One Weird Planet You Must Visit On Your Next Vacation, Assuming Your Vacation Involves Traveling Through Space

Here’s the idea:

Many people are fascinated by the idea of interplanetary travel.

It may seem initially appealing: you travel between the stars in your spaceship, and periodically land on interesting planets to poke around and see what wonders they have to offer.

real-spaceship

Fig 1: Travel across the galaxy

real-rover

Fig 2: Land on weird planets

 

But, imagine the reality of it:

Even if it were as convenient to travel to other planets as to take a plane, here’s what you would do once you actually got there:

1) You would put on an enormous and bulky spacesuit.

2) You would walk around on a desolate plain, perhaps kicking a rock or two.

3) Admittedly, you might have some fun in a low-gravity environment.

The reality of the situation is that you would generally be limited to a featureless expanse of frozen (or boiling) terrain, and you would be stuck in a huge life-support suit.

Things you will never encounter:

1) A civilization that has inexplicably progressed to become an exact copy of 1920s-era Chicago.

2) A planet inhabited by the descendants of Earth’s dinosaurs.

3) A giant planet-wide computer that only you can stop from terrorizing the galaxy.

In conclusion, the reality of interplanetary travel would be more expensive, dangerous, time-consuming, and ultimately incredibly boring than any destination on Earth.

But people still like the idea.

 

So imagine this alternative approach:

We rig up a standard-sized cargo container to seem like a spaceship on the inside. It will have a bunch of flat panel viewscreens, some amenities of space, and (naturally) artificial gravity set to Earth-standard 1.0 G.

We load the cargo container onto a regular 18-wheeler truck, which then takes it to interesting destinations on Earth. While en route, the flat screen would display suitably convincing hyperspace travel graphics to give the sense of motion.

 

fake-spaceship

Fig 3: Get driven from landmark to landmark

fake-rover

Fig 4: Wander around a national park in a hilariously bulky and unnecessary spacesuit

Example:

From inside the “ship”: “Set a course for the scorching desert world Gamma V.”

From outside the “ship”: “Drive the truck to Death Valley.”

Ideally, the cargo container would go on a route with a number of interesting features in relatively close proximity.

Bonus option for additional verisimilitude:

The occupants could wear bulky spacesuits for their “planetary excursions” and communicate with each other by radio.

Proposed locations that are in reasonable proximity in the United States:
* The Grand Canyon
* Basically any state park
* Death Valley
* Monument Valley
* Yosemite
* Essentially anywhere sufficiently remote to have human-free areas

PROS: Provides a superior experience to actual space travel at a fraction of the price. Avoids attracting the attention of nameless horrors that lurk beyond the stars.

CONS: As is no doubt evident, there are none!

The incredible secret to getting fit instantly, requiring only hard work over many years

The issue:

People frequently purchase exercise equipment, but then fail to actually use it after an initial period of excitement.

Basic idea:

If the equipment could somehow punish the user for lack of use, maybe it would get more use!

The proposal in detail (3 parts):

PART 1: (“The equipment needs to know if you are using it or not.”)

Exercise equipment could have a built-in mechanism to figure out if it was actually being used. (This technology already is typically included in a treadmills, rowing machines, and exercise bikes.)

For example:

1) A barbell could have pressure sensors or an accelerometer to count lifts.

barbell

Figure 1: The dots indicated in red (and by “A”) are pressure sensitive locations on the barbell, which could let it know if it were being left idle for too long. Or: the barbell could have a low-power accelerometer in it. Actually that is probably a better idea; forget this pressure-sensitivity stuff!

2) A pull-up bar could have a weight/force sensor to count pull-ups.

PART 2: (“It needs to annoy you somehow if you don’t use it.”)

Now that the equipment knows if an individual is using it or not, it needs a way to incentivize that individual to make use of the equipment in times of low dedication.

Possible options:

1) The equipment could be equipped with a speaker that would occasionally emit a shrill sound if it felt that it was being neglected. This is similar to how a smoke detector makes a piercing sound when it is low on battery.

2) The equipment could be hooked into the house WiFi / Internet router. So if a person wasn’t using it, the device would turn off the Internet connection. This might provide sufficient inducement to exercise!

3) The equipment could be hooked into a fridge preventing the house occupant from opening the fridge to acquire delicious food without first placating the exercise equipment.

PART 3: (“It needs a battery that you can’t easily remove.”)

With battery-operated exercise equipment, it would always be possible to just take the batteries out in order to stop being annoyed by the device. So that brings us to the last part of the proposal: a battery case that can ONLY be opened when the battery is fully (or almost fully) drained.

Idea: an electromagnet that would hold the battery case shut while the battery was active. Thus, it would be impossible to open the battery case to take out the battery until the battery was drained. Is it possible to make an electromagnet that would only use minimal energy? Maybe!

locking-magnet-thing

Figure 2: Here is a terrible drawing that attempts to show an electromagnet (X, in red) holding up a permanent magnet (Y, in blue), and preventing the latch (W, in green) from sliding left and right. If the electromagnet “X” is disengaged, the permanent magnet “Y” will fall back into the hole, and the latch can slide left and right again.

 

Summary:

PROS: Might encourage exercise. Opens up a new world of horrifying possibilities of humans being enslaved by computers.

CONS: None!

One guaranteed way to prevent your bike from ever being stolen

The issue:

Bike theft is a common crime that rarely results in negative consequences for the thief.

Hypothesis:

It would be less common if there were a clear downside to stealing a bike.

bike-logo

The proposal:

In a “let the punishment fit the crime” frame of mind, let us imagine that a bike thief is apprehended.

Instead of clogging up the wheels of justice with this individual, perhaps a superior solution would be to simply use a bike lock to secure the thief to the location from which the bike was stolen, for an appropriate period of time.

Additional irony could be supplied by securing the bike thief using the same model of lock that was originally used to secure the bike.

PROS: Probably would deter bike thefts. Presumably a thief could always “opt out” of this unusual-and-possibly-cruel punishment and take the fine and/or jail time instead.

CONS: Since the thief would occupy at least one bike rack spot, available bike parking would be slightly reduced.

 

P.S. The guaranteed way to prevent your bike from being stolen is to melt it into a solid cube and put it into a safe-deposit box.

Never be embarrassed by your shirt again (INCREDIBLE), thanks to magnets

The issue:

Rarely, when buttoning a dress shirt, one may inadvertently buttons the buttons on one side to the wrong button holes on the corresponding side, causing mortifying embarrassment and eternal shame.

(This problem can be encountered with snaps as well as buttons.)

The solution:

If each button / snap was magnetized, and its corresponding target was oppositely magnetized, then the correct pairing would draw together with a satisfying click, whereas incorrect pairings would repel each other, notifying the buttoner of their imminent error.

magnet-shirt

Fig 1. The yellow lines show the intended button/snap pairings. Red / black indicate magnetic polarity.

By alternating north / south polarizations, it would be possible for each pair of buttons to only pair with either the correct target or with a target that was 2 (or 4, or 6, etc.) buttons off.

magnet-with-description

However, it is hardly worth worrying about button-target pairings that are two or more buttons off, because it’s very unlikely that a person could button a shirt that incorrectly without immediately noticing.

PROS: Would solve the leading cause of shame among wearers of dress shirts. Helps support the struggling domestic magnet mining industry, where all the “North” magnet ends are produced.

CONS: There are no downsides to this proposal.

When a bike thief steals this bike with a horn, you won’t believe what happens next (SHOCKING)

The issue:

Bike theft is rampant in most places in the US. The solution so far has been increasingly huge and heavy locks / chains. Eventually, people will probably have to weld their bikes to nearby objects, or use quick-setting concrete, in order to prevent them from being stolen.

 

bike-logo

Figure 1: A bike (do not steal)

The idea:

Provide a subtle theft deterrent that would not be obvious to the thief. This way, they would ride off with the bike, thinking they had disabled the only security (the chain / U-lock).

Normally, the deterrent in question here would be a GPS tracker, so the bike could (theoretically) be recovered, with great effort. However, the police are unlikely to raid an apartment building based on the knowledge that a stolen bike is possibly inside.

So we turn to another option:

A extremely loud air horn is attached somewhere on the bike, preferably pointing toward the rider. It must be securely attached and difficult or impossible to easily remove or disable. Perhaps it would be built into the frame, or in a secure metal box.

The air horn is connected via a sensor to the wheel. Once the wheel has rotated a certain number of times (say, 50), if the air horn has not been deactivated beforehand, it activates and doesn’t stop until it has been totally expended.

bike-horn

Figure 2: A “do not steal me” rider-facing bike horn. In reality, it would need to be attached to the handlebars more securely than shown in this diagram.

Presumably, a thief would prefer to abandon the bike instead of be deafened by it or hang around to likely reprisal while the horn exhausts itself.

(In order to deactivate the horn, there would be a button on it that the rightful owner would need to press BEFORE the horn went off. The horn could also make a few warning noises in order to remind an absentminded rider to disable the horn before it was too late.)

PROS: Non-lethal theft deterrent. Presumably would not introduce the owner to liability in the same way as a standard booby trap (e.g. a “bike thief bear trap” would be frowned upon by the courts, even if it was effective in capturing its prey).

CONS: Adds a tiny amount of weight to your bike, so not suitable for the Tour de France or similar competitions. Otherwise, none.

Five ways to improve your climbing wall (actually just two ways)

Background:

The goal of most climbing walls it to simply get to the top. However, there is no reason not to make the goal something more elaborate.

The inspiration:

There is a video game called “Shadow of the Colossus” in which your goal is to guide a man with a sword as he clambers on top of building-sized beasts, with the eventual goal of stabbing the beast in a specific weak point. Secondary goal: do not fall off the beast and be trampled underneath.

weird-logo

The symbol that you have to stab in the game is always some kind of weird looking glowing rune.

 

The idea:

Take a normal climbing wall and use a standard LED projector to project a bullseye somewhere onto the wall. The climber’s goal is to clamber over to that target and hit it with their hand. (Or a sword, if the climbing wall is in a country without the legal concept of “liability.”)

climbing-wall-default

Fig 1. A normal climbing wall. The red dots are handholds/footholds.

 

climbing-wall-projector

Fig 2. A projector projects target images onto various locations on the wall.

 

Alternative scenarios also present themselves, where the bullseye could move around, or multiple ones would have to be hit in sequence.

If extra faithfulness to the source game is desired, the climbing wall could also be mounted on a hydraulic platform that could shake the wall in an attempt to throw off the climber.

A slight modification of this idea would also allow the re-enactment of the scene from The Empire Strikes Back where Luke Skywalker ascends a wire (or rope, in a climbing gym) and throws a grenade inside one of the Imperial Walkers on Hoth. Presumably there are many other movies with suitable scenes. (The climbing of the cliffs in The Princess Bride also comes to mind.)

PROS: Would be amazing. Total cost for non-hydraulic version: only the cost of the projector!

CONS: Might be too amazing.

One Snake’s “Snakeccination” Plan to Eradicate Polio

The issue:

There are a few diseases that are making a comeback, despite the fact that vaccines exist for them. Polio is an especially dire example.

There are many reasons for this, some of which are:

1) In disease-free areas, these diseases are unknown and thus have no power to terrify.

2) In some remote areas, it is difficult to supply the vaccine.

However, these two issues can be easily solved with the proposal below.

The proposal:

Modify a variety of snake so that it injects a helpful vaccine instead of a deadly neurotoxin.

snake-and-vaccine

These snakes could be airdropped over regions that were experiencing disease epidemics, where they would gracefully glide to the ground and get to work vaccinating the population.

Alternate plan:

The spitting cobra is a promising candidate for modification; it could supply the vaccine by spitting it into the eyes, rather than requiring a painful fang-ing.

PROS: Eradicates diseases. Puts unemployed snakes to work. Generates good will in foreign countries that are appreciative of the “snakeccination” effort.

CONS: None! You should go and lobby for funding for this idea right now.

Ethics Statement

This blog follows the following statement of ethics:

Statement of Ethics:

  1. Ethics are an abstract concept that exists.
  2. A statement is also something that exists.

Please feel free to use this statement of ethics as a guide for your own endeavors as well.

One Bicyclist’s Quest to Fix Traffic Congestion Forever

The issue:

Traffic laws are made with the idea that everyone is driving a car. In the US, four-way stops are all over the place, at almost every intersection. In a car, this isn’t a huge burden, since it requires no human effort to stop and then accelerate again.

But with a bike, this requires significant expenditure of energy.

(In the absence of cross-traffic, it is also rare to see any vehicle actually come to a complete stop.)

bike-logo

The idea:

Bicyclists could opt-in to a “EXTREME BIKING” program in which the following two traffic law changes are made:

1) A red light becomes a “STOP + YIELD” together — the bicyclist must stop at the light and must yield to any cross traffic. In other words, cross traffic (going through a green light) continues to have unimpeded right-of-way.

red-lightblue-arrowstop-and-yield

2) A STOP sign becomes the rarely-seen YIELD sign. A bicyclist can pedal right through it, but must stop and wait if there is any cross traffic.

stop-signblue-arrowyield-sign

All other traffic laws remain the same.

But: Drivers are generally averse to bicyclists playing fast-and-loose with traffic laws. In order to gain support among drivers, the program will be opt-in, and every bicyclist who wishes to abide by these new rules must put an “EXTREME BIKING” sticker on their bike.

In a collision with a bike with the EXTREME BIKING sticker on it, the bicyclist will be assumed to be at fault unless evidence implies otherwise.

Ideally the sticker should be something evocative of the danger, like a skull on fire or pirate flag of some sort.

skull-bike-sticker

Above: a suggested suitably-evocative sticker design.

Conclusion:

PROS: Recognizes the unreasonableness of requiring bicyclists to stop so frequently. Should increase average bike speed. May result in amazing Youtube dash-cam montages of disasters. Will increase the number of available organs for transplant.

CONS: None whatsoever!

 

The incredible plan to save the world with more Californias

The issue: Like the citizens of many states, Californians believe that their own state is great—so what could possibly be better than even more Californias? There is a novel plan afoot to turn one (1) full-sized California into six (6) fun-sized Californias, as documented in the following link:

1-original-six-californias-ballot-initiative-poster
Above: Figure 1: An original official promotional image

(not my image; see details at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Californias )

This new California would consist of 4 Republican-leaning states and 2 Democratic-leaning states, instead of the single Democratic-leaning state that currently exists.

 

 

HOWEVER:

Instead of splitting California into just six states, with 12 Senate seats, I theorize that California should “shoot for the moon” and attempt to split itself into SIXTY states (with 120 Senate seats). Then, instead of just having a moderate six-fold increase in the state’s senatorial power, it would have a 60-fold increase.

With 120 Senate seats to the remaining states’ 98, California would be able to bend the remaining states of the union to its inexorable will.

 

2-sixty-californias

Above: Figure 2: Artist’s rendition of the hypothesized “Sixty Californias” initiative.

 

 

 

BUT PERHAPS EVEN:

The “Sixty States” still won’t give California a majority of the House of Representatives (CA would have somewhere between 60 and 120 representatives). In order to remedy that, a more drastic proposal must be put forward:

3-six-hundred-californias

Above: Figure 3: The optimistic “Six Hundred Californias” initiative.

Since every state must have a minimum of one (1) representative, the new 600-fold alliance of micro-Californias would easily have a majority of total House of Representative seats (in fact, it would require serious re-structuring, since the House is currently limited to 435 voting members).

 

CONCLUSION:

Instead of wasting their time attempting to split California into a mere six pieces, the voters should unite to make more dramatic change.

 

PROS: The legislative tyranny of this new assortment of mini-states would be absolute.

CONS: None per se, but it might be difficult to convince the other states to accept this partition.