The other day, I went down to one of my favorite joints in town, the “Rest ‘N’ Vest Cafe”. They offer a unique system where you can pay for your order using equity in your startup, in line with a recent investing trend known as “microcapital” that the proprietor is a proponent of. You may end up giving away ten thousand coffees for free, he says, but it’s all worth it for the one that ends up bringing in a million bucks. Ironically, I’ve heard that the startup costs for the cafe were raised using good old fashioned megacapital.

Anyways, I paid for my coffee at the counter with the usual 10 shares of my startup company “Kit Coffee Capital Co.” (a company with no assets, revenues, or expenses that I set up to get free coffee). I’m always looking out for potential networking opportunities, so coffee in hand, I surveyed the cafe seating to see if I recognized anyone. I spotted my old bud John from DynaVR sitting on the couch in the corner, so I strolled over to see what he’s been up to lately. He hadn’t been in for a while, I assumed he’d been quite busy.

Before even saying a word, I noticed that something seemed… off about him. He had a kind of distant look to him. His laptop was open on the coffee table as though he was working, but it wasn’t even on. Hey John, what’s going on buddy? I asked. You look kind of glum, did you raise a down round? As I said this I saw him blatantly drop a pill (Vyvanse, I think) in his coffee, as though he didn’t care if anyone was watching. After a 200-ping pause, he looks up at me and says Oh hey Kit… yeah I’ve had a hell of a week. Have a seat, I should probably talk to someone about this.

I took a seat next to him on the couch, and he took a few deep sips of his envansed coffee before slowly launching into the following story:

So as you probably remember, at DynaVR we’re working on something at the intersection of VR and AR - we call it ER, for “Enhanced Reality”. The real brains behind the operation is my technical cofounder and old college pal, Paul. He’s always been a bit shy and reclusive, but he’s an absolutely brilliant engineer. He’s been work from home for a while now as you may have guessed, although he still doesn’t communicate much even over messaging or video calls. The lack of collaboration with the rest of the dev team hasn’t been much of any issue, though, because of how enormously productive he’s been. He’s singlehandedly developed most of the modules for our product, leaving just the small details like bug fixes to the rest of the devs. There have been some concerns about how sustainable this setup is in the long run, however until the MVP (minimum viable product) is complete the consensus view of the company board is to “let him cook”.

A couple months ago, in one of his rare meetings with the rest of the board, he submitted a proposal requesting a substantial amount of funding to “explore leveraging AI tools to enhance our product”. Given all the AI hype going around lately, the board was more than happy to approve his request. In the weeks after that, he was even less communicative than normal, but his output increased ENORMOUSLY. It was almost superhuman, I’ve never seen anything like it. You’ve heard of x10 engineers, well he went from being one of those to being a x100 or maybe even a x1000 engineer. Massive commits would come in constantly, even in the middle of the night. Just doing small bug fixes, the rest of the team could barely keep up with him.

After a month, the MVP was nearly ready and just needed a bit of polishing, almost entirely thanks to Paul’s manic work. But around then, he suddenly stopped shipping new code almost entirely. What’s more, he became nearly impossible to contact. When we finally got in touch with him, he seemed fine, but was curt and seemed to be trying to get off the phone as quickly as possible. Everyone figured he was suffering from some sort of burnout and that it was probably ok to let him rest for a while, especially considering that the MVP was almost done and that he had just done work in a month solo that would take a team of experienced devs months. So, we left him alone. This was probably a mistake.

Another month or two later, we started to get concerned. Nobody had heard from Paul in weeks. And then it happened: I got a call from the police. They said there had been an accident, and that they needed my cooperation for the investigation. They wanted me to come to Paul’s apartment immediately, and gave me an address I didn’t recognize. Naturally we had tried several times to get in touch with Paul by visiting his apartment, but I guess now we knew why it hadn’t worked. He had moved into a second apartment without telling anybody.

Paul’s second apartment was in a relatively new, expensive building. An officer escorted me up and let me into Paul’s apartment. It felt very roomy, although I wasn’t sure how much of it was the actual size of the apartment and how much of it was due to the fact that there was almost no furniture besides bare essentials. The decor was spartan, yet at the same time the apartment was incredibly messy, trash and trinkets and dust scattered across every horizontal surface. I heard humming coming from Paul’s bedroom closet, and opened it up to find not clothes but a shiny server rack. It was Paul’s private local development server. The officer gave me permission to hook up my laptop and I took a look at the contents. Mostly it was dedicated to running an instance of our DynaVR software, but with a lot of extra modules I’d never seen before. Eventually I found the directory where Paul kept his development materials, which contained his “dev diary”. Curious, I opened it up. It was far more “diary” than “dev”.

Apparently Paul had been positively OBSESSED with this anime character “Magic Angel Gara-chan”. I seem to recall seeing him sometimes with Gara-chan merchandise, but I had no idea that the whole time his hidden ambition that had motivated his work for DynaVR had been dedicated to making her “real”. The idea was that he could project her into the real world using a VR headset, although she would only be visible to him. The VR headset’s exterior cameras would still show him the “real world” inside the VR headset, just with Gara-chan added in. With all the recent AI advancements, Paul realized that his dream was suddenly very much within reach. He dedicated himself nonstop to completing the base DynaVR software, while using the extra funding on the other components that would be neccessary to bring Gara-chan to life within his VR headset. Several thousand went towards paying for an extremely high quality 3D model. Even larger amounts were used to train an AI language model to speak like Gara-chan, and for an AI voice synthesizer to sound like her too. Most complicated was the movement, but eventually enough data from a mocap studio got that squared away as well.

The first weeks with Gara-chan were ecstatic for Paul. He describes chatting with her for hours, just sitting there staring at her, enraptured by the fact that she was finally right there in front of him. They spent a happy honeymoon period “redecorating” Paul’s apartment. At some point Paul realized that he could use the VR headset to project not just Gara-chan but other objects into his apartment, like new furniture or decoration. He could also transform existing objects by overlaying them with different models or textures within the headset. Soon, to Paul’s eyes, the apartment was completely transformed. The single stained California King mattress on the floor of his bedroom looked to him like a canopied sumptuous sultanic satin cushion bed. The pill bottles filled with Adderall scattered across the apartment became magic productivity potions. Elaborate Renaissance paintings and sculptures of Gara-chan went up in every spare corner. The balcony was no longer that of an upscale apartment, but that of a palace, and of course it no longer looked out upon the San Francisco skyline. I suppose the reason the floors were so messy is simply because he was unable to see all the trash.

But the happiness didn’t last, because the illusion was still incomplete. Now more than anything, Paul desperately longed to touch Gara-chan, feel the warmth of her skin, however every time he reached out to her his hand only connected with air. He conducted extensive experiments with varying success on how to get more… intimate with Gara-chan. I’ll spare the details but the… paraphenalia was scattered all around the apartment. However all those arrangements were too contrived, they weren’t fluid, they weren’t natural, they could never be spontaneous. They had to be prepared consciously in advance, carefully aligned, and still didn’t feel quite real. He could never reach out and give her a spur-of-the-moment hug, or run his fingers through her hair as she passed by…

Having no one else to turn to, Paul discussed his struggles at length with Gara-chan. She suggested that perhaps there could be a solution in her magical homeland, the Heavenly City in the Clouds. Yes, of course, Paul said, I completely forgot where you’re from! Surely they must have a solution, if we can just figure out a way to get there… Paul downed a productivity potion and rushed to his development console. He created a model for a “Cloud Stairway” and inserted it into DynaVR. Together with Gara-chan, he stepped out onto the balcony and prepared to climb the Cloud Stairway, stretching from the edge of his balcony all the way into the depths of the sky, where he could faintly make out the Heavenly City in the Clouds gently shining. He took Gara-chan’s hand as best he could without being able to feel it, and stepped off the balcony onto the first step of the Cloud Stairway. As though he had stepped out onto a real cloud, he fell right through and plummeted eighteen stories to his death, where his body was discovered by a DoorDash driver delivering Salt & Straw ice cream.

Wow John, that is… quite the story, I said after he finished. Pretty rough for you, but at least your MVP is pretty much finished, right? John muttered a weak yeah, and suddenly got up to leave. As he walked towards the door I called out to him and said it was nice catching up with him, but he didn’t react.

I lingered there on the couch a bit, thinking about the story. It’s certainly one of the most powerful productivity hacks, doing it for the girl. Think of all the art throughout history that has gotten done thanks to that. Heck, some even say that that’s why we have civilization. And I guess Paul kind of proved that the girl doesn’t even have to be real. But he also proved that it’s a double-edged sword, and can just as easily destroy you. I think the best option is probably just to play it safe and try to be productive without getting distracted by girls, which is why I’ve been looking into chemical castration lately.