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Category: Computers

BIG BROTHER APP is watching you…. and looking out for your job prospects, romantic prospects, and any possible snake-fang-related threats!

Background:

Remember when privacy was a thing? No? Oh, ok then.

But people used to have some concern about having their location and whereabouts monitored by companies and governments.

I guess this information was used for evil-doing at least once in history? Whatever, who cares, let’s gather data and make an app!

The issue:

Have you ever been blindsided by an in-retrospect-obvious event, like a firing (or even just a passing-over for a promotion) at work, or a seemingly-sudden breakup?

Proposal:

Using the power of OMNIPRESENT CORPORATE SURVEILLANCE, we can create a new program, which we will call Big Brother 2, that does the following:

  • Reads all your email (like most email provides already do).
  • Reads all your text messages and any transcribed voicemails.
  • Examines your online purchasing habits.
  • Checks your location history and that of your friends.
  • Checks to see if you are associating with any subversive individuals or organizations.
  • Analyzes your photos and categorizes their content.
  • Monitors your mood by reading your posts on social media.

  • Optionally listens in to your conversations, if you are in a place where this is legal.

Big Brother 2 will collect this data from thousands or millions of users, and—using advanced and overhyped machine-learning techniques—it will figure out what kinds of warning signs preceded various life events.

Then it can forewarn you of danger in your own life!

Examples:

  • Dating (Figure 1): Two people are dating and their messaging steadily becomes less frequent and more negative. Big Brother 2 can extrapolate their breakup date and (optionally) start preemptively saving flattering photos of those users for their upcoming dating profiles.
  • Employment (Figure 2): Someone’s boss mentions “outsourcing” and then communication rapidly drops off. Big Brother 2 can recommend some resume-preparation services for that employee.
future-breakup

Fig. 1: Big Brother 2 can extrapolate from its millions of data points and figure out that, on average, users with a certain text-messaging profile typically experienced a breakup within X months. In this case, the user is being forewarned that they should expect a breakup on or around October 24 (orange line).

future-job

Fig. 2: Here, Big Brother 2 suggests that company layoffs will occur on June 28. In this case, the Big Brother 2 algorithm could also incorporate data about the economy / stock market / relevant world news that may impact the user’s job.

future-befangment

Fig. 3: Using sophisticated machine-learning algorithms, Big Brother 2 may even be able to predict things you wouldn’t think were predictable, such as exactly when a serpent is going to slither over and sink its fangs into you (thus, hopefully, allowing you to either prepare yourself for that moment or to take corrective anti-snake action).

Conclusion:

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs: hire me to develop this project. Thanks in advance.

PROS: Could reduce the likelihood of snakebite.

CONS: May result in “Logan’s Run”-esque scenarios where the system determines that a person has negative value, and then the user’s phone starts plotting to murder the user (see historical example from Episode #270 of The Simpsons). If this occurs, it is an example of a bad optimization function, and should be fixed in the next update.

 

 

 

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Are you tired of your computer MYSTERIOUSLY doing things in stony silence? Bring back 1980s retro charm and monitor your computer for malware and spyware with this ONE INSANE AUDIO TRICK! It drove an entire island of monks to madness!

Background:

In the past, you could tell what a computer was doing (to some extent) just by listening to it.

  • Disk access would be accompanied by a classic floppy disk sound (or the “click” of a hard drive)
  • The fan would spin up if the CPU was under high load.
  • You could actually listen to network traffic on a modem (or watch the network traffic light blink).
  • Sometimes, different operations would cause a high-pitched noise to emit from some mysterious component of the computer.

However, with solid-state drives and many entirely fanless computational devices (e.g. phones, most tablets), it is no longer possible to have an intuitive sense of what your computing device is up to.

computer-noise.png

Fig. 1: Historically, computers would make all sorts of sounds when operating. The monitor would emit an annoying high-pitched hum, the disk would click and clack during reads or writes, you could listen to network traffic over a modem, and fan noise would let you know whether the CPU was working hard.

Proposal:

The solution is obvious: the phone must generate artificial sounds so the user can figure out what’s going on.

Examples:

  • Heavy CPU use could result in the classic beeps of the “Star Trek computer sound“. Or for a subtler approach, a fan-spinning noise could be generated.
  • Disk access could always be accompanied by the audio of a floppy disk reading / writing / seeking to a new location.
  • The screen could cause a buzzing sound to be emitted when it was first turned on, and optionally at any time it was displaying a non-blank screen.
  • Network access could generate a modem noise.
phone-noise.png

Fig. 2: This phone is totally silent under normal operation, but we can add network noises, CPU fan noise, disk noises, and more.

With this simple change, people will become aware of what their computer is doing.

In particular, they will now easily realize if their computer is using a ton of Internet traffic or is infected with CPU-intensive malware.

Conclusion:

Demand this feature in your next phone! Or write and maintain a custom ROM for your phone. Easy!

PROS: Warns people about phone spyware/malware. Makes a phone harder to lose, since it will be constantly emitting annoying sounds!

CONS: None! It’s the perfect idea with no downsides.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a tip obviously made by someone who hates shopping for clothes! Order your clothes online and be even more hermit-like with this one internet business scheme that someone probably patented in like 1994.

Background:

On many web sites for automotive parts (e.g. Amazon, AutoZone), you can specify the exact car that you own. Then, the web site will only show results that work with that car (Figure 1).

cars-your-garage

Fig 1: You can specify the details of the cars in your “garage” and will only see car parts that work with that specific car.

Proposal:

Strangely, almost no retail web sites let you do the same thing with human sizes.

Instead, you have to read through the reviews and try to parse other customers’ unreliable descriptions:

  • “RUNS SMALL, order one size up!”
  • “Narrow in the shoulders.”
  • “These socks are made to fit shoe sizes 4 through 16. Somehow.”
  • “Vanity sizing: the ’34’ is really a ’38’.”

Although human shapes don’t have easy-to-remember names like “1976 Dodge Dart,” there are still only a small and finite number of parameters that must be addressed.

To fix this, you should be able to either specify your particular measurements, or go to a retailer and get an “official” set of clothing measurements, and then input those in a web site, as shown in Figure 2.

From then on, it would flag each item of clothing as “FITS YOU” or “DOES NOT FIT YOU” (optionally; with a reason; for example, “These jeans are too long, but would otherwise fit you—add the ‘hem jeans’ option for $7.99.”)

clothing-size

Fig 2: After entering your clothing measurements on the web site, all clothing items will be marked as “fits you” or “unlikely to fit,” making it easy to buy clothes online.

PROS: Would make shopping for clothes online even easier than it already is!

CONS: People would need to be truthful with their actual dimensions. Fortunately, a tape measure is non-judgmental and is uninterested in feeble excuses.

Incredible user interface tip to increase user engagement—make your software challenging and don’t let a user “auto-pilot” through an easily understood interface.

Background:

Supposedly, the proliferation of ubiquitous GPS has lead to humans being worse at navigating, the presence of calculators has rendered most people incapable of doing even basic mental math, and the existence of written language has made humans worse at remembering things more generally.

Proposal:

In order to combat this “things are too easy” trend, we recommend that software become intentionally harder to use. The open source community is already on top of this trend, as are late-2010s mobile app developers (perhaps most famously, Snapchat).

Specific issue: Color pickers

This proposal is limited to a basic enhancement of color pickers (Figure 1): by rearranging the location of colors, we can cause users to spend more time trying to find the color they are looking for, which both 1) promotes brain development and 2) increases engagement with the app. For mobile apps, increased engagement (i.e., time) also translates to more opportunities to show ads to the user.

apple-color-picker

Fig. 1: This color picker used in some built-in Apple software is totally unchallenging and unremarkable.

office-color-picker

Fig. 2: The Microsoft Office color picker is also sensibly arranged, although it has an unconventional muted color palette.

An “enhanced” color palette could look like the default one from 2014 LibreOffice (Figure 3): the seemingly random arrangement of strange and uncommon colors (with a few duplicates) means that the user will need to be fully engaged with the color picker panel in order to make sense of it.

libre-light-blue

Fig. 3: LibreOffice’s 2014 color picker doesn’t spoon-feed the user. Additionally, some colors are labeled counterintuitively to really force the user to understand what they are doing (for example, “Light blue” is  not the correct term for the blue square in the top right).

 

Fig. 4: LibreOffice has, strangely, refashioned their interface; the 2016 default (at left) is now arranged in a fashion similar to other software’s color pickers.

Conclusion:

When designing a commonly used user interface element (for example, a color picker, “save file” dialog, list of email addresses, a phone dialer, etc…), you should try to consider: how can I make this element “more engaging” to the end user? Don’t let the user’s brain coast on auto-pilot—make them work for every interaction with your interface.

PROS: Improves neural connections and promotes a hard-working self-reliant attitude.

CONS: Entitled end users will whine about your decisions!

Throw away your current barbaric programming language! Programming Emoji is the future of computation.

Background:

Essentially all major programming languages exclusively use keywords written in English. (For a couple of exceptions, see the addendum at the end.)

But this doesn’t have to be the case!

Proposal:

By using symbols instead of words, we can convey a concept both more concisely and more easily across languages.

See below for a few suggested changes:

while-true

Fig 1: This image of a snake eating its own tail is a much more visceral and obvious representation of an endless cycle than the words “WHILE TRUE.”

if-else

Fig 2: “IF” and “ELSE” have specific meanings in English. But “Else” is also a Scandinavian name! By using these unambiguous symbols, we avoid any existing meanings that might confuse people.

data-types

Fig 3: Data types (“integer” / “floating point number” / “text string”) can be replaced by these intuitive images instead. This also avoids the issue of having multiple synonyms for each type. For example, a non-integer number could be called a “float,” a “real,” a “double,” etc.—but there’s only ONE symbol to represent this concept.

 

foreach

Fig 4: Some languages use “for” to create a loop, while others use “foreach” (or “forEach,” or “for (item) in (set)”). To prevent confusion, we can standardize on a single symbol (above) to convey the idea of iteration through a loo.

Conclusion:

Don’t write another line of code in your old-fashioned text-based programming language! Programming emoji is the future.

PROS: More easily seen at small font sizes. Works across languages, and prevents any misunderstanding arising from a word having an existing unrelated-to-programming meaning (e.g. “float” meaning “to rise to the surface of water” in addition to “a ‘floating point’ number”).

CONS: Requires new custom fonts and/or Emoji support.

programming-emoji

Fig 5: An extended set of proposed replacements for basic programming terms. Color is optional, but recommended.

Addendum:

Here are a couple of programming languages that can make use of non-ASCII symbols:

  • APL,” a language created in 1964, is well known for making use of a special set of symbols. Here is an example from Wikipedia: (~RR∘.×R)/R1ιR . It is actually possible to order a keyboard with these symbols printed right on the key caps!
  • Perl 6 supports numerical characters like “” (a fraction) or “” (a Roman numeral), as documented here.

 

 

Never worry about losing your laptop again with these TWO EASY TIPS that will shock and horrify you. You’ll never believe what happened next! The amazing secret of proximity-based encryption.

The issue:

Currently, the loss or theft of an unencrypted laptop can be a huge pain for an employee and/or their company.

If a laptop gets stolen out of a person’s car, or just gets forgotten in a train or cafe, it’s entirely possible that the laptop owner will now have to change all their passwords.

And if they were working on some sort of top-secret project, now it’s a major hassle to worry about what might (or might not) have been disclosed to a competitor.

Additionally, travelers to foreign countries with especially valuable company secrets may have to worry about state-sponsored corporate espionage.

Proposal:

If a user really plans to only use certain data while physically at work (and never access this data while off-site), the user’s laptop can have a special hard drive that can only be accessed while within range of a specific WiFi network (see the solid state hard drive mockup in Figure 1).

Thus, if the user misplaces their laptop or has it seized by a foreign government, there is literally no way to decrypt the data. (Unless the laptop makes its way back within range of the company’s WiFi network, but presumably the laptop would be blacklisted as soon as the theft/loss is discovered).

secure-drive-concept

Fig 1: The hard drive is integrated with a WiFi radio; the decryption key must periodically be refreshed by proximity to the company’s WiFi key broadcasting system. If this hard drive is taken out of range, the hard drive locks itself again.

Since the drive must be within the range of the company’s WiFi “key” broadcaster in order to decrypt (Figure 2), it is nearly impossible laptop theft to result in exposure of sensitive data.

(If an adversary did steal an encrypted laptop, they would theoretically be able to access the data if they 1) know the user’s password and 2) are able to drive the laptop to the company’s parking lot (within range of the WiFi) before the theft is discovered and the laptop’s access credentials are revoked).

secure-key-broadcaster

Fig 2: In order to access the files on the hard drive, the user must be within range of the “key broadcaster” (just a specially-configured WiFi network). Whenever the user takes their laptop off-site, the data will be totally inaccessible even if the user has the correct password.

Possible issue:

Would an adversary be able to circumvent this system by having a co-conspirator sit in the company parking lot, capturing all the (encrypted) WiFi traffic and re-broadcasting it over the Internet? (It seems like this method would be extremely labor intensive, plus the parking-lot-infiltrator would need undetected access to the company network.)

PROS: Makes it impossible for foreign travelers to be coerced into revealing their laptop’s contents, since the laptop owner themselves cannot even access the data while traveling.

CONS: Opens up new way for a company to lose all of its data if the decryption broadcasting system fails.