The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Phone manufacturers hate this one weird tip to save you HUNDREDS of dollars by not losing your phone! One frugal tip for saving money on smartphones (do not lose them).

The issue:

Cell phones occasionally fall out of a person’s pockets and get forgotten. This is especially easy to do when sitting on a sofa or in a movie theater seat.

If the phone could detect that it had been dropped into sofa cushions, it could notify you before it was too late to find it again!

sofa-phone-cushions

sofa-phone-here-exclamation

Fig. 1: Alas, this phone has fallen between sofa cushions and may soon be lost forever.

sofa-phone-here-it-is

Proposal:

The phone could use its microphone to detect the difference between “phone is in your pocket” and “microphone can only detected sounds that are muffled by sofa cushions” (Fig. 2).

sofa-phone-waveform

Fig. 2: Audio from two scenarios: “normal” (top, yellow) and “stuck in sofa cushions” (bottom, blue).

By listening to the phone’s microphone (and using the orientation sensors), the phone could distinguish between three situations:

  1. “In your pocket” (phone is slightly moving, but sounds are muffled)
  2. “On your desk” (phone is not moving, but background noise is crisp and clear, like a transparent apple)
  3. “Phone fell into the sofa” (phone is not moving, but sounds are muffled).

In case you are worried about the privacy implication of the constant use of the microphone, consider that all phones are monitoring you at all times anyway so that you can say “Hey Siri” / “Ok Google” in order to activate the voice assistant.

Thus, this additional monitoring would not be any more invasive than the current situation.

(Plus, the “fell into the sofa” detection could be done entirely on the phone, so it wouldn’t need to send any audio data to a remote server.)

sofa-phone-ring

Fig. 3: Once the phone detects that it has become trapped in the sofa, it can scream until you rescue it.

This feature could also be expanded to include things like:

  • The phone could detect that you have debarked your plane (or gotten off a train), but somehow the phone has been left behind, perhaps in one of those seat pockets.
  • The phone could detect that 1) it’s been several hours since it’s moved it all, 2) it’s close enough to see your own home WiFi network, and 3) the audio sensor informs it that it’s still in a pants pocket—this means you probably threw it into a laundry basket, so it should email you and/or start beeping so you don’t wash it.
  • The phone could detect that you were traveling by car and left your phone in the car. Then it could send you an email (“Hey, you left me in the car. –Your Phone”), which you would presumably receive on your laptop / desktop computer.

Conclusion:

Don’t buy a new phone unless it comes with this exciting new feature!

PROS: Saves you from many lost-phone mishaps.

CONS: Perhaps by further reducing the demands on humans to actually pay attention and keep track of things, future generations will become slothful and decadent.

Cease your unforgivable indolence! Motivate yourself to exercise with this new kind of stationary bike! Locksmiths hate it!

Background:

It can be hard to motivate yourself to exercise—especially since you know you can always put it off until later.

Proposal:

But what if we could set up a situation where you would have to exercise?

Specifically:

  1. You purchase (1) a stationary bicycle and (2) a special type of heavy-duty safe (Figure 1).
  2. You then place an important object inside the safe (like your cell phone, wallet, or keys). This should be something that you’ll need soon (not like, a Ming vase).
  3. In order to open the safe, you have to pedal the bike at least (say) 20 miles. This is measured by a gear on the side of the safe.

pedal-safe

Fig. 1: Even if you know the correct combination to the safe (right), the bike (left) absolutely must be pedaled a certain distance before the safe will open.

If you want to get your phone / keys / wallet, you’ll have to put in the required time on the exercise bike—there’s just no way around it!

 

 

items

Fig. 2: Example items that you might put into your pedaling-required-safe to motivate yourself.

Conclusion:

The main benefit of this system is that it’s always easy for a person to say “I should exercise in the future” and lock their keys and wallet in the safe.

Then, even if their self-motivation wanes and they don’t feel like exercising later, they won’t be able to back out!

This system could be extended beyond just exercise bikes: perhaps the safe could be connected to a pull-up bar (“Do 10 pull-ups before this safe will open”), or to a page counter on a book (“Read 50 pages of this book before the safe will open.”)

pedal-safe-schematic

Fig. 3: Schematic view of the safe. Maybe this image would be in the manual or something.

 

PROS: This idea will help promote exercise and increase self-discipline and civic virtue.

CONS: If there’s an emergency and you need to drive somewhere quickly, you’ll be out of luck!

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.

Dust off your 3D glasses (or excavate them from the geological strata that they are buried beneath) for this new multi-versions-of-a-movie plan that is definitely here to stay and not a gimmick!

Background:

3D glasses  provide the ability to put two totally separate images on a screen at once. Normally, the technology this is used to provide a stereo-3D effect (Figure 1).

But we could use this same technology to show subtly (or entirely!) different films to different groups of people in an audience.

glasses1

Fig. 1: Each lens lets through a specific type of light. Here, the colored lenses separate out red and green light.

Proposal:

Instead of everyone’s glasses having both a left and a right lens, we can instead supply a LEFT/LEFT set of glasses and a RIGHT/RIGHT set of glasses, as seen in Figure 2. (We could also apply this idea to three groups—imagine another audience member with a BLUE/BLUE set of glasses.)

players

Fig. 2: One person would get a pair of glasses that was only the “left” lens, and the other would get only the “right” lens. Now we can display a different image to moviegoers (or game players) #1 and #2.

Possible applications in film:

  • In horror movies, one group of people could get the “ultra gory and horrifying” version of a film, while the other group gets a tastefully understated version with minimal blood and guts.
  • Additional horror movie option: for people who hate jump scares, the video footage accompanying the traditional “jump scare loud violin noise” could just be video of an actual violin, rather than of a cat and/or hockey-masked killer jumping out of a closet.
  • Two version of a film could be shown at the same time in a theater (for example, a PG-13-rated film and an R-rated film).
    • For example, if a film is rated R for brief nudity, the PG-13 version of the film could be generated by adding a bunch of computer-generated tumbleweeds. Ratings problem solved!
  • In a Sherlock-Holmes-style mystery, some people are annoyed by the fact that it’s usually impossible to “play along” with the mystery solving—instead, you wait until the detective reveals the obscure clues at the very end. With this “two movie” approach, the crucial evidence could be pointed out (e.g. with a red circle / arrow), so that the viewers would know which evidence Sherlock Holmes thought was important. But if you didn’t care about that, you could still watch the original cut!

* For the benefit of people with face blindness (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosopagnosia), a hovering name tag could be added above each actor’s head (like the floating name tag present in many multiplayer games). This would also help normal people in shows with a large cast of characters (like Game of Thrones or Arrested Development).

Possible applications in games:

  • You could have a game in which player #1 has the controller, but can only see a limited view of the world, while player #2 has no controller, but can view critical on-screen information that is not visible to player #1. For example, player #2 could have a map, or perhaps be able to see certain invisible walkways / invisible enemies / secret passages, etc.

scary-more

Fig. 3a: In the haunted house movie above, we want to only show the full Grim Reaper to one portion of the audience members (the other viewers should see the glowing eyes but not the specter itself). See figure 3b for a description of how this is done with a traditional set of red/green glasses.

scary-both

Fig. 3b: A colorized version of 3a, ready for 3D-glasses viewing. Yellow = shown to all viewers. Green = only shown to the “right lens glasses” viewers. In this case, the flying Grim Reaper thing will only be visible to a green lens-wearer. See figure 3c for specific images.

scary-red

scary-green

Fig. 3b: Top: “red lens” view where only the eyes of the haunting specter are visible. Bottom: “green lens” view where the entire Grim Reaper is visible.

PROS: Creates additional jobs in post-production. Allows multiple versions of a film to coexist without compromising a director’s original vision.

CONS: Prevents the use of 3D. May increase production costs.

Footnote: Existing applications for console games:

This “show two totally different images” technology has been commercially available for split-screen video games as a semi-standard feature of 2012-era 3D televisions.

The screen could be split (either vertically or horizontally), and one half of the screen would go to the “left” 3D channel while the other would go to the “right” 3D channel. In this fashion, players with left/left and right/right glasses (as seen in Figure 2) would get an entire full screen all to their own. (This also greatly reduced opportunities for screen-looking, although some light still leaks through.)

Unfortunately for this technology, both split-screen games and 3D televisions appear to be a thing of the past.

Increase your own enjoyment of a game by making everyone else’s experience WORSE. It’s all about relative enjoyment, after all.

Background:

One common method that video game developers use to make additional money beyond the initial sale of a game is to sell additional downloadable content (“DLC”) online.

This typically includes things like:

  • New missions and areas.
  • Ridiculous hats or costumes for your character.
  • Additional absurd guns / swords / etc.
  • Additional in-game currency
  • Various things to give the player an advantage in online play (derisively known as “pay-to-win”)

Proposal:

However, there remains one entirely untapped type of DLC: instead of just allowing a user to add features to their own game, what if a user could instead pay money to make someone else’s game worse?

Options include:

  • Set the player’s game language to Esperanto.
  • Provide your own new and annoying replacement sound effects (or voiced dialog!) for the game, which are then uploaded and overwrite the original game’s sound effects (example: bullet ricochet sound replaced by horse whinny).
  • Replace all character models by rubber ducks (Figure 1).
  • Flip all character models 180°, but nothing else changes.
  • In-game music re-recorded by the Portsmouth Sinfonia (check online for videos).

ruin_dlc.png

Fig. 1: Now that everyone’s head is a rubber duck, this space marine game takes on a different character.

Conclusion:

If you work at a major game development studio, you should make sure you get reassigned to the division that works on this sort of thing—it’s going to be a career-maker, for sure.

PROS: Brings in additional revenue, reviewers will love it (since they tend to like unusual or experimental things).

CONS: None!

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).