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Month: April, 2018

Solve your conference call woes with this one insane tip! Never lean your head weirdly in front of a laptop camera again. FINALLY.

The issue:

During a conference call, it can be difficult to position multiple people in such a way that everyone is actually in-frame.

Usually, either:

  1. Only one person fits into the frame, or:
  2. Everyone is extremely far from the camera, so 95% of the screen area is taken up by a conference table.

Figure 1 illustrates this common scenario.

conference-call-1-without-prism.png

Fig. 1: When multiple people are sharing a laptop during a conference call, usually the video looks like the example on right, where only one person is actually fully visible.

Proposal:

An inexpensive prism can fix this problem once and for all (Figure 2). A prism can be placed directly in front of the camera to split the image into multiple horizontally-spaced parts.

Now everyone can participate in the conference call without needing to move the camera around!

conference-call-2-with-prism

Fig. 2: The prism attachment makes it easy to fit everyone into frame. The prism could attach to the camera by means of either a magnetic clip or some sort of suction cup (probably the best solution for laptop screens).

PROS: Encourages conference call participation by people other than whoever happens to be directly in front of the camera.

CONS: Might result in an unflattering “fun house mirror” effect in the final image. (Although this could be fixed in software, or by a more complicated prism setup.)

Chalk up another astounding win for the Internet of Things: another major plague on humanity is BANISHED thanks to a wireless chip in your blender.

Background:

People occasionally forget to lock the door before leaving the house, or leave a stove on by accident, or any number of other things.

“Internet of Things” aficionados often suggest that you could, say, turn on and off your stove from your phone, but now someone on the Internet thousands of miles away can also turn on your stove at a random time.

Proposal:

If your appliances could report their status wirelessly to a receiver on your door, then you could check your home’s status as you leave.

Anything that is amiss will glow in an obvious fashion that calls for more investigation (see mockup in Figure 1).

smarthome-status-panel-on-exit.png

Fig 1: Since this panel is on your main exit door, it’s nearly impossible to accidentally leave something on / forget to lock the door / leave the microwave popping popcorn for 90 minutes instead of 90 seconds / etc.

Conclusion:

Since this is a one-way channel of communication, you don’t have to worry about hackers turning on your microwave. (Additionally, high security is not crucial here; exposing the information “your microwave is on” to a hacker 8000 miles away is probably not a realistic concern unless you’re making a contrived scenario for a made-for-TV movie.)

PROS: As with all Internet-of-Things things, it solves a problem that actually does (juuuuust barely, anyway) exist, and (more importantly) provides a great hobby for engineers.

CONS: In five years, when your smart home hub supplier is out of business, none of your new appliances will work with your system. And when you buy a new dryer, you’ll have to research it for 80 hours to to see if it’s compatible with your version of the Smart Home hub, and then you’ll to have to dig around on the internet for a firmware update named SmartHouse_v_2.7_North_America_41.80.24b.dat.zip. Which will then turn out to be malware that turns your hub into a Dogecoin miner.

Get that promotion with this phone app that saves you from the embarrassment of having food stuck in your teeth! You’ll never believe you lived without it.

Background:

  1. Some new phones (and laptops) have the ability to detect an authorized user’s face and unlock the phone without requiring a PIN.
  2. Often, if you have something stuck in your teeth, people won’t say anything. Then, hours later, you realize that you had, say, a huge leaf of lettuce in your hair the whole time, forcing you to re-contextualize all your social interactions since lunch.

Proposal:

Surprisingly, although the capability certainly exists, no face unlock system currently informs users if they have, for example:

  • Something stuck in their teeth
  • A weird thing in their hair
  • Bizarrely smudged Joker-esque lipstick
  • A bird that has made a nest in the user’s hair

Figures 1 and 2 demonstrate how the “face unlock” feature could serve the dual purpose of notifying users of such situations.

lettuce.png

Fig. 1: The face unlock feature can informs this hapless user that they have lettuce stuck in their teeth.

lipstick.png

Fig. 2: Extraordinarily smudged lipstick might also be detectable via the face-unlock system, although the variability of lip shape may make this a more difficult computer vision problem. It’s a good Ph.D. project for some unfortunate graduate student.

 

lettuce-in-teeth

Fig. 3: This phone has high standards of dental hygiene, and will refuse to operate until you pick the lettuce out of your teeth.

Conclusion:

Since the phone already has the hardware to perform this public service, it would be a trivial addition to the standard face-unlock system. Note to Apple: you should pay me to license this incredible technology.

PROS: Gives the phone’s developer a leg up over competitors without robust lettuce-detection algorithms. It’s basically a free feature!

CONS: People might rely on the phone too much for even the most basic tasks, and civilization might revert to a barbaric age of inhuman savagery if there is ever a prolonged electrical outage.

 

 

Never have a difficult interaction with someone again—outsource it to a computer and/or remote employee! All relationship and employment problems are now SOLVED thanks to ever-improving technology.

The issue:

Sometimes, one must make a difficult decision in life, or convey bad news to someone.

This can be stressful!

Proposal:

But what if these hard decisions could be outsourced?

With this new system, if you find yourself in an unpleasant situation while messaging someone, you can press a button on the program to simply outsource the remaining communication to someone else.

Examples:

  • An employer wants to fire an employee. They text [AUTOFIRE] to that employee, and the HR process for firing that employee is automatically handled by a remote professional.
  • Someone wants to get divorced. They text [AUTODIVORCE] to their spouse, and a remote professional handles the jurisdiction-specific details.
  • Your nephew’s hamster died, but you don’t know how to convey this bad news. Text [AUTOHAMSTERDIED] to your nephew, and a qualified team will take care of everything.

No more need to stress out about difficult things—just let an emotionally detached algorithm and/or remote employee handle it!

See Figure 1 and Figure 2 for examples.

 

Fig 1: Some people hate to let down a date. Problem solved thanks to TECHNOLOGY! Right: animated gif re-enactment of a conversation where [AUTOGHOST] might apply.

 

Fig 2: No more awkward interactions with an employee you want to fire. Only works in jurisdictions with at-will employment. Don’t try this with unionized labor! Right: animated gif re-enactment of a conversation where [AUTOFIRE] might apply.

PROS: Makes difficult communications (and just-slightly-difficult communications) incredibly easy!

CONS: Some people say it’s not a great idea to outsource all human interactions to an algorithm, but what do they know!

Erase all of written history to hide our shameful alphabet-based mistakes from the future! After reading this, you will think Fahrenheit 451 is an instruction manual.

The issue:

Latin-based writing systems—like the one your’e reading right now—have a serious problem: many letters and numbers look exactly the same!

The most obvious example (Figure 1) is probably “l” (lower-case “L”) and “I” (upper-case “i”).

Benefits:

Fixing these duplicated symbols, perhaps with the proposed new symbols in Figure 3, has a number of benefits:

  • For everyone: Prevents confusion when you wrote down someone’s email address and now can’t figure out if you wrote down a “9” or a “g.”
  • For everyone: Prevents people from trying to scam you with a fake email address from “admin@C0MPANY.COM.”
  • For people who witness vehicular crimes: Makes it easier to tell if a license plate is something like “9901IQ” or “GGO1I0.”
  • For Internet users: Prevents from picking identical-looking usernames to troll you.
  • For programmers: helps avoid errors when programming (is that variable a lower-case “L,” or is it a capital “i”).

 

 

ambiguous-1-or-L

Fig. 1: These three extremely common symbols all look identical in many fonts and styles of handwriting. Bottom: an unambiguous form of that symbol. Top: a common way of writing the symbol shown on the bottom.

 

 

ambiguous-part-2

Fig. 2: A more comprehensive list of letters that are potentially confusable (although they may have subtle distinctions). The “0” and “O” and “9 / g” are probably the next-worst offenders, after the 1/I/l triplet described in Figure 1. The “7 vs 1” confusion is regional; in some European countries: the “1” is more often written with a substantial diagonal stroke, which makes the 7’s cross-bar more important. In America, the 7 is rarely written with a cross-bar, since the 1 usually has only a minor (or nonexistent) diagonal stroke.

ambiguous-letters-fixed

Fig. 3: A comprehensive proposal for replacing potentially-ambiguous symbols, with examples.

 

PROS: Helps avoid many common errors! Maybe helps dyslexics? In order to gain traction for this plan, we shall claim that it does, without any evidence.

CONS: Requires that all old books be burned and old monuments be reduced to rubble, so no one is confused by the old letters.