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Category: UI / UX

BIG BROTHER APP is watching you…. and looking out for your job prospects, romantic prospects, and any possible snake-fang-related threats!


Remember when privacy was a thing? No? Oh, ok then.

But people used to have some concern about having their location and whereabouts monitored by companies and governments.

I guess this information was used for evil-doing at least once in history? Whatever, who cares, let’s gather data and make an app!

The issue:

Have you ever been blindsided by an in-retrospect-obvious event, like a firing (or even just a passing-over for a promotion) at work, or a seemingly-sudden breakup?


Using the power of OMNIPRESENT CORPORATE SURVEILLANCE, we can create a new program, which we will call Big Brother 2, that does the following:

  • Reads all your email (like most email provides already do).
  • Reads all your text messages and any transcribed voicemails.
  • Examines your online purchasing habits.
  • Checks your location history and that of your friends.
  • Checks to see if you are associating with any subversive individuals or organizations.
  • Analyzes your photos and categorizes their content.
  • Monitors your mood by reading your posts on social media.

  • Optionally listens in to your conversations, if you are in a place where this is legal.

Big Brother 2 will collect this data from thousands or millions of users, and—using advanced and overhyped machine-learning techniques—it will figure out what kinds of warning signs preceded various life events.

Then it can forewarn you of danger in your own life!


  • Dating (Figure 1): Two people are dating and their messaging steadily becomes less frequent and more negative. Big Brother 2 can extrapolate their breakup date and (optionally) start preemptively saving flattering photos of those users for their upcoming dating profiles.
  • Employment (Figure 2): Someone’s boss mentions “outsourcing” and then communication rapidly drops off. Big Brother 2 can recommend some resume-preparation services for that employee.

Fig. 1: Big Brother 2 can extrapolate from its millions of data points and figure out that, on average, users with a certain text-messaging profile typically experienced a breakup within X months. In this case, the user is being forewarned that they should expect a breakup on or around October 24 (orange line).


Fig. 2: Here, Big Brother 2 suggests that company layoffs will occur on June 28. In this case, the Big Brother 2 algorithm could also incorporate data about the economy / stock market / relevant world news that may impact the user’s job.


Fig. 3: Using sophisticated machine-learning algorithms, Big Brother 2 may even be able to predict things you wouldn’t think were predictable, such as exactly when a serpent is going to slither over and sink its fangs into you (thus, hopefully, allowing you to either prepare yourself for that moment or to take corrective anti-snake action).


Silicon Valley entrepreneurs: hire me to develop this project. Thanks in advance.

PROS: Could reduce the likelihood of snakebite.

CONS: May result in “Logan’s Run”-esque scenarios where the system determines that a person has negative value, and then the user’s phone starts plotting to murder the user (see historical example from Episode #270 of The Simpsons). If this occurs, it is an example of a bad optimization function, and should be fixed in the next update.





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As an audience member: Never be bored in a meeting or lecture again! As a presenter: Never wonder when to advance to the next slide again, all thanks to this one incredible PRESENTATION SLIDE DECK APP!

The issue:

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell how quickly to go through a presentation. Too fast, and the topics might not be covered in enough detail. Too slow, and everyone gets bored.


Normally, the ability to advance slides is reserved only for the person who is giving the presentation.

But here, the audience members also have the ability to vote on whether or not to advance the current slide early (Figure 1).


  1. Members of the audience have a phone app (or connect to a web site) with a giant “SKIP CURRENT SLIDE” button on it.
  2. If enough audience members press the “SKIP” button, the slide advances to the next one.
  3. The presenter cannot go back to a skipped slide.

Fig. 1: Top: The presentation screen. Bottom: three phones of audience members. The phone app simply consists of a single “SKIP” button (the arrow at the bottom), which becomes a checkmark when the user has voted to skip the slide. When enough users have pressed the “SKIP” button, the slide automatically advanced, regardless of the wishes of the person giving the presentation.

PROS: Makes meetings interactive! Prevents the audience from getting bored.

CONS: May make it TOO easy for your corporate rivals to sabotage your presentations by skipping your slides at random times.

You’ll never believe this new UN-FALSIFIABLE method for showing off your wealth and privilege! The common people hate it!


Many years ago, only the elite members of society were literate.

In some places, it was even ILLEGAL for commoners / peasants / slaves to be literate, for example:


Now that we are allegedly in a more enlightened era, there is no way to use the alphabet itself to distinguish commoners from nobility.

But in this proposal, a new “rich people only” alphabet is created, and the top 1% of each nation’s wealthiest individuals are automatically granted a license to use it (see Figure 1). These letters are forbidden to the common peasantry, and use of these letters by non-authorized individuals, either in handwriting or as a font, would be extremely illegal.



Fig. 1: In this new proposal, the top “high status” alphabet may ONLY be used by extremely wealthy individuals, as measured by their official tax returns. Previously, an incredibly rich oil baron (for example, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_D._Rockefeller ) would have no way to distinguish his own name from that of a common worker with the same name—but in the new system, the “high status” letters make the distinction clear. This is similar in concept to the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyph “cartouche,” which is an oval that is drawn exclusively around names of royalty.

Since the letters in this proposal are so similar to existing English letters (see Figure 2), no additional education is necessary! Just install the font, and you’re good to go, provided you meet the stringent total wealth requirements (approximately $9,000,000 U.S. dollars for United States residents).


Fig. 2: Top: sample letters A through J from the “commoner” alphabet that you, a commoner, are already familiar with. Bottom: matching letters from the extremely sophisticated “high status” alphabet.


If you are starting a utopian community on an oil platform in the sea, you should consider implementing this proposal!

PROS: Would encourage extremely rich people to file accurate tax returns, so they could secure their ability to use this exclusive font. Would streamline the process of arresting subversive individuals: the secret police could simply plant this font on the targeted individual’s computer.

CONS: None!



Supplemental Figure A: A complete “sophisticated” alphabet, upper-case letters only.



Supplemental Figure B:  The closest historical example to this proposal is the Ancient Egyptian “cartouche,” seen above in the corresponding Wikipedia entry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartouche).

Stop being annoyed by three-way light switches that incorrectly both say “OFF,” yet the light is clearly on! Has the entire world gone mad??


A “three-way light switch” (i.e. two switches that control the same light) is useful when there are multiple places that need to control a single light, such as at both the top and the bottom of a staircase.

The issue:

Unfortunately, three-way switches are often out of sync with the actual state of the light (so the switches are both OFF, but the light bulb is on).


Fig. 1: A three-way (two-switch) system is surprisingly straightforward. You can even add more switches, if you want! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiway_switching)


Ideally, the ON / OFF position would be correct indicated by the switch itself, instead of Instead of having the switch position indicate when

  • Easy and elegant solution, with one fatal flaw: just make the switch a press-able single button. Internally, the switch would just turn a wheel or something, to generate the required electrical connection.
    • Downside #1: Since it lacks an up/down state, you wouldn’t know whether the circuit were ON or OFF when the bulb is burned out.
    • Downside #2: Probably banned by electrical code for reasons stated in downside #1.
  • Electromagnet-based complicated solution: have each switch’s natural position be the DOWN position, which it will return to due to gravity when there is no electrical current. However, when the circuit is active, an electromagnet causes the switch to be held and/or pulled to the up position.
    • Downside: uses a tiny amount of electricity.
    • Upside: syncs the state of the switches. (If you turn on one switch, the other one will also be pulled up by the built-in electromagnet).


Maybe you should rewire your house with this highly speculative and untested electrical suggestion! Consult an electrician today.

PROS: You will no longer be bedeviled by light switches that do not properly convey the state of the light. (Previously: the switches both say OFF, but the light is on? Ugh!!!)

CONS: May burn down your house.

Are you tired of your computer MYSTERIOUSLY doing things in stony silence? Bring back 1980s retro charm and monitor your computer for malware and spyware with this ONE INSANE AUDIO TRICK! It drove an entire island of monks to madness!


In the past, you could tell what a computer was doing (to some extent) just by listening to it.

  • Disk access would be accompanied by a classic floppy disk sound (or the “click” of a hard drive)
  • The fan would spin up if the CPU was under high load.
  • You could actually listen to network traffic on a modem (or watch the network traffic light blink).
  • Sometimes, different operations would cause a high-pitched noise to emit from some mysterious component of the computer.

However, with solid-state drives and many entirely fanless computational devices (e.g. phones, most tablets), it is no longer possible to have an intuitive sense of what your computing device is up to.


Fig. 1: Historically, computers would make all sorts of sounds when operating. The monitor would emit an annoying high-pitched hum, the disk would click and clack during reads or writes, you could listen to network traffic over a modem, and fan noise would let you know whether the CPU was working hard.


The solution is obvious: the phone must generate artificial sounds so the user can figure out what’s going on.


  • Heavy CPU use could result in the classic beeps of the “Star Trek computer sound“. Or for a subtler approach, a fan-spinning noise could be generated.
  • Disk access could always be accompanied by the audio of a floppy disk reading / writing / seeking to a new location.
  • The screen could cause a buzzing sound to be emitted when it was first turned on, and optionally at any time it was displaying a non-blank screen.
  • Network access could generate a modem noise.

Fig. 2: This phone is totally silent under normal operation, but we can add network noises, CPU fan noise, disk noises, and more.

With this simple change, people will become aware of what their computer is doing.

In particular, they will now easily realize if their computer is using a ton of Internet traffic or is infected with CPU-intensive malware.


Demand this feature in your next phone! Or write and maintain a custom ROM for your phone. Easy!

PROS: Warns people about phone spyware/malware. Makes a phone harder to lose, since it will be constantly emitting annoying sounds!

CONS: None! It’s the perfect idea with no downsides.





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Does your city / state / country have an ICON, or just a flag? Vex vexillologists with this proposal to create ICONIC EMBLEMS to represent your favorite regional administrative division! This is the U.S. State Flag edition.


Every US state has a flag. But only a few states have an icon—something immediately recognizable (and ideally, easily drawn and memorable).

For an example of icons, we can look at Japan’s provinces (or “prefectures”), nearly all of which are represented by a distinctive single-color icon (Figure 1).


Fig. 1: Japanese provinces have iconic minimalist symbols associated with them. Compare these to the selection of American state flags in Figure 2.


Fig. 2: Most state flags were not selected with visual clarity in mind. Additionally, many state flags look identical on a flagpole when there is no wind.


Fig. 3: Some flags are visually distinctive, but these are the exception. (In reading order: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Alabama, Tennessee, and Washington D.C.)


The proposal is as follows:

  • Every state will get a supplementary icon, that can be easily rendered in a quick pen sketch (Figure 4).
  • When possible, the flag and emblem should be similar, to make them easier to remember.
  • A flag and an icon have different requirements. Some guidelines:
    • A flag should be visually distinctive even when on a draped piece of cloth. For example, the American flag (🇺🇸) is easily identified even when there is no wind.
    • A flag can make use of multiple colors (although there is such a thing as “too many” colors).
    • An icon should minimize or eliminate reliance on specific colors.
    • An icon should have relatively few fine details. It should be distinctive even at a very small size.

Fig. 4: Some sketches of icons that could represent specific states. Three of these are based on elements from real state flags: Tennessee (top left), New Mexico (left middle), and South Carolina (palm tree + crescent moon, top right). The top right one would probably need to be modified in some way to distinguish it from the flags of Turkey (🇹🇷), Tunisia (🇹🇳), Pakistan (🇵🇰), and others.

There is also no icon that represents the United States (although USA works as an easily-written shorthand). Figures 6 and 7 investigate some elements that could be incorporated into a flag-inspired icon.



Fig. 5: Although it is not a national icon, this existing U.S. Air Force insignia manages to elegantly incorporate the elements of the national flag.


Fig. 6: If someone only had 5 seconds to draw an American flag, they’d probably some up with something similar to these graffiti-like icons on the left. Isolating the iconic elements of the American flag leaves us with a number of possible emblems in varying levels of detail (right). The bottom-right one also indicates how the Chinese / Japanese character for “above” coincidentally appears in the negative space: this might be useful in a U.S.A.-and-China-centered science fiction future like the one in Firefly.


Below (Figure 7) is a column of state flags (left) and some potential icons (right). The color is arbitrary—it can be omitted or changed to any other color (as in the Japanese example in Figure 1).




Fig. 7: Left column: state flags. Right column: corresponding easy-to-draw icons for each state. Some of these have a very shaky rationale, and are not based on the existing flags. For example:  Illinois: rivers converging, also it’s the “Y” from the font “Malayayam Bold.” Florida: the shape of Florida, if it were exactly three pixels. Michigan: the bordering lakes. Louisiana: the Mississippi river delta. Vermont / New Hampshire: the icons fit together, like the states. See below for Washington State.


You should come up with some icon suggestions of your own, and propose them to your state government. They love sponsoring things like state birds, state flowers, and state songs, so why not a state emblem? California even has a state lichen and state dinosaur!

PROS: Would provide the option for people to promote their state with an easily-recognized emblem.

CONS: Could increase intra-state rivalry if people become attached to their own state’s amazing icon.



P.S. The hypothetical icon for Washington State is an abstract representation of Washington crossing the Delaware. Perhaps a bit of a stretch, but that never stopped icon designers before!



P.P.S. Run out of icon ideas? Just draw a bunch of weird stuff on a sheet of paper and see if anything sticks. Try to avoid accidentally repurposing fascist iconography!

Your slide presentation / PowerPoint presentation can be improved ENORMOUSLY with this one incredible presentation tip. Get the promotion that you deserve!


Slide presentations are now a main ingredient in almost all lectures and presentations (Figure 1).



Fig. 1: A simple presentation setup: laptop plus projector/screen.

The issue:

Computers have made slide presentations extremely easy to make (example in Figure 2), but haven’t helped with one issue: presentations often go on FAR TOO LONG.

For example, none of these ideas for promoting short presentations are available in standard presentation software (e.g. PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides).

  • Not a feature: A timer showing the elapsed time on a specific slide. This timer would change color once the user spent over-the-allocated amount of time on the slide.
  • Not a feature: A “progress bar” showing the position of the current slide in the entire slide deck.
  • Not a feature: A per-slide time estimation: if a 15-slide presentation has a 30-minute scheduled time, it should be trivial to display “You have an average of 2 minutes per slide.” This could be updated as the presentation went on; if the user takes 20 minutes to go through the first 5 slides, the remaining slides could display “10 minute remaining for 10 slides; you only have one minute for each of these slides!”
  • Not a feature: Allowing the software itself to automatically advance the slide when the user has dwelled on a slide for too long.



Fig. 2: A standard presentation: slides are shown along the top. The timer bar along the bottom (showing the total time consumed vs. the specific slides remaining) is a hypothetical feature that does not currently exist.


This proposal is for a flexible method of encouraging presenters to remain on schedule: the slide advance fire.

In this method, the slide deck is metaphorically on fire: all the slides in the slide deck are slowly consumed by a fire effect that moves through the entire slide deck (see Figure 3 for illustration), rendering the slides un-usable after a certain amount of time has elapsed.

The presenter can stay on a blackened-and-charred slide as long as they want (so they can continue to discuss a slide, or field questions from the audience, even after it has burned away), but the contents of the slide will no longer be visible.

This will also discourage presenters from cramming a slide full of text and then slowly reading the slide to their (presumably literate) audience.


Fig. 3: Top: the second slide from the left is in the process of being consumed by the “slide advance fire.” The timer indicates that two minutes (2:00) have elapsed in the entire presentation.  Bottom: the second slide has been entirely consumed by fire, and only a glowing ember remains on the right edge. Hopefully the presenter has moved on to the next slide. Active slides also contain a timer in the bottom right (the small circle / stopwatch / pie chart), showing the remaining time until that slide burns up completely.

Implementation details:

  • The slide deck begins as normal.
  • Once a slide has appeared for more than five seconds, a timer starts and the slide “ignites”: the slide is now “on fire” and has a fixed amount of time before it burns away. (The reason for the five second delay is to prevent the slide from starting to burn due to an accidental “next slide” mis-click that is immediately corrected.)
  • After the allocated time has elapsed, a fire effect appears on the screen, and the slide begins to quickly burn away. Over the next ten seconds, the fire completely consumes the slide, leaving behind only a charcoal-black rectangle.
  • The user can still switch between slides normally, but burnt-out slides remain charred.
  • In order to prevent the user from just restarting the slide deck to circumvent this restriction, a minimum of four hours must elapse before the slide deck can be viewed again.

Optional idea #1:

  • Each slide could have a timer on it that is visible to the audience (as described in Figure 3—the circular timers in the bottom-right of the active slide), which would give the audience more of an appreciation for the punctuality of the presenter (assuming they managed to advance the slide before the slide burned away completely).

Optional idea #2:

  • One common presentation mistake is to just read a slide verbatim to the audience. The presentation computer could have speech recognition software on it, and if it detected that the presenter was reading a substantial fraction of a slide aloud, it could sound a warning siren and automatically advance to the next slide.


This new presentation feature should immediately be implemented in Google Slides, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Apple Keynote, in addition to any other presentation programs that may exist in the future.

PROS: Prevents lectures, presentations, and meetings from going over time. Allows a lazy presenter to set the burn delay very low, allowing them to make confusing and terrible slides and rely on the “slide advance fire” to save them from any hard questions.

CONS: Would make it difficult to take questions from the audience (“Could you describe the X-axis on…. oh, it burned away.”). Would make it difficult to do a practice talk and immediately revise a slide deck while audience feedback was still fresh.