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Month: February, 2015

12 ways to Game-ify elections: number 9 will blow your mind. Also it’s probably a weird trick I guess?


If civil society is to remain functional, some fraction of citizens must actually participate in it. However, apathy is easy!

We propose the use of proven gamification techniques to motivate otherwise-uninterested individuals into feeling a sense of civic responsibility.


In games, achievements are minor rewards for performing certain actions (e.g. “Stomped 50 goombas” or “Flew an X-Wing through the St. Louis Arch”). But there is no reason that they can’t be awarded for non-gaming actions as well. (This part is not a new idea, as seen in https://habitrpg.com/ and http://badgeville.com/ .)

Is your cat a Communist? Sponsored link.

Is your cat a Communist? Sponsored link.

Here, we will appropriate the “achievement” system for accomplishments in the political realm. The government already knows a lot about you: how much you’ve contributed to political groups, whether or not you showed up to jury duty, and whether or not you voted.

So why not track this information on a user-accessible web site and provide “Civics Achievements” for citizens to strive toward?

A selection of proposed achievements:


Fig 1: Political donations are commonly associated with extremely wealthy individuals and corporations, but it would theoretically be just as viable to get a contribution of $10 from a million supporters as it would be to receive $10,000,000 from a single deep-pocketed donor. Maybe an achievement-tracking system could encourage small donations from individuals.


Fig 2: The vast majority of individuals who show up for jury selection are dismissed and do not end up on a trial. But an achievement could make it seem like at least something was accomplished in that time.


Fig 3: Voter turnout could also be encouraged via an achievement tracking system. The only downside is that some percentage of voters would decide that their goal was the “I voted!” badge—rather than participation in democracy—and would probably stop voting entirely once they had satisfied the achievement’s requirements..

Informed voting:

Perhaps this achievement-based technique could also help encourage some basic research to be done before voters went to the polling places.


Fig 4: Referendums are famous for having extremely misleading titles. For example “End unemployment now!” could be a measure that sent all citizens to forced labor camps, which would technically fulfill the promise in the title.



Fig 5: Interaction with one’s representatives is one way to influence politics to some extent without spending money.

Application in non-democratic settings:

This technique can be applied in countries even without legitimate democracies. For example, one might imagine how a totalitarian state with sham elections could nevertheless drum up patriotism with a motivational achievement like the one below.


Fig 6: Exit polls conducted by the secret police reveal 100% support for our glorious leader.


You should write your representative (see achievements above) to propose this great plan, and then vote “yes” on the referendum in its favor. If you also read the text of the referendum, you will have made progress toward FOUR achievements while doing the actions in the previous sentence!

PROS: Saves democracy (at least until people collect their “I voted” achievement and then give up).

CONS: May result in seemingly impossible behavior such as individuals wanting to be called up for jury duty in order to fulfill their “jury duty” achievement. Also possible that future heroic deeds would be accomplished for un-heroic reasons—for example, a citizen might expose a secret reptilian mind-control plot not because they actually wanted to save their country, but because they needed to collect the “Whistleblower” achievement.

Natural Selection Candy Bowl: The 13 candies from your childhood that you won’t believe they still make… because you are an unusually skeptical individual


Here is an idea of admittedly limited utility: apply the principles of natural selection to a candy dish.

First, one must acquire a variety of candies of various types. In this particular example, I have ordered them (left to right) from most-to-least desirable. (The rightmost item is a toothbrush, which is the universally-despited dentists’ halloween treat.)


Fig 1: Four types of “candies” in the candy bowl. Although individual preferences may vary, in this case we assume that the overall preferences are as follows: Yellow > Orange > Green > Blue. We will refer to these as “candies” even though the toothbrush is not, strictly speaking, a candy in the traditional sense.



Fig 2: The initial candy bowl is (approximately) equally populated by the four candy types.



Fig 3: The candy bowl after co-workers / children / passers-by have visited it for some amount of time. Note that the yellow candies are heavily depleted, but the undesirable blue ones are still almost all present. (This is because they have a higher resistance to predators.)

After each step, we repopulate the candy bowl with one new candy for each (say) four of a given type. So if there are a total of 12 yellow candies in the bowl, we add three (= 12 / 4) more yellow ones. (This may require purchasing a substantial quantity of new candies.)



Fig 4: After another round of candy acquisition, the yellow and orange candies have almost been hunted to extinction.



Fig 5: The good candies have all been eaten, so now the candies’ natural predators refocus their attentions on the green ones.



Fig 6: Even the green candies are almost extinct now.



Fig 7: The candy bowl endgame consists of a monoculture of blue toothbrushes that no one wants. Success! The blue toothbrush has emerged as the most resistant candy with the highest fitness in this specific environment.


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PROS: Could be an interesting experiment to illustrate population changes due to selection pressure.

CONS: Requires purchasing a lot of candy!

The 6 food groups you never knew that you wanted to eat while on a treadmill… which you will have to do in the grim dystopian treadmill future!


As previously discussed, losing weight can be hard, especially when when hunting-and-gathering is reduced to “open fridge, acquire food.”

If it were less easy to acquire food, perhaps it would be easier to avoid becoming overweight.



In this new design for a suburban house, the kitchen is physically separated from the rest of the house by a long “treadmill hallway”—simply a hallway with a treadmill instead of a normal floor (like the “people movers” in airports).

When a person wants to go to the kitchen to make food (or just grab something out of the fridge), they have to first traverse the treadmill hallway.

Upon entering the hallway, a sensor registers that a person has entered, and the treadmill is quickly brought up to speed, preventing the house’s inhabitant from easily getting to the kitchen. Instead, the treadmill increases (and decreases) its speed to keep the user in approximately the middle of the hallway until it deems enough time to have passed (and enough energy spent) to make the kitchen-seeker worthy of actually entering the kitchen.

The treadmill computer would presumably be more tolerant of individuals trying to leave the kitchen, and would let them pass undisturbed unless it had experienced an unusually frustrating day and needed to take it out on the house owner.


Fig 1A: The overall schematic showing the house (red), treadmill hallway (blue), and separated kitchen (green).


Fig 1B: A zoomed in view of the treadmill hallway. The treadmill is computer-controlled and has optical sensors and rangefinders to determine where exactly an occupant is on the treadmill.

PROS: Increases physical fitness, decreases casual snacking.

CONS: If there is a glitch in the programming, it could catapult the house’s owner out of the hallway at an extreme velocity. Possibly huge beanbags should be placed at both exits from the treadmill hallway.

7 Cats From the 80s That You Won’t Believe Where They Are Now (On Airplanes)


First: Somehow, there exists such a thing as a “Cat Cafe” (Wikipedia link). As the name implies, it’s a cafe with cats running amok inside.

Second: many people find air travel to be an annoying and stressful experience.


Cuddly animals frequently improve situations. In order to make air travel more pleasant (and profitable for the airline?), the Cat Cafe concept can be applied to air travel as well. We will refer to this as the “Cat Cafe Airline.”

Potential features of Cat Cafe Airline:

  • Each plane would be equipped with a menagerie of fluffy domesticated beasts.
  • These soothing animals would be allowed to wander about the plane.
  • First-class seats would have first pick, and would have exclusive access to giant cats like the Maine Coon and Longcat.


Fig 1: A regular (cat-free) airline overhead bin is cold, sterile, and unwelcoming.

Methods of supplying cats to passengers:

  • One option would be to have a “cat cart” in addition to the normal coffee / lunch cart. Instead of specifying a preference for (say) coffee or tea, passengers would choose between siamese and calico.
  • Alternatively, cats could normally live in the overhead bins, and would only exit them while the plane was in flight (to make room for luggage). It is unclear if the cats’ sleeping schedule would easily align with the in-use flight time of the airplane.


Fig 2: With dozens of cats inside, the airline overhead bin takes on a warmer and more welcoming appearance.

Other concerns:

  • People with cat allergies would obviously be advised not to book a flight on a “cat plane.”
  • In some cultures, animals such as pigs and dogs are considered “unclean” and anathema. It is possible that cats also have a bad rap in certain cultures, which might limit locations where these planes could fly.
  • With this many cats, cat fights might be inevitable. Fortunately, using their in-seat entertainment systems, passengers could bet on the outcome, and the airline could take a cut. This solves the problem without any heavy-handed cat regulation.

PROS : Opens up new business opportunities and soothes passengers on long-haul flights. No animals were harmed in the making of this proposal.

CONS: Cats might escape while a plane is grounded on an exotic unspoiled island, potentially soon exterminating all native life and becoming adorable apex predators.