The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Category: Technology

Stop being annoyed by three-way light switches that incorrectly both say “OFF,” yet the light is clearly on! Has the entire world gone mad??

Background:

A “three-way light switch” (i.e. two switches that control the same light) is useful when there are multiple places that need to control a single light, such as at both the top and the bottom of a staircase.

The issue:

Unfortunately, three-way switches are often out of sync with the actual state of the light (so the switches are both OFF, but the light bulb is on).

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Fig. 1: A three-way (two-switch) system is surprisingly straightforward. You can even add more switches, if you want! (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiway_switching)

Proposal:

Ideally, the ON / OFF position would be correct indicated by the switch itself, instead of Instead of having the switch position indicate when

  • Easy and elegant solution, with one fatal flaw: just make the switch a press-able single button. Internally, the switch would just turn a wheel or something, to generate the required electrical connection.
    • Downside #1: Since it lacks an up/down state, you wouldn’t know whether the circuit were ON or OFF when the bulb is burned out.
    • Downside #2: Probably banned by electrical code for reasons stated in downside #1.
  • Electromagnet-based complicated solution: have each switch’s natural position be the DOWN position, which it will return to due to gravity when there is no electrical current. However, when the circuit is active, an electromagnet causes the switch to be held and/or pulled to the up position.
    • Downside: uses a tiny amount of electricity.
    • Upside: syncs the state of the switches. (If you turn on one switch, the other one will also be pulled up by the built-in electromagnet).

Conclusion:

Maybe you should rewire your house with this highly speculative and untested electrical suggestion! Consult an electrician today.

PROS: You will no longer be bedeviled by light switches that do not properly convey the state of the light. (Previously: the switches both say OFF, but the light is on? Ugh!!!)

CONS: May burn down your house.

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Achieve enlightenment and 100% vacuum cleaner coverage with this one incredible telescoping furniture leg tip!

The issue:

Both humans and automated vacuum cleaners (e.g. Roombas) find it inconvenient to operate a vacuum cleaner around furniture—specifically, no one wants to move extremely heavy furniture just to vacuum around the legs.

Proposal:

Most furniture is still stable even when not all supporting legs are contacting the ground. So why not have telescoping table legs that can retract to allow a vacuum cleaner to vacuum under them?

This would allow a robotic vacuum cleaner to achieve 100% vacuuming efficiency in your house, rather than having it be limited by its inability to drag your heavy furniture around.

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Fig. 1: These telescoping furniture legs can retract to allow you (or your trusty robotic vacuum) to vacuum underneath it.

 

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Fig. 2: Easy! The sofa leg detects the proximity of the vacuum cleaner and telescopes upward into the furnishing. Perhaps a pressure sensor on the sofa leg could be activated by hitting the vacuum cleaner against it.

Conclusion:

If you work at a robotic vacuum cleaner company, you should license this patent from me immediately. Also please file for it on my behalf (thanks in advance).

PROS: Allows 100% vacuum cleaner coverage to finally be achieved. FINALLY.

CONS: With no goals and struggles remaining after this, perhaps existence will seem hollow and unsatisfying.

 

 

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Are you tired of your computer MYSTERIOUSLY doing things in stony silence? Bring back 1980s retro charm and monitor your computer for malware and spyware with this ONE INSANE AUDIO TRICK! It drove an entire island of monks to madness!

Background:

In the past, you could tell what a computer was doing (to some extent) just by listening to it.

  • Disk access would be accompanied by a classic floppy disk sound (or the “click” of a hard drive)
  • The fan would spin up if the CPU was under high load.
  • You could actually listen to network traffic on a modem (or watch the network traffic light blink).
  • Sometimes, different operations would cause a high-pitched noise to emit from some mysterious component of the computer.

However, with solid-state drives and many entirely fanless computational devices (e.g. phones, most tablets), it is no longer possible to have an intuitive sense of what your computing device is up to.

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Fig. 1: Historically, computers would make all sorts of sounds when operating. The monitor would emit an annoying high-pitched hum, the disk would click and clack during reads or writes, you could listen to network traffic over a modem, and fan noise would let you know whether the CPU was working hard.

Proposal:

The solution is obvious: the phone must generate artificial sounds so the user can figure out what’s going on.

Examples:

  • Heavy CPU use could result in the classic beeps of the “Star Trek computer sound“. Or for a subtler approach, a fan-spinning noise could be generated.
  • Disk access could always be accompanied by the audio of a floppy disk reading / writing / seeking to a new location.
  • The screen could cause a buzzing sound to be emitted when it was first turned on, and optionally at any time it was displaying a non-blank screen.
  • Network access could generate a modem noise.
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Fig. 2: This phone is totally silent under normal operation, but we can add network noises, CPU fan noise, disk noises, and more.

With this simple change, people will become aware of what their computer is doing.

In particular, they will now easily realize if their computer is using a ton of Internet traffic or is infected with CPU-intensive malware.

Conclusion:

Demand this feature in your next phone! Or write and maintain a custom ROM for your phone. Easy!

PROS: Warns people about phone spyware/malware. Makes a phone harder to lose, since it will be constantly emitting annoying sounds!

CONS: None! It’s the perfect idea with no downsides.

 

 

 

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Five tips to amazingly shiny hair, like the hair of a wild and majestic forest beast. Step Number 1: maybe wash it occasionally? Unclear.

Background:

Sometimes, if you are groggily taking a shower in the morning without paying much attention, you may forget whether or not you’ve already washed your hair (Figure 1).

 

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Fig. 1: DID I WASH MY HAIR ALREADY??????

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Fig. 2: The shampoo bottle is no help; it’s probably going to be look the same whether or not it was recently used, unless you do forensic-level analysis of the number of water droplets on it.

The issue:

You can, of course, always wash your hair again, but then you wasted both time AND shampoo.

What if the bottle itself could indicate (in a simple and electronics-free way) when it was last used?

Proposal:

Here are two possible ways for a shampoo bottle to indicate when it was last used, without requiring any significant user interaction or complex mechanisms (see Figures 3 and 4).

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Fig. 3: This bottle has an embossed button-like section that pops out (side view at far left and far right). The default state of the bottle is at left. When you use it, it is natural to hold it in a position that presses in the “button,” resulting in the pressed-in situation (right). Later, the button will pop back out of its own accord.

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Fig. 4: Part of the bottle could be made of a plastic that darkens when wet. In this case, the mockup is for a thermometer-sized area of the bottle to be made of this material; the dry material is white (shown in A). When the bottle is turned upside-down, water sweeps along the “thermometer” and darkens it, resulting in the dark gray area in B. Evaporation will eventually dry the “thermometer” and restore its original color.

PROS: Saves time and shampoo.

CONS: May add manufacturing costs and additional product waste.

Revolutionary new “lens-free camera” created in a garage by a crazy inventor—now all your vacation photos will be PERFECT!

Background:

When people go on vacation, 99% of their pictures are of sunsets and monuments that have been photographed thousands of times before.

Sure, that image of a majestic tropical bird perched in front of a waterfall may seem like one-in-a-million shot, but that still means that one hundred variants of it have already been uploaded to Google Photos.

The issue:

It can be a lot of work to frame a shot in an aesthetically-pleasing fashion. But what if we could make use of THE INTERNET to save us the trouble?

Proposal:

Instead of carrying a regular camera, a user can carry a “camera” without a lens or ability to take pictures.

Instead, when the user presses the shutter button:

  1. The “camera” records the user’s GPS coordinates, the time of day, and the current orientation of the camera.
  2. Later, the “camera” syncs this information to the Internet and downloads the most aesthetically-pleasing photo for the specified site and time of day.

So if you were disappointed that you were taking photos of Niagara Falls while it was overcast, no worries: the camera will pick out some majestic waterfall-and-rainbows-on-a-sunny-day photos from online.

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Fig. 1: This “lens free” camera looks like a traditional camera, except it doesn’t actually take pictures—it only records your GPS location and orientation when taking the picture. (The viewfinder shown here could just be a transparent plastic window, not a real LCD screen.)

 

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Fig. 2: Internally, the camera is really just searching for the top-rated image at a given set of coordinate / orientation / time-of-day.

Conclusion:

Stop futzing with shutter speed, exposure, framing, and who knows what else—just let the Internet take your photos for you!

PROS: Saves tons of time! Makes everyone into a master photographer. You won’t have to worry about looking bad in a photo, because you’ll never be in a photo! (Unless you happen to be the subject of the top-rated photo somehow.)

CONS: At least one person will still have to use a real camera to take photos, or else there won’t be anything for the GPS-only camera to find.

 

 

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Sell your refrigerator while it still has value: a new understanding of physics makes it possible to keep food from perishing WITHOUT refrigeration, using the astronomical object known as a “black hole.”

Background:

Refrigeration is a great way to preserve foods. But chilling and/or freezing foods can have adverse effects on taste.

What if there was a way to stop time for the food WITHOUT chilling it?

Proposal:

Luckily, physics provides a solution: as an object moves more quickly through space, it experiences the effects of time more slowly.

We can make use of this phenomenon by creating the “black hole fridge”: a miniature black hole that objects can orbit at nearly the speed of light, preserving them from spoilage (Figure 1).

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Fig. 1: The “black hole fridge” consists of an enclosure around a black hole (top). Food (depicted as red geometrical objects, bottom) orbits the black hole at nearly the speed of light, causing the food to experience the flow of time thousands of times more slowly.

Caveat:

When placing food into the fridge, it is important to place it in ORBIT around the black hole. Be sure not to drop the food directly into it. See Figure 2 for instructions.

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Fig. 2: CORRECT USAGE (left): place food items in orbit around the black hole. INCORRECT USAGE (right): do NOT simply drop items into the fridge (right)—those items will vanish forever beyond the black hole’s event horizon.

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Fig. 3: An additional danger when dropping food into the black hole is the increased mass: this will cause the black hole to expand, both voiding the warranty AND swallowing up the planet.

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Fig. 4: It’s easy to tell if a black hole fridge has been properly maintained by eye. Left: a properly-maintained fridge. Right: a black hole that has swallowed up too much additional matter, and is in danger of a catastrophic failure.

PROS: Preserves food for thousands or millions of years WITHOUT requiring freezing or refrigeration!

CONS: None! Food spoilage is now a thing of the past.

Become fit & fashionable WHILE YOU COOK using this new fashion accessory and/or kitchen appliance!

Background:

A lot of kitchen tools have a non-electric version that is hand-cranked: for example, a coffee grinder, ice-cream maker, mixer, or salad-spinner. Additional common hand-powered items include the can opener and pepper mill.

The issue:

Unfortunately, many of these tools are slow and inefficient to operate by hand. However, if there were some way to operate the grinder by a larger muscle group (i.e. not the hands), it would be much easier to operate a coffee grinder or mixer without electricity.

Proposal:

In order to make it easy to operate one of these kitchen tools manually, the following is proposed:

  • The user can wear a belt with gear teeth on it (Figure 1). These teeth mesh with a corresponding gear on the kitchen appliance in question.
  • The user can then (slowly) spin around, and their large-diameter gear belt will cause an extremely fast rotation in the corresponding kitchen appliance gear (which is much smaller).

Fig. 1: The “gear belt” isn’t just a terrible steampunk fashion accessory, but is also a practical addition to your kitchen.

Although each appliance could have its own gearing system, it might be easier if the gears were built into the kitchen counter as shown in Figure 2. Otherwise, an activity like grinding coffee beans would require two people: one to spin around, and one to hold the coffee grinder.

 

 

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Fig. 2: If the gearing system were built into a kitchen counter, the operator would be able to easily power any appliance that was fastened to the counter at location #3 (green, above).

 

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Fig. 3: Example of how the coffee grinder would work, as drawn for a patent application.

Conclusion:

Next time you remodel your kitchen, make sure to include a gearing system in one of your kitchen counters.

PROS: Ecologically-friendly method of powering kitchen appliances. Also provides a great core workout.

CONS: May increase the value of your house too much, rendering you unable to sell it.