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Month: September, 2019

Take off your top hat and monocle, and gain empathy for people who earn less than you, using this not-actually-available browser plugin!

Background:

The same amount of money can represent vastly different things to different people.

For a minimum-wage earner (in 2019), $10,000 represents roughly 65% of a year’s total salary.

But for the very top level of executives at one of the top 350 U.S. firms, that number represents less than a day’s salary.

The issue:

Thus, it can be very difficult for people to understand how much a product actually costs from someone else’s perspective.

For example, someone who doesn’t have a ton of money might say: “Who would be so crazy as to pay $14 for a box of cereal? Or $9 for an organic head of lettuce?”

  • To the minimum-wage earner, the box of cereal represents ~2 hours of work.
  • But to a cardiac surgeon earning $400,000 a year, the same box of cereal represents 5 minutes of earnings.
  • The cereal box would have to cost $378 to make the same dent in the cardiologist’s overall income!

On the opposite side, someone who earns a lot of money might have thought: “Who would be deterred by a $400 speeding ticket? That’s barely even a slap on the wrist.”

  • However, for the minimum-wage employee, a $400 ticket represents over SIXTY hours of earnings!
  • The ticket would need to be for almost $11,000 for the cardiologist to feel the same wallet pain. (A few countries levy fines in a scaled-by-income fashion to avoid this scenario: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day-fine )

Proposal:

A browser plugin can take the following pieces of information:

  • Your actual salary, as a baseline.
  • A “target” salary that you are trying to understand

Then, prices on all web sites are scaled naively: so a person earning $50,000 who wants to “remember” how it felt to earn $5,000 a year working part-time would configure the plugin to simply multiply all prices by 10x.

Likewise, if you wanted to better understand the lifestyle of a rich oligarch, you could enter “$100,000,000” for your annual income. For someone with that sort of annual income, a $500,000 exotic sports car is the same fraction of total income as a $250 purchase is to someone earning $50,000 a year.

 

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Fig. 1: Setting up the plugin requires configuring exactly two options: your actual salary (in red above) and the target “simulated” salary (in blue above).

 

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Fig. 2: Here, the plugin is configured to multiply prices by approximately 6: this simulates the difference between a $120,000 earner and a $20,000 earner. This box of chocolates was actually listed for $19.34, but with the scaled up prices, it displays as “$118.54-ish”: that’s what it “feels like” to the $20,000 earner as compared to the $120,000 earner.

PROS: Allows a person to get a more intuitive feel of what a particular income level feels like. May increase human empathy, who knows!

CONS: Since this plugin edits dollar values on EVERY single web page, it may lead to you to filing wildly incorrect tax returns if you forget to disable it when filing your taxes online.

P.S. This was made as an actual Chrome plugin, so those are real screenshots, but it isn’t actually distributed anywhere.

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Fig. S1: This supplementary figure shows the configuration screen for this plugin, with a basic description of its intended purpose.

 

 

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Fig. S2: This supplementary figure shows the original UI mockup.

 

 

Never get sued again, thanks to a new type of wallpaper that can convey over-broad warnings to your company patrons or houseguests!

Background:

Liability law is extremely complicated and counterintuitive.

However, one common factor is that it appears to generally be beneficial—or legally required—for the owner of a potential hazard to warn others about that hazard (e.g. the omnipresent California Prop 65 warnings: “Warning: This location contains chemicals that are known to cause cancer”).

The issue:

Unfortunately, these Prop 65 warning signs have two issues:

  1. They only cover a limited subset of dangerous situations
  2. The warnings are inapplicable to normal residential hazards (e.g. fire, electrocution hazard).

Proposal:

We can bring the potential liability reduction of the Prop 65 warning to all homeowners (not just business owners) with a new type of wallpaper that lists every conceivable hazard on it (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: This wallpaper attempts to list all potential dangers. Additional hazards (e.g. shark attack, freezing hazard, cross-traffic-does-not-stop, etc.) may be added by writing them in using a regular permanent marker.

Consider the following situation:

  1. A houseguest is bitten by 99 snakes (that were disguising themselves as a carpet)
  2. Then the houseguest sues the owner of the house for the cost of their medical expenses.

Now, at the civil trial, the homeowner can point to a photo of their wallpaper and say “Your Honor, it says right here that there is a ‘snake possibility,’ so my guest should have been well aware of this potential danger.” See Figure 2 for an example of what this photo might show.

Whether or not that would hold any legal weight is a question for the great legal minds of our time, of course.

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Fig. 2: An example of what this wallpaper might look like in a residential home. It CLEARLY states that there is a potential snake-related hazard, among other possible dangers.

How to create the list of warnings:

You might think it would be difficult to create a comprehensive list of warnings, but this is actually the easiest part: we simply collect all civil lawsuits and list out every single thing that a lawsuit ever happened over, and then add that to the wallpaper. At 12-point font, it would be possible to easily fit millions of unique warnings on a standard wall.

PROS: May (in a theoretical world in which lawsuits are resolved by robots) help reduce legal liability AND bring high-class interior decoration to a room.

CONS: It is unclear if this legal strategy would be successful, as it is has presumably not yet been tested in court.

 

 

Is a university lecture or job talk going on FAR longer than it is supposed to? Emphasize punctuality with this new incredible heat-lamp-based presentation setup!

The issue:

Sometimes, a college lecture or work presentation goes far over the allotted time (Figure 1).

Frequently, the presenter doesn’t even realize that they are over time.

 

One simple way to prevent a presentation from going over time would be to just have the power outlets turn off at exactly the designated end-of-presentation time.

However, this hard stop could be annoying: what we really want is something that will make the presenter inherently want to wrap up their talk.

Proposal:

The solution is simple: just have an array of heat lamps pointed directly at the presentation podium.

When the time limit has expired, the heat lamps turn on, one at a time. At first, the podium will be just a little warm, but it will quickly become scorching and unbearable. Thus, the presenter is encouraged to conclude their talk in a timely fashion.

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Fig. 2: The heat lamps above the presenter will gradually turn on when the presentation hits its time limit.

Conclusion:

An earlier shark-related proposal turned out to be too expensive, as it required creating a new auditorium with a raised platform above a shark tank. So this is an almost-as-effective solution for the university or business on a tight budget.

This heat lamp idea could be used in conjunction with an earlier software-only plan to “burn away” slides as they are shown. This “burning” idea would synergize well with the heat lamps, too!

PROS: Does not have the same recurring maintenance costs of the shark version of this idea in the link above.

CONS: May cause a circuit breaker to trip if the building is not wired for 6000+ watts on a single circuit.