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Erase all of written history to hide our shameful alphabet-based mistakes from the future! After reading this, you will think Fahrenheit 451 is an instruction manual.

The issue:

Latin-based writing systems—like the one your’e reading right now—have a serious problem: many letters and numbers look exactly the same!

The most obvious example (Figure 1) is probably “l” (lower-case “L”) and “I” (upper-case “i”).

Benefits:

Fixing these duplicated symbols, perhaps with the proposed new symbols in Figure 3, has a number of benefits:

  • For everyone: Prevents confusion when you wrote down someone’s email address and now can’t figure out if you wrote down a “9” or a “g.”
  • For everyone: Prevents people from trying to scam you with a fake email address from “admin@C0MPANY.COM.”
  • For people who witness vehicular crimes: Makes it easier to tell if a license plate is something like “9901IQ” or “GGO1I0.”
  • For Internet users: Prevents from picking identical-looking usernames to troll you.
  • For programmers: helps avoid errors when programming (is that variable a lower-case “L,” or is it a capital “i”).

 

 

ambiguous-1-or-L

Fig. 1: These three extremely common symbols all look identical in many fonts and styles of handwriting. Bottom: an unambiguous form of that symbol. Top: a common way of writing the symbol shown on the bottom.

 

 

ambiguous-part-2

Fig. 2: A more comprehensive list of letters that are potentially confusable (although they may have subtle distinctions). The “0” and “O” and “9 / g” are probably the next-worst offenders, after the 1/I/l triplet described in Figure 1. The “7 vs 1” confusion is regional; in some European countries: the “1” is more often written with a substantial diagonal stroke, which makes the 7’s cross-bar more important. In America, the 7 is rarely written with a cross-bar, since the 1 usually has only a minor (or nonexistent) diagonal stroke.

ambiguous-letters-fixed

Fig. 3: A comprehensive proposal for replacing potentially-ambiguous symbols, with examples.

 

PROS: Helps avoid many common errors! Maybe helps dyslexics? In order to gain traction for this plan, we shall claim that it does, without any evidence.

CONS: Requires that all old books be burned and old monuments be reduced to rubble, so no one is confused by the old letters.

Easily determine whether you can get a seat at a trendy coffee shop, even when it’s completely packed with people using laptops! All thanks to the “this seat is free” sign.

Background:

Do you own a crowded coffee shop? No? Well, you should remedy that, and then read on!

The issue:

In large cities, coffee shops are often entirely occupied by people doing work on their laptops.

Coffee shops have come up with various strategies for dealing with the pros and cons of being a low-cost “co-working space,” but it’s often a problem for people who just want to sit down: a laptop-using individual with an external mouse and some notes can easily occupy an entire four-seat table, while only using one chair and ~50–75% of the actual table area.

There’s enough remaining room for two additional people to have coffee at that table without impacting the laptop user!

Proposal:

The easy solution is to have a set of “this seat / this part of the table is open, please feel free to use it!” signs at the front of the cafe (Figure 1).

A patron who only anticipates using 50% of a table could take one of these signs and put it on the unused section of their table (even if there isn’t room for a second laptop).

 

seat-not-taken

Fig. 1: If you are using only part of a table (and don’t mind if someone uses the rest of the table), you can put a “THIS SEAT IS OPEN” sign on the other side of the table.

Conclusion:

This would be really cheap to implement and doesn’t really have any downsides.

One objection is: “couldn’t patrons also accomplish this by asking if the laptop-user minds if they sit down?” Answer: yes, but that is irrelevant from the cafe owner’s perspective, since people tend to assume a no-tables-remaining cafe is FULL. Even if they “should” have just asked around, it still results in lost business for the cafe owner.

PROS: Could increase the effective number of seats in a cafe without requiring more space or furniture.

CONS: Maybe weirdos would use these signs as a way to try to lure other coffeeshop patrons into sharing a table with them, so they could then subject them to annoying and unwanted conversation.

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.

 

 

 

00-SnakesByMail_fixed_transparency

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As an audience member: Never be bored in a meeting or lecture again! As a presenter: Never wonder when to advance to the next slide again, all thanks to this one incredible PRESENTATION SLIDE DECK APP!

The issue:

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell how quickly to go through a presentation. Too fast, and the topics might not be covered in enough detail. Too slow, and everyone gets bored.

Proposal:

Normally, the ability to advance slides is reserved only for the person who is giving the presentation.

But here, the audience members also have the ability to vote on whether or not to advance the current slide early (Figure 1).

Specifically:

  1. Members of the audience have a phone app (or connect to a web site) with a giant “SKIP CURRENT SLIDE” button on it.
  2. If enough audience members press the “SKIP” button, the slide advances to the next one.
  3. The presenter cannot go back to a skipped slide.

Fig. 1: Top: The presentation screen. Bottom: three phones of audience members. The phone app simply consists of a single “SKIP” button (the arrow at the bottom), which becomes a checkmark when the user has voted to skip the slide. When enough users have pressed the “SKIP” button, the slide automatically advanced, regardless of the wishes of the person giving the presentation.

PROS: Makes meetings interactive! Prevents the audience from getting bored.

CONS: May make it TOO easy for your corporate rivals to sabotage your presentations by skipping your slides at random times.

After this bad driver rudely cut you off in traffic, YOU’LL NEVER BELIEVE what happened next with a laser that caused them to repent their wicked ways.

The issue:

Sometimes, drivers are terrible (Figure 1).

But there unfortunately does not exist any practical and useful way to accomplish the following:

  1. Let these drivers know that they have committed a traffic infraction
  2. Warn other drivers to watch out for these terrible drivers.
bad-driver

Fig. 1: The blue car in this example is randomly weaving in and out of traffic, and is generally being a terrible driver.

Proposal:

This plan has two parts, shown in Figure 2:

1) Every car must be painted with a special photo-reactive paint, which will (temporarily) change color when exposed to a specific frequency of light.

2) Every car ALSO must have a laser gun mounted on it somewhere (for example, on the roof or on the hood).

Then, whenever you see a bad driver, you simply point the laser at their car, and it fires a beam that changes the target car’s paint color (Figure 3), letting other drivers know that that car displeased you in some way.

bad-driver-lasers-1

Fig. 2: When a bad driver annoys you, you can just pull out your car laser and “paint” their car with bad-driving photon energy.

 

bad-driver-lasers-2

Fig. 3: After being hit by the bad-driving lasers, the blue car’s paint is now a bright orange, lettering future drivers know to steer clear of this car, and letting the driver (or perhaps their parents, for student drivers) know that they committed some sort of traffic infraction.

Conclusion:

This would remove the need for the DMV, traffic enforcement, and traffic signs, thus saving countless dollars every year.

PROS: Saves a ton of money, works well for everyone.

CONS: The laser might cause blindness, which could be remedied by modifying every car to have special window glass that absorbed that laser’s frequency. Additionally, pedestrians could wear sunglasses, so really there is no downside.

Don’t get too excited, but it’s YET ANOTHER idea about stop signs! Maybe this blog should be renamed “Worst Traffic Signage Proposals.”

 

Background:

When a driver comes to a stop sign, they don’t intuitively know whether it is a two-way or an all-way stop. The difference is important, because a lot more diligence is required at an intersection where cross traffic does not stop.

The issue:

See Figure 1: if you add a bunch of trees, parked cars, buildings, and other visual obstructions, it can be very difficult to determine whether the other cross streets have stop signs or not.

stop-1

Fig. 1: In this bleak gray-and-white plain, it’s easy to tell that the cross traffic does not stop, but in reality there will be a number of trees / cars / buildings that obstruct the driver’s view.

Proposal:

Lanes of traffic that specifically do NOT stop could be marked with lines on the ground (see Figure 2), similar to a crosswalk.

stop-2-green-markings

Fig. 2: This green arrow (which extends through the intersection, as seen above) is a visual indicator to inform drivers that cross traffic does not stop.

The only downside to this would be that people might start to assume that the lack of lines would mean “cross traffic DOES stop.” In that case, an alternative formulation could be made where the lanes that do stop are specifically marked ini an obvious fashion (see Figure 3). (Although existing intersections do occasionally have a white line and the word “STOP” painted on them, this marking is very inconsistent and is not at all visually obvious).

stop-3-blue

Fig. 3: A) In order to prevent drivers from relying too much on “lack of any marking = cross traffic DOES stop,” we could invert the scenario and explicitly mark the lanes of traffic that WILL stop (orange dots here). B) The blue arrow is another possible example of a more aggressively obvious pattern to indicate lack of traffic stopping.

Conclusion:

You should buy some stock in companies that sell road-suitable paint, and then propose this idea as an amendment to your state’s constitution (assuming that is a possibility).

PROS: May reduce accidents at two-way-stops-misinterpreted-as-four-way-stops, which might be a major cause of residential car crashes (probably someone knows this, but not me).

CONS: Doesn’t work very well when there is snow on the roadway. Additionally, paint requires substantial maintenance to keep visible; roads might need to be repainted a lot more often, for unclear benefit.

You’ll never believe this new UN-FALSIFIABLE method for showing off your wealth and privilege! The common people hate it!

Background:

Many years ago, only the elite members of society were literate.

In some places, it was even ILLEGAL for commoners / peasants / slaves to be literate, for example:

Proposal:

Now that we are allegedly in a more enlightened era, there is no way to use the alphabet itself to distinguish commoners from nobility.

But in this proposal, a new “rich people only” alphabet is created, and the top 1% of each nation’s wealthiest individuals are automatically granted a license to use it (see Figure 1). These letters are forbidden to the common peasantry, and use of these letters by non-authorized individuals, either in handwriting or as a font, would be extremely illegal.

 

rockefeller-full-text

Fig. 1: In this new proposal, the top “high status” alphabet may ONLY be used by extremely wealthy individuals, as measured by their official tax returns. Previously, an incredibly rich oil baron (for example, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_D._Rockefeller ) would have no way to distinguish his own name from that of a common worker with the same name—but in the new system, the “high status” letters make the distinction clear. This is similar in concept to the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyph “cartouche,” which is an oval that is drawn exclusively around names of royalty.

Since the letters in this proposal are so similar to existing English letters (see Figure 2), no additional education is necessary! Just install the font, and you’re good to go, provided you meet the stringent total wealth requirements (approximately $9,000,000 U.S. dollars for United States residents).

alphabet-compare

Fig. 2: Top: sample letters A through J from the “commoner” alphabet that you, a commoner, are already familiar with. Bottom: matching letters from the extremely sophisticated “high status” alphabet.

Conclusion:

If you are starting a utopian community on an oil platform in the sea, you should consider implementing this proposal!

PROS: Would encourage extremely rich people to file accurate tax returns, so they could secure their ability to use this exclusive font. Would streamline the process of arresting subversive individuals: the secret police could simply plant this font on the targeted individual’s computer.

CONS: None!

 

fancy-alphabet

Supplemental Figure A: A complete “sophisticated” alphabet, upper-case letters only.

 

cartouche_wikipedia

Supplemental Figure B:  The closest historical example to this proposal is the Ancient Egyptian “cartouche,” seen above in the corresponding Wikipedia entry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartouche).