The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Month: July, 2015

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:

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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.