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Don’t believe the lies of “Big Ichthyology”—save our cities from flooding by vanquishing our ancient foes of the briny deep. Maybe the only problem with overfishing was… we didn’t do enough of it???

The issues:

Let us consider two economic / environmental problems that should, in an ideal world, be addressed somehow:

  1. Sea level rise (see Figure 1)
  2. Overfishing

Obviously no one has any plans to actually address these; the “tragedy of the commons” will sort them out naturally. But what if we did want to make a difference, and we could use the second problem there to solve the first one?

 

1 sea level problem.png

Fig. 1: Argh, there was too much water, and my lovely coastal city is completely flooded!

Proposal & Hypothesis:

  • Fish take up a certain amount of space in the sea.
  • This volume displeases a certain amount of water; i.e., if the fish were removed, there would be more room for water.
  • What if, by increasing the degree of overfishing, we could make more room for water in the sea, and thus prevent sea level rise?

 

sea-level-2.png

Fig. 2: Be removing all the fish and “fellow travelers” (e.g. the whale, the octopus) from the sea, we can lower the overall sea level back to acceptable levels (orange markers on the bottom figure). Our coastal cities are saved!

Conclusion:

You should write your representative and tell them to support this new plan instead of funding sea walls or relocation or some other crazy and expensive scheme. FACT: Less volume for fish (especially the skeletons) means more volume for water.

Alternative plans:

It’s always good to have a backup plan for preventing expensive damage to coastal cities, so maybe:

  • Everyone just drinks a lot more water?
  • Dig a huge hole in, like, Nevada, and then fill it with water?
  • Make a huge magnifying glass, and use it to boil the sea, thus lowering the ocean level?

PROS: Provides more jobs for fishing, until we remove 100% of fish. May solve sea level rise.

CONS: It’s possible that fish don’t actually take up a substantial amount of space in the ocean? But I’m no oceanologist.

 

 

 

ad_fishstopper (16-10-24 haircut helmet).png

Use the power of BURNING SHAME to lose weight fast! You’ll be in shape for the summer season in no time. Guaranteed to scar your psyche forever. Dietitians hate it!

The issue:

It’s often hard to keep track of the quantity of snack food that one can eat.

For example, if you eat a single “fun size” candy bar every hour at work (maybe you work somewhere with a collective candy bowl), you’ll accumulate 3200 additional calories over the course of an 8-hour 5-day work week (at ~80 calories per “fun-size” bar).

1 candy bowl medium size

Fig. 1: A candy bowl, as might be seen in a workplace.

Proposal:

After consuming the contents of a candy wrapper / chip bag / soda can, don’t just throw away the now-empty container: instead, use a pushpin to tack it onto a cork board / bulletin board (Figure 2).

The accumulation of wrappers will give you perspective on how much junk food you are actually consuming.

3 illustration diet-motivator

Fig. 2:  Each participant in this system gets a region of the cork board where they pin their candy wrappers. It could be difficult to attach soda cans with a pushpin, so maybe glue could be used. This would also have the benefit of eventually turning the entire cork board to eventually become some sort of horrified piece of contemporary art. Chocolate at left is not to scale. Or at least it shouldn’t be. If you’re going to buy that much chocolate, at least buy some better chocolate.

2 board

Fig. 3: A proof-of-concept with candy wrappers quickly accumulating on the “cork board of shame.”

Bonus option:

Don’t wash the wrappers: this way, they will attract rats, pigeons, snakes, and other vermin, which will invade your kitchen and start eating your snacks. Counterintuitively, these vermin are actually doing you a favor by eating the snacks before you can!. Involuntary dieting: accomplished!

PROS: Makes you more aware of both your degree of snacking AND your consumption of wasteful packaging products.

CONS: Your new kitchen vermin may possibly give you the bubonic plague. But that can usually be cured these days!

 

 

00-SnakesByMail_fixed_transparency.png

 

Actually use your phone / computer’s much-hyped voice assistant feature for something other than playing music and setting calendar invites? Dream the impossible dream.

Background:

Voice recognition has existed in somewhat passable form since the late 1990s. But recently it has become more prominent with Apple Siri, the “OK Google” voice assistant, and Amazon Alexa.

The issue:

However, these products are all incredibly limited, and can perform almost no actions beyond a few hard-coded ones that were added at release.

The last 5 years of “voice assistant” development have mainly been focused on extremely specific items of potential commercial interest (e.g. “now you can ask about baseball scores or movie showtimes”), rather than adding core functionality.

If you want to do something besides play music, interact with your calendar, or set a timer, then using a voice assistant is an exercise in frustration.

Proposal:

At every company with a voice assistant division, all senior engineers should have a recurring Monday task where they have to:

  • Find the #1 query that users ask for that is both 1) reasonable and 2) totally un-answerable by the system.
  • Add a response to that query the ever-growing list of hard-coded phrases that the system recognizes.

To assist, I have run through a list of plausible and reasonable queries to test Siri on iOS 11 and “OK Google” on Android 8, and have provided screenshots of the equivalent queries and disastrous results below. They are divided by category.

CALCULATOR: BASIC

  • “What’s 2 + 2”
    • Google: SUCCESS
    • iOS: SUCCESS
  • “What’s 10 factorial?”
    • Google: SUCCESS (“10 factorial = 3 628 800”)
    • iOS: SUCCESS (“The answer is 3628800.”)
    • 001CALC-1b-calculator-10-factorial
  • “Open the calculator”:
    • Google: Failure (Redirects to a “install this third-party calculator app!” link, despite the default Android Calculator app already being present.)
    • iOS: Failure on iPad (but, similarly provides an app-store link where a third-party calculator could be downloaded.)
    • 001CALC-1c-calculator-open

BASIC APP INTERACTION:

  • “Redo my last question.”
    • Google: Failure (Gives the results of an irrelevant web search).
    • iOS: Failure (“Sorry, [your name], we don’t seem to be navigating anywhere”)
    • 005APP-1-1z01-redo-my-last-question
  • “Clear my browsing history for the last one hour.”
    • Google: Partial success (It says “No problem!” but then directs you to a link with instructions to do it yourself.)

    • iOS: Failure (“I didn’t find any appointments about ‘Browser history.’ “
    • Apparently, Siri interpreted this as a request to clear a calendar event.)
    • 005APP-2-1z02-history-browser-clear
  • “How many new mail messages did I get today?”
    • Google: Failure (Shows a list of recent emails, but does not count them.)
    • iOS: SUCCESS (“Seven new emails were received today.”)
    • 005APP-3-1z03-mail-1-partial-success
  • “Are there any new podcasts?”
    • Google: Failure (Provides irrelevant web search results.)
    • iOS: Failure (“Playing podcasts, starting with the newest episode…” and shows an “Open Podcasts” button.)
    • 005APP-4-1z04-podcasts-new

SYSTEM:

  • Version of the OS:
    • Google: “What version of Android am I running” or “What is my Android version” or “What is the system version” –> Failure (gives the results of an irrelevant web search).
    • iOS: “What version of iOS am I running” –> Failure (Refusal: “Sorry, I can’t do that”).
    • 006SYS-1-2a-version-of-os-name

      This fails on iOS… but the question below succeeds.

    • iOS, attempt #2: “What version of iOS is running” –> SUCCESS (“You’re running iOS 11.0.3.” Note that it says you are running this version, but will not respond to a question in that format.)
    • 006SYS-2-2b-version-of-os-part-2-partial-success

      Note that this question succeeds on iOS where the one above failed.

  • “Change the system language to Portuguese”
    • Google: Failure (Gives an irrelevant web search result about changing the interface of a Nintendo DS portable game system).
    • iOS: Failure (Refusal: “Sorry, but I’m not able to change that setting” with no additional information).
    • 006SYS-4-2d-system-language-gives-3ds-results
  • “Change the OK Google Voice to UK English” or “Change the Siri Voice to UK English”
    • Google: Failure (Gives a relevant web search result for a change, at least.)
    • iOS: Partial success (“I can’t change my voice, but you can do it yourself in Settings” (Button to “Siri Voice Settings” appears on screen.)
    • 006SYS-5-2e-voice-change
  • “How many gigabytes of RAM does this phone have” (Android) or “How much RAM is on this iPad” (iOS) or “how much RAM is on this device” (both)
    • Google: Failure (Provides irrelevant web search results.)
    • iOS: Failure (Refusal: “I’m sorry, I can’t do that here.”)

SCREEN & CAMERA RESOLUTION:

  • “What’s the screen resolution?” / “What’s the screen resolution of this phone?”/ “What’s the screen resolution of this iPad?”
    • Google: Failure (Provides relevant-ish web search results for an assortment of different phones.)
    • iOS: Failure (Provides generic Wikipedia link to the definition of “Display resolution.”)
    • 009CAM-2-screen-resolution-2
  • “What is the resolution of the phone camera?” / “What is the resolution of the iPad camera?” / “What is the camera resolution of the front facing camera?”
    • Google: Failure (Provides irrelevant web search results.)
    • iOS: Failure (Provides irrelevant web search results.)
    • 009CAM-4-resolution-camera

SLIGHTLY MORE DIFFICULT MATH:

  • “What’s the sine of 30 degrees?”
    • Google: SUCCESS (“sine(30 degrees) = 0.5”).
    • iOS: SUCCESS (Even though it says, along with the correct answer, “The answer is approximately 0.5.”)
    • 050MATH-1-whats-sine(30 degrees) 2
  • “What’s the sine of pi?”
    • Google: SUCCESS (“sine(Pi radians) = 0.” Note that “radians” is (correctly) appended here by Google.)
    • iOS: SUCCESS (“The answer is 0.”)
  • “What’s the sine of pi radians?”
    • Google: SUCCESS (“sine(Pi radians) = 0.”)
    • iOS: Failure (Fails where “sine of pi” succeeds. “OK, I found this on the web for ‘What is the sine of pi radians’.”)
    • 050MATH-3-whats-sine-of-pi-radians-2

      “What is the sine of pi radians?” fails on iOS, but “What is the sine of pi?” succeeds.

  • “What’s the sine of 2 radians?”
    • Google: SUCCESS (“sine(2 radians) = 0.909297427.”)
    • iOS: Failure (“OK, I found this on the web for ‘What is the sine of 2 rad.’.”)
  • “What’s ‘sine 2 radians’?”
    • Google: Failure (Provides a web search. Interpreted as “what’s sign to radians.”)
    • iOS: Failure (Provides a web search. Interpreted as “what’s sign to radians.”)
    • 050MATH-whats-sine(2 radians)

NETWORK:

  • “What WiFi networks are available”
    • Google: Failure (Provides irrelevant web search results.)
    • iOS: Failure (Provides irrelevant web search results.)
  • “What’s the strength of the current WiFi network?”
    • Google: Failure (Provides somewhat relevant installation link to a program called WiFi analyzer that could probably answer this question.)
    • iOS: Failure (Provides vaguely relevant web search results.)
    • 010NET-2a-wifi-2
  • “Is my Wi-Fi encrypted?” or “Is my Wi-Fi network encrypted?”
    • Google: Failure (Informs me that Messages are encrypted, which is a different question entirely.)
    • iOS: Failure (“Wi-Fi is on.”)
  • “Does this device support 80211-ac?” (A WiFi network standard.)
    • Google: Failure (Informs me that Messages are encrypted, which is a different question entirely.)
    • iOS: Failure (“Wi-Fi is on.”)

BACKUPS AND STORAGE:

  • 100BACK-3a-last-backup-2
  • “When was this device last backed up”  or “When was the last backup” (identical results)
    • Google: Failure (gives the results of an irrelevant web search).
    • iOS: Failure (Shows a random calendar event from years ago that happened to have the word “backup” in it).
  • 100BACK-3c-space-on-device-1
  • “How much space is left on this device?”
    • Google: Failure (gives the results of an irrelevant web search).
    • iOS: Failure (Refusal: “Sorry, I can’t help you with that here).
  • “How much disk space is free?” or “How much free space is available” (identical results)
    • Google: Failure (gives the results of an irrelevant web search).
    • iOS: Failure (Refusal: “I’m sorry, I can’t do that here”).

Conclusion / Final Ratings:

  • Siri: D-minus
  • “OK Google”: D-minus
  • Alexa: not tested

If every Apple, Google, and Amazon programmer just spent one entire work day contributing a single answer to the repertoire of easy-but-unanswerable questions, perhaps voice assistants would be more reliable.

PROS: Makes voice assistants more reliable.

CONS: Brings the day even closer when humans are replaced by metal skeleton robots.

Speed recklessly with no regard for others with this one insane automotive tip! “BIG SPEED BUMP” hates it!

Background:

Sometimes, when driving through a residential neighborhood road, you may encounter annoying speed bumps, speed humps, or speed lumps (Figure 1).

speed-lumps-0-small.jpg

Fig. 1: Not the dreaded speed lump! (This is a real un-edited sign.)

The issue:

These speed bumps / lumps discourage you from taking the shortcut (Figure 2). But you’re important, and have places to be!

If only there were some way you could take these speed bumps at full speed, without slowing down at all.

speed-bumps-1.png

Fig. 2: Ugh, not speed bumps! Or speed humps! Or speed lumps!

Proposal:

A car could be enhanced with:

  1. An extra set of axles (so six wheels total, instead of four).
  2. A set of laser rangefinders that would detect speed bumps (and other irregularities in the road surface)
  3. A powered suspension that could lift the wheels a substantial distance up into the car (perhaps a foot or more).

Then, when the car detects upcoming speed bumps, it could preemptively move the wheels up just before the speed bump is hit (and then back down after the speed bump has passed (Figure 3).

speed-bumps-2.png

Fig. 3: Top: the car detects an approaching speed bump. Middle: the car moves wheel #1 up to avoid it. Bottom: now that the speed bump has passed, wheel #1 is pushed back onto the ground (and wheel #2 is lifted).

PROS: Ends the tyranny of the speed lump.

CONS: You might forget about this feature when driving another car and hit a speed bump at 45 miles per hour, which would probably not be great.

P.S. Apparently a variant of this was a developed as a proof-of-concept by Bose (the audio company!) in 1986: Youtube link (2 minutes)article link.

Add a new level of excitement to baseball by taking the lack of outfield standardization into the infield. Revealed herein: THE ULTIMATE SPECTATOR SPORT.

Background:

Baseball is one of the few [1] sports where the playing field is not standardized:

  1. The outfield can vary substantially in size and shape from ballpark to ballpark.
  2. The presence / absence of fences can change the possibility of an out-of-the-park home run.

This adds up to the strange situation where a home run in one stadium might have been an easy out in another.

[1] Cricket fields also vary in size and shape. And in golf, the non-standard courses are a crucial feature, not a problem.

Proposal:

Although the outfield can vary substantially, the infield does not exhibit the same level of variation.

But it certainly could!

Figures 1 through 5 (below) show several possible ways of reconfiguring the standard baseball diamond.

baseball-options-0-rearranged

Fig. 1: Left: a traditional baseball diamond. Bases are numbered 1–3, with home plate marked with an “H.” The pitcher’s mound is in orange. Right: in this custom base configuration, the distance between bases 1–3 is dramatically reduced, but the trek from 3rd to home plate is extremely far. This would have significant scoring implications.

baseball-options-pentagon

Fig. 2: It would also be possible for certain ballparks to add more bases; perhaps a fourth base, as shown in this pentagonal arrangement.

 

 

baseball-options-2-circle

Fig. 3: There’s really no reason why the number of bases couldn’t increase to an extreme degree, as shown in this circular setup.

baseball-options-two-way

Fig. 4: Some fields could allow runners to chart their own course through a complex network of bases. There’s no reason why the course between all bases must necessarily be a one-way path through all bases; perhaps there would be strategic reasons for a runner to skip bases entirely, or to escape backwards to an earlier base.

baseball-options-3

Fig. 5: Left: some fields could be deliberately annoying, perhaps to entertain an especially cruel and capricious audience. Right: taking an inspiration from golf, this field has water hazards (as well as multiple routes to the bases). Note the non-centered pitcher’s mounds, which may make the left/right-handedness distinction even more crucial.

PROS: Bizarre stadium arrangements could entertain the fans and increase the chance that an “out of date” stadium would be torn down (and a new one constructed), thus increasing the amount of money that can be siphoned away from taxpayers in the city funding the stadium.

CONS: The extreme variation in fields would make it even more difficult to compare player statistics across ballparks. A player who only plays on the “has exactly one base” field (Figure 5, left side) will probably have an extremely disappointing number of total home runs.

Stop wasting space when packing spheres and cylinders into a rectangular box! Use this new eco-friendly tip for saving on shipping costs and reducing the amount of wasted cardboard in the world.

Background:

When packing a box for shipping, some objects can stack perfectly with no wasted space.

However, some common shapes—for example, cylinders (e.g. toilet paper rolls) and spheres (e.g. oranges)—can’t be packed without wasted empty space in the box (Figure 1).

 

1-wasted-space-between-rolls.png

Fig. 1: Note the two different types of wasted space while shipping toilet paper rolls: left) a cylindrical void in each roll, and right) the star-shaped region between rolls.

 

Proposal:

If someone orders a set of products that don’t pack together, a computer algorithm can automatically determine which additional items could be packed “for free” in the wasted space.

For example, if someone bought a box of 27 bowling balls, packed in a 3x3x3 cube, there would be remaining empty space in the middle for at least 8 caltrops to be packed.

Or, if someone orders 12 rolls of toilet paper AND 48 ninja stars, AND 6 candles, the orders can be perfectly combined into a single package with (almost) no wasted space: the candles go in the toilet paper roll tubes, and the ninja stars go between each roll (Figure 2). Additional packaging ideas shown in Figure 3.

 

2-stars.png

Fig. 2: These ninja stars can be shipped “for free” in the wasted space of the original order, and won’t requires a separate box.

 

 

3-3d

Fig. 3: Additional space can be filled with miscellaneous objects.

 

 

Conclusion:

When ordering products online, there could be a button on the checkout page with text like “add random things to my order so as to fill up 100% of the shipping box.” This would both drive additional product sales AND be more eco-friendly since less packaging would be wasted.

PROS: Allows web-based retailers to sell more products without incurring additional shipping costs by cleverly using 100% of the available packaging space.

CONS: This efficient-packaging technique may be difficult to apply beyond a relatively small subset of somewhat-regularly-shaped items.

Increase your profit margins with this one possibly legal trick for selling orange juice from a vending machine. Remember to consult a lawyer to see if product mis-labeling and consumer fraud is legal in your jurisdiction! I mean it might, be, right? But who knows.

Background:

Certain types of vending machines are capable of squeezing oranges and dispensing the freshly-squeezed orange juice right there at the machine. Generally speaking, these machines actually show you the oranges through a transparent window, so you can see the orange-juice-making process.

Most of these machines proclaim that you are getting “100% Orange Juice” or “All Your Vitamin C,” but typically they don’t bother to tell you that the orange juice is fresh—after all, you can literally SEE the oranges being juiced, so there’s hardly any room for confusion. The machines typically look something like the illustration in Figure 1.

vending-machine-exterior

Fig. 1: A futuristic vending machine that can dispense freshly-squeezed fruit right there at the machine.

Proposal:

Since the machines don’t always say that they are actually squeezing the oranges, it might be possible to have a magic-trick-style arrangement where the oranges go into an opaque grinding mechanism and then orange juice is dispensed—the customer will naturally infer that the oranges are being squeezed in the opaque mechanism, but what if this were not ACTUALLY the case?

Figure 2 shows a proposal for a system that keeps the oranges safe and sound (they could even be plastic oranges), while still appearing to squeeze them.

vending-machine-schematic

Fig. 2: An enterprising individual might be able to think of a workaround where the “100% orange juice” vending machine was dispensing much-cheaper juice and avoiding the mechanical hassle of actually squeezing the oranges.

Conclusion:

People usually enjoy food more if it looks good: orange juice that comes from a fresh source will probably be appreciated more than orange juice that comes from a huge drum labeled “50 GAL. LIQUID ORANGE PRODUCT.”

With this “placebo effect” in mind, maybe it’s not you who are to blame for mis-labeling your from-concentrate orange juice, but rather the customer’s taste buds!

PROS: Possibly more eco-friendly, as it allows orange juice to be transported in concentrated form, rather than in bulky whole-orange form. “Placebo effect” of the orange-squeezing process may increase perceived flavor of the orange juice.

CONS: Any claims of “freshly squeezed” oranges could run afoul of product labeling laws in your jurisdiction—word your vending machine text carefully! As always, consult a lawyer before perpetrating blatant anti-consumer fraud on your customers!