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Ask YC/HN: What's a problem you'd like to see someone solve?
39 points by Mystalic on Jan 21, 2009 | hide | past | favorite | 189 comments
Broad topic, I was thinking just about this while I was in the gym.

What's a problem you've seen that you just want to get solved? Any problem, big or small, just spit it out, as big as world hunger, as theoretical as string theory, or as specific as twitter API architecture.

Perhaps something good will come of this? I'm sure this has been done before, but you learn something new every time.

Get people to stop using IE6 to visit sites, by any means necessary.

Bonus points if you can take out IE7 as well.

Agreeing with your general sentiment, what are the specific kinds of technical issues that come up with IE? I've kept all the sites I manage browser-independent (some people call that "primitive"), so what am I missing by not building in features that would make me want my visitors to not use IE?

what am I missing by not building in features that would make me want my visitors to not use IE?

I'm guessing the answer is: Clients. I haven't had one yet whose site was so simple that it avoided issues with IE6. Of course, you might have clients who are less demanding or have more austere tastes, in which case they're really smart because working around IE bugs costs money.

The easiest way to answer your question is to point you at this catalog of IE's deficiencies:


But if you want a document that really captures the essence of IE-induced terror, you can skim the invaluable "On Having Layout":


Don't read it all at once. It's exhausting.

IE, particularly IE6, is a great illustration of PG's observation:

The distinguishing feature of nasty little problems is that you don't learn anything from them... writing an interface to a buggy piece of software doesn't teach you anything, because the bugs are random.

I was just thinking about this one again, and here's a proposed solution:

Create an anti IE6 Coalition.

Here me out - you'd have one central website stating the purpose and all. If you wanted to join the cause, all you would have to do is place a javscript tag on your website. If it detects IE6, a message appears at the top talking about how IE6 hurts innovation, wastes millions of dollars a year, etc. and links to IE8, FF3, and Chrome for quick and simple upgrades. If you got a good deal of bloggers to use/talk about the script, you'd be able to spread the message. The goal isn't the eradication of IE6 usage, just enough demolition of IE6 that people don't feel the need to design around it.


A large part of the problem is that while (nearly) everybody would benefit from IE6 fading away, there's a strong incentive for individual parties to still support it (especially if they're the only one): blocking IE6 means losing a relatively large amount of customers. It's a prisoner's dilemma-esque situation.

IMHO, the best solution I've heard is to offer a discount for customers who are not using IE6, and politely but clearly note that the cost is greater because IE6 is so old and buggy that supporting it requires a lot of extra work, "but switching is easy...[links].". Testing the user agent string is probably enough -- people who know how to change their user agent will know how to install a new browser, but probably can't because of e.g. IT department policies).

I'd go elsewhere.

There are almost always other options and the cost of going to another website is lower than the cost of changing browsers.

Users don't care about your pain.

Javascript tag? Who's going to spend the 82 hours it takes to make write a piece of javascript that works on IE6? ;-)

I don't really want to be one of those people who insists on derailing perfectly good jokes by taking them seriously. But in this case I have to tell you: The answer to your question is "John Resig and the rest of the jQuery team".

In my experience JS is the least of my problems with IE6, because jQuery just works.

I was just doing customer service help with someone today actually. IE 6.0. I wanted to throw the guy into a lake. Of fire.

"Ok, here's what I want you to do.. Go to mozilla.com/firefox"

What if the computer is too old to run Firefox 3? Serious question.

My fiancee was fixing up an old computer to give to our nephew, and when she tried to install Firefox, it refused, essentially saying, "Your computer is too old." * She grabbed a 2.x install file from OldApps.com, but many of the people still running IE6 won't be tech savvy enough to do that, and are likely to be running really old computers. (And even when FF can be installed, it tends to suck up memory. What do you do with a computer that maxes out at 128MB ram?)

* I think it was a memory issue, but mainly I remember that it was unexpectedly off-putting.

Recommended configuration for Opera 9:

Pentium II class system with 64 MB of RAM and at least 50 MB of free disk space

Fair enough. I'm just saying that a kneejerk "use firefox!" doesn't necessarily help: it isn't that simple.

Whether you should really need so much computing power just run a web browser is a different matter entirely. My cell phone probably has more processing power (and definitely has far more memory and storage) than my desktop computer did when I was in high school.

For the vast majority of people, Firefox will work on their system.

I wish Mozilla lowered the requirements for systems or only installed a 'light' version on older systems.

Don't forget about IE8. That seems to be worse than IE7.

Something I thought of when I was studying engineering at Uni (I dropped out) was to fit a small device onto the accelerator cable of a car that can apply varying degrees of tension to the pedal. This device would be moderated by the computer in the car to "condition" the driver to adopt a more fuel-efficient driving style. If you drive in a non-fuel efficient manner, there would be more "drag" on the pedal, thus requiring slightly more effort. The "sweet spot" of minimal drag/tension would encourage drivers to maintain a driving style which is the most fuel-efficient speed/acceleration.

This idea depends upon the ability to condition people over time in an almost subconscious manner. Not sure if it would work or not.

This is being implemented, http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/News/articleId=130108

From the article: The [Nissan] Eco Pedal is designed to provide a "counter push-back control mechanism" if it senses "excess pressure" on the accelerator. In other words, it does not like lead foots. The premise of this new technology, which Nissan says is a "world first," is to help the driver get an immediate sense that he or she "could be using more fuel than required."

Its good to see these kind of improvements make it through to production cars. Personally, I would be more aware of my fuel efficiency while driving if I had instant feedback. I suppose this is the constant guilt factor.

Maybe people would just develop huge leg muscles on the right leg and then wouldn't notice the drag anymore.

The rising cost of education.

I've yet to receive a response from my institution or others that I've considered, of why it is they keep raising their fees, tuitions, etc.., especially in a recessed economy. It seems to me to be counterproductive - folks are losing their jobs, therefore losing their finances, and now possibly finding out that they need more training or they need to enter a new field, thus requiring education. Yet considering these financial difficulties, institutions continue to raise their fees with hopeless abandon.

I asked multiple departments in my university about this and essentially they diverted my call or in-person conversation to some other department, or they said it was a political matter and basically being a lowly student, there's no way I could get a meeting with those that approve these raises, without my belonging to some student body committee protesting these rates... and then we're only supposed to be there for four years anyways as undergrads so it could take more than that to see any preferred and immediate result.

I suppose this is where financial aid comes into play, but even so depending on your application factors, the fees still rise, so that could possibly mean that you'll owe more money when you get out or you need to be approved for more grants that don't need to be paid back which implies more scrutiny in your application.

meh, I'm fed up with this subject.. any thoughts?

Third-party payment is indeed the main reason nominal cost for education (I might say "degree-granting") rises without notable improvements in quality. In most of private industry in which customers pay for their own consumption, quality goes up over time at constant price, or price drops at constant quality, or you even get better quality at lower price over time. But not in education. Few people pay much directly out of their own pockets for the education they consume.



for some reading matter on this issue.

I think you're conflating education and the granting of credentials[0]. Education is cheaper and easier to obtain than ever before. It's possible to work through an entire graduate degree program worth of study material using resources freely available online.

I think the problem you seem to be interested in - the rising cost of formal education that results in a degree will be solved not by reducing its cost, but by reducing its value. It will continue to cost a lot to get a degree, but you probably won't want one.

[0] which seem to be growing less important: http://paulgraham.com/credentials.html

Move to France or Germany. They hacked Education to the point where it is free, and in some cases you will get money for books,etc...

They didn't hack education until it was free. They raised taxes until it was a shared cost paid for by every tax payer. The same is true for the healthcare systems there. (And everything else that's government funded pretty much anywhere... With the exception of oil-rich countries, I suppose.)

Obviously the teachers in France and Germany aren't paid, and the buildings and furniture just felt down from the sky.


Longer lifetime...200-300 years. There is just too much to do and time flies way too fast. One minute you are a 20 year old college student, the next minute you are 40 years old, running out the clock.

Why only 200-300 years? Either go for the gold (live forever) or accept your mortality.

I did some research into living forever at one point. Basically, three things kill us: Disease, old age, and trauma.

Disease seems beatable. Reversing old age is going to be trickier, especially as things we don't expect to fail start failing after we prolong our vitals for longer. But these both should be doable.

The real killer is trauma. I scubadive. Given forever, eventually I'm going to something stupid underwater and that'd be the end of me.

The 200-300 years seems like a good place to start. It'd involve preventing or treating fatal diseases and finding ways to keep especially your vital organs running. I started spending more time in the gym and eating a bit better after my research.

The real killer is trauma.

This could be solved by perfect VR and disposable bodies grown in a vat, with a remote control system instead of a brain. Your real body hibernates and your real brain can think its scuba diving, while only having to worry a little about getting eaten by a shark (it would probably hurt).

I think the sci-fi version of this in Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is about the best -sounding- version of this sort of scheme.

You regularly make 'backups' of your brain and if you die your last 'backup' is loaded into a clone. You (the new you) of course, don't remember anything that happened after your last backup. Made for an interesting plot device as well.

...and thus was born the Matrix. Although it sounds appealing, It may prevent general trauma, but it also might create many news susceptibilities.

http://www.methuselahfoundation.org/ has helped provide monetary incentive for longevity research. So far they have increased the lifespan of mice by 20%

The videos by Aubrey de Gray are absolutely fascinating. His solutions are (by design) risky and quite possibly will fail. However, the background he gives on problems is wonderful. This one, on cancer, mostly had the effect of convincing me that we aren't going to cure cancer any time soon.


But is this of any use if we continue to deteriorate and need to spend more and more of our time one treating more and more aches and pains?

Hm.. are you willing to live with the insane rise in healthcare costs? As a society, we should all die around 70 years old.

Lying politicians. I want all video of politicians to come with live fact checking, comparison against previous statements, and colour coding of statements for truth values. The comedy shows do it a bit, like The Daily Show's penchant for having pols debate themselves, but I want it everywhere all the time, so every time they lie, they get called on it.

Problem: lump-sum up-front car-insurance that fails to take into account how much customer drives, and other risks.

Potential solution:

Car insurance by the minute/mile with instant-update rates based on:

  * steering and pedal input
  * time-of-day/day-of-week
  * location
  * speed
  * acceleration data
It's a $200 billion market (US only). http://www.ohioinsurance.org/factbook/2006/chapter1/chapter1...

With payment by the minute/mile, customers would instantly be rewarded for driving less, driving more-safely, and driving in safer conditions. Ceteris peribus, insurers would have lower claims costs, and drivers would have lower insurance costs. Everyone wins. No one loses.

The issue with this is common with all insurance. As we approach perfect information, the price becomes such that it is equal or greater than the value of any accident that may occur, which defeats the purpose of insurance. In my mind, the solution is to abandon traditional insurance and instead create a tax-free holding account where people can put aside money for critical accidents only. All else should come out of pocket. Of course, you do have a good point about your idea improving driver safety.

I believe http://inthinc.com/ and http://tiwi.com/ are trying to do just that :)

Tiwi is an insurance company? Is Inthinc an insurance company?

No but they are working with existing insurance companies to do exactly what you described. I'm not sure if its written out anywhere on their site or not. A coworker does contract work for them and told me about it.

End all fraud. The online version of this is, Spam, Phishing, Spyware, identity theft, etc. Offline: con artists, political bribery, tax evasion, ponzi schemes.

I don't believe eliminating all crime is possible, as I can always whack my neighbor over the head with a stick and steal his wallet, but alot of crimes are only possible because the victim has a lack of good information. This is fraud. Eliminate or drastically reduce all fraud.

Crime helps point out design flaws (case in point: Email) and can be therefore be thought as a force fostering or even forcing innovation.

Not defending crime, just pointing out that eliminationg crime is not a pure win-win situation.

Why wouldn't it be a pure win-win? I see no way that we could 'magically' eliminate fraud, so getting rid of or reducing fraud would simply be the result of the "forced innovation" you're talking about.

Disease forces innovation as well. The eradication of polio in much of the world is not a lost chance for innovation--it is a success story.

In order to eliminate fraud of this kind you would have to change fundamental human emotions.

I got flamed for suggesting this recently, but I'd like to see it:

Equal wages/prices for all regardless of geography, brought on by a single world currency and the internet? That would solve world hunger (which is a money issue, not supply issue).

edit: Awesome. It's getting downvoted here too? What the hell is wrong with the concept?

edit 2: Oh I was completely blind to the obvious here...I mean equal wages in terms of task (not geography). A McDonalds worker should make the same here or in another country (assuming McD's was charging the same for burgers too). Software developers who contract online are approaching this equality. I am not suggesting communism or some sort of set rate for work, individual productivity is really important.

Equal wages just kills this, that's why. I will simply say that I'm smarter and harder working than the vast majority. I deserve to be rewarded. More importantly, it's an incentive to be harder working.

Yes, but maybe there's a guy just as equally smart and hard working in a developing nation and he's getting peanuts even though his government doesn't provide him with health care or education or social security. Voted up.

Rather than necessarily setting all wages the same, providing a minimum stipend* may retain many of the same positive effects without eliminating economic rewards for more work, innovation, etc. The first 10k or so can do a lot to help people get people out of the zone where they have to make bad long-term choices just to make ends meet week to week.

Of course, the wealth still needs to come from somewhere, but for sake of argument.

* Say $10-20,000, though setting this to something realistic will actually depend on a lot of variables, both personal and regional. Defining "equal wages" is tricky. (Also, the possibility of sudden, huge medical costs, for example, can sabotage the entire system, but that's true now.)

Oops. I missed that your comment was about widely varying pay from one country to another...

You'd better hope someone benevolent is in charge of minting that global currency.

Currencies are currently horribly manipulated, and individual currency crashes (like Iceland) can completely devastate a population. Maybe centralization could be better? It seems to be working well for the EU.

The euro actually is a disaster for most european countries. It's nothing but a fixed-parity system and as such it's likely to break down soon.

I didn't down or upvote simply because I think it's an honest suggestion. But it's impractical because the diversity is too vast to warrant an equal playing field such as you're suggesting. There are those that try really hard and succeed magnificently, while there are those that sit back and are too lazy to get anything done and would rather collect welfare. There are polar opposites too, those that try really hard but fail, and those that are lazy and somehow succeed.... you're telling me that no matter where these groups fall, they should all receive equal wages? Reiterating that I didn't downvote you, I can certainly see why someone would. So the explanation I just noted is simply my view and what I've seen and ultimately your concept is not practical nor fair.

I find it strange that the majority of people thought the OP was referring to equal wages regardless of effort. It was pretty clear to me that he was referring to the difference in salary between countries for the same type of work. It disheartens me sometimes hearing that entry-level programmers in the US make $20 an hour, while I, with more than two years of experience, make about $30 a day. People don't realize how vast the disparity of living standards are across the globe.

Upvoted because its true. I worked as an independent programmer(still do) and i often got judged by the country that i live in instead of how well(or badly) i do the job.

In essence, what you're suggesting is communism. Unless i'm misreading your comment, in which case could you please clarify "wages".

Eliminating hunger is a noble goal. Equal prices is a terrible goal and not a way to eliminate hunger.

You can't have equal prices everywhere. If you want to try to force prices to be equal, you would ruin the price system. Without a working price system you would end up with something like the USSR.

Why is equality the ideal? It's not people in the "first world" that are starving, so why not look at what works in the first world? The problem is that in the countries where people are starving, they don't have the economic freedom that enables the wealth that means you don't have to starve.

So I hope that there will be more economic freedom in poorer countries. Then they will be able to achieve a higher standard of living.

> Equal wages/prices for all regardless of geography,


There are different costs and benefits to living in different places, so why wouldn't the wages vary as well?

And, if you think that that the cost differences can be eliminated, Hawaii is going to become very crowded.

What's your recommendation for something to read about economics, a question I asked HN readers


with fewer answers than I expected from this erudite group.

I'd recommend you to read up on the Austrian School of Economics. A rather easy introduction is this: http://mises.org/books/econforrealpeople.pdf More advanced: http://mises.org/rothbard/mes.asp and http://mises.org/Books/HumanActionScholars.pdf

I took quite a few economics courses in university - and all of the textbooks were poor.

The best course was on monetary policy, basically the type of modeling and process the Federal Reserve or the Bank of Canada go through.

Check out http://www.stanford.edu/~johntayl/MacroPolicyWorld.htm

I don't understand why you got downmodded. Although I don't agree with you on equal wages/prices, I do +1 to you just for the freedom of speech sake.

If you've been flamed for this recently, then you have probably been informed of the idea's utter bankruptcy. Why post it again?

The tendency of an idea to be met with knee-jerk flames says more about the responders than about the idea's merit.

Which doesn't mean it has no correlation to the idea's merit.

Actually, I'd be curious about what makes the best flamebait -- is it totally dishonest stuff, mostly controversial stuff, or ideas that people suspect are true but want to think (or what to be heard saying) are false and deplorable?

In spite of being textual, I think most flaming really happens at an emotional level. The best flamebait pushes people's buttons (perhaps unintentionally).

How about free food for everyone?

This is an interesting question, because it seems so basic, but actually takes some thought.

I think enabling cheap, sustainable energy would a good problem to solve.

The build system on *nix. make, gmake, autoconf and related tools are really terrible.

Here are a few Linux-specific wants:

> an intuitive UI for configuring everything in xorg.conf

> an intuitive UI for everything involving mounting, fstab, mdadm (raid), network shares, etc

> improve the awk, cairo-bar interfaces to be on par with RocketDock

> a more intuitive PulseAudio interface that controls everything relating to sound (including OSS and older)

I want to be able to pause and rewind audio from my car radio.

Piggybacking off that, being able to use your cellular data service to get internet radio in your car. Much less overhead than XM and much better quality than local OTA stations.

If you google "tivo for car radio" you'll see that you're not the only one, and that there doesn't appear to be such a product yet. I see money asking to be made.

Wifi debugging tool. Something that can tell me why the hell my signal drops 30 seconds every 10 minutes, etc.

I read that as wife debugging tool. Might be more useful.

It's called a whip. Hurr hurr

I've noticed that too. Changing the channel helped somewhat. I figured it was some weird interference going on; portable phone, leaky microwave?

Could be channel switching from interference from a nearby similar device. You can set your router to stick to one channel and this should stop.

After the TED thread and watching a few inspired presentations there, I'm thinking "Kill PowerPoint."



Just to launch into blue sky:

* I'd like something more cinematic like Animoto. Not constrained to the 10-12 slides, 4-5 bullet points each.

* I'd also like a tool that could help with just talking (no slides).

Just throwing it out there.

Moores law applied to Batteries.

We already have that, but probably not in the way you mean.

Lithium Ion batteries -- the current king of the hill -- are pretty much the same today as when they first came into use in the 1970s.

We've been seeing longer lifetimes and shorter charge times because device manufacturers can afford to throw in more hardware to control discharging and recharging.

"We already have that, but probably not in the way you mean." Please explain

I think he's saying we're already making massive advances in how to use batteries more efficiently. What's missing seems to be advances in making batteries actually store more energy.

If I were a conspiracy nut, I'd suggest that perhaps companies have made massive advances in Batteries, but they would make far less money from them, so have hidden them in an underground lair.

Break the speed of light barrier. If it's not possible, then at least average out our speed to be faster (like the bending the universe sort of method). Even 1.1c would mean we wouldn't really know the limit, and would shrink the universe within reach.

Self replicating nano-machines.

It's a powerful and dangerous thing to wish for though.

That's actually one of my childhood fears. Just that they were live beings, not machines.

Self replicating living beings? Wouldn't that cover just about all living beings?

This is another of those things that amuse me: People who think of tiny self-replicating nanomachines as a vision of the future, rather than as a reflection upon our mutual family history.

I, for one, am pretty sure that I'm a colony of several trillion self-replicating cells, whose parts are self-replicating nanomachines. And that is an amazing realization. But not especially futuristic.

I also thought recently that grey goo is a very unlikely scenario. If there were a new kind of self-replicating naonmachines, they would likely also be subject to evolution and diversify into all sorts of colorful things, just like biological cells.

Pretty scarey though aren't they?

But that multiply really fast. Like mitosis in 2 seconds.

I'd like to see several huge improvements in Gmail's interface, for example more convenience in building contact groups with emails that have just come in (and thus aren't individually in my contact list at all).

Convenient travel. Let me or at least my goods travel from any point to any other point with low overhead (<10 mins) at a speed of 100 mph or higher. And let me do so on demand without advance planning.

This problem has been solved. Implementation is due Real Soon Now.


I'd like some company to do comprehensive and objective product comparison and evaluations based on a requirement list. Been spending lots of time doing such evaluations. I'd rather outsource it

A solution between owning and renting. I don't want to purchase a home because the cost is too high and I have no interest in being "invested" into the real estate market. However, renting has limitations imposed by the owner: - pet/smoking/# residents preferences - can't realistically make significant improvements to the property

Are you suggesting that you want to have your cake and eat it too?

Who's going to take the risk for the rewards you want?

In the UK, (I don't know if such things exist elsewhere, I'd guess they do), you can go for shared ownership, Buy half the house, rent the other half, things like that.

I'd rather make the system of home buying more efficient.

I want to own my home, but I want the act of moving from home to home to be as easy as moving from apartment to apartment.

Condo ownership or a co-op are in the middle, with varying degrees of trade-offs on the freedom/responsibility line.

Proper speech recognition, speech synthesis and object location and identification.

A well worked natural language processor tied into this would work wonders.

"Computer, call Home..."

I'm afraid I can't do that, Ross.

Just a small problem on macs, when I switch from single monitor to dual and visa versa I want the previous state restored. I want it to store the state of the windows and restore as many as it can from the last state... It would be great to keep all my terminals in the same location.

I just started using an external monitor with my mac and I am irritated by the same thing. I've found a crappy semi-solution:

If you're not going to be using the windows you have open on the external monitor you can minimize them before you unplug it. If you open them later when you're plugged in again they will pop up where they were before.

awesome... not a great solution, but this will definitely help. Thanks for the tip.

Really? No world peace? No world hunger (where dwarf wheat has saved literally millions of lives: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug)? How about happiness? Comfort? Love?

Abstract concepts like happiness, comfort and love aren't really problems. By creating some sort of device which provides these things you are essentially eliminating their meaning in the process. How could you truly appreciate them if they were simply handed to you?

Everybody wants happiness, comfort and love. We want them so badly that we spend our whole lives trying to acquire and keep them. When you start handing them out, why then do we live?

Hard to quantify, hard to approach.

peace, hunger, education, heath, democracy (in basically that order). Enabling peace and reducing hunger are essential foundations for a more enlightened existence. With enlightenment, one is empowered to improve health, through all the avenues this implies (the environment, eating habits, exercise, lifestyle choices, and not necessarily in that order). With good health and even when of modest means, one can chose and (if sound mind), focus on developing and improving democracy, which helps everyone, even the very elite, because as the poor do better in a sustainable way, everyone else will benefit too.

One click install java IDE and compiler.

One click install C IDE and compiler.

One click install Erlange IDE and compiler.

And so on and so forth.

It can be complicated for a non-techie to even set up an apache server on their computer. We'd probably have a couple more good programmers in this world just by breaking down that barrier.

I would argue that someone destined to be a good programmer would have the ingenuity and drive to install a freakin' compiler and IDE. It isn't exactly rocket science.

"We'd probably have a couple more good programmers in this world just by breaking down that barrier."

Couple more mediocre/bad programmers.

Everybody starts somewhere.

Some people should never start. It's hard enough to tell the good programmers from the ridiculously bad programmers as it is.

I have mixed feelings about the sentiment, but mostly I feel like making setting up a development environment confusing probably isn't the best way to weed people out. Besides, a recent CS graduate who can't install Eclipse on their own is one thing, but a bright kid with books about programming from the public library that wants to move from QBASIC to C is another thing entirely.

Indeed let me add:

One click web development IDE.

You don't think there are enough idiots who shouldn't be programming using php and javascript?

Hence MAMP

This is an excellent idea! Anything that lowers barriers to accessibility is a good thing.

Horrible horrible idea. If you can't install an IDE(Why are you using an IDE anyway), and compiler, you're probably not going to make a good developer.

Elimination of Realtors as a profession!

Real estate is something of an amateur gig where the "transaction costs" have been ridiculously inflated through obfuscation


From the Antitrust Case:

"M. “VOW” or “virtual office website” means a website, or feature of a website, operated by a Broker or for a Broker by another Person through which the Broker is capable of providing real estate brokerage services to consumers with whom the Broker has first established a Broker-consumer relationship (as defined by state law) where the consumer has the opportunity to search MLS data, subject to the Broker’s oversight, supervision, and accountability.

N. “VOW Policy” means the “Policy governing use of MLS data in connection with Internet brokerage services offered by MLS Participants (‘Virtual Office Websites’),” adopted by NAR on or about May 17, 2003, and any amendments thereto."

See also: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/28/business/28realty.html?_r=...

Realty's value as a profession is not completely without merit. Just because the true nature of the job has been obfuscated doesn't mean it should be eliminated.

Eliminate Illiteracy completely!

An addictive game that teaches basic economic principals.

A few years ago there were games such as Rollercoaster Tycoon and the like (see http://mises.org/article.aspx?control=772 )

Making long-distance plane travel shorter at a reasonable rate

Long version:

I live in London and home is in Malaysia, which is 13 hour flight. I would really really love an airline that can make that journey down to (about half) 6-8 hours at a reasonable rate. At the moment, flights might be somewhere between £700-£800 return - I wouldn't really mind forking out £300 more just to fly there in less time.

If you approach problems on a big scale I definitely would suggest solve the problem of developing nations and their misery. I know actually it is a whole bunch of problems but I think that there is a solution which could be successful in the long-run: Educating people. Let them know what is possible and how to achieve things. Help the people, e.g. in Africa, to keep up with the world and especially also their elite which at the moment often is dominating them because they don't know better.

The OLPC project took a shot at this but besides creating net-books it wasn't too successful, to summarize, the OLPC project was ambitious but rubbish ;-) I don't know yet how to solve the problem of educating people ion those countries, especially when it comes to basic things like literacy and/or math but I definitely think it would be worth quite a lot of effort and also be a business opportunity because of scale (if not now maybe also in the long-run).

I come from a developing country where most people are fairly educated. Education is nowhere near enough. Opportunity is needed as well for some economic growth. Honesty in government is needed to encourage and support growth. In some cases, behavioral issues that are detrimental to a nation's progress is so embedded in the people that an entire change in generation is needed, otherwise the people who start climbing the ropes of success will deter others.



This may be several problems, but I believe they are connected:

* Some people have to work more than they want to.

* Some people have less work available than is required to meet their basic needs, even if they would want to work.

* Some people would choose to do different work if available, or if money weren't a factor.

* Or they would do the same work under different conditions.

- Internet advertising that doesn't suck. Adwords doesn't count. This would make it easier to monetize websites.

- Micropayments.

- Cheap, accurate simulation of protein folding and other biological systems. This would be a step towards greater control of our bodies and easier, more powerful development of medical treatments.

- Affordable whole genome (and other ome) sequencing, with the result that there's lots of data freely available about people's omes cross-referenced to various facts about them (such as height, blood pressure, diseases, etc). Anybody with a computer could then be a scientist, trying to figure out what it all means.

Once you've identified what the exact problem, the solution is often obvious. And, since this IS a tech startup website, I cant imagine people who have possible solutions giving them away here.

Some things are obvious but not doable by just one, or even ten, people :)

For example, lately I've been thinking that a good solution for problems in Africa is to make possible to profit there. Just that. Companies will come, flourish, jobs will appear, health will improve, etc, etc...

How do you enable business in Africa to be more profitable? First, you need law (a stable and predictable set of rules to operate), and then education. Wish I could dethrone the dictators there and stablish schools and colleges, but it's not going to happen.

I am not claiming my solution is the best one, or that even it is original. But we do know the problem, now how work on the solutions...

I seem to collect a number of, e.g., Visa gift cards that end up with just a dollar or two left on them. I would like a service that lets me use multiple cards to pay for a single online purchase.

Some online stores let you enter multiple payment methods, but (in my experience) most do not. Ideally, this would be some sort of temporary credit card number that serves as an alias to one or more gift cards, drawing from them as needed, and automatically ignoring cards once their balance reaches $0.

I would like to see a digg/reddit/HN site where in order to post, vote, or comment your IQ must be greater than 3 standard deviations from the mean (ie: Mensa).

I see that sort of site just turning into a mutual-masturbation forum with people continuously trying to justify their intelligence and not discussing anything worthwhile.

I can't know this for sure, but I would hope those sorts of comments/attitudes would be voted down.

A modification on the idea would be to only allow a site with people who have a net worth greater than a certain amount or who are in certain positions of responsibility or power (like CEOs of companies with a market cap greater than 10 million). You could extend this for any classification system: people with doctorate degrees, people with X many years of experience in Y field, etc.

Basically I would be interested to see what sort of news and discussions would evolve from a meritocracy-based community. Think of the benefit that comes from the TED speaker's community.

What your advocating is exactly the opposite of the beautiful community that TED promotes and nurtures.

Advocating an IQ or net worth barrier of entry for discussion will filter discussion by, in my opinion, by all the wrong values. While I'm not saying everyone in a top position of a profitable company has nothing new to say, there are people who are just hard-working, potentially well-connected and knew how to hack the system for financial gain. Would heiresses and lottery winners be excluded? Where would one draw the line? Ditto for math degrees, would you care what a Chemistry PhD trying to create better ways for oil companies to make money has to say? Who would decide what fields are "worthy"? Is sociology okay? Is botology? Is computer science?

In my opinion, what made TED great is their dependence on the ideas themselves, and not credentials, to present to the world. The mix of people from all walks of life, from rural African villages, to dancers, to PhDs, to poets, to interns, to Nobel winners, to musicians, to Presidents (I can go on and on) is what made TED so great. Academic conferences existed before and will exist after, but very few will have the wide appeal and poignancy of TED.

Hoping that my comment above gets voted down is exactly the type of community I'm afraid of. What about my comment or attitude would you hope to have less of? Is being afraid of a community where potentially empty credentials (IQ, family, race, etc) are valued over ideas really so wrong?

I think you may have misunderstood my idea.

I'm not advocating one site with a meritocracy filter; have as many as you'd like. One for Math PhDs, Chemistry PhDs, just having a bachelor's degree, CEO's, car salesmen, etc. The barrier to entry filter just assures that the community members share experience or ability, not just interest. The extent to which you wanted to quantify their experience or ability is up to you.

I see TED as the ultimate meritocracy-based conference. TED's official website is pretty fluffy about who gets invited to speak, but the reality is that everyone who gets on stage has done something amazing. If you're some college freshmen with an amazing idea to change the world but you haven't implemented it, you're not going to get invited to TED. Great ideas are a dime a dozen; implementing a great idea is what's amazing.

When I referenced "those sorts of comments/attitudes would be voted down" I was not referring to your post. I was referring to the sort of post you mentioned: the "mutual masturbation" posts. I apologize for any confusion.

A Headless HTML rendering engine: http://www.holovaty.com/blog/archive/2008/05/02/0136

So we can automate screen scraping of sites with a lot of javascript on headless servers, VPS's etc. It should be easy if I knew what I was doing (just remove the GUI part from Firefox, or webkit, no?)

Better courier services that let me know when my item will be delivered within ~1hr

That certainly seems doable with todays technology, but how many people need it?

It would be nice to know in advance not to be sitting in my underwear when the UPS guy knocks on the door.

I live on the fifth floor, so I have enough time to dress when the door bell rings ;-)

Save mobile barcodes: http://www.alleyinsider.com/2009/1/are-mobile-barcodes-toast

Might be something to step in on.

Fix copyright and/or copyright for streaming radio...


You silly people. Emacs has fixes for most of these problems built in since v22.

No one thinks the above is funny or worthy of upmodding? I think it's hilarious ... but I wrote it.

Working AI--scalable and capable of getting smarter.

I would like to see myself solve P ? NP.

Room temperature superconductors

A web based programming IDE.

Doesn't something like AppJet solve this ?


This could be great for beginners; they could start coding without having to install anything. Maybe add some collaboration features to make it usable in school, e.g. students can send their code to the teacher for review by the press of a button.

I nearly started a project like this but decided that it wouldn't be worth it - how many developers would be programming on anything except their rig?

Seriously? I can't see much of a use beyond collaboration, and even that isn't a really open problem with proper version control.

Doesn't heroku solve this problem already?

The Riemann Hypothesis

Universal language...there's no reason why people speak different languages anymore, they only create barriers now. In our newly technologically connected world, our languages we speak should not be getting in our way anymore...

I think it's rather probable that speakers of different languages think different. So a unified language might lead to (more) unified thinking. I'm not sure if that would be a good or bad thing.

I believe that's called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapir-Whorf_hypothesis), which I generally agree with. A universal language would change the way people think about stuff -- it's a very interesting thought experiment.

There is also a lot of evidence contradicting the Whorf hypothesis. In <The Language Instinct> by Steven Pinker, Pinker suggests that humans think with separate thought-modules and then only express the substance of thoughts through arbitrary languages.

That being said, I think there is something to be said for diversity of culture, and perhaps better more fluid translation services are the true solution.

Notice I hedged my bets with "generally agree with"

The fact that the question is still open is why (in my opinion) the thought experiment is so interesting.

That seems like an interesting concept that I would some day like to dive into...how do you rate the book overall?

And the flip-side of this idea is that, to really make a unified language, you have to unify people's thought patterns.

Sounds like it would be double plus good.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Esperanto (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto). It's a meticulously systematic language with a wonderful spelling system and intuitive grammatical structure. I speak a few languages, and was able to pick up Esperanto at a conversational level in around two weeks rather than the customary 6 months to a year.

Plus there's the bonus of the Esperanto travel network, where people all over the world allow others who speak Esperanto to stay with them for free/cheap.

Definitely recommend it anyway - and good idea.

Eliminating languages would be devastating to culture.

How about a software solution for translation that works perfectly?

Some would say that the amount of internationalization of the world has also devastated most cultures. Different dialects emerged because of regional isolation amongst different groups throughout times of historical growth. As the world is no longer isolated from each other any more, the need to persist those independent languages has lessened to the point where distinctly different dialects (alliteration?) only hamper communication.

While a tool to instantly translate a conversation while two people speak would be amazing, it would have the same effect as having a universal language in my opinion.

We already have English.

English is a pretty terrible language to learn when it comes to pronunciation. There are so many cases where the same syllable is pronounced completely differently in different words and the only way to know... is to just know it.

Oh... and make my Iphone Battery last longer...

Better portable power sources are always on the wish list. Many, many electrical gadgets could be shrunk even further if it wasn't for the bulkiness of batteries.

Why not solar power chargers?

That might technically relieve the "bulk" problem, but only by substituting a "surface area" problem in many cases.

Better solar cells are also on the eternal wish list, though. Not that they haven't been slowly improving, and not that they aren't already good enough for many things.

I thought I remembered reading about a new LCD touchscreen, coming to an iPod/iPhone soon perhaps, which is also a solar cell... That would simply rock.

I can see it now - the iPhone injection! Inject your iPhone with the stuff, get 50% more battery.

P=NP is a problem I always wonder about. Can an answer that can be verified in polynomial time also be solved in polynomial time? I do think, modeled correctly, NP problems can become P problems, but that is the trick. How to model an NP problem so that it becomes a P problem? Or, if this cannot be done, then demonstrate a proof of that. Show exactly why an NP problem can never be modeled as a P problem. Maybe this will never be solved, but certainly worth thinking about.

Video Game Systems For The Elderly... Very easy to use, big buttons, simple setup, focuses on hand eye coordination, and elevates heart rates (not just chess, checkers, etc.)

The Wii?

Seriously - a few of my friends' parents just bought it and love it. They play some of the simple games like sports to death.

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