The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

The secret of SMART JUSTIFIED columns of text. This strange formatting tip will make ONE HUNDRED TIMES more employers look at your resume! Stop formatting your resume so amateurishly, and await your reward of gold and rubies from your future employer.

Background:

Columns of text in a book or newspaper are generally formatted in the fully justified style (Figure 1), where the text always lines up exactly on both the left and right edges.

justify-text-icon

Fig. 1: The “justify text” button (circled in red) can be found in nearly every text editor.

The issue:

Justified text works well if columns are wide and there are a lot of words to fill out each line.

But it becomes aesthetically dubious if the columns are narrow or there aren’t enough words, which result in either:

  • Extremely wide spaces between words if there are too few words (example: “this______column”)

or

  • Excessive spacing between letters if there is only one word (example: “c__o__l__u__m__n”)

In the worst-case scenario, a column of text may look like:

  • This____is_____a
  • n__a__r__r__o__w
  • c__o__l__u__m__n.

See figure 2 for a comparison of fully-justified text and ragged-edge (flush left) text.

justify-text-heres-the-problem.png

Fig. 2: Part A (left) shows a few problems with fully-justified text: “the age of” has excessive spacing and the between-letter spacing in “w i s d o m” is aesthetically questionable. Unfortunately, the ragged edge of the text in part B (formatted as “flush left / ragged right”) is not a huge improvement either.

Previously, a publisher would at least know how wide a column of text would be, so they could manually adjust the text to fit in an aesthetically-appealing fashion.

But with modern web pages and e-books, font sizes and column widths can be changed by the user—so there’s no way for a publisher to plan around it.

Proposal:

This problem can be fixed by using semantically-aware SMART justification to make each line of text an optimal length.

This is accomplished as follows:

If a line of text is too short, it can be lengthened by the following steps:

  • Add meaningless filler words (e.g. “um,” “like,” “basically,” “you know”)
  • Add superfluous adjectives (like “very” or “extremely”)
  • Replace words with longer synonyms (e.g. “rain -> precipitation”—this can also be used in reverse to shorten a line)
  • Replace pronounces with their antecedent (e.g. “her scepter” -> “Queen Elizabeth’s scepter”)

Figure 3 shows the performance of each method of text justification. The “meaning-aware SMART justification” is the only method that avoids ragged edges while also keeping a fixed amount of whitespace between words.

justify-text-annotated

Fig. 3: Left: a traditional example of fully-justified text. Middle: flush-left text, with an unappealing ragged right edge. Right: the vastly improved “smart” justification method, which has been recently made possible by advances in computational technology and machine learning.

Application of this method to famous books:

  • Original: “But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” (The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway)
  • Modified with superfluous filler words and synonyms:  “But man is, generally, not made for defeat,” he stated. “Basically, a man can be destroyed but, as you know, not forced to surrender.” 

 

  • Original: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” (1984, Orwell)
  • Modified:  “War is peace. Additionally, the state of freedom is slavery. Finally, in conclusion, ignorance is strength, it must be admitted.”

 

  • Original: “In general, people only ask for advice that they may not follow it; or, if they should follow it, that they may have somebody to blame for having given it”.” (The Three Musketeers, Dumas)
  • Modified: “In general, people only make a request for suggestions, that those same people may not abide by it. Or, if they should in fact follow it, that those people may have somebody to blame or hold responsible for having given it”.” 

 

PROS: This is the ONLY text-formatting method that both 1) preserves inter-word spacing AND 2) aligns text in neat columns.

CONS: None!

Your chair is KILLING YOU! With its lack of artistic sophistication, I mean. Throw all your useless and harmful furniture into a huge bonfire, then replace it with eco-friendly low-polygon furniture for the health-conscious and trendy consumer.

Background:

Early 3D games used a relatively small number of polygons to create a blocky “low-poly” approximation of a game environment.

Three styles that occasionally come close to the low-poly look are:

But none of these styles are specifically aiming to minimize the number of visible surfaces in a building or interior.

Proposal:

In order to bring the “1996 Playstation graphics” look to interior design, the following easy-to-assemble low-polygon furnishings are proposed:

 

low-poly-chair

Fig. 1: At left, we see a normal chair. On the right, the number of visible surfaces has been reduced to almost the bare minimum. The chair on the right could easily be rendered by a Nintendo 64.

chair-trianglesFig. 2: Even this blocky chair still consists of 32 triangles. For computer-related reasons, surfaces are counted in triangles (the most minimalist polygon) rather than rectangles. Note that this chair essentially consists of three stretched-out cubes. Normally that would result in 36 triangles (3 cubes * 6 faces/cube * 2 triangles / face = 36 triangles), but we have saved a few triangles by merging the cubes in this way.

lamp-low-poly

Fig. 3: The standard lamp (left) can be converted into a low-poly lamp (right). The cord is unaffected—a segmented low-poly cord would unfortunately violate the electrical safety codes in most jurisdictions.

 

lamp-triangles

Fig. 4: The lamp above can be reduced to 21 surface-facing triangles if we allow the base (labeled “1*”) to be a single triangle.

PROS: This never-before-seen look combines minimalism with early-3D nostalgia in a way that is appealing to everyone.

CONS: Only slightly different from existing furniture you can get at IKEA, so differentiation of this style from “the cheapest possible furniture” style may be difficult. Safety regulations prevent the use of low-poly stylings everyone (e.g. in electrical cords).

Never worry about losing your laptop again with these TWO EASY TIPS that will shock and horrify you. You’ll never believe what happened next! The amazing secret of proximity-based encryption.

The issue:

Currently, the loss or theft of an unencrypted laptop can be a huge pain for an employee and/or their company.

If a laptop gets stolen out of a person’s car, or just gets forgotten in a train or cafe, it’s entirely possible that the laptop owner will now have to change all their passwords.

And if they were working on some sort of top-secret project, now it’s a major hassle to worry about what might (or might not) have been disclosed to a competitor.

Additionally, travelers to foreign countries with especially valuable company secrets may have to worry about state-sponsored corporate espionage.

Proposal:

If a user really plans to only use certain data while physically at work (and never access this data while off-site), the user’s laptop can have a special hard drive that can only be accessed while within range of a specific WiFi network (see the solid state hard drive mockup in Figure 1).

Thus, if the user misplaces their laptop or has it seized by a foreign government, there is literally no way to decrypt the data. (Unless the laptop makes its way back within range of the company’s WiFi network, but presumably the laptop would be blacklisted as soon as the theft/loss is discovered).

secure-drive-concept

Fig 1: The hard drive is integrated with a WiFi radio; the decryption key must periodically be refreshed by proximity to the company’s WiFi key broadcasting system. If this hard drive is taken out of range, the hard drive locks itself again.

Since the drive must be within the range of the company’s WiFi “key” broadcaster in order to decrypt (Figure 2), it is nearly impossible laptop theft to result in exposure of sensitive data.

(If an adversary did steal an encrypted laptop, they would theoretically be able to access the data if they 1) know the user’s password and 2) are able to drive the laptop to the company’s parking lot (within range of the WiFi) before the theft is discovered and the laptop’s access credentials are revoked).

secure-key-broadcaster

Fig 2: In order to access the files on the hard drive, the user must be within range of the “key broadcaster” (just a specially-configured WiFi network). Whenever the user takes their laptop off-site, the data will be totally inaccessible even if the user has the correct password.

Possible issue:

Would an adversary be able to circumvent this system by having a co-conspirator sit in the company parking lot, capturing all the (encrypted) WiFi traffic and re-broadcasting it over the Internet? (It seems like this method would be extremely labor intensive, plus the parking-lot-infiltrator would need undetected access to the company network.)

PROS: Makes it impossible for foreign travelers to be coerced into revealing their laptop’s contents, since the laptop owner themselves cannot even access the data while traveling.

CONS: Opens up new way for a company to lose all of its data if the decryption broadcasting system fails.

Fight back against “big deadbolt” with this amazing new style of home door lock! Burglars hate it!

Background:

The humble door-locking deadbolt has suffered from a severe failure of innovation and imagination in the last 100 years.

Specifically: most deadbolts have exactly two positions (Figure 1):

  1. Open (door can be opened from either side)
  2. Closed (door requires a key to open from the outside or a switch to be operated from the inside)

In some locations, especially in Europe, the deadbolt is even worse, as the closed position is:

  • 2b) Closed (door requires a key to open from the INSIDE as well). Somehow this is allowed by the fire code.

In either case, a key is required in order to lock the door, which can be annoying if you’re leaving in a hurry.

Fig. 1: A regular mechanical door lock (deadbolt) has two intuitively obvious—but primitive—settings.

Proposal:

Many door locks (but not deadbolts) also have a setting where the door can be set to automatically lock when pulled shut.

Additionally, many doors have two locks: a deadbolt and a regular door-handle lock. But there’s no reason we can’t combine the two locks into a single multi-function “dual lock” (Figure 2).

three-lock

Fig. 2: This updated “dual lock” handles both the deadbolt and door handle lock functionality, together in one convenient location.

Now the home’s occupant only needs to operate one lock when they want to open the door (instead of needing to unlock the deadbolt before using the key in the normal lock).

There’s no reason we can’t update this lock with even more options. See Figure 3 for an additional proposal.

four-lock

Fig. 3: This lock for the truly security-minded allows the door to be completely secured from the outside.

When the lock is in the lower-right position (as depicted), even the key cannot open the door from outside.

While this is not a common lock setting, the front door to the British Prime Minister’s office (10 Downing Street) works in this fashion (it can only be opened from the inside).

Conclusion:

Next time you’re thinking of doing some kind of home improvement, consider upgrading your door locks!

PROS: Simplifies the state of door locks and reduces the otherwise ever-expanding number of keys that are present in daily life.

CONS: Puts “big deadbolt” out of business.

Stop exercising! Instead: re-enact scenes from action movies! Burn off fat easily with this one weird tip that movie executives do want you to know! Fitness instructors hate it—the one totally untested secret to weight loss!

Background:

Exercise routines are often extremely dry and boring.

But they can be made more engaging by making a “themed” workout, with each part of a workout helping to accomplish an imaginary goal.

This is not a totally new idea. For example, the game “Zombies Run” motivates a person to jog faster by providing a virtual zombie horde to chase the player.

Proposal:

We can make a more general exercise program (i.e., not just running) by adapting scenes from major action movies.

Some movies actually already have a “workout routine” that could be used as-is, like the training montages in the Rocky series, or the rock-climbing sections of Cliffhanger (1993).

But almost any film can be adapted into a workout routine with sufficient creativity!

Examples below:

  1. Star Wars (1977), figure 1.
  2. The Empire Strikes Back (1980), figure 2.
  3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), figure 3.
  4. Dances With Wolves (1990), figures 4 and 5.

star-wars-trash

Fig. 1: Star Wars: for the “Death Star trash compactor” exercise, you push against a large metal plate, while it tries to push back towards you. The plate could move back and forth several times. The exercise would be completed either when R2-D2 turns off the trash compactor or when you are pushed to the opposing wall by the plate.

star-wars-yeti

Fig. 2: This Empire Strikes Back-themed exercise requires you to hang upside-down from a pull-up bar, so it’s a bit inconvenient to set up in most gyms. The menacing ice creature (left) is an optional component, but that role could easily be filled by any fellow gym-goer.

 

boulder-sprint

Fig. 3: Action movies contain plenty of scenes that could be adapted to an exercise program. The rolling boulder escape from Raiders of the Lost Ark makes a great high-stakes sprint.

pull-horse-and-grind-coffee

Fig. 4: Dances With Wolves features a number of suitable inspirational scenes. Left: pull a bunch of heavy dead animals from the water supply (good for exercising a wide variety of muscle groups). For public health reasons, this workout would use sandbags instead of actual dead animals, even though this reduces the verisimilitude somewhat. Right: grind coffee.

dance-with-a-wolf

Fig. 5: You can’t really have a Dances with Wolves-themed exercise program if you don’t dance around a bonfire with a wolf.

Conclusion:

Movie studios should immediately seize this opportunity to release tie-in exercise programs (similar to the way tie-in novels / novelizations of major films are released).

PROS: Makes exercise more engaging and serves as an effective marketing / promotional tool to advertise a movie.

CONS: People might over-exert themselves when trying to escape a rolling boulder in a way that they wouldn’t in a normal exercise routine.

Five easy improvements to the despised “four-way or all-way” stop sign! End your confusion about road signage, and never get a ticket for rolling through a stop sign again!

Background:

The stop sign, for all its utilitarian simplicity, has a severe and critical shortcoming: it has two different roles, both marked by the same sign (Figure 1).

The two situations, and what the driver must do in each case:

  1. All-way stop: driver can casually check for other cars right there at the intersection, and then proceed.
  2. Two-way stop: driver must look far down the road for quite some distance to identify any fast-traveling cross traffic.

These two situations are TOTALLY DIFFERENT, but the sign marking them is the same (Figure 1).

 

stop-big-plain

Fig. 1: Is this an all-way stop or a two-way stop? Who knows! See Figure 2 for the answer.

stop-intersection-two-way

Fig 2: Oh, it was a two-way stop. I hope the driver looked far down the road before proceeding!

Previous attempts at solving this problem:

This is a recognized problem, and sign designers have attempted to (poorly) solve it before, as shown in Figure 3.

So far, they have been completely unsuccessful.

Fig 3: Some (but not all!) signs specifically indicate “Cross traffic does not stop” or “All-way stop.” But just the fact that a subtitle is required is an admission that these signs are fundamentally flawed.

Proposal:

The “all-way” and “partial-way” stop signs need to be clearly different at a glance.

See Figure 4 for a proposal that is backwards-compatible with existing stop signs.

Fig 4: Proposal A (“Four leafed clover”): The traditional “octagon” stop sign (left) will now indicate partial-way stops: its meaning is now upgraded to “be EXTRA CAREFUL, because the cross traffic does not stop!”

The new “four leafed clover” stop sign (right) indicates an all-way stop, where the driver only needs to look for traffic at that stop sign before proceeding. Because existing stop signs are all the “be extra careful!” kind, we don’t need to worry about immediately replacing all existing stop signs.

stop-big-cut

Fig 5: Here is an alternative form of the “four leaf clover” sign proposed above.

Fig 6: Substantially altering the silhouette of the stop sign would make the difference even more obvious, as shown in this “emphatically on-fire” stop sign.

 

Fig 7: Sometimes it may be insufficient to just indicate whether or not an intersection is all-way or partial-way. For example, in a (rare) partial-way intersection with more than four intersecting streets, a driver may entirely miss a street.

Here, the number of dots on the stop sign indicates the number of non-stopping incoming roads. This allows the driver to know how many roads they should be looking out for.

So the five-dot sign would indicate a (very rare) 6-way intersection with only one stop sign, the three-dot one would be a four-way intersection (again, with just one stop sign), and the no-dot sign would indicate an all-way stop.

(A reflective yellow border would indicate that this is a “new style” stop sign, to avoid confusion with the previous no-border signs—otherwise, every old-style stop sign would seem to indicate an all-way stop.)

PROS: May reduce traffic accidents, especially if a simple backwards-compatible system like the one in Figure 4 is adopted.

CONS: People might start to treat the partial-way “four leaf clover” stop signs like “yield” signs, and roll right through them.

Programmers love this one weird trick to handle Unicode characters without any complexity! “Visual-literation” replaces the old-fashioned way of transliteration. Watch as linguists wail mournfully at the years they wasted trying to transliterate sounds between alphabets!

The issue:

Many computers are unable to handle letters that don’t fall into the set of Latin characters used by English.

Even though the Unicode standard has greatly improved multi-character-set accessibility, problems still arise:

  • A character might not exist in a chosen font. For example, “Egyptian Hieroglyph of a bird catching a fish” is probably not available in Comic Sans.
  • Systems may be unable to cope with characters that look exactly the same (“homoglyphs”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homoglyph).
    • For example, “Latin A” and “Cyrillic A” look identical, but have different underlying Unicode codes.
    • So an email from “YOUR BANK.COM” might actually be from a different site, with an imposter letter “A” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IDN_homograph_attack).
    • (This is an issue in English as well, with 0 (zero) versus O (capital “o”) and “I / l / 1” (capital i, lower-case L, numeral 1).)
  • Systems may not allow certain letters for certain situations; for example, if your username is “Linear B ‘stone wheel’ + Mayan jaguar glyph,” it is extremely unlikely that you will have an easy time logging into your user account.

The current failure mode is usually to display a blank rectangle instead, which is unhelpful.

Proposal:

Instead, we can use a sophisticated image-recognition system to map each letter from every language onto one or more Latin characters (Fig. 1).

Usually, this is called transliteration (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transliteration). But in this case, rather than using the sound of a symbol to convert it, we are using the symbol’s visual appearance, so it’s more like “visual-literation.”

easy-vs-hard

Fig. 1: With a limited character set, it may be easy to display the “Å” as  “A”, or “ñ” as “n.” But it’s unclear what should be done with the Chinese character at the bottom, which isn’t similar to any specific Latin letter.

more-abstract

Fig. 2:

Top: Image analysis reveals that the Chinese character (meaning “is”) can be most closely matched to the Latin capital “I.” Bottom: The Greek capital “∏” (pi) is disassembled into two Ts.

Some letters actually do somewhat resemble their Latin-ized versions (like “∏” as “TT”). However, some mappings are slightly less immediately obvious (Fig 3).

highly-unrelated

Fig. 3: Many complex symbols can—with a great degree of squinting—be matched to multi-letter strings.

Conclusion:

Linguists will love this idea, which forever solves the problem of representing multiple character sets using only the very limited Latin letters.

PROS: Gives every word in every language an unambiguous mapping to a set of (26*2) = 52 Latin letters.

CONS: Many symbols may map to the same end result (for example, “I” could be the English word “I,” or it could have been a “visual-literated” version of ““).

 

letter-translation

Fig. 4: A collection of potential mappings from various symbols to an ASCII equivalent. Finally, the days of complex transliteration are over!