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Category: Computers

Save time AND the environment with this new gadget that encourages people to shut down their laptops more often. Finally, the product that the market has been clamoring for: the laptop remote-start key fob.

Background:

Some cars have a “remote start” feature to start a car before you actually get inside. This feature is typically used in regions with extremely cold  weather.

The issue:

Some people like to entirely turn off their laptops when traveling or over a weekend.

But then they have to wait a couple of minutes for their laptop to boot, log in, and start all their applications / open documents again.

Think of all the lost productivity!

Proposal:

Instead of losing precious time on Monday morning waiting for a shut-down-over-the-weekend laptop to boot, your laptop could have a special low-power “wake up” mode activated by a remote control. This would be exactly like a car remote-unlock key fob.

A comparison of laptops with and without this remote-start feature is shown in Figure 1.

1-laptop-remote-comparison.png

Fig. 1: Top: this old-fashioned laptop doesn’t have a remote-start feature, so someone is going to have to wait several seconds for it to boot. Bottom: thanks to the remote control, the laptop on the bottom is ready to go by the time its owner walks up to it.

Conclusion:

The laptop remote could be a new differentiator between brands in an otherwise commoditized market. When every other laptop is the same, surely consumers will flock to buy the one with the “remote start” option!

PROS: Saves valuable employee time. Additionally, probably several watt-hours per year per laptop, since it encourages people to shut down their laptops. The amount of energy saved probably offsets up to a whole day of increased energy usage due to global population growth.

CONS: It might take longer to locate this remote control than to just turn on the laptop by walking over to it.

Harness the toxic nature of the very worst Internet commentators to boost the ad revenue of your social media site / forum hosting site!

Background:

Online communities often have rivalries with one another, especially if the topics that they cover are extremely similar. For example, one could imagine a vicious feud between two different communities of saltwater aquarium enthusiasts.

Proposal:

Maybe we can harness and direct this mean-spiritedness in an interesting way that will, if nothing else, at least entertain outside observers like the gladiatorial matches of the Roman Empire.

To this end, the proposal is to encourage these communities to battle each other in a “survival of the fittest” environment with tangible consequences beyond just ruining a person’s day over the internet.

Details:

For the initial setup, each community on the web site (e.g. each subforum or “subreddit” in Reddit terminology) is allocated ample server resources, so the community can function normally (Figure 1).

1-normal-subforums

Fig. 1: With existing forum software, these various topics could have their own subforums, and the subforums’ denizens are not required to directly interact with each other.

We can represent the total number of server resources as a continent (Figure 2), and the individual subforums as nations within that continent.

Then, each month, a certain percentage of server resources are considered to be “contested” war zones that communities can fight over (Figure 3).

If a subforum community has too few resources, the following negative consequences may occur:

  • Extremely slow page loads.
  • Images are artificially rate-limited to load slowly from top to bottom, to provide an “old modem” feel.
  • Images downsampled to highly-compressed JPEGs.
  • Images downsampled to 256 colors (or even lower).
  • Videos re-scaled to VHS quality.
  • Inability to register new subforum members.
  • Deletion of old / historical posts.

2-map.png

Fig. 2: This is a map of a fictional continent, where “nations” (the various colors) represent the server resources applied toward each subforum. Larger territory indicates more server resources.


Since forum “combat” is highly metaphorical, there are a number of ways that it could be quantified and used to determine winning / losing subforums.

  • The number of long-running conversations in a subforum that can be successfully derailed and closed by infiltrating agents of an “enemy” subforum. Example: if a forum thread about remote-control helicopters can be transformed into a vitriolic argument about the nature of capitalism, it will count as a “win” for the infiltrating agents if that thread is closed by moderators for being off-topic / overly-toxic.
  • The number of successful emotional reactions that can be baited out of one subforum by trolls from another subforum. This could be indicated by either automated “word sentiment analysis” or by counting the number of instances of posts that are flagged for inappropriate content.
  • The number of irrelevant / off-topic meme images that can be placed in an “enemy” subforum, derailing any productive conversation.

 

3-map-war-zones

Fig. 3: Every so often, certain server resources are available for the communities to fight over. The winning subforum can thus seize territory (resources) from the loser.

Conclusion:

This is a great way to increase user loyalty and cause users to become more emotionally invested in your social media site or forum hosting site.

PROS: Increases user engagement and (potentially) ad revenue.

CONS: Increases man’s inhumanity to man.

Replace your windows with television screens: save thousands of dollars of rent a year by VIRTUALLY moving your home or office to an expensive location, without paying any more rent!

Background:

People generally enjoy having a good view from their home or office windows.

However, some locations have a bad view (e.g. a dark alley or cement wall) or cannot accommodate windows at all (e.g. interior offices or basements).

Proposal:

Modern flatscreen displays can be as large as office windows (and some types consume very little electricity).

Thus, we can replace the nonexistent and/or bad windows with large-screen television monitors.

In order to provide a convincing view of the “outdoors” on these screens, we only need two things:

  1. The time of day, so the screens can show a proper day or night scene.
  2. The relative orientations of each screen (e.g., if one screen faces the sea, then a screen on the opposite wall could show a beach).

The scenes could be either real-world video (either live webcam video, or looped video from earlier), or computer-generated scenes. See Figure 1 for an example.

2-SF-scene_SMALLER_FILE.jpg

Fig. 1: Instead of renting an expensive office in a city like New York or San Francisco (shown here), you could simply set the windows of your company to show scenes from that location. Think of the savings!

One additional benefit of virtual screens is that there is no requirement that the screens face out onto a practical (or even real) location (Figure 2).

For example, one could place an office:

  • On the surface of the Moon
  • Orbiting a distant science fiction planet or space station
  • Under the sea
  • In a windswept desert of endless sand dunes
  • Inside an M.C. Escher print, modeled in 3D (this might be extremely confusing)
  • Inside a video game (one could imagine a game development company setting their office windows to show scenes from the under-development game, in order to further oppress and crush the spirit of their programmers with the inescapability of the game)

Computer-generated locations could also feature 3D animations, like a buggy driving around the Moon’s surface or caravans crossing the desert.

 

1-abstract-multi-screen-scene

Fig. 2: There is no requirement that the virtual windows in your multi-screen room must face out onto a real-world scene. You could also imagine that your home or office was inside a giant abstract painting, as shown in this example.

Conclusion:

This project requires only consumer-level hardware and a web site to implement, so I am actually surprised that it appears not to currently exist. You can make an ad-hoc version by using a maps site with Street View (e.g. Google Street View) and adjusting the orientation of your multiple displays accordingly. (The only downside to this method is that the image will not update to match the current time of day).

PROS: Allows you to cheaply obtain a beautiful view for your home or office without paying exorbitant rental prices.

CONS: Large displays can cost up to $200 a year (2019 prices) to operate 24 hours a day, and the entire idea is essentially a huge waste of energy (unless you can use the extra heat generated by the screens).

When giving a slide presentation, show DIFFERENT slide decks to different groups in the audience! Never confuse your audience with an overly-technical presentation again. An amazing application of the same technology used in red-green-glasses-based 3D movies.

Background:

When giving a presentation to a diverse audience (e.g. of experts and non-experts, or of employees from two different departments in a company), you have a problem: you can only make one set of slides, but sometimes you might want to tailor different parts of the presentation to a different audience.

For example, one might want to give a presentation at an easily-understood overview level while also providing technical details for any domain experts in attendance.

Proposal:

Nearly all projectors and screens consist of three light-generating elements, in red (1), green (2), and blue (3).

By giving some members of the audience a pair of green-lens glasses (which block all red and blue light), we would be able to hide certain elements of the presentation that were not relevant to the green-glasses wearers. We can use a set of red-lens glasses and blue-lens glasses in the same way (see Figure 1).

With this technique, we can show up to three entirely different slide presentations, with the only limitation being that each presentation must consist of only monochromatic images.

Specifics:

  • Red glasses can see the following colors:  red, yellow, magenta, white [*].
  • Green glasses can see the following colors: green, yellow, cyan, white.
  • Blue glasses can see the following four colors: blue, magenta, cyan, white.

[*] Note that this is “additive” color space (where red + green = yellow), not the “subtractive” color space one might be familiar with from mixing paints.

Fig_1 3d_glasses_modified

Fig. 1: These glasses block certain wavelengths of light. By carefully constructing our slide decks, we can use these glasses to give up to three different presentations to the same audience at the same time.

So a slide that should be visible to everyone in the audience should be white (or shades of gray). Whereas if you only wanted to present to the red & green glasses-wearers (but not the blue ones), that text would be yellow. See Figure 2 for an example.

Fig_2_financial_results_all

Fig. 2: A sample presentation that is meant to provide both “optimistic” conclusions (green glasses) and “realistic” conclusions (red glasses). This is what the presentation looks like with no color-filtering glasses on.

 

Fig_3_red_normal

Fig. 3: The presentation from Figure 2 in “pessimistic / realistic” mode, as viewed through red lenses. All of the green text has disappeared!

 

Fig_4_green_optimistic

Fig. 4: The presentation from Figure 2 in “optimistic” mode, viewed through green lenses. Red text has disappeared.

 

Fig_5_what_it_looks_like_simulation

Fig. 5: Real-world demonstration: a color-enhanced version of what a red-blue version of this presentation looks like through red-blue “3D” glasses. The effect is almost 100% convincing for the human eye, but the camera actually manages to pick up a lot of the non-lens color, so this photo has been edited to more accurately reflect the perceived image.

A superior (but more logistically difficult) implementation:

It would also be possible to implement this same system with polarized glasses (as were used for some 3D TVs in the early-to-mid 2010s).

This would have the advantage of providing full color, but the disadvantage of not being compatible with a standard conference room projector. Additionally, you would be limited to two different presentations, rather than 3.

PROS: Improves your presentations by letting you tailor the presentation slides to multiple categories of audience members.

CONS: Greatly increases the amount of time required to make a presentation!

Improve your web site’s comment section by only allowing unique comments! Now every meme image will need to be one pixel different in order to be reposted. The Internet is saved!

Background:

Moderating the comments section of any web site is a thankless and un-ending task. But what if there were some way to make it slightly easier?

Proposal:

Instead of just allowing any comments, we can require that comments be totally unique and never-before-seen.

Once a comment is made, or an image is posted, a “fingerprint” [1] of that data is saved, and that exact comment can never be posted again (UI implementation shown in Figure 1).

[1] For example, an MD5 sum.

This will automatically get rid of many types of classic low-signal posts (e.g. the historical but rarely-seen-noawadays “First post”) and reposted memes. (This may or may not be desirable, depending on the type of site being run, of course.)

 

internet-message-board-only-unique-comments

Fig. 1: If a user posts some text (or an image) that was seen before, they will get an error message similar to this one.

Observation about images:

Since images must be unique to be reposted, the easiest way to re-post a meme image would be to make a small change to it and re-save it (or make no change at all, but re-save it using a lossy compression method). For a lossy image format like JPEG, this would lead to an interesting situation in which memes became more and more corrupted-looking as they are modified and re-posted over and over. This would even allow the lineage of a meme to be traced by looking at its variously-compressed versions.

PROS: May discourage certain low-effort posts that you’d want to moderate away anyway, saving moderator time and improving web site quality.

CONS: If a 32-digit hexadecimal number is used as the output of the “fingerprinting” hash function, then only a maximum of 16**32 comments can ever be made to your web site. If your web site gets 1 million unique posts per year, then some time in the year 340,282,366,920,938,448,064,954,991,902,720 A.D., all of the hash values will be used up, and people will no longer be able to post on your web site. Also, your visitor counter will probably have overflowed by then!

For your next job application / rental apartment selection / house purchase: you would be able to make an INFORMED decision about your commute thanks to this incredible piece of software!

Background:

In the United States, an employed person has two conflicting goals:

  1. To commute to their job as fast as possible (ideally by “hyperloop” or helicopter),
  2. …and to live as far away from their workplace as possible.

To these ends, thousands of man-hours have gone into new legislation preventing residences near places of employment (zoning laws which help with goal #2, above) and to developing new and complex commute-easing technologies such as self-driving cars or trains that travel at a thousand miles per hour (addressing goal #1).

The issue:

When accepting a new job, it’s hard to know how long or unpleasant your commute might be.

Although a person can get an idea of the total amount of time a commute is expected to take by checking an online map service, it’s a different matter to actually experience the commute.

Proposal:

In order to figure out if a commute is tolerable, a “Commute Test Drive” is proposed: this is just a piece of software that generates a realistically-long commute on the route that you specify (example in Figure 3, perhaps using data from OpenStreetMap) and then requires that you drive it in real-time.

 

1 Commute test drive.png

Fig. 1: This “Commute Test Drive” commute simulator would be similar to the delivery truck game “Euro Truck Simulator,” but with realistically-excruciatingly-large maps.

If a person wants to use public transit instead of driving, then a more sophisticated version of this software might allow the player to simulate the process of walking to a bus stop, waiting for a bus, and sitting on the bus for the correct amount of time.

By enduring the commute in the comfort of their own home (Fig. 2), a person can make a better-educated decision about accepting a job (or buying / renting a house) in a given area.

2 Home driving setup.png

Fig. 2: Although it would be possible to play this simulator with a gamepad or a mouse and keyboard, the steering wheel adds realism.

 

3 real-time route.png

Fig. 3: The route would be simulated with traffic and any other elements of a commute that might cause a delay (like railroad crossings, police checkpoints, and drawbridges).

Conclusion:

PROS: Inexpensively allows a person to make informed decisions about where to live and work.

CONS: This software probably already exists in some form as a fan-made Euro Truck Simulator mod.

Errors-by-Mail: the new feature in computer operating systems! It supports the printer industry and makes it easier for you to keep track of any problems with your computer!

The issue:

When clicking “OK” on an error message on a computer or phone, it’s easy to instinctively dismiss the message and then later wonder what it said.

Unfortunately, the moment has passed, and there’s usually no way to read the message again!

This is especially true with phones, since an error message typically takes over the entire screen while it is displayed, making it impossible for a user to just put the error message into a corner and deal with it later (or never).

Proposal:

All logged errors on a computer could be sent to the user by physical mail (as in Figure 1), as follows:

  1. An error occurs on a system
  2. The system sends the error and the user’s postal address over the Internet to Errors-by-Mail, a hypothetical hip startup in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  3. Errors-by-Mail prints the error message and puts it in a regular envelope, then puts it in the mail.
  4. A few days later, the user has a hard copy of any error that occurred on their system. The user can then re-read this message at their leisure.

 

error-message-by-mail.jpg

Fig. 1: Here, a python error message has been helpfully mailed to the user. With this service, you would now have a record of any error messages that you encountered on your phone or computer.

PROS: Supports “Big Printer,” lets users easily keep a physical record of any problems with their computer or phone.

CONS: Postage could add up. But perhaps this is a positive feature, as it would encourage users to never do anything that might generate an error.