Showing posts with label free ideas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label free ideas. 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.

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.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

How to treat your adult child like an adult

Imagine you wanted to prove that you are an excellent parent.  Think about all your child's characteristics or accomplishments that you'd cite as supporting evidence.

Assemble all these characteristics and accomplishments into a mental file, and whenever you talk to or behave in a way that affects your adult child, make sure your words and actions are fully informed by everything in that mental file.

For example, suppose you feel like a good parent because your child successfully launched and has a lucrative career that makes them happy.  Make sure that in your every dealing with your child, you treat them like someone who successfully launched and has a lucrative career that makes them happy.

Or suppose you feel like a good parent because you child is kind and caring.  Make sure that in every dealing with your child, you treat them like someone who is kind and caring.

This strategy can also be used on children who are not yet adults, to treat them with the amount of respect and consideration they deserve.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Half-formed idea for how to warn prospective tenants of bad neighbours

From The Ethicist:

I have a rental property, and the neighbors next door are extremely racist. We didn’t know this when we bought the house. We have had both white and Hispanic people as renters. The next-door neighbors harassed the Hispanics until they left. The white family had no issues getting along but did hear their racist rants. I cannot legally do anything about this behavior. Am I obligated to tell any prospective renters about this problem? I don’t want people to move in without knowing of it. If I do tell them, how do I phrase it so that I’m not perceived as discriminatory?

I know what to do to solve this problem, but I don't know how to get it done.

What you need is online reviews that turn up on the first page of Google results for the address, accurately describing the quality of the property and of your services as landlord, and accurately describing the neighbours' behaviour.  Then anyone who's interested can be warned about the neighbours and make decisions accordingly, but it won't come across as the landlord trying to dissuade tenants of certain ethnicities.

The problem, of course, is making online reviews happen. Working hard to convince former tenants to leave online reviews is bad form, and leaving them yourself as a landlord is outright inethical.

Nevertheless, the best medium for communicating this message is the voice of former tenants.

Monday, January 08, 2018

How the current Star Wars trilogy should end (no spoilers)

Evil is vanquished! Good has triumphed! Fireworks! Porg dance party! That couple you're shipping kisses!  All is right with the world!

Then, a "where are they now?" sort of epilogue, set 20-30 years in the future.  The most suitable of the surviving protagonists is now an eminent and well-respected political leader.  We see them, with a few dignified strands of grey carefully added by the make-up department, sitting in their office (carefully designed by the set department to look a bit more futuristic than the rest of the movies).

An aide walks in with a briefing note.

"Your Excellency," the aide begins, "Turmoil has engulfed the Galactic Republic. The taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute..."

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Better advice for the LW who didn't want to disclose her surgery

While searching for another old post, I came upon this old post responding to an advice column where the letter-writer wanted to avoid disclosing the nature of her surgery to her co-workers.

In my previous blog post, I came up with a somewhat complex subterfuge approach. But upon rereading it, I came up with something much simpler that requires less subterfuge.  This is obviously now irrelevant to the LW, but here it is for any googlers.

First, the letter:
I am in my early 30s. As a teenager, I was quite obese (300 lbs), but I am very grateful to say that I have been slim now for several years. But my body still “bears the wounds” of my previous weight: lots of loose skin, a sagging chest, etc. Special garments were needed to hold it in. I recently underwent the first of two surgeries to correct my loose skin, a procedure called a body lift. I took a month off work, and was paid through the company’s short-term disability plan. Though I did say it would be the first of two surgeries, I did not tell people at work the exact nature of my surgery: I think there is a stigma attached to cosmetic procedures. I did get the odd “soft inquiry,” but kept mum. My dilemma is that my second surgery involves a lift and augmentation of both my bum and breast area. How do I handle telling my boss and co-workers without revealing too much or coming off as cold and closed off? Also, how do I respond should I get comments about my new appearance? While I fear negative judgment about being “paid to get a boob job,” this is a private issue that has a long history.

Dear LW,

If your budget permits, acquire some unflattering clothes that drape poorly and hide your figure.  Ideally do this some time before the surgery is scheduled. (It would be extra effective if the unflattering clothes were on-trend.) Start wearing the unflattering clothes as soon as possible.

Ideally, you do this long enough before the procedure that your unflattering clothes cease to be interesting or novel and just blend into the background.

Then go about life as usual, get your procedure when it's scheduled, and continue wearing your unflattering clothes for a period of time after the procedure.

Then after some time as passed (perhaps as the weather transitions into the next season) start wearing clothes that fit properly. If your pre-surgery clothes no longer fit your post-surgery body, start by transitioning from the unflattering clothes to your pre-surgery clothes, then (as you acquire them) to clothes that fit your post-surgery body. (Again, it would be extra effective if the more flattering clothes were on-trend.)

This way, the change in your body won't appear sudden, and your improved shape will appear at least partly attributable to to more flattering clothes.  If you can do both the unflattering and the flattering with trendy clothes, it will just look like the evolution of fashion.

(Another option is, if asked, to say the unflattering clothes are due to an unspecified medical situation that requires loose clothes.  I'm not sure whether this would be helpful or not.)

Monday, July 03, 2017

Ideas for the Dear Prudence reader who's lying to her mother about fanfic reader counts

From a recent Dear Prudence chat:

Q. I lied to my mom ... how do I keep lying so I don’t get in trouble?: Last year, my mom was going through a rough time. She was depressed, and she came to me and said that she wanted to try her hand at writing. I write fan fiction, and my stuff is pretty good. So I created an account for her, and we published her writing as a fanfic. It didn’t do well. No follows, no favorites, no reviews. I didn’t want her to give up on her dream, so I created a few fake accounts and wrote a few reviews, followed her story. She was so happy. But then after a while she wondered why her number of readers wasn’t going up. So I showed her my page and pretended my readers were hers. I have more than a thousand readers, and she got extremely happy.
This went on for some time. She kept writing, and I kept posting her stuff. I kept writing and posting my stuff. My number of readers went higher and higher. Hers didn’t. Now she wants to get her story published. I wouldn’t mind, except she keeps mentioning the number of readers that she already has. I’m trying really hard not to panic, but I’m sure that I’m going to get caught. People are going to read it, and they’re going to tell her that it isn’t good. Then she’s going to bring up the number of fans that she thinks she already has, and they won’t believe her, then she’ll show them and the truth will come out and then she’s going to hate me and I don’t want her to hate me. How do I get out of this?

My first thought on reading this was about reader numbers and saleability. 

You say your mother thinks your readers are hers, and that you have "more than a thousand readers", which I assume means less than 2,000.

Conventional wisdom is that less than 1% of free online readers are willing to pay for a product. So even if your mother did have your over 1,000+ readers, that would mean there are no more than 20 (and likely fewer than 10) people willing to pay.

There's also the question of whether this 1,000+ represents unique readers or just hit count.  If it's hit count, at a minimum you need to divide the number by the number of chapters.  If it's a 10-chapter story, that would mean 100-200 unique readers - or, very optimistically, two people in the world willing to pay.  And that's before we even take into account people rereading the story. 

When I look up fanfic authors who have subsequently self-published (in the Jane Austen fandom), their AO3 hit counts were in the 10,000-20,000 range.  And that's self-publishing. The only fanfic I can think of that went on to getting published (i.e. by a publisher) was Fifty Shades of Grey, which, according to Fanlore had 56,000 reviews when it was taken down. Reviews, which is only a fraction of unique readers.

Even if you're unable or unwilling to disabuse your mother of the notion that your 1,000+ readers are hers, you can talk to her about how she's not even in the right order of magnitude to consider being published, with focus on how she should keep honing her craft.  (I mean, this half-assed blog of mine has about 10,000 unique readers a year, and I'm sure you'll agree that I'm nowhere near publication calibre!)

I doubt someone who can be tricked into thinking that your stats are hers could work out how to self-publish, but if she somehow did, a talk about numbers would prepare her for the possibility of no sales whatsoever.

In short, you don't have to worry about the reader count fraud coming up if she wants to publish, because even the fraudulent reader count isn't nearly high enough to make her a good bet for publishers or to guarantee any sales whatsoever.

So, either instead of or in addition to the other advice given, a chat with your mother about the proportion of free online readers that converts into sales would probably be helpful before she digs further into this publishing idea.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

How to apologize to someone you've wronged in the past and are no longer in touch with, without imposing upon them

A recent Savage Love Letter of the Day contains a twitter thread on whether or not a man should apologize to a woman he only now realizes he assaulted back then.  (I can't find the original discussion - it might be from a podcast.)

I've seen this question - whether to seek out someone you've wronged in the past but are no longer in contact with so you can apologize to them - asked in various forms in various advice columns over the years, and the argument against doing so is the same every time: the wronged person may well have moved on and the apology would simply dredge up old bad feelings, with the end result being that the apologizer feels better for unloading/doing what they perceive as penance, but making the wronged person feels worse.

But today my shower gave me an idea for how to apologize to a person you've wronged in the past and are no longer in touch with, without dredging up any bad feelings.

Post an apology on your primary online presence (blog, facebook, twitter, whatever). Do not use the wronged person's name, but do include enough details that they'll recognize themselves in the apology.  Ideally the post should be public, but if you don't have it in you to make it public it should be visible to as many people as you dare.

If the wronged person ever thinks of you, they'll google you. If they care, they'll start reading through what you've posted.  And they'll find your apology and see themselves.

If the wronged person ever mentions you to a mutual acquaintance, and your post has reached the mutual acquaintance, through the natural combination of social media and gossip mill, the mutual acquaintance will tell the wronged person about the post, and the wronged person will check it out if they're interested.

If the wronged person isn't thinking about you, this won't intrude upon their lives at all.

In either case, your emotional needs are still attended to. If your emotional need is to express your remorse, it's put out there and they'll receive it if they're in a position where they're seeking out information about you. If your emotional need is for penance, you'll get it by admitting your wrongs in front of all your followers.

In short, everyone's needs are attended to, no one is imposed upon.

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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A solution to the bringing kids to demonstrations dilemma

I've always had mixed feelings about bringing children too young to develop an independent opinion on the issues to political demonstrations.

On one hand, bringing your kid to a demonstration is modelling political participation, just like bringing your kid with you to vote. And a demonstration is also a part of regular life, like taking your kid with you grocery shopping.

But, on the other hand, participating in a demonstration (especially if you're holding a sign, chanting the chants, etc.) implies having a certain opinion on a certain issue, and some kids are simply too young to have developed an opinion.

On top of that, children tend to make for good pictures, so there's a high likelihood that kids at demonstrations will end up with a photo of them on the internet holding a sign that may or may not reflect the opinion they develop independently once they become savvy enough to do so.

So far, the best idea I've been able to think of is that kids at demonstrations shouldn't be photographed, which helps contain the issue but doesn't completely address it. (Although I have no objection to any policy that protects kids - or people of any age, really - from having their pictures posted on the internet without their informed consent.)

But the other day, my Twitter feed gave me a much better idea:

Kids participating in demonstrations must write their own signs, without any adult input about content or messaging. 

I'll allow adults transcribing the kid's message (only at the kid's request) if the kid's printing and spelling skills haven't caught up with what they want their sign to say, but the content of the sign must be entirely the kid's idea, and the kid must be permitted to use their own sign regardless of whether it's consistent with the demonstration's messaging.

Here are two delightful examples of this phenomenon that were tweeted into my feed. They can also been seen on imgur here and here.

As you can see, the kids are clearly expressing their own ideas rather than mindlessly regurgitating what the adults around them are saying. But they still get to proudly participate in the social and cultural experience of a demonstration, even if they don't have independent understanding of the issues, without expressing any ideas that they wouldn't if they had independent understanding of the issues. And, despite the fact that they're off-message, they don't take away from the message of the demonstration, and, in fact, add to its credibility by making it look like an inclusive family event.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What to do when you never have an opinion

An excerpt from a recent Captain Awkward question:
And now, here I am, 42 years old. My BF wants to know if I think our new bookcase should be dark wood or light? And guess what, I don’t care! It’s still a novelty that I can buy a bookcase! It could be puke green for all I care. So I tell him that he can pick, I have no preference. Or the ever popular “what do you want for dinner?” Who cares? It’s all food! As long as it’s not something I actively dislike, I don’t care what I’m shoving in my face.

This isn’t relationship-ending levels of stress, but I can tell it’s bugging him. He thinks that he is “getting his way all the time and I never do”. But I have literally had that happen to me, and trust me, this isn’t it. I’ve tried explaining that I’m going to be happy no matter what color the bookcase is, and I promise that I don’t secretly have a preference and one day 10 years from now I’m going to explode because I WANTED LIGHT WOOD YOU ASSHOLE!

So… How do I go about re-learning how to have opinions? Should I just fake it, and randomly pick crap and say it’s my “preference”? It feels like lying but if it gets the job done I suppose. What do you think?
(I recommend clicking through and reading the whole question with all the background before commenting on LW's specific situation.)

I have seen this sort of situation ("my partner asks what I think and I genuinely don't have an opinion") mentioned various times in various relationship advice forums, and I have an idea for how to handle it:

If you genuinely don't have an opinion on a multiple-choice question and, for whatever reason, you don't want to respond with "I genuinely don't have an opinion," pick the choice that is presented to you first.

If the other person objects, cheerfully go along with whatever they prefer.

If you find yourself viscerally objecting to whatever the first choice is, congratulations, you've just developed an opinion!

And if this is something that happens repeatedly within a particular relationship, the other party will eventually (consciously or unconsciously) start to notice that you always pick the first option, and will begin to (consciously or unconsciously) list their own (conscious or unconscious) preference first. Then they'll feel like you're both perfectly in sync and everyone will be happy.

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, July 21, 2016

US gun money braindump

With the various US shootings in the news and a constant flow of information about how gun industry money is influencing US politics, my shower gave me the early foundations of an idea to disrupt the cycle.

I know I'm a foreigner and therefore this isn't my business at all, but it is an idea I haven't seen elsewhere, so I'm posting it in case it's useful to anyone.

We know that the pro-gun people's argument for having guns is that they need them for self-defence and/or they're used for perfectly valid sporting pursuits.

We know that there's a lot of firearm manufacturer money spent lobbying against any restrictions on owning or acquiring firearms.

My first idea to disrupt this was to make firearm manufacturers pay a fine whenever a product they make is used as a murder weapon.  This is intended to disincentivize manufacturers from lobbying against firearms restrictions, and possibly incentivize them to produce products that make mass murder less easy.

But, because of all this lobbying money, any law specifically targeting firearm manufacturers is unlikely to pass.

So my next idea was to be big and bold: all manufacturers of all products must pay a fine whenever a product they manufacture is used as a murder weapon.

Q: But wouldn't this result in all kinds of harm to all kinds of random businesses (many of whose products are far more vital and far less profitable than firearms)?

A: To mitigate that, I propose a progressive fine structure.  The fine to be paid is a percentage of the company's revenues (not profits, because those can be hidden with accounting).  It starts out as an extremely small percentage (like 0.01%), and that percentage increases (perhaps even doubles) with every subsequent murder. (I can make an argument for the percentage increasing every time there's a murder with any of the company's products, or for each individual product having its own tally.)  So if you're a manufacturer of cosmetics and one very resourceful person comes up with a way to murder someone using a tube of mascara, you have to pay a tiny fine. But if you're a manufacturer of firearms or ammunition and someone murders 50 people all at once with one of your products, you're going to be in serious financial trouble.  (And, of course if you're a manufacturer of cosmetics and someone murders 50 people all at once with one of your products, you're going to be in serious financial trouble too.)

Q: But why are you just focusing on murder? All kinds of people are shot in alleged self-defence or in accidents too, not to mention all the people who are injured, some of them seriously!

A: All these things are important too, and I have no objection to including them if it can be made workable. My thinking in focusing on murder is that it's far more difficult to argue with. By making policy that focuses strictly on murder weapons, you're not questioning the go-to arguments of self-defence or culturally-considered-legitimate sporting pursuits. You're not trying to take guns away from law-abiding citizens or regular folks.  You are, in fact, agreeing with all the standard arguments about why guns should be allowed. It's just the bizarre, exceptional case of murderers that you're addressing - people who use the guns for the express purpose of going out to kill people.

Q: Wouldn't the focus on murder make people (perhaps with firearm-industry-provided lawyers) attempt to defend themselves with claims of self-defence or accidents?

A: Since murder is already a separate crime with a more severe sentence, people are already incentivized to do that. I don't know whether or not extra lawyering could make a difference.

Q: Why manufacturers? Why not retailers?

A: I have no objection to including retailers too. I'm focusing on manufacturers because I have the impression that that's where the lobbying money is coming from.

Q: So what do you expect manufacturers to actually do?

A: Primarily, to stop lobbying against various proposed legislation intended to stop guns from getting into the hands of dangerous people.

But they could perhaps also stop manufacturing guns that make it so easy to kill so many people.  For example, they could make guns that fire fewer rounds per minute, or that require the user to squeeze the trigger each time they want to fire a round rather than holding it down. I've seen mentions of certain types of ammunition being more lethal than others, so ammunition manufacturers could probably use that information to make ammunition that's less lethal. Perhaps they might also have the option of providing their products wholesale only to retailers with stricter security checks.

And, of course, they always have the option of doing nothing and bearing the risk of a massive fine that would put them out of business if someone should choose to use their products for mass murder.

Q: And what about manufacturers of other products who get caught up in this? What do you expect them to actually do?

A: If their products are being used as murder weapons on the same order of magnitude as guns, perhaps it would be a good thing for them to be incentivized to make these products less lethal!

Q: Might this disincentivize foreign companies from making their products available in the US?

A: It might, I don't know. Maybe if it does, and maybe if there's enough demand for the product in question, it could also boost the US manufacturing sector.

Q: And how do you propose getting this kind of legislation introduced when it's so obviously targeting firearms?

A: Wait until someone is murdered with an ordinary object that isn't intended as a weapon. Sensationalize the situation in the media, cite other historical cases of people being murdered with ordinary household objects that aren't intended as a weapon, and make it sound vitally important to introduce safety measures so ordinary household objects can't be used as murder weapons. Don't mention firearms at all.  Cars have had more and more safety measures introduced over the years, at least some of which have been required by law. Use the same spirit for everything, but without (at least initially) presuming to dictate what exactly the safety measures should be.  This is a country that managed to ban Kinder Eggs FFS - surely they can pass some anti-murder-weapon legislation if no one mentions the G word.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

How to make a manual for new homes

I previously came up with the idea that developers should provide a user manual for new homes.  Today my shower gave me an idea for how that could be achieved effectively.

First of all, the manual wouldn't be an actual static manual, it would be a constantly-updated website, perhaps with a login to limit it to residents of the development if such a thing is thought to be necessary.

Homeowners are asked to report any problems they have to the developer, and the developer will provide free repairs/resolutions/instructions on preventive maintenance required to the first person to report each problem in exchange for being permitted to document it for the manual. 

The homeowner's privacy is protected throughout the process.  While the repair is photographed and videoed so the process can be fully documented, the homeowner doesn't appear in the photos or videos, and the homeowner can remove any identifying items and tidy the area before the documentation people come in.

Since only the first person to report the problem gets the free resolution, the cost to the developer wouldn't be very much, relatively speaking. It would be no more than the total maintenance cost of one unit over its lifetime (minus any repeated maintenance activities), and would probably turn out to be less because not all homeowners would be interested in participating and it's possible that no one would bother to call the developer for certain very basic maintenance activities (e.g. changing a lightbulb).  Given that each development has many units (my condo has nearly 400), and that developers tend to make multiple similar developments (many aspects of my condo operate the same as my apartment, which was built by the same developer), this is negligible compared with the number of customers served.

On top of that, to properly document a procedure with photos and videos you have to actually carry out the procedure.  So developing the manual this way wouldn't cost anything more than staging it for the cameras, and would save the time and effort of planning what should go into the manual, because the natural course of the homeowners' maintenance problems would make that decision for them.

This would be an excellent way for a developer to make customers feel like they're being taken care of, and would make that developer particularly attractive to first-time buyers who are perfectly positioned to start developing brand loyalty.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Things They Should Invent: use hospital volunteers to eliminate the need for patients to have support people

I recently blogged about the problem of the medical system requiring patients to provide their own support people.  In the comments of that post, I realized the solution: use existing hospital volunteer programs to provide support people for patients who don't have their own.

Many, if not most, if not all hospitals already have volunteer programs, complete with established recruitment, screening and training mechanisms, and one or more people whose whole job is to coordinate volunteers and generally make all this happen. They have a whole existing network and infrastructure for finding people who are able and willing to do non-medical tasks in a medical setting at no cost, and they do this every single day as an intrinsic part of the daily operations of the hospital.

Patients don't have anything like this at their disposal. Most people spend only a minute fraction of their lives receiving medical care, so their lives and their networks are not set up to find someone to fill this need.  Some people may well have someone who is able and willing and available, but that's really a fluke convergence of factors and in no way a sound basis for policy.

For the hospital to wash their hands of providing a helper and leave it entirely up to the patient fall under this kind of assholic risk-shifty behaviour we've been trying to coin a good name for.

At this point, some people are probably thinking "But you can't just have some random taking drugged patients home! They could hurt them or abduct them!"  But hospitals already have screening mechanisms for people who work directly with vulnerable patients, as evidenced by the existence of baby cuddling programs. There have been cases of people trying to abduct newborns from hospitals, so the hospital must have a way to screen these volunteers for trustworthiness.  And, again, the hospital, which does this all the time, would most likely have better screening mechanisms than a desperate patient.

And some people are probably thinking "But not all medical procedures are performed in hospitals - some of them are performed in clinics or doctors' offices."  I have three thoughts about that. First, even if hospital volunteers were just used for procedures done in hospitals, that would be an improvement over the status quo of every patient having to find a support person or they can't get their procedure. Second, some doctors and clinics are associated with a certain hospital, so that hospital's volunteers could help those doctors and clinics. Third, they could set up a volunteer program to take care of this need (and any others where volunteers might be helpful) in non-hospital medical contexts. Perhaps this could be done at the LHIN level, by hiring an experienced hospital volunteer coordinator to set up the program.

Of course, there's also the question of whether this should actually be unpaid labour. And I certainly have no objection to making this (and other volunteer duties) a paid role, and being cared for at every step of the process by fully trained, well-paid professionals.  However, the current status quo is that patients are being left to find their own volunteers, and a significant improvement over that status quo would be to use existing volunteer infrastructure rather than leaving patients at the mercy of the vagaries of their personal networks.  People who need medical care don't have time to wait until the government can be convinced to create more jobs.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Things Microsoft Word Should Invent (multilingual spellchecking edition)

1. Display all spelling and grammar errors, no matter how much it slows down the program

If your Word document has too many of the red squiggles indicating spelling errors as detected by the spellchecker, it gives you a warning saying there are too many spelling and grammar errors to continue displaying them.  Then all the red squiggles go away and, if you want to spellcheck, you have to select the spellcheck function from the menu and let the spellcheck program crawl the document rather than correcting red squiggles as you go.

The red squiggles are important to my translation process, and not just for spellchecking purposes.  They show me at a glance where I have and haven't translated, as the text in one language is going to be full of red squiggles when the spellchecker is set to the other language.  This is particularly relevant in very long documents (which I don't always translate linearly) and for bilingual documents - which are also the two kinds of documents that are most likely to involve a phase of the translation process where there are too many red squiggles regardless of whether the proofing language is set to the source language or the target language.

So I want a "Show spelling and grammar errors, no matter what, no matter how many there are, no matter how much it slows down the program" option. Just give me my red squiggles - I'll wait! And if I find it is in fact too slow, I can turn them off, and then turn them back on when I particularly need them.

(Yes, I know you're supposed to be able to mark different sections of the document as different languages or tell Word not to spellcheck a certain section, but in practice I find those functions are hit and miss.  Sometimes I tell it over and over again that the left column is English and the right column is French, or that I don't want it to spellcheck the first six pages, but it just doesn't take.  Same with turning the red squiggles back on after I've translated the whole document - sometimes it just says there are too many spelling and grammar errors without even recounting.  I suppose another option would be to make these functions work reliably.)

2. Add phrases to the spellcheck dictionary

In some circumstances, for certain combinations of genre, context and audience, I have to leave official names in the source language rather than translating them into English. Of course, this means they show up as errors in my spellchecking, even though they're not.

I want to be able to add these official names to the spellcheck dictionary, so it doesn't give them red squiggles and corrects them if I make a typo.  However, I don't want to add the individual words to the dictionary, because taken individually they would still be untranslated words and/or typos. I just want spellcheck to recognize the phrase. For example, I want it to recognize that "Ministère des Affaires municipales et de l'Occupation du territoire" is supposed to be there, but the individual words "ministère" and "affaires" and "municipales" and "territoire", when they don't appear in that exact phrase, are not supposed to be there.   

Computers can do this. Search functions have "whole words only" or "exact phrase only" options. And the error detection aspect of spellchecking is basically a search function (i.e. find all the words on this list, then put red squiggles under all the other words). So they should be able to create this option and thereby help reduce the risk of making typos when some words are in another language that hasn't lived in the user's fingers for as long.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

How to end ticket scalping with two simple rules

1. All venues must allow purchasers to return tickets for a full refund.
2. All venues must maintain a waiting list of people who would like to buy any tickets might get returned.

So if you're a regular person who finds yourself unable to attend the event you bought a ticket for, you can get your money back no problem. And if you're a regular person who was signed in with the fan presale code and pressing refresh right at 10:00 but still didn't get through, you will be automatically put in line for any tickets that might become available.

This creates a situation where there is no legitimate resale market, since anyone who has experienced a perfectly innocent change of plans can simply return their tickets to the venue for a full refund.

It also creates, at a minimum, a strong disincentive to buy from resellers at inflated prices until very shortly before the event.  If you aren't able to get through for the presale and instead get waitlisted, you aren't going to go running straight to stubhub. You're going to wait at least a few weeks and see if you get tickets through the waitlist.  People might still want to buy from resellers if they haven't gotten waitlist tickets and the event is just days or hours away, but resellers might also be incentivized to return their unsold tickets to the box office for a refund so they don't have to eat the cost.

They could just introduce these rules and see what happens, or they could get more proactive and add a rule that selling tickets by any means other than through the venue is prohibited.  (They could also write an exception saying that a person who is attending the event can sell the other tickets they purchased in the same block at face value, to permit situations where each member of a group pays for their own tickets, but one person makes the actual purchase so everyone can sit together).

But, regardless of the enforcement details, these two simple rules - both of which could be executed automatically by a computer program - would create a situation where legitimate ticketholders have no reason to resell and where it's far easier for legitimate customers to carry out the scalper boycott that those in the know seem to agree is necessary to once again make it feasible for people who actually want to see the show to be able to buy tickets.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How to improve assisted dying legislation with one simple rule

I've been reading about the various flaws in the current assisted dying legislation, and my shower gave me an idea of a simple way to improve it, or any other assisted dying legislation really.

I propose that, in addition to whatever categories of patients legislators deem acceptable candidates for assisted dying, any patient who has tried everything and still wants to die is permitted access to assisted death.

I don't think this is anywhere near a whole solution, but I do think it's a (relatively) easy rule that is unobjectionable to as many people as possible and achieves a number of things:

1. It catches the patients that legislators didn't think of. People generally want to impose restrictions on access to physician-assisted dying because they have various "What if?" scenarios in mind that they want to prevent, and they try to write restrictions that address those scenarios.  But, apart from people who don't want anyone to die at all ever, I doubt any of the scenarios people are thinking of preventing include cases where absolutely everything has been tried and the patient still can't bear to go on living.

2. It could create an additional path to help patients access treatments they haven't been offered yet. Sometimes you hear about situations where doctors simply rule out the possibility of certain potential treatments on grounds that the patient might not agree with (e.g. to protect the patient's fertility). But if applying for physician-assisted dying triggers a review of what has been tried so far and a protocol for trying everything else, when they say "We can't offer you death without first trying to remove your ovaries to see if it helps," you can say "Great, let's do that!"

3. It provides hope for all patients.  Even if you don't qualify for assisted dying right this second, you can get there just by following the standard protocol of trying, ruling out and refining treatments.  It will take time and difficulty, but you can get there. Every unsuccessful treatment you attempt is a step towards being put out of your misery.

4. It provides a built-in waiting period. Many people who are opposed to death at will cite first-hand or third-hand experiences of wanting to die but then, after some time passes, not wanting to die any more. Their concern that the desire to die might go away with time would be addressed by all the time it takes to proceed through all the treatments, which makes them less likely to oppose this rule.


At this point, you're probably wondering about the definition of "everything". Does that mean you have to try every single medication in existence, or just a representative sample? Do you have to try alternative medicine? What if it's unproven? Do you have to participate in clinical trials?

And what if you can't afford the prescriptions or alternative medicine treatment? What if you can't get into the clinical trials?

First of all, I think the Try Everything rule could be implemented immediately before these points are addressed, with the understanding that we will take the time to examine the nuances and refine the definition of "everything".  This will provide immediate  access for a (admittedly very small) number of people who may have otherwise slipped through the cracks but whose death by choice is as unobjectionable as possible, because they already have tried everything and have documented evidence of this.

Then, the process of working on refining the definition of "everything" could leverage the Anti-Death No Matter What lobby to improve access to medical care in general. Currently, they seem to be limited to saying "No death! Death is Bad!"  But this would give them positive things to lobby for that would serve as obstacles to death, but also help everyone in the meantime.  For example, it's not reasonable to expect people to try every prescription medication if the cost is prohibitive. So now the anti-death lobby is incentivized to lobby for pharmacare.  It's not reasonable to demand that people try alternative medicine that's unproven and not covered by OHIP, so now the anti-death lobby is incentivized to lobby for alternative medicine to undergo clinical testing, and for treatments that turn out to be proven by clinical testing to get covered by OHIP.


Of course, this comes nowhere near addressing all the problems with assisted dying legislation.  Notably, it does nothing about the lack of ability to provide an advance directive. But, nevertheless, expanding assisted death availability to include patients who have tried everything would fill in some gaps while being consistent with the spirit and intent of the legislation.