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Category: Small Business

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.

ceo-normal

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.

Proposal:

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.
ceo-helmet

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.

Background:

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.

 

laser-remote

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.

Proposal:

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.

laser-pointer-touchscreen

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.

Conclusion:

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.

Background:

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!

Proposal:

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).

 

seat-not-taken

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.

Conclusion:

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.

Proposal:

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).

Specifically:

  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.

With this new incredible CORPORATE MONUMENT PARK, you can pay your respects to great companies and products of the past, or at least the ones with a cult following.

Background:

Famous people and events in history often have some sort of enormous stone monuments to prevent them from being forgotten.

The issue:

Unfortunately, this is NOT true for once-great companies and products (see example in Figure 1). These are consigned to obscurity, with no physical relics to attest to their existence in history.

 

Winton_auto_ad_car-1898-public-domain.jpg

Fig. 1: Important companies from the past are generally forgotten, as was the fate of the Winton Motor Carriage Company. Perhaps they have great lessons to teach us (such as: should you dispense with a horse?), if only we would remember them!

Proposal:

Companies and products of the past can still teach lessons to the people of the future, and they should be memorialized with enormous monuments that will stand the test of time.

altavista.png

Fig. 2: Monuments could be created for once-popular defunct companies, like the AltaVista web search engine, to remind us of their contribution to history.

 

 

beos.png

Fig. 3: Sometimes, a software product attracts a dedicated fanbase disproportionate to its commercial success (e.g. BeOS). This monument could emphasize the importance of marketing (and luck) in software success, something which is often overlooked by developers.

 

newton.png

Fig. 4: Hardware products can also be commemorated in this way. For example, developers who make use of touchscreen devices (i.e. basically all of them) would do well to make a pilgrimage to the Apple Newton MessagePad monolith.

Conclusion:

Next time your city demolishes a building that can’t be easily repurposed for housing or general commercial use (for example, a contaminated landfill or a former gas station), you should push for that area to become a DEFUNCT COMMERCIAL PRODUCT AND/OR COMPANY STATUE GARDEN.

PROS: Brings the lessons of the past to the people of the future.

CONS: May be discouraging to see how many great products and companies failed to make a lasting impact.

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

Background:

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

 

table

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.

 

presentation-top-half.png

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.

Proposal:

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.

presentation-burned

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.

Conclusion:

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uber and Lyft may have diminished the taxi medallion system, but the “medallion” idea can still be applied in other places! One weird local government tip.

Background:

Taxis in many cities operate under what is called a “medallion system” (Figure 1), whereby the supply of taxis is limited by a fixed quantity of tokens (“medallions”) that are issued in controlled quantities by the city.

taxi-medallion

Fig 1: An actual “taxi medallion” is apparently nothing like this.

Proposal:

For some reason, almost nothing else is regulated in this manner. But there are other services that are conceptually similar and could have their own “medallion” systems.

For example:

delivery-driving

Fig 2: Food delivery (e.g., pizza, Chinese food). Like a taxi, the driver operates a passenger automobile on public roads for commercial purposes.  A “delivery driving wedge” could be required in order for a business, such as a pizza restaurant, to deliver food.

dog-hypercube

Fig 3: Dog walkers make use of the public sidewalks and roads, and must abide by requirements that other pedestrians are not subject to (“pick up dog poop, do not allow the dog to bite anyone”). This “dog hypercube” would ensure that there was not an over-abundance of dogs on the sidewalks at any given time.

 

internet-cube

Fig 3: The medallion system could be applied to other activities with commercial potential.

  • Bicycles: Like a taxi, a bicycle consumes space on the public roads. Licensing of bicycles to a small number (see Figure 3, right side) would guarantee the availability of bike rack spots.
  • Internet usage could be prohibited without an “Internet cube” medallion (see Figure 3, left side). This could increase the available bandwidth for other purposes and could bring clients back to businesses like video rental companies and paper map retailers.

PROS: Opens up a new source of income: purchase a medallion, and then rent it out!

CONS: It may be difficult for City Hall employees to estimate the exact quantity of medallions to issue.