Protect your possessions from burglars with these new maintenance-free home security furnishings!

Background:

Architects normally design homes and offices primarily to suit the needs of their occupants.

The issue:

Unfortunately, an easy-to-navigate floor plan is also easy for burglars to navigate!

Proposal:

Luckily, we don’t have to make any architectural changes to fix this problem—by adding a few strategic (and cheap!) furnishings, a house can become MUCH less appealing to burglars.

  1. Doors-to-nowhere may cause the exploratory phase of burglarizing a house or office to take much longer. (These fake doors could be locked, or they could just set off a burglar alarm when opened.)
  2. Mannequins: adding dozens (or hundreds, there’s really no limit) of these unsettling humanoid figures to the home or office will make it very difficult to tell if a room is actually occupied.
  3. Mirrored walls may be added to walls to turn any floor plan into a confusing maze. This also has the side benefit of visually duplicating the mannequins (reducing total costs, since the mannequins are probably the most expensive part).

See Figure 1 for a possible doors-and-mannequins configuration.

Fig. 1: Left: a normal (not secure at all!) room. Right: a burglar may be discouraged by the presence of sofa-hanging-out mannequins and fake doors.

Conclusion:

Mirrors and mannequins have been scientifically demonstrated to be effective in fiction: mannequins are a crucial element of James Bond’s duel in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and a hall of mirrors complicates a pivotal fight in Enter the Dragon (1973). Home Alone (1990) also demonstrates the effectiveness of mannequins in discouraging residential burglaries.

PROS: Adds home security for a fixed one-time cost: requires no electricity or recurring upkeep (except to dust the mannequins occasionally).

CONS: Since mannequins would be more convincing if they’re in places a human would also be, the mannequins might take up the best spots in a room (e.g. the best seat at the dining table, the best spot on the sofa, etc.). But this is a small price to pay for security!

Cure your cell phone addiction with this new battery-less “capacitor” cell phone that only operates for 5 minutes at a time!

Background:

It is common for people to be glued to their cell phones for nearly 100% of their waking hours.

This is especially true now that phone batteries last for hours even under heavy use and fast video-capable cellular data is available in most populated areas.

The issue:

It is commonly suggested that people should not use their cell phones all the time, and should “unplug” occasionally, but it’s rare that a person actually has the self-control to actually do so.

Some people intentionally buy non-smartphones to combat their inclination to constantly use a phone, but this also locks the user out of genuinely useful apps like maps, “ride-sharing” (the 2015 word for “taxi”), detailed weather forecasts, and….. actually that might be a complete list.

Proposal:

In order to help people have more non-phone-using self control, yet not require them to commit to fully commit to the austere lifestyle of the “feature-phone” hermit, we simply create a smartphone as follows:

  • It’s a regular smartphone…
  • With an integrated charging cord that automatically rolls up (like a tape measure)…
  • And instead of having a battery, it has a capacitor that stores about 5 minutes of charge.

See Figure 1 for a mockup.

Fig. 1: This “battery-less” cell phone operates exactly like a normal one, except that whenever it’s unplugged, a huge flashing 5-minute countdown timer displays at the top.

Conclusion:

Not only would this allow people to unplug from their cell phones for a while, it also has an eco-friendly benefit: a capacitor should (in theory) be operational for far longer than an equivalently-sized battery, so fewer batteries will need to be disposed of.

Alternative Software-only Version:

A compatible idea could actually be implemented entirely in software in a current smartphone: the phone would pretend that it only had 5 minutes of charge left, even though the battery would remain approximately 97% full. So from the end user’s perspective, it’s the same general idea (can’t use the phone for more than 5 minutes without plugging it in), but it doesn’t incur any hardware design cost.

PROS: The software-only version of this proposal could work; someone should implement it as an alternative Android home screen!

CONS: In a genuine emergency, it might be extremely troublesome to have only 5 minutes of cell phone charge. This 5-minute-only phone wouldn’t even work as a flashlight!

Never have a meeting run over time again! This new “day to night” time progression visualization will allow presentations to stay on track.

The issue:

Frequently, people lose track of time while giving a presentation or running a meeting, and it goes over (potentially WAY over).

This situation can occur in both in-person meetings and in video chat meets.

Proposal:

In order to make it intuitively obvious to a presenter that they are going over time, we can harness humanities deep-seated and primal ties to THE SUN.

In addition to being required for life on Earth, the Sun provides an intuitive way to measure the passing of time.

For this presentation-timing system, we will have an artificial “sun timer” that progresses from dawn (beginning of presentation) to noon (middle of allotted time) to sunset (presentation has now used up all of its time).

Figure 1 shows a mockup where three vertical TV screens (left side) are used as artificial windows. If the presenter can see the run rapidly traveling across the sky, they’ll be reminded of exactly how much time is left.

Fig. 1: Here, we see the sun high in the “sky” (windows at left). This presentation has used up about half of its scheduled time.
Fig. 2: Sunset indicates that this presentation is almost out of time, and the presenter needs to wrap things up.
Fig. 3: If the presentation goes substantially over time, dusk would turn into night and the moon would rise in the evening sky.

This system could also be enhanced in the following ways:

  1. The overhead lights could be synchronized to the day/night transition, getting brighter as the presentation moves from dawn to noon, then slowly dimming until nightfall.
  2. The room’s audio system could play the sounds of crickets chirping or wolves howling once night falls, to really underscore that a presentation has gone over time. The volume could continually increase until the presenter’s audio is completely overwhelmed by shrieking bats and howling wolves.

PROS: Would save many hours for large companies that would otherwise be squandered in over-time meetings. It would be irresponsible not to implement this system!

CONS: Employees who are not in the meeting might hear the chirping of crickets at the conclusion of an 11:00 AM meeting and (erroneously concluding that it was nighttime) would leave work extremely early.

Roller skate “reverse treadmill” exercise shoes will allow you to get exercise while just standing around. Amazing!

Background:

In today’s decadent sedentary world, it’s easy to barely walk around at all. This puts humans in danger of having their legs become vestigial, atrophying and causing the species to evolve into a slug-like form.

Proposal:

In order to solve this, we need to get people walking again. And what better way than by wearing special roller-skate-like shoes (Figure 1) that move the wearer backwards, so you have to continue walking in place just to stay in one spot?

Fig. 1: This shoe-on-a-treadmill will slowly move the wearer backwards. They’ll need to keep up the pace if they want to stay in one spot. Note: this could probably be done more simply with just roller skates, but the conveyor belt adds a certain all-terrain appeal.

Conclusion:

Next time you need a new way to get “incidental exercise,” consider this shoe-based solution!

(This particular idea was suggested by Sam B.)

PROS: Allows people to get exercise when they normally wouldn’t. Synergizes nicely with standing desks.

CONS: May increase the chance of falling over, which is a leading cause of injury and death due to the unreasonably tall and lanky form factor of H. sapiens.

Stop being distracted by your phone—intentionally reduce its functionality with this new “minimalist mode” interface!

Background:

Cell phone interfaces seem to inexorably become more complicated as time goes on.

The issue:

The 2010-era smartphone relied on a small number of obviously-interactable elements, but 2020’s smartphones are quite sophisticated (and complicated) from a UI standpoint, with finger-sliding gestures, multiple screens of icons, and even the possibility of splitting the screen to show more than one app at a time.

Proposal:

Now that phones are fast enough to run pretty much any software, we can add an alternative “minimalist mode” to a cell phone, where the phone reboots into a restricted interface that only has a certain limited set of options.

What exactly constitutes a “minimalist mode” is up for debate, but it’s possible that a user could select from a number of relatively-sparse cell phone interfaces featuring only the “most essential” elements (e.g. perhaps a dialer, SMS, and map). Figure 1 shows a possible single-screen “minimalist” interface.

Fig. 1: A mockup for a rotary-dialer inspired cell phone interface. This would encourage people to learn their friends’ phone numbers, although the benefit of this is highly questionable.

Conclusion:

It really feels like a more polished version of this could be an actual product: it could be useful as both a “restricted use mode” for phones for small children AND a “get off my lawn” mode for curmudgeonly oldsters who are still hoping for a revival of the flip phone.

PROS: Can be implemented entirely in software, would be a highly-differentiated unique feature for a phone (at least until every other manufacturer copied it in 4–6 months).

CONS: None!

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?

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!