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.”

Immigration reform: “give one, get one”

The issue:

The free transit of people across borders has historically been prevented by various restrictions, both from the sending country (the requirement to grant an exit visa) and the receiving country.

In most cases, legal immigration is an arduous process for individuals without esoteric skills or extensive financial resources.

blue

Fig 1: “I want to move to the red country. But their immigration procedure is too restrictive.”

 

red

Fig 2: “I want to move to the blue country, but they claim they’ve already gone over their quota of immigrants from my country.”

 

Abstract:

But what if anyone could permanently move to any destination country, just as long as they found a “replacement” citizen to take their place in the origin country?

With this proposal, countries would be freed from both:
1) A sudden influx of new citizens burdening their social services
2) An exodus of its population to other countries

We can refer to this proposal as “mutually agreed population-neutral citizenship exchange.” Or: “give one / get one.”

 

The details:

Any pair of individuals in two countries may swap citizenship, just as long as they both agree. There are no restrictions, and this exchange is permanent (unless both parties agree to swap citizenship again).

Clearly, some countries would be in more demand than others, particularly those with strong unconditional governmental support systems (e.g., free college, government stipends, etc.). Perhaps this would be handled in a “free market” fashion by allowing citizens of less wealthy countries to provide their own economic incentives for a swap.

red-blue-switch

Fig 3: “We swapped our passports and citizenship papers. Problem solved!”

For example, a nomadic farmer might offer 15 cows and a finely-constructed yurt to a nature-loving American in order to incentivize the exchange. Or a prince in a foreign land might offer his position to a foreigner in order to escape the burden of being hounded by paparazzi.

It is possible that a criminal might attempt to find citizenship in a country without an extradition treaty with the original country. This could increase the non-extraditing country’s “citizenship-swap value” even if its economic and political situations were inferior to that of the country of origin.

 

PROS: Allegedly, the free movement of labor is beneficial to the global economy. Might result in some amazingly hilarious predicaments that would make for entertaining television.

CONS: How could it go wrong?

How to easily solve “helicopter parenting” by providing a safe way for children to learn about safety and danger

The premise:

Due to the high degree of safety in modern society, the idea of what is “safe” vs “dangerous” has changed. As overall safety increases, people begin to see previously-acceptable situations as dangerous. This cycle may continue as time goes on, unless action is taken.

Example:

This concept is perhaps most evident in the increasingly conservative construction of children’s playgrounds, where even the humble swing set is under threat of removal due to its perceived danger.

playground-safe

Fig 1: Example of a playground.

A possible solution to this safety-to-danger perception treadmill:

In order to re-calibrate people’s perception of safety and danger, we suggest providing an extremely dangerous situation in juxtaposition with a “normal” situation. This way people can get a proper grasp of the full range of possible options for safety / danger.

playground-snakes

Fig 2: Example of something that would generally be regarded as “dangerous” across all human cultures.

Specifically, the idea is to have a playground with a “normal” section and then a (possibly fenced off) deadly snake pit.

This would allow both adults and children to realize that the deadly snake pit was “very dangerous” and that the swing sets were relatively safe in comparison. No doubt this new realization would also pay dividends in many other aspects of life. Education is very important!

playground-all

Fig 3: Artist’s rendition of the final “safety and danger” playground.

Left: safety. Right: danger.

PROS: Would help provide useful perspective on the degrees of safety and danger in modern society. Would help children learn the various degrees to which something can be dangerous. Additionally, would provide employment for hard-working snakes.

CONS: It’s hard to imagine any downsides or problems to this proposal.

Immersive gaming by way of uncomfortable environments

The issue:

There are a number of popular computer games that take place in forbidding environments—in a blizzard atop a snowy beak, or inside a volcanic caldera.

However, there is no way of conveying the real feeling of temperature to the player. In a game like Skyrim, the player will be no worse for the wear even after blithely trudge through a blizzard for hours wearing only the medieval equivalent of a T-shirt.

game-igloo

Fig 1: Some kind of cold place with both penguins and igloos. Maybe a zoo in the arctic. Geographically questionable. Immersion: ruined!!!

game-volcano

Fig 2: Volcanic Caldera. Still a comfortable temperature at the desk, however! Immersion: ruined!!!

The proposal:

Games could have an interface to an array of different environment-affecting appliances. For example: a fan, an air conditioner, a space heater, and one of those supermarket mist-ers for keeping vegetables fresh.

When playing a game and wandering about on an icy mountain peak, the air conditioner and fan could both be going full blast, prompting the player to find shelter inside a tavern with a roaring fire (which would engage the space heater).

Perhaps in games with a protagonist who can swim, the supermarket mist-er could continually spray on the player while they were in the water. Realism!

A list of currently available modalities of feedback:
* Visual effects (e.g., a monitor, VR glasses)
* Sound
* Shaking / rumble (via a rumble-enabled controller)

Rare ones that already exist:
* Pain via electric shock (as seen in the dubious “PainStation” invention: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PainStation)
* Orientation / tilt (for professional flight simulators)

Suggested additional features that could be accomplished cheaply:

* Wind (a fan)
* Cold (an air conditioner / Peltier cooler)
* Heat (a space heater / Peltier heater)
* The Unbearably Bright Desert Sun (LED lights / photography lights)
* Water (a supermarket vegetable mist-er)

fan

Fig 3: A set of fans could be used to give the impression of motion, as well.

It might be possible to just integrate temperature control into the controller using the Peltier heating/cooling effect. Or perhaps a vest that the player could wear, so as to provide a more complete experience.

heated-mouse-full-tail

Fig 4: Maybe the mouse could be heated / cooled for a faster-to-heat-up/cool-down and more cost-efficient system? That is supposed to be a mouse, by the way.

There is a possibility that sufficiently determined players might actually freeze to death while playing games, but natural selection should solve this problem within a few hundred generations.

A partial list of moddable games in which the temperature of the environment could be an important factor:
* Skyrim
* Fallout
* Minecraft
* Terraria

A simple version of this concept could be implemented with a mod plus a USB-controlled power strip.

space-heater

Fig 5: Just plug this space heater into your USB-controlled power strip, and you can have it cook you whenever the computer commands it.

PROS: Would add a new immersive element to the multimedia experience, the likes of which have not been seen since the demise of “Smell-o-vision” in 1960.

CONS: As you might expect, there are none!