Showing posts with label Things They Should Invent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Things They Should Invent. Show all posts

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Things They Should Invent: customize the user-facing appearance of Word without changing documents' appearance

As I'm dealing with vision issues resulting from my head injury, I've been contemplating whether changes to the appearance of my computer interface would make things easier for me. Perhaps a light grey or beige background rather than stark white? Perhaps a different font might be easier to read?

The problem is that, as a translator, I'm expected to deliver my translations with the same formatting and appearance as the client-provided source text.  So if I were to change the background colour or the font, I'd have to change it back before delivering the text. Since some texts have specific and complex client-provided formatting, changing it back would be time-consuming and increase the likelihood of introducing errors that would make the client unhappy.

I would really like to be able to change the appearance on my screen without changing the underlying formatting - like imposing my own style sheet upon what I see.  Web browsers have accessibility options that let you override a webpage's formatting - I'd also like to be able to do this in a Word document.

Early versions of Word (circa 1993) had the option of making the interface look like WordPerfect 5.1, which many users at the time would have been accustomed to. However, the final document wasn't grey text in whatever font that is on a blue background - the final document was text in the colour selected by the user, in the font selected by the user, on the background selected by the user.

Word could do this in 1993. So why not also do it now, so people with visual issues can work on an eye-friendly interface while creating a document that meets the graphic and/or layout standards of their employer or their client?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Things They Should Invent: Transitions lenses with manual override

Transitions lenses are those eyeglass lenses that automatically darken when exposed to bright light and then turn clear again under normal light conditions, with the intended goal of automatically switching back and forth between being sunglasses and clear glasses.

The problem is they don't always work as well as intended. Often the dark doesn't go away quickly enough, leaving the wearer looking dorky and awkward indoors. And sometimes the dark goes away when you're outdoors on a bright sunny day but briefly in the shade or wearing a hat or something, failing to protect the your eyes.

Solution:  a small, discreet button on the frame that will force the lenses to change manually. You step inside, the glasses don't change quickly enough for your liking, you press the button and it changes immediately.

Yes, I know clip-on sunglasses are a thing, but they're even dorkier. Effortlessly functional Transitions lenses in an attractive frame would address the fashion aspect without the expense of buying two completely different pairs of glasses.  And a manual override would make Transitions lenses effortlessly functional.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Things They DID Invent: shut up and pregnancy test

Something I'm sure I've blogged about before but can't find the post: when I was younger, many of my peers and I had the experience of medical professionals interrogating us about whether we were pregnant.  They'd start with "Is there any possibility that you're pregnant?" and then, when you said no, they'd say "How do you know?" They'd ask about the details of your menstruation and the choreography of you personal life and basically it was a whole gauntlet - which is particularly upsetting when you're a teenager (especially a teenager who feels too young to have sex), if your parents are present, etc.

Because of this, I've long advocated for simply doing a blood or urine test for pregnancy without belabouring the point, rather than interrogating the patient at length if you aren't going to take her word for not being pregnant.

I'm pleased to announce that when I was in the hospital with my head injury, they did just that. They did a number of blood tests to rule out heart attack, do a blood count, test for nutritional deficiencies, etc., and one of the tests they did was a pregnancy test.  They didn't even mention this to me - I didn't even see it until I was handed my printed-out blood work results.

Obviously pregnancy needs to be ruled out when a female patient of child-bearing age faints, probably on a more solid basis than recent menstruation or lack of reported recent exposure to sperm. So instead of interrogating me, they simply did the test that they would have had to do anyway.

I'm very glad they did it this way, and I hope they do the same on minors and other more vulnerable patients.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Things They Should Invent: use fruitless library catalogue searches to feed the library's acquisitions list

I heard about an upcoming book that sounds interesting, so I searched for it in the library catalogue. Unfortunately, it wasn't there yet.  But, instead of going to the trouble of putting in a request for them to acquire the book, I just figured I'd search again closer to the publication date, then wandered off to do something else.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this. Asking the library to acquire a specific book is A Whole Big Thing, and it may well already be ordered but not in the catalogue, or get ordered through whatever their normal channels are by the time the release date arrives.

But what if simply searching for a book and finding it isn't present in the catalogue could automatically inform the library that someone wants the book?

The library already knows what people are searching for.

The technology already exists to determine when a user arrives at a webpage and doesn't click on any of the outlinks (which, in this case, would be the books listed in the search results) and to generate a list of pages where this occurs - the free stat counter I use on my blog even has this functionality! This list could then be sorted in by frequency, to identify what multiple people are searching for but not finding.

Then the frequently-fruitless search terms would need to be compared with a list of current and forthcoming books. Does such a thing exist? I know Books In Print is a thing, I don't know if there's also a "Books Soon To Be In Print".  (Although even if there isn't, comparing frequently-fruitless searches with Books In Print could be useful in and of itself.)  I also don't know if it has some method to allow you to write your own program to search its database.  Google Books has an API, which might be a starting point (although I certainly can't rule out the possibility of there being better starting points that I haven't thought of.)

But comparing terms on List A with terms on List B is totally something a computer can do.  And once it's done, you've got a list of frequent fruitless searches that are also titles of books.  Which is most likely a list of book titles that people are searching the catalogue for but not finding.

Which seems like useful information to have when deciding which books to buy.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Things They Should Invent: Stuff You've Already Tried filter

On my old computer, I had to do a clean reinstall of Firefox. A couple of issues subsequently cropped up, and when I googled around the new issues, I kept finding advice to do a clean reinstall. That's what caused the issues in the first place!  (With the combination of the new computer and the new version of Firefox, the issues are now moot.)

When my old computer died, it simply wouldn't power up. Pressing the power button had exactly the same result as not pressing the power button. The troubleshooting of first resort in this case is a power reset: unplug the computer, remove the battery, hold down the power button for about 30 seconds to drain any residual electrical charge, then plug in the power adapter only and try again.

I tried that several times, and it didn't work.

And my attempts to google for the next steps in troubleshooting were stymied by interference from instructions for a power reset. I found a single reference to replacing the CMOS battery (haven't tried that yet because the age of the computer and the low likelihood of success made me prioritize getting a new computer), but, even with my advanced google-fu (and trying other search engines as well), I couldn't get away from the pervasive suggestion of a power reset to the rest of whatever the appropriate troubleshooting protocol would be.

Our internet usage patterns are increasingly being spied on. Couldn't they at least make use of this data to give us the option of filtering out the stuff we've already tried.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Things They Should Invent (or tell us if it already works this way): ranked ballots that you can use to vote for or against

I like the idea of ranked ballots, but I'm not clear on what happens if you don't rank all the candidates. The last Toronto mayoral race had like 60ish candidates, and I certainly couldn't put that many candidates in order!  (And even if you could, they'd have to let you bring notes into the voting booth!)

The way I want ranked ballots to work is to let me rank some candidates positively, and some candidates negatively. If I think Candidate A is the best and Candidates B and C are also acceptable, and I think Candidate Z is the worst possible candidate and Candidates X and Y are also unacceptable, and I have no opinion about the other candidates, I want to be able to indicate that with my ballot.

However, as it stands, I don't know if I can do that. I don't know the ranked ballot handles the candidate I rank last compared with candidates I don't rank at all.  (In fact, I don't know if we're even allowed to not rank some of the candidates.)

What I want is either:

1) I rank Candidate Z 60 out of 60, that makes it clear that I think Candidate Z is worse than all the other candidates and the results are weighted accordingly
2) I rank Candidate Z -1, and that cancels out someone else's +1 vote for Candidate Z.

You should be able to rank all the candidates positively or all the candidates negatively, or any combination thereof. 

You also should be able to vote negative only without making a positive vote, because there could be situations where it's more important to stop Candidate Z from winning than to have any specific other candidate win. 

In my ward's last city councillor race, we had the incumbent, and three invisible challengers.  I couldn't find any information whatsoever about the challengers. If, hypothetically, I had thought that the incumbent was harmful to the ward, I wouldn't have had any way of figuring out how I should vote to replace him.  But if I could either rank him last or rank him negatively, then my ballot could reflect the actual situation.

I can't propose a specific way to modify ranked ballot voting to allow for "against" votes because I don't know enough details about how they work already.  But proponents of ranked ballots should either figure out a way to do this, or, if it can already be done, publicize that fact.

If you think the government is going to take your guns, you should sell your guns

The first panel of this The Knight Life comic: "Whenever gun nuts think their weapons will get taken away, they buy tons more!!"

I have no idea whether people actually think this way, but, at the very least, it's a fairly common trope - the idea that American gun people think the government is going to take away their guns, and stockpile guns in response.

It occurred to me when I read this comic that stockpiling guns is the most foolish thing you can do if you fear the government is going to take your guns away.

On the day the government takes your guns away, they will take all your guns, no matter how many you have.  They wouldn't come to collect X number of guns from each person, they'd come for all the guns.  Regardless of how many guns you have at the beginning of Gun Confiscation Day, you will have zero guns at the end of the day.

Therefore, if you stockpile in advance of the government taking your guns away, you will still have zero guns at the end of Gun Confiscation Day, plus less money than you did before you started stockpiling.  Nothing is gained, guns and money are lost.

A better way to prepare for the government taking your guns away is to sell as many of your guns as possible before the government gets there. You will still have zero guns at the end of Gun Confiscation Day, but you will have more money than you did before.  Then, after the gun confiscation is complete, you can use that extra money to acquire more guns.

Some people might be concerned that it will be more difficult to acquire guns after Gun Confiscation Day. But stockpiling in advance won't negate that. If you stockpile, you'll come away with zero guns and less money. If you sell, you'll come away with zero guns and more money.  And it's always easier to acquire contraband with more money than with less money.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Things They Should Invent: manual wifi switches on cable modems

One of my many delightful eccentricities is that I don't normally use wifi. The vast, vast, vast majority of my interneting is done on my computer at my desk, so I connect the computer to the modem by ethernet cable. I do turn on the wifi when I need it, but I figure keeping it always-on would increase the risk of someone breaking into my network without benefitting me in anyway.

However, this could become a problem if my computer dies.  Currently, the way to turn my wifi on and off is by accessing the modem through my web browser.  If my computer dies so completely that I can't persuade it to cling to life for long enough to turn my wifi on, I won't be able to get online with an alternative device.

Solution: a manual switch on cable modems that can turn the wifi on and off.  In addition to allowing you to turn on your wifi when you don't have a computer, it would also allow you to definitively turn off your wifi and thereby control access to your network - for example if you suspect someone unauthorized is using it but don't have the technical prowess to confirm, or if you're a parent who wants to keep close tabs on your kids' internet use.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Things They Should Invent: Uber but for driving practice

I've blogged before about the problem of driving schools being based on the assumption that you  have a car to practise in and a willing, fully-licensed driver to accompany you while you practise.  And if you don't have a car to practise in and a willing, fully-licensed driver to accompany you, you won't get enough practice to get good enough to pass the test, unless you pay your driving instructor a significant (and prohibitive to some) amount of money to accompany you while you practise.

It occurred to me in the shower that the Uber model could fill this gap.

The client creates an Uber account indicating that they are a learning driver looking for an accompanying driver to practice with.  The car owner accepts the client as usual, arrives at the client's location as usual, and the only difference is that the client drives the car to their destination and the accompanying driver sits in the passenger seat, serving as accompanying driver.

The client would pay the car owner more money than the typical Uber fee to make up for the increased risk incurred by the car owner. (It would have to be less than the a driving instructor would typically charge for a lesson - I don't know offhand if Uber drivers would consider that sufficient compensation for increased risk.)  Uber drivers could, of course, opt out of providing driving practice, and instead provide only driving services.  I don't know how it would work for insurance, but Uber has operated (and possibly still does operate) in a questionable insurance environment and that didn't stop it.

Even if the client does supplement their practice with additional professional lessons, the Uber model could be useful by allowing the client to get driving practice whenever they have to go somewhere (which is often how it works when you already have a car and an accompanying driver in the household) rather than having to book lessons whenever they fit in the instructor's schedule. Going to work? Driving practice! Going on an errand? Driving practice!

Obviously, this model is not ideal. The ideal would be a baseline driving instruction system that works equally well for clients who have a car in their household and clients who don't have access to a car, where instructors are well-paid, well-trained and properly insured, and where quality driving instruction is reasonably affordable to all clients.

But in the meantime, this is a need. If there are people willing to serve as accompanying driver in exchange for pay, the Uber model could fill this need. And it would enable new drivers for whom practice is inaccessible to become more experienced before getting fully licensed.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Things They Should Invent: outlaw commission

Originally I was writing a blog post about how commission-based compensation for various professionals involved in real estate transactions is a problem - it disincentivizes taking on first-time buyers of primary residences as clients (because we have less money to spend and need more hand-holding) and incentivizes taking on investors as clients (they have more money to spend, have less at stake because they don't actually live in the property, and are more likely to buy again soon). I was writing some half-formed ideas about whether this commission model might be encouraging sales to non-resident investors at the expense of regular people just trying to buy a home, especially first-time buyers.

But as I was writing this, I realized the problem is not limited to commission on real estate transactions.  The problem is commission on all sales.

I propose that it should be banned, and salespeople should be paid a salary instead (possibly with bonuses for excellent customer service.)

I'm not saying this from my point of view as a worker. (Although it certainly is a labour issue too!)  I'm saying this from my point of view as a consumer.

Even moderately experienced salespeople know far more about their products than I do. They know stuff like "If you can squeeze into a 10.5 in the Operetta shoe family but would prefer 11, then you're a 12 in the Miracles shoe family." or "If your primary motivation in looking at this $700 phone is that it has more storage, you should be aware that that $300 phone can accommodate an SD card."

But because they're incentivized to sell more rather than to provide excellent customer service, they might not want to share this expertise with us, and we might not know if we can trust the expertise they do share.

If salespeople weren't incentivized to sell more and instead were incentivized to best meet the customer's needs, then products that actually meet people's needs would sell better. Demand for products that meet needs would increase, demand for products that don't meet needs would decline, and the overall offer of products on the market would improve.

As consumers grow more confident that products they buy will meet their needs, they will grow less reluctant to shop. (I would buy so many more clothes if I knew they would work, and didn't have to keep trying on things that didn't work!) Insofar as there is disposable income, people will be happy to spend it. This will boost the economy, and make the market function more optimally.

If you ever buy things, you would benefit from the elimination of commission. If you want eliminate any consumer reluctance to shop, you should be in favour of eliminating commission. If you want the market to function as it should, with demand for things that meet consumer needs and no demand for things that don't, then you should be in favour of eliminating commission. If you're a company that produces excellent products and want your excellent products to outsell less-excellent products, you would benefit from the elimination of commission. If you're a salesperson who truly wants to use your expertise to help guide people to the right product for them and enjoy return business from happy customers, you would benefit from the elimination of commission.

Basically, unless your primary objective is to cheat, coerce and manipulate people into buying things they don't need, you would do better without commission.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Things They Almost Invented: pre-sliced frozen pizza

I previously came up with the idea of pre-sliced frozen pizza. You can't cut a frozen pizza, but a whole frozen pizza is more than one person should eat in one sitting. And pizza loses a significant amount of yumminess when you reheat it. (And single-serving mini pizzas have too much crust for the amount of toppings/too little toppings for the amount of crust.)

Today I found something that can fulfill the same function: Dr. Oetker Ristorante Ultra Thin Crust pizza.

It isn't pre-sliced, but the crust is so thin I could easily snap it in two with my bare hands! It's not as precise as cutting it in half, but it's certainly a workable way to not have to heat up the whole thing.

If you're in the market for frozen thin-crust pizza but don't want to eat the whole thing or reheat the rest later, I recommend giving it a try.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Things They Should Invent: platonic meetup app for women attending events alone

Sometimes it can be logistically inconvenient to go to events alone. It can be a lot easier to go as part of a group, so you can hold each other's place in a general admission audience or keep an eye on each other if the situation turns questionable. These inconveniences are felt particularly by women, what with dealing with purses and keeping an eye on your drink and getting home safely at night.

Sometimes when I'm at a place alone and I need a buddy, I form a temporary alliance with another woman who's also there alone. I'll hold your place while you go to the bathroom, then we'll trade. Would you join me in walking back to the subway after?

But you can't just blindly assume there will be someone there to serve as a buddy when you need one. So sometimes, when I'm uncertain about going as a woman alone and I can't find someone to go with me, I end up not going.

What if there was an app for that?

I envision two parts: one that's kind of like Meetup, and one that's kind of like Grindr, but both platonic-only and women-only.

The Meetup aspect (which doesn't have to be an app - it can and should function as a website) is for people who are considering attending an event but don't want to go alone. You click on "I'm interested", you see a list of other people who are interested, and you can get in touch and make plans. (Potential safety feature: you can indicate on the website who you're going with, so the website has a record. I'm not a superfan of facebook integration, but maybe your facebook friends can see who you're going with?)

The Grindr aspect (which has to be an app because it's location-based) is for if you're already at an event and you want a buddy.  Maybe the crowd is more of a crush than you anticipated, maybe the walk back to the subway is scarier at night than it looked on Google Street View, maybe you don't dare brave those portapotties alone. You sign into the app, indicate where you are and that you're looking for a buddy, and see anyone else present who's looking for a buddy.

Of course, as with so many things in life, the challenge is the creep factor.  How do you keep out people who are just looking for single women, either for a hookup or to find vulnerable people?

The only idea I can think of initially is a nominal membership charge (like Metafilter's $5) that has to be paid by a credit card with a female name on it. But, obviously, there are problems with that. How would whoever or whatever is responsible for determining if a name is female tell that Jean Augustine is a woman but Jean Charest is a man? What about the poor girl whose parents decided to kre8tively name her Bruce? It would also marginalize people who don't have credit cards, or aren't at liberty to use credit cards for this, which would include minors. If, for whatever reason, a 15-year-old girl is going somewhere alone and feels the need to reduce the risk or difficulty of doing so, she shouldn't be shut out of a tool for doing so because she's a minor.

But if there was a way to keep the creeps out, it could be incredibly useful.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

How Google can solve the "post-truth" problem in one easy step

Google searches contain the option to refine results time posted. On the results page, click on "Tools", then click on the little drop-down arrow next to "Any time".

This means that Google maintains "last updated" metadata for the pages it crawls.  Which means that Google can sort results by date.

Google can use this power to combat the "post-truth" problem with one easy step: allow users to sort search results from oldest to newest.  That way, the very first instance of a particular combination of keywords will be right at the top.

This will make it a lot easier to see when a story or an alleged fact has been fabricated out of whole cloth, because the first result (or, at least, the first result that actually refers to the thing in question) is very recent and originates from the person making the false statement.

It would also be an incredibly useful feature to have in Google's Reverse Image Search. Often I do a reverse image search to find the origin of an image that's circulation, but the fact that even Google's relevance algorithm tends to favour novelty means I get pages and pages of results from social media. If we could easily show the oldest instances of an image first, we could quickly identify cases where someone is posting "This is what's happening right now" when really it's an image taken in a different country several years ago.

Google already has this data, as evidenced by the fact that it allows you to refine results by time posted. Any computer can sort by date. All Google has to do is put an "Oldest First" option on its interface, and everyone will be able to fact-check with a single click.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Things They Should Invent: bottled flat ginger ale

A common home remedy for an upset stomach or nausea is to drink flat ginger ale.

This is less easy than it could be, because ginger ale only comes carbonated, so you have to open it and pour it out and wait for it to go flat.

Solution: sell ginger ale that's already flat. If ginger ale can't be manufactured without first making it carbonated, then they should let it go flat before bottling it, and bottle it like water or juice or similar flat beverages.

The market for this: airlines (and, perhaps, other modes of transportation that provide food service and where people might get motion sick, like trains where you might have to sit backwards). Wouldn't it be convenient to be able to offer one of the standard home remedies for motion sickness in your standard drink selection?

Some parts of the internet suggest that flat ginger ale doesn't actually help with motion sickness, but I'm not sure that that matters. Other parts of the internet are convinced that it's panacea, so the demand does exist.  And if you're stuck in a plane for hours and fighting off airsickness with nothing but a basic drink selection to help you, wouldn't you choose the common home remedy just in case it helps? Even if it's a placebo effect, it might still bring relief, or, at a minimum, the comfort of feeling like you're doing something for your motion sickness. And if it does in fact work for some people, even if just as a placebo, all the better!

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Things They Should Invent: put buildings on the internet before they tear them down

In my neighbourhood, there's a group of row houses that's going to be torn down for condos, and I'm extremely curious about what they look like inside - so much so that I've even pondered attempting to break in engage in some urban exploration, which isn't something I've even considered before.

The reason why I'm curious about these houses as opposed the many other buildings that are being torn down for condos is that I can't figure out their history just by looking at them from the outside. I'm not savvy enough about architecture to tell when they were built. I can't tell if they're single family homes or apartments. I can't tell if they're middle-class or working-class. I can't tell if they're middle-class single-family homes that latter got subdivided into working-class apartments. They clearly have a story, and I can't even begin to speculate what that story is.

Every building that is torn down has a story, and you never know when or to whom that story will be of interest.  So to preserve our stories, they should document buildings before they tear them down, and post all the information on the internet.

On a single comprehensive website, interior and exterior photos, floor plans, and all known history should be posted for every building that is torn down.  Maybe the public could also add to it, so someone idly googling their grandparents' old house could come along and add the interesting factoid "My grandparents bought this house for $10,000 in 1952 and raised four children here on a steelworker's salary."

I'm not a person who objects to development (as evidenced by the fact that I keep insisting on living in new buildings), but there's no reason why the stories of what was here before should be lost in an era when everything can be so easily archived and indexed.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Things They Should Invent: computer program to automatically design custom-made organizers

There are all kinds of organizer-type products out there that purport to help you organize your clutter by putting it into compartments.  The problem I always find is that the compartments are never a good fit for my clutter.  For example, a drawer organizer might divide your drawer into nine tidy compartments, but I always end up in a situation where the contents of the drawer can logically be sorted into seven categories, one of which is too big for a single compartment, plus about 20% of the contents of the drawer are the wrong size or shape for any of the compartments.

As I've blogged about before, I own a beautiful wooden jewellery box full of tidy, velvet-lined compartments for organizing jewellery, and a significant portion of my jewellery doesn't fit in there because the shapes and sizes of the compartments don't correspond with the shapes and sizes of the jewellery. #FirstWorldProblems

It occurred to me that with 3D printing, people could make organizers that fit the actual stuff they're organizing.  I googled around the idea, and found that such a thing does in fact exist, except you have to input into a program the exact dimensions of the organizer you want to print.  For someone like me who's terrible at organizing tangible objects, that's very near impossible.

But that gave me an idea: what if you could input the dimensions of the items you want to organize and the space you want to organize them in, and a computer program would design the optimal organizer for you?

You could also input leeway for expansion, so the organizer will be able to hold items you might acquire in the future.  (In other words, your jewellery organizer would allow you the option of acquiring more jewellery in the future, as opposed to being 100% full and your whole system is stymied when you get another pair of earrings.)

Advanced option: you take a photo of all the items you need to organize and the space you need to organize them in, with some baseline reference item in the photo for scale, and the computer measures everything itself and designs the organizer automatically.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Things They Should Invent: website comparing hotel beds

I recently stayed in Marriott hotel, and I found the bed uncomfortable. The mattress was too firm for my liking, the pillows were not firm enough, and the covers weren't heavy enough (in terms of weight, not necessarily warmth - I feel more secure sleeping under a large, weighty duvet).

Because of this, I'd prefer to avoid staying at a Marriott in the future. However, I have no idea what hotels might have beds that are more to my liking.

There are some people in the world who travel extensively and stay in all kinds of different hotels.  Perhaps some of them have found the Marriott beds similarly uncomfortable, but have also discovered a hotel whose beds are more comfortable.  Or, conversely, perhaps some of them found the Marriott beds to their liking after experiencing another hotel where they thought the mattress was not firm enough and the pillows were too firm, so I could extrapolate from that to choose the hotel whose bed they disliked.

With a critical mass of bed reviews, travellers could enter their preferred bed criteria and find the hotel that best meets them, which would certainly make everyone's travel experience more pleasant!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Another way to improve any assisted dying legislation

A problem with attempts to legislate assisted dying is that they attempt to define in legislation what does and doesn't constitute a good enough reason to die, and thereby what does and doesn't constitute adequate quality of life. As life and death are infinite and complex, some things will almost certainly fall through the cracks.

At the same time, when legislation includes specific things that are considered acceptable reasons to want to die, some people who have those conditions or experiences but don't want to die sometimes take offence, as though society is telling them that they don't deserve to live.  And this push-back may lead legislators to be reluctant to include additional specific conditions, for fear of offending more constituents.

These problems could be mitigated with a single provision: if the patient wants to die because of the absence of a specific aspect of quality of life, and the patient does not have a reasonable chance of gaining or regaining that aspect of quality of life, the patient is permitted to die.

The advantage of this is it takes legislators out of the business of deciding what is and isn't deathworthy (or, depending on your perspective, lifeworthy). Each patient gets to set their own priorities.

In carrying this out, medical professionals should drill down and make sure they pinpoint the actual quality of life issue that's important to the patient, in case it could be addressed some other way.  For example, if a patient says "I want to die if I ever end up paralyzed," what exactly is it about being paralyzed that makes them feel it's deathworthy? Are they afraid of never having sex again? Are they afraid of being dependent on someone else to bathe them for the rest of their life? And are these things that actually happen if you're paralyzed, or are there workarounds that the patient doesn't know about?

If they pinpoint that what the patient actually fears is being dependent on someone else to bathe them for the rest of their life, the living will would be edited from "I want to die if I ever end up paralyzed" to "I want to die if I ever end up in a condition where I'm dependent on someone else to bathe me for the rest of my life," which not only addresses the actual problem, but also includes situations the patient didn't anticipate where they might end up unable to bathe themselves.  It would also tell the patient's medical team where to focus, so they can make a point of trying everything to enable the patient to bathe themselves.

In interviewing the patients to drill down and identify their actual concerns, medical professionals would need to be extremely careful not to be judgemental. They'd need to make very certain to treat every concern as completely valid, and not try to talk patients out of it or even react negatively if the concern sounds petty or shallow or superficial. I know this would be difficult for some corners of the medical profession where people see the direst aspects of the human experience every day and would feel inclined to laugh in the face of "I want to die if I can never again eat recreationally."

But if we can successfully legislate and implement a system where patients choose which aspects of quality of life they see as lifeworthy and deathworthy for themselves with the guidance and support of an empathetic and knowledgeable medical team, that will eliminate many potential problems of mislegislation.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Things They Should Invent: put the sidewalk on the shady side of the street

Some streets (usually small side streets) have a sidewalk on only one side of the street.

There should be a rule that, in cases where they only have one sidewalk for whatever reason, the sidewalk has to be on the side of the street that's shadiest on summer afternoons.

Shade on hot days contributes more to pedestrian comfort than sun on cold days, and summer afternoons are the time of day and time of year that's the hottest.  This can also be a quality of life factor for the most vulnerable people, like the very old, the very young, and those with health problems.

Pedestrians shouldn't have to choose between being safe from cars and being safe from sunstroke. There needs to be some basis for deciding where to put the sidewalk in cases where they don't put one on each side of the street, so why not put it on the side where it will best contribute to quality of life?

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Things They Should Invent: plane crash edition

Reading this article about people who want to take their luggage with them when evacuating plane crashes gives me ideas for a couple of inventions.

1. Public awareness of what happens to plane crash survivors

When later asked to explain their actions, most passengers cited a desire to rescue their money, wallets or credit cards. 
You can see how a person would get there. The idea of being stuck somewhere, maybe in a foreign country, without money, ID or credit cards is scary. So they need a public awareness campaign of what measures are in place to help plane crash survivors in the immediate aftermath and days following. How do they get the medical care they need without their health card or insurance information? What's their legal status if they're in a foreign country but have lost their passport in the plane crash? How do they get home without money or credit cards, and how do they get food and shelter and replacement clothing in the interim? How do they get back into their home country without ID?

There have been enough plane crashes over the years that it seems like there should be a protocol in place for these things. If there is, they should let us know how it works. If there isn't, they should make one and then let us know how it works.

2. Fireproof luggage

The motivation for wanting to take your carry-on bag when evacuating an airplane is that you don't want to lose the contents. Even if insurance gives you money to replace it, you can't just go and buy the teddy bear who's been with you since you were a baby or the discontinued underwear you haven't yet found a comfortable replacement for.

But imagine if the bag was fireproof. You leave it behind, the inferno burns around it, and after the fire has been put out everyone's luggage can be retrieved. You're deprived of your essentials for a few hours, not for the whole rest of your life.

There are fireproof/fire-resistant materials used for firefighters' and astronauts' protective gear, and I'm sure there are other fireproof things in the world of which I'm not even aware. Perhaps that would be a good starting point.