Incredible way for a lazy dog or cat to get exercise: combine a pet food bowl with a Frisbee™ (or a generic “flying disc” if you can’t afford the proper trademark licensing requirements)

The Issue:

It is hypothetically possible for a person to have a VERY LAZY pet that requires exercise yet stubbornly refuses to go on a walk. Technical experts probably refer to this as the “Garfield conundrum“ (or at least they should).

Proposal:

Instead of dragging the recalcitrant beast along with a leash, let’s motivate it to go on a walk in a more positive fashion by combining two objects:

  • A food bowl (for a pet)
  • A “flying disc” (or whatever the non-trademarked name for a Frisbee is)

… into a “flying disc” food bowl (Figure 1) that can be thrown by the owner.

Fig. 1: This “disc-bowl” will also need a wire mesh cover (shown on the right side of the figure) to keep the food from flying out when the disc is thrown. This lid could either open automatically when the disc is placed on a flat surface, or it could be designed so that a pet could open the lid by itself.

A pet owner would simply fill the disc-bowl with dry pet food, throw it, and watch as their dog / cat / capybara / whatever chases the bowl. This process could be repeated as many times as is necessary.

Fig. 2: The disc-bowl in action. Go, dog. Go!

Conclusion:

This may be the next fitness and/or pet-stewardship trend. Get in on the ground floor by 3d-printing one yourself today!

PROS: Helps both pets and their owners get valuable exercise.

CONS: Substantially more labor-intensive than just going for a normal walk.

Make even more misleading figures by using higher spatial dimensions: the ultimate secret in displaying numeric results the way you want them to look!

The Issue:

When creating figures, it can be tempting to use misleading techniques in order to bolster one’s own agenda.

But it can be hard to create a misleading figure while technically representing the facts correctly, at least from a certain point of view (Figure 1). 


Fig. 1:
The addition of a third dimension (right) to this pie chart really helps the blue stand out. It’s gone from a quarter of the “ink” on the page to over half! Misleading: yes. Factually incorrect: plausibly debatable!

Proposal:

A popular—yet rarely formally acknowledged—method of creating misleading figures is to add additional spatial dimensions to them. Specifically, this allows us to vastly inflate the visual interpretation of a figure while technically keeping the numbers correct (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: These cubes purport to show the values 1 (left), 2 (middle), and 3 (right). But the rightmost cube has (33) = 27 times the volume of the leftmost cube, even though its individual side lengths are only 3 times larger. One could imagine a figure of this nature being used in an ethically-questionable document extolling the growth rate of a business that had tripled in size.

If we don’t need to use all three dimensions to inflate the apparent size of some numeric results, we can also just use two dimensions (Figure 3).

Fig. 3: In this hypothetical news example, we can see that the number of hamburger-related catastrophes in a major metropolitan area have gone from 1/year to 3/year. This can be misleadingly plotted in two dimensions (top, in orange) or misleadingly-plotted in three dimensions (bottom) by using some spherical-hamburger clipart. Anyone reading a figure like this would definitely support a crackdown on hamburgers.

PROS: Provides misleading figures with plausible deniability. Use it on your clickbait blog today!

CONS: Unfortunately, four-dimensional (and beyond) figures are not practical to display to humans, so it isn’t possible to, say, inflate a 20% increase to a 700x-increase (≈ 1.2036) by displaying it in the 36th spatial dimension.

P.S. Regrettably, it appears that this exact topic was covered in the 1954 book How to Lie with Statistics.

Combine the best features of vinyl records and online music streaming with the new “gigantic mega record” streaming interface!

Background:

Vinyl records have gained in popularity in the 2010–2020 timeframe, perhaps because people enjoy the tactile sensation and ritualistic elements of playing music on a traditional record turntable.

The Issue:

This style of tactile interaction is unfortunately unavailable in the streaming music space, where the only user interaction is “push button → hear song.”

Unfortunately, although traditional records have a distinctive charm, they are not a space-efficient way of storing music—streaming audio really wins there. Large streaming services currently have ~100 million audio tracks, which we will assume are ~3.5 minutes in length on average (so we’d like to store 350 million minutes of audio.)

What we really want is the best of both worlds: a way to combine the physical interaction of the record player with the enormous song library of streaming audio.

The Solution:

In order to fuse the best aspects of vinyl and streaming, we will create a “gigantic record player” interface, where a huge virtual record is presented to the user (either in a VR interface or as some sort of GPS-map interface).

This record is large enough to store all 100 million songs discussed above. The user can then drag a (virtual) record needle onto a (virtual) giant record in order to get their desired song.

Proposal #1:

The user will need to be able to select their favorite son on this record, so the record groove that represents a song can’t be too small. Let’s assume that 1 millimeter is approximately the highest resolution that a user can reliably place a record needle. So how large will our record need to be? Thanks to the metric system, this is easily calculated (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: 100 million songs × 1 millimeter/song = 100 million millimeters (in radius), which is 100 kilometers. A record of this size would cover approximately the area shown above (with the record in black). British Isles & Ireland for scale.

It would be possible to use a smaller record if we consider the fact that a single 3.5 minute song will not actually need to be hundreds of kilometers long, which brings us to Proposal #2.

Proposal #2:

A single sided 12”-diameter record (6” radius) with a 4”-diameter inner label has a usable area of ~(𝜋×62 – 𝜋×22) = 32𝜋 ≈ 100 in.2.

This holds about 24 minutes of streaming-quality audio, giving us 100 in.2 / 24 min. ≈ 4.17 in.2/minute.

In order to get our 350 million minutes of audio into this, we just need 350 million minutes × 4.17 sq.in / min. ≈ 1.46 billion in.2, which is the area of a circle with a radius of 21558 inches (𝜋×215582), or 1796 feet (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: If a user is willing to walk around the entire record (rather than just moving the needle linearly in a single constrained dimension), we will only need a record that is 3593 feet (1.1 km) in diameter. This is equivalent to 3.38 Eiffel Towers. The 2-inch hole in the middle is not visible at this scale.

Conclusion:

It appears that these records are too large to be reasonably mass-produced as physical objects, but as a virtual environment, possibly accessed through a GPS-map-like interface, it would be feasible.

PROS: Adds satisfying tactile interaction to the song-selection experience.

CONS: The “all songs” record is unfortunately far too large to make it practical as a physical object, except perhaps as a one-off modern art installation..

 Help pay for software development with microtransactions: finally, we have solved the issue of “how do we make someone pay full price for a spreadsheet program with no new features for 40 years in a row?“

Background:

Most standard “utility” programs (word processors, spreadsheets, photo editors…) haven’t been substantially improved since approximately 2005.

The Issue:

Unfortunately, in order for the companies that sell these programs to survive, they need to somehow get paid. But this is a difficult argument to make when the 1997 version of a spreadsheet program is essentially identical to a 2021 spreadsheet program.

Proposal:

Some developers have solved this issue by only offering their programs on a subscription model—if users can only “rent” software, they’ll have no way to stop paying. But we can go a step further and bring cell phone-style microtransactions (or “in-app purchases”) to ordinary non-game applications.

The proposal is simple: previously-unlimited functionality is now locked behind a consumable resource that costs real money. For example, a user used to be able to make an unlimited number of bold words in a document, but now the user might need to pay 10 cents for each bold word.

This could be applied to nearly every user interface element. Want more fonts? Buy the “Unlock Comic Sans” purchase. Want to undo/redo? Pay a small amount for each mistake (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: By charging the user one “action gem” each time they hit Ctrl–Z, everyone wins: software developers get paid, and users become more careful with their typing.

Conclusion:

Consumable resources are a widely adopted method of funding phone games: there is really no reason we can’t bring this same technology to more utilitarian applications as well.

PROS: Charging users for fancy document formatting will encourage a minimalist and non-ostentatious style of formatting, as befitting the true ascetic who has transcended worldly desires.

CONS: Open-source advocates will probably promote free fully-functional software that doesn’t require the purchase of gems to operate, so it’ll be necessary to block this software or make it illegal to offer free software.

Add a video game “stamina meter” to the mouse and keyboard. Stop treating mouse clicks like an unlimited resource, and appreciate them more fully!

Background:

In many video games, a character will have a certain set of attributes, like “strength” or “endurance.” Strangely, this system has not yet been translated outside the realm of gaming.

Proposal:

In order to bring the addictive leveling-up-a-character and number-management system of games into normal computer operation, it is proposed that the user’s interaction with the computer also have RPG-like “levels” and character attributes (see Figure 1).

Fig. 1: This Level 17 Mouse Pointer has a “health pool” of 949 left clicks (orange, top bar) and 205 right clicks (lime green, bottom bar). As you can see, this one might need to take a rest soon, if the user keeps clicking frequently in their spreadsheet.

As an example, a new computer user might start with a Level 1 Mouse Pointer that has an endurance of 100 mouse clicks before it is exhausted (Figure 2). Clicks would regenerate ate a rate of, say, one click every 5 seconds, or perhaps the user could also drink a magical “Mouse Hit Points Healing Potion.”

Fig. 2: When the user’s mouse cursor is depleted of clicks, it enters a “sleep” mode to intuitively convey this fact to the user. That’s some top-notch UI / UX there: for intuitive understandability, this is even better than the “flat bar on a door means ‘push’, curved handle means ‘pull’.” Remember to properly cite this worst plan when using this incredible example in future UI books!

This would have the side benefit of throttling heavy computer use, and might reduce the number of repetitive stress injuries.

There is no reason to limit this “video game leveling” system to just the mouse: common keyboard shortcuts could also be rate-limited by “cooldowns” (Figure 3), just as special abilities are in games.

Fig. 3: The user will need to wait another 24 seconds before the “copy” shortcut is off cooldown and can be used again.

Conclusion:

There are a nearly unlimited number of ways that these mechanics could be applied to a UI. For example, scrolling on a phone could consume “scrolling energy,“ or a user might need to level up their window manager before they can show more than (say) two browser windows at the same time. Individual keys on the keyboard could also be rationed this way: for example, typing a “Z” might consume 10 units of “keyboard energy,” while an “E” is just one unit.

PROS: Encourages more thoughtful use of clicks and keyboard shortcuts. No more taking the mouse pointer for granted! May reduce repetitive stress injuries.

CONS: Might be difficult to properly balance for optimum user enjoyment.

Video conferencing in the English language is severely lacking in terminology: adopt “theirmute” and “yourmute” to avoid future confusion!

Background:

Video chat is now relatively widespread. Frequently, people on a chat will be muted and/or have their video off.

The Issue:

The terminology for “a person is muted” is straightforward: “muted.” However, English currently lacks short terms for “I am muted” versus “I have the audio turned off for the remote speaker.”

Additionally, there is (surprisingly) no good word that means the opposite of “muted.” “I’m muted” versus “my… audio is on? My mic is on?”

Observe the following the four video/audio settings:

  • Audio OFF (Yours): “I’m muted.”
  • Audio ON (Yours):  “I’m not muted.” or “My… mic is on.”
  • Video OFF (Yours): “My video is off.”
  • Video ON (Yours): “My video is on.”

Only the first one (“mute”) has an acceptable short word. This is a serious deficiency!

Fig. 1: The standard mic/mute/audio/video icons are also a mess. Whose audio is even on here? Is the other person’s mic on? Are you muted? Did you just turn your own speakers off? Who knows!

Proposal:

We need four short words to account for the different situations of video/audio settings for both the local and remote speaker.

Perhaps we could use these:

  • Audio OFF (Yours): “I’m muted.”
  • Audio ON (Yours):  “I’m miconed.” (From “mic on” + “-ed”)
  • Video OFF (Yours): “I’m vicoved.” (Short for “video is covered.”)
  • Video ON (Yours): “I’m vidon.” (Short for “video on.”)

See Figure 2 for a list of possible alternative terminology that also distinguishes who has the audio/video off.

Fig. 2: This terminology should make things much clearer!

Conclusion:

We can remove a few words from the English language to make room for these new ones that are more applicable to the modern world. On the dictionary chopping block: “scrimshaw,” “puce,” “widdershins,” and “gnomon.” Better use those words while you can, before they are removed to make room for “yourmute” and “theirmute!”

PROS: Adds new and useful words to the English language and optimizes the teleconferencing experience.

CONS: None!

Streamline the restaurant-dining process with the new labor saving “chicken hat” ordering system!

Background:

When people go out to restaurants in groups, it can be hard for a waiter to keep their order straight: there might be a dozen people at a table, all with slightly-different (yet easily confused) orders.

The Issue:

Normally, it’s easy to fix a dish that was given to the wrong person—just swap it with the correct one. But sometimes it isn’t obvious what’s in each dish: one might have peanut sauce or just a few pine nuts in it.

It would be easy to forget this detail during a busy dinner hour, but this could cause a calamity if the restaurant patron is allergic to the substance in question.

And even in the best-case scenario, it’s always going to take a bit of extra time at a large table for a waiter to remember who ordered what.

Proposal:

When a person makes an order at an especially fancy restaurant (say, ones with at least one Michelin star rating), they should be given a distinctive piece of headwear to wear until their dish arrives (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: We don’t need to guess what this restaurant patron ordered—they clearly ordered the octopus appetizer.

This headwear serves two purposes (besides looking fashionable): 1) it lets the waiters tell, at a glance, who is still waiting on food, and 2) it prevents the wrong-dish-to-the-wrong-person faux pas describes above.

As a bonus, restaurants could even cut out the entire ordering process this way—if a person already knows what they want to order, they could just put on the correct hat (presumably hats would be provided on a rack at the entrance). This would save even more time and add more efficiency to the overall national labor force.

Restaurants could even offer these hats for sale (Figure 2)—this would serve the dual purpose of streamlining orders and advertising for the restaurant at the same time.

Fig. 2: This chicken hat serves two purposes: 1) it indicates that the restaurant-goer wants to order a chicken sandwich, and 2) it provides advertising for the restaurant when the hat-owner wears the hat elsewhere.

Conclusion:

Restaurants are a low-margin business that can always use some extra help: this would be a great way to make more efficient use of labor and increase customer satisfaction at the same time.

PROS: Decreases the amount of time spent waiting tables and decreases the chance of a customer getting the wrong order.

CONS: It might be difficult to distinguish between the hats for foods that are similar except for preparation (e.g. “steak, medium” and “steak, rare”). Unclear how allergies would be indicated.

Cheat at golf with this new fashionable “projector hat” decoy golf ball headwear! Consult your haberdasher/milliner today!

Background:

In golf, a player must find their golf ball within a certain time limit. According to U.S. Golf Association “Rule 18.2,” this is 3 minutes: after that, a one-stroke penalty is levied.

Proposal:

A golf ball that lands in a “normal” spot on a course (i.e. not way out in the tall grass) is usually easy to spot, so it’s unlikely that a player would require 3 or more minutes in order to find their ball.

Unless, of course, there were dozens of (what appears to be) decoy golf balls strewn about the course: then, a player might consume all of their time walking around the course checking each decoy ball before they find the real one.

Since it’s not considered acceptable for a golfer to just dump a box of, say, 100 actual decoy golf balls on the course, we will use a projector-based system instead (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Left: in normal situations, a golf ball that lands on the fairway is easy to spot. Right: the cheating player (A) is wearing a hat with some high-intensity projectors on it. The projectors project a set of bright golf-ball-sized circles onto the grass (B and C) that hopefully look reasonably close to an actual golf ball, at least at a distance.

A golf-cheating projector hat concept is shown in Figure 2. Essentially, it’s a set of extremely bright flashlights on articulated robotic arms, which can swivel so that each flashlight continues to point at its projected “golf ball” decoy even if the cheating golfer turns their head.

Fig. 2: Each of these flashlights (on “Inspector Gadget” / “Doctor Octopus (Ph.D.)”–style robot arms) can project a single decoy golf ball image. The hat is both functional and fashionable. Since it’s a top hat, people might also assume that the wearer is extremely classy Old Money and would definitely be above cheating in golf.

Conclusion:

Keep your eyes out in professional golf tournaments: this technology might be adopted sooner than you’d think!

PROS: Brings a new level of underhanded bad-sportsmanship to an activity that has very few ways for players to directly feud.

CONS: Since it’s impossible to get a white (golf-ball-colored) reflection by projecting a light onto a green surface, these decoy images might not be sufficiently convincing to consume three entire minutes of golf-ball–search time.

Is heating/cooling your home too expensive? Are you regretting that “open floor plan” home layout? These eco-friendly “vacuum cubes” can save the day!

Background:

Back in the days when fireplaces were a common method of heating a home, houses typically consisted of a number of smaller rooms with doors between them. However, modern homes tend to have open floor plans with large rooms that cannot be sealed off by doors.

The Issue:

In the open-floor-plan home-design world, heating and cooling a home requires changing the temperature of a large volume of space (Fig. 1). This can be unnecessarily expensive.

Fig. 1: In this large room, hot air comes out of the vents on the left side. Unfortunately, the areas away from the vents (right side) tend to remain cold. Even if these areas eventually warm up, it 1) takes a long time and 2) is more expensive than heating up a smaller room would have been.

Proposal:

We can fix this “room is too large to heat/cool” problem without requiring architectural changes. Instead, the homeowner just buys a few enormous plastic cubes with a near-vacuum inside and places these in their house (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: This enormous cube (right) has a near-vacuum inside. As a result, there’s no material to heat or cool: it’s just a “free” space where the temperature is identical to its surroundings. As a bonus, the vacuum is a great insulator!

Thanks to these “vacuum cubes,” a homeowner can heat a cavernous mansion for the same cost as heating a tiny cottage (Fig. 3)!

Fig. 3: Compare the regular room (left) with the “vacuum cube”–enhanced room (right). The normal room requires its entire volume to be heated (A), while the cube room can focus on heating the useful area (B) and leave the uninhabited space (C) at a cool temperature.

Conclusion:

This is a highly practical and eco-friendly addition to any modern home. Plus, if you don’t need these cubes year-round, you can just collapse them and store them in a closet or something!

PROS: Extremely eco-friendly solution to expensive heating and cooling woes.

CONS: The cube would need to be a strong material in order to resist being crushed by atmospheric pressure, so these might be impractically heavy. Maybe an air-only inflatable version would work.

Manage your email with “Inbox negative one,” the new even-more-proactive solution to wrangling lots of messages. An incredible productivity tip for the truly competent manager.

Background:

People frequently feel overwhelmed by a large quantity of emails that they feel obligated to respond to. As these messages pile up, the recipient tends to become increasingly stressed.

One email-management philosophy for mitigating this problem is known as “Inbox Zero”: it’s basically a system that suggests periodically wrangling emails in a systematic fashion. (It is not, contrary to what it sounds like from the name, just another term for having zero unread emails.)

Proposal:

But perhaps we can do better than “Inbox Zero”—instead of just handling all existing emails, what if we also got ahead of the email game by speculatively drafting replies to possible future emails?

This is the philosophy of “Inbox Negative One.” A user must simply do the following:

  • Somehow, handle all of their existing unread emails. Just deleting them all (“email bankruptcy”) is allowed in this harsh philosophy.
  • Next, speculatively draft some new email replies to various topics (real or imagined).
  • When the user gets an email that they need to spend more than a few minutes replying to, instead, they just immediately send one of these pre-drafted emails on a random irrelevant topic (Figures 1 & 2).
Fig. 1: Top left: the “email” icon shows 146 unread emails in a harsh retina-searing crimson. Bottom left: the soothing neutral tone of the “0” brings tranquility to the user who has no unread messages. Yet we can improve this further (right): the negative one indicates that the user has pre-loaded one email into their stockpile of pre-written emails.

The pre-drafted emails in question need not be relevant to the topic at hand: the only important thing is that they contain a delightful “personal touch”: perhaps they could contain a poem, or a piece of abstract art (Figure 2), or musings on the Hundred Years’ War.

Fig. 2: This pre-drafted email contains a soulful piece of non-representational art. If a user gets an email like “last notice: car will be towed tomorrow!!!” , they can send this email in response, rather than stressing out about writing an email reply to such a concern-inducing topic.

Conclusion:

This is probably the future of email. You should request that your favorite email provider add this “pre-loading email” functionality to their service (or perhaps you could write a plugin to handle it yourself).

PROS: Reduces stress among everyone who has to deal with email, which is almost everyone these days.

CONS: Manufacturers of anxiety-treatment medication might try to suppress this system, since it would bring tranquility to many of their stressed customers. Don’t let Big Pharma bury this incredible email technique! Note: if you work for Big Pharma and would like to buy the rights to this idea, please contact me.