Phone Call Priority: 9 incredible mistakes you’re making on the phone without even realizing it. Number 4 will bring an icy chill to your heart as you contemplate its true horror.

Background:

Phone woes: when you use text or call someone, there’s no way to differentiate between the following scenarios:

  1. Low priority (not time-sensitive): “Let’s chat, if you have time.”
  2. Medium priority (time-sensitive): “I just showed up at the crowded convention center, but I can’t find you.”
  3. High priority (important and time-sensitive): “Your car is about to be towed, you have 2 minutes to move it!”

The issue:

Unfortunately, all three of the scenarios above result in the same effect on the recipient’s phone: it rings / vibrates in the same manner no matter what.

So an individual at a meeting will get the same low-priority phone alert from “Are you free for lunch?” as “A derailed train car is leaking flammables over by building #3! Run for your life!”

“Call priority” proposal:

We can fix this by allowing the caller to indicate how important their message is.

This could easily be accomplished by:

  1. Making the default “call” or “text” button generate a low-priority message.
  2. Allowing a long-press on the call button to bring up a new set of options for time-sensitive or extremely-urgent messages.

Phone_call_priority

Fig 1: Example of a phone call (or text) button that would also allow a user to (optionally) generate a more emphatic ring on the other end if the call is especially critical. The bubble below the “CALL” text would appear on a long-press of the call button.

There could also be an “extremely low priority” option for text messages that would cause the phone on the other end to not ring / vibrate at all—while this initially seems useless, it is actually similar to sending an email, and would allow people to send frivolous text messages (“so I just saw the director’s cut of snakes on a plane”) without worrying about annoying the recipient.

The full set of options for calls / texts would be:

  1. Normal priority (regular ring / vibration)
  2. Time-sensitive (more emphatic / longer ring and vibration)
  3. Urgent (extremely insistent ring / vibration)
  4. Unimportant (doesn’t ring or vibrate at all, so it has a very low level of “demand”—like an email)

Phone_ring

Fig 2: A phone responding to three different calls. From top to bottom: 1) normal, 2) time-sensitive, 3) urgent.

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The art of conversation:

Since a call is interpreted by many individuals as “hey, stop what you are doing, I need to talk to you right now,” there could be a “call” option that would simply send the recipient a short text message with an “accept / decline” call button.

This way, instead of feeling like calling someone is an imposition on the other individual’s time, it could be seamlessly integrated into the texting system as a polite request. Everyone wins!

Phone_text_message_call

Fig 3: A phone call could be automatically converted into a polite text message, as seen above.

Regarding individuals sending all messages at maximum priority:

Although it would be possible for a person to always send their messages as “urgent,” a phone would have a button to “downgrade” all messages from an individual to regular priority.

Additionally, telemarketers could be forbidden by law from using any of the higher-priority messaging modes.

PROS: Makes phones more convenient and encourages people to feel more comfortable making voice calls.

CONS: Might make it even harder for telemarketers to reach you.

Are your co-workers laughing at you behind your back? Abide by this single flawless maxim and concern yourself no more! This assumes that the root problem was your choice of name for a new product.

Background:

Many product names are ambiguous when used as a keyword in a web search.

For example, in the most egregious hypothetical case, if you had a program named “The” it would be almost impossible to do an English-language search for it. Imagine searching for “The problem,” or “The crashing when I load too many databases.”

The issue:

It is excusable for products to have ambiguous names if they were created before web searches became important.

  1. For example, “Go” (the programming language developed in 2007) is poorly named, so we should heap our scorn upon it.
  2. Whereas “Go” (the ancient board game) should get a pass, as it is unreasonable to expect scholars from an ancient Chinese dynasty to predict the Internet. (Also, it 1) pre-dated the English language and 2) was not actually called “go” either).

But post-2000, it is clear to everyone that products need to be findable online. There is no excuse for naming a product or piece of software something generic and ambiguous.

Fig 1: If a user wants to know how to batch-rename photos in the Apple "Photos" application, they will have to generate a very creative search query. None of the top results for the obvious query "batch rename Apple photos" were relevant.
Fig 1: If a user wants to know how to batch-rename photos in the Apple “Photos” application, they will have to generate a very creative search query. None of the top results for the obvious query “batch rename Apple photos” were relevant.

Here are three categories of software names. One is the “potentially quite difficult to find results for” category, one is “unique names, very easy to find results for,” and one is “ambiguous word, but usually still easy to find results for.”

See if you can determine which is which:

Category #1:

  • Mail
  • C
  • Maps
  • .NET
  • Numbers
  • R
  • Serial
  • Go

Category #2:

  • PowerPoint
  • Perl
  • iBooks
  • Firefox
  • LibreOffice
  • CrashPlan
  • Crimson Editor

Category #3:

  • Java
  • Python
  • Kindle
  • Pandora
  • Safari
  • Keynote
  • Komodo
Fig 2: Would you like to download a podcast as an MP3? Normally you can just type in the podcast name plus "mp3," but you can't do that if the podcast is named "Serial." Tear your hair and wail at the injustice of it!
Fig 2: Would you like to download a podcast as an MP3? Normally you can just type in the podcast name plus “mp3,” but you can’t do that if the podcast is named “Serial.” Tear your hair and wail at the injustice of it!
Fig 3: Want to know what algorithm is used by the Apple Chess program? Too bad! But maybe you'd like these unrelated links.
Fig 3: Want to know what algorithm is used by the Apple Chess program? Too bad! But maybe you’d like these unrelated links!

The solution:

Simply put, a 100% tax would be levied on the revenues generated by any product with a non-unique official name.

This would encourage companies to quickly think of new words for their products, or at least officially re-brand their generically-named products with their company name.

Examples:

  • Apple Mail –> “iMail”
  • Microsoft Word –> “MSWord”
  • Serial Podcast –> “Investigate-o-pod”
  • Apple Maps –> “AppleMaps”
  • Google Maps –> “GoogMap”
  • Go programming language –> “GoLang”
  • C programming language –> “PlainC”
  • Ford Fiesta –> “Ford FiestaMeansFestival”

If you hate these names—and you probably should—too bad!

This is the inevitable consequence of progress.

Positive role model for unique names:

Bands are famous for having extremely bizarre and generally totally unique names. Consumer products and software could take inspiration from the creativity used in selecting a band name.

Economic impact:

Probably it would be minor, as companies would quickly re-brand.

If this law were retroactive, Apple would be one of the hardest-hit companies:

  • Apple’s software for managing photos: Photos
  • Apple’s client for desktop mail: Mail
  • Apple’s calendar: Calendar (formerly “iCal”)
  • Apple’s program for organizing your contacts: Contacts (formerly “Address Book”)
  • Apple’s maps: Maps
  • Apple’s program for taking notes: Notes
  • Apple’s application for playing chess: Chess
  • Apple’s spreadsheet: Numbers
  • Apple’s word processor: Pages

(Despite those software products being supplied free, they would be assigned a percentage of Apple’s hardware sales, based on the logic that these programs contributed to the “software ecosystem” that motivated the hardware sales in the first place.)

One weird energy tip trick that is hated by the subterranean reptiloids who control our fates!!
One weird energy source that is hated by the subterranean reptiloids who control our fates! Vampires hate it! Save $$$ on your energy bills using this trick somehow?

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PROS: You would no longer have to try a dozen terms when searching online for something with a generic name.

CONS: None! This should be done immediately, if not sooner.

Supplemental post: A car manufacturer is actually applying an “achievement unlocked” system to encourage car maintenance. You might or might not believe what happens next, depending on a combination of your personality traits!

As previously discussed on this very site, “gamification” is a hot topic in the world of behavioral influence.

The car manufacturer Qoros (观致汽车) (Wikipedia link) is attempting to use this technique in the automotive world.

The picture below (from the electronic dashboard of a 2015 Qoros sedan) displays the “Beat the Line” achievement.

Achievement unlocked—you took your car in for scheduled maintenance!!
Achievement unlocked—you made an appointment to buy a car! Or possibly took your car in for scheduled maintenance! Or at least did something at a dealership!

Unfortunately, a full list of available achievements / badges does not appear to be available. In fact, I can find no mention of this incentive system anywhere on the Internet!

Hopefully this concept catches on and results in many additional creatively-named car maintenance and/or purchase achievements.

One weird unfunded mandate that exposes the disregard for handicapped accessibility in 8-bit video games… tip number 3 will shock you!

Background:

Old 8-bit video games typically do not adhere to modern standards of occupational safety or handicapped-accessibility.

The issue:

The issue we will deal with here is making an old game, in this case, Zelda II for the Nintendo Entertainment System, properly compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.

Obviously this will be simplified, since we don’t have to worry about structural stability, proper materials, or material cross-section (or anything three-dimensional) in a game of this style.

ADA question

Fig 1: This is a screenshot from the late ’80s Nintendo game Zelda II. This is an entrance to specific palace in the game. There are two extremely large “steps” (approximately 3 feet high each) and a human-sized statue on top of a pedestal.

Note that the enormous steps leading up to the palace are not even remotely handicapped-accessible.

(Plus, such large steps are probably also forbidden by municipal building codes.)

Proposal:

As a publicly accessible building, the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act could potentially apply to this palace.

We will add a ramp (although alternative solutions exist, such as elevators).

For ADA compliance:

  • Ramps must have no greater than a 4.8° incline (1 foot of rise per 12 feet of distance)
  • An individual segment of ramp cannot be any longer than 30 feet. Longer segments must be broken up by landings.
  • Landings must be at least 5 feet wide.

In this case, for 6 feet of elevation gain, we will need two 30 foot ramps and one ~12 foot ramp. This will require two landings.

ADA ramp

Fig 2: With three ramps (and two landings) installed, the palace entrance is now handicapped accessible.

There is still one serious problem—although though the ramp has an acceptable incline and distance, we have created a new death trap for the palace due to the lack of handrails.

The handrail requirements that would apply to the 8-bit Zelda II world include:

  • Handrails must be 34–38 inches above ramp surfaces.
  • Handrails must end in a 12 inch “loop” beyond the ramp (see diagram).

ADA handrails

Fig 3: With proper ramps and handrails, this palace is now one step closer to being ADA accessible. The sprites themselves are all © Nintendo.

Conclusion:

It is important to realize that locations in video games may also be visited by characters who cannot jump 8 feet in the air from a standing start.

PROS: Significantly increases quality of life for individuals with mobility problems.

CONS: A classic “unfunded mandate”—imposes significant architectural demands without providing the money to actually perform the construction.

You’ve been making your bed the wrong way THIS WHOLE TIME. Six ways to repent (number 4 will shock you!)

Background:

After washing bedsheets, it is difficult to immediately determine the proper orientation for a non-patterned fitted sheet (the bottommost sheet, with the elastic border, the one that looks like this).

Frequently, one turns the sheet 90°, only to discover that the sheet was actually correct the first way. Shameful!

Now that we have solved the issues of bubonic plague, dinosaur attacks, and coastal piracy, we must turn our efforts to solving the “fitted sheet orientation” problem.

Current state of the art:

If a set of sheets have an obvious pattern on them (e.g., stripes), it can be easy to remember the proper orientation of the sheet.

a2-long-edge-obvious-stripe

Fig 1: An obvious pattern (here, stripes) makes proper sheet orientation clear. This weird striped blob is supposed to be a fitted sheet.

mattress

Fig 2: The mattress has a long edge and a short edge, unless you have some weird square- or circle-shaped bed, in which case you probably have problems finding sheets in the first place.

a1-long-edge-unknown

Fig 3: Unfortunately, with solid color sheets, the only obvious orientation-determining feature is the location of the washing instructions tag.

If you remember exactly where the tag is (e.g. “it goes on the left side”), then you have solved the fitted sheet orientation problem.

Unfortunately, this tag is located in different places in different sheets.

Proposal:

One simple solution would be to establish a regulatory organization (ideally at an international level) to standardize the location of the tag on fitted sheets.

We could call this the “Fitted Sheet Tag Administration.” The advantage of just standardizing the tag location is that no manufacturing process would need to be changed, and no additional costs would need to be incurred in sheet design and/or production, since the tag is already present on all sheets.

a3-tag-standard-location

Fig 4: Tag location could be standardized. “The tag always goes nearest the starboard-side pillow.” Assumes that the bed is a boat, for sake of standardization.

If a consumer could purchase a set of FSTA-licensed fitted sheets and know that the tag always belonged on (say) the right side of the headboard, then that individual would be able to put the sheet on the bed without experiencing any psychological trauma due to having to rotate the sheet.

a4-tag-rotate

Fig 5: Standardized tag location allows the sheet to be rotated to the proper orientation without requiring guesswork.

Justification with math:

If we assume that there are:

  • 7 billion individuals in the world
  • of whom 20% have fitted sheets
  • and that these are changed an average of 24 times per year
  • and that orientation-determination wastes an average of 10 seconds per sheet-changing
  • Then we end up with a total time wasted per year of:
    • (7,000,000,000 * 0.20 * 24 * 10) seconds = 336,000,000,000 seconds
  • Which is a total of
    • 10,647 man-years of wasted effort every single year

This is more total time than has passed since all of recorded history!

PROS: Saves 10,647 man-years of work for every year. Generates new bureaucratic employment positions.

CONS: The Fitted Sheet Tag Administration may become corrupt and decadent if it faces no accountability.

Your lack of art appreciation has brought shame to the land. Redeem yourself with this one weird sponsorship trick.

The issue:

The fine arts constantly struggle for funding, perhaps due to their general inability to compete with modern sources of entertainment.

Proposal:

In art museums, commercial sponsorship could take the form of (non-destructive) modification to the works of art themselves. For example, the Mona Lisa could be holding an iPhone (an idea which has been done before: https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&q=mona+lisa+iphone), or one could spot a Radio Shack in the nightmarish hellscape of Hieronymus Bosch’s Hell (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f6/Mad_meg.jpg).

For flat artwork, sponsorship images could easily be added by using a glass overlay with the desired promotional material painted on. See below for details:

art-sponsor-layout

Fig 1: A clear overlay (perhaps a piece of glass, or an animation cel) would be slid over the piece of artwork in question. In this example, “The Scream” is modified to be chomping on a delicious hamburger. Perhaps this particular overlay would be a McDonalds ad, which might encourage Burger King to buy a competing overlay for another famous painting at the same museum.

side-view-art-sponsor

Fig 2: Side view of the above image: A is the clear overlay, B is the painting.

One weird secret that sphinxes don't want YOU to know!!! Theseus hates this riddle!
One weird secret that sphinxes don’t want YOU to know!!! Theseus hates this riddle!

Conclusion:

This is a great idea and you (assuming you are a museum director or curator) should apply it right away!

PROS: Saves fine art from destruction, brings more visitors to art museums.

CONS: Could make regular non-sponsored museums seem boring in comparison.

The 4 tricks to Highway Fast Lanes that you’ve been doing wrong this whole time

Background:

There is a certain amount of inherent appeal in the concept of a “fast lane” for any rate-limited transportation mechanism.

For example, on a roadway, a lane might be reserved for alternative forms of transportation (or for the especially virtuous and/or wealthy). One popular “fast lane” is the “high occupancy vehicle” (HOV) lane for cars with a certain number of individuals; this is intended to incentivize carpooling and reduce the overall amount of roadway congestion.

fast_lane_road

Fig 1: Red triangles mark a “fast lane” on this highway. Normally there would be several “normal” lanes, marked blue, although only one is shown here.

Recently, there has also been debate about of “Internet fast lanes” for certain forms of traffic. For example, maybe a company with a lot of money could pay to have its content preferentially transferred.

However:

The reality is that “fast lane” vs “regular lane” is equivalent to “regular lane” vs “slow lane”—”fast” is a relative term.

fast_lane_1

Fig 2: A 5-lane road (or Internet connection), representing total capacity.

fast_lane_2_extrafast_lane_3_partition

Fig 3: Ideally, we would magically create a new “fast lane” (left). But what we must actually do is steal one of the “normal” lanes and make it into a fast lane (right). This has the effect of making the “normal” lanes even more congested than before.

With that in mind, we come to the following proposal:

Proposal (in two parts):

The gist of this proposal is that instead of paying for themselves to be allocated space in a “fast lane,” individuals could pay to have other people put into the “slow lanes.”

Part 1: Internet example:

Imagine an apartment-dweller beset by slow Internet speeds due to a high degree of usage of the same connection by other people in the building. Although this individual might be able to pay for a faster (and more expensive) connection, under this new model they could also choose to contribute to a fund to slow down the Internet speeds of their neighbors instead. Once the neighbors connections are slowed down, more bandwidth would be left over for the paying individual’s own use.

Additionally, perhaps the apartment-dweller determines that their slow internet speeds are due to all of their neighbors downloading from a single source—”UncompressedBluRayDirect.” This user could then pay to specifically limit the bandwidth of UncompressedBluRayDirect (instead of targeting their neighbors).

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Part 2: Car example:

Some areas have an “HOV lane OK” sticker that allows certain cars to drive in the high-speed lane even if they don’t have enough passengers in them to qualify under the normal rules. (Motorcycles are often also allowed to drive in these lanes.)

But instead of having an “HOV OK” sticker, there could be a “SLOW LANE ONLY” adhesive sticker that one could purchase and stick onto one’s neighbor’s cars.

This sticker would be purchased from the local Department of Motor Vehicles and would limit the stuck-on vehicle to the slow lanes only.

PROS: Provides a more straightforward interpretation of the allocation of limited resources.

CONS: The “slow lane” sticker would probably need to be applied secretly in the dead of night to avoid negative repercussions.

12 ways to Game-ify elections: number 9 will blow your mind. Also it’s probably a weird trick I guess?

Background:

If civil society is to remain functional, some fraction of citizens must actually participate in it. However, apathy is easy!

We propose the use of proven gamification techniques to motivate otherwise-uninterested individuals into feeling a sense of civic responsibility.

Proposal:

In games, achievements are minor rewards for performing certain actions (e.g. “Stomped 50 goombas” or “Flew an X-Wing through the St. Louis Arch”). But there is no reason that they can’t be awarded for non-gaming actions as well. (This part is not a new idea, as seen in https://habitrpg.com/ and http://badgeville.com/ .)

Is your cat a Communist? Sponsored link.
Is your cat a Communist? Sponsored link.

Here, we will appropriate the “achievement” system for accomplishments in the political realm. The government already knows a lot about you: how much you’ve contributed to political groups, whether or not you showed up to jury duty, and whether or not you voted.

So why not track this information on a user-accessible web site and provide “Civics Achievements” for citizens to strive toward?

A selection of proposed achievements:

vote-achievement-contribute

Fig 1: Political donations are commonly associated with extremely wealthy individuals and corporations, but it would theoretically be just as viable to get a contribution of $10 from a million supporters as it would be to receive $10,000,000 from a single deep-pocketed donor. Maybe an achievement-tracking system could encourage small donations from individuals.


vote-achievement-jury

Fig 2: The vast majority of individuals who show up for jury selection are dismissed and do not end up on a trial. But an achievement could make it seem like at least something was accomplished in that time.


vote-achievement-actually-vote

Fig 3: Voter turnout could also be encouraged via an achievement tracking system. The only downside is that some percentage of voters would decide that their goal was the “I voted!” badge—rather than participation in democracy—and would probably stop voting entirely once they had satisfied the achievement’s requirements..

Informed voting:

Perhaps this achievement-based technique could also help encourage some basic research to be done before voters went to the polling places.


vote-achievement-read-text

Fig 4: Referendums are famous for having extremely misleading titles. For example “End unemployment now!” could be a measure that sent all citizens to forced labor camps, which would technically fulfill the promise in the title.


vote-achievement-rep-names

vote-achievement-write-letter

Fig 5: Interaction with one’s representatives is one way to influence politics to some extent without spending money.

Application in non-democratic settings:

This technique can be applied in countries even without legitimate democracies. For example, one might imagine how a totalitarian state with sham elections could nevertheless drum up patriotism with a motivational achievement like the one below.

vote-achievement-glorious-leader

Fig 6: Exit polls conducted by the secret police reveal 100% support for our glorious leader.

Conclusion:

You should write your representative (see achievements above) to propose this great plan, and then vote “yes” on the referendum in its favor. If you also read the text of the referendum, you will have made progress toward FOUR achievements while doing the actions in the previous sentence!

PROS: Saves democracy (at least until people collect their “I voted” achievement and then give up).

CONS: May result in seemingly impossible behavior such as individuals wanting to be called up for jury duty in order to fulfill their “jury duty” achievement. Also possible that future heroic deeds would be accomplished for un-heroic reasons—for example, a citizen might expose a secret reptilian mind-control plot not because they actually wanted to save their country, but because they needed to collect the “Whistleblower” achievement.

Natural Selection Candy Bowl: The 13 candies from your childhood that you won’t believe they still make… because you are an unusually skeptical individual

Proposal:

Here is an idea of admittedly limited utility: apply the principles of natural selection to a candy dish.

First, one must acquire a variety of candies of various types. In this particular example, I have ordered them (left to right) from most-to-least desirable. (The rightmost item is a toothbrush, which is the universally-despited dentists’ halloween treat.)

candy-listing

Fig 1: Four types of “candies” in the candy bowl. Although individual preferences may vary, in this case we assume that the overall preferences are as follows: Yellow > Orange > Green > Blue. We will refer to these as “candies” even though the toothbrush is not, strictly speaking, a candy in the traditional sense.


 

candy-1

Fig 2: The initial candy bowl is (approximately) equally populated by the four candy types.


 

candy-2

Fig 3: The candy bowl after co-workers / children / passers-by have visited it for some amount of time. Note that the yellow candies are heavily depleted, but the undesirable blue ones are still almost all present. (This is because they have a higher resistance to predators.)

After each step, we repopulate the candy bowl with one new candy for each (say) four of a given type. So if there are a total of 12 yellow candies in the bowl, we add three (= 12 / 4) more yellow ones. (This may require purchasing a substantial quantity of new candies.)


 

candy-3

Fig 4: After another round of candy acquisition, the yellow and orange candies have almost been hunted to extinction.


 

candy-4

Fig 5: The good candies have all been eaten, so now the candies’ natural predators refocus their attentions on the green ones.


 

candy-5

Fig 6: Even the green candies are almost extinct now.


 

candy-6

Fig 7: The candy bowl endgame consists of a monoculture of blue toothbrushes that no one wants. Success! The blue toothbrush has emerged as the most resistant candy with the highest fitness in this specific environment.

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PROS: Could be an interesting experiment to illustrate population changes due to selection pressure.

CONS: Requires purchasing a lot of candy!

The 6 food groups you never knew that you wanted to eat while on a treadmill… which you will have to do in the grim dystopian treadmill future!

Background:

As previously discussed, losing weight can be hard, especially when when hunting-and-gathering is reduced to “open fridge, acquire food.”

If it were less easy to acquire food, perhaps it would be easier to avoid becoming overweight.

ad_kills_all_bacteria

Proposal:

In this new design for a suburban house, the kitchen is physically separated from the rest of the house by a long “treadmill hallway”—simply a hallway with a treadmill instead of a normal floor (like the “people movers” in airports).

When a person wants to go to the kitchen to make food (or just grab something out of the fridge), they have to first traverse the treadmill hallway.

Upon entering the hallway, a sensor registers that a person has entered, and the treadmill is quickly brought up to speed, preventing the house’s inhabitant from easily getting to the kitchen. Instead, the treadmill increases (and decreases) its speed to keep the user in approximately the middle of the hallway until it deems enough time to have passed (and enough energy spent) to make the kitchen-seeker worthy of actually entering the kitchen.

The treadmill computer would presumably be more tolerant of individuals trying to leave the kitchen, and would let them pass undisturbed unless it had experienced an unusually frustrating day and needed to take it out on the house owner.

kitchen-map

Fig 1A: The overall schematic showing the house (red), treadmill hallway (blue), and separated kitchen (green).

kitchen-treadmill

Fig 1B: A zoomed in view of the treadmill hallway. The treadmill is computer-controlled and has optical sensors and rangefinders to determine where exactly an occupant is on the treadmill.

PROS: Increases physical fitness, decreases casual snacking.

CONS: If there is a glitch in the programming, it could catapult the house’s owner out of the hallway at an extreme velocity. Possibly huge beanbags should be placed at both exits from the treadmill hallway.