Bring a new eco-friendliness to any navy with a cheap retrofit for any submarine: introducing the wind-powered “sail-ubmarine.”

Background:

Imagine a boat: but someone added a canopy, and now it travels underwater (Fig. 1). Now you’ve got a submarine! That’s all the background you need. (Actual submarine construction may be somewhat more complicated.)

Fig. 1: Resembling a “submarine sandwich,” this nautical vessel travels underwater and is used to help in our fight against giant squids, electric eels, and other terrors of the deep.

The Issue:

There has been interest lately in putting sails on oceangoing vessels again: this is proposed as a cheap (but somewhat mechanically complicated) way to increase fuel efficiency.

Unfortunately, because a submarine is UNDER the water, there’s no way for it to easily benefit from new sail technology.

Proposal:

The fix here is easy: the submarine can deploy a kite-like sail that can pull it through the water (Fig 2).

It might also be possible to deploy a sail on an extremely tall retractable persicope-style mast.

This would be a great way of increasing the fuel efficiency of non-nuclear submarines and would serve as a safety feature, notifying other vessels in the area that they should watch out for a submarine (which could help avoid a repeat of this 2001 submarine-sinking-a-boat incident).

Fig. 2: This simple addition could help increase the fuel efficiency of any non-nuclear submarine.

The exact nature of the kite / sail must be determined by licensed sail-ologists: in particular, the initial raising of the sail out of the water remains an unsolved technical question of submarine sail research.

Conclusion:

As an added bonus, a sail-deploying-submarine can be a way for a nation’s navy to brag to other countries. It basically says “we have so much military funding that we can build a super-expensive stealthy underwater vessel and then not even use the stealth feature!” The intimidation factor here cannot be overstated.

PROS: Reduces fuel usage, thus allowing submarines to be operated at bargain-basement prices.

CONS: This kind of sail will probably only work in the exact direction the wind is blowing. Can you “tack” and sail upwind with a submarine?

Legal System: The Gathering. What if law could be learned through a very complicated collectable card game?

Background:

Most legal systems are extraordinarily complicated and are full of strange rules and loopholes, so the average person has a very superficial understanding of law (as practiced in movies) at best.

Just like law, there’s another popular pastime that’s full of rules, thousands of pages of errata, and millions of Internet posts arguing about minutiae: collectable card gaming. This genre was initially made famous by Magic: The Gathering in the 1990s, but there are now dozens (hundreds?) of these games.

Proposal:

In order to increase familiarity with a country’s legal system (and provide entertainment at the same time), a card game could be created to promote legal awareness.

Consider how strange the legal system is, where there are many counterintuitive procedural requirements that must be followed. For example, it isn’t enough for some state-sponsored tough guys to bust down a door and find a murder weapon: they’ll also need to have gotten a search warrant first.

Let’s consider how a battle might work in a Magic: The Gathering-inspired rule system. An interaction might go like this:

  • Alice: “The dragon attacks you.”
  • Bob: “Ah, but before it could attack me, I cast a lighting bolt on that dragon, killing it. So it can’t attack me.”
  • Alice: “Ok, but before that happened, I cast ‘immunity to lightning’ on the dragon, so actually it survives and does attack you.”
  • Bob: “Well, before that could happen, I cast ‘immunity to immunity spells’ on the dragon, so your spell would have failed.”
  • Alice: “Actually, before any of that could occur, I cast a spell to return this dragon card to the top of my deck. So this entire interaction is now moot.“

This may seem ridiculous if you haven’t played a game like this, but it works quite well in practice.

A law game (Figure 1) could work similarly:

  • Alice: “I submit into evidence this bloody knife that was found in the defendant’s apartment.“
  • Bob: “Ah, but that evidence was found by a detective who searched the defendant‘s apartment without a warrant, so the knife is inadmissible by the ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ rule.”
  • Alice: “You might think so, but the apartment was on fire and the detective heard someone screaming, so when he kicked the door in, it was totally legitimate due to the immediate danger of the situation. Finding the knife was just incidental.”
  • Bob: “Ok, but the reason the apartment was on fire was because the Chief of Police set the fire in order to provide a flimsy justification for an illegal search!”
  • Alice: “Yes, but the Chief of Police was possessed by a ghost, so he was technically acting as a normal citizen, not as a member of the police. So the search is still valid.”
  • Bob: “But according to this divination, the ghost was a former Supreme Court justice, so actually the possessed-by-a-ghost Chief of Police is still a state actor. Thus, I contend that this search remains illegal.”

Fig. 1: Several cards that could be part of a deck in “United States Criminal Justice System: The Gathering.” Note that players with more money are able to buy rarer and more effective cards, so this card game mirrors most legal systems in more ways than one. (There could be a “public defender” deck with a deliberately under-provisioned set of cards.)

Conclusion:

This style of card game could apply to criminal law, contract law, patent law, or really any kind of law you can think of. How many kinds even are there? Is “bird law” a real thing? Anyway, it could be very educational, is the point.

PROS: Could spur interest in the legal system and shine the spotlight on weird legal loopholes and injustices that are hidden away among tens of thousands of pages of laws.

CONS: Might give players enough (over)confidence in their legal skills to encourage them to represent themselves in court, which historically has questionable results at best.

This safer “child-proof” medicine bottle cap will slightly decrease the chance of a child devouring an entire bottle of medicine!

Background:

Many types of commonly-available vitamins and medicines are deadly if ingested in large quantities. Unfortunately, small children generally do not understand the concept of “LD50,” and may eat an excessive number of pills.

It also doesn’t help that many medications are candy-like in appearance (e.g. compare a coated Advil tablet to an M&M).

The Issue:

In order to reduce the chance of small children from eating medicine, medicines are often stored in bottles with so-called “child-proof” caps. These caps require some twisting / fiddling that makes them more difficult to open.

The problem here is that the caps are more difficult to open, but not impossible. (Technically, they are usually sold as “child-resistant” lids.)

Proposal:

We can solve this problem by making a pill bottle that has a much easier-to-open “decoy” compartment (Fig. 1). This decoy component would be filled with—crucially—non-deadly pills. So a child who was fumbling about with a medicine bottle and who was prone to eating that medicine would at least eat the non-deadly pills first.

Fig. 1: Left: a common type of medicine bottle, where a “child-proof” cap (A) protects the medicine in the bottle (B). Right: in the new “decoy” bottle, an easy-to-open top component (B) contains a non-deadly medicine (A), thus drawing attention away from the real medicine stored in (C).

The goal, of course, is to prevent this hypothetical child from dying at all, which suggests some additional possibilities:

  • The “decoy” tablets could be coated with a bitter-tasting substance. This might discourage further exploratory pill-chomping.
  • The capsules could contain some kind of vomit-inducing substance. This has its own downsides, but might “rescue” the situation in which a child was able to open both compartments and randomly eat pills from both.
  • The lid could play a loud sound when it was opened, like those singing greeting cards that play a song when opened. This might make the pill-chomping situation known to any supervising adults before disaster could arise.

Conclusion:

This seems like it could actually be a feasible product. You could buy some stock in medicine container manufacturing companies and then lobby your representatives to make this a mandatory feature of all medications!

PROS: Could actually be a practical product!

CONS: A “decoy” medication would probably occasionally be eaten by accident by an inattentive adult too. This could potentially cause more problems than this safety feature might solve, especially if we went with the “pill that induces vomiting” decoy.

Personal soundtrack: sync your calendar to a personal music playlist for the ultimate “personal radio station.” Improve your productivity and punctuality!

Background:

People frequently listen to music during their day-to-day activities. In olden times, a person was limited to whatever was playing on the radio, but in the post-iPod world, it’s very straightforward to load up an entire day’s worth of personalized music ahead of time.

However, such music can’t react to the events of the day: it’s just a static playlist.

Proposal:

With the advent of computerized calendars, it is now possible for software to analyze a person’s upcoming calendar for the day and create a new “personal soundtrack for the day” that is synced to the events on the calendar.

For example, on the practical side, when the system knows that you have some sort of important event coming up, it could play a “time is running out”-style song[1] to let you know that you should prepare to (for example) run out of the house to catch a bus.

[1]: Some possible songs for this application would be the Super Mario Bros “Time is Running Out” theme or the stress-inducing “you are about to drown” music from Sonic the Hedgehog.

See Figure 1 for a mockup of the types of songs that this “un-pauseable personal radio station” might include.

Fig. 1: See the list below for the proposed music that might sync to each event on the calendar.

Cliche song proposals for each event:

  • A (“wake up”): There are at least a half-dozen Looney Tunes-style classical tracks that would work here. Apparently “Morning Mood” by Grieg is one of the more frequently used ones.
  • B (“shower”): The theme from the movie “Psycho” would provide motivation to shower quickly and not waste water.
  • C (“prepare for a meeting”): See above for the “time is running out” suggestions.
  • D (“work meeting”): We’ll just play some elevator music here, so as to not distract from the meeting.
  • E (“gym”): Gym classics include Eye of the Tiger and the Rocky training montage, but there are a ton of options here.
  • F (“go to sleep”): Here, we would depart from playing music, and instead play some recorded 1960s college lectures on how monetary policy works.

Conclusion:

This feature could actually legitimately be implemented today by any company that has all three of: 1) a calendar program 2) access to a musical catalogue, and 3) integration with phone or other music-playback device. Fortunately, this describes a wide variety of phone manufacturers today.

PROS: Unusually, there’s nothing obviously wrong with this proposal, so it could probably actually work!

CONS: Might promote hearing loss if people listen to high-volume music all day on their headphones.

Money can’t buy more hours in the day. Or can it? Get four extra hours in every day with this new “28-hour day” system.

Background:

Most people would probably enjoy some extra time in the day: the ability to sleep sleep for a couple of extra hours and still be on time for your obligations the next day would allow allow even the most exhausting day to conclude with a leisurely “reset.”

Unfortunately, one thing that money can’t buy is more time in the day—until now, that is!

Proposal:

Days are 24 hours long, and there are (by popular agreement) seven of these days in a week.

It just so happens that 7×24 hours (168) is also equal to 6×28 hours.

So the solution is simple: while most people will still go about their business on a 24-hour day (synced to the Sun), some exceptionally decadent people could simply tack on an extra four hours to each day and live a six day week (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: The six-day week (bottom) gradually de-synchronizes with the conventional seven-day week (top). Midnight on “Two’s Day” (bottom) is equivalent to high noon on a conventional Wednesday. Note that the clocks always line up at 12:00 AM on Sunday, which is the same in both calendars. (The clocks actually stay synchronized from the leftmost point on the graph above to the dotted yellow/black line marked “23:59,” after which they diverge.)

Since none of the longer days exactly line up with their traditional counterparts, I have proposed just numbering the days from zero to six (e.g. the new “Sunday” analogue is “Zero’s Day”). This should help avoid confusion. (It would be possible to also re-use the name “Sunday,” since it’s the only day that’s unambiguous: 11:59 PM on Sunday is the same in both systems, it’s just that the “new Sunday” also has a 12:59 PM, 13:59 PM, 14:59 PM, and 15:59 PM.)

Conclusion:

This calendar would work especially well for people who never see the Sun anyway due to their jobs (such as deep-sea explorer, certain miners, and computer programmers).

PROS: With the extra time in each day, people should be more well-rested and less likely to get into car accidents or cause industrial mishaps while operating heavy machinery.

CONS: It might be annoying to run two separate schedules at the same time; for example, if you’re on the “new” schedule and you want to go out for a late lunch on “Two’s Day,” you’ll find that it’s 1 AM on traditional Wednesday. Also, unfortunately “Two’s Day” and “Tuesday” are homophones, so we may need to fix that somehow.

Incredible way for a lazy dog or cat to get exercise: combine a pet food bowl with a Frisbee™ (or a generic “flying disc” if you can’t afford the proper trademark licensing requirements)

The Issue:

It is hypothetically possible for a person to have a VERY LAZY pet that requires exercise yet stubbornly refuses to go on a walk. Technical experts probably refer to this as the “Garfield conundrum“ (or at least they should).

Proposal:

Instead of dragging the recalcitrant beast along with a leash, let’s motivate it to go on a walk in a more positive fashion by combining two objects:

  • A food bowl (for a pet)
  • A “flying disc” (or whatever the non-trademarked name for a Frisbee is)

… into a “flying disc” food bowl (Figure 1) that can be thrown by the owner.

Fig. 1: This “disc-bowl” will also need a wire mesh cover (shown on the right side of the figure) to keep the food from flying out when the disc is thrown. This lid could either open automatically when the disc is placed on a flat surface, or it could be designed so that a pet could open the lid by itself.

A pet owner would simply fill the disc-bowl with dry pet food, throw it, and watch as their dog / cat / capybara / whatever chases the bowl. This process could be repeated as many times as is necessary.

Fig. 2: The disc-bowl in action. Go, dog. Go!

Conclusion:

This may be the next fitness and/or pet-stewardship trend. Get in on the ground floor by 3d-printing one yourself today!

PROS: Helps both pets and their owners get valuable exercise.

CONS: Substantially more labor-intensive than just going for a normal walk.

Make even more misleading figures by using higher spatial dimensions: the ultimate secret in displaying numeric results the way you want them to look!

The Issue:

When creating figures, it can be tempting to use misleading techniques in order to bolster one’s own agenda.

But it can be hard to create a misleading figure while technically representing the facts correctly, at least from a certain point of view (Figure 1). 


Fig. 1:
The addition of a third dimension (right) to this pie chart really helps the blue stand out. It’s gone from a quarter of the “ink” on the page to over half! Misleading: yes. Factually incorrect: plausibly debatable!

Proposal:

A popular—yet rarely formally acknowledged—method of creating misleading figures is to add additional spatial dimensions to them. Specifically, this allows us to vastly inflate the visual interpretation of a figure while technically keeping the numbers correct (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: These cubes purport to show the values 1 (left), 2 (middle), and 3 (right). But the rightmost cube has (33) = 27 times the volume of the leftmost cube, even though its individual side lengths are only 3 times larger. One could imagine a figure of this nature being used in an ethically-questionable document extolling the growth rate of a business that had tripled in size.

If we don’t need to use all three dimensions to inflate the apparent size of some numeric results, we can also just use two dimensions (Figure 3).

Fig. 3: In this hypothetical news example, we can see that the number of hamburger-related catastrophes in a major metropolitan area have gone from 1/year to 3/year. This can be misleadingly plotted in two dimensions (top, in orange) or misleadingly-plotted in three dimensions (bottom) by using some spherical-hamburger clipart. Anyone reading a figure like this would definitely support a crackdown on hamburgers.

PROS: Provides misleading figures with plausible deniability. Use it on your clickbait blog today!

CONS: Unfortunately, four-dimensional (and beyond) figures are not practical to display to humans, so it isn’t possible to, say, inflate a 20% increase to a 700x-increase (≈ 1.2036) by displaying it in the 36th spatial dimension.

P.S. Regrettably, it appears that this exact topic was covered in the 1954 book How to Lie with Statistics.

Combine the best features of vinyl records and online music streaming with the new “gigantic mega record” streaming interface!

Background:

Vinyl records have gained in popularity in the 2010–2020 timeframe, perhaps because people enjoy the tactile sensation and ritualistic elements of playing music on a traditional record turntable.

The Issue:

This style of tactile interaction is unfortunately unavailable in the streaming music space, where the only user interaction is “push button → hear song.”

Unfortunately, although traditional records have a distinctive charm, they are not a space-efficient way of storing music—streaming audio really wins there. Large streaming services currently have ~100 million audio tracks, which we will assume are ~3.5 minutes in length on average (so we’d like to store 350 million minutes of audio.)

What we really want is the best of both worlds: a way to combine the physical interaction of the record player with the enormous song library of streaming audio.

The Solution:

In order to fuse the best aspects of vinyl and streaming, we will create a “gigantic record player” interface, where a huge virtual record is presented to the user (either in a VR interface or as some sort of GPS-map interface).

This record is large enough to store all 100 million songs discussed above. The user can then drag a (virtual) record needle onto a (virtual) giant record in order to get their desired song.

Proposal #1:

The user will need to be able to select their favorite son on this record, so the record groove that represents a song can’t be too small. Let’s assume that 1 millimeter is approximately the highest resolution that a user can reliably place a record needle. So how large will our record need to be? Thanks to the metric system, this is easily calculated (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: 100 million songs × 1 millimeter/song = 100 million millimeters (in radius), which is 100 kilometers. A record of this size would cover approximately the area shown above (with the record in black). British Isles & Ireland for scale.

It would be possible to use a smaller record if we consider the fact that a single 3.5 minute song will not actually need to be hundreds of kilometers long, which brings us to Proposal #2.

Proposal #2:

A single sided 12”-diameter record (6” radius) with a 4”-diameter inner label has a usable area of ~(𝜋×62 – 𝜋×22) = 32𝜋 ≈ 100 in.2.

This holds about 24 minutes of streaming-quality audio, giving us 100 in.2 / 24 min. ≈ 4.17 in.2/minute.

In order to get our 350 million minutes of audio into this, we just need 350 million minutes × 4.17 sq.in / min. ≈ 1.46 billion in.2, which is the area of a circle with a radius of 21558 inches (𝜋×215582), or 1796 feet (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: If a user is willing to walk around the entire record (rather than just moving the needle linearly in a single constrained dimension), we will only need a record that is 3593 feet (1.1 km) in diameter. This is equivalent to 3.38 Eiffel Towers. The 2-inch hole in the middle is not visible at this scale.

Conclusion:

It appears that these records are too large to be reasonably mass-produced as physical objects, but as a virtual environment, possibly accessed through a GPS-map-like interface, it would be feasible.

PROS: Adds satisfying tactile interaction to the song-selection experience.

CONS: The “all songs” record is unfortunately far too large to make it practical as a physical object, except perhaps as a one-off modern art installation..

 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.