Monday, November 26, 2012

Stale Top Comments

I've been watching Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Thriftshop video. If you can stand to hear a lot of cuss words, you should jump in because it's a funny and entertaining video.

This Youtube video has already cleared 20,000,000 views. The number of comments exceeds (as of today) 26,000. However, the "Top Comment," as shown above, has hit a paltry 37 thumbs up. How did 20,000,000 people/views get reduced to 37?

Without incentives, you're not going to get people to rank anything. has an interesting system in which users can earn "Geek Gold" which can then be spent on the site. However, incentives are not the purpose of this blog.

What I'm curious about is a perpetual cycle. The "Top Comments" (usually just two) get the most views because they require no further clicking to see. This kind of built-in advertising solidifies in many cases the Top Comment hegemony. Two suggestions here: 1) make it impossible to vote for the Top Comment or 2) program staleness into the thumbs up so that a top position degrades over time.

The general idea is that a viewer should see more than just two comments out of 26,000, and building in a kind of comment renewal is a strong way to encourage more user interaction. Sure, I could scour all of the comments and cast my vote every time, but I'm just not the voting type. However, I believe that the attention and votes of people today count more than they do six months, a year, or five years ago.

Rating comments is very democratic. Everyone gets a vote, if they want it. Integrating comment degradation would not be an attempt to undermine the inherent democracy of the comment world, but rather to introduce a new rule to spice things up.

Just a thought.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mother's Milk Tea Warning

I live with an array of housemates which includes a couple and their one-year-old. I mention this because as I was rooting through a take-what-you-want house shelf I found a couple of sacks of "Mother's Milk" tea. I'm an adventurous sort, so even though Chamomile was hardly a stretch difference, I went for MM.

I will never make that mistake again.

This was easily the nastiest tea I have ever had. I thought tea had a baseline decency. It's just boiled leaves or herbs, maybe fruit. It's not a complicated matter. To throw out this juxtaposition, I've made decent tea from pine needles.

I think MM should have a warning on it, it's that bad. I wish I could get more specific, too, but if someone forced me to lick dog poop, I doubt I'd stop to contemplate the subtleties of nastiness. If you're in the same boat, that makes you normal.

So that's it, a warning. It's not too much to ask. And in case you were wondering, the mom in the house loves the stuff. Like a hardcore fan, a warning would not deter her interest.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Standing Book Bids

I buy and sell books on It's very very easy. As a buyer, you are just a few clicks and a few days away from getting exactly what you want at your doorstep. As a seller, it takes a little bit more work (you have to log the books, print out invoices, and mail them to get the max amount of money), but it is still surprisingly easy.

But the way the current system is in place, sellers definitely do more work than buyers. What if this were reversed? What if Amazon encouraged buyers to choose a price that they would 100% buy a book at (similar to a fixed stock buy) and it fell on the sellers to peruse these potential buyers to see if the price was what they were hoping to get for their product?

If a buyer isn't in a hurry to get something, he/she might put out a lowball bid, say 20% of the asking price. It might take anywhere from a few days to a few years to find a seller willing to sell at that price, but it would be an equally balanced equation like the system that is in place right now.

As a seller, I've got tons of books unsold right now. When I was logging them, I would have been more than happy to consider offers on them. As it stands right now, I've already put in the work for the current system. So I wait.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Google Maps Options

I want to talk about Google Maps, but I want to use this Yahoo! Sites listing as a starting point. First, just take a look. In just a few seconds, you get an idea of the possibilities on Yahoo! I don't use 95% of these sites, but I know they're there. When I started using Yahoo! back in the mid to late 90s, I navigated to their gaming page in a different way. When this quick tool bar popped up, the process (even though it may have only taken a few seconds less) was made easier.

Google Maps, to be clear, is awesome. I use it all the time. In fact, I just went through a little tutorial about all the options on the Google sidebar in the upper right (the place where you can toggle between Earth and Satellite views) and learned that there is a crazy PHOTO OPTION that, once checked, overlays local photos onto every place on the planet. Yeah, think about it. In just a few moments, I saw locally taken pictures everywhere from Boston, Massachusetts, USA all the way down to freakin' Antarctica and everywhere in between. Amazing.

However, awesome things can be made better. In fact, in this digital age, I would say that the definition of awesome is fluid in large part because awesome keeps on getting redefined every five seconds.

So how does one make Google maps better? For one, I'm getting annoyed that I get different results in Google search and Google Maps. I understand it's no fault of Google if a company doesn't have an online presence, that is, if they don't register their company in the online databases. But as a consumer looking for all my options, I'm a little put out that it falls to me to cut and paste the information that a computer program would do much more efficiently.

That's one thing. The other relates to these options. Once most of the businesses are logged into the database, then what happens next is the inclusion of another toolbar. I'm tired of punching in "Restaurant near Boston, MA," even if the stupid thing guesses what I want before I finish typing it. I want control. I want options on the side of the map that allow me to click, say, three options: Restaurants which appear in red, Game Stores which appear in green, and Grocery Stores which appear in yellow. With these options overlaid on the map of my choosing, I can easily see which places I need to go to first, second, third. Plus, I might find a place to go to that I hadn't considered, a grocery store that's usually off my radar, for example.

That's pretty much it. Oh, and I really think the Bike directions leave a lot to be desired. I absolutely hate all the green lines that pop up when I switch to bike view. Look at this madness (shown above). It's crazy!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Mom Makes Mittens

(For anyone unfamiliar with the saga of the Texas Perimeter Hike Mittens, please refer to my blog post about right here.)

A while back, my mom made me some mittens while I was freezing my butt off walking east to west along the Red River in North Texas.  The mittens, truth be told, were very warm, but there was one unfortunate, aesthetic problem: the thumb was about as long as a donkey's dong.  My thumb, poor thing, couldn't even reach the hole that was made especially for it.  Anyway, I figured out a way to make the mittens work but retired them after that winter.

Well, there's good news for those who loved them the first time around: They're baaAAaack!!

As you can see from the above picture, she has remedied the obvious problem of the elongated thumb by a procedure that those in the industry would refer to as "slice and dice."  Unwittingly, she has made a curious new aesthetic mitten with which one must pause to fully appreciate.  Turning it sidewise, you might see what I'm talking about.

It looks like Moby-Dick!!!!  I swear, I didn't think it could get any better than the Pac-Man ghost (as seen on the TPH blog), but my mom's got some tricks up her sewing and knitting sleeves.  

Up close, you can really see that the sewing and cutting that she had to do to "fix" the thumb was necessary to create this unusual effect.  There aren't any teeth, but the shape lends itself to the idea of teeth.  And this got me thinking about it once more: What else do the mittens remind you of?

Yes, my oh-so-innocent mother has given me a pair of Alien mittens.  I know they're not familiar with that movie or that super famous cinematic scene, so I'm throwing down a link for it.  Frankly, I prefer this version.

So you might be wondering why I've included this post on The Idea Train.  It's pretty simple, actually.  I don't think my mom should stop making mittens.  The best way to get better at something is through trial and error.  But these mittens, the former Pac-Man/Moby-Dick/Alien mittens cannot be saved.  I will use them and keep them, maybe even mount them on the wall next to pictures of me spearing them in the Corpus Christi Bay.  But altering them further will not bring them back from the brink.  I think they should stay the way they are.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

HuffPo Needs a Better Algorithm

There's a lot of complex math going on behind the webpages we all visit.  If you receive an email with the words book or novel in it, you're instantly targeted with ads ranging from book publishing to's latest bestseller.  That's pretty insane when you think about it.  How in the world does Google's software pick "book" from an email in which the writer might have also included other important nouns like "mother," "homework," "baseball," or "car"?  I couldn't tell you.  The fact is that we've got a lot of really smart people writing really smart programs that essentially govern the media we're exposed to.

So it begs the question: if these people are so freaking smart, how is it possible to stumble upon something as blatantly STUPID as the above shot, taken from today's Huffington Post website.  The Huffington Post, or HuffPo as it's sometimes referred to, is an internet-only news source.  It's liberal, so if you've been plugged into FoxNews your whole life, you might not have heard of it.

So back to the shot.  Take a really close look.  The title of it reads "HuffPost's Big News Pages."  That's a good start.  It gets you wondering what is going on in the world.  There are some obvious ones, of course -- "Energy," "Election 2012," "September 11 Anniversary," "Hurrican Isaac 2012," "Libya," and "Taxes."  But wedged in there are some real losers: "fish" and "Bacon."  If you've got a puzzled look on your face, that makes you a normal human being.

What the hell is bacon doing up there with September 11 and Taxes?  Seriously.  This is evidence of an algorithm, some fancy piece of mathematical software, gone very very wrong.  Obviously, the HuffPo's software has grabbed all the websites that have gotten the most hits.  That's fine.  But they can't forget that there are actual HUMANS reading their website.  It's more than a little offensive to see BACON up there with a NATIONAL and WORLD TRAGEDY.

In chess software, you can't just tell the computer that the King is the most important piece on the board.  You have to assign it a value.  From what I've been told, you give the King such a high value (like a million versus the Queen's value of 9 or the Pawn's value of 1) that the chess program understands as a byproduct that the King is to be guarded at all costs.

It seems to me that if it's that easy to do that in chess software, it should be equally easy to do that with this.  Just assign Bacon a negative value in relation to Big News.  It's that easy.  Take it off the list.  People who are into bacon won't be offended, just like people who like comic strips aren't offended that they aren't on the front page of the newspaper.  Seriously, this one is a no-brainer.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Remote Control Ball?

Who knows why dogs love fetch, but they do.  A lot.  My dog goes after the ball like she's going to save the world.  And then she'll do it again.  And again. And again.  As long as you're willing to throw it, she'll go after it with all she's got.

Fetch is a great game, but it's not particularly satisfying on the human side of the equation.  If you don't have a ball gripper, it's even worse, what with saliva and dirt and whatnot.

What I propose is a new form of fetch in which we humans have some form of control over the trajectory of the ball.  It doesn't have to be hi-tech like a remote control ball, but I admit that would be pretty awesome.  I have no idea if this is even possible.  Would you have to use magnets or wind or electricity in some weird never before thought of manner?  You figure it out, brainster.  I'm just telling you what I'd buy as a dog-owner.  Woof.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Clips I'd Like to See

When I'm walking around town, I sometimes amuse myself by singing new song lyrics to old songs, matching normal people's faces to actors, politicians, or other famous folks, or by playing the "what if" game.  Most recently, I've had a couple of funny "what if"s, so I decided to share.

The second was about The Matrix Reloaded.  The famous fight scene between Neo and an increasing number of Agent Smiths was really fun to watch, but I started wondering if I could fend off a whole group of little kids.  This made me chuckle, reimagining the entire scene with little kids instead of grown men.  It's akin to the humor in Billy Madison in which Adam Sandler plays dodgeball with a whole bunch of little kids.  Anyway, if you want to make an internet meme, make this clip!

The first was about Aerosmith's Crazy video that came out while I was in high school.  For those not in the know, that's a younger Alicia Silverstone slipping out one of the windows of her prep school.  It's memorable for just about every dude my age because, at least in those years, she was the epitome of hot.

So, oddly, I found recreating this fun, sexy video into a hilarious one featuring a couple of nerds.  Imagine instead of Silverstone a guy slipping out the window and getting his shirt or underwear caught on the latch as a fun beginning.  It only gets better when he meets up with his other dorky friend, and they take off for a day in the town.  If you're a RTF major, this would make an awesome final project.

So that's it.  No ideas today about solving world hunger or the energy crisis.  I'm just excited to see a couple of potential memes that have floated around in my mind and made me laugh.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Comment Consolidation and Nazis

My friend mentioned Godwin's Law to me one day during a chat, and I confessed I'd never heard of it.  Godwin's Law states that the longer an online discussion goes the closer the discussion comes to the mention of Hitler, Nazis, and the Third Reich.  It's meant to be serious but also to poke fun at the way we interact with one another on the digital platform.

This got me to thinking about how much people like to leave commentary.  I do it every so often, just throwing out my two cents for the sake of getting it off my chest, but I never get into a sparring match, as there doesn't seem to be any point.

However, for some reason, I love reading what people say almost as much as what an article says.  If you want to know what America thinks, go to a controversial article and skip straight to the comments.  You'll find the bloody beating heart of America right there.  Without the inhibitions of a face-to-face encounter, people put it all out there.  It can get nasty quick, and comparisons to Hitler are the least of your worries.

Every site has their own system.  That is, generally, if you want to leave commentary, you have to have an account with that particular site.  If you love leaving commentary and you love reading ten different sites, this usually means having an account with every single one of them.  In short: this blows.

I would like to see a consolidation of commentary.  What Huffington Post does within their own web content is excellent by the way: they reward people who post a lot by highlighting their names, allow others to follow them (digitally, of course), and keep track of them overall.  I would venture to say that their system is the best one out there right now that I've seen.

It's this system that I would like to see used across the internet, a stand-alone company whose sole job is to provide commentary support for all internet content.  I want to know what people are saying across the spectrum.  I want a history of their writings across all sites; in short, I want whatever users write to create a history.  Like a credit card, it's their choice to create a good history or bad history.

Compartmentalization of comments, which is what we have now, allows for people to say whatever they want.  The goal of commentary should be to achieve a level of mutual respect that exists in the physical realm.  Obviously, not all interactions are positive in the physical arena, but those people who act out do so with the full knowledge that they alone support their words.  Comment accountability does not really exist in the digital realm, but it can and should.

A few days after my friend told me about Godwin's Law, he said that he had gotten into a heated online discussion.  After a few back-and-forths, the person he was debating used a reference to Hitler!  Godwin's Law was illustrated to full effect!  My friend was both pleased and disappointed.  The comparison (I don't recall which two things were being compared) effectively terminated the conversation because to play Devil's Advocate at that point would mean to side with Hitler.

It's this kind of stuff that one would hope to avoid while creating a history.  A user might even see patterns in his own way of debating things and make improvements upon himself.  But really, it should give a commentator a moment's pause before posting: this is going down in my record forever.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Multiple Windows

I open multiple windows on my laptop all the time, everyday.  Sure, I'm a fan of tabs.  Who isn't?  But sometimes I like a movie to be playing, a game of backgammon to be going, and a word document that I'm supposed to be editing open, and I want them all on the same screen.  Is this too much to ask?

Sure, I can fiddle with the windows.  Make them bigger, make them smaller, make them thin or fat or wide.  What I want the brainstinks at Microsoft to come up with is an automatic program that gives me the option of auto-sizing my stupid windows.  Call me lazy, whatever.  When I open a new window and this option of auto-sizing is already turned ON, I want the two windows to fill my screen perfectly.  No fiddling required.

Seriously, am I the only person who wants this?  I couldn't be.  There's got to be someone else as scatterbrained as I am who seriously wants half a dozen windows open at the same time.

So here's my vision.  Let's say you have three windows open at the same time.  The auto-size option has them fill the screen.  Let's say one window is the dominant window and fills up half the screen; the other two are smaller and lay on top of one another.  Perfect.  But when I manipulate one screen - that is, make it wider or taller - I want the other screens to auto-size accordingly.  I mean, come on!  This isn't rocket science here.  Figure it out and get back to me.

I *love* how I can swap tabs in certain internet browsers.  I want this swapping feature in conjunction with the auto-size option.  I want to be able to drag one window on top of another to swap them, to make a quick change up.  For someone working on multiple projects at the same time, this would be very very handy.

So do it!  Get someone on it.  Figure out this little itty bitty option.  It would make a lot of us really really happy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How to Fire an Employee

So it happened.  I finally got fired.  I've been alive for 35 years, have had over a dozen different jobs, and I finally know what it's like to hear those words "You're fired."  And I've had all day to think about it, too, because I got fired from a midnight baker's job.  Yep, got the news at 3:45am.

First of all, I deserved it.  I'm not complaining about my sentence.  My former boss was a good guy.  I just wasn't up to the task of waking my ass up at 12:30am to get to work by 1am.  Justice has been served.

Maybe there's just no way to make this easy.  Maybe it shouldn't be easy.  I've had all day to think about this, so allow me a moment to share with you some of my revelations.

First, I looked at the syntax.  "You're fired" is a passive statement.  Technically speaking, the whole phrase is "You're fired by me."  So if this is passive, then why the hell does it feel so active?  As a boss, I can't imagine getting all revved up and saying "I fire you!"  That just doesn't work for some reason.  As for the present progressive "I'm firing you," that just doesn't make any sense unless the employee in question seriously does not know his ass from his elbow.  I mean, it happens.

So then I looked at corporate culture.  They hire an outside consultant to do the dirty work of appraising employees and firing them.  Not that this has happened to me, but I've seen Office Space.  This seems worse than being told to your face.

 I suppose there are some creative ways to do it.  My boss back in college told me the following story: "So I met this old-time business owner.  He told me that the way you fire someone is to give them a hefty raise for two weeks.  At the end of the two weeks, you send them packing.  After that, they'll never get a job asking for the wages they had at the moment you fired them."  Pretty wicked old man.

So in short, while an employer can get creative, I think the best way remains to fire someone to his face using the passive voice (which sounds active).  It's tense for a few moments, but then it's over.  The way I see it, my former boss did both of us a really big favor sticking to what's tried and true.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Book Juggling

Have you ever borrowed something - a book, movie, nice outfit - and really talked it up to another person who then asks to borrow this thing from you?  It's very uncomfortable for the original borrower to even consider a double borrow, much less do it.  After all, the person doesn't *own* the thing.

However, there is one item which should be easy to borrow from another individual: the library book.  If two people are both card-carrying members from the same library or library system, there's no reason why one person couldn't borrow a book from another, thus cutting out the library.

Just today, I let a roommate borrow a book that I had checked out.  Sure, I could've said no, but we live in the same house.  Plus, he had just let me borrow his stack of Neil Gaiman comic books.  So I found myself handing over a book that only I am accountable for, as far as the library is concerned.

I wouldn't have had to worry at all if I had done a little book juggling.  It saves time and money and hassle.  Shouldn't this be an option?

Promo Emails

I *just* unsubscribed to my daily Groupon alert.  (For those of you who love Groupon, this may seem like blasphemy; for those of you not in the know, count your blessings.)  It was surprisingly easy to do, which I very much appreciated.  The "unsubscribe" button was at the top of the email, and though it was in small font, it was still a cinch to spot, click, and be done with.

THEN I was prompted to give feedback.  Again, the wizards at Groupon have made this ridiculously easy.  Three buttons appeared which said "Too much email," "Not relevant to me," and some other option that escapes me for the moment.  I wanted to click on BOTH the first two options, but I decided that the greater of the two evils was "Too much email," so I went with that one.

THEN I was thanked, but what kills me was the new button at the bottom of the thank-you: RESUBSCRIBE.  You have got to be kidding me.  Why in the world would I resubscribe to something I just dumped?  The audacity!

I get so many promo emails - stuff that I actually signed up for - that I have come to look at them as SPAM or unwanted clutter.  They make me *not* want to buy anything from those particular retail outlets for a long long time.  Google did a remarkable job of sorting true SPAM out of my inbox, but dumbass that I am, I have spoiled their work by signing up for various deals, bargains, and for shopping online.  And for signing up for Facebook.

I could go on and on.  I hate this stuff.  So let's skip to the idea.

I don't want to entirely get rid of these stupid promo emails because once in a blue moon I might want that 30% off from Amazon or an update from Marmot (Marmot by the way sends far fewer email updates than any other business, and to this, I say "Thank you.").  ONCE in a while, those emails come in handy, and I love a good deal, so I don't want to eliminate a lifeline.

Instead, may I suggest the consolidated email.

In Google, I have many many options, but the main one is to flag an email as being a junk email.  Why couldn't I flag it for consolidation?  I don't want to reroute these emails into a separate folder because I'd likely never visit the folder (that's just the way I roll).  What I would prefer is that these promo emails get collected and delivered to me as one single freakin' email once a week/month/whatever.

So let's say I've flagged nine to fifteen promo emails.  I don't want to see these individually ever again.  However, every two weeks (I'm thinking that twice a month is PLENTY for me), I'd get a single email that I could click on and be presented with a collection of these promo emails.  I could glance at the list and determine in ONE MOMENT if I'd like to investigate something new.

I can see retailers hating this, but if email service providers had that option, there's certainly nothing they could do about it.  Over time, however, I could see companies redirecting their efforts to making sure that when they get that fraction of a second from a consolidated email what they write will actually be worth reading.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Adding Blue to Washington, D.C.

Several years ago, my girlfriend and I were circling Washington, D.C.  We had missed our turn but didn't realize it until much later.  So we found ourselves on the loop, late at night, completing a full circle around our nation's capital, with nothing to show for it.

Well, almost nothing.

My brainstorm came as I saw all the taillights and headlights of hundreds of other drivers.  Oncoming traffic (on the other side of a concrete divider) was made up of many, many white headlights.  In our half of the highway was an equal number of red taillights.  Something was missing.

In this, our nation's capital, I felt the creative stirrings of a patriotic nature.  Why not put blue lights on the concrete divider?  No matter which direction you drove around D.C., you'd always see red, white, and blue.

Besides patriotism, this idea is cost-effective.  For the price of one color, you get all three!  My brother Charlie took it one step further: if they were bright blue reflectors instead of lights, you wouldn't even have to use electricity.

So write your Congressman or Congresswoman!  Tell them you want our capital to reflect the colors of our nation's flag.  And for one-third the price.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


As I walked around this morning, there must have been half a dozen dogowners walking a single dog.  I was no different.  The dog walk is a wonderful thing, a time for the master and animal to bond.  But I thought it was a bit much in the moment, that there was some little improvement that could be made.

And so there is: dogpooling.  I used to carpool with my neighbors; my dad got the mornings, and my neighbor's mom got the afternoons from school.  Why aren't more dog owners doing the same thing?

This is an easy one.  Find someone pinched for time but on opposite schedules as you.  Post on Craigslist or simply put up a few fliers around the neighborhood.  Offer to do a dogwalking trade for a few days as a trial run.  It certainly couldn't hurt.

The two dogs (for the moment in this perfect example, there are just two) get a little socialization, they get to poop, they get a break from you and you from them, and they still get their normal exercise.  If your neighbor's dog doesn't get along with yours, find another who will.  This simplification of the day-to-day hubbub has the potential to make everyone's day a little easier.

I'll give this a try and get back to you.  It might just turn into a dog-walking gig, which isn't a terrible thing, but for the moment, I'm hoping for something more.  Woof!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

iPhone Finger Swiping Art Project

As I was fiddling with my iPhone the other day, I had the notion that I was doing an awful lot of finger swipes.  I swipe to open the phone, swipe to change pages, punch icons to open apps, swipe to scroll up and down.  It got me to thinking.  What do all my collective finger swipes look like?

If I were in an application like DrawSomething, all of my finger swiping would be recorded as me making art.  But what about all the OTHER finger swipes?  To run the iPhone and check the weather or play games or read an internet article - no matter what you do you have to swipe on the touchscreen.

My idea is to record this data for a fixed period of time (say, five minutes).  Then the user could start the application and see a condensed version of their finger swiping as a visual piece of art.  It could be a still frame of the entire time, or it could be an animation, with different colors every few seconds, possibly set to music.

A friend raised the objection that this would be similar to tracking users' keyboard input - that is, a record of every button pressed.  But it's not the same, not by a long shot.  What's great about this idea is that because everyone's Smart Phone is configured differently (the placement of our apps is very different) and how users use their phone varies widely as well, the visual imagery generated by a person's finger swipes would only be meaningful to that person.  ("Hey, that's when I was playing Angry Birds!  And that's when I was reading The New York Times!")

We are all of us artists in one way or another.  This app would just be evidence supporting the point.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Beginning

Welcome to The Idea Train.  This blog is intended to be a platform for my various ideas that I find beautiful or fascinating or extremely useful to the world but lack the funding or knowledge to produce.  Some are iPhone apps; others are physical improvements to some service or product.  I don't really know where the ideas come from, but there is a very long train of them as far as my mind's eye can see.

This blog is intended as a platform to share, encourage, and create.  As such, I welcome contributors who feel a similar need to get their ideas out there.  This space will be a virtual think tank, starting with me but hopefully growing into a community.

Should you find an idea on this blog that you'd like to produce, you are very welcome to do so.  Though some kind of remuneration would allow and encourage me to continue to writing this blog, I do not insist upon it.  What I do ask, however, is that you give me credit in the production of your product.

Welcome again to The Idea Train.  It's going to be an interesting ride.