When someone lost all their money to a scam, you’ll never believe how they recovered 90% of it thanks to one weird legislative trick!

Background:

Financial scams come in all shapes and sizes, ranging in nature from “unbelievable” to “completely hilarious.”

But, it’s rarely hilarious to the scammed person! And even people who haven’t fallen for transparently obvious scams can be affected, as relatives are often are on the hook to keep their loved one from starving on the street post-scam.

The issue:

So we’d ideally like to reduce the number of scams that separate people from their worldly possessions. (This only applies to financial scams, and not, for example, “lose weight instantly with this one weird trick!”)

Right now, scammers operate in a realm of fantastical results where they don’t face any competition. For example: “10% returns on your investment, every month! Guaranteed to not lose money!” These claims are necessarily far superior to the claims made by legitimate investments.
Proposal:

We would like to add more competition to the scam-space by sanctioning a certain number of officially-licensed scammers.

Thus, instead of having 100 legitimate businesses offering “1.5% investment return per year” and one scam business offering “35% return every month!”, we would now have the same 100 legitimate businesses, but 100 new scam businesses that would offer a variety of unbelievable returns.

So far, this only makes the situation worse—but the crucial difference is that these new “official” scammers would have to abide by certain rules, and would have to return a certain fraction (say, 90%) of scammed funds to their marks.

percent-100Fig 1: Before the proposal: 100% of scammed funds are stolen by unscrupulous scammers.

Details:

A prospective scammer can register with the government for a “scam license.”

Possession of such a license immunizes the scammer from prosecution, as long as they follow these rules:

  • 1) Properly document all financial transactions
  • 2) Hold on to 90% of the scammed funds for each scammed individual.
  • 3) Return this portion of funds when they are (eventually) “called” on their scam.

Additionally, in order to keep these scammers from competing with legitimate businesses:

  • 4) The official-scammers must make outlandish claims of returns so as to not be mistaken for a legitimate investment. These would be specifically regulated (e.g. “Promised returns must be at least 5x higher than this year’s best-performing ETF on the NYSE”).
  • 5) The scammers must claim to compete in an existing market, to prevent scammers from poisoning innovation by making any new high-returns market immediately appears to be a scam. So “we have one weird trick for flipping real-estate and guaranteeing 200% gains” would be OK (real-estate flipping is an existing market), but “We have a secret plan to mine asteroids and earn a billion pounds of gold” would not be (asteroid mining is not an existing business).

percent-90 Fig 2: The licensed “official” scammers can take 10% of scammed funds, and must return 90% to their overly-credulous “investors.” Red portion of pie chart represents the stolen funds.

Conclusion:

These new officially sanctioned scammers might be able to lure gullible “investors” away from real scams, and cause them to only lose 10% of their money rather than 100% of it.

Although it’s possible that people would fall for multiple scams in a row, it would still be preferable to lose 10% of funds each time rather than 100%.

 

PROS: Reduces the number of financial scams by providing additional competition for those scams. Provides additional sources of employment for ethically-flexible employees in the financial sector.

CONS: Would remove sources of income from scammers, who presumably occasionally also have families to support. Cry a tear for them!

Use common mechanical attachments with a standard bicycle using this one weird tip. Also, you won’t believe what happened next.

Background: A person can generate on the order of ~100W on a stationary bicycle for a half hour or so, for a total of 0.05kWh. This would be enough to power a space heater for about 3 minutes, or a low-draw 10 watt LED light for 5 hours.

There are already various electrical contraptions with batteries that allow a person to theoretically charge a laptop / phone using pedal power.

But there is currently no standard purely-mechanical interface to the bicycle!

The Proposal:

In order to remedy this omission, there should be a standard interface that would allow any mechanical device to receive rotational energy from any bicycle, without requiring modifications to the bicycle. This could be useful in a post-apocalyptic scenario.

The basic plan would very similar to a bicycle-to-stationary bicycle conversion kit (examples: https://www.google.com/search?q=stationary+bicycle+conversion+kit ).

  1. It would consist of a roller that is driven by direct contact with the rear bike tire. (Although it would be more efficient to capture the rotational energy at the pedals, most methods of doing so would require at least some minor alterations to the bicycle [1] .)
  2. The roller would have a standard-sized drive gear on one end, which could be connected in order to power compatible equipment without the need for any electrical or battery-based intermediaries.

Such devices might include:

  • A drill (with power transmitted through a cable, in the same way as an old-fashioned foot-pedaled dentist’s drill operates).
  • A bike / car tire pump. Much easier than compressing a cylinder manually!
  • A water pump, perhaps for drawing up water from a well.
  • A sewing machine
  • A blender
  • An electric mixer
  • A circular saw

bike-power-transfer
Fig 1: Pedaling this now-stationary bicycle causes the back wheel (red) to drive the stationary-bicycle-style roller (blue), which then causes the attached gear to rotate (yellow). Additional to-be-powered devices can be attached to that gear at the point indicated by the orange arrow. (Note: although in this diagram the gear is connected to a long axle, the gear would presumably actually be directly attached to the roller.)

PROS: Lets you use various blending / cutting / etc. devices in a post-apocalyptic world without electricity or batteries. The standardization of this system would allow simpler development of additional devices to be powered in this fashion.

CONS: This proposed device would probably occupy a lot of space in a garage or closet, which would be wasted in the event that there is no post-apocalyptic world to cope with.

 

[1]: For example, a gear could be interfaced directly with the front gear (avoiding the entire chain of transmission loss to the chain, rear wheel, and roller), or the chain could be attached to the front gear and used to directly power our drive gear / roller, avoiding the transmission loss with the roller and rear wheel.

Never be bothered by annoying political ads again! Because you won’t be voting!

  Background:

Voting is important for selecting members of government and influencing policy through referendums, recalls, and other measures directly submitted to citizens.

However, it’s a lot of work to be an informed voter, and most voters are apathetic and uninformed. In the case of referendums / ballot measures that are directly voted on, most voters are not even qualified to evaluate the implications of a measure even if they actually bother to understand the text of the referendum.

The Issue:

Aside from the problem of bizarre ballot initiatives (such as this one banning horse meat sales: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_6_(1998)), many elections are determined not by actual merits, but rather by the success of advertisement and “get out the vote” efforts—which are heavily influenced by the amount of cash available.

vote-easy

Fig 1: Voting is sometimes easy and obvious…

vote-hard

Fig 2: But it can also be a confusing mess!

Proposal:

To fix this, one theory is that voters should become less apathetic. But that is not a realistic recommendation—it’s like suggesting “everyone should drive carefully!” as public policy for reducing car accidents, or “people should just eat less!” to solve the problem of obesity.

So a more realistic proposal is to allow voters to—instead of voting as usual—transfer their voting privilege to any other citizen.

This “representative” will then have his or her votes counted multiple times; for example, if 15 people transfer their vote to Representative X, then Representative X’s ballot counts for a total of 16 votes (their own, plus the 15 people who delegated their votes).

vote-delegate

Fig 3: The idea behind this ballot delegation plan. The blue individual is the “representative,” and the red ones are the voters who are giving up their vote. In this particular instance, the blue individual would end up with a total of 7 votes instead of the default 1 vote.

Essentially, this is an informal reinvention of representative democracy. It has a few additional benefits:

  • It does not require the creation of additional gerrymandered voting districts (A few good examples are available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering).
  • It allows people to feel like their votes actually do count (even if voters don’t necessarily cast their own votes), which may be beneficial to the long-term health of the democratic process.
  • It allows people to easily participate in the democratic process while themselves remaining totally oblivious and uninformed. Since this is the inevitable state of affairs, it’s best to plan around it rather than to remain in willful denial.

There are three additional important features that would prevent obvious methods of abuse:

  • The “transfer your vote to a representative” process would be done by secret ballot, so no one could be coerced into actually transferring their vote if they didn’t want to.
  • The “representative” actually does not know how many votes they command. In fact, a person could be a representative without even knowing it. This would also reduce the effectiveness of lobbying / bribing representatives, since the bribe-er would have no idea if a representative actually had as many votes as they claimed.
  • There could be a limit on the total number of votes an individual could amass (perhaps 100, or 1000) to prevent single individuals from easily subverting the election process.

PROS: Could prevent elections from being decided primarily by money. Allows apathetic voters to have their uninformed and poorly justified opinions represented in the democratic process.

CONS: None! Go out and get signatures for a constitutional amendment today!

Never pay for a climbing gym again with this one micro-transaction trick (which is also weird)

Background:

In this plan, we will discuss a sub-category of indoor climbing: bouldering. Bouldering involves climbing up a surface that is studded with various hand- and foot-holds, and it generally involves no safety equipment beyond a padded mat.

The Issue:

Bouldering / rock climbing has gained significant mainstream popularity since 2010. However, one thing that has not changed is the price; most climbing gyms cost approximately the same amount as a regular gym, about 5% of the total take-home income of a person earning minimum wage.

Although this is not a huge amount, it is enough to discourage many individuals.

It is likely that many additional people would go to indoor climbing gyms if they were initially free.

Here, we take inspiration from the “phone app” market, where software is now generally free with in-app purchases, rather than being (say) $5 up-front.)

Proposals:

In order to encourage people to try climbing and (potentially) increase gym profits, there are two sub-proposals here, the “evil” one and the “non-evil” one. Let’s do the “evil” one first:

EVIL proposal:

  • The climbing part of the gym becomes totally free to use. (Equipment rental—shoes in this case—would still cost money.)
  • Instead of having normal climbing routes, the routes are changed such that it is possible, or in fact encouraged, for the user to be able to climb the routes in a safe fashion, but will likely end up “stuck” at the top in a way that it is very difficult to get back down safely.
  • Possibly the route ends on a safe ledge, but the only obvious descent is over a crocodile pit.

crocodile
Fig 1: Crocodiles will work for less than minimum wage and are philosophically opposed to unionization, making them ideal employees.

  • Overhangs, in particular, are frequently much easier to climb up than down, and could be employed to this end.
  • Here is where the microtransactions come in: at the top of the route, there would be a vending machine that would sell access to a single-use rope / elevator, allowing the climber to purchase safe descent to the bottom (instead of risking life and limb trying to climb down the route over the crocodile pit).

NON-EVIL proposal:

  • Each route could have a fee associated with starting it (“$3 to start this climb”), but a climber is refunded that fee if they make it to the top on their first try.
  • Possibly microtransactions could also be applied here, e.g. “for an additional $1, we will light up the holds that are intended to be used for this route.”
  • Or, if the climbing wall was suitably futuristic and could be reconfigured by a computer, this could even be made into a sort of gambling game, as follows:
    • A climber would pay an “entry fee” for a yet-unknown route of a given difficulty.
    • Then a route would be randomly generated (or selected from a database of thousands of options), and the computer would reconfigure the climbing wall.
    • For every climber who FAILED to make it to the top on their first try, a fraction of their entry fee would be put into a prize pool.
    • That prize pool would then be claimed by the first climber to made it to the top on their first try.

PROS: Could broaden interest and allow people with few financial resources to start bouldering.

CONS: BIG GOVERNMENT would probably put a stop to the crocodile idea (it might not be an OSHA-approved workplace, among other potential violations). Possibly it could still be implemented in international waters.

Never be annoyed by jury duty again—use prisoners as jurors

Background:

Many citizens in countries with jury duty find it to be a somewhat burdensome obligation. Jurors are either unpaid, or paid only a nominal amount (on the order of a couple hours of minimum wage for an 8-hour day).

(Note that the jury system is by no means a requirement for a trial. In most countries, trial outcomes are determined exclusively by professional judges.)

The Issue:

Since trials can commonly last for weeks or months, and there is no provision for a person to be able to do their day job while they are on a jury, it can become very difficult for a juror to go about their life while the trial is in progress.

jury-duty-1

Fig 1: A hypothetical jury, randomly chosen from the local population. These 12 people probably would rather be somewhere else, but they’re doing their civic duty.

Proposal:

It might be possible to select from a group of individuals who are still more-or-less representative of the population as a whole, but whose lives would not be negatively disrupted by a lengthy trial. Specifically, the jury could be selected from the ranks of convicted criminals.

Since these individuals are already serving a prison sentence, they don’t have a job that would be interfered with, and there would be no need to ever “sequester” a jury made up of prisoners, since they are already sequestered by definition.

There is precedent for previous obligations being made optional, at least in the United States:

  • Church attendance (mandatory in the 1600s, now optional)
  • Military service (mandatory if drafted, now optional)

If the jury trial is to be retained, perhaps it too should be made optional for non-incarcerated individuals.

jury-duty-prisoners

Fig 2: A hypothetical jury of only prisoners (in anachronistic garb).

PROS: Saves time and money spent mailing out jury summonses, saves lost wages and productivity of the individuals on the jury. Gives the incarcerated individuals something productive to do that is probably more interesting than being in prison.

CONS: None!

You won’t believe how easy it is to prevent people from going into a taped-off “danger” area with this one bizarre trick!

 

The issue:

The classic yellow-and-white “danger!” tape is visually apparent and can be quite useful for indicating that an area is hazardous or off-limits. However! There are two problems:

danger-tape
Fig 1: The classic “danger” tape. But you might not know it if you couldn’t read English!

First, the “danger” text is specific to one language.

Second, the colors of the tape are culturally specific; maybe in some far-off island, yellow-and-white tape is used to indicate “here is a delicious free chocolate rabbit for the annual chocolate festival.”

 

The proposal:

We can create a language- and culture-neutral design for the tape—something that will indicate “danger!” to all humans, without requiring explanation.

Specifically, the tape will be designed to have an infinitely extended row of deadly pointed teeth, which are a relatively universal sign to indicate that a possible hazard exists within. Additionally, the tape could have periodic sections of “angry eyebrows” and glaring eyes to really drive home the point. (Admittedly, despite the universality of human facial expressions, “cartoon angry eyebrows” are probably not a symbol that is understood across all human societies.)

 

teeth-tape
Fig 2: The “monster teeth” danger tape. Note the blood-stained shark teeth and angry eyebrows.

example-animal

Fig 3: Artist’s rendition of the muppet-like monster face whose presence is evoked by the design of the tape. May be insufficiently menacing in current form.

PROS: Would be especially useful in countries with many official languages, saving the trouble of translating the text into each language.

CONS: May be culturally insensitive to shark-toothed monsters.

 

 

How to destroy a programming language (or natural language?) that you don’t like in one easy step with three difficult sub-steps

The issue:

Sometimes, you don’t like a programming language (like Perl or Python), or a natural language (like English or Spanish).

You might have your reasons, or maybe not—maybe you just want to destroy it completely for no reason at all!

 

Proposal: Here’s a simple way to go about wreaking destruction on the language in question while leaving no one the wiser:

  1. Propose a “new and improved” version of the language. Example: “Perl 6 will be so much better than Perl 5!” Or: “Esperanto: it’s like English, but the spelling is much more regular!”
    1. Make sure it’s very similar at first glance, but annoyingly incompatible in key regards.
    2. Next, make sure there are a few bonus features, but not enough to actually justify the switching cost.
  2. For programming languages, start creating software in this language. For natural languages, start creating novels, newspapers, and works of art in this language.
  3. Make sure there is a HUGE delay in switching; “everyone should learn English 2.0, but it isn’t ready quite yet… so in the meantime, English 1.0 is deprecated.”
  4. Finally, you just have to wait! Instead of switching to the “upgraded” language, people will probably switch to an entirely different one.

 

Great examples in history:

  • Successful destruction: Perl 5 –> Perl 6
  • To be determined: Python 2 –> Python 3
  • Failure: English –> Esperanto

PROS: Lets you surreptitiously destroy the language that has drawn your wrath.

CONS: None!

Amazing (possibly weird) trick to capture additional value in social network relationships graphs via more finely-grained “friend” buttons

The issue: Most social networks only allow you to “friend” or “unfriend” a person—a binary choice. Although a few networks have additional degrees of granularity (“co-workers” / “show only my public profile”), in general it is assumed that the relationship between individuals is symmetrical.

buttons-friend

Fig 1: The familiar but insufficiently expressive “friend” button.

Proposal: To capture additional asymmetrical relationships between individuals, we need to account for the case of:

1. “Friend” one way, unknown / indifferent relationship in the other direction

2. “Enemy” one way, any relationship in the other direction

We can label these buttons “stalk” and “vendetta” respectively, and greatly increase the amount of information available for data-mining in the relationship graph!

buttons-stalk-vendetta

Fig 2: Additional buttons in action. Now we have captured crucial but previously-ignored information between individuals!

 

And a final view of what the user interface might look like for such a site:

friend-photo

Fig 3: The final interface mockup

PROS: Increases ability of social networks to capture the complex relationships between individuals.

CONS: None, this is a great idea that your Internet-enabled business should implement immediately.

Solving soccer tiebreakers in a television-friendly fashion; never be disappointed by a 0-0 game again

The issue:

Soccer matches have a very high probability of ending in a draw.

In the few cases in which a draw is not allowed as a final outcome of a match, the game will (eventually) go to a one-on-one penalty kick shootout.

This method of resolution uses a very different skill set from the main game, and is one-on-one rather than being a team game.

Taken to the extreme, one could resolve a tie by just flipping a coin, or perhaps choosing two players to face off in a game of checkers or other unrelated game.

 

Hypothesis:

However, it might be more satisfying for spectators if a match could be resolved using a team-play-based method.

A few creative proposals have been suggested, for example:

  • Removing two players (one from each team) every N minutes
  • Removing the goalies entirely
  • No longer calling fouls, resulting in a Roman-gladiation-style game

 

Here we have a few additional proposals:

1) “Multi-ball” (inspired by pinball). Every 10 minutes, an additional ball is added to the field. The off-sides rule is temporarily suspended.

 soccer-default

Fig 1: The “multiball” method is played on the standard field.

2) Goal distance reduction: every 5 minutes, both goals are moved 10 feet closer to the center line. Field markings remain unchanged, and play remains the same otherwise. The corner kick would presumably require some modification.

soccer-move-goals-in

Fig 2: The goals, represented in red, are moved inward periodically, until the tie is broken.

 

3) “Multi-field”: the field is split into four smaller fields, and each team is allowed to assign 4 players per mini-field. The game could continue for a fixed period of time, or be “sudden death” depending on how much time is considered acceptable for the tiebreaker.

soccer-4x

Fig 3: The “multi-field” method in action. Perhaps barriers between the fields could prevent the games from interfering with each other? Or maybe that would be part of the game.

PROS: Would definitely make tie matches much more bizarre and interesting. Prevents important games from being determined by the penalty shootout.

CONS: May require significant persuasion to convince fans! Purists would undoubtedly be disappointed.

How to solve spam forever and make your web site comment section useful again, with “robo-banning”

The issue:

Public comment sections on the Internet are famous for requiring non-stop moderation in order to prevent them from becoming populated exclusively with spam and/or horrifying comments.

Many solutions have been attempted, including:

1. Do nothing. Disadvantage: spam / scams overrun the site, making it totally un-usable for legitimate users.

2. Ban / block unusually abhorrent users. Disadvantage: they can just re-register.

3. Require real names of users. Disadvantage: severely restricts discussion of any controversial topics (a “chilling effect”) where users may not want to publicize their opinions.

4. “Hellban” a user (a “hellbanned” or “shadow-banned” user’s comments are not visible to other users). Disadvantage: the user may become suspicious when none of their comments are ever remarked upon. Then the user may register a new account.

Proposal:

Let us start by just plain “hellbanning” a user (hiding their comments from other users), but also add in several chat bots that personally interact with each hellbanned user. This will simulate normal chat / commenting behavior.

We propose to refer to this as “robo-banning,” since the banned user can, henceforth, only communicate with chat bots (“robots”), and no longer with any real users.

The chat bots could come in various types with different personality traits and political beliefs.

These could even be tailored on a per-individual basis (for example, a chat-bot could be selected with the opposite political beliefs of the robo-banned user).

The idea would be to occupy as much of the “robo-banned” user’s time as possible in talking to the chat bots, so they wouldn’t annoy the real users.

PROS: Would be highly entertaining. Interactions between “robo-banned” users and the bots that they argue with could be posted for the amusement of others.

CONS: None!