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Category: Culture

A new plan for probabilistically requiring that people refill things—no more “but there’s one drop of milk left in the carton!”

Background:

It is generally understood that a person who finishes the last amount of something (e.g. milk, soy sauce, driving a shared car until the tank is empty) is also responsible for refilling the substance.

The issue:

This system is frequently gamed by the lazy, who will leave a tiny amount remaining so as to not have to refill the container (e.g. “But there’s still one more drop of milk in the carton!” or “There’s still some vapor in the car’s gas tank!”).

The underlying problem is that the expectation is that a person is free from obligation unless they consume the very last drop of something.

Proposal:

We can fix this by adding a sensor to each eventually-needs-refilling container.

Let’s use a refillable soy sauce bottle as a concrete example:

  • A soy-sauce-remaining detector (a floating ball) is added to the bottle (Figure 1).
  • Every time the soy sauce is poured, there is a chance that the bottle will light up and demand that the user refill it.
  • This chance isn’t uniform; when the bottle is 50% full or more, the chance is 0%. But as the bottle is emptied, the chance that a person will be called on to refill it increases.

Since it’s impossible to predict exactly when the bottle will need refilling, there’s no easy way to game the system.

Fig. 1: This “probabilistic refill” soy sauce bottle will unpredictably demand that the user refill it. The chance of being called on to refill the container increases as the container is depleted: at left, we see that a user would only have a 2% chance of being called on to refill the half-full bottle. The user is notified that a refill is needed by the flashing “RE-FILL” light on the lid (rightmost image).

Conclusion:

Currently, this system just flashes a light on the item that needs refilling, but it could also snap a photograph of the offending user and—if the container is not refilled—upload it to a “you have violated the social contract” web site for public shaming.

PROS: Brings harmony to all shared-living situations.

CONS: Might be awkward if you use the last soy sauce during an earthquake and you can’t get any more for a while, so you’re stuck trying to survive while a beeping soy sauce bottle lid is threatening to publicly shame you. On the other hand, this is kind of the future we signed up for, right?

There are a lot of TASTE-themed cooking / food review shoes. But the market is still lacking in SMELL and TOUCH review TV programs. Create a new genre of TV show today!

Background:

Thousands of hours of food-themed television shows exist. Not all of these are strictly utilitarian “how to cook” shows, either—many consist of a charismatic host going from country to country and describing the fine tastes of exotic foods.

The issue:

This is a bit strange, isn’t it? Television is completely incapable of conveying taste, smell, and texture, which are the key elements of food enjoyment. And yet, here we are, with dozens of shows consisting of “wow, this steak tastes AMAZING!! If only you, the viewer, could enjoy it like I am enjoying it now!”

Proposal:

Evidently, the lack of taste-conveying technology is no obstacle to people’s enjoyment of “food experience” television: so why not expand to other counterintuitive genres?

Two proposals:

Proposal #1: “Smell Review TV” (Figure 1): A panel of B-list actors partake in smelling of various substances. They then describe the smell and rate it on a five-star scale. Proposed pilot episode: “Animal Fur That Got Wet: Which One Smells The Most Horrendous?”

Fig. 1: There are, shockingly, NO current television shows that focus on travelers going around the world and rating various smells. Maybe it’s time for that to change!

Proposal #2: “Tactile Time” (Figure 2): A famous British actor (who will work cheaply) travels goes to various countries and finds interestingly textured objects. He then describes and rates each sensation. Example: (while poking at at tortoise shell) “Hmmm, this tortoise shell: well, it’s rather…. rather like plastic in a way? A bit rough. No give to it, you know? Not as cold as I had expected, really not like a stone at all.”

Fig. 2: Who could resist learning about the amazing variety of tactile sensations in the world? Ratings would be off the charts!

Conclusion:

This is still a better idea than Quibi.

PROS: Cheap to produce; might get a cult following.

CONS: Might get an ACTUAL cult following, which could be complicated.

Stop wasting all that time maintaining your long hair—this sartorial secret will save you hours every week!

The issue:

It’s time-consuming—and potentially expensive—to maintain long hair to the exacting standards demanded by society (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: As a result of his unkempt beard, this dubious character is judged harshly by his fellow citizens.

If one could somehow distract and/or obscure the true status of one’s hair, the tyranny of personal hygiene would be escaped!

But is this an impossible dream?

Proposal:

No, it is possible! Specifically, through the means of a “long hair camouflage” shirt made of material that mimics the hair color of the wearer (Figure 2).

The casual observer will be unsure where the long hair / unkempt beard ends and the shirt begins, and will be forced to conclude that the shirt’s wearer is a dapper individual of fine grooming.

Fig. 2: The same raggedy beard from Figure 1 now blends into the hair shirt in Figure 2, indistinguishable to the untrained observer. Success!

Conclusion:

This is the next fashion trend—get ahead of it by reserving your personal hair-colored shirts now!

PROS: Increases self-esteem of wearers, reduces time spent on hair maintenance, thus saving thousands of hours that can be applied toward new Linux screensavers and Python web-scraping libraries.

CONS: None!

A proposal for using large televisions as external monitors will make your laptop life easier and prevent eyestrain! And it’s a software-only solution!

Background:

Extremely large TVs have now become cheap enough to use as gigantic computer monitors. It’s possible to find a 55+” television with high enough resolution and low enough latency to work as an external monitor for even the most discerning computer-ologist.

The issue:

Most desks are not set up to accommodate a 55″ television as a monitor. In particular, the most immediately obvious arrangement—laptop in front of monitor—has the disadvantage of having a large area of the monitor blocked by the laptop (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: In this animation, we can see the red “masked out” region where the laptop screen blocks the view of the TV. This wouldn’t be a problem if the system software knew not to put windows in the red area—but since it doesn’t, the user will have to constantly rearrange their windows to avoid this “dead zone.”

Proposal:

In order to fix this laptop-blocking-screen issue, we turn to a simple software fix: simply split the monitor into three rectangular sub-monitors that are NOT blocked by the laptop screen (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: Since the system software already understands how to deal with multiple monitors, we just need to convince it that our TV is actually three separate sub-displays (screens 2, 3, and 4 here).

Fig. 3: We can see an “in-use” mockup of the multi-monitor setup here.

Instead of splitting up a monitor into three rectangular sub-displays, it might also be possible to allow a user to “mask out” an arbitrary region of a monitor as a “dead zone” to be ignored by the system (Figure 4). This would allow the external display to still be treated as a single monitor, rather than 3 separate ones. Although a non-rectangular display may seem odd, there is precedent for it in smartphones: the Apple iPhone X “notch” and the “hole punch displays” introduced in 2019 are common examples.

Fig. 4: The red outline here shows an extreme example of how a non-rectangular external monitor might be used. Perhaps if these irregularly-shaped setups become common, the weird windows of 1990s Winamp “skins” will make a triumphant return as well!

Conclusion:

Is it possible that a far-away television is better for eyestrain than a smaller-but-closer computer monitor? Maybe! Some sort of legitimate eyeball scientist should weigh in on this matter.

PROS: The multi-monitor setup would probably actually work, although irregularly-shaped displays might be a hassle.

CONS: Could have very limited appeal.

Is it true that TWO electoral colleges are better than one? Improving the American political system by adding a second “mega-region”-based electoral college.

Background:

Every four years, interest is re-kindled in the odd “Electoral College”-based method of tallying up American presidential votes.

Since the electoral votes are actually assigned on a per-state[*] basis (Figure 1), this has the side effect of making the presidential elections hinge on a few “battleground” districts—tiny subsets of swing states whose voting outcome isn’t already predictable.

Thus, only voters in these regions actually need to be granted presidential boons in order to persuade them—voters in the vast majority of states can be safely ignored.

[*] Some states split their electoral votes between candidates, but this is not common.

Fig. 1: Since electoral votes are (generally) assigned on a per-state basis, you don’t actually need to know the percentage of voters in each state who voted a certain way. A map like this one would be sufficient!

The issue:

People frequently discuss the idea of changing the electoral college system to a one-vote-per-person system.

However, very little consideration has gone into the other direction—having a SECOND electoral college, essentially an “electoral college for the electoral college.”

If one electoral college is good, maybe two would be better?

Proposal:

Here, we propose that the United States be grouped—for the purposes of elections only—into 10 five-state “electoral mega-regions.” Washington D.C. will retain its 3 electoral votes, and will be counted as a secret “Megaregion Zero” (not shown on map).

(To increase the level of mystery, its votes will only be used in cases of ties, and will not be included in tallies otherwise.)

Fig. 2A: Ten megaregions, each consisting of five states, have been gerrymandered together into this proposed grouping. See figure 2B for an examination of their electoral votes

Then, each of these megaregions would cast its aggregated “mega-electoral-votes” just as the normal electoral votes are determined.

Fig. 2B: One interesting failure mode of this method of grouping—and something that may make it a difficult sell—is that some groupings actually just “delete” the votes of certain states. For example, in Megaregion 6, Texas has a majority of votes for the entire region, as does California in Megaregion 7. Thus, this system serves to remove the following eight states from the electoral pool entirely: Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma.

In order to fix the disenfranchisement problem described in Fig 2B, we could assign the votes of each megaregion based on a a simple majority of its states: instead of allowing Texas to entirely determine the outcome of Megaregion 6 (as it would if we weighted states by population or electoral votes), we would count each state as a single vote: so it would be a “best 3 out of 5” for Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Hawaii, and Alaska.

With this “one state / one vote” method, every state would be important in assigning the votes of the megaregion.

Conclusion:

Thanks to this reformed system, politics will be saved forever. Also, this may showcase the electoral college system, leading other countries to adopt it.

PROS: Improves the electoral college system by adding a second layer, thus multiplying its benefits.

CONS: It’s somehow theoretically possible that this might lead to gerrymandering???

See below for an additional example of this system in action.

Fig. 3A: If the states voted as above, for the RED, BLUE, YELLOW, and PURPLE parties, the updated megaregion-voting-assignment process would allocate the votes as shown in Figure 3B (not described: a tiebreaking process for dealing with situations in which the split is 2:2:1 or 1:1:1:1:1—presumably ties would be broken by a coin flip or something).
Fig. 3B: Now that each state has cast its (single) megaregion vote (as shown in figure 3A), we see how the state’s votes are distributed on a per-megaregion basis.

Somehow, computer desks have failed to evolve and adapt to the threat of spilled coffee. Until now, that is!

Background:

The traditional flat-surfaced desk has been more-or-less unchanged for thousands of years.

The issue:

People often place a drink on their desk. However, this makes it very easy to accidentally knock the drink over onto (depending on the era) a stack of rolled-up papyrus scrolls, a Gutenberg Bible, or a laptop (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: In this hypothetical desk-spill scenario, the spilled coffee gets everywhere. Disaster!

Proposal:

Desks should have a sunken “put your drinks here” area where they can safely spill without ruining your workspace (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: This modified desk has a sunken glass-enclosed “put a drink here” area on the left. Now, wild gesticulation on video chat is less likely to result in a computer-replacement-requiring disaster!

Conclusion:

This would be a great way for a furniture maker to drum up new business. Throw away your outdated “flat surface” desks and buy a new one!

PROS: Actually practical!

CONS: None!

With “sponsored auto-correct,” you’ll be able to buy a phone for even cheaper! And it will only be SOMEWHAT infuriating to use!

Background:

When typing on a phone with an on-screen virtual keyboard, the auto-correct feature is essential.

Strangely, this auto-correct / auto-complete feature has never been monetized!

Proposal:

In order to bring great deals to consumers and new advertising opportunities to companies, we describe the following auto-correct enhancement.

Currently, auto-correct is boring and predicable. For example:

  • Typing “I’m going” may suggest the following completions: “to,” “on,” or “out.”
  • Typing: “I like” may suggest “that,” “the,” or “it.”

These are reasonable guesses, but what if we enhanced the autocorrect system to allow for sponsored suggestions (Figure 1).

“I’m going” could suggest:

  • “I’m going to
  • “I’m going on
  • “I’m going—but first, I’m going to drink a refreshing [BRAND NAME] soda, and then

The particular [BRAND NAME] would be determined by whichever company was the highest bidder for the auto-correct ad.

Fig. 1: Left: the traditional autocorrect system suggests “soo__” -> “soon.” Right: the improved ad-sponsored system inserts a valuable promotion into this otherwise-boring text message.

It would also be possible to increase national pride and patriotism by changing the autocorrect to insert mandatory patriotic messages, such as:

“I like” ➡

  • “I like the
  •  “I like our glorious leader-for-life, who will lead our nation to victory over our cowardly foes
  •  “I like to

Or

“I support” ➡

  • “I support the
  • “I support quartering troops in my house—it’s my patriotic duty as a citizen
  • “I support it

Conclusion:

The best part about this system is that each ad implicitly carries the endorsement of the sender: it’s more persuasive to have a friend or trusted colleague text you with “I’ll be at the meeting, let me just finish this Ultra Crunch™ Cereal first” than to just see an impersonal ad demanding that you eat that specific cereal.

There is some prior work in this area: the Amazon Kindle “with special offers” shows ads on its screen while it’s sleeping, in return for being somewhat cheaper.

As an added bonus, each ad reaches TWO people (the sender and the recipient)!

PROS: Helps people afford more extravagant cell phones by subsidizing their purchases in return for ads infecting the auto-correct system.

CONS: None!

With this “breakaway safety earring,” you need never again fear having your ear yanked off your head due to an earring-related mishap! This system also works for ties, necklaces, rings, and capes.

Background:

Humans frequently wear metal adornments that have a small chance of being caught on something. Under most circumstances, this is fine, but occasionally this may lead to situations with a high probability of disaster (e.g. operating a lathe while wearing a dangly necklace).

The issue:

Somehow, it is still the case that very little jewelry has a “break-away” safety feature that ensures that the object will disassemble itself before the attached body part is disassembled—generally, the situation that arises is the one shown in Figure 1.

Fig. 1: The metal earring is much stronger than the mammalian ear, potentially leading to the (slightly dramatized) event above.

This is surprising, since “break-away safety connector” has existed for decades, in:

  • Kitchen counter hot-water boilers, which often have a magnetically-attached power cord.
  • The Apple “MagSafe” laptop connector that (usually) disconnects if someone trips over the power cord.
  • The 2001 Microsoft Xbox wired controller’s break-away cable.

But for whatever reason, search terms like “break-away earring,” “magnetic safety earring,” and “Apple MagSafe connector earring” seem to indicate that break-away safety earrings are not a product under widespread commercial production!

Proposal:

The proposal is simple and low-cost: simply add a magnetic safety section to earrings, jewelry, ties, rings, and other adornments that might be caught on something.

As shown in Figure 2, this break-away safety section will detach if pulled with sufficient force, reducing the likelihood of disaster. 

Fig. 2: The two-part magnetic connector shown at “A” will come apart if pulled with sufficient force. Compare the ear’s final situation here to the less-than-optimal situation in Figure 1.

Conclusion:

Although earrings are the most immediately obvious application of this type of safety connector, it would also be feasible for:

  • Rings (see The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for a situation in which this would have been useful)
  • Ties (see Who Framed Roger Rabbit for a situation where this would have been useful)
  • Necklaces
  • Capes (see The Incredibles for a situation where this would have been useful)

PROS: Saves the wearer from experiencing traumatic unscheduled disassembly.

CONS: Significantly increases the chance of losing the earring / ring in question. But this is a small price to pay!

Video chat’s next major feature: physical positioning of participants (“mingle at a party” options) to allow a huge chat to be split into manageable groups!

Background:

With the 2020 COVID plague, work-related video chats have become increasingly full of a large number of participants (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Video chat software (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, Hangouts, Meet, Duo, Skype, and more) typically only allows participants to appear in a randomly-ordered grid. All participants are part of the same (single) discussion: there is no easy way to have a “side discussion” and then rejoin the main conversation.

The issue:

Video chats have a problem that in-person office work does not: there is no convenient way for participants of an unreasonably-large video chat group to split off into subgroups.

Instead, every discussion must take place in a SINGLE mega-discussion with all participants, or people need to leave the mega-discussion and start their own exclusive video chat groups. People often get around this by having side discussions over text, but that’s not really a great solution either.

Proposal:

In a physical workspace, it’s easy to have a small discussion: simply PHYSICALLY relocate the individuals in the conversation to an empty lunchroom table or meeting room.

To improve video chat, we simply implement the same feature: instead of each video participant just being a randomly-placed square in a grid, now each participant can also specify their location on a virtual floor plan (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: Left: the old-fashioned style of video chat. Right: the updated video chat, where you can only hear and see participants who are in close physical proximity. In this case, the chat has split into groups A, B, and C (shown here from the perspective of a person in Group B). Everyone in Group B has a normal video chat, but can only faintly hear low-audio-volume chats going on in groups A and C.

Importantly, it’s still possible to see and hear people who are somewhat nearby on the floor plan, but at a very low volume. So you can know that a conversation is going on, and join in if necessary, but it won’t drown out your primary discussion.

Previous Examples:

Some video games implement a system like this (“proximity audio”), in which you can hear voice chat only from nearby players. However, as far as I am aware, this has never been a feature in any office-focused collaboration software.

PROS: This seems like it should actually exist! Maybe it hasn’t been developed before due to the lack of compelling business case for having large numbers of people on video calls.

CONS: Might lead to a tyrannically oppressive workplace in which work-from-home employees are mandated to always be available on video chat and present on a virtual floor plan.

Golf clubs are now obsolete: this bike-pump-based “air pressure golf cannon” system promotes the sport to a new level of precision and accuracy!

Background:

A successful game of golf is heavily dependent on the technical execution of the golf swing.

The issue:

It is possible to imagine many games that are similar to “golf,” except that they do not use a golf club to drive the ball (perhaps “frisbee™ golf” is the most well-known existing example, although it does not use a golf ball).

Proposal:

Let’s imagine a bare-bones version of “artillery / cannon golf” with only the following two elements:

  1. Select a force to apply to the golf ball…
  2. …and select the direction to apply this force.

(This is the approach seen in most video game implementations of golf, since pre-2000 controllers had no satisfactory way of approximating a golf swing.)

Figure 2 details a method of implementing this abstracted “cannon golf.”

Fig. 1: A bike pump (A) supplies pressure to the air cannon, which can be tilted in various precisely-measured directions (B). A trigger at (C) releases the air into the cannon, propelling the standard golf ball (D) into the air.

The advantage of this system is that it allows a “cannon golf” player to understand the theory of golf without requiring strength or technical execution skills: the required abilities are instead 1) an understanding of trajectories, 2) accurate evaluation of distance, and 3) an understanding of the effects of the current wind direction(s).

Figure 2 shows a mockup of what “cannon golf” might look like on a golf course.

Fig. 2: The application of the “golf cannon” (shown at position A) might look something like this. This particular trajectory seems to have been chosen poorly, and is likely to land the ball in a sand trap or water hazard.

PROS: Could increase the number of people interested in golf-related activities, thus opening up new revenue streams for golf courses and golf instructors.

CONS: This system might evolve into a computer-controlled cannon that plays the game itself, thus hastening the arrival of human-oppressing robotic overlords.