Save heating / cooling costs by instead constantly painting and repainting your roof white and black, as the seasons change! Results in full employment for house painters, too.

Background:

In temperate latitudes, people frequently heat their homes in winter and cool their homes in summer.

The Issue:

The main source of heat is the Sun. So in the hot summer, a homeowner would want their roof & sun-facing walls to be reflective. But in the winter, they’d want the opposite—the roof should ideally absorb all of the Sun’s energy.

Proposal:

In order to solve this home-temperature-adjustment problem while also providing new sources of income for house painters, the following twice-annual chore is proposed:

  • On the exact middle day of spring, homeowners paint their roof (and any walls that get direct sunlight) a bright white or silver (Figure 1).
Fig. 1: The reflective paint helps keep interior temperatures down in the summer. This can make the house more pleasant inside and may save on air-conditioning costs as well.
  • On the exact middle day of fall, homeowners paint their roof (and any walls that get direct sunlight) with a matte black paint (Figure 2).
Fig. 2: This dark roof absorbs more solar energy and helps heat the home in winter.

Easy Solution for Hot / Cold Climates:

If it’s always hot, just paint the roof bright white / silver. And if you live in a polar region, just paint the roof black no matter what. No need for seasonal repainting!

Conclusion:

Although the exact degree to which this would help is a bit unclear, cursory searching online reveals some experiments in which a white and black car were left in the same parking lot, and the white car was ~110ºF while the black one got to ~130ºF. A mirrored car might have stayed even cooler!

PROS: This might actually work!

CONS: Roof maintenance is a dangerous job, so the additional man-hours spent painting- and re-painting roofs would probably lead to a bunch of extra falling-off-roof injuries every year.

People who work remotely will soon be managed using this incredible animal training trick! It’s good enough for orcas, so it should be good enough for office workers!

Background:

One popular animal-training technique is to give the animal (such as the killer whale in Fig. 1) a small reward immediately after it accomplishes a task.


Fig. 1:
After this orca completes a task, it’s given a fish as a reward. This classic animal-training technique encourages the whale to complete more tasks in the future.

Proposal:

Strangely, this approach—frequently-dispensed minor rewards—has rarely been attempted for humans.

But with the increasing rate of remote work and the implementation of the dystopian surveillance state from the novel 1984, it should now be technically feasible to use the orca-training method above on office workers as well (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: After this office worker completes a task (e.g. replies to an email / creates a spreadsheet / fills out a time card), the camera-and-computer-based surveillance system will notify the worker’s manager. The manager may then push a button to dispense a fish as a reward (top right of figure), thus encouraging this employee to continue to work diligently.

Since the fish-dispensing corporate office has full access to the employee’s use of the computer, they could install a piece of software that would tally up some sort of (highly-gameable) metric of “total work done”: perhaps “number of clicks in a document” or “number of times the space bar was pressed.

The software would then automatically dispense a fish after each threshold was met (such as “1000 words typed” or “2 emails sent”).

Conclusion:

This is probably the future of remote office work. Embrace it! The details of the fish delivery system are left as an exercise to the reader.

PROS: Encourages good habits in remote workers and provides valuable fish-based nutrients to employees, thus increasing overall health and potentially reducing the company’s health insurance premiums.

CONS: It’s possible that some highly negative employees—who aren’t “team players”—would think this system was dehumanizing and degrading. No fish for them!!!

Add a new car turn signal for “continuing straight ahead”—why does this not already exist? A simple update to your car’s “CHMSL” (which is apparently a thing it has).

Background:

Drivers can signal their intent to turn or change lanes by using their turn signals (A.K.A. “blinkers”). Currently, a driver can express two concepts with these signals:

  1. “Left”
  2. “Right”

The Issue:

Sometimes, a driver’s might want to express a third concept:

  1. “Not turning” / “Continuing straight ahead”

Proposal:

The left and right brake lights are both accompanied by a yellow “turn” light and white “reverse” light.

But there’s a third brake light, too—in American passenger cars manufactured after 1986, cars have a centrally-positioned elevated brake light with the easy-to-remember name “center high mount stop lamp (CHMSL).” (This light is believed to prevent about 1 in 25 collisions that otherwise would have occurred. Not bad!)

Unlike the other brake lights, this center light is completely alone, thus presenting the opportunity to add a yellow “go straight” light to this center light (Figure 1).

Fig 1: With this third “turn” signal, located above the previously-described “CHMSL,” the driver can now explicitly indicate that they are not turning. Amazing!

Future Work:

It’s not obvious how a driver would activate the “not turning” signal. Intuitively, one might suppose they could push the turn signal stalk (lever) forward, but usually this has been repurposed for wipers / cruise control / high beams.

Based on the 2015–2020 trend of car user interface changes, I suspect the UI / UX designers will put the control on a touchscreen button a few levels deep in a menu. Drivers are (apparently) believed to love that sort of touchscreen-only interface—it’s so clean, with no distracting controls ruining the sleek lines of the dashboard!

PROS: Adds new signaling options, thus bringing a richer driving experience to car aficionados everywhere.

CONS: This idea might be totally pointless—is there any situation (even a contrived one) where a driver would actually want to convey “not turning”?

Cross-reference: this idea is related to June 8, 2015’s proposal to distinguish between turn signals and hazard lights in certain conditions.

Bring “cat-sharing” to the sharing economy: never worry about feeding a pet while you’re on vacation again! This pet tube system enables “timeshare pet ownership,” and works for dogs, cats, and (especially) snakes.

Background:

Pet ownership can be rewarding, but it can requires substantial work on the part of the pet owner.

The Issue:

Sometimes, people’s lives would be more compatible with a “timeshare” of a pet: taking care of it for a few hours a day, rather than 24/7. However, this arrangement is incompatible with most living situations.

Proposal:

The idea is to enable “partial ownership” of a pet by connecting the homes of the various owners via a tube network (like the pneumatic tubes that some banks still use, the tube transport system from the TV show Futurama, or a hamster “habitrail”). One proposed system for apartment-dwellers is shown in Fig. 1A.

Fig. 1: A) This pet-share tube connects various apartments in the same building. B) To opt in/out of pet stewardship, the tube access door in each apartment can be opened or closed. A person leaving for a vacation can close the access port before they leave (ideally after confirming that the pet is not currently hiding in their apartment).

With this tube system system, the pet can now wander between all eligible apartments at its leisure.

Most small pets would be compatible with this system, especially ones that are already used to traveling through tunnels / burrows (e.g. dachshunds, hamsters, snakes).

The system would work best in an apartment building, but it could also work in a suburban neighborhood (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: A pet-share tunnel between houses would also be possible, although weatherproofing it and keeping it from getting oven-hot in the direct sunlight might be non-trivial.

Details to be worked out:

Vertical travel through the tubes may require some consideration (perhaps a corkscrew / spiral staircase?). The pneumatic-tube method of conveying objects will clearly not work (most pets cannot tolerate an environment of zero atmospheric pressure).

PROS: Opens up a completely new style of responsible pet ownership.

CONS: Owners might have pets who are individually great, but have an unacceptable predator-prey relationship when allowed to mingle as a result of this tube system (e.g. cat + bird, goat + wolf + cabbage).

Improve the quality of news with a flowchart: this automatic “article follow-up” system will keep you informed of more than just the most sensational eye-catching news!

Background:

In the pre-Internet era, news was physically printed out on sheets of so-called “news” paper, which were published chronologically. As a result of these limitations, it was not possible to inform a reader of (say) July 1, 1910’s article about the merits of radium water that there would be a crucial retraction published on April 8, 1911.

The Issue:

These printing-press-based technical limitations are no longer present, but it’s still the case that news articles are rarely connected to relevant preceding / subsequent articles about the same topic.

For example, the article “Swamp Monster Sighted In Highway Median!” might be front-page news, while a later retraction (“Swamp Creature Was Actually a Parade Balloon”) is less interesting, and thus less likely to get any media attention.

Plus, the monster sighting article is still going to be floating around online competing for attention with the debunking article, so the citizenry will continue to live their lives in fear of a nonexistent swamp creature.

Proposal:

Fundamentally, this can be treated as a data-visualization problem: all articles about the same topic need to be linked together in an easy-to-browser chronological interface (Figure 1).


Fig. 1: Each box represents a link to an article. Each color (and horizontal row) is a very specific topic: for example, the top one chronicles the adventures of a highly questionable toothpaste-sales startup. It’s very obvious at a glance what is going on in each topic: there’s no need to click through ten different articles to figure out what the current state of affairs is.

This flowchart interface could just show up in the header (or footer) of each affected article, allowing for easy navigation.

Conclusion:

Even if you find the swamp creature example uncompelling, there is always the real-world situation where people have their reputations tarnished by false allegations. For example, if an article is published that says “Guy Jones was arrested for heinous crimes,” and later it turns out that it was a case of mistaken identity, well, too bad for that guy—the original article (which is factually accurate—he was arrested—but also generally implies that he probably also did the crimes) is still going to be competing for attention with the “oh whoops, he definitely didn’t do it!” article.

PROS: Creates jobs for user interface designers. Might help maintain an informed citizenry.

CONS: Might cause fewer people to click on outdated articles, thus costing news web sites valuable ad revenue.

Never wonder who is—and isn’t—in a large group video chat again, thanks to the “reserved seating” video meeting system!

Background:

Occasionally, a video meeting will be scheduled with a large number of participants.

The Issue:

Since the participants are usually only arranged based on who is actually present in a meeting, it can be hard to figure out exactly who has (and hasn’t) shown up, especially if the meeting has 10+ participants.

For example, in Figure 1, a meeting has started, but the presenter is trying to remember if important participants are still missing. Should the presentation start? Who knows!


Fig. 1: In this normal video meeting, we can unfortunately only see the video chat boxes of the people who are actually present already (at left). So the presenter may wonder—was Joe from Accounting supposed to be on this meeting? Should we wait for anyone else before starting the meeting? The organizer will have to poke around in a calendar to see who is supposed to be in this meeting.

Proposal:

The solution is simple: when a person has accepted a meeting, they are allocated a “reserved spot” in the video chat grid. Then, as soon as the meeting starts, their spot displays a “So-and-so has not yet joined the meeting” indicator (Figure 2).

Once the user joins the meeting, their video is displayed in this reserved spot.

Fig. 2: No need to wonder who has joined the meeting yet—we can see right here in the participants list that three people are still missing. Now to shame them relentlessly for their tardiness! That will foster a healthy work culture for sure.

Conclusion:

This might be a legitimately useful feature! No more wondering if stragglers will stumble into a meeting late, or having to consult a long possibly-alphabetical guest list to see if a person is present or not (since their “THIS PERSON IS MISSING” spot in the video chat grid will make it extremely obvious).

PROS: Helps the person running the meeting know whether or not they should start it.

CONS: Makes it harder for someone to slip out of a meeting unnoticed.

Drink in moderation thanks to this slowly-shrinking wine glass!

The Issue:

Some people would like to drink less, but they have a hard time sticking to a small number of drinks. If only there were some sort of overcomplicated technical solution to this problem!

Proposal:

This “shrinking wine glass” (Figure 1) could be a solution to excessive drinking. Such a glass consists of two components: a normal wine glass base and a snugly-fit cylindrical top (cup) portion that can slide up and down the base.

Over time, the cylinder slowly slides down, reducing the maximum capacity of the glass.

Fig. 1: This cylindrical “cup” portion of the wine glass slowly slides down the glass, moving from configuration A (“normal capacity”) to configuration B (“almost no capacity”).

Conclusion:

The exact mechanism by which this functions has not been totally worked out, but it’s obviously the case that it would need to be non-trivial for the user to “reset” the glass.

The same general approach (in a slightly different form factor) should also work for beer.

PROS: Could probably actually be implemented with relatively little random wine leakage.

CONS: The real deal-breaker here might be discouraging the user from just getting another glass.

Bring more excitement and closer games to basketball with player height–normalized basketball goals!

Background:

Basketball goals normally have a defined height that is the same for both teams. Generally speaking, a taller player (unsurprisingly) is at an advantage in getting a ball into the hoop.

The Issue:

As a result of this, basketball teams usually consist of exceptionally tall members of the population. However, it may be valuable [citation needed] to “democratize” professional basketball to all talented players.

Proposal:

Here, we propose to adjust the heights of each team’s target goal so that the taller team must also attempt to score at the taller goal. In Figure 1, we see an example of two teams with players of varying heights.

Fig. 1: Players on Team A are close in height: the tallest is height HA. Team B has one exceptionally tall player of height HB.

In order to remove the height advantage from the tallest player on Team B, we will increase the height of the goal that Team B must score in, as shown in Figure 2.

Fig. 2: The standard goal height (C) is increased by the height difference between the teams. In this situation, if Team B’s tallest player is 7 feet tall and Team A’s tallest player is 6 feet tall, then Team A’s goal would be exactly 1 foot taller (7ft – 6ft  1ft). Note that the shorter team gets the taller home goal.

Above, we defined the height difference as being the difference between the tallest players only, but average height (or some other metric) could also be used.

Overcomplicated Bonus Option:

It would also be possible to move the goals up and down dynamically (Figure 3) as possession changes—in other words, the goal would always be N feet taller than whoever currently has the ball.

Fig. 3: Maybe the goals could even automatically move up and down based on who CURRENTLY has possession of the ball, to level the playing field for everyone. This could result in additional excitement as powerful hydraulic-operated machinery is quickly raised and lowered (in the vicinity of players’ heads), as shown in this exceptionally realistic and detailed patent drawing.

PROS: Brings a new pool of players to professional basketball.

CONS: None whatsoever, everyone would definitely be in favor of it!

Don’t waste time unsubscribing from newsletters and “special deals” on web sites—indicate that certain emails should be marked as spam right when you sign up for them!

Background:

Many web sites request a user’s email address: “Sign up for our newsletter!”, “Read an article for free!”, “Thanks for buying our product: here are some discounts!”

Unfortunately, users who provide a valid email address are often relentlessly spammed later. Additionally, access to the email account might be required later, so it can be impractical to use a fake / temporary address.

Proposal:

Instead, email sign-up forms should be more courteous: they should include, along with the “Sign me up for your email list!” checkbox, a second checkbox that presents the option to automatically mark the signed-up-for messages as junk mail (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: The “instantly mark these emails as spam” checkbox (indicated by the yellow arrow in the figure above) greatly increases web site user-friendliness.

Conclusion:

Previously, a user needed to perform three steps when signing up for a service: 1) sign up, 2) check email, 3) unsubscribe or mark the message as spam. This checkbox entirely removes steps 2 and 3!

This may actually be of legitimate interest to some web sites: apparently, if enough users flag a message from a certain senders as spam, certain large email providers will mark that sender’s entire domain (e.g.“example.com”) as spam. No one wants that to befall their company!

PROS: Saves thousands of hours of spam-flagging work every year. Additionally, any web site that implements this feature sends the signal of being a trustworthy operator (assuming the checkbox actually works), which should help increase consumer confidence in the brand.

CONS: Some hapless individual who is in charge of the distribution of marketing emails will probably have a hard time justifying the sudden reduction in new user subscriptions.

Don’t let “Big Staircase” trick you into falling down a flight of stairs again, thanks to this new textured floor pattern that makes the top/bottom steps obvious!

Background:

Staircases are surprisingly perilous. Most people have, at some point, attempted to step up onto a “phantom” additional top step or been surprised to encounter the ground floor a step early (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: When walking on the staircase (blue), it’s possible to lose track of where the steps actually end. This is especially easy to do when carrying an object that obscures one’s vision of the floor.

Some commercial buildings indicate the very top and bottom of a flight of stairs with a raised pattern. However, this is 1) not reliable and 2) rare in residential dwellings.

Proposal:

In order to intuitivelyinform the staircase user which step they are on, a few topmost and bottommost steps can be marked with standardized raised markings that can be easily felt while walking (Figure 2).


Fig. 2: Possible step patterns: the top step is marked with a raised “” pattern, the second next step with “𑁔”, and the third step with a “≈” . Now a person will intuitively “feel” when they are nearing the end of a staircase.

Fig. 3: Left: A real-world example of a confusing carpeted stairway, where the texture seems to have been specifically selected to be as confusing as possible. Right: a proposed visual color-coding element to distinguish specific stairs, as follows: Striped blue: bottom landing. Green: bottom stair. Red: top stair. Striped orange: top landing.

Conclusion:

This could probably actually work! Standardization might be difficult, however, and it’s not immediately clear what the best solution would be for a small staircase with only a couple of steps.

PROS: Adds the possibility for new and exciting onerous regulations for property owners! Adds more work for OSHA inspectors to do.

CONS: People who expect these textures might then fall down regular unmarked stairs (“well I can’t be on the bottom step, I haven’t felt the textured pattern yet”).