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Month: November, 2016

You’ll never eat an ice cream cone again after learning this horrifying secret! Also: the top 5 flavors of ice cream from your childhood that are NO LONGER made!

The issue:

Sometimes, when you’re eating an ice cream out of a cone, you will suffer the indignity of having the ice cream drip onto yourself and/or the ground (see Fig. 1).

This is especially likely to occur if you are less than five years old.

This can be avoided by diligently rotating the cone to check for drips, but this is a labor-intensive process that is ripe for disruption through advanced in robotics and computer vision.


Fig. 1: The ice cream cone looks safe (left), but if you rotate it 180º, it is revealed that the ice cream is about to drip onto you (right).


A glove lined with rollers and a set of tiny cameras can automatically rotate the ice cream cone in such a way that you will always be eating the ice cream sectors that are most likely to drip.

The glove is diagramed in Figure 2.


Fig. 2: A glove with two motorized rollers to actually rotate the ice cream cone (highlighted in red) and a number of additional free-spinning rollers to allow the ice cream cone to spin freely. Not shown here is the computer vision component, which be integrated into the glove as miniature low-resolution cameras on the top of the index finger and thumb (to provide a 360° view of the ice cream under standard gripping conditions).


Fig. 3: The recommended glove-and-cone configuration for optimal application of the “ice cream glove.”

PROS: Prevents ice cream from dripping on you while you eat it. Saves mental energy that can be focused onto other tasks, such as promoting world peace.

CONS: Equipment malfunction may cause the rollers to spin out of control, “centrifuging” the ice cream scoop and flinging it everywhere.

Nine (9) insane books that you read in high school with TWIST ENDINGS that leave you speechless! Or, a way of bringing excitement back to classic literature.


When reading any book, there’s an unavoidable spoiler: the number of pages left in the book!

Specifically, the number of remaining pages gives you a strong clue as to how the narrative is going to go. If you are only 25% of the way through a book, but the main character is dangling from a sheer cliff, odds are that the character is going to survive. This substantially reduces the tension. (Note: exceptions exist, such as Game of Thrones.)

This also applies to movies—if there’s still 90 minutes left in a film, you can be pretty sure that whatever plan the protagonists are up to is not going to resolve without any complications.


Here are two proposals to fix this “length spoiler” issue:

First Proposal: Add blank pages to a book to hide the location of the ending

Fortunately, we can easily maintain the narrative excitement and tension with just one weird trick! All that is necessary is:

1. For a book, pad out the book with a substantial number of blank or plot-irrelevant pages, so the reader won’t know where the plot ends. (This approach was inadvertently done in the third Lord of the Rings book (Return of the King) by J.R.R. Tolkien: the book’s plot ends at the 75% mark. It is then followed by an extensive set of appendices such as “Appendix D: Calendars: Shire Calendar for use in all years”).

2. For a movie, include many minutes (or hours!) of still frames at the end of the film, so that the the remaining length is not immediately obvious if you pause the video. (Or you could watch the movie on VHS.)

Second Proposal: Publish multiple variants of each book, with hasty resolutions

So the problem with the first proposal is that if a book is to follow certain narrative structures, we still know that certain things will happen—the hero won’t just stay home in the first act.

But with modern technology, we can now provide variants of books (and movies) where different events occur, prematurely ending the plot.

Then, the reader can’t use their meta-knowledge of how narratives are normally constructed—the book could end unpredictably at any time! (See the Conan-the-Barbarian-inspired example in Fig. 1).

failurebookFig. 1: The blank pages hide the fact that the narrative actually ends on page 206. The savvy reader, seeing hundreds of remaining pages, probably assumes that the story is going to continue, but it is not so!

Additional Examples of “early book endings”:

The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien), alternative early ending:

There he lay, a vast red-golden dragon, fast asleep; thrumming came from his jaws and nostrils, and wisps of smoke, but his fires were low in slumber, until they roared up in an instant, incinerating the burgling hobbit before he could even recognize the danger.


(124 blank pages follow)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling), alternative early ending

They inched toward the message, eyes fixed on a dark shadow beneath it. All three of them realized what it was at once, and leapt backward with a splash. Mrs. Norris, the caretaker’s cat, was hanging by her tail from the torch bracket. She was stiff as a board, her eyes wide and staring. 

For a few seconds, they didn’t move. Then Ron said, “Let’s get out of here.”

Later, the trio transferred to a much less dangerous boarding school in New Hampshire.


(144 blank pages follow)

Solution to the main problem with this approach:

Since there will be dozens of variants of the book (with premature endings at different spots), different readers may actually get different versions of the book.

In order to prevent readers who got one of the “early ending” copies of the book from being unsatisfied with the book due to the poor conclusion, the publisher would make the second half of the book available online for free, so that even the unlucky readers can still experience the full narrative.

booktreeFig 2: An example of how the narrative could be constructed. Perhaps point “F” is the book’s original ending: now we just need to hire a few fan fiction authors to fill out endings A, B, C, D, E, J, G, H, and I, and we’ll have all the benefits of a Choose Your Own Adventure (™) book with the literary merits of the finest fiction.

Note that this specific example may be overly expensive due to the extremely early divergence in plot between the (A, B, C, D, E) branch and the (F, G, J, I, J) branch. For economic reasons, probably only one of those branches should be included—otherwise there are essentially two totally different books being written here.

Current state of the art:

The application of divergent and/or user-selected narratives has been long neglected, with the only recent noteworthy examples being the Shakespeare-inspired “Romeo And/Or Juliet” (http://romeoandorjuliet.com/) and “To Be or Not To Be” (Hamlet) (https://www.amazon.com/Be-Not-Ryan-North/dp/0982853742), both by Ryan North of “Dinosaur Comics” fame.

PROS: Adds much-needed dramatic tension to formulaic plots!

CONS: Does not work with non-fiction.

Finally quantify your indolence with the new how-long-have-you-sat-in-it privacy-invading chair modification!

The issue:

Sometimes, you’re looking for a co-worker, and you’d like to know if they’ve gone out to lunch, left for the day already, or haven’t arrived yet.

Normally, you’d have to actually send a text message to that person to ask. But that can be overly intrusive.


Fig. 1: Your coworker’s chair is empty. Did they already leave for the day? Who knows!


With the following chair modification, you will wonder about your coworker’s whereabouts no more!

A normal desk chair can be fitted with a digital timer connected to a pressure sensor. The timer will show when the occupant last sat in the chair, as determined by the pressure sensor (Fig. 2). (The pressure sensor would be identical to the ones used in cars to determine whether or not to deploy the passenger-side airbag).


Fig. 2: The clock on this chair tells you how long it’s been since someone (presumably your co-worker) last sat in it. If it says “18 hours,” then they probably haven’t come into work yet. If it says “5 minutes,” maybe it means they just left for lunch or something.

If your office doesn’t want to spend the money to replace every single office chair, we can also provide an version that just clips onto the back of an existing office chair (Fig. 3).


Fig. 3: This motion sensor (with attached timer) can be clipped to the top of the seat. This will allow existing non-futuristic office chairs to also participate in the “when was this chair last sat in?” system.

Bonus feature #1:

Recharging: The wheels on the chair could be hooked up to a tiny generator, so the chair sensors (presumably these are battery-powered and not plugged in) could be recharged by just rolling the chair around.

Bonus feature #2:

Workplace health: the chair could beep at you if you sit in it for more than a half hour straight, thus reducing health problems from sitting all day.

PROS: You’ll never need to wonder if someone you’re looking for has just stepped out, or if they weren’t even at work at all that day. Excellent for workspaces with flexible work hours or many remote employees.

CONS: Will probably be used as part of an intrusive “employee productivity metric” that will cause people to start putting heavy weights in their chairs to simulate being there all the time, thus preventing this system from working as designed.

Podiatrists hate it! Throw away your obsolete footwear and prostrate yourself before the new ultimate invention, the “shruler.” You’ll never believe what happens in the last paragraph!

The issue:

If you’re reading this, it is overwhelmingly likely that you own at least one pair of shoes.

But your shoes are probably single-purpose products that have thus far been left out of the multi-purpose-product revolution.

Your phone is also a camera, map, flashlight, web browser, and more—why are your shoes just shoes and nothing else?

This is especially troublesome since shoes are something that people have on or near their person all the time. Why not add useful functionality to these ever-present items?


Fig 1: An old fashioned shoe with no additional features.


There are many possibilities for adding Swiss-army-knife-like additional functionality to shoes. In decreasing order of plausibility:

  • A ruler.
  • Wireless house keys / car keys (a remote bluetooth / WiFi / RFID sensor that will automatically unlock your front door or start your car).
  • “Medic alert” bracelet info. If you are unconscious, paramedics can check the bottom of your shoe for a list of allergies.
  • A backup cell phone battery in the heel.
  • An entire backup cell phone. Just be sure to keep it charged! This is basically the shoe from the 1965 TV series “Get Smart.”
  • An inflatable life vest, in case you fall off a ferry. Water-soluble shoelaces will prevent you from being trapped upside-down in your life-vest-shoes once you fall into the water.
  • An emergency beacon, like the ones that can be rented / bought for a long hiking / camping trip in the wilderness.
  • Bear repellant. Click your heels together, and a huge aerosolized cloud of bear-repellant will spray out everywhere.


Fig 2: With this shoe ruler, or “shruler,” an architect or interior designer would never have a problem determining exact dimensions. Not useful in case of bear attacks, however.


Now you can shop for function, fashion, AND features next time you buy footwear!

PROS: Medic alert and emergency beacon shoes may save thousands of lives a year.

CONS: You might be wearing the wrong shoes for the occasion; maybe a bear attacks you while you’re wearing the life vest shoes, or you fall off a boat while wearing the anti-bear shoes.