The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Category: UI / UX

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.

With these five amazing steps, you can stop stumbling about in a mad and fumbling rage while you try to determine which light switch controls each light in your house!

The issue:

In many houses, certain rooms—especially kitchens and living rooms—have a half dozen or more light switches that control a wide array of lights and other accessories.

Often, even after many years, the house’s occupant never learns which switch is which.

Proposal:

Instead of just randomly picking a switch to toggle until the correct light is activated, light switches should be labeled. Easy!

Ideally, this should be done when the house is built, so that the labels can be laser-cut and/or printed onto the switch panels in a way that matches the overall interior design.

But in a pinch, you can just use a piece of white paper and double-sided tape.

Label your switches 1

Fig. 1: An example of a standard confusingly-designed set of light switches. Each switch toggles a seemingly random set of lights. But now that they are labeled, it’s clear what each switch does.

Conclusion:

You should label your lights if your house has confusing wiring (which is probably the case).

Label your switches 2

Fig. 2: Some switches may have a non-light-based effect, such as starting a gas fireplace (far left) or performing a mystery function that only the original electrician understands (far right).

PROS: Probably a sensible suggestion!

CONS: Labels may negatively impact your home’s minimalist aesthetic.

Seven deadly sins of dieting: save yourself from the deadly sin of GLUTTONY by making use of the deadly sin of SLOTH. Finally, two wrongs make a right. Plus, you’ll never believe these 7 adorable animals that made their way home after beating unbelievable odds.

The issue:

For most snack foods, it’s easy to eat a HUGE quantity of the food in question.

This is no surprise—snack foods were specifically designed to be easy to eat. Plus even after you’ve eaten a bunch, it takes a minute or two to feel full.

Proposal:

Here is a technique to eat fewer snacks that—amazingly—requires no self control whatsoever!

First, an observation: it’s easy to eat a large number of individually-wrapped tiny chocolates (Figure 1), but much more difficult to over-eat on an inconvenient food like the lobster in Figure 2.

choco-drop

Fig. 1: It’s incredibly easy to eat like a million of these chocolates.

lobster

Fig. 2: Foods that are more difficult to eat, like this boiled lobster, are generally not in danger of becoming an easily-devoured “casual snack” food.

Therefore, a solution presents itself: we can make snack foods extremely inconvenient to eat, as shown in Figure 3.

chocolate-kiss

Fig. 3: By repackaging the chocolate (eft) in a giant ball of thick foil that takes a whole minute to unwrap (right), we have saved the eater from the perils of casual snacking.

As an added bonus, this might allow the “serving size” on snack foods to be realistic (e.g., a box of Nabsico Oreos lists the serving size as only “3 cookies”—that might be accurate if each oreo came inside a hard carapace that you’d need to open with a lobster cracker).

Conclusion:

A short list of foods that come in both “easy” and “difficult” forms:

  • Easy: shelled peanut halves. Difficult: whole peanuts with the shell still on
  • Easy: pitted olives. Difficult: olives with a pit
  • Easy: crab cakes. Difficult: an actual crab with a shell
  • Easy: a hamburger. Difficult: a bull that you have to defeat in one-on-one combat as a matador, while thousands of Spaniards heckle you.

PROS: May reduce over-eating and increase general health and welfare.

CONS: Increases cost of food. May generate additional waste products and be less environmentally friendly.

Bonus suggested follow-up science experiment:

It would be interesting to see what the rate of calorie consumption is for:

  • Easy-to-eat shelled peanuts
    • vs.
  • More labor-intensive unshelled peanuts

That might be a good science fair project and/or low-impact-factor-journal publication, if it hasn’t already been done!

 

Sitting down all day is bad for you! Instead, wriggle through the crawlspace under your house and possibly fall down the stairs in a mad dash to run between rooms of your house while playing this new insanely immersive simulation game! Also, it makes your house into a spaceship.

Background:

There are a few cell phone games that use real-world GPS data to control your in-game character.

The most well-known are probably the two games by Niantic, Pokemon Go and Ingress, in which you physically walk around in order to move your in-game character.

However, no one has yet implemented a smaller-scale version of this idea.

Proposal:

This proposal is for a simulation game that is played on a portable device (probably a cell phone) in which you are the pilot of a large crew-operated vehicle; perhaps a train, a 17th-century galleon, or a futuristic starship.

The vehicle will have several physically-separated “stations” that all need to be manned (by you!). For a galleon, this could include following: the wheel, the sails, an anchor, and the cannons.

In order to operate each station, you (the player) will have to physically run around your house to different locations. Your cell phone GPS will figure out where you are, and will give you the appropriate controls.

  • So if you want to operate the sails, you have to run upstairs to the “sails” station in the second floor hallway.
  • If you want to operate the cannons, you have to go to the “cannon” station in the kitchen, etc.

See Figure 1 for an example of a possible house that this game could be played in, and Figure 2 for an example of a spaceship-ification of the same floor plan.

plan-1-house.png

Fig. 1: A regular floor plan for a house. We will turn this into a spaceship; each different room is designated (by the player) as being a different crucial spaceship component (see Figure 2).

plan-2-spaceship.png

Fig. 2: We have overlaid a spaceship onto this one-story house. NASA guidelines strongly discourage the conversion of a 2-bedroom house into a spaceship, due to the unsuitable floor plan. See artist’s rendition of this architectural fiasco in Figure 3.

spaceship-artists-rendition.png

Fig. 3: Although this spaceship has a terrible layout and extremely poor atmospheric handling, it may be the best that could be done given the layout constraints (see Figure 2).

Addressing GPS issues

Realistically, GPS may not have the required resolution. It also has a hard time with elevation, so it might not be able to report whether you were on the first or second floor of a multi-story dwelling. It might be possible to use WiFi signal strength to fix this, but we also have a more low-tech version that should work.

Instead of using the GPS at all, we just draw a set of symbols that can be easily identified by the cell phone camera.

For example:

  • Draw a triangle on a plain piece of paper. Put that piece of paper in your laundry room. Now it’s the “engine room.”
  • Draw a circle on a piece of paper. Put it in your kitchen. Now it’s the “control room.”
  • Etc.

So when you travel to the correct room in your house, you briefly hold the cell phone camera up to the marked piece of paper, and the phone then knows which room you’re in.

Of course, someone could cheat by putting all the cards together on their desk, but that’s probably not worth worrying about.

We could also use proximity-sensing NFC-enabled cards to prevent having to use the camera, but this is a much less low-tech solution than drawing a triangle on a sheet of paper.

Bonus possibly actually-useful feature:

Instead of being totally frivolous, this game could actually incentivize you to perform useful real-world tasks! Useful tasks that involve walking around a home could include the following:

  • Replace your home’s fire alarm batteries
  • Find the emergency natural gas line shutoff (and the wrench you might need to close the valve)
  • Find the emergency water heater shutoff
  • Check your home for poor drainage around the foundation
  • Water your plants

More difficult tasks:

  • Water a lawn
  • Mow a lawn
  • Re-roof your house (this is the equivalent of taking your galleon into dry dock to scrape barnacles off the hull). (For advanced players only)

PROS: Brings new exercise opportunities to otherwise indolent game aficionados.

CONS: May be difficult to integrate the location-determining aspect without ruining the flow of the game. People would probably also trip and fall down the stairs while playing it.

The horrifying secret that APPLE, GOOGLE, and MICROSOFT don’t want you to know about laptop longevity! Stop being part of the “laptop rat race” with this new insane beverage-related tip. Tip number 5 will shock you!

Background:

Millions of laptops are destroyed every year by spilled drinks (Figure 1). Unfortunately, this is a difficult problem to address, because laptops and beverages are frequently in close proximity.

normal-laptop-and-water

spill

Fig. 1a (top) and 1b (bottom): You have probably either experienced this situation first-hand or observed it happen to someone else. If only there had been some warning ahead of time about the peril the laptop was in!

Proposal:

If the glass-full-of-liquid danger were more immediately obvious, many laptops could be saved from a thirst-quenching death—the laptop user would simply need to place the drink slightly farther away from the laptop than they normally would.

By adding a ring of laser emitters to the beverage container, the spill danger can be made obvious: the lasers will project a circular “spill danger zone” on the table, informing you of any imperiled electronics (Figure 2).

danger-zone

Fig. 2: The laser emitters on the top of the glass (shown as red triangles) project a “spill danger zone” region around the glass. You should move any sensitive electronics outside of this area.

An advanced model of this idea could also have an integrated camera: this would allow it to only project the “danger zone” markings if it actually detected an object in the spill area, instead of all the time (which might get annoying).

PROS: Saves your laptop from destruction!

CONS: The lasers might melt people’s eyeballs when you raise the glass to drink from it.

 

Become a sophisticated cinephile AND appreciate the finest movies that cinema has to offer in only ONE-NINTH the expected time, thanks to this bizarre invention! You will be the envy of your friends and countrymen.

Background:

There are hundreds of famous and excellent movies, but almost no one has seen them all!

It’s possible to laboriously go through the extensive backlog of classic movies, but with the current volume of media, this would be a major endeavor.

Proposal:

By splitting a screen into N segments (for this example, let’s say 9 segments), different sections of a single movie can be played simultaneously.

Audio would probably need to either be turned off or limited to a single screen at a time. Subtitles would be a requirement.

movie-nine-times

Fig 1: All nine sections of the movie will play at once, allowing the dedicated viewer to see every scene from a movie in a fraction of the expected time. Depicted: the 1977 Woody Allen movie “Annie Hall.”

So if a movie is 100 minutes long, the top-left screen (#1) would start at time 0:00, the next screen would start at 10:00, …, and the bottom-right screen (#9) would start at 80:00. Then the 90 minute movie could be viewed in its entirety in only 10 minutes!

movie-speedup

Fig 2: Look how much time you’ll save! You’ll be able to watch the entire director’s cut of Das Boot (3 hours and 29 minutes) in just over 23 minutes! That frees up 3 hours and 6 minutes in your day, which you can use to post arguments about the film online.

VERTIGO 1_modified_2_small_numbered.jpeg

Fig 3: This proof of concept shows what the simultaneous-watching system would look like for the famous 1958 Alfred Hitchcock film “Vertigo.”

Additional option:

Since movies invariably have scenes of both high and low intensity, it might be possible to adaptively set the screen timing so that only one dialog-heavy section was on screen at once. For example, one screen would show a complicated and plot-crucial scene that required viewer attention, while another showed a long establishing shot that could be mostly ignored in comparison.

PROS: Cinephiles will love it. You will appreciate movies in RECORD time now.

CONS: Probably would not work for certain types of movies with intricate or non-straightforward plots; for example, The Departed (2006) or Memento (2000).

Vanquish loneliness and existential dread with this one weird app that doesn’t exist (yet)

The issue:

Sometimes, it’s hard to keep in touch with your friends and family, especially if you live in different cities and time zones.

Proposal:

The solution is quite simple—an app that keeps track of when you last met up with, texted, called, or otherwise contacted your friends and family.

In fact, it could even be integrated directly into your messaging app and phone GPS, so the phone could automatically keep track of which relationships were being maintained. (Both your national government and companies like Google have more than enough information to do this already, but it’s unlikely to be a crowd-pleasing feature, so don’t expect it to show up on your phone any time soon. Fortunately, this still leaves the door open for an enterprising startup to create this program.)

The example program below (Figures 1 and 2) is called “FriendNeglectr” (if that gets trademarked, “Neglectly” and “FriendNeglect.io” are other popular startup-sounding names that could be employed).

friendneglectr-icon

Fig 1: The proposed FriendNeglectr icon.

friendneglectr-emphasis

Fig 2: Here, we see a list of several of your friends in FriendNeglectr, ordered by the time you last saw them. For example, you last met Dave (top) for coffee 4 months ago. But you haven’t seen Alfonso (bottom) in 1.5 years, so the bar is highlighted in red. 

Conclusion:

You should stay in contact with your friend Alfonso, even though the last time you saw him was in court (Fig. 2). Also, since this app doesn’t exist yet, you should develop it.

PROS: Helps you maintain important relationships that might otherwise be neglected due to time and distance.

CONS: Reminds you of the ubiquitous and inescapable surveillance of modern society, filling you with a chilling dread of a future “Orwell’s 1984”-esque world.