Help pay for software development with microtransactions: finally, we have solved the issue of “how do we make someone pay full price for a spreadsheet program with no new features for 40 years in a row?“

Background:

Most standard “utility” programs (word processors, spreadsheets, photo editors…) haven’t been substantially improved since approximately 2005.

The Issue:

Unfortunately, in order for the companies that sell these programs to survive, they need to somehow get paid. But this is a difficult argument to make when the 1997 version of a spreadsheet program is essentially identical to a 2021 spreadsheet program.

Proposal:

Some developers have solved this issue by only offering their programs on a subscription model—if users can only “rent” software, they’ll have no way to stop paying. But we can go a step further and bring cell phone-style microtransactions (or “in-app purchases”) to ordinary non-game applications.

The proposal is simple: previously-unlimited functionality is now locked behind a consumable resource that costs real money. For example, a user used to be able to make an unlimited number of bold words in a document, but now the user might need to pay 10 cents for each bold word.

This could be applied to nearly every user interface element. Want more fonts? Buy the “Unlock Comic Sans” purchase. Want to undo/redo? Pay a small amount for each mistake (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: By charging the user one “action gem” each time they hit Ctrl–Z, everyone wins: software developers get paid, and users become more careful with their typing.

Conclusion:

Consumable resources are a widely adopted method of funding phone games: there is really no reason we can’t bring this same technology to more utilitarian applications as well.

PROS: Charging users for fancy document formatting will encourage a minimalist and non-ostentatious style of formatting, as befitting the true ascetic who has transcended worldly desires.

CONS: Open-source advocates will probably promote free fully-functional software that doesn’t require the purchase of gems to operate, so it’ll be necessary to block this software or make it illegal to offer free software.

Add a video game “stamina meter” to the mouse and keyboard. Stop treating mouse clicks like an unlimited resource, and appreciate them more fully!

Background:

In many video games, a character will have a certain set of attributes, like “strength” or “endurance.” Strangely, this system has not yet been translated outside the realm of gaming.

Proposal:

In order to bring the addictive leveling-up-a-character and number-management system of games into normal computer operation, it is proposed that the user’s interaction with the computer also have RPG-like “levels” and character attributes (see Figure 1).

Fig. 1: This Level 17 Mouse Pointer has a “health pool” of 949 left clicks (orange, top bar) and 205 right clicks (lime green, bottom bar). As you can see, this one might need to take a rest soon, if the user keeps clicking frequently in their spreadsheet.

As an example, a new computer user might start with a Level 1 Mouse Pointer that has an endurance of 100 mouse clicks before it is exhausted (Figure 2). Clicks would regenerate ate a rate of, say, one click every 5 seconds, or perhaps the user could also drink a magical “Mouse Hit Points Healing Potion.”

Fig. 2: When the user’s mouse cursor is depleted of clicks, it enters a “sleep” mode to intuitively convey this fact to the user. That’s some top-notch UI / UX there: for intuitive understandability, this is even better than the “flat bar on a door means ‘push’, curved handle means ‘pull’.” Remember to properly cite this worst plan when using this incredible example in future UI books!

This would have the side benefit of throttling heavy computer use, and might reduce the number of repetitive stress injuries.

There is no reason to limit this “video game leveling” system to just the mouse: common keyboard shortcuts could also be rate-limited by “cooldowns” (Figure 3), just as special abilities are in games.

Fig. 3: The user will need to wait another 24 seconds before the “copy” shortcut is off cooldown and can be used again.

Conclusion:

There are a nearly unlimited number of ways that these mechanics could be applied to a UI. For example, scrolling on a phone could consume “scrolling energy,“ or a user might need to level up their window manager before they can show more than (say) two browser windows at the same time. Individual keys on the keyboard could also be rationed this way: for example, typing a “Z” might consume 10 units of “keyboard energy,” while an “E” is just one unit.

PROS: Encourages more thoughtful use of clicks and keyboard shortcuts. No more taking the mouse pointer for granted! May reduce repetitive stress injuries.

CONS: Might be difficult to properly balance for optimum user enjoyment.

Video conferencing in the English language is severely lacking in terminology: adopt “theirmute” and “yourmute” to avoid future confusion!

Background:

Video chat is now relatively widespread. Frequently, people on a chat will be muted and/or have their video off.

The Issue:

The terminology for “a person is muted” is straightforward: “muted.” However, English currently lacks short terms for “I am muted” versus “I have the audio turned off for the remote speaker.”

Additionally, there is (surprisingly) no good word that means the opposite of “muted.” “I’m muted” versus “my… audio is on? My mic is on?”

Observe the following the four video/audio settings:

  • Audio OFF (Yours): “I’m muted.”
  • Audio ON (Yours):  “I’m not muted.” or “My… mic is on.”
  • Video OFF (Yours): “My video is off.”
  • Video ON (Yours): “My video is on.”

Only the first one (“mute”) has an acceptable short word. This is a serious deficiency!

Fig. 1: The standard mic/mute/audio/video icons are also a mess. Whose audio is even on here? Is the other person’s mic on? Are you muted? Did you just turn your own speakers off? Who knows!

Proposal:

We need four short words to account for the different situations of video/audio settings for both the local and remote speaker.

Perhaps we could use these:

  • Audio OFF (Yours): “I’m muted.”
  • Audio ON (Yours):  “I’m miconed.” (From “mic on” + “-ed”)
  • Video OFF (Yours): “I’m vicoved.” (Short for “video is covered.”)
  • Video ON (Yours): “I’m vidon.” (Short for “video on.”)

See Figure 2 for a list of possible alternative terminology that also distinguishes who has the audio/video off.

Fig. 2: This terminology should make things much clearer!

Conclusion:

We can remove a few words from the English language to make room for these new ones that are more applicable to the modern world. On the dictionary chopping block: “scrimshaw,” “puce,” “widdershins,” and “gnomon.” Better use those words while you can, before they are removed to make room for “yourmute” and “theirmute!”

PROS: Adds new and useful words to the English language and optimizes the teleconferencing experience.

CONS: None!

Streamline the restaurant-dining process with the new labor saving “chicken hat” ordering system!

Background:

When people go out to restaurants in groups, it can be hard for a waiter to keep their order straight: there might be a dozen people at a table, all with slightly-different (yet easily confused) orders.

The Issue:

Normally, it’s easy to fix a dish that was given to the wrong person—just swap it with the correct one. But sometimes it isn’t obvious what’s in each dish: one might have peanut sauce or just a few pine nuts in it.

It would be easy to forget this detail during a busy dinner hour, but this could cause a calamity if the restaurant patron is allergic to the substance in question.

And even in the best-case scenario, it’s always going to take a bit of extra time at a large table for a waiter to remember who ordered what.

Proposal:

When a person makes an order at an especially fancy restaurant (say, ones with at least one Michelin star rating), they should be given a distinctive piece of headwear to wear until their dish arrives (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: We don’t need to guess what this restaurant patron ordered—they clearly ordered the octopus appetizer.

This headwear serves two purposes (besides looking fashionable): 1) it lets the waiters tell, at a glance, who is still waiting on food, and 2) it prevents the wrong-dish-to-the-wrong-person faux pas describes above.

As a bonus, restaurants could even cut out the entire ordering process this way—if a person already knows what they want to order, they could just put on the correct hat (presumably hats would be provided on a rack at the entrance). This would save even more time and add more efficiency to the overall national labor force.

Restaurants could even offer these hats for sale (Figure 2)—this would serve the dual purpose of streamlining orders and advertising for the restaurant at the same time.

Fig. 2: This chicken hat serves two purposes: 1) it indicates that the restaurant-goer wants to order a chicken sandwich, and 2) it provides advertising for the restaurant when the hat-owner wears the hat elsewhere.

Conclusion:

Restaurants are a low-margin business that can always use some extra help: this would be a great way to make more efficient use of labor and increase customer satisfaction at the same time.

PROS: Decreases the amount of time spent waiting tables and decreases the chance of a customer getting the wrong order.

CONS: It might be difficult to distinguish between the hats for foods that are similar except for preparation (e.g. “steak, medium” and “steak, rare”). Unclear how allergies would be indicated.

Cheat at golf with this new fashionable “projector hat” decoy golf ball headwear! Consult your haberdasher/milliner today!

Background:

In golf, a player must find their golf ball within a certain time limit. According to U.S. Golf Association “Rule 18.2,” this is 3 minutes: after that, a one-stroke penalty is levied.

Proposal:

A golf ball that lands in a “normal” spot on a course (i.e. not way out in the tall grass) is usually easy to spot, so it’s unlikely that a player would require 3 or more minutes in order to find their ball.

Unless, of course, there were dozens of (what appears to be) decoy golf balls strewn about the course: then, a player might consume all of their time walking around the course checking each decoy ball before they find the real one.

Since it’s not considered acceptable for a golfer to just dump a box of, say, 100 actual decoy golf balls on the course, we will use a projector-based system instead (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Left: in normal situations, a golf ball that lands on the fairway is easy to spot. Right: the cheating player (A) is wearing a hat with some high-intensity projectors on it. The projectors project a set of bright golf-ball-sized circles onto the grass (B and C) that hopefully look reasonably close to an actual golf ball, at least at a distance.

A golf-cheating projector hat concept is shown in Figure 2. Essentially, it’s a set of extremely bright flashlights on articulated robotic arms, which can swivel so that each flashlight continues to point at its projected “golf ball” decoy even if the cheating golfer turns their head.

Fig. 2: Each of these flashlights (on “Inspector Gadget” / “Doctor Octopus (Ph.D.)”–style robot arms) can project a single decoy golf ball image. The hat is both functional and fashionable. Since it’s a top hat, people might also assume that the wearer is extremely classy Old Money and would definitely be above cheating in golf.

Conclusion:

Keep your eyes out in professional golf tournaments: this technology might be adopted sooner than you’d think!

PROS: Brings a new level of underhanded bad-sportsmanship to an activity that has very few ways for players to directly feud.

CONS: Since it’s impossible to get a white (golf-ball-colored) reflection by projecting a light onto a green surface, these decoy images might not be sufficiently convincing to consume three entire minutes of golf-ball–search time.

Is heating/cooling your home too expensive? Are you regretting that “open floor plan” home layout? These eco-friendly “vacuum cubes” can save the day!

Background:

Back in the days when fireplaces were a common method of heating a home, houses typically consisted of a number of smaller rooms with doors between them. However, modern homes tend to have open floor plans with large rooms that cannot be sealed off by doors.

The Issue:

In the open-floor-plan home-design world, heating and cooling a home requires changing the temperature of a large volume of space (Fig. 1). This can be unnecessarily expensive.

Fig. 1: In this large room, hot air comes out of the vents on the left side. Unfortunately, the areas away from the vents (right side) tend to remain cold. Even if these areas eventually warm up, it 1) takes a long time and 2) is more expensive than heating up a smaller room would have been.

Proposal:

We can fix this “room is too large to heat/cool” problem without requiring architectural changes. Instead, the homeowner just buys a few enormous plastic cubes with a near-vacuum inside and places these in their house (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: This enormous cube (right) has a near-vacuum inside. As a result, there’s no material to heat or cool: it’s just a “free” space where the temperature is identical to its surroundings. As a bonus, the vacuum is a great insulator!

Thanks to these “vacuum cubes,” a homeowner can heat a cavernous mansion for the same cost as heating a tiny cottage (Fig. 3)!

Fig. 3: Compare the regular room (left) with the “vacuum cube”–enhanced room (right). The normal room requires its entire volume to be heated (A), while the cube room can focus on heating the useful area (B) and leave the uninhabited space (C) at a cool temperature.

Conclusion:

This is a highly practical and eco-friendly addition to any modern home. Plus, if you don’t need these cubes year-round, you can just collapse them and store them in a closet or something!

PROS: Extremely eco-friendly solution to expensive heating and cooling woes.

CONS: The cube would need to be a strong material in order to resist being crushed by atmospheric pressure, so these might be impractically heavy. Maybe an air-only inflatable version would work.

Manage your email with “Inbox negative one,” the new even-more-proactive solution to wrangling lots of messages. An incredible productivity tip for the truly competent manager.

Background:

People frequently feel overwhelmed by a large quantity of emails that they feel obligated to respond to. As these messages pile up, the recipient tends to become increasingly stressed.

One email-management philosophy for mitigating this problem is known as “Inbox Zero”: it’s basically a system that suggests periodically wrangling emails in a systematic fashion. (It is not, contrary to what it sounds like from the name, just another term for having zero unread emails.)

Proposal:

But perhaps we can do better than “Inbox Zero”—instead of just handling all existing emails, what if we also got ahead of the email game by speculatively drafting replies to possible future emails?

This is the philosophy of “Inbox Negative One.” A user must simply do the following:

  • Somehow, handle all of their existing unread emails. Just deleting them all (“email bankruptcy”) is allowed in this harsh philosophy.
  • Next, speculatively draft some new email replies to various topics (real or imagined).
  • When the user gets an email that they need to spend more than a few minutes replying to, instead, they just immediately send one of these pre-drafted emails on a random irrelevant topic (Figures 1 & 2).
Fig. 1: Top left: the “email” icon shows 146 unread emails in a harsh retina-searing crimson. Bottom left: the soothing neutral tone of the “0” brings tranquility to the user who has no unread messages. Yet we can improve this further (right): the negative one indicates that the user has pre-loaded one email into their stockpile of pre-written emails.

The pre-drafted emails in question need not be relevant to the topic at hand: the only important thing is that they contain a delightful “personal touch”: perhaps they could contain a poem, or a piece of abstract art (Figure 2), or musings on the Hundred Years’ War.

Fig. 2: This pre-drafted email contains a soulful piece of non-representational art. If a user gets an email like “last notice: car will be towed tomorrow!!!” , they can send this email in response, rather than stressing out about writing an email reply to such a concern-inducing topic.

Conclusion:

This is probably the future of email. You should request that your favorite email provider add this “pre-loading email” functionality to their service (or perhaps you could write a plugin to handle it yourself).

PROS: Reduces stress among everyone who has to deal with email, which is almost everyone these days.

CONS: Manufacturers of anxiety-treatment medication might try to suppress this system, since it would bring tranquility to many of their stressed customers. Don’t let Big Pharma bury this incredible email technique! Note: if you work for Big Pharma and would like to buy the rights to this idea, please contact me.

Save heating / cooling costs by instead constantly painting and repainting your roof white and black, as the seasons change! Results in full employment for house painters, too.

Background:

In temperate latitudes, people frequently heat their homes in winter and cool their homes in summer.

The Issue:

The main source of heat is the Sun. So in the hot summer, a homeowner would want their roof & sun-facing walls to be reflective. But in the winter, they’d want the opposite—the roof should ideally absorb all of the Sun’s energy.

Proposal:

In order to solve this home-temperature-adjustment problem while also providing new sources of income for house painters, the following twice-annual chore is proposed:

  • On the exact middle day of spring, homeowners paint their roof (and any walls that get direct sunlight) a bright white or silver (Figure 1).
Fig. 1: The reflective paint helps keep interior temperatures down in the summer. This can make the house more pleasant inside and may save on air-conditioning costs as well.
  • On the exact middle day of fall, homeowners paint their roof (and any walls that get direct sunlight) with a matte black paint (Figure 2).
Fig. 2: This dark roof absorbs more solar energy and helps heat the home in winter.

Easy Solution for Hot / Cold Climates:

If it’s always hot, just paint the roof bright white / silver. And if you live in a polar region, just paint the roof black no matter what. No need for seasonal repainting!

Conclusion:

Although the exact degree to which this would help is a bit unclear, cursory searching online reveals some experiments in which a white and black car were left in the same parking lot, and the white car was ~110ºF while the black one got to ~130ºF. A mirrored car might have stayed even cooler!

PROS: This might actually work!

CONS: Roof maintenance is a dangerous job, so the additional man-hours spent painting- and re-painting roofs would probably lead to a bunch of extra falling-off-roof injuries every year.

People who work remotely will soon be managed using this incredible animal training trick! It’s good enough for orcas, so it should be good enough for office workers!

Background:

One popular animal-training technique is to give the animal (such as the killer whale in Fig. 1) a small reward immediately after it accomplishes a task.


Fig. 1:
After this orca completes a task, it’s given a fish as a reward. This classic animal-training technique encourages the whale to complete more tasks in the future.

Proposal:

Strangely, this approach—frequently-dispensed minor rewards—has rarely been attempted for humans.

But with the increasing rate of remote work and the implementation of the dystopian surveillance state from the novel 1984, it should now be technically feasible to use the orca-training method above on office workers as well (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: After this office worker completes a task (e.g. replies to an email / creates a spreadsheet / fills out a time card), the camera-and-computer-based surveillance system will notify the worker’s manager. The manager may then push a button to dispense a fish as a reward (top right of figure), thus encouraging this employee to continue to work diligently.

Since the fish-dispensing corporate office has full access to the employee’s use of the computer, they could install a piece of software that would tally up some sort of (highly-gameable) metric of “total work done”: perhaps “number of clicks in a document” or “number of times the space bar was pressed.

The software would then automatically dispense a fish after each threshold was met (such as “1000 words typed” or “2 emails sent”).

Conclusion:

This is probably the future of remote office work. Embrace it! The details of the fish delivery system are left as an exercise to the reader.

PROS: Encourages good habits in remote workers and provides valuable fish-based nutrients to employees, thus increasing overall health and potentially reducing the company’s health insurance premiums.

CONS: It’s possible that some highly negative employees—who aren’t “team players”—would think this system was dehumanizing and degrading. No fish for them!!!

Add a new car turn signal for “continuing straight ahead”—why does this not already exist? A simple update to your car’s “CHMSL” (which is apparently a thing it has).

Background:

Drivers can signal their intent to turn or change lanes by using their turn signals (A.K.A. “blinkers”). Currently, a driver can express two concepts with these signals:

  1. “Left”
  2. “Right”

The Issue:

Sometimes, a driver’s might want to express a third concept:

  1. “Not turning” / “Continuing straight ahead”

Proposal:

The left and right brake lights are both accompanied by a yellow “turn” light and white “reverse” light.

But there’s a third brake light, too—in American passenger cars manufactured after 1986, cars have a centrally-positioned elevated brake light with the easy-to-remember name “center high mount stop lamp (CHMSL).” (This light is believed to prevent about 1 in 25 collisions that otherwise would have occurred. Not bad!)

Unlike the other brake lights, this center light is completely alone, thus presenting the opportunity to add a yellow “go straight” light to this center light (Figure 1).

Fig 1: With this third “turn” signal, located above the previously-described “CHMSL,” the driver can now explicitly indicate that they are not turning. Amazing!

Future Work:

It’s not obvious how a driver would activate the “not turning” signal. Intuitively, one might suppose they could push the turn signal stalk (lever) forward, but usually this has been repurposed for wipers / cruise control / high beams.

Based on the 2015–2020 trend of car user interface changes, I suspect the UI / UX designers will put the control on a touchscreen button a few levels deep in a menu. Drivers are (apparently) believed to love that sort of touchscreen-only interface—it’s so clean, with no distracting controls ruining the sleek lines of the dashboard!

PROS: Adds new signaling options, thus bringing a richer driving experience to car aficionados everywhere.

CONS: This idea might be totally pointless—is there any situation (even a contrived one) where a driver would actually want to convey “not turning”?

Cross-reference: this idea is related to June 8, 2015’s proposal to distinguish between turn signals and hazard lights in certain conditions.