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Category: Small Business

Stop wasting space when packing spheres and cylinders into a rectangular box! Use this new eco-friendly tip for saving on shipping costs and reducing the amount of wasted cardboard in the world.


When packing a box for shipping, some objects can stack perfectly with no wasted space.

However, some common shapes—for example, cylinders (e.g. toilet paper rolls) and spheres (e.g. oranges)—can’t be packed without wasted empty space in the box (Figure 1).



Fig. 1: Note the two different types of wasted space while shipping toilet paper rolls: left) a cylindrical void in each roll, and right) the star-shaped region between rolls.



If someone orders a set of products that don’t pack together, a computer algorithm can automatically determine which additional items could be packed “for free” in the wasted space.

For example, if someone bought a box of 27 bowling balls, packed in a 3x3x3 cube, there would be remaining empty space in the middle for at least 8 caltrops to be packed.

Or, if someone orders 12 rolls of toilet paper AND 48 ninja stars, AND 6 candles, the orders can be perfectly combined into a single package with (almost) no wasted space: the candles go in the toilet paper roll tubes, and the ninja stars go between each roll (Figure 2). Additional packaging ideas shown in Figure 3.



Fig. 2: These ninja stars can be shipped “for free” in the wasted space of the original order, and won’t requires a separate box.




Fig. 3: Additional space can be filled with miscellaneous objects.




When ordering products online, there could be a button on the checkout page with text like “add random things to my order so as to fill up 100% of the shipping box.” This would both drive additional product sales AND be more eco-friendly since less packaging would be wasted.

PROS: Allows web-based retailers to sell more products without incurring additional shipping costs by cleverly using 100% of the available packaging space.

CONS: This efficient-packaging technique may be difficult to apply beyond a relatively small subset of somewhat-regularly-shaped items.

Increase your profit margins with this one possibly legal trick for selling orange juice from a vending machine. Remember to consult a lawyer to see if product mis-labeling and consumer fraud is legal in your jurisdiction! I mean it might, be, right? But who knows.


Certain types of vending machines are capable of squeezing oranges and dispensing the freshly-squeezed orange juice right there at the machine. Generally speaking, these machines actually show you the oranges through a transparent window, so you can see the orange-juice-making process.

Most of these machines proclaim that you are getting “100% Orange Juice” or “All Your Vitamin C,” but typically they don’t bother to tell you that the orange juice is fresh—after all, you can literally SEE the oranges being juiced, so there’s hardly any room for confusion. The machines typically look something like the illustration in Figure 1.


Fig. 1: A futuristic vending machine that can dispense freshly-squeezed fruit right there at the machine.


Since the machines don’t always say that they are actually squeezing the oranges, it might be possible to have a magic-trick-style arrangement where the oranges go into an opaque grinding mechanism and then orange juice is dispensed—the customer will naturally infer that the oranges are being squeezed in the opaque mechanism, but what if this were not ACTUALLY the case?

Figure 2 shows a proposal for a system that keeps the oranges safe and sound (they could even be plastic oranges), while still appearing to squeeze them.


Fig. 2: An enterprising individual might be able to think of a workaround where the “100% orange juice” vending machine was dispensing much-cheaper juice and avoiding the mechanical hassle of actually squeezing the oranges.


People usually enjoy food more if it looks good: orange juice that comes from a fresh source will probably be appreciated more than orange juice that comes from a huge drum labeled “50 GAL. LIQUID ORANGE PRODUCT.”

With this “placebo effect” in mind, maybe it’s not you who are to blame for mis-labeling your from-concentrate orange juice, but rather the customer’s taste buds!

PROS: Possibly more eco-friendly, as it allows orange juice to be transported in concentrated form, rather than in bulky whole-orange form. “Placebo effect” of the orange-squeezing process may increase perceived flavor of the orange juice.

CONS: Any claims of “freshly squeezed” oranges could run afoul of product labeling laws in your jurisdiction—word your vending machine text carefully! As always, consult a lawyer before perpetrating blatant anti-consumer fraud on your customers!

Stop paying living wages and replace all your employees by robots—even if the A.I. isn’t there yet to accomplish the task that the employees did! See below for how this revolutionary new way of thinking is possible. Also if you are not a cartoonish plutocrat with a top hat, please do not read this post.


Running a business is expensive, and employee wages are usually a huge fraction of total costs (see Figure 1).

However, these jobs can’t always be eliminated: many jobs still REQUIRE a human employee, and jobs that require an on-site presence can’t be outsourced.


Fig. 1: This employee has to be on-site to operate the poorly-drawn green rectangles in front of him. He costs 8 of these nebulous “currency units” each day.


Some jobs require an on-site presence and are difficult to outsource, but perhaps we just weren’t thinking hard enough!

In this proposal, a difficult-to-automate on-site task can still be solved by a human operator, except the operator is living far away (in a cheaper cost-of-living country).

The remote operator then performs the difficult-to-automate task using a virtual reality interface (Figure 2) that controls an on-site robot*.

[*] More properly, but verbosely, referred to as a “remote manipulator.”


Fig. 2: Employee (b) in a low-wage country uses the virtual reality / telepresence gloves (c) which are connected to computer (d) and Internet-connected antenna (e) to send a signal (f) to the far-away robot (g) in the high-wage country. Now the guy from Figure 1 can be fired and replaced by Figure 2 guy plus Figure 2 robot (which costs two “$” per day in ongoing maintenance costs). Even with this new robot-maintenance expense, the system is much cheaper than the traditional one in Figure 1.


Now you can fire all your local employees and replace them with remotely-operated robot arms operated by underpaid foreign laborers.

PROS: Reduces operation costs for your company. The employees can retrain and… go do whatever jobs are left for humans, like writing operas.

CON #1: Maybe it shouldn’t be called a “robot” since it’s not autonomous? Apparently you can call this system a “remote manipulator” or “waldo” or “telefactor,” but those haven’t really entered the popular lexicon (yet).


CON #2: You might say “hey, if these robots are operated by citizens of a foreign nation and replace all the industrial capacity of my own country, what prevents that country from just deciding, one day, to take all the robots over, seizing my factory in some sort of cyberpunk-flavored Russian Revolution?” Unfortunately, the solution to that is rather long, and there is insufficient space to write it here.

Stop worrying about a “loose cannon” coworker jeopardizing your company’s reputation with this one weird tip from 17th-century France!

The issue:

Sometimes, a representative for a company causes a public relations disaster by saying something dumb on camera (Figure 1).

Obviously, we’d like to avoid this.

But although it’s easy to avoid interview disasters over email (just have a PR department filter the outgoing emails), this doesn’t work for real-time in-person interactions.


Fig. 1: This CEO has been unfortunate enough to say something really dumb while on camera. Millions of dollars of theoretical shareholder value were wiped out as a result! If only this could have been avoided.


Fortunately, we can fix this problem using an idea from the 1600s!

Specifically, when the CEO (or other employee) is scheduled for an interview, they can wear a soundproof helmet (perhaps styled after the Man in the Iron Mask helmet, Figure 2).

The process then works as follows:

  • The helmet is soundproof, but:
  • The helmet has an interior speaker and external microphone, so the wearer can hear the interviewer.
  • When the wearer speaks, there is a brief “tape delay” before sound is emitted from the helmet’s external speaker.
  • This delay gives a remote monitoring PR department the ability to quickly dub over any unacceptable interview responses with their own sanitized version.

Fig. 2: Interview woes: solved! Also removes the need for time-consuming hairstyling and makeup.

PROS: Never again worry about a company’s stock plummeting as a result of a catastrophic interview!

CONS: None! Except for the possibility of the interviewee being switched out with their identical twin, as in the plot of the 19th century Dumas novel (and/or 1998 film) The Man in the Iron Mask.


Are you hunched over your laptop while you give a presentation? Save both your posture and your presentation with this one incredible eco-friendly tip.


When giving a presentation on a large screen, there are two popular options for calling attention to specific areas of a slide deck:

  1. Physically gesture at the screen (or use a laser pointer, as seen in Figure 1).
  2. Use the laptop trackpad to move the mouse pointer / arrow around.

The issue:

The trackpad method—which requires the presenter to hover around their laptop—usually makes for a less engaging presentation, but it’s the only option for a presentation that requires real-time interaction.

So far, there’s been no way to combine the best of both worlds: 1) the direct-pointing of the laser pointer and 2) the ability to affect the on-screen user interface elements.



Fig. 1: Presentation remotes often consist of a slide advance button, a “back” button, and a laser pointer. Some of them also have a gyroscopic mouse, but this feature usually controls awkwardly at best.


Until now, that is!

In this proposal, the presentation remote (and laser pointer) will allow the user to point the laser at an element on the screen (say, a “play video” button), click a button on the remote, and have the on-screen element respond (in this case, playing the video).

The system works as follows:

  • The presentation remote is paired to the presenter’s laptop already, in order to allow the slide advance button to work. This is a normal feature of all presentation remotes.
  • The remote also gets a “reference” image of what’s on the laptop screen at the exact moment. This doesn’t have to be high-resolution; the remote just has to know generally what the screen looks like, updated a few times per second.
  • The remote also also contains a camera, so it can see what its laser pointer is pointing at.
  • So when the presenter points a laser at the large presentation screen, the remote now knows exactly what element the laser is hitting, since it can compare the camera image to the reference image of what’s on the laptop.

This allows the user to essentially turn the presentation screen into a giant touchscreen.

For a touch-aware operating system (e.g. iOS, Android, or Microsoft Windows), this would require no additional software support beyond sending a simulated touch event at the laser-pointer-pointed-at location.


Fig. 2: The remote has a camera in it, so it can compare what it’s pointing at to the “reference” image from the presenter’s laptop: if the images mostly match, the remote can figure out exactly what the laser pointer is pointing at.


If you thought it was TOO EASY to set up a presentation these days, this new and complex system will guarantee at least 15 minutes of “wait… hang on, I think I’ve got it working…. no, huh. Is it input 1, or input 2?” at the beginning of every presentation.

PROS: Prevents deforestation by reducing the number of wooden presentation pointers that will be manufactured.

CONS: May reduce deforestation so much that plants grow rampantly across the globe, killing all animal life and depleting the atmosphere of carbon dioxide. All because you couldn’t be bothered to walk over to your laptop to move the mouse!!!

Easily determine whether you can get a seat at a trendy coffee shop, even when it’s completely packed with people using laptops! All thanks to the “this seat is free” sign.


Do you own a crowded coffee shop? No? Well, you should remedy that, and then read on!

The issue:

In large cities, coffee shops are often entirely occupied by people doing work on their laptops.

Coffee shops have come up with various strategies for dealing with the pros and cons of being a low-cost “co-working space,” but it’s often a problem for people who just want to sit down: a laptop-using individual with an external mouse and some notes can easily occupy an entire four-seat table, while only using one chair and ~50–75% of the actual table area.

There’s enough remaining room for two additional people to have coffee at that table without impacting the laptop user!


The easy solution is to have a set of “this seat / this part of the table is open, please feel free to use it!” signs at the front of the cafe (Figure 1).

A patron who only anticipates using 50% of a table could take one of these signs and put it on the unused section of their table (even if there isn’t room for a second laptop).



Fig. 1: If you are using only part of a table (and don’t mind if someone uses the rest of the table), you can put a “THIS SEAT IS OPEN” sign on the other side of the table.


This would be really cheap to implement and doesn’t really have any downsides.

One objection is: “couldn’t patrons also accomplish this by asking if the laptop-user minds if they sit down?” Answer: yes, but that is irrelevant from the cafe owner’s perspective, since people tend to assume a no-tables-remaining cafe is FULL. Even if they “should” have just asked around, it still results in lost business for the cafe owner.

PROS: Could increase the effective number of seats in a cafe without requiring more space or furniture.

CONS: Maybe weirdos would use these signs as a way to try to lure other coffeeshop patrons into sharing a table with them, so they could then subject them to annoying and unwanted conversation.

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.