The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

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!

 

 

Solve your getting-research-participants problem in one easy step with the medium of VIDEO GAMES. Possibly even ethical, who can really say!

The issue:

Gathering data for scientific studies can be difficult. So why not tap into the world of VIDEO GAMES to conduct experiments on willing participants for no additional monetary cost!

Normal scenario:

  • Researcher: “I wonder what factors lead to a person trusting Person A instead of Person B?”

or:

  • Researcher: “I suspect that—all else being equal—ugly defendants in murder trials are convicted twice as often as attractive defendants”

Then, a ton of work has to be done to design a study and recruit participants for it.

Plus, people are always going to nit-pick your conclusions, for example: “what if ugly criminals are also just worse at committing crimes than attractive criminals? Then you’d expect them to be convicted more often, too, thus invalidating your results!”

But, maybe we can short circuit this process AND get scientifically-valid conclusions!

Proposal:

Instead of making researchers talk to a bunch of undergraduates and/or figure out how to get a sufficient number of participants over the Internet, we can perform research via video games.

A researcher would come up with a scenario that they’d like to test, for example:

  • “People with annoying voices are less likely to be helped by a random passerby.”

Then, they’d set up a scenario like:

  • Record both annoying and not-annoying voices for a character in a game.
  • Later, see if the player is motivated to save the character from falling into a volcano / being eaten by a carnivorous plant / falling behind on their car payments, etc.

This could be done for a variety of scenarios, as shown in Figures 1 through 3.

suspects

Fig. 1: We can randomly generate a huge variety of different faces to test how players’ behavior is determined by appearance. For example, upon finding out that the middle guy here is a murderer, does the player let it slide (“well, he had it coming”) or turn him into the police? Maybe we’ll find that EVERY triangle-headed individual is let off the hook, which would raise interesting sociological questions.

 

final_candidates

Fig. 2: Here is a feature that can be added to any game where the player accumulates money: one of the characters above steals money from the player, but there is evidence implicating all three characters, so it’s difficult to determine the actual perpetrator. The culprit is randomly chosen for each player, and is equally likely to be the colonel, the horse or an octopus. However, players are FIVE TIMES more likely to accuse the octopus, as seen in this fabricated figure!

Fig. 3: For a Cold War spy thriller game, any one of these three characters might be a spy. Despite the fact that all three characters have essentially equivalent behaviors (randomly chosen) and backgrounds, we might find that the horse is usually executed when he is discovered to be a Soviet agent, while players allow the toaster to escape back across the Iron Curtain—thus revealing a widespread callous disregard toward the welfare of horses.

PROS: Probably could be a useful research tool!

CONS: Expensive! Requires very specific programming and art expertise.

Stop missing out on life because you’re wearing headphones and playing music, and your comrades have all gone off to experience something truly incredible, but you are abandoned because you didn’t hear them leave!

The issue:

If you’re wearing headphones, it can be difficult to hear when someone is trying to get your attention.

(Similarly, it can be heard to get the attention of someone wearing headphones without startling them.)

Proposal:

Headphones could have a small microphone on them with a processing unit that could listen for certain words.

When the headphones detect a specific trigger word (for example, the user’s name, or important phrases like “free food in the break room” or “someone’s breaking into your car”), the headphones would temporarily reduce playback volume.

headphone

Fig. 1: These headphones have a microphone that listens for certain user-specified key phrases that will cause playback to be temporarily muted.

The user would need to specifically configure a set of phrases of interest. For example, a user would most likely want their own name to mute the headphones, but probably they wouldn’t want their a co-worker’s name to also have this effect.

 

 

 

mute-action

Fig. 2: Here is an example for a headphone-wearer named Joe. The headphones would most likely incorrectly reduce the volume in situations F and G, unless sophisticated linguistic processing was performed to determine that they do not actually refer to the user “Joe.”

Conclusion:

This seems like a product that could actually exist. It might be annoying to configure the headphones for your specific name, however.

PROS: All of them!

CONS: If you have a name that shares syllables with common words, this set of headphones might not work too well. It is recommended that you change your name in such a situation.

Never be unfashionable again, with these five amazing 3d-modeled clothing tips! You’ll never believe tip number three!

Background, part 1:

Clothing catalogues occasionally provide a summary of the clothes that a model in an advertisement is wearing; usually this will be a piece of text that looks something like Get this Look: Jeans $100, Shirt $40, Weird Socks $10.”

This is a good system: the company can sell you more clothing this way, and the purchaser gets a pre-vetted complete outfit that (presumably) looks good.

Background, part 2:

“Open world” games often allow the player to customize the look and clothing / armor / random accessories of their character.

One example of this is Grand Theft Auto, where a player can buy hundreds of distinct clothing items for their player character.

Proposal:

Strangely, no games have yet implemented the (seemingly obvious) step of adding an in-game “Get this Look” button that would:

  1. Confirm the player’s clothing measurements
  2. Generate an order online for correctly-sized versions of the clothes that the player’s character is wearing at the moment.
  3. Mail those clothes to the player’s home address.

This could be made even easier if players could set their clothing sizes in a common interface (Figure 1), which would be shared between games.

get_this_look

Fig. 1: “Clothing Size” (bottom left, highlighted in blue) could be another system setting for a user, next to “WiFI settings” and “Sound.”

Conclusion:

This seems like it’s almost an inevitable feature of games in the future. People will probably wonder why it took so long!

Since it’s already profitable to sell virtual cosmetic items in online game, the sale of actual clothing (which can be printed / ordered on-demand) for human beings should be a simple extension of that idea.

 

Fig. 2: When selecting a shirt for one’s avatar in a game, a “BUY IT NOW FOR YOURSELF” button will appear next to it.

 

dark-souls

Fig. 3: Some games—particularly ones in futuristic or medieval settings—would be more difficult for designers to adapt as modern clothing.

 

duck-head

Fig. 4: Strange novelty outfits are a staple of character customization. Now it’s easier than ever to bring those options into the real world.

PROS: Adds new and amazing fashion options, just a click away!

CONS: All your old clothes will seem TOO UNFASHIONABLE now. May not work for 2D games.