Throw that bamboo back scratcher in the trash where it belongs—the new back-scratching shirt has rendered it completely obsolete!

Background:

There are all manner of weird back-scratching products, like bamboo claws, mini rakes, and probably like, dinosaur teeth or something like that. But all of them require specific effort to use, are generally unwieldy, and are socially frowned upon in a workplace environment.

Proposal:

The solution is so simple: just integrate the functionality of a back scratcher with a normal shirt! A shirt could have dozens of bamboo / plastic / metal / etc. spikes on the inside (Figure 1), replicating the functionality of the now-obsolete standalone back scratcher.

Fig. 1: This shirt shows how some moderately-pointy spikes (presumably easily obtainable cheaply from a goth jewelry overstock supplier) could be placed inside a shirt to improve it.

Warning: the spikes should not be TOO spike-y, or else the user might end up creating their own wearable iron maiden. Please keep this in mind when prototyping.

Conclusion:

Throw away your dress shirts and casual-wear alike—this is the future of torso-based garmentry.

PROS: Improves the humble shirt (which has been almost completely ignored by the sartorial advances of the 20th and 21st centuries).

CONS: Just don’t get it caught in any spinning machinery, and you’ll be fine, OK?

Improve your corporate meeting skills with meeting role play cards, inspired by the bluffing games “Mafia” and “Werewolf.” Never have a boring and unproductive meeting again!

The Issue:

At many companies, large group meetings are a regular occurrence. However, sometimes meetings are unproductive. For example, it might be a situation where only a couple of people run the meeting (and everyone else spaces out), or the meeting participants might includes archetypes such as “jerk who interrupts people” or “yes-man who agrees to everything their boss says.”

Proposal:

It can be difficult for people to change their basic tendencies, but maybe the addition of a “meeting role-play” game would help in the situations described above.

This could be done by assigning people to “meeting roles” randomly: each participant is given a card with a “role” on it, such as:

  • Person who rambles on and on until they are interrupted.
  • Quiet person who never says anything unless specifically addressed.
  • “Consensus builder” who tries to solicit feedback from everyone.
  • Impatient individual who interrupts anyone after 10 seconds.
  • Person who over-explains every technical detail.
  • Skeptical engineer who expresses doubt about any technical proposal.

Many people already fit into one or more of these archetypes, but this card-based system will force people to try out other roles, rather than the one that most naturally suits them.

Ideally, people wouldn’t reveal their actual role, but would let their coworkers infer it from their actions. (Conceptually, this is like the multi-player bluffing game “Werewolf” or “Mafia,” in which players are randomly assigned secret roles to perform without giving away their role).

An alternative approach would be to assign required actions to meeting participants, rather than roles. In this proposal (Figure 1), a person entering a meeting might draw three cards that said, for example, 1) “Interrupt someone inappropriately,” 2) “Agree with a co-worker,” and 3) “Provide constructive negative feedback.”


Fig. 1: It could be the case that people get a single “role” card (e.g. “Yes Man” here), or perhaps multiple “action” cards (the other three cards shown here).

Conclusion:

To encourage people to perform these socially-transgressive actions (e.g. “Disagree with your boss!” or “Rudely say that an idea is bad!”), we will provide some incentive: if a person uses up all their required “meeting actions,” then they are allowed to eat one of the donuts that was, presumably, brought for the meeting.

Anyone who shamefully fails to perform their card-mandated meeting role will be denied donut privileges.

Someone might say “hey, why do some of these cards that suggest negative actions that will prevent a harmonious meeting?” The answer is that meeting participants need to be able to have a productive discussion despite human failings: it’s important to “inoculate” one’s coworkers so that they can productively handle socially-transgressive actions, rather than being shocked by them.

PROS: Could actually legitimately improve meetings!

CONS: Good luck figuring out what to do when you get the “interrupt the head of your company and say that their idea is terrible” card. Is that worth a donut?

Improve typing by reducing the number of letters in the English language. Even 15 letters turn out to be more than sufficient!

Background:

Generally, the more letters / symbols your alphabet has, the more hassle it is to type on a keyboard.

There are  ways to mitigate this issue (e.g. Japanese and Chinese manage), but it’s a lot more straightforward if you can just cut down the number of symbols entirely.

English, with 26 letters plus a few extras (numbers, space bar, shift key, etc…) isn’t too bad in this department, but we can still improve it!

As inspiration, the Hawaiian alphabet only has 13 letters.

The Issue:

We’d like to reduce the alphabet so that we can create a keyboard that can be operated with minimal finger movement. (This already exists in the form of the “chorded keyboard,” but we’re going to solve the problem at a more fundamental level.)

Ideally, we’d get it down to 10 symbols (one per finger), but this might be a bit excessive.

Proposal:

Looking at a standard keyboard, there are about ~20 keys that can be easily reached by each hand.

If we can cut the alphabet down to about 15 letters, we’ll still have 5 keys left over for important “special” keys (space bar, shift key, etc.).

This would let a person keep a hand on the keyboard and a hand on the mouse, and not have to constantly switch. Good for gamers and spreadsheet aficionados!

Here’s our starting point (26 letters):

  • ABCDE FGHJI KLMNO PQRST UVWXY Z (26 letters)

Immediately, several letters seem like good candidates to remove:

  • W: replace it with “VV.” VVhat an easy solution!
  • X: usually replaceable by “ks” or “z” or “ch.” Don’t need it! Eksellent.
  • Q: “kw,” “k,” or similar. The letter is kvvite unnecessary.
  • J: Somehow the Romans managed without it by using the “I” and “J” as a single letter. We’ll replace it with the “i” and make people figure it out from context. So the word “join” now becomes “ioin.” A little confusing, but English is already a mess.
  • Y: Usually replaceable by “ee” “i,” or similar. “Yak” can become “iak.” Yo-yo can become “io-io.” Close enough!
  • C: Replaceable by a “K” or “S,” except for “CH,” which will need to be represented a new way. How about “KS:” so a “choice” is now a “ksoice.” Questionable, but you’ll get used to it!

Now we’re down to these 20 letters:

  • ABDEF GHIKL MNOPR STUVZ (20 letters)

Time to get ruthless in our trimming.

  • Z: Can be vaguely approximated by an “S” or “SS.” So zebra becomes ssebra and zipper becomes ssipper
  • F: The “F” and “V” are somewhat similar, so we’ll delete the “F.” People will just have to figure it out—or “vigure it out”—vrom context.
  • U: Rolled into “O.” So “pull the upper door handle” becomes “poll the opper door handle.” Not bad!
  • M: Combine it with N. “Temporary measures” becomes “Tenporari neasores.” Could be worse!
  • P: The “P” can become a variant reading of “B.”

And we’re done! Here are the 15 letters that survived:

  • ABDEG HIKLN ORSTV (15 letters)

Testing:

Let’s test our new stripped-down alphabet.

1. If we start with: The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog—what a bold choice, full of vulpine zeal.

We’ll end up with: The kvoick brovvn voks ionbed over the lassee dog—vvhat a bold ksoice, voll ov volbine sseal.

2. An example from Hamlet (“brevity is the soul of wit”): Since brevitee is the sool ov vvit, and tedioosness the linbs and ootvvard vloorishes, i vvill be briev.

3. And the beginning of the the U.S. Constitution: VVe the beoble ov the Onited States, in order to vorn a nore bervect onion, establish iostice, insore donestic trankvoilitee, brovide vor the connon devence, bronote the general vvelvare, and secore the blessings ov libertee to oorselves and oor bosteritee, do ordain and establish this constitotion vor the Onited States ov Anerica.

Conclusion:

The colored keyboard area below (Fig. 1) shows a possible layout for our 15-letter English.

Fig. 1: The left half of this keyboard shows a proposed 15-letter alphabet layout. The right half of the keyboard is unmodified, and could be repurposed for other uses. The blue keys don’t have a specific proposal here, but they could be used for punctuation, numbers, or modifier keys. Keyboard layout image is from Wikipedia.

Here’s the full translation command, which should work on any Mac or Linux system:

echo “your_text_here” | tee /dev/stderr | sed -e 's/w/vv/g' -e 's/x/ks/g' -e 's/q/kvv/g’ -e 's/ch/ks/g' -e 's/z/ss/g' -e 's/y/ee/g' | tr 'jfupm' 'ivobn'

PROS: Reduces the alphabet to 58% of its original size! Think of the savings.

CONS: ”Big Typography” will fight tooth-and-nail to prevent these reforms from going through, so it might never happen.

Add some pizzazz to your telephone with a secret forbidden ritual to communicate across the astral planes!

Background:

Hundreds of years ago, a cool looking numeric system was invented for writing numbers from 0–9999 in a single cryptic rune: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cistercian_numerals. In Figure 1, we see how two such symbols could represent a phone number.

Fig. 1: These “Cistercian numerals” may be a bit excessively complicated, but they certainly add a flair of wizardly charm to otherwise-mundane mathematics. Here, we see “867” and “5309” represented as two Cistercian glyphs.

Proposal:

By making use of these strange-looking numbers, ”boring“ mundane activities—like dialing a phone number—can become more exciting (Figure 2). This will allow people to appreciate how “magical” it is to (for example) be able to video chat with a person thousands of miles away

Fig. 2: By dressing up a boring regular phone call (left) with wizardly runes (right), dialing a phone number becomes an exciting voyage into the world of supernatural mystery.

Conclusion:

Look for this feature in your next cell phone system update!

PROS: Gives people more of an appreciation for the things in life that they take for granted, which might increase overall life satisfaction.

CONS: It’s possible that angry villagers will think you are putting a curse on them, and you’ll be attacked with torches and pitchforks. Use this new user interface judiciously!

Inspire your coworkers with the Comet Countdown Clock!

Background:

Workplaces will occasionally have “countdown clocks,” like “X days without a workplace injury” or “Y days until our product is launched.”

The Issue:

Sometimes, it’s hard for companies (and employees) to take a long-term view of things—everyone is just focused on the next financial quarter’s profits, or short-term stock value.

Proposal:

In order to encourage add long-term perspective, we’ll add some more “countdown” clocks for more far-reaching events. These could even be speculative, like “5 years until the planned manufacturing expansion in Southeast Asia.”

We could even track the time for more distant events. For example, “214,621,870 days (best estimate) until the Yellowstone Supervolcano erupts.” See Figure 1 for another example.

Fig. 1: Along with a normal wall clock and a “days since last accident” counter, we’ll add the “Comet Collision Countdown Clock,” which tracks the time until a hypothetical comet causes humans to go extinct and (presumably) dinosaurs to return.

Conclusion:

A version of this could also be used at restaurants, to increase table turnover. A neon sign reading “FORTY SEVEN MINUTES AND THIRTY-THREE SECONDS REMAINING TO EAT DINNER!” would be helpful to encourage patrons to eat efficiently and free up their table for other diners.

PROS: Encourages people to take a long view of their company’s future. May also help increase restaurant table availability.

CONS: None!

Solve sea level rise with collective grassroots action! Just store the water somewhere BESIDES the sea. So simple!

Background:

Increased global average temperatures may lead to increased sea levels. This could be a problem for coastal regions, but perhaps we can all do our part to mitigate sea level rise by storing the water elsewhere.

The Issue:

We have the following numbers (Fig 1):

  • The ocean covers ~360,000,000 km2 (surface area).
  • One estimate for sea level rise is ≤ 0.5 meters in the next 50 years.

If we want to be prepared for the 0.5-meter scenario, we’ll need to plan to handle up to this many cubic meters of additional water:

  • (360 trillion m2 * 0.5 m sea level rise) = 180 trillion m3
Fig. 1: With 360 million square kilometers of surface area times 0.5 meters of potential sea level rise, we end up with “a lot” of water to deal with.

If we don’t want the sea levels to rise, we’ll need to store that water somewhere. But where!

Proposal #1:

Everyone drinks a lot more water. Unfortunately, it turns out that every person would need to store more than 8 million gallons of water (each), which is substantially more than can be temporarily sequestered in an individual human body.

Even if we add camels to this mix, this plan clearly is not going to work.

Proposal #2:

Everyone stores some water in their basement, guest room, garage, or shed. If everyone does their part, we can help take this water “out of circulation” and prevent sea level rise.

Let’s estimate (roughly) that there will be an average of 5.4 billion adults with the resources to contribute. That means every person just needs to store the following:

  • (180,000,000,000,000 m3) / (5,400,000,000 people)
  • = 33,333 m3 of water per person, or ~8,800,000 gallons

This might sound like a lot of water, but it’s actually only a cube 32.2 meters (105 feet) on each side: about as tall as an 8-story building (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: Shown with a person and a car for comparison. The full height is shown, but only the partial width appears here. This 32-meter-on-a-side “water tank cube” would resemble a traditional 8-story rectangular office building.

Conclusion:

A water tank of this size turns out to be technically feasible, as demonstrated by the 45,000 cubic meter Tala tank in India, built in the early 1900s.

PROS: Clearly within the realm of technical possibility.

CONS: It might be hard to secure a buildable 105 ft2 (~0.25 acre) plot of land for over 5 billion people.

Power your house entirely by pedaling a stationary bike connected to a generator! The only catch is that you have to do it for 24 hours per day, and then an additional 26 hours that same day.

Background:

It’s difficult to appreciate the amount of energy that is consumed by a citizen of a modern industrial economy.

If we only consider household electricity, a “reasonable” amount of consumption (ignoring air conditioning or heating) can be more than 5 kilowatt-hours (~200 watts of average usage over a 24-hour period).

A non-bicycling-enthusiast adult can generate ~100 watts for an hour (optimistically) before they get sick of it, for a total of 0.1 kilowatt-hours (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: In this scenario, a person pedals on the stationary bike (left), and this is somehow converted into stored energy in the battery (center). When you need power for the house, your plug the battery into the mains (blue cable) and… let’s just imagine this all works out somehow, I’m no electrician.

The Issue:

The numbers above give us the following totals:

  • Household power usage per day: 5000 watt-hours
  • Plausible amount of electricity generated by a human: 100 watt-hours.

In this particular case, we have a shortfall of 4900 watt-hours. A person would need to generate about 50 times more power than they actually do in order for the house to be fully powered by an exercise bike.

The numbers above aren’t even enough to keep a refrigerator operational!

Proposal:

The goal here isn’t to actually fully power a house with a stationary bike (since that’s clearly impossible).

But we can give a person an impression of how much power is actually consumed by various things, and encourage them to exercise by entirely cutting off electricity to the house if the inhabitant doesn’t pedal the bike sufficiently.

The process will work as follows: a bike will be connected to a (totally fake) battery with a screen on it (Figure 2). When the user pedals, the battery is “charged.” This is all simulated, except for one part: if the battery is completely drained, then the electrical outlets in the house will stop working entirely.

As you can imagine, this will provide a strong incentive for the user to frequently make use of the exercise bike!

Fig. 2: Here, we can see that the user has 9.6 hours of charge remaining in their battery at the current rate of usage. Note the “power multiplier” setting in orange, which is discussed in the following text.

In order to make this system actually possible (and not just completely demoralizing and/or equivalent to just having no electricity), we will include a “power multiplier” setting (the orange text in Figure 2) on the battery. This setting allows the user to get credit for vastly more electricity than they actually generated.

For example, if we set the power multiplier to 100x, then for every 1 watt-hour the user generates by pedaling the bike, we’ll add 99 additional watt-hours from the power grid.

In a location in which air conditioning or electric heating is required, the power multiplier might need to be increased to 500x or more.

Conclusion:

It’s quite surprising how much power even a basic appliance consumes.

For example, one of those on-demand hot water kettles (the kind that can dispense scalding-hot water at any time) consumes an average of ~35 watts 24/7. So just pedaling a bike is actually not even sufficient for this single kitchen appliance!

A microwave or space heater will typically consume between 1000–1500 watts, so clearly that’s out of the realm of possibility unless we get an entire team of Olympic bicyclists to power it.

PROS: Encourages people to both 1) exercise and 2) consider energy efficient appliances.

CONS: None! The perfect plan.

Reduce the rate of crimes perpetrated with guns & blunt weapons with this business defense tip. Stop wasting money: this new security system has zero recurring costs!

The Issue:

One issue that faces business owners is the issue of providing physical security. Businesses that have a lot of cash on the premises may be targeted for robberies, which can be dangerous to both employees and patrons.

Ideally, we would have a way to discourage criminals from using deadly weapons in a robbery (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: This sign might do the trick.

Proposal:

In order to discourage criminals from using weapons in a robbery, we propose to create a situation in which it is very dangerous (for all participants) to use a weapon at all: specifically, hundreds of fragile glass capsules (Fig. 2) full of pressurized deadly corrosive gas will be placed throughout the business (e.g. lining the walls, behind the counter, at the cash register).

Since any gunfire (or sufficiently intense fighting) in the convenience store is likely to break one or more of the glass capsules, the rational robber will realize that it’s a bad idea to rob the store in the first place, which should make things safer for everyone.

Fig. 2: It’s important for these containers to be extremely fragile—they need to break if even slightly disturbed.

As an added bonus, the reduction in robberies will reduce the cost of insurance for the business.

Although this system is primarily intended for cash-heavy businesses, it is equally applicable in other areas where crime (and general roughhousing) is to be discouraged, such as schools and hospitals.

Conclusion:

It is recommended that this system not be implemented in areas that are prone to earthquakes or high winds.

PROS: Might effectively reduce the rate of gun- and blunt-weapon-based crime.

CONS: Does not effectively discourage the user of laser-based weapons in robberies, which may make this system obsolete in the future.

Using this secret technique, a business can provide incredibly low-priced products to its customers! The only catch is a massive assortment of hidden fees.

Background:

In most cases, the listed price of a product is also its actual price.

But sometimes this is not true. Airlines, cell phone providers, and restaurants (among other businesses) occasionally add non-obvious “bonus” costs to the final fee.

Sometimes, these are temporary: in New York City in 2021, a ~10% “COVID surcharge” was authorized (and then later removed).

These surcharges can also be permanent: in San Francisco, some restaurants include a ~3–5% “healthy SF” surcharge (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Healthy_San_Francisco), a (rare) 5–10% surcharge for either dining-in or takeout, and a (very rare) 1% surcharge to encourage responsible agricultural practices.

In an extreme case, a meal might include 9% sales tax + 15% tip + 3.5% health surcharge + 1% sustainable agriculture + 10% dine-in fee, which results in 38.5% higher prices (i.e. a $45 meal would actually cost $62.33).

Proposal:

Some jurisdictions allow arbitrary surcharges: e.g. “due to higher ingredient prices, we are adding a $1 surcharge for each sandwich.”

You might ask: why not just increase the prices by $1? Well, then the items on the menu would look expensive!

Assuming these fees are not subjected to any legal limits, the following proposal presents itself:

  • List everything on the menu with an absurdly low price (Figure 1)
  • Then, have a small “menu supplement” section with a bunch of additional fees (for things like “paying employees” or “renting a building”).
Fig. 1: These amazing prices appear, at a first glance, to undercut all the other restaurants in the area. How can this restaurant offer such great deals? The “Following Fees” section (circled in red) reveals the secret.

As an added bonus, online restaurant-search web sites might think that the artificially low menu prices are the real prices. This will lead to that restaurant being displayed with an unrealistically low price in the search results.

Conclusion:

Some jurisdictions forbid hidden supplemental fees, but this might be legitimately legal in certain cities!

PROS: Restaurant owners: make your restaurant more appealing in online search results with this one questionable tip!

CONS: Customers might get annoyed if the fees get too excessive. Or they might just tolerate them! Only one way to find out.

Never be annoyed by badly-fitting clothing again! (Or at least, you’ll be forewarned, with this new garment-hanging clothing annotation system.) The ultimate in coat hanging technology.

Background:

Clothing comes in a wide variety of sizes, and it’s likely that a person will accumulate garments that fit to various degrees of acceptability.

The Issue:

Annoyingly, it can be hard to remember which clothing items have which styles of fit. One could imagine the solution of just throwing out everything that wasn’t a perfect fit, but this doesn’t work well, because:

  • A person might have a bunch of garments that used to fit, but don’t quite fit anymore (and maybe they hope they’ll fit again in the near future)
  • A person might own some “comfortable” pants that are super baggy, and some “professional” ones that are a better fit.
  • A person might have an uncomfortable dress shirt that they only wear every three years for some sort of event.

In these cases, it makes sense for a person to keep questionably-fitting garments around. Which of the 5 pairs of identical looking jeans is the “comfortable” pair? Which shirt is the uncomfortable but properly-fitted one for attending a wedding? You’ve gotta try them on to find out (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: For most types of clothing, it isn’t immediately obvious what the fit will be. So a person might have a set of baggy jeans and a set of tight jeans that visually look similar.

Proposal:

The solution is to annotate the clothing with its degree of fit: then you’d be able to tell, at a glance, which clothes were which.

The simplest way to do this would be to add two dials to a garment hanger (Fig. 2) that you (the wearer), would manually set to indicate the quality of fit of the article of clothing in question.

Fig. 2: A user manually adjusts the two dials on this coat hanger to indicate the fit of the article of clothing (say, a pair of jeans) being hung on it. These hanger indicates (if the dials are to be believed) that the jeans are slightly too long and too skinny for the wearer.

In this specific proposal, the indicators are two dials, but really anything would work: the “easy” version of this idea would be to just get a couple of different types of coat hangers: one color for “casual” clothes and one for “dress” clothes.

Conclusion:

Implementing a prototype of this (a sticky note on the hanger that says “uncomfortable dress shirt”) has been an effective method of answering the question “what the heck is this shirt that I never wear (and why have I not gotten rid of it).“ Now I know!

PROS: Probably could actually be sold as a real product in the genre of “things people give as gifts.” Very inexpensive to manufacture, too!

CONS: After washing multiple similar-looking articles of clothing, it might be difficult to match them to the correct hanger.