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Video chat’s next major feature: physical positioning of participants (“mingle at a party” options) to allow a huge chat to be split into manageable groups!

Background:

With the 2020 COVID plague, work-related video chats have become increasingly full of a large number of participants (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Video chat software (e.g. Zoom, FaceTime, Hangouts, Meet, Duo, Skype, and more) typically only allows participants to appear in a randomly-ordered grid. All participants are part of the same (single) discussion: there is no easy way to have a “side discussion” and then rejoin the main conversation.

The issue:

Video chats have a problem that in-person office work does not: there is no convenient way for participants of an unreasonably-large video chat group to split off into subgroups.

Instead, every discussion must take place in a SINGLE mega-discussion with all participants, or people need to leave the mega-discussion and start their own exclusive video chat groups. People often get around this by having side discussions over text, but that’s not really a great solution either.

Proposal:

In a physical workspace, it’s easy to have a small discussion: simply PHYSICALLY relocate the individuals in the conversation to an empty lunchroom table or meeting room.

To improve video chat, we simply implement the same feature: instead of each video participant just being a randomly-placed square in a grid, now each participant can also specify their location on a virtual floor plan (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: Left: the old-fashioned style of video chat. Right: the updated video chat, where you can only hear and see participants who are in close physical proximity. In this case, the chat has split into groups A, B, and C (shown here from the perspective of a person in Group B). Everyone in Group B has a normal video chat, but can only faintly hear low-audio-volume chats going on in groups A and C.

Importantly, it’s still possible to see and hear people who are somewhat nearby on the floor plan, but at a very low volume. So you can know that a conversation is going on, and join in if necessary, but it won’t drown out your primary discussion.

Previous Examples:

Some video games implement a system like this (“proximity audio”), in which you can hear voice chat only from nearby players. However, as far as I am aware, this has never been a feature in any office-focused collaboration software.

PROS: This seems like it should actually exist! Maybe it hasn’t been developed before due to the lack of compelling business case for having large numbers of people on video calls.

CONS: Might lead to a tyrannically oppressive workplace in which work-from-home employees are mandated to always be available on video chat and present on a virtual floor plan.

Golf clubs are now obsolete: this bike-pump-based “air pressure golf cannon” system promotes the sport to a new level of precision and accuracy!

Background:

A successful game of golf is heavily dependent on the technical execution of the golf swing.

The issue:

It is possible to imagine many games that are similar to “golf,” except that they do not use a golf club to drive the ball (perhaps “frisbee™ golf” is the most well-known existing example, although it does not use a golf ball).

Proposal:

Let’s imagine a bare-bones version of “artillery / cannon golf” with only the following two elements:

  1. Select a force to apply to the golf ball…
  2. …and select the direction to apply this force.

(This is the approach seen in most video game implementations of golf, since pre-2000 controllers had no satisfactory way of approximating a golf swing.)

Figure 2 details a method of implementing this abstracted “cannon golf.”

Fig. 1: A bike pump (A) supplies pressure to the air cannon, which can be tilted in various precisely-measured directions (B). A trigger at (C) releases the air into the cannon, propelling the standard golf ball (D) into the air.

The advantage of this system is that it allows a “cannon golf” player to understand the theory of golf without requiring strength or technical execution skills: the required abilities are instead 1) an understanding of trajectories, 2) accurate evaluation of distance, and 3) an understanding of the effects of the current wind direction(s).

Figure 2 shows a mockup of what “cannon golf” might look like on a golf course.

Fig. 2: The application of the “golf cannon” (shown at position A) might look something like this. This particular trajectory seems to have been chosen poorly, and is likely to land the ball in a sand trap or water hazard.

PROS: Could increase the number of people interested in golf-related activities, thus opening up new revenue streams for golf courses and golf instructors.

CONS: This system might evolve into a computer-controlled cannon that plays the game itself, thus hastening the arrival of human-oppressing robotic overlords.

“Vertical farming” in skyscrapers might be the next trend in locally-grown food, but wait until you hear about HORIZONTAL farming!

Background:

Recently, there has been discussion around the futuristic concept of “vertical farming”: growing crops in skyscraper-style greenhouses in city centers.

The issue:

Although there are many conceptual advantages to such a farm, there is at least one major difficulty: light. Obviously, only the topmost layer of a vertical farm would be practical to light with sunlight (Figure 1): lower layers would need to be lit with high-efficiency narrow-spectral-band LED lighting.

Fig. 1: This vertical farm (right) has a major downside: there’s really only one “floor” worth of sunlight, so it’s impractical to use sunlight for crop growth. Although LED lights can be extremely efficient, the power requirements of a large-scale vertical farm would be substantial.

Proposal:

The “horizontal farm” is the best of both worlds: a structure that can fit in the footprint of a single office building, yet is capable of harnessing sunlight from dozens of adjacent city blocks.

The horizontal farm building is designed as follows: it consists of a vertical stack of floors, just like a traditional skyscraper. However, the floors are not directly connected to each other: instead, they hang from two vertical rails that can pivot to a horizontal orientation.

When the rails begin rotating to the horizontal position (Figure 2), each “farm floor” pivots in the opposite direction, thus maintaining a horizontal orientation at all times.


Fig. 2: Each floor on this vertical farm is mounted on an enormous central pivot point. The building can be slowly turned from a vertical to a horizontal orientation. Now the plants can directly use the sun, cutting out the LED lighting middle-man!

Conclusion:

This bold new architectural design could be the future of locally-grown food!

PROS: Allows farming to harness the power of the sun directly, with no intermediate energy conversion (to LED lighting) required! Also has the advantage of providing valuable shade to city-dwellers who might otherwise get sunburns.

CONS: None!

After fixing your home (thanks to this tip) you need no longer fear accidental “French Revolution”-style decapitation in your kitchen!

Background:

Most kitchens contain a countertop and overhead cabinets. The doors on these cabinets generally swing open.

The issue:

An unlucky individual may stand up underneath one of these open cabinet doors and injure themselves on the edge.

Although this situation may seem unlikely, it can arise when a person bends over to pick up something that has fallen onto the kitchen floor (Figure 1).


Fig. 1: This hapless kitchen dweller has forgotten that the kitchen cabinet is open, and has stood up directly into it. Ouch!

Proposal:

A few potential fixes are immediately obvious:

  1. Cabinet doors could be removed entirely. They are generally only there for aesthetic purposes anyway!
  2. Sliding doors could be used. However, this usually means that only half of the cabinets can be open at one time, and sliding doors have their own issues.
  3. The edges of each cabinet door could be padded with foam. This would reduce cabinet-collision injury.
  4. Each cabinet door could be constructed out of gingerbread, so that it would safely crumble away upon contact with a person’s head.

Each of these fixes has some downsides. But the ultimate solution is both durable and visually indistinguishable from a regular cabinet: a “multi-panel safety door” in which multiple pieces of wood are loosely connected by springs (Figure 2).

If a person hits their head one one of the panels, they’ll just feel a slight amount of force as the spring compresses (and the piece of wood is pushed out of the way).


Fig. 2: A) The “multi-panel ‘safety’ door” is outwardly identical to a regular cabinet door. B) This “X-ray” view of the safety door shows that it is actually four separate pieces connected by springs: a “primary” part in the top left (red / brown) and three separate wooden edge pieces (blue and green). These edge pieces are loosely connected: if a person hits their head on the edge, the force will compress the springs a bit (and the edge piece will move inward), but the person will not be decapitated.

Conclusion:

After I patent this idea, you should amend your city’s residential building code to mandate this style of cabinet door. It’s the only safe option!

PROS: Reduces accidental kitchen decapitations, thus saving health care costs.

CONS: These complicated doors would probably require occasional maintenance.

Never be concerned whether or not your household electronics are spying on you! This new repurposing of the “ON AIR” sign will save you from fretting!

Background:

It seems that nearly every electronic device with a camera or microphone is now Internet-enabled and can wirelessly send video and audio to the world.

The issue:

Due to the preponderance of electronic hardware in a modern household, it can be difficult which (if any) device is spying on you at that exact moment (Figure 1).

This is a relatively new phenomenon, since it used to be the case that:

  1. Cameras were relatively large
  2. Non-CIA recording devices generally needed to be physically wired to a power source and network cable.

Fig. 1: One of these devices is currently streaming video from the user’s house—but which one? Video-enabled devices sometimes have a recording light (but not always: e.g. phones, tablets), but checking these lights is still annoying and time-consuming. And audio recording generally has no indication whatsoever!

Proposal:

The classic solution to the “are we recording right now?” question is a lit-up “ON AIR” sign [see examples] that can light up whenever a TV station is broadcasting.

This same concept can be applied to modern devices: a person would buy a new piece of “ON AIR” hardware (this would essentially just be a WiFi-enabled screen). This ON AIR sign would connect to the household WiFi network light up any time it detected video being sent out to the Internet.

Detecting that streaming is happening could occur in two ways:

1) Network traffic analysis can generally identify data as “this is a stream of video / audio.” This is a solution that would probably work in most cases.

2) Each video/audio-enabled device can talk to the ON AIR sign over WiFi and notify it that streaming is occurring. This would be on the “honor system”: well-behaved software would periodically report that it was streaming. One benefit of this opt-in method is that streaming devices could send additional metadata: e.g., instead of just “ON AIR (Some computer is sending video),” the user would see “ON AIR (Joe’s PowerBook G4, streaming video over RealPlayer for 4:34)”.


Fig. 2: Thanks to this lit-up “ON AIR” sign, the user knows that there is some device recording them, and exactly which device is responsible (in this case, the “smart television”).

Of course, neither of these methods is a 100% guarantee of detecting live video being streamed: for example, a phone that was using its cellular data to stream would not be detected.

Conclusion:

This could probably be a legitimate product!

PROS: Would be a good value-add option for a router manufacturer. “This router will light up if it detects outgoing video/audio!”

CONS: Might cause the user to become extremely paranoid upon realizing that their watch, tablet, computer, phone, external monitor, fitness tracker, headphones, and dozens of other devices could all be surreptitiously spying at any time.

Don’t stay up too late—keep a responsible and satisfying sleep schedule thanks to a vicious beast that will live in your house!

Background:

Taking a nap in the late afternoon can be a very appealing prospect.

The issue:

Unfortunately, a late-in-the-day nap can easily mess up a person’s sleep schedule, causing them to stay up until 3 AM.

What is needed for most people is some sort of “nap deterrent” that will promote a daylight-hour-compatible sleep schedule. (Individuals who work a night shift can replace “nocturnal” with ”diurnal” in the idea below.)

Proposal:

To promote a nighttime sleep schedule, we obtain a vicious nocturnal animal and train it to sleep on the user’s bed during the day (Figure 1).

The exact method of training this adversarial animal companion is left as an exercise to the reader.

Once the sun sets (and the animal wakes up), the bed will again become appealing for sleeping in.

Fig. 1: Left: this snake (or “danger noodle” as zoologists call it) coils up on the bed during the daytime, making it difficult for anyone else to sleep in the bed. Right: at night, the bed becomes unoccupied and the animal slithers around the house incessantly. As an added bonus, the unsettling slithering could encourage its owner to go to bed rather than stay awake in constant fear.

Details:

Ideally, this animal would be cold-blooded, so as to reduce its feeding requirements and make the whole setup more eco-friendly.

PROS: Helps maintain a schedule that is compatible with standard business hours and the waking hours of most other human beings.

CONS: The same thing might be accomplished by just getting a really angry cat, so it’s hard to see how anyone could make money off this idea.

Will this highly dubious legal loophole allow you to open a casino anywhere? The new “stock market casino” app proposal will amaze you.

Background:

  1. In most regions of the world, gambling is regulated by government bodies.
  2. Unrelatedly, one of the criticisms of the stock market (especially the derivatives market) is that many participants use it exactly like a casino.

Proposal:

In regions where gambling is prohibited, but access to a stock market exists, a stock trading app could be designed that is a thinly-disguised casino.

Instead of playing the slots in a traditional casino, participants in this “stock casino” could spin a wheel to buy random stocks or mysterious financial instruments (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: A user interface mock-up for the proposed “STOCKASINO” app. Note the “PURCHASE RANDOM ‘HOT’ STOCK” button.

Normally, a person who is day-trading stocks might need to wait for weeks in order to realize a substantial profit (or loss). Fortunately, this process can be hastened using leverage, which will allow gains and losses to be multiplied. A user will be able to win big—or lose it all!—on just a 1% price movement of a stock, if they use enough leverage. In this way, a user can win or lose within hours, rather than needing to wait for weeks.

Gamification:

As a secondary bonus feature, we can “gamify” the stock-buying experience in order to encourage more trading activity (i.e. more profit for the operator of the app).

Specifically, we will use the “in-game achievement” system (AKA “badges” or “trophies”) in which users are awarded special app “badges” for particularly noteworthy or dangerous trading-related activities (Figure 2). This could encourage users to make a lot more trades than they otherwise would (and risk a lot more of their savings).

2-stock-casino-achievement-badges

Fig. 2: The app might be able to entice normally-cautious “investors” (we’ll call them that) into dangerous trades by awarding trophies to particularly terrible ideas. My personal favorite is the “QUICK CLIK” badge above (in purple), which is awarded to an investor who purchases a stock within 60 seconds of it first being available.

One complication of this “stock casino” system is that stock markets have limited hours, but we really want to keep the app operational 24 hours a day. A developer would probably need to include stock exchanges in other time zones as well, which increases up-front development complexity.

Conclusion:

Just to be safe, anyone developing this app should do it in close collaboration with (and in the territory of) a nation that does not extradite.

PROS: Great way for a developer to make a profit while promoting financial irresponsibility.

CONS: Probably not a great idea to base your business and future not-being-in-prison status on a highly theoretical “loophole” that may not even exist.

Stop putting off reading of CLASSIC LITERATURE: you can do it without spending any time at all by using one of these new incredible methods! Never fold a paper crane again without learning some classic poem!

The issue:

It’s often hard to get motivated to read a famous work of literature, especially when there are so many other forms of entertainment competing for one’s attention.

Proposal:

Let’s create a situation so that a person can read a book as a “bonus” along with a primary activity that they were already doing.

(Ideally, the primary activity should be something that doesn’t require linguistic processing, since then it would compete for attention with the text of the book.)

Examples:

  1. Jigsaw puzzles in which a book is printed on the individual pieces (Figure 1). This could work well for a novella or a Shakespeare play (which is something that is already commercially available in entire-play-on-one-poster form).
  2. Knitting yarn with a chapter of a book written on each ball of yarn, so you can read War and Peace while you make a scarf. As a bonus, the ink could be water soluble, so when you’re done knitting the scarf, the text washes right off!
  3. Origami paper with famous poetry printed on them. You could read some Robert Frost while folding an origami crane.
  4. A “learn to type” program in which the example sentences are famous quotations. For example: Classic: a book which people praise and don’t read.” – [Mark Twain].

1-book-puzzle.png

Fig. 1: The person solving this jigsaw puzzle will also have the opportunity to read the entirety of “A Tale of Two Cities” (possibly in a very confusing out-of-order fashion).

Conclusion:

It is very surprising, in retrospect, that the 20th-century invention of “popsicle sticks with jokes written on them” did not inspire a more widespread “literature-on-everyday-products” genre.

PROS: Increases appreciation of classic literature.

CONS: May cause existential angst in children who just want to assemble a jigsaw puzzle but end up also reading The Stranger by Camus.

Do any programmers work at your company? Give them the ultimate retirement gift—save all code contributions (e.g. `git` commits) and have them published as a leather bound book!

Background:

Occasionally, people get a gift or memento from a company after working there for a certain period of time, or, sometimes, when their jobs are outsourced to a much cheaper country and everyone is fired.

Proposal:

For programmers, what better way to commemorate their contributions to a company than a log of all their code contributions?

Specifically, the proposal is to collate all of the log messages into a giant bookshelf-worthy tome.

Here, I’m using git as an example (Figure 1), but any version control system with annotation could work (e.g. user comments in Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes”).

1-git-historical-record.png

Fig. 1: Each time user “jsmith44” changed code in a codebase, a line like the ones above was generated. The comments in red are what we’ll be including in the published book. Note that only comments are included—not the actual source code.

All of a user’s contributions to a codebase can be collected by running a simple command (e.g. git publish_book –user=jsmith44 –start 2014 –end 2018). This would generate the raw PDF / ePub / Microsoft Word document that would then be sent off to a print-on-demand printing company to generate a physical book (Figure 2).

2-git-book

Fig. 2: After the code contributions in Figure 1 are printed out, we would end up with a book like this one. For users with particularly extensive “commit” messages, a multi-volume series could be generated.

 

PROS: Makes for a great retirement gift!

CONS: Reading it could cause existential dread, especially if the code was contributed toward an ultimately-failed project.

Increase driving safety AND driving enjoyment with this new speedometer-linked fan system. Ask for—no, DEMAND—this option in your next fine luxury automobile!

Background:

When traveling in a vehicle, a person’s intuitive sense of speed is partly determined by the feeling of air movement.

For example, going at 30 miles per hour on a bike (enclosed cabin: no) may feel faster than going 600 miles per hour in an airplane (enclosed cabin: yes).

The issue:

It’s important for automobile drivers to intuitively understand their speed, especially when driving on slick or windy roads.

But with a properly sound-insulated passenger cabin, it’s easy to ignore the fact that you’re going 70 miles per hour on a highway.

Proposal:

In order to help drivers intuitively understand their current speed, a fan should be added to the dashboard in order to blow air on the driver’s face.

This fan would be synchronized with the speedometer: more speed equals more airflow, thus resulting in intuitive “feeling” of car speed (Figure 1).

 

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Fig. 1: A fan mounted on the car dashboard would allow the driver to get an intuitive understanding of speed based on the sensation of airflow.

This system is basically a just a more complicated version of sticking your head out the car window.

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Fig. 2: Increased driving speed translates into higher fan speed. Fan is not to scale.

Fan Implementation Option #2:

The car’s existing climate control system could be used, instead of requiring an additional fan. The only downside here is that the car’s normal fans are probably not sufficient to fully convey the speed of highway driving. But on the plus side, this could be implemented entirely in software!

Fan Implementation Option #3:

The fan could be replaced by a simple duct leading from the outside of the car, which would direct outside air directly into the driver’s face. This has a few downsides, such as the possibility of venting ice-cold air or swarms of insects directly into the driver’s face, which may negatively impact driving safety.

Conclusion:

“Implementation option #2” could probably be an actual product. Not sure if it would run afoul of any automotive safety regulations, though!

PROS: May cause people to once again buy driving goggles, thus revitalizing a neglected manufacturing industry.

CONS: None! Only upsides found here.