My idea file

If ideas were actually worth something–as people say when they say things like, “I’ve got a $10M idea”–I’d have been rich a long time ago.

Since they’re not, their worth is mostly in the sharing. So I’m dipping into my project ideas file and pulling out wads and wads of what is unfortunately not cash, because there’s no way I’m going to get to everything.

Most recently updated June 29.

A phone app that splits restaurant bills among a group of friends

People complain about this all the time. Let’s make our smartphone into a somewhat more objective judge, kill the argument, and maybe help our wait staff get better tips.

I kind of want to do this one. Most of the issues are in UI design. It doesn’t seem too difficult. Maybe this should be my next GitHub project.

edit: of course, this has been done, and it looks like exactly how I would have done it. I wonder if it’s on Android though.

Todo-list app

But not the normal kind. What we need is something a little more interactive. We need to make todo software with a messaging protocol in the back that lets other people request additions to your todo list. You would then be able to accept or reject them. Designing this software would take a lot of user research and understanding of psychology, in order to program the right features. For instance, should the person requesting a task be allowed to see when it’s scheduled to be done, or what priority it has? There are both benefits and awfulness in that suggestion. (Mostly awfulness, I think.)

I think it should also have priority, deadline, and/or likely completion time data attached to each list item, and if the user indicates that a certain time slice of their day is open, it should suggest the optimal task or tasks to fill that spot. The algorithm might well be kind of tricky, though; it’d have to work around not always having all three data points.

Also, it would probably be fun to add game elements to this app. Maybe it should award points for tasks completed, and award more points for higher-priority tasks. This probably would result in people losing productivity due to playing with the app and fiddling to get more points, though–like breaking up tasks into tiny pieces they can “accomplish,” or ranking everything as high priority. You could choose to only award points for tasks set by other people, but then they’d rank everything so as to give you the most points, thus making their task appealing to complete.

(Software development has seen time and time again that if you award points for stuff, even if they’re worthless, people will do crazy things to get them. No one has much of an explanation as to why.)

Oh, speaking of which. You’d probably have to come up with some way to make people not mark all their assignments to others as super important–some way to weight each person’s additions to others’ to-do lists so there’s a normal distribution of priority among what they send, and they’re not marking everything important. But that causes its own problems.

This is a really neat piece of software for design issues. I kind of like it. Also, Paul Graham has asked for someone to build this a couple times (although he didn’t go into this detail).

Air conditioned motorcycle helmets

I don’t ride motorcycles, but I’ve noticed people tend to not like wearing helmets on hot days. Why don’t people make full motorcycle helmets–the really protective, full face shield kind–with air conditioning? We have, like, those single-can fridges; can’t we put a rechargeable battery in a helmet and make it work? I know batteries are heavy, but… so are those helmets, anyway.

Low-commitment freelance comics

A web site that connects comic writers with comic artists, for the purposes of making one strip at a time. Comics don’t have to go on hiatus because one of the creators has fallen ill or quit.

ReceiptStash (I have dibs on this one)

An app that stores receipt data instead of forcing businesses to use so much wasteful paper. Bonus points if it’s attached to the user’s debit card # rather than a username, because this would mean it could be used as a tool to recognize card theft. It’d also be really easy to load the data for use in a budget tracking app, which might solve a lot of people’s problems in that area.

Penguin Phone

Make a cell phone that runs Linux. Not Android, but pure Linux, with a command line and a filesystem and no unnecessary pre-installed apps.

I think our phones could do more “laptop stuff” than they currently do. Sometimes you need to make little corrections to code–fix broken links and so on. Why not use your phone? It’s as powerful, hardware-wise, as a computer. Why isn’t it as powerful software-wise?

Happy Nickels

When people experience something that makes them happy, they like to post about it on social media. (Along with a lot of other, less happy things they post about.) What if there were a social media app that was intended first of all for phone use, where every time something made you happy, you pull out your phone and post about it on this dedicated social media app.

But to do so, you have to donate a nickel to charity, in order to share your happiness with someone else. No one cares about a single nickel. You can’t buy anything with it, really. It isn’t important. Until you get a million people posting and spending nickels three times a day. Ideally, this app would be monitored to make sure that people were only posting things they’re happy about, so it’s a pleasant social media app to peruse.

True Cloud Computing

A web site that stores an individual’s computer settings in a lightweight format. Like, a Dropbox for the files, a simple word processor, some games, some other apps. Like a phone that just runs in a browser and everything’s stored on the server. Kind of like Chrome OS, without the attachment to an individual machine. It needs a really good API for people to develop for it, too. You could make a Linux distro that makes the browser part more transparent–it would still be different from Chrome OS, because Chrome OS starts from the individual computer and works onto the Web (and it’s not accessible everywhere) and this would start on the Web and just happen to work with an individual machine–any individual machine.

Real-Time, Real-World (I really considered making this one but it’s set aside for now)

A game where you take care of a third-world/impoverished family, and you can buy upgrades to get them technology that makes their lives better. What you buy actually goes to buying that technology for third-world families. If like 300 gamers buy a steel food cabinet or a well or a hygienic latrine or medicine for their virtual family, a real family somewhere gets the same thing.

Sheet Music Is Annoying

An app for musicians that displays sheet music, chords, or tabs, and can be controlled by a pair of Bluetooth-enabled pedals which flip the pages without the musician using his or her hands. Actually there are lots of ways to do this.

RSS, Get Off My Desktop

RSS, but not broken any more. It should use browser extensions or web pages rather than desktop software. It should use Internet history by date and caching to determine what content a user has seen.

Whizgig

I hate how job sites are laid out. They’re mostly just designed and commissioned by MBAs, and they suck because their search doesn’t work and the format isn’t effective. I think I could do better if I put my mind to it.

I think they should be laid out so that when someone posts a job, it feels like filling out a social media profile, and when someone looks for a job, it feels like shopping at an online site. That sounds obvious when you say it, but if you look at job sites, they really aren’t laid out like that.

Even Dice relies on kind of awful tags and whatnot–for example, “senior level” means very different things to different employers and you don’t know what you’re getting. Even on Dice, it’s hard to filter out the jobs you’re qualified for. Nobody can decide on a standard set of job titles, either, so someone searching for “Junior Python programmer” might totally miss the listing for a “Python Charmer” or “Code Ninja” or whatever weird thing they’re calling their job.

Their search is terribly broken, too. I’m a programmer, not a registered nurse–so why have I seen postings for RNs while searching for a job? That has actually happened, I think more than once.
There’s a lot to fix here if I put the time into it.

Jazz Band Beeping (this idea is something I want to see happen, but I don’t know how to do it personally)

Fast food restaurants and hospitals have one very annoying thing in common: repetitive beeping sounds. These are annoying to customers, and stressful to patients, workers, and nurses. But why beeping sounds? There’s nothing special about them that any other noise couldn’t do.

So, if you want to change it, here’s an idea.

A restaurant or a hospital room might have several different machines. Maybe two or three, maybe eight. To distinguish them, you assign each a musical instrument that would fit into a jazz band–violin, harmonica, cello, drums. You give the bass to the one that’s always running. (There’s always one. Heart monitor or whatever.) You assign the local network (the room or the restaurant) a metronome machine that keeps the instruments in sync. All the other machines in the room get their own instruments to represent them, and the nurses get instruction that hearing a harmonica is a Very Bad Thing, and hate harmonicas forever after that.

Aside from harmonica hatred, it would make those environments much more relaxing. Jazz is unstructured enough that as long as the rhythm is maintained, musical instruments popping in and out of the melody are A-OK.

The trick with this is that it would need generous funding, because you’d probably need to get a hold of medical equipment, which is expensive, and/or fast food equipment, which is expensive and often proprietary and secret. But I think it’s one of those good ideas that sounds really weird when you first hear about it.

This one probably exists as an open-source project somewhere

You know what would be really cool? A script or gedit/Sublime extension that changed your text so it fit within eighty columns. Same for code, it should be able to recognize file extensions and put in the appropriate thingy to continue the line of code. That sounds a little more difficult though.

(Ooooh, maybe I’ll write this one in Clojure later.)

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11 thoughts on “My idea file

  1. I’d had a scan through this before, but looking again with a view to making – hmm. A couple were particularly interesting to me. (Most of this is me thinking out loud/in text, feel free to ignore.)

    The restaurant bills one is interesting, even if there’s already an existing one, which, well, https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tab-simple-way-to-split-bill/id595068606?mt=8. Could improve or simplify, though. The logic shouldn’t be too hard, but I’m terribly out of practice when it comes to UI. I’m thinking something with a couple different options. You could do even or proportional splits, of course, but also split different bits of the meal differently. So you could input every person’s total and average everything. Or you could input every person’s total for each course separately, so people who had drinks as well pay the average for all drinks and food, but people who didn’t drink just pay the average of the food. Might have to install Kivy and have a noodle around…

    I can think of quite a few todo list websites and apps off the top of my head, and the time-filling aspect looks like it’s heading towards the knapsack problem, so this idea is a bit too big and scary for me right now, I think. Your mention of priory assignment is cool, though, and reminded me of a chapter from Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, which I don’t know whether you’ve read but is great.

    The jazz idea is very cool. I don’t have a clue how it would work in a hospital or fast food place, but the pseudo-randomness being translated into something cool-sounding is really neat. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find and yank samples of different instruments playing blues-scale notes. Maybe for a proof of concept you could set each instrument to listen for a different key on your laptop being pressed, so it plays along with your typing.

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  2. I am always pushed to my limits of ability to remember if I sent a reply or a message to someone. An idea that I have worked on is to link all communications with a particular person so that I can see at a glance whether I have replied or contacted that person and when that happened (if it happened). Something similar to whatsapp recording all conversations but without whatsapp. I think you may like the challenge to make this happen? (preferably on all platforms incl older versions of Windows)

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