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Category: Technology

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.

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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.

Make your carpool / ride-sharing commute even safer with this amazing plan to add strobe lights to your car—legally! Bicyclists love this one weird tip!

The issue:

One ever-present hazard for bicyclists is the possibility of being “doored”—hit by a suddenly-opened driver’s side door of a parked car.

A similar issue confounds carpool passengers: when exiting a full vehicle, the driver’s-side passenger must open the door directly into traffic (since they cannot exit on the curb side). This presents the obvious risk of being hit by a car that is swerving around the temporarily-parked carpool vehicle, as shown in Figure 1.

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Fig. 1: A) The ride-sharing vehicle (blue) is stopped in the farthest-curbside lane, and a passenger is about to exit. A fast approaching-car (red) in the same lane is about to swerve around the parked car. B) The passenger opens the door (purple) and will step out into traffic. C) The red car collides with the open door.

There may be a lot of blame to assign in the scenario in Figure 1 (“the passenger should have waited longer before opening the door” or “the red car shouldn’t have gone around the stopped car”), but it’s easy to see how it would occur without any egregious negligence.

Proposal:

In order to make it obvious that a car door may be opening soon (i.e., that there is an occupant associated with a door of a stopped or nearly-stopped car), the following is proposed:

  • A row of lights are placed on the edges of the car, near the doors. These lights must be easily visible from behind the vehicle.
  • When the door handle is operated, these edge lights flash (see Figure 2). This would provide ~1–2 additional seconds for a driver or bicyclist to react before hitting the door.
  • Optionally, weight sensors in the car seats could detect whether or not someone is likely to exit via a specific door (if there are no passengers in the car, there is no reason for any of the lights to flash except for the ones on the driver’s door). Weight sensors are already used to decide whether or not to deploy passenger air bags, so this wouldn’t be a huge engineering challenge.
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Fig. 2: Flashing lights on the edge of the car can notify other drivers and bicyclists that a door might be opening soon (or is actively being opened).

Conclusion:

If you own an LED manufacturing plant, you should lobby your local government to make this feature mandatory, and try to avoid letting anyone do any scientific research to determine whether or not it’s actually effective.

PROS: Creates a new source of revenue for the LED light industry.

CONS: It is likely that there would be so many false positives—flashing lights for stopped cars at nearly every intersection, for example—that everyone would tune out these ubiquitous and uninformative warnings.

Improve your cell phone reception AND easily use your cell phone even in bright light with this new incredible fashion accessory: the cell phone cowl!

The issue:

Using a cell phone outdoors can present two main problems, as shown in Figure 1. Specifically, you may be far from a tower (and thus, get poor reception) and the harsh light of the noon sun may make it very difficult to read the text on your phone, especially with the recently-popularized “dark mode” user interface themes.

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Fig. 1: A) This cell phone is far from a tower, so it gets bad reception (and the battery drains faster). B) the harsh glare of the sun makes it hard to read the screen. Pros and cons of the sun: PRO: allows life to exist on Earth. CON: makes it hard to read Internet comments.

Proposal:

This new fashion accessory, the “Cell Phone Cowl” (Figure 2, A.K.A. “cell phone hood,” or “cell phone wimple”), allows the outdoor phone user to always have a shaded area for using their cell phone.

Additionally, the hood can have a built-in antenna (shown here as an external antenna, although it would probably be possible to run the antenna along the perimeter of the fabric instead). This will allow for better reception even in such remote and cell-phone-inhospitable locations as Downtown San Francisco.

 

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Fig. 2: C) The external antenna (plugged into the cell phone by an old-style phone cable) allows this cell phone user to get 5 bars of reception, despite their remote location. D) The hood / cowl provides shade, allowing the user to read Internet posts while cowering from the harsh light of the sun.

Conclusion:

You should pre-order your cell phone cowl before the waitlist gets too long!

PROS: Brings fashion and technology together at last in a way not seen since the incredible future predicted in “R.U. a Cyberpunk?” (1994 image from Mondo 2000).

CONS: An external antenna might hit door frames if you forget to collapse it before going inside, but an internal antenna would make it difficult to machine-wash the cowl. The horrible price of progress!

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).

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

Stop going insane with rage and madness when your phone buzzes twice in a short period of time! Finally, this one user interface tip that will sooth the savage and inhuman beast called MAN.

Background:

When you receive a message on a phone, usually the phone vibrates or makes an alert sound.

The issue:

If someone sends several short messages in a row (e.g. “Here is the restaurant:” “(link to restaurant address)” “We’ll be there at 7 pm.”) or if a conversation has several participants, your phone will be constantly buzzing at random times.

This can be annoying (Figure 1).

The current “solution” to this is totally inadequate: you need to manually set the phone to “Do Not Disturb” for some amount of time. This requires manually futzing with the phone and must be done every single time. Additionally, Do Not Disturb is typically optimized for ease of setting in hour-long increments, but it’s very likely that the burst of messaging activity will only last for a few minutes. In that scenario, you’d still be missing new messages 55 minutes later.

 

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Fig. 1: This conversation has 8 participants, so the phone is constantly buzzing with texting activity.

Proposal:

Instead of notifying the user every time a new messages comes in, the phone could mute further notifications (from the same app) until certain conditions were met.

This “rate limiting” step would mute incoming messages unless one or more of the following was true:

  • A certain amount of time has elapsed (e.g., no more than one notification per conversation thread in a 5-minute period).
  • The user checks the phone (indicating that they are at least somewhat engaged in the messaging process).
  • The user replies to a message.

This way, if you’re driving or in a situation where you don’t want to check your phone, it won’t be constantly demanding your attention (Figure 2, right).

 

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Fig. 2: Left: the current situation. Right: the “solved” situation where each communication app is rate-limited.

Conclusion:

It is surprising that this is not a currently available default option (maybe it is, somewhere!).

The developers who would have added this feature have probably been reassigned to implement increasingly-specific Emoji instead (presumably “blue lobster wearing a party hat” is coming soon).

PROS: Prevents you from being distracted by your phone while you’re in a meeting / in class / at a wedding / etc.

CONS: Implementing this feature would require reassigning highly skilled programmers who are currently working on cutting-edge features like “be a talking ‘pile of poo’ Emoji.”

P.S. For more terrible phone-messaging-related ideas, check https://worstplans.com/tag/text-messaging/.

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.

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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.

 

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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).

Improve the odds of finding a lost pet with this over-engineered license-plate-based system! The ultimate computer vision project for a machine learning startup.

Background:

“Lost cat” and “lost dog” signs are often placed up on telephone poles (Fig. 1), but it’s unlikely that a specific person who sees a lost pet will also have seen the sign (or even know that the pet is actually lost in the first place).

 

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Fig. 1: A person who sees this sign will know to be on the lookout for a lost snake, but the chances of seeing both the snake AND the poster are quite low.

Proposal:

In order to add more people to the lost-pet-searching process, the proposed system is as follows:

On the searchers side:

  • Car owners can add a camera to their car (see license plate example in Figure 2) that constantly scans for unidentified animals. This requires no effort on the part of the driver.
  • The camera saves snapshots and GPS coordinates for every animal it sees, and uploads these to a “Find a Lost Pet” web site. Many of these animals are probably not lost, or even pets!

On the pet-recoverers side:

  • Anyone with a lost pet can post the details of their lost animal and a reward to the “Find a Lost Pet” site. Ideal information would include a photo, approximate location, and the owner’s contact information.

Once the “Find a Lost Pet” image analysis system detects a match between an uploaded image and a lost pet, a “bounty” is issued for the recovery of that pet, and nearby drivers are notified.

Finally, assuming the animal is safely returned in the same number of pieces that it was expected to be in (generally this number is “one”), the bounty is split three ways: the web site, camera owner, and animal-recoverer all get a fraction of the total reward. This aligns everyone’s incentives and encourages people to install pet-scanning cameras in the hope of a payout.

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Fig. 2: This license plate camera is a “dog-scanner” camera that is constantly on the lookout for unidentified potentially-lost animals. Backup cameras like this already exist, so producing the hardware for this system would be relatively straightforward.

PROS: This system will help find lost pets, and definitely won’t be repurposed to create a totalitarian police state.

CONS: Not especially useful in finding burrowed or aquatic animals, so try not to lose one of those.