The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Category: Technology

International dignitaries love it: the “handshake-disinfecting tentacle noodle arm” is the next evolution of the handshake.

Background:

In the Western custom known as “the handshake,” two individuals greet each other by smooshing their hands together, transmitting every disease (Figure 1).

Additionally, this custom can serve as a mini-battle between people with differing ideas of handshake firmness.

1-hand

Fig 1: A clammy and moist hand is offered for your approval.

The issue:

There are two issues here:

  1. Diseases are transmitted
  2. A poor choice of angle, or unusually brittle bones, might cause you to lose the hand-crushing handshake battle

In order to alleviate both issues, the “handshake-disinfecting tentacle noodle arm” system is proposed.

Specifically, this is a set of extendable rubber arms that 1) spray a disinfectant on your hand and your handshake-target’s hand, and 2) optionally apply a strangling force to the opponent’s hand, assuring a victory in the handshake duel.

Figure 2 shows the handshake system in action, and figure 3 describes the internal mechanism.

2-tentaclization

Fig 2: A long-sleeved shirt sleeve conceals the pneumatically-activated tentacles that can be deployed upon successful handshake-docking. The “suckers” on the tentacles are actually for spraying an aerosolized disinfectant.

3-mechanism

Fig 3: Storage modules in the user’s sleeve contain the tentacles, the disinfectant, and the pressurized gas mechanism used to deploy them. A: Tentacle in folded form. B: Tentacle in the process of deployment.

PROS: All of them! Upgrades an ancient custom to the next level.

CONS: None.

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The one investing tip that “fat cats” don’t want you to know—invest in crazy startups that make Frankensteinian hybrid appliances!

Background:

You’ve probably heard of a “washer-dryer” combination, an existing one-stop-shop appliance for cleaning clothes. What if we extended this philosophy to other categories of home appliances?

Proposal:

Sometimes, a frozen food requires a lengthy defrosting period. So if you want to eat that item, you must laboriously:

  • Remove the item from the freezer
  • Place the item either into the fridge compartment or on the counter
  • Then, eventually move that item to the microwave

However, we can reduce these unnecessary steps to a single step with the following combination appliance: the “fridge-ro-wave” or “microwave-fridge,” as illustrated in Figure 1.

fridge-microwave.png

Fig. 1: This futuristic fridge can automatically move food items to areas of different temperatures on a pre-determined defrosting schedule. It can even automatically start the microwaving at a certain time!

By allowing the fridge-microwave to operate on a pre-determined schedule, this appliance could also help you avoid over-eating; perhaps it could be upgraded to a laboratory-grade fridge that chills ALL your food down to a brisk -80°. Then, you would be unable to casually snack without waiting for the fridge to heat something up according to its schedule.

PROS: You can come home to a perfectly defrosted Thanksgiving turkey every single work day!

CONS: None! The perfect accessory for the modern home.

Incredible user interface tip to increase user engagement—make your software challenging and don’t let a user “auto-pilot” through an easily understood interface.

Background:

Supposedly, the proliferation of ubiquitous GPS has lead to humans being worse at navigating, the presence of calculators has rendered most people incapable of doing even basic mental math, and the existence of written language has made humans worse at remembering things more generally.

Proposal:

In order to combat this “things are too easy” trend, we recommend that software become intentionally harder to use. The open source community is already on top of this trend, as are late-2010s mobile app developers (perhaps most famously, Snapchat).

Specific issue: Color pickers

This proposal is limited to a basic enhancement of color pickers (Figure 1): by rearranging the location of colors, we can cause users to spend more time trying to find the color they are looking for, which both 1) promotes brain development and 2) increases engagement with the app. For mobile apps, increased engagement (i.e., time) also translates to more opportunities to show ads to the user.

apple-color-picker

Fig. 1: This color picker used in some built-in Apple software is totally unchallenging and unremarkable.

office-color-picker

Fig. 2: The Microsoft Office color picker is also sensibly arranged, although it has an unconventional muted color palette.

An “enhanced” color palette could look like the default one from 2014 LibreOffice (Figure 3): the seemingly random arrangement of strange and uncommon colors (with a few duplicates) means that the user will need to be fully engaged with the color picker panel in order to make sense of it.

libre-light-blue

Fig. 3: LibreOffice’s 2014 color picker doesn’t spoon-feed the user. Additionally, some colors are labeled counterintuitively to really force the user to understand what they are doing (for example, “Light blue” is  not the correct term for the blue square in the top right).

 

Fig. 4: LibreOffice has, strangely, refashioned their interface; the 2016 default (at left) is now arranged in a fashion similar to other software’s color pickers.

Conclusion:

When designing a commonly used user interface element (for example, a color picker, “save file” dialog, list of email addresses, a phone dialer, etc…), you should try to consider: how can I make this element “more engaging” to the end user? Don’t let the user’s brain coast on auto-pilot—make them work for every interaction with your interface.

PROS: Improves neural connections and promotes a hard-working self-reliant attitude.

CONS: Entitled end users will whine about your decisions!

Venture capitalists love this one weird trick—double your startup “runway” time and reduce employee salaries dramatically while improving quality of life at the same time!

The issue:

Many companies (especially tech-related ones) are located in extremely expensive cities.

If a company in a major metropolitan area could easily relocate to a nearby but outlying area, then employee salaries could be cut by 25%, yet the employees would still have more after-tax/rent income.

So essentially, the company would both be more profitable and the employees would be earning more.

Of course, it has always been quite difficult and inconvenient to move a company.

Until now, that is!

Proposal:

Instead of having a standard office building, a company can be based in a large number of slightly-modified truck trailers (Fig 1).

truck-flat

Fig. 1: Here we have three 18-wheeler trailers in gray and one truck cab in orange.

Three separate trailers would make for an oppressive and inefficient workspace, so the trailers are specially modified so that 1) the side walls can be removed and 2) a floor plate can extend out to bridge the gap between trailers. Figure 2 displays a single office room that is created out of three trailers.

truck-cube

Fig. 2: The three trailers from figure 1 are combined into a single large room. Specifically, the side walls of each trailer can be lifted up, allowing multiple trailers to be combined.

There are countless advantages of this plan over a traditional office building:

  • Easily relocate your business to an area with lower cost-of-living / lower rent
  • Makes it easier to threaten to relocate your business to another state / country in order to (hopefully) extract tax breaks from the local government.
  • If your business becomes crowded, you can add more trailers as needed.
  • If you over-bought and your office is too big, you can downsize the office by simply removing a few trailers.

Figure 3 shows a possible office layout inside the three-trailer example office.

office-furnished

Fig. 3: Inside the three trailers, a standard workshop or office space can be configured, as demonstrated here. Note that the floorplan is free to ignore the boundaries between trailers—it’s effectively one large room, just like a regular office.

The only issue with treating the space as a single unit (rather than 3 trailers) is that if the office were to be moved, you’d need to make sure all the furniture fit within single trailers (or you could cut your furniture in half, and put the halves into two separate trailers).

cut-aware

Fig. 4: If you want to move your company, you just need to push the furniture so that it doesn’t span multiple trailers. Furniture that is in danger of being chopped in half is illustrated here with the “scissor-cut” icon and green highlighting. For most businesses, this would be an easy task (unless heavy machinery or elaborate cubicle arrangements are involved).

PROS: Makes it easy to relocate your company for both cost-of-living reasons and for tax purposes.

CONS: A multi-story building would be difficult to manage. Most layouts would be limited to a single story.

Throw away your current barbaric programming language! Programming Emoji is the future of computation.

Background:

Essentially all major programming languages exclusively use keywords written in English. (For a couple of exceptions, see the addendum at the end.)

But this doesn’t have to be the case!

Proposal:

By using symbols instead of words, we can convey a concept both more concisely and more easily across languages.

See below for a few suggested changes:

while-true

Fig 1: This image of a snake eating its own tail is a much more visceral and obvious representation of an endless cycle than the words “WHILE TRUE.”

if-else

Fig 2: “IF” and “ELSE” have specific meanings in English. But “Else” is also a Scandinavian name! By using these unambiguous symbols, we avoid any existing meanings that might confuse people.

data-types

Fig 3: Data types (“integer” / “floating point number” / “text string”) can be replaced by these intuitive images instead. This also avoids the issue of having multiple synonyms for each type. For example, a non-integer number could be called a “float,” a “real,” a “double,” etc.—but there’s only ONE symbol to represent this concept.

 

foreach

Fig 4: Some languages use “for” to create a loop, while others use “foreach” (or “forEach,” or “for (item) in (set)”). To prevent confusion, we can standardize on a single symbol (above) to convey the idea of iteration through a loo.

Conclusion:

Don’t write another line of code in your old-fashioned text-based programming language! Programming emoji is the future.

PROS: More easily seen at small font sizes. Works across languages, and prevents any misunderstanding arising from a word having an existing unrelated-to-programming meaning (e.g. “float” meaning “to rise to the surface of water” in addition to “a ‘floating point’ number”).

CONS: Requires new custom fonts and/or Emoji support.

programming-emoji

Fig 5: An extended set of proposed replacements for basic programming terms. Color is optional, but recommended.

Addendum:

Here are a couple of programming languages that can make use of non-ASCII symbols:

  • APL,” a language created in 1964, is well known for making use of a special set of symbols. Here is an example from Wikipedia: (~RR∘.×R)/R1ιR . It is actually possible to order a keyboard with these symbols printed right on the key caps!
  • Perl 6 supports numerical characters like “” (a fraction) or “” (a Roman numeral), as documented here.

 

 

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.

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.)

Bonus idea: It has been shown that humans have a deep-seated primal reaction to certain stimuli, such as a silhouette of a spider or of a snake about to strike. In order to make the stop sign stand out even more, so no one would ever miss it out of the corner of their eye, perhaps it could be fashioned into the likeness of a cobra, poised to strike.

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.