The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Category: UI / UX

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.

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.

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.