A call to action: stop being a slacktivist—it’s time to update emoji to prevent emoji obsolescence! (Or: emoji serve inadvertently as a time capsule of the early 2000s.)

Background:

As time goes on, certain emoji will become obsolete. Some of them already have! Although this is not a huge problem right now, it may become one in the future: will anyone understand what the “pager” emoji means in 100 years?

pager

Fig 1: In a hundred years, this pager icon will will baffle and befuddle all but the most erudite historians.

Fig 2: For people of the future, the pager icon will be as perplexing as this device probably is to you, unless you work in a historical re-creation village or something (This is an apple peeler.) Image citation.

The plan: periodically update emoji symbols

So we need to update our symbolic language to take into account the new technology.

Below are some examples of what emoji would have looked like if they had been created in years past.

These should serve as a cautionary tale and convince you of the necessity of occasional emoji symbol updates!

historical_emoji_MEDIUM_SIZE

Fig 3: This figure should convince you of the necessity of occasional emoji updates. If the emoji in the right column had been created in ancient times and never updated, we would be stuck with the no-longer-representative icons in the left column. For example, we would still have to use the “plague doctor” icon to refer to medical professionals.

Suggestion:

We may occasionally be able to predict certain aspects of the future and fix our soon-to-be-obsolete emoji ahead of time.

Future Emoji

Fig 4: Even in the early 2000s, we have the opportunity to add a few “for future use” emoji before we absolutely need them. Here are some examples of easy ones that are guaranteed to be correct. Also, we can probably remove emoji for most extinct animals in the future. Sorry, soon-to-be-extinct animals!

Possible Difficulty:

Due to the convergence of technology, sometimes multiple devices in the past will end up being the same icon in the modern era. For example, the camera, camcorder, phone, pager, fax machine, and computer have all been combined into the modern cell phone. It is unclear how to deal with this scenario in a satisfactory manner.

Convergent technological development

Fig 5: One issue with updating emoji is that multiple former-era-emoji may map to a single emoji in the current era, as seen above.

Conclusion:

As usual, this is a great idea!

PROS: Prevents emoji from becoming confusing and obsolete.

CONS: May make old documents unreadable if old symbols are retired or replaced, and thus rarely or never encountered except by historians.

Sources of certain images:

Never pay for a parking spot downtown again with this one unbelievable tip from a disgruntled crane operator!

The issue: Lack of Parking Availability

In many areas of high-density housing, parking spots can be an incredibly valuable commodity.

This is especially true of areas with heavy snowfall, since the snow temporarily reduces the amount of parking spots available.

Unfortunately, there is no extremely easy way to add additional parking spots without major demolition / renovation to existing buildings.

Proposal:

But the area above the street is still free. Thus, we can create additional parking spots by adding a number of crane-suspended platforms to the street. These new “aerial parking spots” will be easy to use:

  1. Call the crane with a remote control (like a garage door opener).
  2. Wait for the crane to lower the platform into the middle of the street (this may temporarily block traffic).
  3. Drive onto the platform.
  4. Turn off your car and get out of it. Important: step off of the platform!
  5. Push the remote control button again to hoist your car into the air.

Now your car is hanging 30 feet in the air, on a small parking-spot-sized platform, and you don’t need to find a parking spot.

Bonus feature: protects your car from opportunistic theft and casual vandalism.

Alternative option.

If the building has an interior courtyard, the cars could be lifted over the building entirely and then dropped off in the (normally vehicle-inaccessible) central courtyard. This would mean that one crane could handle multiple cars.

car-crane

Fig 1: Here, the apartment on the right has a crane (or multiple cranes) which can pick up cars directly from the street.

Possible technical enhancement:

If this method of parking becomes extremely popular, cars may be built with additional “aerial parking” options. For example, a car could have a special roof rack that would be grabbed onto by a hook on the crane. This would allow the car be hoisted directly into the air without the need for a platform.

car-detail-grabber

Fig 2: Having to wait for a platform to lower before you can drive onto it would eventually become a bit annoying. But this issue can be solved by building a “lift point” into the car itself. The lifting bar here (which would be like a standard roof rack, except structurally integrated into the frame of the car) would mesh directly with the overhead lifting hooks, preventing the need for any sort of lifting platform. The whole process could even be automated with basic computer vision and proximity-detection hardware.

PROS: Conveniently solves downtown / high-density apartment parking issues.

CONS: “How would this system deal with high winds?” Answer: POORLY?

Double your credit rating with this one weird tip, which assumes that a double-sided credit card will somehow also double your credit rating. Maybe credit bureaus have not yet considered this unlikely loophole!

Background:

Many people avoid registering their displeasure with a commercial transaction due to the social cost of confrontation.

Yet, many commercial transactions involve an annoyance of some sort. Perhaps it would be beneficial to both the customer and the company for this displeasure to be known?

Proposal: a two-sided credit card with both “satisfied” and “dissatisfied” sides

If a credit card transaction could also provide instant feedback to a company, this might provide an “early warning” to the company of customer dissatisfaction.

In this example (see Fig. 1), the two-sided credit card is essentially two separate accounts in one; depending on which side is swiped and/or entered in some other fashion, the card will also inform the company that the transaction was satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

card-two-sides

card-flip

Fig 1: This credit card has two sides and two magnetic stripes (or chips). One side is the “happy” side, and one side is the “sad” side. When making a transaction in person, one simply provides the credit card in the desired orientation.

card-happy

Fig 2: For in-person transactions involving a tip (e.g. restaurants in the United States), the credit card could be configured to give a default tip amount as well. This would save the card owner from the annoyance of calculating tip amounts. In this case, the user could configure each side to a custom amount; perhaps the “happy” side would also translate to a 20% tip.

card-angry

Fig 3: Since tipping at American table service restaurants is socially obligatory, having the “angry” side have a low tip would have to be reserved for incredibly awful locations that the patron plans to never re-visit.

Conclusion:

You should write your credit card company today and demand that this feature be implemented.

PROS: Allows even the meekest individuals to register their transaction-related opinions. Saves the trouble of adding the tip to a bill.

CONS: Possibly redundant with Yelp and other review sites. Unscrupulous employees might run the card on the “happy” side no matter what, to boost their own customer satisfaction numbers.

Modern “Emoji” characters will become the basis for writing systems of civilizations 1000 years from now.

Background:

Our current alphabet is derived from an ancient system of representational icons. These icons were once pictures of actual objects, but have been simplified to an easier-to-write form over the millennia.

For example, according to the inerrant source of knowledge known as Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenician_alphabet):

The letter “Q” used to be one of these:

q

This is the head of a needle, called “qop.” Presumably the ancient Phonecian word for “head of a needle” sounded something vaguely like “qop.”

Similarly with “K,” which used to look like this:

k

Supposedly this was the palm of a hand, called “kap.” Just like above, presumably the ancient word for “palm” started with a “k” sound.

Today:

So in the modern era, whenever we want to write out a “k” sound, we draw a tiny pictogram of the palm of a hand, all because the word for “palm” started with a “k” three thousand years ago.

Some letters are indirectly derived from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

owl

So if we ask why a specific letter is shaped in a certain way, the answer is because it looked like a sketch of an owl that some scribe drew 5000 years ago!

The predicted future:

In the future, we expect that these trends will continue.

In the example below, we see the icon of a floppy disk (which also represents the word “Save”). A floppy disk is a device that was once used by the ancestral people of Silicon Valley to store written knowledge.

Here are two predicted possible evolutions of a new character (the final form of which is based loosely on Chinese characters), which may represent one of three things:

  1. In a fully ideographic system, it would continue to represent the verbto save.”
  2. In a syllabic system, it would represent the syllable “sa” or “say.”
  3. In an alphabetic system, it would represent the sound “sss.”

emoji_evolve_2

Fig 1: In the distant future, the “save” icon (left) will become an ideogram via one of the two paths seen at right. The two paths (top row and bottom row) represent different ways of abstracting away the floppy disk; in the top path (green arrow), the angled edge is exaggerated, while in the bottom path, the metal slide cover is emphasized.

Conclusion:

Just as obsolete iconography of the past continues to live on today (the head of a needle, the Egyptian owl, etc…), our Emoji of the beginning of the third millennium will undoubtedly influence the writing systems of people in the distant future.

PROS: Since this is inescapably our future, it has no “pros.” It merely is.

CONS: As above, there are no cons to this vision of the future. We must simply accept it as destiny.

Never get confused by your filesystem again, thanks to overly verbose documentation harassing you at every step. Also apparently no one uses filesystems anymore now that computers have become phones.

Background:

Back in the ancient days before iPhones, people would store files in a hierarchical fashion in “folders” or “directories” on their computers.

The issue:

Sometimes, despite relatively descriptive folder names, it is not clear what a folder / directory actually is. For example, on Mac OS X, a casual user may be flummoxed by the presence of the “Library” folder on their hard drive, or surprised to see unusual directories for software that they perhaps installed but do not recognize.

This is especially frequent when a program has support files under a company name. For example, if a person did not know that Photoshop was made by Adobe, they might be mystified by the sudden presence of many “Adobe” support files on their system.

Proposal: allow comments to be attached to files and folders

The proposal is simple: to allow descriptions of folders to be easily visible in the user interface.

Associating a comment with a file / folder is (surprisingly) already a multi-decade-old feature in Mac OS. However: no one ever uses it because:

1) it is extremely inconvenient to actually view the comments

and

2) since it is never used, it’s not worth checking for comments, because there won’t be any.

comments-mac

Fig 1: The Mac OS actually provides a built-in way of annotating a file or folder, but no one ever uses it, perhaps because it’s in a very out-of-the-way location.

To fix this, we will attach comments to the folders in a more obvious fashion, as shown in figure 2.

annotations-in-the-finder-on-mac

Fig 2: The gray region at the top of the window is a comment about the purpose of the directory. No more need to search online when you are mystified about which program created a folder, or whether it’s important to system operation.

Another reason no one used Mac OS comments is that, historically, they were extremely easy to wipe out with certain common system-cleaning operations. We could make the annotation system more robust by simply storing the comments as an invisible file (perhaps “.dir_comment”) in the folder that the comment applies to.

This would also make it easy to implement the commenting system in the shell; perhaps the “ls” operation could display some context about a queried directory as shown below

ls-library-old-style

Fig 3a: In the terminal, a directory listing typically looks like this. If only we could easily discover what the “Library” directory was!

ls-library

Fig 3b: An “enhanced” version of Fig 3a, where the directory shows some information about itself to the user.

ls-python

Fig 4: This feature may be particularly useful when it comes to describing software that has been added to the system. For example, a user may be curious about the “TeX” directory, and wonder if it is an important part of the system, or if it was some piece of software they installed several system versions ago and forgot about.

Implementation difficulty:

This would be easy to implement as a wrapper to the ls command that would print the contents of a file before printing the directory’s contents.

PROS: This feature would promote sales of larger monitors, since all the documentation would crowd out actual on-screen content.

CONS: It is likely that every description will be as cryptic as a typical UNIX man page (“manual page”). See bonus Fig 5 below for an example.

man-scp

Fig 5: With a clear synopsis like this, it’s obvious why the man page for “scp” does not bother to include any examples of how to use it.

Comprehend the true depths of your decadent consumerist lifestyle with this one weird trick!

Background:

If you stay in one apartment or house for a long time, you tend to accumulate a large number of superfluous possessions.

But it’s hard to get an idea of exactly how much stuff you have.

Proposal:

Moving trucks should have a weight sensor on them to tell you how many pounds of stuff you own.

This would be like a truck weigh station, only built into the moving truck itself.

Then, you could figure out how much stuff you have by just checking the dial (Figure 2).

moving-van

Fig 1: A moving truck. When you fill it up with all your worldly possessions, it could tell you how much all that stuff weighs.

weight-dial

Fig 2: This dial would go in the dashboard, right next to the speedometer. Possibly actual weight could be reported rather than just judgmental terms.

Conclusion:

This feature should be added to every moving van!

PROS: It’s a great way to figure out exactly how much stuff you have accumulated.

CONS: May hurt the consumer-based economy. Equipping a fleet of moving trucks with scales would add a small cost to each truck. Wouldn’t work for people who hoard extremely light items (e.g., feathers or styrofoam packing peanuts).

Increase downtown property values by developing un-used space above the roadway, an amazing weird trick from an unlicensed city planner with extensive SimCity experience

Background:

Many cities have serious shortages of buildable space in the most desirable areas—most land that is available for development has already been taken.

Proposal: Allow building of a “second level” of city on the un-used space above the streets

Fortunately, there actually is a large amount of unused space in each city (generally, approximately 5–10% of the total area in question). And it’s not even privately owned!

Specifically, it is the area above the sidewalks and public streets. (See Figure 2 for an example of a four-way intersection.)

All we have to do is allow structures to be built on stilts on top of the roadway. This will shield pedestrians and cars from rain, snow, and hail, and will keep the roadway comfortable and cool even on the hottest days. Additionally, it will increase the number of structures built in the city, which will help fund public education via property taxes.

This idea has extensive historical support in dystopian and cyberpunk fiction, so presumably most of the details of it have already been worked out.

street-above-construction-side-view

Fig 1: Building a second layer of city above the roadway would be a great way to increase the tax base and allow people to live closer to their place of work.

A) are supports for the second level, which can be placed on the sidewalk just like telephone poles / utility poles. B) is the second level of the city and C) are the houses that are built on top of this platform. D) is the original roadway. E) shows the minimum clearance for the second level (in this example, the dashed line shows 30 feet from the roadway, although the specific heights may be different, depending on local requirements).

street-build-overhead

Fig 2: In this overhead view of a four-way intersection, there are buildings (dark gray) on all four corners and a sidewalk (light gray). There is significant un-built (but highly desirable) space being occupied by the roadway and sidewalks.

street-above-overhead-view

Fig 3: In this terrible diagram, we see the elevated area (blue) above the street (white). Sidewalks are in green for some reason. Features of interest: A) Staircase leading from the upper level to the ground-level sidewalk. B and C) Elevators. D and E: a skybridge connecting the buildings at near points D and E. F: a skybridge connecting the upper-level buildings directly to the building at F (perhaps it is a shopping center). Who made this diagram anyway, it is awful. Oh well!

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PROS: Makes the city more like a cyberpunk dystopia. Adds new buildings that will pay property tax, increasing city revenue. By increasing population density and decreasing commute distance, we create a more eco-friendly city.

CONS: Doesn’t work in areas with significant over-the-road infrastructure. Also, this idea never seems to work out in works of fiction.

Never be confused by a signaling bus again, assuming you frequently drive behind buses instead of taking public transit (you monster)

Background:

Every vehicle has two turn signals on the back.

These can indicate one of two things:

1) Car is turning left / right.

2) If both lights are blinking: “hazard / emergency / vehicle is stopped in roadway.”

emergency-button

Fig 1: The emergency / hazard lights are usually activated by this button.

The issue:

Unfortunately, distinguishing between the “turn signal” and “emergency” requires that both lights are visible.

See figure 2 for a common example involving a bus that is either stopped at a bus stop (and thus it is safe to go around it to the left) or is signaling that it is about to get into the left hand lane (and thus it is not safe to go around it to the left!).

blinker-or-emergency-light-bus

Fig 2: The scenario in question. The bus’s right-side turn signal is blocked by the blue car. So if you saw this scenario in front of you while driving, you wouldn’t know what the bus was planning to do (Remain stopped? Move into the left lane? Who knows!).

Proposal: Change the rate of blinking for the hazard lights

The solution to this issue is very simple: normal turn signals typically blink with approximately equal time in the “on” and “off” portions of the cycle.

We would keep this behavior the same, but change the “hazard light” blinker pattern to a different pattern (for example, two short blinks, followed by a longer pause).

See figure 3a for a current normal blinker’s behavior, and figure 3b for the proposed revision to emergency lights.

blinker-regular

Fig 3a: A standard blinker typically blinks on and off in a regular pattern. The “on” and “off” periods usually take the same amount of time.

blinker-pulse

Fig 3b: In the proposed change, emergency lights would blink in a distinctive “on / off / on / off   (long pause)  on / off / on / off” pattern. This way, even viewing a single blinker would be sufficient to tell if the vehicle was signaling to change lanes or if it had its emergency blinkers on.

Conclusion:

This would probably work! And it does not require any additional hardware in the car (i.e., no additional lights). It would probably add zero cents of cost to the manufacture of a new car.

PROS: Easy to implement, probably would work!

CONS: Too easy!!!

Motel-on-the-Move: The incredible secret to affordable housing in every city! Why are you still paying rent or a mortgage?

Background:

Housing is incredibly expensive in many major cities.

Some people try to cope with high housing prices by living in their cars.

However, it is generally illegal to sleep in a parked vehicle. Additionally, there are often restrictions on vehicle height for parked vehicles.

Proposal:

None of the caveats above apply to a moving vehicle.

The “Motel-on-the-Move” is a standard tour bus that has been converted into a mobile housing development. By partitioning the bus along its length (like an old railroad sleeper car, or a Japanese capsule hotel), somewhere between 8 and 48 miniature housing units could be fit into a single bus.

This bus would constantly drive around the city, on a set route, to accomplish two goals:

1) By avoiding parking, the inhabitants would not be in violation of city ordinances prohibiting habitation in vehicles.

2) By traveling through the city, the bus-dwellers could obtain door-to-door service to their places of work. The bus’s route could be optimized for the specific inhabitants.

Additionally, there might be tax implications; perhaps the bus could spent part of the year in locations with lower tax rates, allowing the residents to potentially benefit from reduced income tax rates.

motel-bus-1

Fig 1: The “Motel on the Move” would be a converted tour bus that would constantly drive throughout a high-rent city. Each door here in the diagram (blue doors on the “ground” level, yellow doors on the “mezzanine”) corresponds to a single extremely cramped studio apartment.

motel-bus-layout

Fig 2: A hypothetical floor plan for each unit. A): A bed that can be folded against the wall. B) A convenient window-side chair for reading. C) A window to the outside. D) Apartment door. Opens directly onto the street. E) Extra space for shelves and/or folding tables. F) A drain in the floor. Area “F” doubles as an extremely-low-flow shower. G) Toilet. H) Sink, above the toilet, for maximum space efficiency. A shower head on a flexible nozzle would also allow for showers to be taken in the F-G-H area of the apartment. Resident water usage would have to be strictly limited due to space and weight constraints on the bus.

motel-bus-heights

Fig 3: Units could be crammed together vertically by taking advantage of the fact that a 7-foot ceiling is not absolutely necessary across the entire unit. Above, a red unit is stacked on top of the blue unit. In the blue lower unit, the low-ceilinged area on the left would contain a bed (like the bottom bunk on a submarine). In the top unit, the bed would be on a “platform” (really the ceiling of the blue unit) on the right.

Caveat:

The cost of running a bus 24/7 and paying for a driver (or scheduling the residents to drive it) might offset some of the rent savings.

PROS: Could stimulate the automotive industry. Capsule hotel industry can serve as a template for obtaining venture capital funding.

CONS: Ecologically questionable.

Never forget where you left your car again, because your phone knows! Also your car is probably worth thousands of dollars, so you should be keeping track of it anyway!

The issue:

When parking on the street or in an enormous shopping center parking lot, it can be easy to lose track of exactly where one’s car is parked.

Since cell phones constantly record a person’s GPS location as a standard feature (if you are not familiar with this, look up “iPhone Track location”—the images are quite striking), we can use this same data to reconstruct the car’s location when it was parked.

vegas-actual-data-zoomout

Fig 1: Your phone typically does not make this data easily available to you, but it is constantly recording (and saving) your location. This is a low-resolution zoom-out of tracking signals of a phone taken to Las Vegas. Each dot on the map actually represents dozens or hundreds of specific location “pings,” which are just not visible at this zoom level. The black point cluster is Las Vegas itself.

Proposal:

It would be useful if your phone could always tell you where your car was parked—without requiring any user interaction or planning ahead of time.

Luckily, this is possible!

The car location will can be inferred using two sources of data:

  1. By using the accelerometer of the phone (as a pedometer):
    1. When the user is driving, the pedometer should register no (or very, very few) steps.
    2. After parking, the pedometer should suddenly see activity.
  2. By examining the speed of travel between GPS coordinates.
    1. Data points that have an associated speed above 20 miles per hour are practically guaranteed to be in a car (or other form of motorized transportation).
    2. Car data points will still have interruptions (e.g. stop lights) and low-speed sections (e.g., traffic jam) that need to be accounted for.
    3. At some point, the driver will get out of the car and walk to their destination. This can be easily detected by the slower movement and non-zero pedometer data.

See figures 2 and 3 below for an example of integrating these two data types (top of figure = pedometer activity bar graph, bottom of figure = map and GPS “pings”). Try to figure out the parking spot on the diagram below.

auto-park-guess

Fig 2: Here is some fake sample data. The blue bars along the top (“Number of Steps Detected”) show pedometer / accelerometer activity from 9:02 AM to 9:10 AM (the more a person walks, the higher the bar). The yellow-to-orange-to-red rectangles at the bottom indicate the GPS locations at these specific times. Try to figure out where the user parked the car based on this data. See Fig. 3 for the algorithm’s guess.

auto-park-input

Fig 3: Here is the algorithm’s guess for the parking spot—see if you agree with this guess! This is an annotated version of the data in Figure 2.

Conclusion:

This feature should definitely be built into your phone!

PROS: Automatically lets you know where you (probably) parked your car, and doesn’t need any data that a modern cell phone isn’t already collecting.

CONS: Might not work very well in underground parking garages. Try to remember where you parked in those situations!