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!

Amazing new alternative to kenneling for pets will shock and amaze you. Freeze-a-pet™

The issue:

Pet ownership can sometimes be problematic in today’s mobile society.

For example: if a person has to leave on a business trip and doesn’t have friends or family to take care of their dog / cat / capybara / etc., they have to deal with the hassle of kenneling their treasured beast. This can be expensive for the owner and unpleasant for the animal in question!

Background:

There are some frogs that can apparently survive in a state of suspended animation at near-freezing temperatures.

Also, bears are known to hibernate for months in the winter.

The proposal:

A “Freeze-A-Pet” would be a regular pet, except that it can hibernate when exposed to cold temperatures.

Presumably this type of pet could be created using the same “insert frog DNA into animal” technology used to create the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Easy!

pet-1-unfrozenFig 1. A photorealistic rendering of a “freeze-a-pet”-compatible cat. Not pictured: frog DNA.

So if a person needs to go on out of town for a while, they just stick their pet into their freezer (or perhaps fridge), and the pet hibernates until the owner returns. Problem solved!

pet-2-frozenFig 2. Artist’s rendition of a freeze-a-pet in hibernation, Han-Solo-style.

In the event of a power outage, the fridge could be programmed to pop the door open and (optionally) send a text message and/or sound an audible alarm.

PROS: Makes pet ownership much more feasible for busy individuals.

CONS: The kennel lobby (“Big Kennel”) would probably oppose any development in this field, which might make it hard to find funding and avoid regulatory hurdles.

Daily recap: One weird all-seeing-eye trick to staying focused on your goals

TITLE: Daily recap: One weird all-seeing-eye trick to staying focused on your goals

Background:

People currently carry cell phones that have the ability to record nearly all aspects of life.

  • For example:
  • Location, via GPS
  • Step counting, via accelerometer (and GPS)
  • All Internet usage that goes through that device
  • All text messages
  • All email correspondence
  • Anything said within earshot of the device
  • Etc.

Soon, this self-surveillance will become even more all-encompassing, as people wear watches / lapel pins / fake flowers / whatever with integrated cameras and heart rate monitors. Nothing will be hidden from the all-seeing eye of THE CLOUD.

eye-watchFig 1: A hypothetical wristwatch with an all-seeing eye on it. The eye just watches the wearer 24/7, silently judging. Remember to charge it every night!

Interestingly, the “Telescreen” from Orwell’s 1984 actually gathers less information about a subject than a modern cell phone! For now, we will skip over the obvious dystopian applications for this technology.

Proposal:

1) The watch monitors its wearer at all times, and extracts a few clips of “interesting” things that happened during the day.

2) Then, overnight, it creates a 30 second video montage, complete with a dramatic voiceover narrating the highlights of the day, like one might see in a TV show with a continuing multi-episode plot.

3) When the watch-wearer wakes up in the morning, they are greeted with a “last time in: your daily life” video.

Example:

“LAST TIME IN: YOUR LIFE:

  • FIRST: YOU FAILED TO USE THE COPIER ON THE SECOND FLOOR:
    video clip of the user cursing at a copying machine
  • THEN: YOU MISSED THE BUS: video clip of the user running after a bus as it pulls away from the stop
  • BUT: YOU HAD A DELICIOUS KEBAB: video clip of the user buying lunch at a food truck
  • NOW A NEW DAY BEGINS. . .

 

heart-rate-etc

Fig 2: In order to obtain this information, the monitoring software could examine your GPS location, heart rate, step count, etc. Presumably it could look for interesting combinations of data that had not occurred before, and those would (hopefully) result in a useful recap of the previous day.

PROS: Could motivate the user to stay focused on their goals by providing continuity with their actions from the previous day.

CONS: Depending on the user’s daily routine, the “daily recap” might eventually find nothing interesting. “Highlights from yesterday: you microwaved a frozen meal and then watched a Youtube compilation of car crashes.”