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Category: Finance

Increase “friction” in web purchases in order to save us from the convenience of our decadent consumerist society: the incredible “chomping alligator mouth” accessory that you need in your life today!

Background:

In today’s highly computerized society, it’s easy to make an expensive purchase or a life-changing decision with minimal effort.

The issue:

Sometimes, the importance of a decision is out of sync with how much work is required to make that decision.

For example, now that online purchases are extremely “low friction,” it is possible to order 500 king cobras and have them shipped to your house or apartment with just a single button click on a web site.

Previously, one would have had to actually go to a store and start throwing cobras into a shopping bag, loading them into your car, etc., which would have given the purchaser time to reflect on their life decisions.

Proposal:

In order to bring back “friction”—or at least make the danger / importance of a decision evident—the following computer accessory is proposed: a hinged alligator mouth with a button inside (Figure 1).

For any big-ticket purchase or important decision (e.g. “Submit your taxes online”), you will no longer be able to confirm your decision by simply clicking on a button on screen. Instead, you have to reach into the alligator’s mouth and click the “Confirm” button.

3-gator-purchase

Fig. 1: This alligator mouth makes impulse purchases less likely. Description at left: the button (A) must be pressed in order to make any expensive online purchases. Hinged sections (B) and (C) can clamp shut (D) onto the user’s hand if the system determines that the user has made a poor purchasing decision.

The alligator mouth would not necessarily have to even have the capability of chomping on the button-pushing user: it’s possible that the psychological impact of placing one’s hand into the mouth would be sufficient to make the user think twice about their purchase.

 

2-gator-merge-git

Fig. 2: When multiple programmers work on the same code, they have to merge their changes together in the end. If someone submits bad code or improperly merges it, it creates a huge hassle for everyone. Here, the alligator mouth would be able to chomp down on a user who attempted to merge improperly formatted (or otherwise invalid) code.

Bonus proposal:

Since people make more and more of their purchases on smartphones, it’s likely that this alligator mouth would be very inconvenient, since it’s not very portable. To solve this issue, we can bring the “clamshell” form factor back to cell phone designs, then add a motorized mechanism to allow the phone to snap closed onto the user’s fingers.

Historical precedent:

This is basically an Internet-enabled version of the enormous stone “Mouth of Truth” in Rome.

PROS: Reduces the likelihood of poorly-considered Internet purchases.

CONS: May cause enormous psychological trauma and/or loss of important fingers.

The “jigsaw puzzle credit card” is the new ultimate invention in credit card security. Refuse to get a new corporate credit card if it doesn’t come with this incredible feature!

Background:

Credit cards are a popular payment method, especially for business transactions.

The issue:

Sometimes, high-value business transactions require the approval of more than one person.

Additionally, if a credit card is lost or stolen, someone will have to meticulously verify that no fraudulent transactions were made on it, which can be very time-consuming!

Proposal:

Both of these problems, and more, can be solved by physically cutting the credit card up into multiple pieces.

Each piece would be held by a different individual, and the card would need to be re-assembled (like a jigsaw puzzle, as in Figure 1) prior to any transaction.

1-credit-card-cut-puzzle.png

Fig. 1: This card can be disassembled into four pieces, all of which would be required in order to either use the chip or read the complete credit card number.

With this “jigsaw puzzle credit card” system, any transaction will be physically impossible without getting the approval of all card-piece holders, thus removing the need for complicated reimbursement systems involving people signing off on business expenses.

As an added benefit, if only a subset of the credit card pieces are stolen, the card will become unusable and the thief will be unable to make any unauthorized transactions.

This would be useful for both business travels and individual users who were, say, traveling to a foreign country with their friends or family.

Conclusion:

It would be possible to make cards in many different styles: for example, a card could be split into only two pieces, or as many as 8 or so before it started becoming impractical.

PROS: Facilitates commerce! Also works with debit cards, ATM cards, library cards, etc.

CONS: Each piece’s unusual shapes would make it difficult to fit into a wallet. Perhaps each piece could be slotted into a plastic “dummy” credit card, thus maintaining wallet compatibility.

Do you know of a company that offers rebates by check and is also unethical and hates its customers? Here’s one weird tip for that company that is ACTUALLY USED IN REALITY and is incredibly annoying!

Background:

When a company offers a rebate (“buy this widget, get $50 back”), only a fraction of customers will actually deposit the rebate check.

If customers don’t deposit their rebates, then the company can keep the money.

So it would be useful if there was some sort of dirty trick to reduce rebate deposit rates. Read on for details!

(Note: this is not a novel idea—it was inspired by an intentionally bizarre rebate check I received that could not be deposited online by at least two different banks.)

Proposal:

Normally, when a customer receives a rebate, it’s standard-format check (Figure 1). The customer’s banking app certainly knows how to read this format, so it is deposited with no problems.

good-check

Fig. 1: The BankApp online deposit system has no problem reading this straightforward check.

The rebate-issuing company may really want the check to fail the depositing process (Figure 2), which adds hassle and inconvenience for the check-depositing customer.

rejected

Fig. 2: If the customer’s banking app can’t read the check, then the check is much less likely to be deposited: now the company will never have to pay out the rebate! (Unless the customer actually goes to an ATM or bank branch.)

So the solution is simple—tweak the format of the checks a bit (whatever is still allowable within the law and/or banking agreements) and try to make a new check that is:

  1. Legal!
    • This is the most important aspect—the company’s checks definitely need to be 100% legal, so the company can later blame the customer instead of taking responsibility.
  2. Acceptable to the banks and/or conforms to whatever check-format specifications exist
  3. Difficult for a computer to read (so it can’t be deposited online)
  4. Superficially OK looking to a human, so it isn’t obvious that the check wasn’t intentionally made to be difficult to deposit
    • Also, this gives plausibly deniability to the whole business: if the company is called out on its actions, a PR person can go online and post “Oh, we didn’t realize that our rebates couldn’t be deposited online. What an unintentional—yet profitable—oversight!”

Popular ways of doing this may include:

  • Weird check sizes
  • Strange watermarks leading to odd contrast
  • Superfluous extra characters in the deposit-amount field (like “AMT: ****123.45 $” instead of just “$123.45”)
  • Irregular size (some checks are more square-shaped than “check” shaped)
  • Odd or elaborate font choices

Conclusion:

Although the specific checks depicted below (Figs. 3 & 4) probably violate the “check” specifications somehow, they may be useful for inspiration.

weird-check-purple

Fig. 3: This check looks vaguely legitimate to a human, but an online deposit app is unlikely to be able to read it.

weird-check-orange

Fig. 4: Can a check be a weird futuristic hexagon? Probably not! Customers will definitely know they’re being scammed if they receive weird checks like this one.

PROS: Saves money on rebate checks! Rebates can be made more generous, since it’s now extra-difficult for anyone to redeem them.

CONS: Customers might find out about it and get slightly annoyed and call the company’s customer service line to complain. If each rebate-receiving individual wastes 20 minutes of customer service time complaining, this check technique might no longer be profitable.

Show how classy your phone app is with REAL fake GOLD text! Gold everywhere = high class operation.

Background:

PayPal recently announced a new font that they are quite proud of, which, according to the designer (https://klim.co.nz/blog/paypal-sans-design-information/), features “understated elegance” and shows the confidence and foresight to buck the neo-grotesque groupthink of their Silicon Valley brethren.”

Fig 1: Left: PayPal’s new custom font. Right: this approximation in “Hiragino Sans” (a default Mac font) lacks the Skia-esque whimsy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skia_(typeface)) of PayPal’s font.

Since this font is to be used in the PayPal phone app, it was designed “with special consideration for mobile devices.”

Proposal:

However, perhaps this font can still be improved.

To really convey a sense of “money” and “confidence,” a banking font can evoke the idea of gold. Everyone knows: gold = money, so this is a shortcut that brings trust and reliability to the forefront of the user’s mind.

The problem with making a gold-leaf font is that there isn’t just a specific shade of yellow-orange that you can make as a font and have it be “gold.”

Gold requires a specific kind of metallic reflection that can’t be faked with a single color.

gold-side

Fig 2: The “gold text” on this tilted smartphone just looks orange. That won’t do!

Luckily, we can fix this

  • Since this is on a phone, the accelerometers of the phone can be used to figure out how the phone is being held, and then a fake reflection can be generated on the metallic surface of the text.
  • The phone’s front-facing camera could even be used to detect light sources; then the gold could reflect light (and perhaps even the actual room the user is in!) in a convincing manner.

gold-tilt

Fig 3: Now that the phone’s accelerometer is being used, we can have a shiny specular highlight move across the text as the user tilts the phone (note the shine on the right side of this image). Instant gold!

Conclusion:

Only through the use of a gimmicky gold font can a bank (or other financial operation) prove that is a legitimate and venerable institution.

PROS: Brings gravitas to your online bank. And you don’t have to pay a custom font designer.

CONS: May dazzle users with its brilliance. Could induce epilepsy under unusual circumstances.

 

 

 

When you purchase something, don’t get your change back as annoying coins—have it dispensed as delicious candies instead!

The issue:

Sometimes you pay for something in cash and get 19 cents in change. Who wants to deal with those coins? No one.

change-in-bill

Fig 1: Coins and a dollar bill. This is what people in olden times used to pay for things.

Proposal:

Instead of having to deal with annoying change in your pocket, or leaving it as a bizarrely unwanted tip at the DMV, how about getting your change back in delicious candies? These could be generic candies (chocolates, cashews) or perhaps a company could sponsor them and provide them at a discount to the government (“each M&M is worth 2 cents, each Red Vine is worth a quarter”).

change-options

Fig 2: When given the opportunity to pick between $1.62 in change OR eighty-one delicious candy-coated chocolates, the choice is clear!

PROS: No more annoying jangle of low-value coins in your pocket or purse. Saves the nation’s mint from having to create low-value coins that no one wants (so it’s more eco-friendly as well).

CONS: If peanuts are used for change, every cash transaction would become a Dangerous Game of Death for anyone with peanut allergies.

Will 10 losses in a row guarantee a payout on the next spin of a slot machine? The only way to find out is to play!

Background:

An ATM (“Automated Teller Machine”) resembles a slot machine in many respects: the user fiddles with a set of controls for a bit, and money (hopefully) comes out in the end.

Additionally, humans have a fascination with gambling, and will often happily hand over a small amount of money for a small chance of a much larger sum.

One of the problems with a slot machine is that, over time, a user who continues to play will (eventually) go bankrupt due to the house edge.

But we can fix this and increase bank profitability at the same time.

The proposal: “ATM Slot Machine”

In these proposed ATMs, when the user inserts their card to make a withdrawal, the ATM would have a button that allowed it to operate exactly like a slot machine; the user would have an opportunity to deduct extra money from their account, and if they won, the ATM would dispense their winnings in cash right there.

The user could be limited to (say) 5 plays per day, to prevent long lines from forming behind compulsive gamblers at ATMs.

Because the user is withdrawing their own money no matter what, they would always “win” in the sense of receiving a positive amount of money from the ATM (even though a losing player might only get $40 in cash from a $50 withdrawal—which is not too dissimilar from the fees charged at many ATMs, so there may be less customer resistance to this new type of ATM than would normally be expected).

atm

Fig 1: The boring regular ATM has been a staple of urban life for many decades. It’s time to spice it up.

slot

Fig 2: Gold spray paint and giant dollar signs add a touch of class to this new ATM.

Conclusion:

If slot-machine-ATMs violate any laws in your jurisdiction, you should protest immediately.

PROS: Adds a sense of adventure and excitement to a mundane ATM withdrawal.

CONS: May be illegal in your state or country.

Double your credit rating with this one weird tip, which assumes that a double-sided credit card will somehow also double your credit rating. Maybe credit bureaus have not yet considered this unlikely loophole!

Background:

Many people avoid registering their displeasure with a commercial transaction due to the social cost of confrontation.

Yet, many commercial transactions involve an annoyance of some sort. Perhaps it would be beneficial to both the customer and the company for this displeasure to be known?

Proposal: a two-sided credit card with both “satisfied” and “dissatisfied” sides

If a credit card transaction could also provide instant feedback to a company, this might provide an “early warning” to the company of customer dissatisfaction.

In this example (see Fig. 1), the two-sided credit card is essentially two separate accounts in one; depending on which side is swiped and/or entered in some other fashion, the card will also inform the company that the transaction was satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

card-two-sides

card-flip

Fig 1: This credit card has two sides and two magnetic stripes (or chips). One side is the “happy” side, and one side is the “sad” side. When making a transaction in person, one simply provides the credit card in the desired orientation.

card-happy

Fig 2: For in-person transactions involving a tip (e.g. restaurants in the United States), the credit card could be configured to give a default tip amount as well. This would save the card owner from the annoyance of calculating tip amounts. In this case, the user could configure each side to a custom amount; perhaps the “happy” side would also translate to a 20% tip.

card-angry

Fig 3: Since tipping at American table service restaurants is socially obligatory, having the “angry” side have a low tip would have to be reserved for incredibly awful locations that the patron plans to never re-visit.

Conclusion:

You should write your credit card company today and demand that this feature be implemented.

PROS: Allows even the meekest individuals to register their transaction-related opinions. Saves the trouble of adding the tip to a bill.

CONS: Possibly redundant with Yelp and other review sites. Unscrupulous employees might run the card on the “happy” side no matter what, to boost their own customer satisfaction numbers.