No more procrastination—get motivated to read even the most boring textbook with this publication technique that mixes a textbook with lurid page-turning fiction!

The Issue:

It can be difficult to get motivated to read a textbook or dry historical tome. It’s much easier to read an action-filled story that features murder and intrigue!

Proposal:

In order to motivate a person to read a boring textbook, we will create a new kind of “hybrid” book: instead of printing a separate textbook and page-turning thriller, we will print a single book in which odd pages are from a compelling murder mystery and even pages are from a textbook (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: This hybrid textbook is printed with alternating pages from two sources: a gripping page-turner and a boring-but-educational textbook. A reader who wants to solve the MURDERS OF SKELETON BAY will also need to flip through the “introduction to electromagnetism” pages.

Conclusion:

Often, the hardest part of doing a task is just starting it. By making it more appealing to pick up the book in the first place, we increase the chances that the reader will ALSO slog through the pages of the associated textbook.

PROS: Reduces procrastination by making it more appealing to start reading an uncompelling book.

CONS: Some editing might be required: if we suppose that it takes the same amount of time to understand one textbook page as thirty mystery novel pages, we would probably need to reduce the amount of material on each textbook page to 1/30th of its previous amount. Or make the murder mystery prose 30 times more dense and incomprehensible.

This clownfish-inspired security system will “anemonize” your home, creating the ultimate burglar deterrent!

Background:

A type of fish called the clownfish can live within the stinging tentacles of an anemone (Figure 1). Thanks to an ancient non-aggression pact, the tentacles don’t sting the clownfish. However, they do sting other animals! This is perhaps nature’s first multi-species automated home security system.

Fig. 1: The clownfish is content to hang out within the stinging tentacles of the anemone.

Proposal:

This all-natural system can be adapted to protect human habitats as well! We simply attach stinging vines to all surfaces in a house: floors, ceilings, handrails, walls, furniture, doorknobs, and more. Internally, the anemon-ized home would resemble a kelp forest (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: This “anemonized” sofa provides both fashion and home security.

Next, the homeowner takes a dietary supplement that causes them to sweat a thick layer of protective slime. Thus protected, the homeowner can interact with their home as before—but any intruders will be deterred by the stinging “immune system” of the house.

In addition to its burglar-deterring properties, this system can also allow the homeowner to escape from guests who have overstayed their welcome: e.g. “Oh, let’s move this dinner party in the living room, it’s much more comfortable” (the host then sinks into a sofa composed of waving anemone arms).

PROS: Doesn’t require a homeowner to remember to set an alarm when the leave the house.

CONS: Might ensnare emergency first responders (like the fire department): this could run afoul of anti-booby-trap laws.

Become an expert mountaineer with the “Mini Everest” system: a safe and economical alternative to high-altitude climbing!

The Issue:

Climbing the world’s tallest mountain peaks can be hazardous for several reasons: a person could be blown off the mountain by gale-force winds, get frozen, or die due to insufficient oxygen in the low-atmospheric-pressure “death zone”—and this is before even considering the danger from disease, avalanches, other humans, and high-altitude cryptids such as the yeti.

Proposal:

In order to mitigate these issues, while still providing the same sense of mountaineering accomplishment, we propose the creation of 1:10 scale model “Mini Everest” Himalayan mountain range (Figure 1). This could be used as both a tourist attraction and a mountain climbing “practice” zone for climbers to get familiar with the climbing route.

Fig. 1: Top: a simplified view of Mt. Everest (note that base camp starts at 17,500 feet, so a climber “only” has to climb the vertical distance of eight Empire State Buildings). Bottom: a 1:10 scale version of the mountain, relocated to sea level. The Empire State Building is shown to-scale in both diagrams. Note that even the miniature version is still pretty big!

Despite the drastic reduction in scale, this 1:10 scale mountain is still a fairly sizable project! Fortunately, it is well within modern engineering capabilities to take an existing hill with at least 1200 feet of “prominence” (rise) above the surrounding terrain and carve an exact replica of Mt. Everest into it.

Since we’d be using an existing hill, there would be no need to even haul in material: nearly all of the construction would consist of removing material (except perhaps the addition of a durable surface to reduce erosion).

Let’s examine the mountaineering experience: Figure 2 shows an example of what a 1:1 scale real ascent of a Himalayan peak might look like.

Fig. 2: Here, we see a climb of an actual mountain. A person (tiny at this zoomed-out scale) would face many dangers when climbing the highly irregular mountain terrain. Note the ladders that precariously span deadly crevasses in the ice!

When comparing Figure 2 to the scaled-down version in Figure 3, it is clear that everything has become much easier! The ladders and climbing ropes can be totally ignored, there is no danger of being crushed by falling ice, and the atmospheric pressure remains compatible with human physiology.

Fig. 3: In this one-tenth scale version of Mt. Everest, a normal human is now equivalent to a 50+ foot tall mythological colossus. Note that a single step in the scaled-down mountain can cover as much terrain as several minutes of difficult technical climbing in the real mountain.

For the full effect, Mini Everest would also include a replica base camp (with tiny tents), an “ice” field made out of glass beads, miniature doll-sized ladders, and more.

Conclusion:

There’s no need to restrict this system to Everest: other famous (yet inconvenient) mountains, such as K2 or Olympus Mons on Mars, could be recreated in a casual-hike-compatible format.

PROS: Thanks to this new system, a climber’s main dangers have been reduced from “death / dismemberment” to “small chance of sprained ankle.”

CONS: Climbers might not get the same sense of achievement from this 1:10 scale mountain. But we can solve this by just having them climb it ten times!

Consider the diet of animals in a size-adjusted fashion: if we scale a meal by the weight of the creature eating it, we can intuitively understand how much a cat / bird / bug / whatever is eating in relative terms.

Background:

Animals have varying caloric requirements: usually, larger/warmer ones need to eat more.

The Issue:

When a small animal eats a small portion of food, it’s hard to intuitively understand how much food that is at a human scale.

For example, if a sparrow eats a single sesame seed, is that equivalent to a human eating a bag of potato chips? Or an entire roast duck? Or what? Who knows!

But even though a single seed has negligible nutritional value to a human, it could be a perfectly adequate snack for a tiny (or “smol,” in the scientific parlance) bird!

Proposal:

Any time the subject of food for animals is brought up, the meal should be also adjusted to make it understandable in human terms.

(This is similar to the idea of “adjusting for inflation” for money: a film that brought in ten million dollars could be a success or a failure depending on the year.)

An Example:

There’s a bird called the “grasshopper sparrow,” which weighs ~0.6 oz (17 grams). Apparently, it’s a sparrow the likes to eat grasshoppers (which can weigh ~0.5 grams). So we have:

  • Bird / grasshopper  = 17 g / 0.5 g. Thus, the sparrow is 34x as heavy as the grasshopper that it’s chomping on.

For a human equivalent, let’s use a 150 lb. (68,000 gram) human and an 8 oz (226 gram) hamburger (including the bun, lettuce, tomato, etc…). The burger weighs as much as 500 grasshoppers!

  • Hamburger / human ratio: 68000g / 226g ≈ 300. So the human weighs as much as 300 hamburgers.

So, assuming the hamburger and the grasshopper are nutritionally identical weight-for-weight, we find that the bird eating a single grasshopper is conceptually identical to a human eating nine hamburgers (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: A tiny bird eating a tiny bug could be nutritionally equivalent to a human chowing down on an enormous platter of hamburgers.

Conclusion:

This could work the other way, too. Maybe a shark eating a, say, entire seal is the equivalent of a person eating a single raisin. It’s hard to say without doing the math first!

PROS: Supplies a new way of understanding the natural world in a more intuitive way.

CONS: People might get really judgmental, like “Hey you, hummingbird! Are you really going to drink ALL that nectar? You know that’s the equivalent of me drinking TWENTY cans of soda, right?”

This hunting-and-gathering-based card game uses the wisdom of the ancients to create an irresistible new fad diet!

Background:

For the vast majority of human history, a top survival concern was obtaining food.

The Issue:

It easy to become fat, and difficult to lose weight: “overabundance of food” is an unusual situation that was not frequently encountered in evolutionary history. However, it’s unclear how (in modern society) a person could replicate the food-acquisition strategies of our ancestors.

Proposal:

Let’s create a healthy “ancestral human” diet plan by leveraging the ancient ways of hunting and gathering. Ideally, without the constant threat of starvation.

Specifically, we will make a card game out of the process of obtaining food (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: These hunting-and-gathering “diet cards” have an action on one side (“hunt,” “gather,” “go fishing,” etc…) and a result on the other side (“you caught a tiny fish”).

This game is a two-step process:

STEP 1: The dieting individual selects three cards and places them face-down on their cell phone (Figure 2). The phone’s timer is then set to ONE HOUR. (The dieter may not use their phone for that hour.)

STEP 2: After the hour elapses, the dieter may flip the cards over and see what delicious foods they obtained (Figure 3)—perhaps none at all!

Fig. 2: Here, the user has decided to put two cards onto their phone: one GATHER card and one FISH card. (Note that the timer reads 58 minutes and 11 seconds remaining.)
Fig. 3: After the timer expires, the user can flip the cards over and see what food they are allowed to eat. In this case, the answer is one “standard unit” of vegetables (the broccoli icon) and one “standard unit” of fruit (the apple icon). The go-fishing card did not provide any food at all.

Card details:

Instead of listing a specific food, cards use icons to represent a “standard unit” (of meat, fruit, vegetables, etc.). In general, a “unit” would represent a few hundred calories worth of a type of food. A “standard unit” of trail mix is shown in in Figure 4.

Fig. 4: A hypothetical “standard unit” of trail mix. This might be represented by a peanut emoji (🥜).

The different card types could have different risk / reward elements (Figure 5).

Fig. 5: Five different types of cards. These might have different chances of success and provide different food types. For example, going bow hunting might provide a huge payoff, but there’s also a high chance of coming back from a hunt empty-handed. The “resort to cannibalism” card has a special purpose: it lets the dieter know that this diet plan just isn’t working out, and they should pick a different untested fad diet.

Some sample card results are shown in Figure 6.

Fig. 6: Some different results for each card type. The top (red) row is for hunting, the center row is for fishing, and the bottom row is for gathering.
Fig. 7: An assortment of “gather” cards. The public domain silhouettes in the cards above are from svgsilh.com.

Conclusion:

This “gameified” diet seems like it could maybe actually work (although human testing thus far has not been especially promising: see Figure 8). The key problem is that the user must 1) not snack while waiting for their phone timer to go off and 2) must actually stick to the portions listed on the card backs. This could be difficult to enforce.

Fig. 8: An assortment of “gather” cards. The public domain silhouettes in the cards above are from svgsilh.com.

PROS: Brings the ancient & venerable ancestral ways into the modern era.

CONS: Might result in starvation if a user is extremely unlucky with their card draws (and also extremely diligent in following the rules of this system).

Reform your favorite alphabet to make it faster to write AND easier to read! Read on for more details about the new “Latin Alphabet 2.0,” which you should learn immediately.

Background:

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.

Fig. 1: Two different shorthand styles from an 1897 book. Public domain. This shorthand text is extremely fast to write, but the resulting glyphs (which are entire words!) are not extremely obviously distinct.

As shown in Figure 2, it’s also possible for an alphabet to be strictly worse than another one.

Fig. 2: The default Latin alphabet (top row, blue) can be made worse by making the letters more complicated to write and more difficult to distinguish (middle and bottom rows).

Proposal:

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.

Fig. 3: These letters are conceptually easy to distinguish (“it’s an L with a long horizontal part” or “it’s a tall L with a short horizontal part”), but in reality they would be extremely confusing. The Latin alphabet equivalent of this situation is the letter “O” and the number “0.”

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.

Fig. 4: This alphabet (26 letters + digits 0 through 9) takes advantage of three classes of symbol: angular symbols (orange), curved symbols (blue), and mixed symbols (green). All of these glyphs can be written in a single pen stroke. Ideally they should also be totally unambiguous, although a second look has revealed that the “e” and “p” (both in blue) are suspiciously similar.
Fig. 5: An example of the new alphabet in use. Note that it is even somewhat backwards-compatible, since you can (mostly) read it without any special training.

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.

Conclusion:

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.

Related work: This is similar to the April 2, 2018 idea about disambiguating certain letters / numbers (e.g. zero (0) and  the letter “O”), but now we’ve applied these optimizations to the entire alphabet!

PROS: This new alphabet would be both faster to write AND easier to read!

CONS: All previous signage and literature would need to be revised to this new system. But this is actually also a positive, because it would create new jobs!

Add an “artificial skylight” to any room for $50! Bring natural-ish sunlight to any room. Even works for renters and apartment dwellers!

Background:

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).

Proposal:

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).

Fig. 1: The final result: depending on your perspective, it’s either a HIGH CLASS bespoke lighting solution, OR it’s a trash can with a light bulb inside (and a monitor arm VESA mount on the outside).

The actual application of this light looks surprisingly convincing: in a dark environment, relatively little wattage is required to simulate sunlight.

Fig. 2: Totally acceptable results: there’s a “fake skylight” at the top of these stairs in this view taken at midnight. The bulb used here is a 3300 lumen (5000 kelvin color temperature) LED

The motivation for this DYI “skylight” is cost: commercial versions of this system are substantially nicer—and 1000x more expensive (Figure 3).

Fig. 3: Above: this 2021 Google search result displays an estimate of nearly $70,000 for a professionally-installed system. Still, these state-of-the-art “skylights” look extremely convincing in these videos.

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.

Fig. 4: The cardboard box prototype exterior (see Fig. 5 for the interior).
Fig. 5: …and like this on the inside. See the following list of components.

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.

Fig. 6: The result from just this 3000-lumen light is very convincing to the not-especially-nitpicky consumer. This could definitely be a photo of a room illuminated by an actual skylight!

Fig. 7: For a truly regal solution, use a VESA mount monitor arm to attach the skylight-box high up on a wall.

Conclusion:

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!

Increase immersion in video games by remapping your controls to include a wider range of actions!

Background:

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.”

Fig. 1: A traditional first-person-shooter (FPS)-style controller mapping might resemble the diagram above. Note the large number of buttons dedicated to gun-wrangling. Sometimes these shooting-centric controls can cause confusion: for example, in Red Dead Redemption 2, the same button can be both “greet a stranger” and “hip fire a six-shooter,” which can lead to awkward mishaps!

Proposal:

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).

Fig. 2: Here’s how a cowboy / western game might be adjusted for this new scheme. We retain a few classic “video gamey” interactions (jump, shoot gun), but add some more intricacies that will make the world come alive.

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.

Prior Art:

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.

PROS: Increases gameplay immersion, promotes creative solutions.

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 or by successfully converting them to a pacifistic religion.

You can already order a sampler-platter-style “flight” of beers, but why aren’t ALL foods available in “flight” form?

Background:

Some restaurants serve beers in “flights”: a “sampler pack” of several small servings of a variety of different beers (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: A “flight” of beers provides additional variety to the beer-drinking experience. Together, all of the small glasses usually add up to approximately one regular-sized glass of beer. But you get so much more variety!

The Issue:

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.”

Proposal:

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.

Fig. 2: A “flight” of dessert items (top) and a “flight” of sandwiches (bottom) would be other possibilities for serving in a “flight” fashion.

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)

Conclusion:

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.

Never miss a spot when vacuuming again, thanks to this new shoe that makes vacuuming a cinch instead of an odious chore!

The Issue:

Vacuuming a house can be an annoying chore.

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.

Proposal:

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)?

Fig. 1: A) Vacuum cleaner “roller” component to get dirt out of carpet. B) The regular vacuum intake for loose debris. C) A rotating “street cleaning”-style brush. D) dust and dirt end up in the removable heel (the user slides this out to empty it, just like in any bag-less vacuum).

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.

Conclusion:

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.