first problem it aims to solve is higher efficiency conversion of solar radiation to electricity. To accomplish that, sunlight, containing multiple wavelengths, will be converted to photons of a uniform wavelength and heat from the conversion process will be converted to electricity or light as efficiently as possible. [2] Sunlight will pass through a transparent weather guard with an anti-reflective coating, and hit a Fresnel lens which will focus the light onto a second lens or mirror that collimates the tight beam. [3] The collimated light will be focused into a fiber which will input the light, on a looping trajectory of total internal reflection (TIR), into the crystalline core.

The crystalline core is a tube with a polygonal cross-section that is formed into a semi-circle. It will be made of a material that best balances cost, structural integrity at high temperatures, and transparency to all wavelengths of solar radiation. A mirror coats the inside walls of the core, and a liquid coolant is able to flow through the hollow center. Surrounding the outer walls of the core is a very thin mesh-pattern layer of material that radiates photons of a desired wavelength when heated. Holes in the thermal radiation material will be situated where most of the light in the TIR trajectory will reflect off the planes of the outer core wall. [4] Finally, a laser gain medium with a lower refractive index than the core material that emits photons of the same wavelength as the thermal radiation material will surround the crystalline core.

The delivery fiber will input the focused and collimated ray of solar radiation into the core. The trajectory will be helix-like totally reflecting off of each plane as it spirals through the core. Upon exiting the core, a system of lenses and/or mirrors will redirect the ray back into the entry point. Photons will remain in that looping trajectory until they have been scattered and/or absorbed into the core. [5] Each time the ray totally internally reflects an evanescent wave will propagate into the gain medium exciting nearby atoms causing population inversion and spontaneous emissions (and allowing for stimulated emissions) of photons.

The side of the gain medium where the ray of solar radiation exits and reenters the core will be coated with a mirror reflecting photons back into the gain medium. Photons exiting the gain medium through the other five sides will be focused into optical fibers made of a material that transmits that wavelength with the lowest loss. Those five fibers will input the photons (all the same wavelength) into the Light Grid.

Part 2: The second problem this idea aims to solve is storage. Everyone else seems to be focused on batteries or alternative storage technologies. To meet the same objective of continuous electricity output regardless of the time of day and weather conditions, I wondered if there was a way to route the solar radiation from areas of supply to areas of demand. Sunlight is in constant supply at all times on a large portion of our planet, but locally installed solar panels (or other solar harvesting technology) don't take advantage of that continuous supply.

My solution is a globally networked Light Grid. Collection systems around the world utilizing the technology in Part 1 will convert the sunlight into a tight beam of the same wavelength and input it into the grid. The grid's core, where the light will traverse, must be a tube of near vacuum space with a mirror coating the inner walls. [6]

The continuously supplied light in the grid will be harvested by electricity suppliers. Mirrors will temporarily direct the light into a harvesting loop. Light in the loop will be focused onto a quantum dot solar cell tuned for maximum efficiency for the wavelength of light being harvested. Some of the light that reflects off the solar cell will reenter the grid traversing the opposite direction.

In order to maintain continuous supply in the grid while multiple systems simultaneously harvest the light, software to synchronize harvesting and multiple grid tubes will have to exist. I understand that this Light Grid system will be extremely expensive to build, but it may solve the storage problem. It would also eliminate the need to cover so much surface area with silicon (or other, more expensive) photovoltaic cells.

If you (or someone you know) can improve this idea or prove it wrong, then please do so. If this idea is a viable improvement to current solar technology, then hopefully this post will serve as prior art so anyone who wishes to use part or all of the idea may freely do so. Thank you for your time.

[1] Paul Graham's talk:  

[2] Converting the light to a single wavelength will greatly increase efficiency when utilizing a quantum dot solar cell which can be tuned for maximum efficiency for a specific wavelength. A sterling engine, thermal radiation, or better process will be utilized to harvest electricity from heat. I haven't researched this enough to know which is best. If the electricity produced by heat exceeds the local demand, then a thermal radiation process to input more light into the grid may be a better option.
[3] If the heat is too intense, the area of the Fresnel lens can be divided into an array of smaller lenses that focus the light into separate delivery fibers and core systems. If it is cost effective and more efficient to divide the wavelengths using a prism, diffractive grating, or thin-film interference application, then the more organized wavelength groups can be input into core systems surrounded by thermal radiating meshes and gain mediums whose photon outputs are within the wavelength group. This would take advantage of the quantum tunneling photons to help pump the laser.
[4] The mesh-pattern is so that some photons radiated away from the gain medium can reflect back through and into the gain medium. Holes at the sites of TIR are there so that evanescent waves caused by the TIR can be directly absorbed into the gain medium without bypassing a buffer layer. This will maximize photon emissions pumped by the evanescent waves in the gain medium.
[5] Some of the photons will tunnel and be absorbed into the gain medium or stimulate emissions as well.
[6] The most efficient single-mode optical fiber will only transmit the photons up to ~1,500 km before they are completely absorbed.

1) From feedback so far, I've learned that the fiber optics I'd incorporated into the system will likely absorb photons too quickly to be an efficient solution to transport focused light from an origin to a destination along a non-straight path. Instead, using mirrors to redirect focused beams within an enclosed near-vacuum space would probably be better to accomplish that objective.