Two obvious qualities that contribute to making an alphabet “good”:
It’s quick to write.
The letters can be distinguished unambiguously.
(Information density might also be worth considering—we don’t want the letters to take up too much space—but we’ll be ignoring it here.)
Sometimes, speed-of-writing and ease-of-reading is a tradeoff: consider the shorthand shown in Figure 1.
As shown in Figure 2, it’s also possible for an alphabet to be strictly worse than another one.
If we want to improve the Latin alphabet, we’ll need to:
Maximize distinctiveness of each letter.
Minimize the amount of time required to write each letter.
We will also be trying to avoid mirror-image letters (e.g. p / q / b / d). Figure 3 shows how confusing a “minimalist” set of letters can be if we aren’t already familiar with them.
Let’s attempt to reform the Latin alphabet for ultimate readability: the new Alphabet Version 2.0 is shown in Figure 4, with an example in Figure 5.
Naturally, we would also need to get rid of the bizarre and depraved historical accident that led to both a set of “lower-case” and “upper-case” Latin letters. Two alphabets seems especially excessive when we consider that the main use of capital letters is for YELLING ON THE INTERNET. This could be equally accomplished by adding a * or # before each word that should be yelled.
Write a letter to your local school board and demand that they teach this new “updated” alphabet to students so they don’t fall behind in the future.
Skylights (or light pipes) are a great way to get natural sunlight indoors.
Unfortunately, installation is moderately complicated and is infeasible for renters and high-rise dwellers.
Also, skylights only provide light during the daytime (unsurprisingly).
Thanks to LED lighting, it is possible to create a convincing “artificial skylight” (Figure 1) for 50 American dollars (~4 hours of of 2021 minimum wage).
The actual application of this light looks surprisingly convincing: in a dark environment, relatively little wattage is required to simulate sunlight.
The motivation for this DYI “skylight” is cost: commercial versions of this system are substantially nicer—and 1000x more expensive (Figure 3).
Materials / Build Process:
For prototyping, it’s easy to use a cardboard box (instead of a high-class trash can) with dimensions at least 8″ x 10″ x 20” (it’s also OK if it’s bigger in any dimension). From the outside, this will look like Figure 4.
The specific items in Figure 5:
A: Extension cord (~$5.00).
B: Light socket to wall outlet adapter (screw the light bulb into this, then plug it into the extension cord) (~$5.00).
C: A 3000+ lumen directional floodlight (~$30.00).
This means a ~30 Watt LED (or “≥250 Watt incandescent-equivalent”) bulb.
I did not get good results from “corn cob”-style LED bulbs. The widely-spread-out LEDs create a weird and irregular final image.
D: A cheap plastic magnifying sheet / “Fresnel lens” (~$10). This will be the “light” from the viewer’s perspective, so try to make it at least 8 x 10 inches!
I cut a hole in the front of the box, then used Scotch tape to attach the lens. Quality workmanship!
I had to move the light bulb back and forth a bit until I found a good focus distance.
Note about burning your house down:
Don’t! Surprisingly, these bulbs are passively cooled (i.e. there’s no fan). A 30W LED should normally not get especially hot, but you should double check this.
This skylight has turned out to be extremely pleasant in practice! It’s especially convincing if there is still some external light (e.g in the late afternoon / twilight hours).
Psychologically speaking, it’s almost like getting two extra hours of full sunlight every day!
PROS: Only 1% as expensive as a professional “artificial skylight” solution!
CONS: Might also only look 1% as good as a professional “artificial skylight” solution!
In video games, the player generally has only a few options for interacting with the environment: often just “shoot a gun”—and maybe nothing else (Figure 1)!
In particular, most games lack a button for, say, “raise eyebrow” or “shrug noncommittally.”
Despite the prevalence of “shoot a gun” as a video game option, this action is an uncommon feature of day-to-day life. This is artificially limiting, and it leads to the primary choice in gameplay being “shoot a guy” or “don’t shoot a guy.”
In order to promote more creative gameplay, we need to expand the button mappings to include a wider range of actions (Figure 2).
Some possible changes:
Throw grenade → Bribe: e.g. “How much is Mayor Hogg paying you to terrorize the farmers? I’ll double it.” (Display high-denomination bills in off-hand)
Melee stealth kill → High five (this will persuade enemies that your character is extremely cool and should not be shot)
Toggle crouch / prone → Breakdance (if you are able to pull off sufficiently amazing moves, your foes will undoubtedly be won over to your cause)
In our revamped controller scheme, we can see that a player might be more likely to interact with other humans in ways besides shooting them.
Old-school text adventures and point-and-click adventures (e.g. Zork, Maniac Mansion) already have a wide variety of possible “verbs” (actions) for the player to perform, so we know that it’s at least possible to design a game around a wider range of player options.
CONS: It would probably take a lot more development time to design and test a game in which you can solve a town’s bandit problem by either shooting all the bandits orby successfully converting them to a pacifistic religion.
Some restaurants serve beers in “flights”: a “sampler pack” of several small servings of a variety of different beers (Figure 1).
Strangely, very few foods are available in this format, with a few common exceptions: sliders (tiny hamburgers), charcuterie-style meats, cheese platters, and the nebulously-defined “appetizer platter.”
More foods should be made available in the “flight” form factor (Figure 2)! Although it is a bit more labor-intensive to serve a large number of small items than a single large item, the added diner-satisfaction will more than make up for this additional labor cost.
The best part is that many foods are already easily available in a miniaturized form (for example: petit fours = tiny cake), or the foods are discrete and could be easily served in a variety pack (e.g., curly fries + regular fries + waffle fries, instead of a large basket of only one style of fries)
The advantages are obvious. Here are some new “food → flight version” ideas:
Slice of cake → multiple petit fours
French fries →regular, waffle-cut, curly, etc.
Glass of carbonated soda →multiple shot glasses of carbonated beverages
Regular single-style pasta → mix of rigatoni, spaghetti, bow-tie pasta, etc.
PROS: Adds to the dining experience, and may reduce over-eating (it’s much more psychologically compelling to continue wolfing down a single gigantic sandwich than to eat 6 small sandwiches).
CONS: Might increase in labor costs and ingredient-supply logistics.
Robots exist (famously, the Roomba) that will vacuum a floor, but they have many limitations and can’t handle certain common locations, like carpeted stairs.
What is needed is a vacuum cleaner that can go anywhere that gets foot traffic. And what better way to do that than to have the vacuum also be a shoe (Figure 1)?
The shoe-vacuum solves so many problems: because the wearer will just be incidentally vacuuming while walking around, the vacuuming is done “for free” without requiring any additional effort. Additionally, areas that get a lot of activity—and thus, probably need frequent vacuuming—will also get a lot of shoe-vacuum traffic.
Throw away your “indoor slippers” and replace them with these vacuum cleaner shoes!
PROS: Allows a person to effortlessly maintain a vacuum-cleaned domicile.
CONS: Doesn’t solve the vacuuming-under-furniture issue. Might dramatically increase the number of injuries caused by falling down stairs.
There are a large number of animal species that are on the brink of extinction.
Although a few so-called “charismatic megafauna” have attracted human support with their cuteness / photograph-worthiness, many endangered species are ugly or boring (e.g. “oh look, another slightly different type of deer”).
What is needed is a general method for animals—even non-photogenic ones—to attract support from people and avoid extinction.
The easiest method is for these lazy endangered animals to get jobs (Figure 1)! If they had a specific niche in daily society, then people would be more likely to value them and work to ensure their preservation.
Now that these animals are earning their keep, maybe they will be valued by society a bit more (at least for a few decades, until robots replace them).
PROS: Increases labor participation. Adds to a country’s GDP and overall economic health.
CONS: Might be difficult to train a venomous snake to reliably clean a gutter. May provide unsettling existential questions when a person asks if a robot will also replace their job, not just the drain-cleaning-snake’s job.
It’s frequently the case that a person has an insufficient number of hands to perform a particular task. Specifically, a person carrying two objects (Figure 1) might temporarily need an extra hand to operate a door handle / press a button / etc.
As shown above, solutions to this problem are inelegant at best.
Technology to the rescue! Although most people have at most a single arm attached to each shoulder, there’s really no reason these shoulders couldn’t accommodate another arm (Figure 2).
When eating, sometimes the most appealing thing to do is to immediately wolf down all the food in front of you.
People then occasionally regret this overeating, and wish there were some way to more easily exercise self control despite the presence of delicious food.
We can solve this wolfing-down of food by forcing the person to eat more slowly.
Specifically, a “bear trap”-like articulated plastic dome (Figure 2) is added to the plate: this dome opens and closes at a regular interval, preventing the food-enjoying individual from eating while it’s in the closed state.
This would be immensely useful at holiday meals, all-you-can-eat buffets, and other locations in which a seemingly-infinite amount of food is available.
PROS: May reduce national obesity rates and help people avoid that “over-full” feeling from eating too much.
CONS: Might chop off some fingers if the closing mechanism is too strong.
Frequently, people buy exercise equipment but then don’t actually use it.
Instead, barbells gather dust and exercise bikes are used as a supplementary clothing racks.
One effective way of encouraging a person to use their exercise equipment is to have the equipment physically block access to the owner’s bed (Figure 1).
This system could also be adapted for other types of exercise equipment (treadmill, weight lifting machine, exercise bike, etc.).
A simpler “no-frills” version of this system is also possible, and would work with free weights too: a person could put a plank of wood on their bed and then throw a bunch of barbells onto it. This would require more self-control on the part of the user (since they could just move the barbells directly to the floor without exercising), but at least it would serve as a reminder of the exercise plan.
PROS: May increase physical fitness!
CONS: People might come up with creative solutions for defeating this system, like sleeping on the floor, which could actually be worse overall for their health than just regularly not-exercising.
A getaway driver for a bank robbery might be found guilty of murder if their unarmedaccomplice is shot by the bank security guard. This is probably not really the intended severity of sentencing.
The “three strikes” law (which incarcerates a three-time felon for life):
Depending on the state, the third “strike” is sometimes allowed to be a non-violent one: someone who had committed two robberies at age 20, and then—40 years later—was driving 101 MPH on a deserted highway at 3:00 AM could presumably be sent to prison for life for speeding.
Details as to what weaponry is covered would have been informative: does the “right to bear arms” apply to all guns? Most guns? Ninja stars? Nunchucks? Knives that fold? A cannon from the Civil War? The current regulation surrounding these items is highly arbitrary, and varies on a state-by-state basis.
As you can see, these examples underscore the need for specific, concrete examples and counterexamples for each law.
Each new law should be accompanied by the following:
10 example situations where the law would apply
10 counterexamples where it would initially seem to apply, but actually is not intended to.
This is similar to the computer programming concept of “unit testing” (Figure 1).
Applying the same “unit test” idea from the computer programming world to the legal system results in the list in Figure 2.
This is sort of similar to the legal concept of “precedent” (i.e. a current case should have the same outcome as any identical previous cases)—but here we’re writing the “precedent” cases beforehand. (Instead of waiting for some unlucky individual to be a “test case” for a law.)
PROS: Would require almost no work to come up with 20 scenarios for each new law. A good project for a congressional intern!
CONS: Odd scenarios might arise if the counterexamples were themselves ill-formed. For example: “a man who says he is a werewolf should not be found guilty of murders committed during the full moon.” Superficially perhaps reasonable, but obviously problematic if the individual is not actually a werewolf—according to the example above, the law would consider claiming to be a werewolf to be a sufficient excuse!
Supplemental material: the verbatim text from the images in figures 1 and 2:
assert: fast_square_root(0) = 0
assert: fast_square_root(2) ≈ 1.4142
assert: fast_square_root(16) = 4
assert: fast_square_root(25.5) ≈ 5.0498
assert (≠): A survivor of a plane crash wanders out from the desert and takes a bottle of water from a convenience store, but has no money and thus cannot pay: This will be considered NOT shoplifting due to the immediate need for survival.
assert (≠): On a hot summer day, an individual finds some small children in a car with rolled-up windows. They seem to be about to die of heatstroke. The individual breaks the car window in order to rescue them: This will be considered NOT vandalism.
assert (≠): Survivors of a shipwreck resort to cannibalism of a fellow survivor who fell into a coma: This will be considered NOT murder (this is a real case from 1884).
assert (≠): A shipwrecked survivor is hunted for sport by the eccentric owner of the island he is shipwrecked on, who wishes to hunt the “most dangerous game of all,” but is then himself fed to his own hunting dogs by the survivor: This will be considered NOT manslaughter.