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Month: December, 2014

Never drop your camera again, although honestly who even has a camera anymore now that cell phones have good cameras. Pretend this post is from a while ago.

The issue:

The original shape of a film camera was dictated by the physical constraints of film and lenses.

However, digital cameras have maintained the same unwieldy and awkward layout of film cameras, even though there is no longer a reason for a camera to be shaped in such a way.

In fact, the asymmetrical “grip the camera on the right side, and awkwardly push the shutter on the top of the camera” must lead to thousands of dropped and lost cameras every year.


Let’s look at the basic design of a camera:


Fig 1: A simplified camera. BLUE: “active” elements (controls on left, a focusing ring on right). RED:  shutter button.

There is another well-known “point-and-shoot” object that has a much more ergonomic grip than a camera:


Fig 2: A simplified handgun. BLUE: hammer. RED: trigger.

Let’s compare the way in which a hand holds a camera vs. a handgun.



Fig 3: Grip comparison. In the handgun example (left), note that at least three fingers grip the gun at all times. Additionally, the hand is held in a roughly neutral position, which makes it easy to point at the intended target. In the camera example (right), a one-handed grip results in three fingers awkwardly gripping against the thumb (in blue). Assuming that the camera is held in the right hand (which is where the shutter button is on virtually all cameras), the camera’s center of gravity means that it wants to fall down and to the left.


Cameras should be designed for one-handed operation with a pistol-style grip. Although it is possible to buy aftermarket pistol-grip adapters for professional cameras, they are large and either 1) do not have a shutter trigger or 2) need to be specially interfaced to the shutter button, which makes them incompatible with consumer-grade cameras.


Fig 4: Proposed camera design, allowing a secure grip and easy one-handed aiming and operation. As an additional benefit, the grip could be placed slightly forward of the camera body, thus allowing the center of gravity of the entire camera + lens assembly to be directly over the grip (rather than forward from the grip, as you would get with an aftermarket pistol grip).

PROS: Reduces the chance of dropping a camera. Makes aiming much easier.

CONS: Admittedly, the grip would significantly increase the size of the current crop of extremely thin point-and-shoot cameras. But it would be perfect for the “prosumer” market.

Amazing receipt tip that will help you spend more money than you had planned (thus stimulating the economy). You won’t believe what happens next!


Up-selling is a great way for a business to generate additional sales by tacking on a vaguely relevant follow-up item to an existing sale.

Well-known examples:

  • Car industry: Adding on a fancy stereo system to a new car purchase.
  • Fast food: “Do you want fries with that?”
  • Consumer electronics: Buying an extended warranty (for example, AppleCare)

The issue:

Despite the ubiquity of up-selling in a few product categories, it’s relatively uncommon in most businesses.

Perhaps it is difficult for most businesses to think of a way to up-sell without seeming crass, or maybe it is just hard to think of relevant items that would go with a specific purchase.

Here is a proposal to make up-selling incredibly easy and not even require an additional transaction.


When you get a receipt for your purchase, there will be a mini-catalogue of other related products and a set of checkboxes. If you check the boxes, those items are added to your order and included in the original transaction.

Fig 1: Original receipt. So boring and unprofitable!

Fig 2: Receipt with checkboxes for add-on purchases. Here, the cafe patron purchased a jaunty scarf and a box of assorted chocolates in addition. Note that this receipt takes exactly as long for the business to process as the standard one (it takes the buyer a tiny bit longer, since they have to go up to the counter to pick up their new purchases).


  • At a fast food restaurant, you could buy a pack of gum via checkbox after your meal.
  • At a barber shop, you could buy a recommended shampoo / hair gel / conditioner via checkbox after your haircut.

PROS: Could increase sales and profit margins for struggling businesses. As an aside, this is one of the few ideas on this blog that is not incredibly horrible in an obvious fashion. Apologies.

CONS: Would cost a tiny amount more to print the slightly longer receipts.

When someone lost all their money to a scam, you’ll never believe how they recovered 90% of it thanks to one weird legislative trick!


Financial scams come in all shapes and sizes, ranging in nature from “unbelievable” to “completely hilarious.”

But, it’s rarely hilarious to the scammed person! And even people who haven’t fallen for transparently obvious scams can be affected, as relatives are often are on the hook to keep their loved one from starving on the street post-scam.

The issue:

So we’d ideally like to reduce the number of scams that separate people from their worldly possessions. (This only applies to financial scams, and not, for example, “lose weight instantly with this one weird trick!”)

Right now, scammers operate in a realm of fantastical results where they don’t face any competition. For example: “10% returns on your investment, every month! Guaranteed to not lose money!” These claims are necessarily far superior to the claims made by legitimate investments.

We would like to add more competition to the scam-space by sanctioning a certain number of officially-licensed scammers.

Thus, instead of having 100 legitimate businesses offering “1.5% investment return per year” and one scam business offering “35% return every month!”, we would now have the same 100 legitimate businesses, but 100 new scam businesses that would offer a variety of unbelievable returns.

So far, this only makes the situation worse—but the crucial difference is that these new “official” scammers would have to abide by certain rules, and would have to return a certain fraction (say, 90%) of scammed funds to their marks.

percent-100Fig 1: Before the proposal: 100% of scammed funds are stolen by unscrupulous scammers.


A prospective scammer can register with the government for a “scam license.”

Possession of such a license immunizes the scammer from prosecution, as long as they follow these rules:

  • 1) Properly document all financial transactions
  • 2) Hold on to 90% of the scammed funds for each scammed individual.
  • 3) Return this portion of funds when they are (eventually) “called” on their scam.

Additionally, in order to keep these scammers from competing with legitimate businesses:

  • 4) The official-scammers must make outlandish claims of returns so as to not be mistaken for a legitimate investment. These would be specifically regulated (e.g. “Promised returns must be at least 5x higher than this year’s best-performing ETF on the NYSE”).
  • 5) The scammers must claim to compete in an existing market, to prevent scammers from poisoning innovation by making any new high-returns market immediately appears to be a scam. So “we have one weird trick for flipping real-estate and guaranteeing 200% gains” would be OK (real-estate flipping is an existing market), but “We have a secret plan to mine asteroids and earn a billion pounds of gold” would not be (asteroid mining is not an existing business).

percent-90 Fig 2: The licensed “official” scammers can take 10% of scammed funds, and must return 90% to their overly-credulous “investors.” Red portion of pie chart represents the stolen funds.


These new officially sanctioned scammers might be able to lure gullible “investors” away from real scams, and cause them to only lose 10% of their money rather than 100% of it.

Although it’s possible that people would fall for multiple scams in a row, it would still be preferable to lose 10% of funds each time rather than 100%.


PROS: Reduces the number of financial scams by providing additional competition for those scams. Provides additional sources of employment for ethically-flexible employees in the financial sector.

CONS: Would remove sources of income from scammers, who presumably occasionally also have families to support. Cry a tear for them!

Use common mechanical attachments with a standard bicycle using this one weird tip. Also, you won’t believe what happened next.

Background: A person can generate on the order of ~100W on a stationary bicycle for a half hour or so, for a total of 0.05kWh. This would be enough to power a space heater for about 3 minutes, or a low-draw 10 watt LED light for 5 hours.

There are already various electrical contraptions with batteries that allow a person to theoretically charge a laptop / phone using pedal power.

But there is currently no standard purely-mechanical interface to the bicycle!

The Proposal:

In order to remedy this omission, there should be a standard interface that would allow any mechanical device to receive rotational energy from any bicycle, without requiring modifications to the bicycle. This could be useful in a post-apocalyptic scenario.

The basic plan would very similar to a bicycle-to-stationary bicycle conversion kit (examples: https://www.google.com/search?q=stationary+bicycle+conversion+kit ).

  1. It would consist of a roller that is driven by direct contact with the rear bike tire. (Although it would be more efficient to capture the rotational energy at the pedals, most methods of doing so would require at least some minor alterations to the bicycle [1] .)
  2. The roller would have a standard-sized drive gear on one end, which could be connected in order to power compatible equipment without the need for any electrical or battery-based intermediaries.

Such devices might include:

  • A drill (with power transmitted through a cable, in the same way as an old-fashioned foot-pedaled dentist’s drill operates).
  • A bike / car tire pump. Much easier than compressing a cylinder manually!
  • A water pump, perhaps for drawing up water from a well.
  • A sewing machine
  • A blender
  • An electric mixer
  • A circular saw

Fig 1: Pedaling this now-stationary bicycle causes the back wheel (red) to drive the stationary-bicycle-style roller (blue), which then causes the attached gear to rotate (yellow). Additional to-be-powered devices can be attached to that gear at the point indicated by the orange arrow. (Note: although in this diagram the gear is connected to a long axle, the gear would presumably actually be directly attached to the roller.)

PROS: Lets you use various blending / cutting / etc. devices in a post-apocalyptic world without electricity or batteries. The standardization of this system would allow simpler development of additional devices to be powered in this fashion.

CONS: This proposed device would probably occupy a lot of space in a garage or closet, which would be wasted in the event that there is no post-apocalyptic world to cope with.


[1]: For example, a gear could be interfaced directly with the front gear (avoiding the entire chain of transmission loss to the chain, rear wheel, and roller), or the chain could be attached to the front gear and used to directly power our drive gear / roller, avoiding the transmission loss with the roller and rear wheel.

Never be bothered by annoying political ads again! Because you won’t be voting!


Voting is important for selecting members of government and influencing policy through referendums, recalls, and other measures directly submitted to citizens.

However, it’s a lot of work to be an informed voter, and most voters are apathetic and uninformed. In the case of referendums / ballot measures that are directly voted on, most voters are not even qualified to evaluate the implications of a measure even if they actually bother to understand the text of the referendum.

The Issue:

Aside from the problem of bizarre ballot initiatives (such as this one banning horse meat sales: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_6_(1998)), many elections are determined not by actual merits, but rather by the success of advertisement and “get out the vote” efforts—which are heavily influenced by the amount of cash available.


Fig 1: Voting is sometimes easy and obvious…


Fig 2: But it can also be a confusing mess!


To fix this, one theory is that voters should become less apathetic. But that is not a realistic recommendation—it’s like suggesting “everyone should drive carefully!” as public policy for reducing car accidents, or “people should just eat less!” to solve the problem of obesity.

So a more realistic proposal is to allow voters to—instead of voting as usual—transfer their voting privilege to any other citizen.

This “representative” will then have his or her votes counted multiple times; for example, if 15 people transfer their vote to Representative X, then Representative X’s ballot counts for a total of 16 votes (their own, plus the 15 people who delegated their votes).


Fig 3: The idea behind this ballot delegation plan. The blue individual is the “representative,” and the red ones are the voters who are giving up their vote. In this particular instance, the blue individual would end up with a total of 7 votes instead of the default 1 vote.

Essentially, this is an informal reinvention of representative democracy. It has a few additional benefits:

  • It does not require the creation of additional gerrymandered voting districts (A few good examples are available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering).
  • It allows people to feel like their votes actually do count (even if voters don’t necessarily cast their own votes), which may be beneficial to the long-term health of the democratic process.
  • It allows people to easily participate in the democratic process while themselves remaining totally oblivious and uninformed. Since this is the inevitable state of affairs, it’s best to plan around it rather than to remain in willful denial.

There are three additional important features that would prevent obvious methods of abuse:

  • The “transfer your vote to a representative” process would be done by secret ballot, so no one could be coerced into actually transferring their vote if they didn’t want to.
  • The “representative” actually does not know how many votes they command. In fact, a person could be a representative without even knowing it. This would also reduce the effectiveness of lobbying / bribing representatives, since the bribe-er would have no idea if a representative actually had as many votes as they claimed.
  • There could be a limit on the total number of votes an individual could amass (perhaps 100, or 1000) to prevent single individuals from easily subverting the election process.

PROS: Could prevent elections from being decided primarily by money. Allows apathetic voters to have their uninformed and poorly justified opinions represented in the democratic process.

CONS: None! Go out and get signatures for a constitutional amendment today!