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Month: October, 2015

Election facts: three weird secrets for crafting the ultimate direct-democracy ballot proposal

Background:

Many jurisdictions allow a limited degree of direct democracy, where citizens can submit any measure to be voted on (for example: “the city will buy everyone a free horse to eat at Thanksgiving”). If a measure gets a sufficient number of signatures, it must be placed on the ballot.

Proposal:

It’s generally a lot of work to propose a valid ballot measure. But using the helpful tips below, you too can craft a successful ballot measure!

Make sure to:

  • Appeal to voters’ wallets. If your measure requires a new tax to support it, it is probably a non-starter.
    • Example 1: Prohibit increases in rent (note that this measure will be unpopular with landlords)
    • Example 2: Prohibit increases in property tax
    • Instead of funding your measure with taxes, you can propose a bond issuance (essentially just a loan) instead. Since this will not directly increase any taxes in an obvious way, voters are less likely to be opposed to it [1].
  • Appeal to people’s inherent dislike of change. Examples:
    • Prohibit new construction
    • Prohibit businesses in a residential area, and vice-versa
    • Restrict new businesses from coming into an area and competing with existing businesses
    • Prevent any external / façade modification of buildings
  • Choose an appealing name.
    • Example 1: a measure that de-funds all schools and sends children to work in the salt mines: “Hands-on Job Experience Primary School Education”
    • Example 2: a measure that turns all public parks into fenced-in garbage dumps: “Put Our Land to Work: Cheaper Trash Dropoffs and Parks that Pay for Themselves.”

Despite the examples directly above, it will be easier to pass a proposition that maintains the status quo. Your ideal proposition should both maintain the status quo and have an catchy name.

Here are two contrasting measures that make use of the above techniques:

MeasureR vs. MeasureH

Fig 1. Two conflicting sample measures that are frequently found on real-world ballots. While these specific ones may be too cartoonish to pass as currently written, they would have a chance with some creative re-wording! Use these as a template for your own ballot measure.

PROS: These ballot propositions will allow all voters to weigh in on important matters.

CONS: If citizens get too much democracy, this may result in “democracy overload,” which will instantly cause the government to revert to medieval feudalism [2].

[1]: Citation: just made up now, but might be true since it allows the proposition to avoid containing the word “tax.”

[2]: Citation: personal communication.

These 7 weird tricks to playing tennis with a ukulele will lead you wondering what happens next. . . probably severe elbow and wrist injury?

Background:

Sometimes, when playing tennis, one of the participants may wish to play a jaunty tune to raise the spirits of their partner (in a doubles match), or perhaps they may wish to play a mocking tune to demoralize their opponent.

However, currently this is not possible, as holding a tennis racquet precludes the playing of almost all instruments.

ukulele

Fig 1: A ukulele, which is the smallest widely-available member of the guitar family.

racquet

Fig 2: A tennis racquet. Typically larger than a ukulele but less thick.

The proposal:

By combining the tennis racquet and ukulele, we can create a tool that can be used both in racquet sports and for impromptu string music. The active “mode” of the “racq-u-lele” can be changed simply by flipping it over.

combine

Fig 3: The ukulele and tennis racquet overlap perfectly, although at 180° relative to each other. But this will probably not be an issue for the serious tennis / ukulele aficionado.

diagram

Fig 4: Technical diagram: side view of the racq-u-lele. The large gray rectangle at the top is the main body of the ukulele. Details: A) “Head” of the ukulele. B) Strings. C: Ukulele sound hole, in gray. D) Tennis racquet head. E) Tennis racquet strings. F) Tennis racquet grip / ukulele neck.

diagram2

Fig 5: Artist’s conception of the final product. A) Racquet strings. B) Ukulele body. C) Tennis racquet handle, which also serves as the neck of the ukulele.

Conclusion:

Finally, tennis and stringed instrument playing can be combined into a hybrid hobby for truly cultured individuals.

PROS: Increases the skill ceiling of tennis by requiring mastery of a musical discipline to rise to the highest levels. Allows players to have something to do in the boring period of time during a tennis match when the ball is in flight to the opponent.

CONS: May make rage-induced racquet smashing substantially more expensive. May also affect the ergonomics of the racquet, particularly with regard to backhand strokes.

All your parking woes solved with this one weird tip, which also adds a (possibly unintentional) crumple zone to your car, perhaps increasing its safety in a crash

Background:

Parking is a problem in many large cities, and extremely small cars are manufactured specifically to allow drivers to pick smaller parking spots.

The issue:

If a person buys a large car, they may be unable to park it. But if that person buys a small car, it may be insufficient for their people-and-goods-transporting needs. A conundrum!

The proposal:

Instead of having to choose between two car sizes, this proposal is for a “best of both worlds” car with a collapsable back seat. See figures 1 and 2, below, for extensive technical schematics.

car-diagram-long-small-filesize

Fig 1: A diagram of the car. Unfortunately, there is little room to remove in the green region (engine) or blue region (trunk / rear  window / rear wheel attachment area). So we will instead focus on compressing the back seats (yellow) and front seats (orange).

car-diagram-short-small-filesize

Fig 2: The same car, in its compressed “small parking spot” mode. The yellow back seat region has compressed to almost nothing, while the orange front seats have collapsed very slightly, leaving just enough room for the driver to still maneuver the vehicle.

Conclusion:

Although there would be certain technical challenges in making an accordion-like vehicle that could still pass highway safety regulations, this would be an worthy project for any automotive engineer.

PROS: Combines the transport flexibility of a larger vehicle with the parking convenience of a small one. If any patents with this idea were filed by the creators of the Inspector Gadget cartoon, they will have already expired at this point.

CONS: Be careful not to put the car into “small parking spot mode” when passengers are still in the back seat.

Will 10 losses in a row guarantee a payout on the next spin of a slot machine? The only way to find out is to play!

Background:

An ATM (“Automated Teller Machine”) resembles a slot machine in many respects: the user fiddles with a set of controls for a bit, and money (hopefully) comes out in the end.

Additionally, humans have a fascination with gambling, and will often happily hand over a small amount of money for a small chance of a much larger sum.

One of the problems with a slot machine is that, over time, a user who continues to play will (eventually) go bankrupt due to the house edge.

But we can fix this and increase bank profitability at the same time.

The proposal: “ATM Slot Machine”

In these proposed ATMs, when the user inserts their card to make a withdrawal, the ATM would have a button that allowed it to operate exactly like a slot machine; the user would have an opportunity to deduct extra money from their account, and if they won, the ATM would dispense their winnings in cash right there.

The user could be limited to (say) 5 plays per day, to prevent long lines from forming behind compulsive gamblers at ATMs.

Because the user is withdrawing their own money no matter what, they would always “win” in the sense of receiving a positive amount of money from the ATM (even though a losing player might only get $40 in cash from a $50 withdrawal—which is not too dissimilar from the fees charged at many ATMs, so there may be less customer resistance to this new type of ATM than would normally be expected).

atm

Fig 1: The boring regular ATM has been a staple of urban life for many decades. It’s time to spice it up.

slot

Fig 2: Gold spray paint and giant dollar signs add a touch of class to this new ATM.

Conclusion:

If slot-machine-ATMs violate any laws in your jurisdiction, you should protest immediately.

PROS: Adds a sense of adventure and excitement to a mundane ATM withdrawal.

CONS: May be illegal in your state or country.