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Category: UI / UX

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.

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.

Never be concerned whether or not your household electronics are spying on you! This new repurposing of the “ON AIR” sign will save you from fretting!

Background:

It seems that nearly every electronic device with a camera or microphone is now Internet-enabled and can wirelessly send video and audio to the world.

The issue:

Due to the preponderance of electronic hardware in a modern household, it can be difficult which (if any) device is spying on you at that exact moment (Figure 1).

This is a relatively new phenomenon, since it used to be the case that:

  1. Cameras were relatively large
  2. Non-CIA recording devices generally needed to be physically wired to a power source and network cable.

Fig. 1: One of these devices is currently streaming video from the user’s house—but which one? Video-enabled devices sometimes have a recording light (but not always: e.g. phones, tablets), but checking these lights is still annoying and time-consuming. And audio recording generally has no indication whatsoever!

Proposal:

The classic solution to the “are we recording right now?” question is a lit-up “ON AIR” sign [see examples] that can light up whenever a TV station is broadcasting.

This same concept can be applied to modern devices: a person would buy a new piece of “ON AIR” hardware (this would essentially just be a WiFi-enabled screen). This ON AIR sign would connect to the household WiFi network light up any time it detected video being sent out to the Internet.

Detecting that streaming is happening could occur in two ways:

1) Network traffic analysis can generally identify data as “this is a stream of video / audio.” This is a solution that would probably work in most cases.

2) Each video/audio-enabled device can talk to the ON AIR sign over WiFi and notify it that streaming is occurring. This would be on the “honor system”: well-behaved software would periodically report that it was streaming. One benefit of this opt-in method is that streaming devices could send additional metadata: e.g., instead of just “ON AIR (Some computer is sending video),” the user would see “ON AIR (Joe’s PowerBook G4, streaming video over RealPlayer for 4:34)”.


Fig. 2: Thanks to this lit-up “ON AIR” sign, the user knows that there is some device recording them, and exactly which device is responsible (in this case, the “smart television”).

Of course, neither of these methods is a 100% guarantee of detecting live video being streamed: for example, a phone that was using its cellular data to stream would not be detected.

Conclusion:

This could probably be a legitimate product!

PROS: Would be a good value-add option for a router manufacturer. “This router will light up if it detects outgoing video/audio!”

CONS: Might cause the user to become extremely paranoid upon realizing that their watch, tablet, computer, phone, external monitor, fitness tracker, headphones, and dozens of other devices could all be surreptitiously spying at any time.

Will this highly dubious legal loophole allow you to open a casino anywhere? The new “stock market casino” app proposal will amaze you.

Background:

  1. In most regions of the world, gambling is regulated by government bodies.
  2. Unrelatedly, one of the criticisms of the stock market (especially the derivatives market) is that many participants use it exactly like a casino.

Proposal:

In regions where gambling is prohibited, but access to a stock market exists, a stock trading app could be designed that is a thinly-disguised casino.

Instead of playing the slots in a traditional casino, participants in this “stock casino” could spin a wheel to buy random stocks or mysterious financial instruments (Figure 1).

1-stock-casino-main-page.png

Fig. 1: A user interface mock-up for the proposed “STOCKASINO” app. Note the “PURCHASE RANDOM ‘HOT’ STOCK” button.

Normally, a person who is day-trading stocks might need to wait for weeks in order to realize a substantial profit (or loss). Fortunately, this process can be hastened using leverage, which will allow gains and losses to be multiplied. A user will be able to win big—or lose it all!—on just a 1% price movement of a stock, if they use enough leverage. In this way, a user can win or lose within hours, rather than needing to wait for weeks.

Gamification:

As a secondary bonus feature, we can “gamify” the stock-buying experience in order to encourage more trading activity (i.e. more profit for the operator of the app).

Specifically, we will use the “in-game achievement” system (AKA “badges” or “trophies”) in which users are awarded special app “badges” for particularly noteworthy or dangerous trading-related activities (Figure 2). This could encourage users to make a lot more trades than they otherwise would (and risk a lot more of their savings).

2-stock-casino-achievement-badges

Fig. 2: The app might be able to entice normally-cautious “investors” (we’ll call them that) into dangerous trades by awarding trophies to particularly terrible ideas. My personal favorite is the “QUICK CLIK” badge above (in purple), which is awarded to an investor who purchases a stock within 60 seconds of it first being available.

One complication of this “stock casino” system is that stock markets have limited hours, but we really want to keep the app operational 24 hours a day. A developer would probably need to include stock exchanges in other time zones as well, which increases up-front development complexity.

Conclusion:

Just to be safe, anyone developing this app should do it in close collaboration with (and in the territory of) a nation that does not extradite.

PROS: Great way for a developer to make a profit while promoting financial irresponsibility.

CONS: Probably not a great idea to base your business and future not-being-in-prison status on a highly theoretical “loophole” that may not even exist.

Do any programmers work at your company? Give them the ultimate retirement gift—save all code contributions (e.g. `git` commits) and have them published as a leather bound book!

Background:

Occasionally, people get a gift or memento from a company after working there for a certain period of time, or, sometimes, when their jobs are outsourced to a much cheaper country and everyone is fired.

Proposal:

For programmers, what better way to commemorate their contributions to a company than a log of all their code contributions?

Specifically, the proposal is to collate all of the log messages into a giant bookshelf-worthy tome.

Here, I’m using git as an example (Figure 1), but any version control system with annotation could work (e.g. user comments in Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes”).

1-git-historical-record.png

Fig. 1: Each time user “jsmith44” changed code in a codebase, a line like the ones above was generated. The comments in red are what we’ll be including in the published book. Note that only comments are included—not the actual source code.

All of a user’s contributions to a codebase can be collected by running a simple command (e.g. git publish_book –user=jsmith44 –start 2014 –end 2018). This would generate the raw PDF / ePub / Microsoft Word document that would then be sent off to a print-on-demand printing company to generate a physical book (Figure 2).

2-git-book

Fig. 2: After the code contributions in Figure 1 are printed out, we would end up with a book like this one. For users with particularly extensive “commit” messages, a multi-volume series could be generated.

 

PROS: Makes for a great retirement gift!

CONS: Reading it could cause existential dread, especially if the code was contributed toward an ultimately-failed project.

Increase driving safety AND driving enjoyment with this new speedometer-linked fan system. Ask for—no, DEMAND—this option in your next fine luxury automobile!

Background:

When traveling in a vehicle, a person’s intuitive sense of speed is partly determined by the feeling of air movement.

For example, going at 30 miles per hour on a bike (enclosed cabin: no) may feel faster than going 600 miles per hour in an airplane (enclosed cabin: yes).

The issue:

It’s important for automobile drivers to intuitively understand their speed, especially when driving on slick or windy roads.

But with a properly sound-insulated passenger cabin, it’s easy to ignore the fact that you’re going 70 miles per hour on a highway.

Proposal:

In order to help drivers intuitively understand their current speed, a fan should be added to the dashboard in order to blow air on the driver’s face.

This fan would be synchronized with the speedometer: more speed equals more airflow, thus resulting in intuitive “feeling” of car speed (Figure 1).

 

1-fan-steering-wheel.png

Fig. 1: A fan mounted on the car dashboard would allow the driver to get an intuitive understanding of speed based on the sensation of airflow.

This system is basically a just a more complicated version of sticking your head out the car window.

2-car-fan-speed-controlled-by-speedometer.png

Fig. 2: Increased driving speed translates into higher fan speed. Fan is not to scale.

Fan Implementation Option #2:

The car’s existing climate control system could be used, instead of requiring an additional fan. The only downside here is that the car’s normal fans are probably not sufficient to fully convey the speed of highway driving. But on the plus side, this could be implemented entirely in software!

Fan Implementation Option #3:

The fan could be replaced by a simple duct leading from the outside of the car, which would direct outside air directly into the driver’s face. This has a few downsides, such as the possibility of venting ice-cold air or swarms of insects directly into the driver’s face, which may negatively impact driving safety.

Conclusion:

“Implementation option #2” could probably be an actual product. Not sure if it would run afoul of any automotive safety regulations, though!

PROS: May cause people to once again buy driving goggles, thus revitalizing a neglected manufacturing industry.

CONS: None! Only upsides found here.

Battle to the death (metaphorically) when getting customer support over the phone, thanks to the new “phone support roguelike” text adventure system! Customer support will never be the same again.

Background:

Sometimes, getting technical support from a company requires making an actual phone call. Like the audio / voice kind that people used to do in old movies!

Typically, one ends up in an “on hold” scenario in which soothing music is intermittently interrupted by the message “representatives are busy, your call will be answered in the order in which it was received.”

The Issue:

Since this is a very non-interactive process, it is easy for users to feel bored, un-engaged, and unvalued. It’s very likely that a caller will be on hold for half an hour or more, and the hold music loses some of its charm after it repeats five times. (If you want to re-live the experience, try searching for Cisco CallManager Hold Music).

Proposal:

Instead of just having the calls answered in the same order they are received, a company could reward the most attentive callers with faster service—in other words make the customers prove their dedication and loyalty!

Here are three proposals that will accomplish this:

Proposal #1 of 3: “Arbitrary Questions”

This is the simplest to implement (Figure 1): while on hold, a caller will need to occasionally answer simple questions (e.g. “What is two plus two?”). If the user pays attention and answers the question correctly, they remain in their position in the customer support queue. But if they make a mistake or fail to answer, they move down in the queue. Thus, attentive callers get faster service.

1-battle-royale-phone-support.png

Fig. 1: This “customer support flowchart” shows a hypothetical “Arbitrary Question”-based customer service queue. Note that in this case, the penalty for failure is extremely high—complete disconnection! This makes it the world’s first “customer support on-hold roguelike game.”

Proposal #2 of 3: “Text Adventure”

This proposal is inspired by text adventure video games (e.g. Zork) or the famous series of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. In this system, instead of being presented with simple math questions, the user is asked to survive in a fantasy adventure.

An example text-adventure-themed question might be:

“Your party of adventurers encounters a horrifying army of mummies in the crypt. Do you:

  • 1) Attack them with your mace
  • 2) Throw a lit torch onto their ragged forms
  • 3) Try to retreat
  • 4) Try to convince them that your quest is noble”

This system has the disadvantage of requiring more effort to write, but it has the advantage of potentially being more engaging to the audience*. ([*] This requires that the questions are tailored to the audience correctly: users of a municipal railway line might not as enthused about the mummy-crypt example above as customers for an online board game store would be.)

Proposal #3 of 3: “Battle Royale / Thunderdome Tournament Brackets”

In this system, a tournament bracket is generated to include all callers in a specific interval of time (say, 5 minutes). These users are then pitted against each other in one-on-one trivia battle: whoever answer the most questions correctly advances in the technical support queue, while the loser is moved down in the queue.

This could reward the most loyal fans of a company, since the trivia questions could be themed around that specific company (e.g. an Apple technical support call might ask “Which of these individuals was a co-creator of the original Apple Macintosh?” and then have a list of names).

Conclusion:

All of these systems allow the “on hold” process to be more engaging, thus (presumably) increasing brand loyalty and customer satisfaction.

PROS: Adds a sense of danger and adventure to even the most trivial technical support question.

CONS: If you call for customer support, but you don’t know that much about the product, you might ALWAYS have to wait for hours while the true fans destroy you in (say) Samsung-themed trivia questions.