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Category: Technology

Home delivery of food directly to a refrigerator is apparently a thing now. But what if there was ALSO a socially-responsible service to get rid of almost-spoiled food (while it’s still good)?

Background:

As civilization reaches an apex of decadence not seen since the days of Caligula, new and exotic labor-saving schemes have arisen.

Specifically, you may soon be able to order food directly to your refrigerator, thus saving you from having to be present for delivery. Deluxe!

The issue:

While the process of delivering food directly to a home has been substantially streamlined, there is not yet a great way of getting rid of unwanted (but still good) food on a small scale [1].

([1] If you have 5000 apples that you don’t want, you can give them to a food bank. If you have five apples, the logistics involved in transporting those apples means that they will probably end up going into the compost instead.)

Proposal:

The solution is to apply the same technique used in the in-home-delivery service, but in reverse.

In the “normal delivery” situation, a delivery person gains access to your house temporarily in order to bring in a package (e.g. “Amazon Key”).

But in the proposed “reverse delivery” situation, you temporarily give access to your house to someone who is in the neighborhood and really would love to eat a free food item that is about to expire.

It would probably be too labor-intensive to require a human to constantly monitor their kitchen for almost-spoiled items, which is why a computer-vision-aided system (Figure 1) is also proposed.

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Fig. 1: This electric eye is constantly scanning for fruit spoilage in the fruit bowl on your kitchen counter. It should be able to give a readout of the approximate number of days remaining before each piece of fruit is no longer edible.

Once a nearly-spoiled piece of food is located, the system would automatically unlock your front door by communicating with a WiFi-enabled “smart lock” (Figure 2) and notify passers-by that there is free food for the taking.

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Fig. 2: The presence of nearly-spoiled food causes the system to unlock the front door and to send out a proximity-based alert to nearby individuals who may want this free slightly-over-ripe banana. The notification could be done though a phone app or by proximity-based SMS alerts.

PROS: Helps reduce food waste and provides yet another motivation for installing home automation.

CONS: None! Brings the “sharing economy” to your kitchen!

Re-visit the past with a new “old monitor nostalgia” mode for your expensive high-resolution television or computer display!

The issue:

Modern computers (and TVs) have large, high-resolution screens.

But sometimes people have nostalgia for the past—perhaps yearning for Cold War-era computing, when the harsh glow of a 9-inch CRT monitor represented the pinnacle of technology (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: This 1984 black-and-white Macintosh cost approximately $5500 in 2019 dollars, which will buy approximately 10 economy-priced laptops in the year 2019.

Proposal:

Modern monitors should have an option to emulate the behavior of various old display types.

For example, a high-resolution monitor could easily pretend to be the following:

  • A 1950s tube television
  • The tiny black-and-white screen of the 1984 Macintosh (Figure 2)
  • The monochromatic green display of the Apple //  (Figure 3)

 

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Fig. 2: In “Mac ’84 mode,” only a tiny fraction of the screen is used (left), in order to give the user that authentic 9-inch-screen experience. (The blue area represents an unusable border region.)

 

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Fig. 3: Apple // mode. After a while, you actually stop noticing that the whole display is green!

Conclusion:

Now that a “Dark Mode” theme has been implemented by nearly every operating system vendor, the next arms race is sure to be “retro display mode” or “retro CRT filter” mode.

PROS: Gives people a greater appreciation of modern technology.

CONS: May cause eyestrain.

 

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Supplemental Fig. S1: The actual number of pixels on a 2018 27″ iMac is 5120×2880 (14,745,600), as compared to 512×342 (175,104) on the original Mac. That’s 84.2 times more pixels, or 252 times more pixels if you count the R, G, B channels separately!

Speed up the passenger-pickup phase of a Lyft or Uber ride with this new conveyor belt system for ride-sharing cars!

The issue:

One transportation model used by ride-sharing cars (formerly called “taxis”) is the “carpool”-style trip, where multiple passengers are picked up and dropped off at various points along a mostly-shared route.

(Lyft Line and Uber Pool are currently the most well-known of these.)

This “carpool”-style trip is cheaper than a normal ride for each individual passenger, but the route may be slightly longer due to detours to pick up and drop off each person.

The issue:

Sometimes, a car will be partially full when it picks up a new passenger. If there is someone sitting in the curb-side rear seat, the new passenger will generally attempt to enter through that door first, then realize that someone is there and walk around the car to the other side (Figure 1). For maximum comedy, the passenger already inside the car may misunderstand and slide themselves over to the other seat, thus accidentally blocking the incoming passenger yet again.

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Fig. 1: If someone is already occupying the back right seat, then a new passenger who attempts to enter through that door (see arrow “A”) will be stymied. They will have to either walk around the car or else wait for the current passenger to slide over to the opposite seat.

This inefficient entry method wastes time and increases the chances that the stopped ride-share car will be hit by an inattentive motorist.

Proposal:

The fix to this situation is simple: the back seat can be replaced by a pair of conveyor belts (Figure 2). These conveyor belts will be controlled by a switch on the dashboard, and will allow the driver to slide any current passengers out of the way of new incoming passengers.

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Fig. 2: The back seat is replaced by a pair of conveyor belts. Note that this new configuration still seats three, so we haven’t lost any functionality.

 

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Fig. 3: The conveyor belts are synchronized, so any passengers on them will hardly notice as they are gently scooted over.

Conclusion:

Although this feature is not currently standard in any production automobiles, it would make sense for it to be an add-on, like heated seats or a sunroof.

PROS: Increases ride-sharing efficiency by reducing the new-passenger pickup time. This is especially important since ride-share company profits are currently in the “negative numbers” range.

CONS: It is unclear whether seat belts could be installed in this conveyor-belt seat system without strangling back-seat passengers. Possibly this system should be prototyped in countries with non-existent safety regulations.

Sleep-tracker smartwatches should be able to help you by recapping things you missed while you’re sleeping and/or pausing the streaming video that you’re snoozing through!

Background:

Some smartwatches now have a sleep tracking feature (Fig 1): the watch is able to figure out when you fall asleep and record how long you’ve slept.

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Fig. 1: This watch is able to record the length of your slumber, but it doesn’t do anything with this information except displaying it.

The issue:

It’s easy to fall asleep while watching streaming video or listening to a podcast.

But sleeping while a podcast plays may result in your podcast app marking 10+ episodes as “played” even though you snoozed through them. To fix things, you’ll have to figure out exactly where you left off (or just give up on those episodes entirely).

With a TV show, you might wake up to a plot-twisting spoiler. Horrifying!

Proposal:

With a sleep-tracking smartwatch, the watch could, upon detecting that you’re asleep, do one of two things:

1. Immediately pause the podcast / video, or fade it out over time.

2. Continue playing, but specially mark this region of time as “you were asleep, but the video was still playing.” This situation is shown in Figure 2.

 

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Fig. 2: In this scenario, the user fell asleep at 4:33 PM, but the app kept playing the podcast until 5:05 AM. A huge button marked “AUTO-REWIND” allows the watch-wearer to automatically return to the podcast material that they slept through.

This feature could also be useful for college students, who are famous for sleeping through classes at all hours of the day. A sample scenario is shown in Figure 3, below.

 

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Fig. 3: The student who was wearing this watch fell asleep 38 minutes into their class. Fortunately, the watch started recording the lecture as soon as the student fell asleep, so the student is able to review it by pushing the “REPLAY “NAP” LECTURE AUDIO” button.

Conclusion:

This auto-pause feature could be implemented in a manner similar to the way in which a phone already automatically pauses video / music when a phone call is received.

 

PROS: By pausing streaming video, this saves valuable Internet bandwidth that would otherwise be streamed to your closed eyelids.

CONS: Students may end up with even more disastrous sleep schedules if they know they can rely on this lecture-replay feature.

Don’t let a modern user interface coddle you with easy-to-identify-buttons—demand a confusing and unlabeled mystery zone of wonders!

Background:

It is often recommended that pet owners buy “challenging” toys to keep their pets mentally stimulated in a world where the owners take care of all the pet’s needs.

Although an owner could simply put a dog biscuit in a bowl, it would be more exciting for the dog if the biscuit were inside a difficult-to-open ball that required the dog to work to figure it out.

The issue:

Similarly, modern automation has removed many elements of daily life that were once mentally challenging. For example, turn-by-turn directions make it theoretically possible for a person to go through life without ever learning how to read a map.

Proposed idea, which has already been implemented:

A long time ago, any user interface elements on a computer were clearly marked: a button would have a thick border around it, a link would be underlined in blue, etc.

Unfortunately, this sort of coddling may cause the human species to become helpless and incapable.

What is needed is an unforgiving type of interface that does not clearly label elements that accept user input: this will force humans to become better at remembering things.

A case study is available in Figure 1. Can you figure out what is, and is not, an interactable UI element?

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Fig. 1: In order to prevent the user’s brain from atrophying due to lack of use, Google has developed a settings screen for Android that has no visual indication of what is and is not a button. Try puzzling through it yourself: can you guess what tapping on each element would do? Answers in Figure 2. This screenshot is from Android 9, but the situation is identical in Android 10 (2019).

 

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Fig. 2: Answers: BLUE is a normal app button and GREEN is a user-interface-related button. The two red rectangles indicate “buttons” that highlight when clicked, but do nothing otherwise (it is theoretically possible that they do something on other phones).

Google shouldn’t get all there credit here, though: the idea of making a complex swiping-puzzle-based interface was arguably pioneered by Apple. If you don’t believe it, find someone with an iPad and ask them to activate the multiple-apps-on-the-same-screen mode: you’ll be amazed by the quality and difficulty of this puzzle!

Conclusion:

With the addition of unlabeled user interface elements and a huge array of “swipe” gestures, modern phones—both iPhones and Android phones—are adding a new category of exciting brain-challenging puzzles to everyday life.

PROS: It is theoretically possible that a user who plays these memory games with their phone will become better at crucial memorization and concentration-based tasks (although there is zero evidence of this, but it seems intuitively appealing, which is good enough here).

CONS: None!

Check your server logs for incredible deals, thanks to this new system for putting advertisements everywhere!

Background:

Some widely-used computer programs are free, and are supported exclusively as hobby projects by unpaid developers.

The issue:

Unfortunately, there is no financial mechanism to encourage further development and enhancement of these programs. Even if a hundred million people depend on a program, there is no simple way for them to support the developer.

It would be possible for software developers to figure out some sort of monetization scheme, but this requires a different skillset from software development. Plus, many programmers aren’t interested in also dealing with marketing.

Proposal:

Nearly all programs—both on servers and on regular desktop machines—write messages to a system log somewhere on the computer.

Developers of these un-monetized free utilities could sell out ad space in the logs: instead of a program just writing important data to the log (“USB hard drive failed to respond” or “bluetooth device unexpected disconnected”), the program could also pollute the log files with various advertisements (see Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: You might say that polluting the server logs with ads was unethical, but wouldn’t it be MORE unethical to block these ads, thus robbing the content creators of their revenue?

Conclusion:

While this is, in many ways, essentially the same idea as having ads in terminal commands (as described earlier), having ads in the logs means that they will be picked up by any monitoring utility and have a chance of being seen even if a server is not used interactively. Plus, these ads will work on servers without graphical interfaces.

Although an “on call” employee might be annoyed to get woken up at 4:00 AM by an error message from an ad, surely they wouldn’t object to it as much as long as the ad was something beneficial, like “FATAL SYSTEM ERROR: SHRIMP PLATTERS ARE 25% OFF THIS WEEK ONLY WITH CODE [SERVERSHRIMP].”

Ethics of Blocking These Ads:

One might say, “hey, I could just run ANOTHER script to purge the logs of these ads.” But really, wouldn’t that be just as unethical as blocking ads on a web site (see Figure 2), or skipping ads on a recorded program? Yes, yes it would.

 

Fig. 2: Left: this is what someone sees WITHOUT an ad blocker. Right: WITH an ad blocker. Don’t steal bread from developers by blocking annoying ads—it’s your duty as a consumer to endure these ads without complaining.

PROS: Helps encourage development and refinement of formerly-free-and-unencumbered software.

CONS: The ads may consume a few additional kilobytes per day in log files.

Is a university lecture or job talk going on FAR longer than it is supposed to? Emphasize punctuality with this new incredible heat-lamp-based presentation setup!

The issue:

Sometimes, a college lecture or work presentation goes far over the allotted time (Figure 1).

Frequently, the presenter doesn’t even realize that they are over time.

 

One simple way to prevent a presentation from going over time would be to just have the power outlets turn off at exactly the designated end-of-presentation time.

However, this hard stop could be annoying: what we really want is something that will make the presenter inherently want to wrap up their talk.

Proposal:

The solution is simple: just have an array of heat lamps pointed directly at the presentation podium.

When the time limit has expired, the heat lamps turn on, one at a time. At first, the podium will be just a little warm, but it will quickly become scorching and unbearable. Thus, the presenter is encouraged to conclude their talk in a timely fashion.

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Fig. 2: The heat lamps above the presenter will gradually turn on when the presentation hits its time limit.

Conclusion:

An earlier shark-related proposal turned out to be too expensive, as it required creating a new auditorium with a raised platform above a shark tank. So this is an almost-as-effective solution for the university or business on a tight budget.

This heat lamp idea could be used in conjunction with an earlier software-only plan to “burn away” slides as they are shown. This “burning” idea would synergize well with the heat lamps, too!

PROS: Does not have the same recurring maintenance costs of the shark version of this idea in the link above.

CONS: May cause a circuit breaker to trip if the building is not wired for 6000+ watts on a single circuit.