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If you’re starting a new gang, read this important set of guidelines before you select your gang colors!

Background:

Some gangs are known for wearing specific colors.

The issue:

It occasionally happens that a non-gang-affiliated passerby’s clothing happens to match local gang colors by chance, which can lead to various unfortunate encounters.

Proposal:

Although it is unlikely that any existing gang will change its colors, if creating a new gang, a new “gang color style guide” is proposed:

  • Instead of adopting a single solid color (e.g. red, blue, green), a gang instead selects the distinctive patterning of a local type of snake, as illustrated in Figure 1.

This has at least two benefits:

  1. Due to the complex snake patterning, it is unlikely that a non-gang-affiliated individual would coincidentally happen to be wearing valid gang colors.
  2. These snake patterns would serve a useful educational purpose for the community at large. For example, people who were continually exposed to The Coral Snake Gang‘s colors would soon become experts in identifying the coloration of the venomous coral snake. This knowledge could save lives and be a useful fact for pub trivia.
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Fig. 1: These proposed gang colors are the patterns of two commonly-confused snakes. (Left: the non-venomous milk snake. Right: the venomous coral snake.)

Conclusion:

This would be a useful way of reinforcing the knowledge conveyed in the rhyme in Figure 2. Now, every time a person sees a member of “The Milk Snake Gang,” they will also reinforce their familiarity with the coloration of the milk snake.

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Fig. 2: These rhymes from Wikipedia allegedly help remember which snakes are venomous: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coral_snake . Since it seems prudent to not be bitten by a snake in either the venomous or the non-venomous situation, a more generally applicable rhyme (suggested to me by a fellow bad/worst idea aficionado) would be “If it’s a snake / do not partake.”

PROS: Teaches valuable snake facts, improves public safety.

CONS: May be difficult to find clothing in the required colors/patterns.

 

Increase “friction” in web purchases in order to save us from the convenience of our decadent consumerist society: the incredible “chomping alligator mouth” accessory that you need in your life today!

Background:

In today’s highly computerized society, it’s easy to make an expensive purchase or a life-changing decision with minimal effort.

The issue:

Sometimes, the importance of a decision is out of sync with how much work is required to make that decision.

For example, now that online purchases are extremely “low friction,” it is possible to order 500 king cobras and have them shipped to your house or apartment with just a single button click on a web site.

Previously, one would have had to actually go to a store and start throwing cobras into a shopping bag, loading them into your car, etc., which would have given the purchaser time to reflect on their life decisions.

Proposal:

In order to bring back “friction”—or at least make the danger / importance of a decision evident—the following computer accessory is proposed: a hinged alligator mouth with a button inside (Figure 1).

For any big-ticket purchase or important decision (e.g. “Submit your taxes online”), you will no longer be able to confirm your decision by simply clicking on a button on screen. Instead, you have to reach into the alligator’s mouth and click the “Confirm” button.

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Fig. 1: This alligator mouth makes impulse purchases less likely. Description at left: the button (A) must be pressed in order to make any expensive online purchases. Hinged sections (B) and (C) can clamp shut (D) onto the user’s hand if the system determines that the user has made a poor purchasing decision.

The alligator mouth would not necessarily have to even have the capability of chomping on the button-pushing user: it’s possible that the psychological impact of placing one’s hand into the mouth would be sufficient to make the user think twice about their purchase.

 

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Fig. 2: When multiple programmers work on the same code, they have to merge their changes together in the end. If someone submits bad code or improperly merges it, it creates a huge hassle for everyone. Here, the alligator mouth would be able to chomp down on a user who attempted to merge improperly formatted (or otherwise invalid) code.

Bonus proposal:

Since people make more and more of their purchases on smartphones, it’s likely that this alligator mouth would be very inconvenient, since it’s not very portable. To solve this issue, we can bring the “clamshell” form factor back to cell phone designs, then add a motorized mechanism to allow the phone to snap closed onto the user’s fingers.

Historical precedent:

This is basically an Internet-enabled version of the enormous stone “Mouth of Truth” in Rome.

PROS: Reduces the likelihood of poorly-considered Internet purchases.

CONS: May cause enormous psychological trauma and/or loss of important fingers.

Improve the safety of high-altitude mountaineering with this new permitting mechanism—never fear overcrowding on Everest again!

Background:

Certain mountains require that climbers obtain a permit before embarking.

Sometimes these can be expensive, but rarely is any mountaineering competency required. Everest permits, which are issued by the government of Nepal, cost approximately $10,000 (Wikipedia link).

The issue:

If too many people are crowded onto a narrow high-altitude route, disaster can result from increased amount of time that climbers spend in the inhospitable low-temperature and low-oxygen environment.

Proposal:

Instead of just giving out Everest permits to anyone who can pay the fee, why not make a climber show their dedication by first requiring that they summit a less deadly mountain?

Specifically, the climber must obtain a physical “summit eligibility token” from the summit of an easier peak, as shown in Figure 1.

This token—plus the standard entry fee—would then be required for climbing a more difficult mountain.

 

2-mountains

Fig. 1: Left: the leftmost mountain is not too difficult, and can be climbed without a permit. On the top of that mountain is a token that will permit the climber to attempt the mountain shown in the middle of the diagram, and so on.

In order to make things slightly more interesting, the token is not just a simple card or coin, but is an extremely heavy metal ingot (Figure 2).

The climber would have to show their mountaineering prowess by somehow lugging this heavy ingot all the way back down the mountain.

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Fig. 2: The more advanced tokens are also heavier; in this case, the “Everest eligibility” token is a 20 kilogram (44 lb.) copper ingot. Restocking these ingots would be easy: they could simply be airdropped from a plane or helicopter, since the exact placement of the ingots is not crucial, as long as they are in the general vicinity of the peak.

Conclusion:

The Everest gatekeepers should adopt this idea, and should immediately start designing some interesting eligibility ingots (and figuring out which mountains they should go on).

PROS: Sets a lower bound on the amount of unqualified-ness of a prospective mountain climber, which may reduce the number of mountaineering fatalities.

CONS: May also reduce overall revenue obtained from permit issuance.

Never be frustrated by a slow download again, thanks to this new “file download” interface that will give you a newfound appreciation of even the slowest download speed! A new and improved semi-“skeuomorphic” user interface paradigm.

Background:

Sometimes, it seems like a file is taking forever to download (or copy). A speed of 160 kilobytes per second may seem excruciatingly slow, but that’s actually an entire late-1970s floppy disk (Figure 1) per second.

1-floppy

Fig. 1: This is the type of floppy disk that is legitimately floppy, not the 3.5 inch “floppy disk” that is immortalized in the “save file” icon and “💾” emoji.

Proposal:

Instead of just showing a slowly filling up progress bar when downloading (or copying) a file, a computer should show an animation of old floppy disks flying across the screen (Fig 2).

2-floppy-copy-dialog

Fig. 2: These zooming floppy disks make it clear that a LOT of data is being copied.

This will help emphasize how much data is actually being copied: potentially hundreds of floppy disks per second!

Think about how much faster a copy would seem if it were presented in this fashion, instead of as an incredibly slowly-filling-up progress bar.

Bonus second proposal:

Instead of showing just the number of floppy disks per second, the file copy could be represented as a number of monks transcribing the file onto an enormous vellum scroll.

If we assume that an efficient monk could write eight bytes (~8 characters) per second, then a 10 megabyte per second transfer speed would need to be represented as (10 * 1024 * 1024 / 8) 1.3 million monks in a row, all writing to the same file (Figure 3).

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Fig. 3: Over 1.3 million monks would need to be rendered (shown here: 4) in order to accurately depict a 10 megabyte/second copy speed.

That is probably too many monks to display on a screen at once, but the screen could slowly zoom in and out of specific regions of this enormous scroll-copying effort to really give the end user an appreciation for the effort involved.

PROS: Gives an impatient computer user a newfound appreciation of how fast their data transfer really is.

CONS: Spending so much processing power on rendering images of monks copying a file might negatively impact both battery life / energy efficiency and file-copy speed.

Evade pesky zoning laws with this one new scheme that lets you (maybe) turn a commercial building into a personal residence!

Background:

In order to support technological progress, many people are willing to endure great hardships.

The issue:

For example, most Americans are willing to drive for 30–60 minutes every day on their commute, just so that they can help create a market for new types of transportation [*].

One might imagine that a person in the hour-long-commute situation would just move closer to their job, but local zoning restrictions (Figure 1) often make this impossible.

[*] For example, the car, the diesel car, the hybrid car, the electric car, the “ride-sharing” car (actually just a taxi connected to a phone app), and the elusive and currently-hypothetical “self-driving” car.

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Fig. 1: In the city map above, red areas are commercially zoned, and purple ares are residentially zoned. There is often a long travel distance to get between zones. (Real zoning is presumably more complex than “residential” vs “commercial,” but 95% of the author’s knowledge here comes from SimCity, so give me a break, man.)

Proposal:

Here are two proposed ways to help people live closer to their jobs:

  • Start a new “night watchman training” business with extremely comfortable suspiciously-apartment-sized rooms, and charge people a rent-sized amount of money for on-the-job training / courses for students. (If the students somehow fail to stay awake, they can just keep paying for the course as long as they want.)
  • Start a “sleep study clinic” (Figure 2). Normally, this is a legitimate business that diagnoses sleep apnea and other issues. Our modified version would be similar, but cheaper to set up, since it would not require any expensive medical equipment: in fact, the only piece of equipment supplied is a 5-dollar stopwatch (included with the apartment). When a resident is about to go to sleep, they can start the stopwatch, and when they wake up, they will have a vague idea of how long they were asleep. Naturally, this would be a paid service (costing about the same as the prevailing rent in the local neighborhood).

 

2-sleep-study-inc.png

Fig. 2: By converting this building from a traditional office to a “sleep study clinic,” it will be completely non-suspicious to see a bunch of rooms that look like furnished apartments, occupied by residents who stay there overnight.

Conclusion:

This is a plan that some developer should definitely try, just to see what happens.

PROS: Might help people rethink their established notions of what a “normal” commute should be.

CONS: Some overzealous “spirit of the law, not the letter of the law” lawyers and city council members would definitely put an end to a scheme like this. Also you might go to prison and/or owe somebody a bunch of money in fines.

The “jigsaw puzzle credit card” is the new ultimate invention in credit card security. Refuse to get a new corporate credit card if it doesn’t come with this incredible feature!

Background:

Credit cards are a popular payment method, especially for business transactions.

The issue:

Sometimes, high-value business transactions require the approval of more than one person.

Additionally, if a credit card is lost or stolen, someone will have to meticulously verify that no fraudulent transactions were made on it, which can be very time-consuming!

Proposal:

Both of these problems, and more, can be solved by physically cutting the credit card up into multiple pieces.

Each piece would be held by a different individual, and the card would need to be re-assembled (like a jigsaw puzzle, as in Figure 1) prior to any transaction.

1-credit-card-cut-puzzle.png

Fig. 1: This card can be disassembled into four pieces, all of which would be required in order to either use the chip or read the complete credit card number.

With this “jigsaw puzzle credit card” system, any transaction will be physically impossible without getting the approval of all card-piece holders, thus removing the need for complicated reimbursement systems involving people signing off on business expenses.

As an added benefit, if only a subset of the credit card pieces are stolen, the card will become unusable and the thief will be unable to make any unauthorized transactions.

This would be useful for both business travels and individual users who were, say, traveling to a foreign country with their friends or family.

Conclusion:

It would be possible to make cards in many different styles: for example, a card could be split into only two pieces, or as many as 8 or so before it started becoming impractical.

PROS: Facilitates commerce! Also works with debit cards, ATM cards, library cards, etc.

CONS: Each piece’s unusual shapes would make it difficult to fit into a wallet. Perhaps each piece could be slotted into a plastic “dummy” credit card, thus maintaining wallet compatibility.

Prism glasses will improve your posture! Never hunch over your laptop like some kind of Quasimodo again!

Background:

Since laptops are so convenient and portable, many people work in locations that are not set up for long-term ergonomic comfort (for example, dining room tables or coffeeshop counters, e.g. Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: A setup like this is a common work environment, despite its presumably questionable OSHA rating.

The issue:

Since these locations were never designed for laptop use, they are typically set up in such a way that the laptop keyboard and screen are way too low, and you often see people hunching over their laptops in ridiculous fashion (Figure 2).

 

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Fig. 2: This highly dubious pose is the common reality of laptop use in non-optimal situations, and is, additionally, an affront to the human form. People tend to blame themselves for having “bad posture,” but really it’s an inescapable element of such a work environment.

Ideally, people imagine that they would sit up straight, as shown in Figure 3. But that is incompatible with the position of the computer screen.

3-ideal-sitting-position

Fig. 3: This “ideal posture” scenario is totally unrealistic given the position of the laptop. The user will inevitably return to the situation shown in Figure 2.

Proposal:

Luckily, the fix is simple: a modified version of belay glasses, a type of prism glasses used in rock climbing that were allow wearers to look up without craning their necks.

Except in this case, the prism glasses will look down at the laptop screen, rather than up, as illustrated in Figure 4.

 

 

4-good-ergonomics

Fig. 4: These “prism glasses” (in this case, actually a giant prism attached to a hat) are  suspended in such a way that the user is able to look directly at the prism, yet see the laptop screen below. The prism would presumably not actually be purple, although technically that would be an option.

Conclusion:

Since prism-based belaying glasses already exist (surprisingly, only commercially available after 2007!), laptop prism glasses are probably not totally infeasible.

It would also be possible to use a VR headset to set up something like this, but at that point you might as well just set up a proper work space.

PROS: Improve your posture!

CONS: The “sweet spot” for seeing the screen is probably extremely narrow, so any movement of the wearer’s head may move the laptop screen out of the user’s view. Additionally, even the slightest imperfections in the prism would probably make text very difficult to read.